Some of the world’s top athletes will be in Pembrokshire this Sunday for the 3rd annual IRONMAN Wales competition. Recently we spoke with Kevin Stewart, Managing Director for IRONMAN Britain and Ireland, about this weekend’s event.
What are your own roots?
I am from Scotland, a place called Pitlochry in Highland Perthshire. I moved south to London in 1990 to join a sports marketing company and have lived in the south of England, and worked in sport, ever since.
Why and when did you get involved with this event?
I became Managing Director of IRONMAN in Britain and Ireland in late 2010. When I joined, Ironman had been in the UK for several years but had not grown significantly. Compared to 2010, we have 80% more athletes competing in Ironman races each year and are selling out events in days, which would have taken weeks or months to reach their capacity in the past. This is part of a global approach from Ironman that has seen us work with our colleagues in Europe and the US to provide our customers with a consistently high quality event and has seen a huge increase in participation across our global events. The first IRONMAN Wales was in 2011 so we are just about to hold the third race and it has really developed its own personality as an event.
What are your roles and responsibilities with the event?
As Managing Director I am responsible for everything from sales and marketing, PR, athlete services, event planning with the Operations team and working with local stakeholders who are key to the event’s success. I think the breadth of work that we cover is a surprise to people who have not been behind the scenes at a major event before. Come race day, I run the Race Control with overall command of the event, in liaison with the core staff from Ironman, the authorities, police, medical team, swim safety and so on. It is the communications centre in effect with information coming in and being distributed, resources being allocated where required and ensuring the safe and successful progress of the event.
What is the event’s core mandate?
Our mandate is to create the best possible field of play for the athletes to undertake one of the world’s great endurance challenges. For many of the athletes, this is a life changing event. Some are challenging themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of. We must ensure that we do all we can to make sure that the course is prepared, they have all the information they might need and all the planning is in place for a safe event from start to finish.
How has it grown over the years?
The event has grown by 25% in three years, to over 1,800 entries this year and we sold out back in June.
Who attends and participates in the gathering?
The event covers both highly experienced triathletes who have raced many times through to athletes for whom this will be the first event of this type they have done. Some athletes will be targeting a World Championship qualification place, and others will be simply hoping that they reach the finish line within the 17 hour cut off. We have athletes from 40 countries taking part, about 25% of the participants are from outside of the UK
What can they expect to experience this year?
The event is a tough course from start to finish. The 2.4 mile sea swim is dependent on conditions and then there is a 1,000 yard run to the bike transition. The bike course is through the incredibly scenic Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, but the athletes won’t pay too much attention as the course is constantly switching up and down, corners, gear changes and pacing. After the bike the run is one of the hilliest in any Ironman event, so when they reach the finish line they can be sure that they have really earned their finisher medal. What carries many athletes through to a personal goal or just crossing the finish line is the support that they receive from the spectators and supporters along the course.
Why is it an important event for the community there?
When Ironman came to Pembrokeshire in 2011, the community really didn’t know what to expect. It was only having seen the race that Pembrokeshire took hosting an Ironman event to their hearts. We have residents who turn out for the whole day from swim start to the last finisher 17 hours later, to give their support. It has inspired many local people to take up the challenge and those who would never have thought of it a few years ago, have found themselves on the start line. As a county it has one of the highest participation levels in Ironman globally.
What are the plans for the event in the years ahead?
We hope to keep growing the event and really make it one of the most iconic in the global Ironman calendar. Now that the course is well established, we can focus on the details that really make sure that the athlete’s experience is first class from start to finish.