Muncie 70.3: 60 days, 1 race?

The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and the (Muncie-area) Delaware County commissioners agreed on a 60-day blackout of multisport events in the commonly-used Prairie Creek Reservoir.

This, to clear the decks for Ironman Muncie 70.3, formerly the long-running Muncie Endurathon. Its purchase by WTC (owners of the Ironman series of triathlon events) was announced on September 9th of this year.

The blackout was granted months in advance of the news that WTC bought the long running and popular Endurathon—once site of an ITU long course World Championship—according to an article in today's edition of the local Star Press. This blackout was not announced by either the Delaware County commissioners nor WTC, and the Star Press's scoop appears to have caught both by surprise.

The Prairie Creek Reservoir is home to a number of events, including several produced by local race organizer Muncie Multi-Sport. Steve Tomboni, its owner, objected to the 60-day blackout period as overly intrusive, because two of his scheduled races fall just inside either end of the blackout.

Eminently quotable Delaware County commissioner Todd Donati clarified: The blackout "is not 60 days, it's 30 days prior and 30 days after." This according to the article on September 22nd by the Star Press that broke the story of the blackout.

"We're talking about one event and you act like it's a crime," the Star Press reported Donati is saying in today's article.

According to Tomboni, and to many Slowtwitch readers who wrote 125 (and counting) comments on its reader forum, the commissioner fails to appreciate the gravity of the blackout. Prairie Creek Reservoir is the one swimmable lake at which a triathlon can be held in Delaware County. This "one event" swallows up, by virtue of the blackout, eight or nine prime racing weekends in a Midwestern region with a limited racing season perennially hemmed by weather and water concerns.

Still, there is a competing set of issues made clear by Ironman's chief operating officer, Steve Meckfessel, and his concerns are legitimate. When Ironman comes to town, "We have to be confident we'll be able to acquire the permits, sponsors, venues and volunteers we need. A community can only host so many events of this type. Don't you think a Rock and Roll Marathon coming to town isn't going to ask for the same consideration?"

Meckfessel also brings up the case of another multisport event during which a person died just prior to an Ironman taking place at or proximate to the venue used by WTC. "Questions were raised about whether our race would be safe in light of the death that just occurred. We must protect our own brand from the damage caused by an event over which we have no control."

These are powerful points and underlie a truism obvious to anyone who's studied the sport over the past two decades: When an Ironman drops into an area, the multisport landscape changes dramatically for the better.

Utah is a strident case in point. The entire state was the next thing to devoid of multisport prior to an Ironman showing up in Provo almost a decade ago. The Ironman race in Provo only lasted two years—until a death during the race in Lake Utah. Still, those two years launched a multisport boom in Utah, with events, retail stores, clubs, forming around that ill-fated race.

Likewise, yet larger Ironman communities in New York, Wisconsin, Kentucky and elsewhere have raised up. So important are Ironman-branded events (full and 70.3) that they will be the 2011 season highlights—their "A" races—according to half of all Slowtwitch readers.

Meckfessel would not rule out asking for a 60-day blackout of any venue anywhere an Ironman event may take place. Does this mean calendars will be swept of races all across the country a month before and after an Ironman comes to town? Certainly not. Still, how many races will be affected? How can local RDs know when such a blackout is in force, especially when WTC may not see fit to apprise a local tri community that these agreements with community fathers exist?

These are the Faustian bargains made by an affinity group when its activity grows to the point of becoming a big business.

It's fair to wonder whether a sport that overwhelmingly favors—community by community—a single race organizer, cleaning the slate of competing races, might go from small races to big races to no races if an Ironman decides to pull out.

But that certainly did not happen in Utah. Ironman arrived in Utah, then retreated from Utah, and Utah's tri community continued to flourish. Now Ironman is back in (at St. George), and Utah hasn't skipped a beat.

"We want to peacefully coexist," said Tomboni.

"We want to be a good neighbor," said Meckfessel.

In fact, these two men know each other and Tomboni promises, "I'm going to give Steve Meckfessel a call." He has an event scheduled at Prairie Creek Reservoir just inside the 30-day limit on either side of Muncie 70.3, and he'll want to see whether there's a workaround that can allow his Muncie events to occur on their chosen dates.

Whether Ironman helps make room for either or both of Tomboni's events, or continues to press to enjoin the granting of any multisport permits at this venue across this 60-day span, may serve as a bellweather of WTC's neighborly intentions.

Tomboni is uniquely able to spectate the outcome: His home is situated with a line-of-site view of Prairie Creek Reservoir. Participants in the Ironman 70.3 Muncie course will ride right past his front yard.