To distract myself from the fact that I am sitting at my kitchen table instead of nursing gratifyingly sore muscles and a well-earned sense of smugness after the Skyline Mourne Mountain run, I’ve been browsing through triathlons. Not all are created even slightly equal. And I’m not talking about locations or distances or elevations; if you take the full-distance triathlon as your baseline, triathlon entry fees vary enormously.
Let’s start with the daddy of them all: Ironman Kona. As if it wasn’t bad enough that you have to prove to them you are a worthy entrant by qualifying for the event, you have to stump up a juicy $850 (about €770) for the privilege. Staying within the Ironman family, the 2016 Australia event will set you back Au$775 (about €511).
Then there’s Challenge: If you had entered Challenge Bahrain (commiserations it’s just been cancelled) it would have cost you between $280 and $350 (€254 to €318), whereas the Challenge Galway full triathlon entry fee is between €414 and €444.
I know it costs money to close down sections of roadway for biking and running, to cordon off a safe swim area, to have ambulances and medical staff on standby, to provide abundant food and water stops, to shuttle people and equipment between transition areas, to pay and feed staff (though many are volunteers), and to give prizes.
Smaller full-distance triathlons have to do those things too, yet they seem to be able to run highly professional and enjoyable events without massive financial outlay. Last year’s Arran Man in Scotland had 35 competitors, who paid £225 (€313) for the full distance. Norseman is limited to 250 participants, who enter a lottery to pay NOK 3000 (€326).
Triathlon Ireland’s Long Distance National Championship event for 2016 is the Hardman in Killarney. The swim takes place in the Lakes of Killarney, the bike route circles the Ring of Kerry, and the marathon is set in Killarney National Park, so you can’t really fault the surroundings. Yet the entry fee for this race is between €150 to €225, half the price of Challenge Galway or any of the Ironman events.
The New Golf
I understand that international corporations can charge a premium for the cachet of a logo that people will tattoo on their calves, but that aside, even within the big tri companies themselves, there does not appear to be any consistency in the entry fees being charged. Even if you accept that Kona is the peak of triathlon achievement and thus justified in charging any entry fee it likes, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the big triathlon companies are just rubbing their hands in glee at the public’s willingness to fling credit cards at them. Given the lack of any consistency in the entry fees charged (apart from the fact that they are ridiculously high), triathlons at the corporate end really are the new golf, where the higher the price, the better the course is perceived to be.
Could it possibly be that these corporations just charge as much as they think they’ll get away with? Surely not.