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Ironman 70.3 Centrair Tokoname Japan – A rather poorly organized race

September 22, 2010

This new addition to the Ironman 70.3 series was very promising with a great location near the city of Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture – right in between the two Japan major cities(Osaka and Tokyo) and at the proximity of the Centrair International Airport, making it very convenient for International athletes to attend.

Despite the location and what looked liked an interesting racing course, the organizer felt short on many levels and I have to say that, as a fellow racer and fan of Ironman events, I have been very disappointed with the overall organization and planning of this new event. Although I can understand Ironman organizers most likely faced difficulties to deal and negotiate with the local prefecture of Nagoya to get the necessary support to put this even together, I still think a lot of things were done wrong and did not match with the standard of most other Ironman events.

What could have been a great race with a glorious weather ended up being a overall poorly organized event and disappointing tourism experience.

You will find below 10 of the main points I felt should be improved for next year’s event if it wants to reach close to the standard other Ironman events have managed to set around the world.

1) REGISTRATION PROCESS:
Out of 1,100 registration slot, 350 were offered only to athletes who were willing to use/pay premium JTB travel and hotel services. Athletes who were late to register and who wanted to participate were therefore forced to take the JTB agency option and pay a significant extra budget to guarantee their slot to the starting line of the event. They also had to take a flight to Nagoya and use their Hotels.

2) A PRICEY EVENT:
This event was extremely expensive: 40,000 JPY just to register and participate in the race – excluding all the extra cost coming along with train/car transportation, hotels and restaurant around the airport (which are always very expensive as we know…).

3) ENGLISH BRIEFING:
Although the English briefing was mandatory prior to registration, unfortunately, it provided almost no valuable information. It was very vague with not a single presentation material and was wrapped up very quickly to avoid more questions the organizers did not have answers for (Bike course elevation, Run course, Expected weather conditions , Cross winds, Drafting rules… etc.). This briefing could have been okay for experienced triathletes but provided no guidance whatsoever for first timers.

4) WELCOME REGISTRATION PACK:
Despite this pricey registration fee, almost nothing was offered as part of the welcome registration pack beside the usual racing numbers (to put on your bike, helmet and racing belt), a bracelet and some brochures promoting the area.

5) SHUTTLE BUSES FOR ATHLETES:
Buses for athletes were not even provided for free. All athletes with no car or with a family member joining them were obliged to pay an extra 2,000 yen at some stage to get a pass and commute back and forth between the airport and the starting line with the official shuttle bus. Considering the price of the registration and the number of participants (1,100 to 1,200), those buses should have been offered for free at least for athletes. Most other races do.

6) CAR PARKING COST:
For the lucky ones who had a car, they still had to pay a 1,000 yen per day to access the closest parking to the starting area. You would think that athletes would have a dedicated free parking area but no. The only free parking area was located at a good 20 minutes walk from the starting area (T1,T2). The whole thing was very inconvenient and came across as pure money grab.

7) AIRPORT LOCATION & TOLL GATE TO ACCESS THE AIRPORT ISLAND:
As most International  airport, the place was quite outside of the city and far from any touristic area.

As you can see on the map below, the airport is located on an island and the only way to access it is to pass through the freeway/bridge.

* Problem # 1: If you do not have a car or a bike bag to take your bike inside the train, you’re pretty much stuck in the Airport island as it is strictly forbidden to ride or walk over the bridge.

* Problem # 2: For the lucky ones who came by car, the down side was that, every time you crossed the freeway/bridge you were charged 350 Yen at the Toll Gate to cross the bridge. Considering the the starting line was located on one side of the bridge and the finish line on the other side, you can imagine how many trips you had to do and how much extra money you had to spend:

For example, if you were driving a car, this what your agenda looked like:

————————————————————————–

DAY BEFORE THE RACE:

– Cross the bridge to check-in Hotel (around the airport): 350 Yen
– Attend the briefing and registration (in the airport)
– Cross the bridge to check in the bike the night before the race at T1, T2 outside of the island/airport: 350 Yen
– Return to your Hotel in the airport zone: 350 Yen

RACE DAY:

– Get to the race start: Cross the bridge again: 350 Yen
– Park in the athlete parking area and pay another: 1000 Yen for the day
– After the race, since the finish line is on the other side of the bridge (back on the island), you’re forced to pay again another 2,000 yen to get in the Athlete shuttle bus to get back to the T1, T2 area to pick back your gear/bike and car at the end of the race.
– Once you have picked up all your gear and car, you can now go back to your hotel and pay again another 350 Yen passing the bridge toll gate.

Total extra cost in 2 days: 4,750 Yen just go back and forth from the registration area, starting line and finish line. And that’s not including possible trips to the city if you had time to visit any touristic spots in the city before or after the race….

————————————————————————–

8 ) THE RACE:
Swim:

No large bouey along the swim course which made it really hard for racers to swim in the right direction and know where to aim.
No mat on the ground from the swim finish to the bike transition area – great to keep your feet all sandy just before putting on your bike shoes
No showers available at the end of the swim in T1 – which was the best way to keep all the salt in your pants before riding a 90km bike ride and making sure you suffer from some serious chaffing. It’s only the day after the race that I realized some showers were there but you had to step outside of your way to get to them.

Bike:
Dangerous course with sharp turns
– The first and last 7 kilometers of the course were on very bad, narrow and bumpy road surface
– The only 2 aid stations only offered gels and pet water bottles (no bike bottles). Each time you stopped at the aid station, if you wanted to make sure to get enough water, you had to stop completely, open the pet bottles that were given to you, open your bike bottles and fill them up one by one. Only once that was done, you could start biking again.
– Beside that, the rest of the bike course was challenging but beautiful with pleasant with rolling hills.
– An impressive 1200 volunteers: were spread all along both the bike and run course: At first I was wondering what was the point of having so many runners but, soon, I came to realized that this was probably because there was no time checking mat all along both courses. The only way to make sure that all racers were passing at each loop and turn was to spread 1,200 people along the course – not to actually support us but more to check on us and compensate for the lack of equipment they had for this race.

Run:
Comparatively, the run was well organized with lots of water spots offering cold water, wet sponges to keep cool and protect you from the heat. Great supporters and volunteers.

9) NO MEDALS FOR FINISHERS:
I think that this was the most shocking thing of the entire week-end. No Ironman 70.3 finishers even got himself/herself a medal in commemoration for this event. In all the Ironman events I have had the pleasure to participate until now, NEVER, I have not received a Finisher’s medal. This was truly disappointing.

One question remains…: “But where did all the registration and sponsorship money go”?


10) THE FINISH LINE LOCATION:
The finish line area was very isolated, far from the airport, far from any public transportation and offered no tent or shadow for athletes to rest after the race. Absolutely nothing was available or offered for families of racers (No drinks, food, tables or even chairs). Under a cooking sun and over 30 degrees C temperature, supporting families suffered from the heat just as much as racers. No parasol, no playing area for kids, no shadow, nothing but just concrete. The only tents available were only for race staff.

Water was only offered to racers and spectators were lucky if they had bought their own drinks before hand. Since the airport was too far, a quick coffee break in the cool airport was not even an option as it would have taken too much time for them to return to the finish line and they might have missed the arrival of their friend/family member.

Families with babies trying to find some shadow to hide from the sun while waiting for athletes

Overall, Nagoya Ironman 70.3 was extremely disappointing. Although I can only understand and respect the work involved to coordinate such kind of large event, I still think this event could have been a lot better if properly organized. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will participate next year as I think participating in the Sado Island Astroman would be a much more gratifying experience for both athletes and family supporters. One thing is for sure, if I change my mind and choose to attend again next year, my family will not be back – that’s for sure.

A disappointed participant

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One comment

  1. Hi Fabien: Thanks for putting this honest and serious evaluation of the race up on the site. As we saw at UKIM last year (and others have reported this year), there seems to be a real quality control problem at the IM organization. They are happy to expand their brand (and the marketing opportunity it presents) by licensing it to new – and obviously inexperienced – local organizers. What a shame they do not offer such groups a thorough manual on what needs to be done, and what is good for the IM brand worldwide. Each point you make is a fair criticism, and I know the strong motivation we all have to finish and have that medal put around our neck. Sadly, there does not seem to be any way to help improve the situation for the benefit of sponsors, athletes, or the local community that have all seen their reputation damaged. Peter



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