Monday, September 22, 2014

CANCELED: 2014 Ironman Lake Tahoe

(I wrote the first part of this email in a good-natured and understanding mood, but then I got the lackluster "options" email from Ironman and now I'm legitimately angry and felt the need to add a big rant at the end.)

The 2014 IRONMAN Lake Tahoe event was canceled due to poor air quality stemming from the nearby King Fire. As of last night, the King Fire has consumed more than 80,000 acres and destroyed more than ten homes. My heart goes out to all of those who have been and continue to be impacted by this disaster.

To all of the athletes and first-timers who trained all year for this event: You're still champions! You're still in the best shape of your life. It's the months of that make you an Ironman, not the race itself.

As for the race organizers...

It was the right decision. The smoke was so thick at times that our lungs were burning just milling about in the parking lot. I can't imagine what the long-term health ramifications would have been if we'd been swimming, cycling or running in those conditions. Kudos to race organizers for pulling the plug.

However, the way they handled this decision was an example of the poorest customer service I've ever experienced. It was like having a flight canceled, only instead of lining up to be re-routed or re-booked, the confused travelers were just told to find their bags and leave the airline alone.

It was the right decision. But it wasn't made at the right time. Wetsuit-clad athletes were lined up on the beach, minutes from the start of the event they'd trained all year for, when the announcer finally came on to announce the race's cancelation. Officials had been monitoring air quality all week; that they waited until the very last minute to cancel reeks of ignorance and false hope.

It was the right decision. But it wasn't communicated properly. Race organizers made little or no mention of the smoke during the lead-up to the event, as if not acknowledging the problem would make it magically disappear. They failed to communicate the timing or criteria that they were using to make their decision.

It was the right decision. But they had no contingency plan in place. This might be the most baffling part of the whole ordeal: when they canceled the race, they didn't know what would happen next. "We'll send you an email on Tuesday," they said. You'd think an organization that specializes in putting on events of this size and caliber would have a playbook at the ready for situations like these.

Putting a more effort into proactive communication would have made a world of difference in the cancelation of Ironman Lake Tahoe. The race organizers should have acknowledged the potential for event cancelation and been open about their decision-making process. We all would have appreciated a more timely announcement; waiting until the very last second was just cruel! And finally, a better post-cancelation plan (with concrete next steps) would have been gone a long, long way.