Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ironman or Irondistance?

And thus is the $64,000 question!  Now that I've done a WTC Ironman and a non M-dot branded Iron distance do they stack up?

Dun dun dun.....first things first.  A few quickie disclaimers.  I am not an expert.  I've done two 140.6's and am basing my thoughts solely on my experiences.  Also, I never expected the independent race to "rival" WTC hoopla, at all.  Thirdly, and this involves trust :-P  Let me tell you right off the bat that I am not a "race snob".  I could care less how much frill goes into a race and really just look at safety, experience, the bottom line-my wallet.  Okey dokey?  With that said, I'll dive right into a few categories for comparison!  (Oh, one last thought-this is not based on the courses at all, either...even though I have thoughts on both :-D)  For each comparison IM= WTC Ironman, CM= Iron-distance (in this case, Chesapeakeman).

#1.  Cost/registration 
IM-Pay $575-800.00 (plus fees) one year in advance to race.  If for some reason you can't race, sorry Charlie (well, you do get $100 back).  In some cases, you need to go to the race site to actually register and may need to volunteer to secure a spot.
CM-Pay $350, can register until it sells out (this year it was open until the week before the race), all fees included.  I registered in March and if for some reason I could not race, I had until August 1st to withdraw to receive $265 of my $350 back.
Winner = CM

#2.  Pre Race Meeting/Athlete Information
IM: Information book provided/Athlete guide. Each segment of the course reviewed prior to race day.  Cut off times reiterated, each discipline reviewed course wise, and plenty of athletes with previous course experience on hand.
CM:  Athlete guide provided.  General review of FAQ's reviewed by Race Director.  Questions somewhat answered vaguely, bike course referred to multiple times as a "112 mile training ride".  No assurances to monitored intersections, on course food/liquid, and jokes made at athlete's expense several times during the meeting.  Very unclear answers to questions.
Winner= IM.  With the breadth of athletes that have done the IM race, you can usually get the answer to your question from either an athlete or the race director.  With the CM briefing, it was really unclear as to what the swim course was, if there would be aid on the bike course, or how things worked.  We were also told that athletes lose all common sense while racing.  Maybe true, but not necessary to pint out the night before an Irondistance race.

#3 Pre-Race Amenities/Swag
IM:  Carb load dinner of pork/beef, stuffed pasta, salad, brownie.  Race bib with name on it.  Finishers shirt and hat, medal, bag.
CM:  Carb load dinner with salad, 3 types of pasta (spinach, white, wheat), marinara. pesto, veggie lasagna, 4 different types of rolls, fruit, water, tea/coffee, and two different kinds of cake.  Post race brunch the day after.  Race bib (no name), race shirt, bag, water bottle,gloves, hammer products, finishers long sleeved shirt, bigger medal.
Winner:  CM.  Much better food and swag.

#4  Race Morning: 
IM:  Assistance pumping up tires, only athletes allowed into transition. direction from several volunteers, water provided for bottles, millions of nervous athletes and supporters, long walk (usually) to swim start.  Ample time to get in the water, clear direction about where to go, counted athletes getting into the water.
CM:  Anyone could enter transition, athletes directed to park drinking fountain to get water to fill bottles (water jogs reserved for changing tents), less people, close to swim start, not able to get into water before race, swim course confusion (depending on who you talked to, the course was either around the far buoy or not-the woman who won actually cut the course and they allowed it), not a clear starting signal.
Winner:  IM.  Even though there was less of a crowd, it was clear what you were supposed to do (which is really important for nervous athletes!), and they were safer by counting athletes.  Anyone could have bandited CM. 

#5.  The Swim/Race Start
IM:  Plenty of bouys, big turnaround buoys, plenty of kayaks to keep you on track or provide rest.  Mat coming out of water to avoid slippage. 3 million people in a mass start.
CM:  Buoys few and far between, kayaks drifted into the course and blocked buoys, hard to see buoys around kayaks and you swam off course to avoid them.  Also had Ski-doos.  Did not correct swimmers cutting the course (significantly cutting).  Boat dock super slippery, no mat, several athletes did a face plant. 500 athletes in a mass start.
Winner: IM by a nose.  It was nice having ski doos, but it seems the kayaks had no idea what they were supposed to do. Frustrating that it did not matter if you cut the course. Also, the swim exit was a mess.

#6 On Course Aid
IM:  Aid stations every 10 miles on the bike, port o potties, aid every mile on the run, a million volunteers ready to assist with every step.  A veritable buffet of everything you could want.  All turns well marked and manned, mile markers every 10 miles on the bike, every mile on the run.
CM:  Aid stations every 12 miles on the bike, every mile on the run.  Sufficient nibbles, not quite as varied as IM.  Not as many volunteers, needed to assist yourself most of the time.  Lack of direction for bike loop 2, lack of direction for bike hand off for T2 and also hard to get run and special needs bags (had to wait for both).
Winner:  This really isn't a fair comparison-it's directly related to the number of volunteers (see #7)  Overall, no issues at all with nutrition, but it was difficult to know what to do if you haven't done the course before.

#7  Volunteers
IM:  As stated above, a million volunteers that treated you like gold.  They knew what they were doing, and directed you well via the course.  If you needed something, they grabbed it for you in a second.  Roughly a ratio of 1:1 athlete/volunteer.  Strong incentive to volunteer tied to signing up for next year's race, therefore mostly athlete volunteers.
CM:  Not as many (obviously).  For each aid station, maybe 3-4 volunteers.  Good traffic control on bike (I was worried about this) but not as good at co-ordination/directions.  Alot of kids volunteering-which is great, but you could tell some of them didn't want to be there. (checking cell phones, rolling eyes, etc).The volunteer directing onto loop 2 for the bike really had no idea what she was doing, and same thing with run and special needs run bags.  There was a decent amount of waiting involved there, which is annoying when you are on the clock (and I tried to "help myself" but got yelled at).  However, some of the volunteers were STELLAR-run turn around aid station was GREAT!
Winner:  IM, no doubt.  However, I think a volunteer meeting might have cleared this up.  Also, some of our friends wanted to volunteer but were told they "had enough" volunteers.  They didn't.  And I have no issue pulling over on the bike or getting food myself, but direction would have been great.

#8 Mile Markers/Turnaround
IM:  Mile markers every 10 miles on the bike, every mile on the run. Mats at every turnaround for timing.
CM:  No mile markers on the bike, miles 1-4 on the run, then none.  Some written in chalk on the road, but you couldn't see them well, and there were two mile #23's....a huge mind F%$ck after racing for 137 miles. Also, no mats at all for any turnarounds. You could cut the course anytime you wanted. And people did.

Winner:  IM with a big exclamation point.  This wasn't an issue on the bike, but the run was horrendous.  Evidence of my mini melt down on loop 1.  If I would have known, I would have used my garmin.  Also, CM really needs mats, or at least the illusion of them so people don't cut the course.  I realize that it's on them if they do, but it was really annoying.

#9 After Dark
IM:  Glow sticks.  Generators.  Light (mostly).
CM:  Glow sticks.  3 cars patrolling the roads with head lights.  Pitch black.
Winner:  Eh, I don't know.  Since I wasn't on course for IM after dark, I can't really say.  But CM got super dark, super quick (at 7pm).  I can't imagine those going until midnight.  You couldn't see a foot in front of you.

#10 Post Race
IM:   Mike Reilly announcing "You are an Ironman!". Pizza, subs and soda.  Massage.  Medical . A T-shirt and medal.  Catchers.  A long walk back to the car.  Race results up ASAP (mostly), finishers paper the next day.
CM:  Announcer yelling your name (no ironman).  Massage, medical, catchers.  Long Sleeved shirt (dress) and medal.  Preliminary results.  Post race food....the same as food served on course!  (Gag me).  Results up two days later, with many many mistakes.
Winner:  IM, solely for results.  No biggie on the food, though it was amusing to go into the gym and see....pepsi, gatorade, cookies, and bananas.  Gag me.  No biggie with Mike Reilly, especially if you've done an Ironman. Results slightly frustrating because they actually gave awards to wrong people and DNF'ed people that didn't DNF.  But neither of those applied to me.

WHEW!!!  Ok, I'm done.  Bottom line?  If you want to race an ironman, do an M-DOT race, especially if it's your first.  If you want to race 140.6 and have a sense of adventure, go for an independent race.  You also need a heck of a lot of mental HTFU and be perfectly okay with the space between your ears to do it. 
Again, I want to say that I only have these two races to compare.  Will I do C Man again?  Probably not.  Would I try another independent Iron distance race?  You betcha.  Again, I want to reiterate that at no time was I looking for this race to be exactly like a WTC Ironman.  More like Jeff Henderson's Musselman versus a 70.3.  (which I would rate Musselman over in a heartbeat!)

Unfortunately, it just didn't stack up at all. Looking forward to trying B2B, Redman, The Great Floridian or Vineman to investigate further :-)  One more disclaimer-both days were completely awesome to me (IMLP 2010 and CMan 2011).  I was so happy with my performance both times, and don't regret doing either one.

So now.....onto the next adventure!!  What's your next adventure?


  1. interesting post, Rae. I'm surprised to see you didn't mention Rev3 events. I have been to both IM and Rev3 events as a spectator and racer (although only spectating at 140.6 distance) and Rev3 wins hands down against IM. First rate treatment of athletes and spectators, great volunteers, race directors who know what they are doing, and great venues. I would definitely recommend checking them out!!

    Congrats on a great race!! IM or not, 140.6 miles is still a long way to go!!

  2. Thanks Kelly! Would love to try a REV 3, forgot to add Cedar Point. I have heard they are wonderful-maybe on my radar for 2013!