Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ironman Canada vs Challenge Penticton

So the cat is out of the bag.  Last week, only a few days before IMC, news broke that Ironman Canada as we know it in the beautiful city of Penticton would be no more.  In 2013 Penticton will reprise its roll as host to iron distance triathletes from around the world, only this time it will be under the Challenge Penticton name.

I spent the weekend in Penticton volunteering and had the opportunity to talk to triathletes and some of those "in the know" individuals who were privy to information before it hit the triathlon newstands.  The reaction around in the community was pretty mixed from both locals and visiting athletes.  On the one hand some people are happy that the reigns to Penticton's darling race won't fall into the clutches of the oft derided World Triathlon Corporation, but on the other hand it means losing the universally regarded Ironman name.

A rose by any other name...

Hoping I don't need to write this down again
Let me make myself clear on one thing, the Challange family puts on amazing races.  I have yet to race one myself, but I've rarely heard an ill word spoken about Challenge.  There are many Ironman veterans who are happy to see the series hit North American shores and are looking forward to racing southern BC's tried, tested and true Iron distance course.  The warm waters of Lake Okanagan will still be there in 2013, Richter and Yellow Lake will still be there in 2013, and most importantly the kind and inviting people of Penticton will still be cheering for athletes in 2013.  A change in the name won't take that away, to quote Shakespere, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

All that being said, I don't think that Challenge Penticton 2013 will be better than Ironman Canada 2012.  I think it'll be different, not better or worse, just different.  Graham Fraser has put on a top notch race for many years now and has set the bar for what an Ironman race should be.  Racing IMC last year was everything I could have possibly imagined thanks to the town, volunteers, organizers, and athletes.  I know there were some missteps last year with issues around the medals and water but I think that those challenges were presented by circumstances somewhat outside the Race Director's control.  After the fact Graham went well beyond what was called for to make things right, and that's the kind of director we all know him to be.  He deserves our thanks and respect for everything he's done for anyone, athlete or otherwise, who has become part of the Ironman Canada family.

Looking forward

Without the Kona slots, the Ironman name, and the mass start, but with additions like a relay option, I think that Challenge will have a very different feel to it.  Many first timers will no doubt be put off by the loss of the Ironman name and I don't blame them.  If I was coming into this for my first time in 2013, as soon as I heard the news I would have signed up for Ironman Coeur d'Alene or Ironman Mont Tremblant.  So Penticton will lose some age groupers on that end, but hopefully that is countered by athletes testing the waters with the relay option, which is an exciting addition to the field.

On the other side of the spectrum, the loss of Kona slots means that some of the top pros and age groupers won't be making an appearance next year in Penticton either.  Now with news that next year's yet to be located Ironman Canada will have 100 Kona qualifying slots and 5000 pro KQ points, IMC 2013 might be the place to be for some of the top athletes around.

Ironman Canada 2013

I'm eagerly awaiting the news on where Ironman Canada 2013 will be.  A 3.8km swim in Green Lake in Whistler, followed by a 180km bike ride down the Sea to Sky Highway through Vancouver to transition in the Campbell Valley Regional in White Rock, finished off with a marathon run into into Richmond, would be a fast, epic race, albeit a complete nightmare in terms of logistics.

Otherwise, the Ironman Calgary 70.3 bike route could very easily be modified to 180km with an out and back down Highway 66 up to Elbow Falls.  The run course could be similar to that of the Calgary Marathon route but starting at the south side of the Glenmore Reservoir where the current run course turns around.  In this case the race could lean on existing agreements and permitting, and the logistics would be familiar to RD's and the host city.  A bike segment into the majestic Rocky Mountains, and a run through downtown Calgary would make the route one of the most beautiful and varying routes in North America.

And of course there is Kelowna.  The city which was originally offered Ironman Canada thirty years ago may now have a second chance.  This would almost surely be a direct response to Challenge Penticton, and may cut the race at the knees.  For this reason alone I'm actually hoping southern BC doesn't play host to WTC's revival of IMC.  More races in western Canada is a good thing, and I hope that WTC realizes that the region can support three races including IMCDA without undercutting one another.

Decisions Decisions

If there's ever a time or place to be as a triathlete in Western Canada, its now.  I'd originally put my plans to race the Ironman distance again on hold until at least 2014, in favour of Olympic and 70.3 distances.  After a of year of keeping my athlete life carefully balanced against my personal life, the plan was to go back down to shorter distances and build speed, seeing how far I could take myself with a year of very intense and focused training, and hopefully win myself a ticket to 70.3 worlds in Vegas.  But after spending the weekend volunteering at IMC, and with the prospect of racing an all new course, I can't help but be excited at the idea of changing the plan and going back to Ironman next year.

As always, I'd encourage others to look at their plans, and maybe put themselves out there a little in terms of where and what you see your goals for 2013 are.  This really is a great time for the sport and whether you're racing the inaugural Challenge Penticton, or reborn Ironman Canada, this may be your calling.

Closing Time

By chance I ran into the always gracious and kind Ron Zalko and his wife last Saturday in Penticton.  Ron was the visionary athlete who first brought Ironman to Penticton, and North America.  When looking for a course, he sought a location that mirrored the challenging and rewarding conditions of Kona.  He found it, and with the help of Graham Fraser for the past thirty years the finish line at Lakeshore Drive has become hallowed ground for tens of thousands of Ironman triathletes including myself.  The number of dreams that have been realized and memories that have been formed on the course of Ironman Canada thanks to these gentlemen can't be counted.

So as the reigns are passed to the Challenge family, and Penticton says a bittersweet goodbye to Ironman Canada, I think its fitting to say thank you to Graham Fraser and Ron Zalko, and the residents of Penticton for the countless cheers and memories that they've left with us.



Thank you.

(11/27/12) Edit- For an in depth comparison of the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses, check out this more recent blog post.

13 comments:

  1. hmm. Have you ever been in Green Lake? I'd swim in it... if they allowed dry suits :)

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    1. Hey Christine! I've actually only ever been to Whistler in winter... I take it Green Lake is a little chilly? Given all the talk in Penticton this weekend about Whistler I just looked at a map and figured that was the most likely lake they could use, but at second glance its also pretty small... Maybe Squamish?

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  2. Exactly - Different - might be a great race but not an Ironman - as a now 7 time Ironman Canada Finisher and local athlete of Penticton I am heart broken and pissed.

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    1. Graham has put on a great show over the past few years and I don't see how it can be topped. Really wish I had raced on Sunday but glad I had a go at it last year.

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  3. Ironman Canada will be missed, for those of you that got to do the last one are very lucky!! I wished I had signed up:(

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    1. Hey Leigh-Ann, I know more than a couple people who were a bit heartbroken about it. I have friends who really wanted IMC in Penticton to be their first Ironman, or their first ticket to Kona. Lets hope the Challenge folks give respect where its due for the history of IMC.

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  4. If Green lake is swimmable then Whistler could be a solid possibility. I think Whistler gets overshadowed by Vancouver so why not step up in the spotlight. Avoid Vancouver altogether and have a turn around in Squamish.

    Pemberton to Squamish is a perfect 90KM. Sweet.

    Have seperate transition stations is a no-no for a long distance event. Vancouver is too dense to be able to setup.

    Penticton is the armpit of B.c. - adds to the challenge of completing an ironamn. Goodbye Pentiction. You won't be missed!!!!!


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    1. ...btw I am kidding.

      I suspect athletes will be slow to jump on the Challenge bandwagon and its where IM will setup shop that will draw the crowd.

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  5. I hope the Challenge race in Penticton is a great success. We all benefit if it carries on its great legacy. I raced in 1995 when it was community run and then in 1996 when Fraser took it over. 95 was a more enjoyable race, but Fraser kept the race alive. The rumours of moving and bankruptcy back then had the same feeling as today. I raced again in 2006 and 07 and the WTC races have now become cookie cutter and I believe they have oversaturated the market. Still great to be a part of but...I will be very interested to see how this all plays out.

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  6. I was lucky enough to do IMC in 2010 as my first Ironman and it was a great experience. I had hoped to do IMC again in 2013, and volunteered this year in order to get a jump on registration. Like many others, I was shocked to hear of the changes only two days before the actual event. I agree that the WTC has oversaturated the market and is moving away from an athlete experience to a corporate one, but Ironman is to iron-distance triathlon as Kleenex is to tissue paper! People know what you mean when you say you finished an Ironman. I hope that Challenge gives the area and the event the respect it deserves and puts on an event that makes people sit up, take notice and register. As someone who has no hope of earning a spot for Kona, having a less combative swim in an iron-distance triathlon is very appealing!

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  7. I am an MDOT supporter IMC 2010 was my first Ironman Race. Loved the course Loved the people it was everything I had hoped for. I was set to volunteer this year to really race the course next year. The day before I was heading up I got the news and didn't go up. So many people say Challenge is more athlete friendly and I just don't get this. The price is almost the same, they are going to kill the mass start (which is one of the biggest wow's of the race), they are going to make it a week long event which means you will have to book for 7 days vs 5 (how is that cheaper), you cant qualify for kona, they are going to allow relays (I have to say this one gets me more than anything else, there is nothing like being out there for 8 hours and some guy with fresh legs blows by you). Penticton can have the Challenge Family I will go where the mdot lands and cant wait to sign up.

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  8. I have been a competitor or a volunteer at IMC almost every year since 1996.....the race has slowly been degraded by WTC and more driven by profit and less interest for the athletes, families, and community. The only Iron distance race I have ever done is IMC (5), because of the unique history, beautiful course, and most important the amazing community of Penticton! I live in a place where I have three different IM's as race options. As the years have gone by, the race "organizers" have cut corners exhibited by, but not limited to examples I have noticed such as.....1) family, friends, loved ones no longer allowed to cross the line with the finisher, 2) increasing racer numbers with really no limit, which impacts many facets of the race, 3) removing Steve King and replacing with Mike Reilly for two years (???).....really, you didn't think that was gonna piss Penticton off??, 4) the loss of the graduated return fee policy.....I am sorry, but most people cannot predict what will happen in their or their loved one's lives the next 12-months, and should not be penalized for that, 5) running out of water and cheap plastic medals last year, 6) running out of shirts and pizza for late finishers this year...why run out of shirts...you know how many racers, right??, 7) limiting bike pick-up to 1200 am....they wouldn't let us late finishers get our bikes until the next day.....what is wrong with a 0100 time-frame?? People had early am flights to catch! 8) This may seem trivial, but I loved the days when the banquets had real porcelain plates and silverware and water glasses.....not cheap paper plates and plastic utensils.....this is my own personal thing! I have more and could go on, but WTC is NOT about the athlete or community....just profit driven for the wall-street share-holders. While I was at first in shock over the lost of the "Ironman" name/WTC, I now and openly welcoming the change, and hoping for some of the "old" spirit of the Penticton race! I love Penticton, the course, it's people, and can't wait to be a part of Challenge Penticton 2013! Brian Kelley, Spokane, WA.

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    1. Sorry, but considering the bike lot captains volunteered all their time from all day Friday setting up, all day Saturday checking bikes in, started race day at 3 am to be at transition before all the athletes got there, it only makes sense that when all the security leaves at midnight and nobody is left to help volunteer in the bike lot no matter how much you try to convince people to show up and stay, nobody would take over to safely check out bikes, that is why there are bike check out cards so that family, friends, someone hired to transport your bike can safely take it from transition for you while you are still on the course. The are no excuses for not thinking ahead of time, everyone is told the significance of the cards. I don't know how challenge did it this year but I assume it would be the exact same, ask a volunteer to stay or show up for a shift that will take them into the wee hours of the morning and see what happens, what you're also asking is for a volunteer captain to stay an extra hour or so after a 21 hour day, which was preceded by a 8 hour day, preceded by another 8 hour day, not to mention battling heat stroke before race day which consisted of vomiting, dizziness, exhaustion, etc. but no..... All you see is that volunteer captain shutting it down just to spite you and that person being one of the factors to what was wrong with ironman

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