How Ironman Triathlons Plan to Endure the Pandemic

A couple of months in the past, Andrew Messick, the chief govt of Ironman, figured his firm had diversified fairly properly by organizing endurance races for fervent followers and members throughout the world.

On any given weekend, an Ironman-owned occasion was occurring someplace. The firm’s sprawling operation included greater than 235 races in over 50 nations. There are full (140.6 miles) and half (70.three miles) Ironman triathlons, in addition to marathons, biking races and path races.

Messick was fairly sure the geographic unfold was factor, as a result of whereas pure disasters or another type of calamity — fires, civil unrest, a conflict — is likely to be occurring in a single area, certainly there couldn’t be a circumstance that might shut down stay occasions in each a part of the world.

“To have literally everything go wrong everywhere in the world at exactly the same time is unprecedented,” Messick said recently from his home near Tampa, Fla.“A situation of indeterminate length is really hard if you are in the event business.”

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has forced the leaders of virtually every sports organization, from the International Olympic Committee to Little Leagues, to cancel or postpone events they had planned years ago.

Ironman’s struggles illustrate the uncertainty of this moment as the company tries to placate its passionate customer base.

That leaves Ironman in an awkward purgatory, during which the seller wants to spend as little money as possible and the buyer wants the company to do everything possible to maintain its value.

“My fiduciary responsibility is to operate the business normally,” Messick said. “I don’t exactly know how to do that right now.”

Ironman has more than 800 employees in 26 offices around the world. The company has not laid off or furloughed anyone. It is considering salary reductions and any other maneuvers that can help keep the organization intact.

“We’re trying to get through the night, that’s our objective,” Messick said. “None of us knows how long the night is going to be.”

Messick said the company is simply trying to give customers the chance to participate in an Ironman event, even though no one can say for certain when that will happen again, and to let the best athletes qualify for the world championships held each October in Hawaii.

Consider Johan Bosman, 60, a minister with the Reformed Church of America who lives in Niskayuna, N.Y. He was scheduled to travel to his native South Africa for the African championships on March 29. When they were postponed to November, he signed up for the North American championships in May in Utah, figuring life would be back to normal by then. Ironman has postponed that race to September.

Now Bosman is training for both races, as well as the Musselman Half-Ironman in Geneva, N.Y., on July 19, though he said that observing the endless suffering from the pandemic had sapped his motivation.

“I train, but not with the same intensity,” he said.

Will Rogers, 61, a primary care paramedic and triathlete in Vancouver, has seen the suffering up close, but his training continues. He technically retired three years ago but works 80 percent of full-time hours to finance his racing schedule. He has participated in 150 full and half-Ironman distance races over the past 30 years.

Kristen Hislop, a triathlete and coach who lives near Albany, N.Y., said she was pessimistic about two New York Ironman events she had signed up for: the half Ironman in Geneva and a full Ironman in Lake Placid, both in July. “That timing right now looks very tough,” she said.

Entry in next year’s events might not work for her, with one of her children graduating from high school and heading off to college and her schedule in flux.

“It’s really hard,” Hislop said. “You’re training and you just don’t know when you’re racing.”

Since March, when everything was put on hold, nearly 100,000 athletes have signed up to complete Ironman events virtually, reinforcing how important the structure of regular training and racing is for people, Messick said.

“You can control your physical state and your attitude in this crazy Covid world, but maybe not that much more,” he said.

The company is also streaming cycling competitions between elite athletes going against each other virtually from their living rooms. Down the road, the company may delve further into online coaching and nutrition, but Messick said it was just as likely to expand its portfolio of endurance events.

Advance, Ironman’s soon-to-be owner, is fine with that. Janine Shelffo, Advance’s chief strategy and development officer, said her company had been eying Ironman for a year and believed it would always be, at its core, an event-based business, despite the peril that live events face right now.

Advance, she said, acquired Ironman as a long-term investment because it admired the company’s growing global presence, its passionate customers, its management team and its commitment to long-term health and fitness. That outweighed concern about this pandemic or any other in the future.

“We went in with our eyes wide open, knowing there might not be live events for much of 2020,” she said. “And that’s fine.”

Messick doesn’t anticipate that Covid-19 will cause “a fundamental disruption to the appeal of people doing these challenges, like running a marathon or doing an Ironman.” It’s just that providing those opportunities safely is an evolving challenge. He has no idea whether small local companies — providing timing, traffic control or photography — that Ironman uses for an event will still be in business after six months of no races.

“We’re all scrambling,” Messick said. “Whatever happens, there is this one and there is the next one. One of the things this one has taught us is that there is going to be a next one.”

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