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Ironman renewal?

Task force poised to recommend return of race in 2023

Ironman Lake Placid triathletes compete in the swim portion of the 2019 race on Mirror Lake. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Members of the Ironman Task Force are planning to recommend that local officials renew Lake Placid’s contract with the triathlon through 2023, extending its current contract by another year.

The task force also plans to recommend a few changes that members believe should be made to the race.

The task force committee — which includes local officials, community members and business owners — was created last summer to evaluate the economic and community impacts of the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon. Since its formation, the committee has discussed local issues related to the race and helped compile a community survey — sent out by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism last fall — that found the community to be nearly evenly split on whether or not the triathlon should continue to be hosted here.

After workshopping suggestions for possible improvements to the race this past December, the task force on Tuesday, Jan. 11 solidified a definitive list of recommendations and “deal breakers” related to keeping the race in Lake Placid beyond 2022. The majority of task force members agreed to recommend that the triathlon’s contract be extended through 2023. Many members wanted to go with a “wait-and-see” approach to further evaluate how their recommendations are handled by the Ironman organization in the next two years.

The Jan. 11 task force meeting was the committee’s last gathering after months of nearly weekly meetings. Members plan to compile their collective recommendations in a document over the next week. The recommendations will be sent out to government officials in the towns of North Elba, Jay, Keene, Wilmington and the village of Lake Placid this month before being sent to Ironman representatives.

Ironman’s offers

Ironman Regional Race Director Dave Christen approached committee members at their Jan. 4 meeting with a list of changes the Ironman organization would be willing to make to the race in 2022.

Christen said the organization recognized three key findings from the community survey, which motivated the ideas for change he presented to the committee: the year-round impact of training in the area, impacts on traffic and community accessibility on race day, and the lack of interaction from the Ironman organization and its triathletes with the community.

Christen provided “action items” on these issues to the committee, including developing an athlete code of conduct for training; creating a map to showcase the race communities and what they have to offer; communicating and coordinating with athlete teams; partnering with Google Maps to identify points of traffic congestion for local drivers; starting a race day hotline for locals experiencing issues so they can get answers in real time; funding and producing a “highlight” video of the region to showcase the area as a destination for athletes; and improving publicity of the Ironman organization’s donations to community organizations, which totaled around $90,000 in 2021.

Christen’s presentation also looked beyond the 2022 race and raised community survey points like considering a different course design and the possibility of rearranging race dates to better suit the community.

2023 extension

ROOST Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Lawrence facilitated the task force’s virtual meeting on Jan. 11, with the goal of solidifying the task force’s recommendations, which she referred to as “deal breakers,” for the 2022 race.

The task force identified five main changes to the 2022 race that they see as deal breakers if they’re not implemented. As the committee works to finalize its recommendations in the coming week, these items may be fine-tuned and additional items could crop up.

The first deal breaker the group agreed on was the need for a point of contact between locals and Ironman organizers that extends beyond race day. Christen has expressed resistance to the idea in past calls, and some task force members said Jan. 11 that they thought he was complicating the idea by believing the task force wanted a full-time point of contact. Most committee members agreed that they wanted a point of contact for around a month before the race, and that position could be filled partially by Ironman and partially by someone locally involved in the race. Task force member Julie Woody suggested that those questions could be filtered through ROOST.

Task force members also agreed that there should be a dedicated campaign for Ironman to address issues between cyclists and drivers throughout training months leading up to the race. The campaign would include clarifying the rules of the road for athletes and motorists. Committee members floated the idea of starting a reward system for training camps that don’t violate those rules. Lawrence said the training campaign would need to be fleshed out more as the committee moves forward with its final recommendations.

A campaign to highlight race communities and local businesses was also added to the recommendations list. This recommendation would coincide with Christen’s suggestion that the Ironman organization fund the creation of a local map that included a code of conduct for athletes. Lawrence said the map should be a collaborative effort between the Ironman team and locals.

The committee plans to recommend the creation of a list of race day congestion areas and escort services in tandem with Christen’s idea to identify heavy traffic areas on race day. The committee considered making these points of congestion accessible online, and they said Ironman would provide staff to escort people living on closed roads out of their driveways when needed.

The last recommendation the task force discussed was starting a communication plan to help highlight Ironman’s giveback to the community. Task force member Ann Stillman O’Leary said she thought this would improve the race’s approval rating among locals. Woody said a lot of locals don’t know how many projects, and exactly what community projects, are funded through Ironman’s giveback. North Elba Town Councilor Dick Cummings said that in the past, Ironman has given money back to organizations who man aid stations for the race, among other groups.

Task force member Bryan Magnus said that any promises made should be clearly communicated to race communities, and he recommended that the task force poll the community to gauge how successfully they believe those changes were implemented following the 2022 race.

Magnus and Woody acknowledged that some changes might take a few years to make a difference and sway public perception.

The majority of task force members agreed that the Ironman contract should be extended through 2023 and then reevaluated after that year’s race.

Other considerations

The task force also talked about recommending a cap on the number of athletes who can register for the race, changing the race dates in 2023 and creating designated parking areas for athletes competing in the race to minimize Main Street congestion, but those ideas weren’t discussed as final recommendations. Lawrence said that the parking issue would have to be taken up with the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid boards, who could decide whether or not they want to restrict parking in the village.

Task force member Cheri Cross brought up COVID-19 vaccination requirements for competitors, saying many people she knows who volunteer for the race would be hesitant to participate this year if athletes aren’t required to show proof of vaccination. Cummings said that the town and village boards would likely say that athletes have to be vaccinated, although last year the boards changed that requirement to a suggestion after receiving further guidance from the Essex County Health Department.

Not the end

Lawrence said that despite the Jan. 11 meeting being the last one scheduled for the task force, she didn’t think the committee’s work was done.

“I don’t think that this committee has come to a close because I think that this is going to be important that we continue to stay together,” she said.

Lawrence noted that the committee would have more work to do with the 2022 race, including pre-race and post-race evaluations of the Ironman organization’s efforts and community feedback.

“I hope that you’re all committed to staying with this for a while so that we can bring it to the best place possible,” she said.