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Survey: Most locals support Ironman

Virtual meeting will explain results

John Cooling (1777) competes in the 2019 Ironman Lake Placid triathlon. (News photo — Lou Reuter)

The results of a recent Ironman Lake Placid survey show that the community is nearly evenly split on their support of the triathlon, but the majority of survey participants are in favor of the race continuing here.

The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism will host a virtual community call to present the survey results next week. The results were explained to Ironman Task Force members during two meetings last week.

Out of 1,441 respondents, 49% said they support the race and 41% stood opposed. The remaining 10% claimed a neutral stance on the race. Thirty-one percent of respondents voted in support of canceling the race, the top-ranking response from participants when asked what changes should be made to the race.

Survey results show that almost 1,180 people who participated in the survey live in race towns — Lake Placid, Keene, Jay, Upper Jay and Wilmington — while around 260 live in outlying regional municipalities like Saranac Lake, AuSable Forks and other Adirondack zip codes. Participants with out-of-region zip codes weren’t included in the results, and responses were grouped by IP address to weed out duplicate submissions.

Participants answered questions about their overall level of support for Ironman — whether or not they favored the race — as well as specifics about their residency, whether or not they live on the race course and if they are a local business owner. People also had the opportunity to provide short-answer responses about what they see as detriments or benefits of the race, their experiences related to training leading up to the race and instances where athletes or spectators have disrespected personal property.

In July, officials from the town of North Elba, village of Lake Placid and ROOST signed a one-year contract extension with Ironman to allow the triathlon to return in 2022. The contract will be up for renewal again next year. Officials created the Ironman Task Force after hearing pros and cons about the contract extension during a virtual public meeting with ROOST. When the contract extension was announced two days prior to this year’s race, ROOST wrote in a press release that the task force would “address issues surrounding the event while looking for ways to improve community benefits.”

Key findings

The survey was launched on Oct. 20 and closed on Nov. 1. ROOST Data Analyst Jay Bennett compiled the survey along with ROOST Director of Digital Strategy Jasen Lawrence, with input from task force members. Bennett analyzed the data and created a slideshow with the survey findings and presented it to Ironman Task Force members, who discussed the survey results over the course of virtual meetings on Nov. 17 and 18.

When asked what the main detriment of the race is, almost 50% of survey-takers said that “athletes who come to train here don’t respect the rules of the road and impact my commute.” Two other top complaints were related to race-day traffic and overcrowding “in and around town.”

Other survey results show that the number one complaint from survey participants was about athlete training leading up to race day. Some members of the task force, and ROOST, have noted that it’s hard to determine which cyclists are training for Ironman and who’s cycling on the race route throughout the season for recreational reasons.

The race’s “positive impact for the region” ranked as the highest benefit of the race, gathering 38% of participants’ votes. Additional top-ranking benefits were that the race exposes the region as an “international sports destination” and introduces new people to the area.

The survey also showed that people who have watched, volunteered for or participated in the Ironman race were five times more likely to support the race than people who haven’t interacted with the event.

Community call

ROOST will host a community call to get more feedback about the survey results and the Ironman race at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 30. People can access the meeting through Zoom with the meeting ID 842-0713-0698. People can also call into the meeting with their phone by dialing 929-205-6099.

Bennett said that Lawrence will present the survey results at the community call. While the meeting is scheduled to last an hour, Bennett said that time frame might be “hard to stick to.” He said that as long as people are asking questions on the call, ROOST employees plan to provide answers.

In October, the task force planned to use the survey input to better inform their recommendations to officials on whether Ironman should continue to be held in Lake Placid and, if it does continue, what alterations, if any, should be made to the event. ROOST Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Lawrence said ROOST wanted to host the community call to give more people the opportunity to see the survey results and ask questions in real time. She said that the community response in the call could help steer the task force’s final recommendations about the race, which are expected to surface by the end of this year.

Task force reaction

Task force member Ann Stillman O’Leary, whose home and office are both on the race course, said “more information needs to be discovered” about the economic impact of the event before she interprets the survey results. She thinks people would have responded to the survey differently if they knew more about Ironman’s economic impact on Lake Placid and neighboring towns affected by the race, she said. The task force is slated to discuss the Ironman budget during their next meeting.

Bryan Magnus, a task force member and Lake Placid resident who has competed in the Ironman Lake Placid race in the past, said he was impressed by the level of participation in the survey.

“To me, that really validates that the local community cares a lot about the future of the event and if we’re going to renew the contract with Ironman longer term, we need to get it right and make sure the communities’ concerns are properly addressed,” Magnus said.

Task force member Julie Woody, an on-course Keene resident who’s also an Ironman Lake Placid veteran, said the survey shows that people generally favor the race and its economic impacts, and she believes the survey illuminates an issue that extends beyond Ironman — increased cycling in the area.

“To me, this illustrates a clear impetus to make cycling and shared use of our roadways safer for both cars and cyclists,” she wrote in an email Friday, Nov. 19.

Ironman Lake Placid

The Ironman Lake Placid triathlon has been held every summer since 1999, except in 2020 when it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It features a 2.4-mile swim on Mirror Lake; 112-mile bike ride through the village of Lake Placid and towns of North Elba, Keene, Jay and Wilmington; and a 26.2-mile run in and around the village. The finish line has traditionally been on the Olympic Speedskating Oval; in 2021, the finish line was on Main Street in front of the oval due to construction, which is expected to be finished this winter.