If you’ve never noticed, most of the North American IRONMAN race calendar is scheduled during the Atlantic hurricane season (from June to December). So why doesn’t Ironman ever do anything about it like shifting a couple of the races to the spring? Today we’re going to look at IRONMAN’s history with hurricanes over the last six triathlon seasons.
In 2015 IRONMAN Maryland was staring down Hurricane Joaquin as it inched its way up the east coast. Race Director Gerry Boyle held out until a couple days before the race date to make the call, and it was ultimately rescheduled two weeks later. Athletes also had the option of deferring to another race, such as IRONMAN Florida, which would have been my personal preference had I been in that situation.
In 2016 Hurricane Matthew did a rail grind of the southeast coast and caused the bike course to be halved due to flooding of the outer loop for IRONMAN North Carolina, and in 2018 Hurricane Florence would do enough damage to the entire course as well as some of the venues resulting in the race being canceled.
Flo wasn’t done there though, she dropped a ton of rain on the Smokies which drain into the Tennessee River Basin which caused the Tennessee River to crest and overflow its banks for a few days in Chattanooga. IRONMAN would cancel the swim for the 2018 IRONMAN Chattanooga because of a) extremely fast flow rate of the water and b) tons of debris (including large tree branches) being carried downstream.
A couple of weeks later Hurricane Michael landed on the Gulf Coast (two weeks before Ironman Florida), and it hit Panama City Beach hard — hard enough to have IRONMAN move the race to Haines City, Florida, at the last second. Hurricanes of the magnitude of Michael don’t typically form that late in the season because the waters begin to cool. However, the latter half of hurricane season tends to spawn hurricanes out of the Gulf, and also provide far less warning than those that form from thunderstorms coming off the coast of Africa which can provide more than two weeks of notice.
In September 2017 Hurricane Maria whacked Puerto Rico pretty good six months before the 70.3 held on the island. The FEMA response was a joke and left the island in complete disarray for years. If you go on slowtwitch you can find people asking how bad the course condition was because IRONMAN wasn’t releasing that information about it. The island still hasn’t fully recovered and it has shown in low participation numbers for this race. The island was struck by earthquakes in 2019, so it hasn’t helped the recovery of the island.
So why doesn’t IRONMAN ever do something about that? The answer is…I’ve got no idea, the IRONMAN press department didn’t answer my inquiry, and they pretty much ignore websites who they think are insignificant.
I will say this though: the North American IRONMAN Calendar doesn’t have to be this way. The spring schedule is so much lighter than the fall. Right now there’s only two reoccurring full distance races (with St. George rotated every three years). I don’t see why they couldn’t bring back IRONMAN North Carolina for an April/May race. It’d create the opportunity to easily do two full distance races in a season for triathletes. Plus you know it was a pretty awesome race when Jeremey Davis was running it for SetUp events as Beach2Battleship. By the way, tube in this Weekend for Sunday Morning Conversation where I talk to Jeremey about his time running Beach2Battleship as well as a few other things related to SetUp Events race productions.