IRONMAN Triathlon, What is it, Why people do it and Business Model…and My Wales 2016 Race Report…

What is it?

An IRONMAN (IM) long distance triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim (lake or sea), 112-mile cycle and 26.6-mile marathon run to the finish, all back to back. Top triathletes can take just 8 hours, whilst others can take up to 17 (at certain events) to finish.

I ‘LOVE’ IRONMAN!  Is a Paradox…?

Why do people put themselves through an inordinate amount of pain training their bodies for 6 months plus (?), struggle through injuries (?), pay in the remit of £1,500 plus per event (?) and then come back for another go? And not only that! A significant proportion of the entrants then choose to have tattoos of the Ironman logo on very obvious parts of their body (?) Seems absurd?

Why would people put themselves through such strenuous feats of mind over body in the first place! Let alone go back and do it again, which a significant amount of them do!

But Why?

Well, there is obviously the feel good factor associated with all the training you need to do to complete an IM. The change in body shape, improvement in skills, the ability to bounce upstairs without wheezing and of course the feeling that you can eat anything you like (within reason).

All this is very positive, but why do an IM in particular? There are other successful events such as the ‘Tough Mudder’ assault course, Hell Runner, ‘Challenge’ Long Distance Triathlons etc. which are all significant races in their own right, and even identical distances in some cases; but these just don’t seem to carry the same kudos or attraction to entice participants to keep going back for more again and again.

Let’s look into it a bit closer?

“Look there’s another one buying into the corporation!”…is what I heard one spectator say to another just after I finished the Wales IRONMAN in September 2016?

This got me thinking, ‘does that guy really believe that (?)’ or was it just a Smart-Alec comment? Does he really think that the entrants had just put their mind and bodies through a tortuous 10, 12, 17 hours for the recognition of a corporation? – I don’t think so (?)

So why do I and others do IRONMAN Triathlon?

It is simple, it’s the experience…IM has managed to not only make the event aspirational, it makes a community out of those that take part. The feeling of crossing the line after 13 hours, with the compere stating ‘you are  an IRONMAN‘ gives the entrant immense satisfaction, not because they have always wanted to be one necessarily, but because it is the feeling that the last 6 plus months training (All those early mornings and late night rides, runs and swims) have paid off.

It’s the culmination of all that effort into a single moment when you pass the finishing line; the people behind IM really make you feel unique, even special…

This is why triathletes aspire to the level of IRONMAN status; there just isn’t another comparable event that carries so much kudos.

It’s all about the Experience!

IM makes you feel special from the outset; the communication is supportive and structured, aiding you in the IM preparation every step of the way! Nothing is too big a problem unless you want to cancel (don’t expect too much of your entry fee back if you do!), everything else is managed to within an inch of its life. The attention to detail, the slick routines, the branding, the music, the DJ style compere etc. everything is precisely honed, putting the entrant center stage, all 2,000-ish of them at once!

In truth, I have never witnessed anything quite like it in any other event I have completed…


Come the event weekend, from the moment you collect your IM goodies like the IM branded rucksack and walk out of registration village you feel exalted, the pre-event race briefing, the pasta party, the Ironkids event, IM shop, the bag preparation for race day and bike drop off are all designed to make you feel like an IRONMAN (even if you haven’t done one yet!).

Then there’s the anticipation of the first event, the swim! The DJ style compere is doing his damnedest to get your heart going, psyching you up for the gruelling event. You stand there with your heart in your mouth, but it isn’t just you! There are around 2,000 others feeling exactly the same way! Then you are off…Now the machine is in full swing!

More of this in the race report…below…Wales Race Report…

At every stage of the IRONMAN, you are supported, you are encouraged and in the end rewarded.

Business Model – How does it work?

Now think of this in a business model context…initially you might think this won’t translate very well on paper – We are going to get revenue by charging people to do three massively strenuous disciplines (long distance swim, bike & run), charge them a lot of money (generally between £400-£500 per ticket, plus all other expenses) and give them a medal at the end. All we have to do is organise a few food stops and ‘jobs a good’un eh!’ This sounds all very transactional.

Now think of it from a different perspective – We are going to provide entrants with a life changing experience which has the ability to change the way they live! What’s more, we are going to do it in such a way that they will want to come back again and again. This is no longer a transaction but a ‘Customer Life Choice!’ Customers are buying into their dream…something that makes them feel unique.


The IRONMAN Corporation certainly know how to give you ‘The Experience’, they are masters at it. Every element of the event is considered and has a purpose, such as the ‘All World Athlete’ classification, which gives returning athletes different coloured caps singling them out from the crowd (encouraging re-entry), and the ‘Huge Banner of Honour’ (making the customer feel special) with all the entrants names on it clearly displayed for all to see. This is just two, of the many, examples of making the event relevant to the customer…a true ‘Customer Centric Approach.’

This doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it isn’t, but it is easy to forget the small things that go wrong, such as the overzealous marshal, when you are being looked after so well. In fact, when an IM event is considered in entirety the competition (other events) simply doesn’t measure up in terms of customer satisfaction. I have friends who won’t consider doing anything but an IRONMAN…quite a recommendation and endorsement of the experience.

There is also another great incentive for entrants coming back for more, the chance to beat last years’ time! Something that is truly unique to every entrant and a great repeat purchase incentive.

IRONMAN the Corporation!

All this said IM is a corporation and a sizable one at that! According to the WTC online ‘World Triathlon Corporation and the IRONMAN brand were acquired by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group. Wanda Group reached an agreement of 100% equity for $650 million and the assumption of debt from former owners Providence Equity Partners.’


Triathlete online continued ‘IRONMAN is expected to generate $183 million in revenue in 2015 and has increased revenue at a CAGR of 21% over the past four years. Due to its unique business model and proprietary intellectual property, the company is expected to deliver strong continued growth going forward.’

So as you can see the IRONMAN brand’s value is realised on the bottom line. All that effort put into excellence truly does pay off.

In Summary

In simple terms, IM means quality, reward, recognition, respect and a massive sense of achievement. That’s why triathletes buy IRONMAN above other similar events.

The thing to remember from a business perspective is it is the unique intertwined aspects of the IRONMAN which makes the customer feel special. This is no easy feat, it requires precision and uncompromising acceptance that everything must be perfect.

Many people could say that “they have significant resources too, so it’s easy.” I disagree; consistency of service is equally difficult to manage whether it is large or small scale. But whatever your view, IRONMAN should be applauded for what they have achieved.

And one thing is for sure, I will be a returning customer 🙂

Below, I have provided a race report of IM Wales completed in Sept 2016…go on, see what all the fuss is about!

IRONMAN (IM) Wales Race Report 2016

I was asked to write up my recent Ironman Wales event for my triathlon club and thought I would share it with a wider audience, as I am quite often asked: “what is it all about?” So here you go, an account of IRONMAN Wales 2016.


Wales Race Report

September 18th – time to put all that training to the test.

The previous six months preparation had been up and down with moments of both delight and sheer frustration; at times I questioned whether I would actually be able to complete IM Wales, with a series of injuries including shoulder and a hip flexor strain making some of the distance work impossible.

But with perseverance and a realigned expectation of finishing time, I pretty much completed the Fink ‘Be Iron fit’ training plan with acceptable times. I was very cautious to include hill work in my preparation, as I knew IM Wales is renowned for a hilly bike and run. In fact, IM Wales is considered one of the toughest IM in the world, so a considered approach was more than required, it was mandatory.

So, the time had come and I felt pretty good. My game plan was simple, consistency is the key – 13 hours the goal; with such a tough bike and run I felt it was important to maintain a steady sustainable pace throughout the entire IM, and avoid the desire to push ahead of a comfortable pace.

Luckily for all those involved the weather forecast was good with no rain and not a lot of wind; thank goodness for small mercies!

I walked to the start line with Wayne Perkins and selected my swim time; after some fb_img_1474395168012deliberation, I selected the 1:20 swim off; I had completed the swim and bike segments before, as part of the Long Course Weekend, so knew roughly what I would achieve. At 6:45 we walked in a column down to the sea. Even at this time of the morning, the streets were full of supporters. Wales IM is unique in that T1 is a 1,000-meter run mainly uphill; due to this fact, you have an extra transition bag for trainers and to place your wetsuit in. This adds a nice variation to an already tough day!

As we waited in line the IM compere did his level best to get the 1800 participant’s hearts going, this along with pumping music and chatter amongst the crowd ignited the enthusiasm; the atmosphere was palpable.

The starter went and the pro men were off, followed by the pro women and then the mass of age groupers. The first 1.9KM lap felt fairly good, the shoulder held up well and I exited and re-entered for the second lap at about 38 minutes. The second lap was far choppier with an RNLI boat adding some man-made waves to make it a little more interesting. That, and the several sightings of, what seemed, huge (!) moon jellyfish made for a quicker second lap and I finished the 3.8km swim in 1:09.


I took my time on the 1km run to transition, got changed and set out on the bike. I had made the decision to ride a road bike, as I was familiar with the course. In hindsight I am not sure this was a good call, as although the course has some 2,000 metres of climbing, there are long straight sections; however, I later heard of several incidents where participants had come a cropper using Tri bars, so I guess I’ll never know.

The course is basically 180KM – three separate loops, the first down from Tenby towards Angle and the second two take you back north of Pembrokeshire up to Narbeth; some of the climbs towards the end of the course are between 15 – 25% gradient! I completed what can only be described as a monstrous ride, in 6hrs 59 minutes, just under the 7-hour target. So far, so good!

Once again, I took my time in transition and changed. The run was four 10km laps and very hilly. In essence, you are either inclining or declining. By this time I was feeling quite fatigued but was buoyed along by the great atmosphere. As I ran through Tenby centre the streets were lined with people cheering and encouraging us on – the noise was immense.


I have never felt so tired, yet so determined to get the run completed as quickly as possible. As the dark drew in floodlights lit the route; the strange image of walkers and runners, in varying states of fatigue, doing their utmost to keep going is an image I will remember for some time to come.

The colour band collection, at the end of each lap, became the focus. The legs were tight; my general stride had shortened significantly to accommodate a more comfortable pace.

On my final lap I fell in step with another participant who stated that they were looking to get under 13 hours, the same as me, so we increased the pace together.

As I ran through the 26-mile mark I had an immense sense of satisfaction and relief. This emotion grew as I entered the finishing tunnel and with the support of the crowd I finished the marathon in 4:25 and an overall time of 12 hrs 56 minutes. All had gone to plan.

Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. Please feel free to drop me an email at


Thanks to Worl Triathlon Corporation – IRONMAN,, SkyCAM WALES & for use of their pictures.






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