Off to the Races!By Steve Fleck
The guy who put IRONMAN triathlons on the map in North America and really helped popularize endurance sports for the masses was Graham Fraser. As race and event director of some of the biggest triathlons in North America, Fraser has seen it all. However, what gave him the greatest feeling of pride and happiness was seeing a local person – usually, at first, non-athlete – who had progressed from volunteering to being a Volunteer Captain, to doing her first triathlon, to one day finishing an IRONMAN.
“Seeing that person cross the finish line realizing a dream and a goal of finishing an IRONMAN, coming from nothing and nowhere over a few years, was what always did it for me,” says Fraser.
That’s the thing with traditional endurance sports events, like your basic running race, triathlon, or a cycling event like a Gran Fondo: they have this built-in aspirational ladder that carries you from one level to the other as you grow and get better in the sport and more into it. Master the 10K then move on to the ½ marathon. Nail the ½ marathon then have a go at the marathon!
Non-traditional events such as cross-fit, mud and obstacle runs, and other themed runs are extraordinarily popular right now and have experienced some massive growth in the past few years. The Color Run for example, has gone from nowhere, to nearly 1 million participants in just over 2 years! The challenge for these events is, after you have done one (perhaps two) of them, will you do a third? Where is your goal? Where is the aspiration? Some, such as The Spartan Race, have tried to distinguish themselves from the rest, as serious endurance sports events of a rugged nature.
In traditional endurance sports, there is the progression of distance, and the measurement of time and distance, and that almost built-in human nature to be better, to go faster and to go further. Committing to getting involved in running, or triathlon, often means you are in for at least a few years. The sport has you for that period: as a regular event participant, consumer and user of the gear involved in that sport. For a sport such as triathlon, those gear choices and purchases can be a considerable investment – another reason to keep you invested in that sport for a while.
It has reached the point that in some circles and by some people, you are really not considered a triathlete until you have done and IRONMAN; or not a runner until you have run a marathon. Not a view I personally agree with, but when people start tattooing the IRONMAN logo on their bodies, you know that something has gone above and beyond in terms of its impact and importance!
Note, I am not against the cross-fit, mud and obstacle runs, and the themed runs; they have been a huge window into the world of outdoor physical activity for literally millions who would not have become involved in some form of physical activity. With obesity rates steadily on the rise, anything to get more people out and physically active is a great thing. What I hope is that these non-traditional events will eventually lead to more people looking at traditional endurance sports events – being another doorway to these traditional events… perhaps not a marathon or an IRONMAN, but maybe a 5K or a sprint triathlon. Then they are in; and from there, who knows where and how far they will go!
Steve Fleck is a lifelong endurance athlete. He is a husband and father; and a businessman. Steve is a race & event announcer for triathlon, cycling, running and all endurance sports events. Coming up later this spring, Steve will be doing the race announcing for the 2014 Paris to Ancaster Bike Race. Steve has his own blog, here. Follow him on Twitter @stevefleck.