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Challenge Family and Rev 3 merge

A couple of disclaimers as I start this post. 1) I have applied to be a Team Rev 3 member for 2015. My understanding is that the team will continue under the Challenge brand. But I'm in no way currently affiliated with any of the major triathlon companies. 2) Triathletes, I'm writing this for the general public who may not be as familiar with the sport. 

Like most people who come to triathlon, my first taste of it was due to Kona. That's the famed Ironman World Championships held on the Big Island each year--the one you see on TV in the award-winning NBC broadcast. The telecast usually covers both the pros and a few inspiring Age Group amateurs who have overcome obstacles or have amazing backstories. It's always inspiring and uncompromising in the portrayal of how difficult a 140.6 mile race is. But with a healthy dose of "you can do it, too." It's dramatic and full of emotion.

It also helped that The Mama was a triathlete when I met her. She'd raced Ironman Wisconsin. That was the race I'd picked as my least initially. I'd start with an Olympic distance race as my entry into the sport last season. But Ironman was where the glamour and action seemed to be so that was what I wanted to race. Cliche, but true.

But entering the world of triathlon is like falling down the rabbit hole. The Ironman brand is a jealously-guarded one. It's a large corporation. The brand has a large focus on qualifying slots for Kona and a very specific type of atmosphere as well as a price tag that is not known for being friendly to the wallet.

In contrast, the Rev 3 brand gained a reputation for solid race production that was family-friendly, less expensive, and responsive to the range of athlete abilities. They only had one iron-distance race (Cedar Point) and focused on shorter races with a small professional prize purse and limited pro racing. (Pro triathletes are a whole other can of worms I won't address much here. This is an Age Group perspective from an average participant...and a slow one, at that!)

The Challenge Family brand is well-known internationally--especially in Europe--fairly well-respected as a family-run organization, and had only recently entered the North American market with a handful/few mostly long distance races. I won't go into more detail--again, not focused on industry issues.

Which brings us to yesterday when Challenge and Rev 3 announced that a casual friendship between company leaders was turning into a full-fledged merging of organizations. Rev 3 largely stays intact "as-is" but comes under the Challenge label.

The social media and news buzz yesterday was almost immediately positive. The consensus was that this is going to be a good--if not great--thing for our sport. Why? That's harder to pin down with a variety of theories about what direction the new company will follow. Challenge gains a bunch of shorter races in one move and instantly enlarges their North American footprint. But is the goal to beat Ironman? Unite to provide a solid alternative? Will the focus be on shorter distances? Longer distances? The more cynical (in my opinion) voices seem to be saying that if Ironman really thought 2nd or 3rd major companies were viable they would have bought them up.

My take is that I don't think Ironman is going anywhere. For an Olympic or Sprint I don't know that I would shy too far away from local races either. But where there is plenty of room is in the middle...half-iron and full 140.6 races that stay more relaxed, cheaper, family-centered, inclusive, and still have a reasonable amount of bells and whistles. My leaning towards Cedar Point as my first full iron-distance next year (or whenever) is a case in point.

As a beginner, dad on a very strict budget, middle/back of the pack athlete, Ironman loses some appeal when you realize you're talking hundreds of dollars. The races themselves run in the $600-700 range but require a hotel stay starting at least Friday night, Saturday, a Sunday race, and then staying until Monday morning for Kona slot rolldown, signup for the next year's race if you want, or just recovering from your midnight finish.

In deciding I would tackle Rev 3 Cedar Point instead, the trade off is fewer athletes out there on the roads and in the water. No 2,000 person mass start. Not a lot of cheering crowds all along the course. But Rev 3 does a decent finish line. People complain about the post-race food sometimes, but then again why are you there? The benefit of doing Cedar Point is a possible reduction in entry fees...Rev 3 usually did a $300-400 early bird special in the month immediately after the race if you signed up for the next year's race. Plus, discounted hotel rooms at Cedar Point ran as low as under $100 with the added bonus of A) something for your family to do during your 15 hour race and B) Saturday check-in for a Sunday race possible. Meaning you could shave another $100 or more off your travel. For those of us racing $1000 bikes instead of $10,000 bikes that stuff matters. At Rev 3 races, you can cross the Finish Line with your kids. And little details add pre-race banquet with inspirational video. But you get your name on your transition space, crisp-looking temporary tattoos rather than Ironman's old-school Sharpie marker on your arm, etc..

The question going forward is going to be how much, if anything, changes under the Challenge brand? Will we see more long distance options? I'm guessing yes. Would I maybe consider, down the road, doing a Challenge brand 70.3 instead of Ironman brand? I sure would. If I want to race an Oly/sprint, will I neglect my local ones? No.

I think a lot of how things plays out will depend on too many factors to make predictions now. Ironman has some decisions to make in response to this. Challenge needs to find its way. The triathlon market (entry fee prices, locations, and more) will decide the future. There is definitely an elite (and I mean that in the worst way) streak in the community. But that's not the whole picture. How friendly we appear to newbies--as I've written about before--and how much we appeal to recreational versus serious weekend warrior types will also tell.

I know others will weigh in from their perspective. I write as someone who does one big race per year, maybe a few smaller races (be that 5k or a sprint tri), and pretty much wants to stick to longterm recreational "pure" racing. I don't want obstacle courses, color runs, themed adventure races. Nothing against those if you do. But I want to train, test myself, have a good time at a well-organized event, then start over and see if I can get better. I don't want to qualify for Boston, Kona, points standings in a series, whatnot.

I'm sure I'm in the minority, but just something for race directors and the leadership of some of these race organizations to think about when attracting participants.