The first of anything new, especially a big anything new, usually crosses the finish line with a few lessons learned.
Traverse City’s first half Ironman — the 70.3 K race hosted in 2019 — had a successful run with sold-out entry for 2,500 athletes, albeit with a few post-race Charley horses for the host communities.
Race-day road closures spurred several vociferous comments, and nearly an Attorney General’s complaint, after the race severed city access for much of Leelanau County for several hours.
The discord, combined with the mega-event’s wins in economic, health and wellness impact, prompted opportunistic communities to quietly raise their hands.
Organizers likely took all of this into account when they tweaked the race location from Traverse City to Frankfort in a change announced Thursday. They also shifted the tentative race dates from Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, 2021.
We think both moves will boost local support for the event. Frankfort will be able to reap some mega-event impact without deep gouges to Traverse City — which hosts several large summer events, and will no doubt maintain its hub status to this one, by way of its first-rate airport, hotels, restaurants and wineries. The timing also helps the region’s economy relative to the post-Labor Day shoulder season, and works well with our area’s energy and dedication to health and wellness.
We urge organizers to carry the lessons learned from the initial run to Frankfort. Detours need to be meticulously planned and easily explained by those controlling traffic and interfacing with the public. Cost-benefit numbers should be weighed and publicly discussed at contract renewal time. Impacted communities, churches and businesses should have a say in race route design.
Much has changed since August 2019 when we hosted Ironman after a typical event-filled and tourist-choked summer. Many of the people and businesses in our communities suffered — and continue to suffer — losses in the ongoing wave of COVID-19-related cancellations. The announcement is a welcome change of pace.