Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cs Get Degrees - Ironman Access Program

A new "access program" to signing up for Ironman races came out and then was squelched last week in a short amount of time (28 hours) "on the market" proving (once again) that you don't need to be a genius to be in race management or buy a race management company. The goal of the program was to bridge the issue of someone signing up for four full Ironman races a year and then showing up to one. Three "slots" that someone who actually WOULD show up race (read: and spend money) when only one "slot" gets used.

When Ironman (WTC) rolled out the Ironman bike helmet several years ago, there were focus groups, discussion forums, surveys and a seemingly a great deal of thought behind the new product. For the Ironman Access program there was no such communication that I am aware of. You? Once again, the WTC gets a black eye.

At Apple, the moto is "we make products that we want/would buy". Apple has become the fifth largest phone manufacturer in the world based on a smart phone that plays music (among other things), computers that don't have viruses and tiny, light music players. Perhaps the issue at Providence Equity and WTC is that they no longer (if ever) consume their own product. They have so much money that they WOULD buy the Ironman Access program. It shows that Ironman management is severely out of touch with it's customers. (Not unlike any other struggling company.)

As a customer and a volunteer (marshal at in season and championship races), I've seen these races change to a cheaper "made in China" version of themselves. Races like Silverman are nipping at Ironman's heels. Even USAT National Champs is offering better swag bags and event worthy goodies. Even the medal offered at the "Big Dance" - the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, went from a GIANT SILVER MEDAL to a cheap, brass and ceramic painted medal; like any you'd find at a decent local race. What a shame. I've reduced my consumption to one family friendly race a year (even if the race is overcrowded); a guy only needs so many crappy medals and branded race t-shirts.

What is interesting... look at the parent company of WTC the list of academic achievement is staggering: Wharton, Princeton, Brown, Duke, Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Missouri (really?), Berkley. What is notably missing are any athletic achievements. Interesting. This equity firm bought WTC and Ironman without ever having completed one themselves. In high school I hung out with the top 15 guys in my class. Not the top 15%. The top 15. Thankfully, my friend Tom was a 3.21 gpa and was the "dumbest" in our group of friends. I was a bit higher than Tom. (36 on the ACT = "perfect" - four of my friends had 35 or better). My point? In HS, we used to say things like, "You may be smarter than me, but I just kicked your ass in the pool." Or, "You may have just beat me in the pool, but one day, you'll call me 'boss'." Maybe we would call these (Providence Equity) people boss, but I'm pretty sure we'd all kick their ass at triathlon and common sense.

Another story from my past relates to book smarts versus actually "smart". I have two friends who are fabulous doctors. If you need an abdominal surgery or a brain surgery, Dr. Julie or Dr. Dan are your people. They are smart, nice and in Julie's case... amazingly beautiful. Dr. Julie (when we were undergrads) was studying with my room mate and I when another of our roomies came around saying he was going to go fro a ride in his convertible. Julie asked if she could go topless. Without missing a beat, my room mate said, "You can go any way you want Jules." She turned bright red. Dr. Dan is one of three people in the world to go into your brain and fix things you can't even see without a microscope and not kill or paralyze you. Dan once took 90 minutes to park a car when it snowed 1/4" because he couldn't see the yellow lines in the parking lot. I suspect the equity folks are like them.

The folks at Providence Equity bought a hell of a business. They are doing a great job at sucking the life out of it and pissing off the customers that made it great. Just like companies in the airline industry and software - triathlon is following down that road too.

To all you folks who got degrees with Cs at "lower" institutions of learning (but know how to park a car or talk to your customers) thank you. You have what I call uncommon sense and you call bullshit when you see it.

PS: Many of my friends started swearing off Ironman branded races three years ago. While I still love the idea of the Ironman "struggle", the races themselves have lost a bit of the appeal they had for me in the 1990s and early 2000s. The next thing to watch for is how Ironman will improve it's customer experience. I've done this management work for years. I think I have a new prospect.

PPS: Ironman is still awesome. I'd like to be treated awesomely instead of disdain as a customer. I don't need someone kissing my ass. I just don't want the attitude when I ask a question or need something at a race I go to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Back to Reality: The Kona Wrap Up

The "Kona Experience" was awesome. Kona is NEVER dull. Even if the race were not in town (aka: the circus) - Kona and the Big Island of Hawaii is a very awesome place. If you aren't spiritual... you will be. The incredible POWER of the sun, wind, heat and sight of the volcanoes (dormant and active) show you a bit of perspective.

We started our trip OUT of town. Did some things out near Waikoloa. Then we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa. We ate fish twice a day. (How can you not when you are eating fish at lunch that was swimming at 6am?) This year marshaling was part of a vacation to the big island. Lorrie joined me using plane tickets we won in an ALS auction in March. The last time Lorrie traveled to the big island I was racing Ironman... ancient history a decade old.

I tried to give my friends racing space. No calls. No text messages. (I hate texting - I must be old.) No Facebook or Twitter - I didn't want people to know for a week we were away. Greta was with my mom and dad - her second home as my dad continues to battle cancer. Dad (and mom too) really enjoy Greta. She listens extremely well to them. Still... Lorrie and I missed Greta very much.

Swimming in Kona is simply amazing. Corals, white sand, black lava, and tropical fish of every color. What people don't talk about in Kona is the surge. You can swim pretty hard and not move an inch - for several minutes. Waves are waves - 3-6' are "normal". So when you go to Kona you really have to be strong in the water. The salinity of the water if very high. I had read something about the salinity of the ocean being stronger near the equator. I'm not sure if that is true, but it feels that way. It is far more salty in Kona than Clearwater in my opinion.

Cycling in Kona is full of short, steep up and down rollers - as well as heat and wind. Sure... we have heat and wind here. However, combined with the enormity of the view of a mountain and a mountain range pair with the ocean - nothing nearly as stunning. Some people say the lava fields are "boring"... I'd like to know what they think is exciting. I think the lava fields are amazing! So much so that concentration can be an issue if you don't focus. Heat - the heat out there is in the low 100s and its very dry. By the time you understand you are behind in your hydration you are completely hosed. In Kona you don't have heat index, there is "radiant heat index" - the heat index when paired with heat off the lava rock. Temperature was 101. Radiant heat index was 127. Hottest I've felt since 2000. (out of 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010)

A big mahalo to the guys at Bike Works in Waikoloa. I elected to rent a bike in Kona instead of bring my bike. The shop turned out to be out of bikes after they told me I had a bike. In the confusion of the week, my reservation was given away. Honest mistake. I said, "No worries man" and we started to walk out. I said to Lorrie (quietly), "I'll just ride the hotel mountain bikes." The guy at the shop ran out of the shop and said, "Do you want to rent MY bike?" I didn't even need to adjust the seat. It was the first time I rode a bike out on the Queen K since 2000. It felt good. Real good. I was reminded of the high winds, high heat (I got a mild sunburn even wearing 80 SPF on a 1 hr bike ride.) How hot is it? Whatever hydration you normally bring for a "hot" run... double it.

I ran a lot in Kona. I did two seven mile runs and a nine miler. I started each of the runs with a 2.25 section of "trail" running (large "ankle twister" type rocks, sand, Honu turtles - your normal run in Kona). It felt great. On one of the toughest runs I did, a breakthrough. I was able to put my breathing out of my head and just run. Finally. A long way back still remains, but it was very good to have "that feeling" again.

Race day went well. Marshal work was pretty good. Marshals Jimmy and Ed caught five pros trying to use illegal speedsuits (magically) they had back up speedsuits. Amateurs were busted too. Most just didn't wear one.

A group of top age group athletes came through with some of the back of the pack pro women. I gave two drafting penalties in the first 90 seconds on the bike and was looking for more people who earlier seemed to be too close. As soon as the athletes saw that the marshals were calling the race like a World Championship - they started racing cleanly. I issued 10 drafting penalties (9 male, 1 female - age group) and one penalty for littering to a guy who chucked a water bottle into the lava fields right in front of me miles from any aid station. A guy from France (who earned a draft penalty) said in perfect English, "I do not understand! I am French." I flashed the red card right in his face again and said, "Vous avez une carte rouge pour la redaction. aller a la tente de pensalisation. Exactement comme dans votre briefing d'avant course en francais." (You have a red card for drafting. Go to the next penalty tent. Just like in your pre-race briefing given in French.) He then turned to me and said, "Thank you. I will go to the penalty tent." Even my terrible French got the point through to him. The pro women I watched were just fine. I even marshaled Bree Wee. Totally clean riding when I was by her. Well done. Some of the top age group men were using EVERY single one of the seconds in the 20 second count we give. Totally legal. A certain magazine didn't think so; one of their photographers greeted every ref with an explative, "Make a f*cking call!" What this excitable photographer doesn't understand is a static view of the situation doesn't give a 20 second view of the action. A picture he didn't take was of the 25 people in the Hawi penalty box or the 80 people in the T2 penalty box. Amazing how those shots never get taken.

Later I learned of a female was getting too close and then when marshals came around she would sit up (like she was dropping out of the group). She will get caught and it will be "news", but not to any of the marshals who saw (but couldn't catch) her in Kona. I wonder if/when she will get caught?

I finished up work just before the pro men's race ended. I got to see Macca running down Palani Road. Man, that road is steep. I could tell on Kuakini that it was over. Macca was screaming, "How far is he back?!" I could tell it was over by looking at 2nd place. Macca just looked more fresh and driven.

Later that evening Lorrie, Jay and I went to Thai Rin for dinner and waited for our friend Dick Lansing. Dick had a great time in Kona - this year was his fastest of his three trips to the big island. I swam with Dick (and wrote our workouts) and did the majority of the long bike rides with him. He was well prepared. His coach did a great job.

The two most amazing finishes were of Clayton Treska (stage four, terminal, testicular cancer) and a young man who is a triple amputee. What I took from watching them race - I've got NO problems. Seriously, I me annoyed by things from time to time, but it is only whining. When the footage airs on NBC you will cry like you did when you watched Jon Blais.

There was ONE family who insisted on running with their wife/mother all the way to the finish line... they turned around when a ref came out and Mike Reilly informed them that if they crossed the line she would be disqualified. The ref was already getting his book out. Luckily, they didn't interfere with the 60-64 age group championship which was about 12 minutes behind her.

Mahalo to Wendy and Bryan at Imuri at the Hilton Waikoloa; they made us feel like Ohana. Mahalo to Ken - my moto driver for the 3rd year in a row. It was great to spend time with his family again. Every year I return to Kona, I feel more a part of the town. It truly is a spiritual place.

I highly recommend visiting the big island of Hawaii. It has something for everyone; lush, tropical valleys, volcanos, snow capped mountains, lava desert, (black, green, red and white) sand beaches, big game fishing. Go for the race if you can. Life your life instead of watching others live on TV.

More to come - our fishing trip, hiking, etc.