A lot of people have been asking what Ironman I suggest they do recently. Let me start by saying there are many reasons to do an Ironman (or 70.3) and it’s essential to determine what the objective is in order to pick a race that’s right for you. Is it your first time? Is the destination important? Does the Ironman brand justify the added cost (is hearing Mike Reily say “you are an Ironman” or purchasing your Ironman jacket that significant)? Do you have high racing standards or are you willing to rough it? Are you looking to qualify?
The sport of Ironman can turn even a six figure earner to a cheap college style of living if you let your race schedule get the best of you. Flights, hotels, race fees, transportation, etc. can all add up fast! I believe in the worth of an all-out A race Ironman once a year such as Placid, Texas, Tremblant or Arizona, and if you have money to burn why not go big, but for those like me who are doing this to get better and gain through experience I am writing this blog to tell you there is another way!
Recently I have been choosing HITS series triathlons over Ironman branded. The reasons for this are undeniable (and for the record I’m not receiving any kickbacks from HITS).
Cost of early registration for a HITS Full $200/Half $100 vs Ironman Full $675/Half $250
Ironman races sell out a year in advance while HITS races stay open until day of
HITS provide an option for Sprint, Olympic, Half or Full distance races all within the same weekend
Less competition means better placement and greater swag opportunities
Most crucial to me, these less significant “builder” races provide an opportunity to work on race day orchestration – hitting target power/HR, fueling properly and practicing pre-race nutrition, without the stress that comes with a high profile A race. My montra this season is go fast when it counts, and in order to do this it’s important to make mistakes early so that I can learn how to deal with them in the future. Thousands of dollars, the amount you can spend on a high profile Ironman race, is a lot to pay for a mistake, therefore I offer the following answer. This is my solution to racing Ironman on a budget comparing my upcoming Grand Junction Ironman to that of Iromnan Mt Tremblant in August.
Ironman Tremblant didn’t sell out right after race day a year in advance like Placid, partially due to Ironman’s announcement of a new race in the North East around the similar time, however it did sell out a couple months later. I bought my slot for just under $700US after fees. With HITS Grand Junction I took advantage of the early bird special, still registering way later than Tremblant, but at the crazy low price of $200, less than a third the cost of Ironman registration!
The big bummer with flying to races is most airlines charge a hefty fee for your bike. Add to that the price of a bike box, and consider you’ll likely need a rental car for the weekend. Increasing to the hassle is the fact that for Tremblant I’ll be crossing the border so forget my passport and it’s game over.
For Grand Junction to avoid the aggravation of flights, bike fees and car rentals I’m opting to drive the 11 hours to Colorado. It’s a long trip but considering the amount of time to fly LAX to Denver through Las Vegas and then 3 hours south to Grand Junction it’s not much more travel. I will rent a high gas mileage car to drive, which I do for most races, to save wear and tear on the Jeep (the amount I save in gas usually covers the $20/day rental fee). I’ve found rates as high as $40 and as low as $9/day thru www.expedia.com with coupon codes.
Hotels for Tremblant are a bitch, plain and simple, much like it was the case for Placid!! If I wasn’t splitting with friends I couldn’t afford it. Last year my mom treated me and my sisters to a lake view cabin which was a wonderful and gracious treat. Most hotels for these high profile destination Ironman races are as much as $200/night or more with 4 day minimums and fill up a year in advance.
For those that can handle it there’s the option of camping. This is what I have chosen for all my first half of the season races. In Placid you can spend $1000 on a hotel for the long weekend or $100 for the same duration camping a couple miles out of town. Is the difference in comfort really worth the $900 extra?? That’s an important question you have to decide on.
If you choose to enjoy nice restaurants, eating out with your family, the bill can add up quickly, however this seems to be the way to do it when you’re already invested and want to experience the city where you’re racing. I am sure I will be eating somewhere nice in Tremblant on occasion. But for all other races I buy 90% of what I’ll be eating from the grocery store before I leave home, only purchasing perishables as needed along the way. Eating the same grocery bought ingredients not only saves on money but ensures no surprises with your stomach on race morning.
I used to buy gear after races but stopped some time ago. It’s just not worth it to me anymore, but I can understand the need to wait on line to buy finishing jackets and apparel when you’ve achieved something you’re proud of. I rarely buy the race photos either. Fortunately there’s usually someone out there taking pictures that will send a couple to me for my blog and I try to return the favor whenever possible.
On another positive note with the HITS races it’s much easier to walk away with swag from the podium. Last race I won a pair of $100 blue tooth headphones and was a couple minutes off a new Xterra wetsuit. That kind of thing would never happen in Ironman!
The price tag is staggering but significantly cheaper with camping, driving and HITS vs Hotels, flying and Ironman. I was nervous at first that this post would make me sounds cheap, but with half a dozen key races on the schedule, and much lessor ones throughout there’s no denying the financial impact. It’s fun doing races, but when it becomes less about a positive experience and more about the take away value from that experience it is understandable how concessions need to be made when building a race schedule. The nice thing for me is that I’ve done both styles of races on opposite sides of the spectrum and had just as much fun camping at Wildflower as living large in Vegas. Bottom line – know what’s right for you as far as development and a positive experience.