Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Race By Any Other Name

On May 4th, I was halfway to Cincinnati when my phone buzzed. We were stoped at a gas station that proclaimed a very bastardized acclamation of the Gospel (sorry to anyone but rich, white landowners, heaven, apparently, just ain’t for you!). I was basically in nowheresville.

I checked my email, expecting spam or work and instead saw this:

From: Ironman 70.3 National Harbor
Subject: Important Event News

You tell me what you think when you see that. I had two thoughts: 1) I probably need to request a start time or something. 2) The race is cancelled.
#2 was the correct gut feeling. This was the content of the email:
Dear Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Athlete, 
The inaugural Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Triathlon has been cancelled. Athletes registered for the event will receive a full refund of their entry and processing fees.Refunds will be issued within 30 days and will be credited to the card used for registration through the Active Network. 
Ironman is committed to helping participants reach their goal of racing an Ironman 70.3 in 2012 and will further offer each athlete impacted by the cancellation a $50 discount to one of the events listed below: 
[Blah blah blah list of races and how to re-register] 
Thank you for your understanding and patience through this process. We wish you the best of luck with your training and racing.
I’ll leave the commentary to other bloggers who have better deconstructed this quick cancellation, but I can tell you what I thought: nothing.

I was so caught up in the travel to Cincinnati that I literally had 0 concern for this. I was really lucky. I got on the phone with my coach immediately who, of course, already knew about the cancellation. She encouraged me to not worry about it, that she already had some options lined up for me, and that we’d talk about those after Flying Pig – but not now. In case you were ever considering getting a coach, this is one of those top 5 reasons to have one.

I will admit that I did spend a good portion of the drive wondering why. Having worked in PR before, this hasty cancellation without explanation was driving me mad. I knew something else was behind it. Coach mentioned the National Harbor’s bad rap for hosting races (anyone remember the Hot Chocolate 15k?) 

I also remembered the problems that DC Rainmaker had when he previewed the course  and that the Potomac has been worse and worse for race conditions (to the point where swims are frequently cancelled). 

When Coach said that this cancellation was a good thing, I believed her. But my PR mind was still chugging. You only send out bad news at 4pm on a Friday. Twitter rumors were swirling, lots of finger pointing was going on, but in the end, this was the second email we received, almost two weeks later:
Dear Athlete,
The Ironman 70.3National Harbor Triathlon was cancelled because not enough athletes were registered for the event. 
Initially we kept quiet because Ironman asked us to stay silent, not post anything on social media and not send out any press releases so that the damage to Ironman’s brand would be minimized. We were fools to agree and that was a big mistake on our part. 
We should have communicated immediately and told you the reason from the start. We have nothing to hide from the truth and were just initially intimidated by Ironman's request. 
We apologize.
I believe almost 90% of this. There’s something else, but it’s neither here nor there.

I got an email from Coach the morning after my marathon and reviewed my options:
  • Ironman 70.3 Timberman, New Hampshire
  • Patriot’s Half in Williamsburg, VA
  • Ironman 70.3 Austin
I also looked at the list and, at the urging of my twitter friends, added two more to the maybe pile:
  • Ironman 70.3 Augusta
  • Beach to Battleship, North Carolina

I nixed Timberman pretty quickly. I don’t know New Hampshire and it’s a long drive (flight?) and it just seemed like it may as well be in a foreign country when you applied a half ironman to it. Austin is a bit late in the season, and since I’m pretty sure I want to do Giant Acorn (how can you not with a name like that?), it didn’t work. Especially not if I sign up for the Richmond Marathon.

While I was batting around ideas for a new race with my friends in Cincinnati, I floated Augusta. A friend said that the swim course was the easiest for an Ironman – it’s in a river, with current. This was sorely tempting to me, but pride beat me when the same friend said, “I hear that a doritos bag made the swim in 45 minutes.” Pass.

Between B2B and Patriot’s I have two great options for a new 70.3. The only thing that stuck with me was that neither is Ironman branded. In fact, Patriot’s is actually 2 miles longer (on the bike) than an IM 70.3.
I sat down and tried to deconstruct this one night on my bike trainer. If you’ve been on a trainer at all, you’ll know that you do a lot of thinking on that bastard piece of shit (read the link, trust me, you’ll die laughing. Scroll down for description)  

I realized after an hour of going no where (literally), that a brand name doesn’t make the race. The effort and time and training I put into it makes it a race. I started out with this thought process:

My heart says I should choose Patriots. Coach will be there, Williamsburg is close, it’s cheaper than an IM race, and some of my teammates are going. I should do Patriots.

But it’s not an IM branded race. Do I care? I feel like I should care. You were in marketing. You realize that this is basically just good marketing. It’s 2 miles longer than an IM. That makes it more badass. They should make magnets specifically for this one. 72.3. “Well, yes, I’ve done a half IM, but it was 2 miles longer.” This isn’t my only 70.3. This is a good first one. Admit it, you had nightmares about T1 from National Harbor.

But what about Augusta? That’s close to my folks. But then you’ll have done the easiest of the half IMs. Pansy. No, not pansy. Half IM. I hate my bike trainer. This thing is a piece of crap. Why am I on this bike? I could give up training right here, right now. I could just quit while I’m ahead with a sub 4 marathon. That’s pretty beast.

After a lot [more] of inner monologue, which I will spare you, I came to the conclusion that a brand doesn’t make a race any more or less awesome. Ironman or not, I’m doing a 7[2].3 and what will make that race badass is that I will have trained and poured myself into that accomplishment.

How about you? Does race branding matter to you? If so, why?


  1. So for me, when I went through the though process of another half distance in the fall, I think I had the same list as you did. Some were ruled out because it was too late into marathon training.

    I ended up picking Augusta because it worked in my schedule. But more then anything else, it is an M-dot branded race - so you know the race support is going to be amazing. I thought I saw that last year's participation list of Augusta is almost double of Chesapeakeman. But that's also something that I look for as well - crowds and good energy.

    But you have to sign up for races to fit your needs from a race. And you never know who else is going to join you. So far, 5 friends have signed up for Augusta with me so far. You could be #6! ;)

  2. I did Poconos last year and really enjoyed it. I think its the last weekend in September. Its ironman branded and HILLY, and definitely within driving distance.

  3. I went through the same process when choosing my 70.3. I really wanted to do an M-dot branded race and well picked mooseman. In the end I realized it was a far drive and did Kientic instead. It was nice and it didn't matter that it wasn't an official IM race. You will have at Patriots.