Exclusive Interview with Ironman Asia MD, Geoff Meyer: What does it take to organize an Ironman race?
Every year a momentous triathlon has been celebrated in the mythical islands of Langkawi in Kedah, Malaysia where ‘weekend warriors’ transform at the finish line, with the words’ You are an Ironman’.
The triathlon community comes alive and many ‘weekend triathletes’ aspire to become an Ironman, by first swimming 3.8km then cycling 180km and finish with running 42km in a single race. This has contributed to the rise in endurance sports in Malaysia and Asia, therefore the community was extremely disheartened when the Ironman Malaysia has announced that this would be the last race in Malaysia unless another sponsor steps up.
Known as the Tropical IRONMAN Adventure, this race hosts up to 1000 professional and age-group athletes from around the world. The race was reintroduced by IRONMAN Malaysia in 2014 after a hiatus, and is one of two races in Malaysia, along with the IRONMAN 70.3 Putrajaya, which takes place in April.
We spoke toManaging Director of Ironman Asia, Geoff Meyer (GM) on the trials and tribulations of organizing an IRONMAN race.
TA: What does it take to organize an IRONMAN race?
GM: The logistics and coordination of stakeholders, manpower and athletes is enormous, it’s definitely not for the faint hearted. I often tell my staff it’s harder than doing the actually race.
We plan for everything, contingencies as well, but you can never control the weather and that can pose a huge obstacle on race day. We have a staff of 14 in Malaysia pretty much working full time year round on our two IRONMAN events in Malaysia.
TA: Tell us the difference in organizing IRONMAN Langkawi as an island/coastal race location, while IRONMAN 70.3 Putrajaya is South East Asia’s only cityscape race.
GM: They are vastly different but the fundamentals still remain the same- create the best athlete experience we possibly can. That still means all safety aspects are of a very high standard – things such as swim safety, closed roads, proper aid to athletes along the route, medical facilities and recovery, the safety of the venues, and so on. Most importantly, we create an atmosphere and personality for each event.
Langkawi is that true destination race for the whole family; it’s a tropical paradise, so we work to make it inclusive for the whole family to enjoy. Putrajaya is more readily accessible for athletes and we deal with the logistics of closing down sections of the city while still enabling it to operate. This is a huge task.
TA: How does IRONMAN cater to the average triathlete who may have different strengths apart from the standard set during the event?
Someone might be slower in the swim, but is a fast cyclist and an average runner – they can comfortably finish in the 17 hours, but are unable to if they bypass the cut-off times for each leg.
GM: Every athlete has their strengths and weakness and we try to take the stress out of all of them, so they can focus on their race performance. Yes, we understand that cutoffs are a contentious issue; unfortunately we work within strict guidelines and prioritize safety.
One is the road closures – we close roads that inconvenience communities, so we need to be able to give roads back at the dedicated times so locals can resume their normal daily lives – cut-offs need to be adhered to minimize that impact, and that effects swim, bike and run.
The other is the medical safety of athletes, being in the water for too long is a real issue, and bike and run also have limits from a medical point of view. It’s only fair to the community and all stakeholders that we work within these boundaries.
TA: How will IRONMAN encourage participation for returning triathletes and new ones alike?
With the state of the global economy, it’s becoming increasingly expensive for triathletes to participate in IRONMAN races.
GM: We understand that doing an IRONMAN can be an expensive sport, but when you add up the functions – more than 17hrs of road closures, infrastructure, manpower, medical, food and hydration on course you soon realize how much goes into these events and the associated costs.
We continually work with stakeholders to reduce these costs and offer early bird costs, bundles and packages that can help reduce the entry fee. We also understand that the entry fee is also only a small proportion of the overall costs when we add coaching, training, bikes, equipment and so on.
This is something we work with our sponsors and coaches to try to offer free advice or discounts. It does become a lifestyle so training with other like-minded people or joining clubs can help in this way, as we do help clubs be more involved in our events through an array of incentives and discounts.
TA: What are the future plans for IRONMAN Malaysia?
GM: Our current contract with Malaysia Major Events (MME) is nearing an end.
We hope to continue, IRONMAN in Malaysia has grown significantly, not only the international athletes coming in for the race but within the local Malaysian community as well. The people of Langkawi have made the event their own and it ranks as one of the best on a global scale. I would hate to see it disappear.