Nearly as quickly as it arrived, the Ironman Alaska triathlon race has been discontinued.
The inaugural race was held Aug. 7 in Juneau, but it won’t return for a second running, Ironman announced Friday.
In a statement, Ironman said:
“When Juneau, Alaska was first announced as a new host location, Ironman Alaska quickly jumped towards the top of bucket list races. While we faced some weather challenges for the first-year event, the event was still magical.
“The team immediately went to work to further improve the experience for future iterations. Despite having a wonderful host community, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue Ironman Alaska.”
The race brought in a significant force of people to Juneau. Around 1,000 athletes competed, including competitors from 46 states and 30 countries or territories.
The statement came as a disappointment and surprise to local athletes, who were excited to have the opportunity to race a major Ironman event in the state.
“We were all very excited,” said Anchorage’s Amber Stull of the decision to host a race in Alaska.
Stull finished eighth in the women’s division of the race and qualified for The Ironman World Championship, which she ran in Kona, Hawaii, in October.
“We’re all just kind of sad,” she said. “I was going to go back and volunteer. My friends who were going to do it next year and were kind of wait-and-see (on this year’s race), they’re devastated.”
Anchorage’s Todd Jackson placed 15th and was the second-fastest Alaskan in the men’s division.
“It’s a bummer,” said Jackson, who like Stull qualified for and ran in The Ironman World Championship.
Although Ironman officials didn’t offer any specifics or respond to interview requests, Juneau athlete and triathlete coach Jamie Bursell said she had been in contact with race director Colleen McDonald via text message.
She said McDonald told her it was a financial decision based on low registrations and economic factors within the industry.
“I was a bit surprised that registrations were low enough they felt concerned that they had to totally call it off,” Bursell said.
Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau, told KTOO Public Media on Friday that an Ironman Alaska triathlon organizer told her the decision arose from economic concerns, including inflation. Travel Juneau had initially entered into a three-year commitment to host the race, meaning the 2023 and 2024 races will be canceled.
Jackson and Stull speculated at wider reasons for the discontinuation.
“There were definitely some challenges, I think, that were unique to being as remote as Juneau is,” Jackson said, referencing both a potential housing crunch for athletes as well as other logistical issues.
Both Stull and Jackson mentioned logistical issues with bikes, which Jackson said was a common refrain among competitors.
“I still, up until a week before this race, was a little bit worried about how the heck I was gonna get my bike there,” he said. “You know, Alaska Airlines trying to accommodate so many bikes at once was definitely not normal.”
Jackson said he knew by ads on his Facebook feed that the next Ironman Alaska race wasn’t filling as quickly as the inaugural version.
“Last year’s race sold out, like, almost immediately,” Jackson said. “And this year’s race, I was still seeing ads as recently as this week for registration. So while there were still people signing up, I know a bunch of people who did, they definitely didn’t sell it out right away like they did last year.”
The race also had a few hiccups due to course conditions. The swim portion done at Auke Lake was truncated because of low water temperatures.
“They did try to choose the best time of year for when the water temperature in that lake was the warmest, but you know, it’s Alaska,” she said. “You never know what you’re gonna get, season to season.”
And in fairly typical Juneau fashion, the race saw plenty of intermittent rain.
But Stull said that didn’t damper community support.
“The highlight of the entire race was how the community support supported it,” she said. “Most Ironmans, it’s when you finish the race where the crowd shows up or you’ve got pockets of parading where people were cheering. In Juneau, it was from the start all the way to the finish. It was mind-blowing.”
Both Jackson and Stull said they were happy to jump on the opportunity to race the Ironman in the state when they did.
“There was a group of 11 of us, and I was so excited that we had this incredible experience all training together and did it, if this is a one-and-done,” Stull said.
Bursell, a triathlete herself who coaches Juneau’s High Cadence Triathlon Team, said the local community is feeling the sting of the decision.
“It’s super disappointing,” she said. “My athletes, and me too, we’re sort of gutted. It was significant to us that Ironman chose Juneau for a full Ironman.”