The Poor Man's Ironman
by Lee Gruenfeld
They call it "Everyman's Everest."
Right. If by "Everyman" you mean anyone who can afford to pony up half a yard for the entry fee, fly to Kona and live there for a week.
I don't begrudge the entry fee. It takes a lot of money to put on an Ironman world championship event, what with closing down roads, hiring traffic cops, taking care of thousands of volunteers, setting up and stocking four dozen aid stations, renting vehicles, etc., etc. And I also know that the entry fees cover only a fraction of the costs, which is where the sponsors come in.
But does it really need to be this way? In this era of downsizing, does Ironman really need to be a spectacle every time out? ("Eight million bananas! Forty-two billion pounds of ice! Enough volunteers to populate the entire town of Piscataway!")
Of course it doesn't. There's a better way, a more modern, greener way that's not only far more economical, it can also accommodate hundreds of thousands more people looking for that one shot at glory and Monday morning cubicle bragging rights:
Do the whole thing in a high school gym.
Work with me here. First thing you do is put half a dozen Endless Pools right in the middle of the floor. T1 and T2 are next door in the cafeteria, which is still a lot shorter jog than getting from the swim exit to your bike on the Kona pier or the two flights of stairs and 100-meter gravel dash at Wildflower. Cyclists ride around the perimeter of the gym, runners in a separate circle just inside.
You can put this race on for next to nothing. It's so obvious I can't believe no one's thought of it before.
Sure, you'd have to limit participation to maybe a hundred athletes (two hundred if you've got a really, really good liability policy). But so what? You could stage hundreds of these races in a single weekend as long as there aren't any bake sales or proms going on. And, yes, you're going to need a staggered start. A really staggered start, since there can only be six swimmers at a time in the Endless Pools so somebody has to finish the entire course before another jumps in. But, again, so what? At Memphis in May, every single racer has his own start time and that works just fine, doesn’t it?
Think of the advantages:
- It'd be the most spectator friendly IM in the world. From a single bleacher seat you get to see every inch of the race and, with standard timing chip technology and a couple of big screen displays, spectators would know precisely where every competitor stands.
- The athletes would know, too, and could keep track of their competition at an unprecedented level of precision.
- Talk about keeping costs down: You'd need only one aid station for the entire field. And the beauty part is, athletes would no longer have to wait a mile or five miles for their next refueling. No one would ever be more than 45 seconds (runners) or 15 seconds (cyclists) from their next banana, de-fizzed Coke or Gatorade.
- Cheerleaders! High school cheer squads will show up for danged near anything, including car washes and the 4H "Biggest Hog" competition. They'll be out there leaping and squealing for the entire 72 hours it will take to get through this event.
- Weather problems will be a thing of the past. There's no weather inside a gym.
- Real bathrooms. No more lining up for some smelly, overused Porta-Potty. A short detour and you're right in the high school locker rooms where you can enjoy a smelly, overused toilet that actually flushes.
- Sponsorships would be strictly local, giving the event a cozy, down home feel. "The Ernie's Auto Body Paducah Ironman." Doesn't it just make you want to have an ice cream soda and join the Little League? How about "The Jeanie Ray's House of Nails Long Course?"
We do have to deal with the issue of allocating slots for the following year's worlds. My feeling?
Anybody who even finishes an Ironman in a gym should get one. End of issue.