Is Ironman the new Marathon?

The same WSJ article that I mentioned in an earlier post noted that 185k people attempt an Ironman-branded race each year. Really? That number is nearly 20 times higher than what I estimated in 2004. At the time, there were only 5 Ironman races in North America races and a handful of ½ Ironman races. Now, there are 15 full Ironman-branded races and 32 ½ Ironman-branded races in North America alone. When you think about the growth, that’s astounding.

And it makes sense – when Greg and I finished the Rock N Roll ½ marathon in DC this past weekend, the Ironman brand was all over the finish line. Hats, shirts, backpacks. People were proud to show off their achievement (as they should be), but the sheer volume makes the Ironman logo now seems like the equivalent of a 13.1 sticker on the back of a car.

Harsh? Maybe. But more people do seem to be drawn to the allure and challenge of the Ironman. The influx of new races shows that there are athletes begging to be able to participate in the event. Ironman races still sell out in minutes. For Lake Placid, Greg and our two friends sat at our computers for 10 minutes before the opening of the race – 12 pm EST, one year before the race – and kept hitting refresh for the chance to drop several hundred dollars to race. It sold out in 15 minutes, so getting into the race felt like we hit the lottery. There’s so much irony in that statement.

So, I can’t blame Ironman for maximizing its ability to expand the brand, and its revenue. But, I wonder at what point athletes will start to think that Ironman’s M dot isn’t elite enough. When will too many people share their accomplishment? When does the Ironman seem “common” for age groupers? And at that point, what do endorphin-charged athletes do next? Is it back-to-back Ironman races in one weekend? Is an “Ironman on each Continent” the next big thing? There are so many options; we’ll see.

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About the author

Now a 5-time Ironman finisher, Monique is starting to think that, perhaps, she might actually be an athlete. Triathlons were supposed to be a hobby to alleviate the anxiety of turning 30, but more than a decade later, and after a 5-year hiatus to start a family, she’s hooked again.

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