Providing opportunity while making a profit – considering what it means to participate in Ironman events.

Some of my thoughts about the fact that Ironman is both an event and also a large for-profit corporation.

Ironman. It is an event designating a certain distance of triathlon – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, followed by 26.2 miles of running. Yet it is also a brand name, a registered trademark of the World Triathlon Corporation; a large for-profit company recently purchased by a Chinese company and according to one source, valued at $900 million.

That company has trademarked a logo, referred to as the M-dot (an M with a dot over it that is all over Ironman gear). There is a trend among Ironman finishers to get a tattoo of the M-dot. Often it is designed to be symbolic of the location of their first completed Ironman, and often individuals get rather large ones on their right calves (keeping the left available for their age, or the letter designation of your age that Ironman races use). 

This is an interesting phenomenon. As far as I know, there is not a trend to get a coca cola tattoo, Kleenex tattoo, or even your favorite gym. Yet, here many people get the Ironman corporation symbol inked into their bodies for life. The reasoning here is obvious. For many, the Ironman triathlon is a huge accomplishment. Every person crossing the finish line comes with a complex story behind them. For many, they have overcome something huge and the goal of the Ironman was something that helped them become a different person. Signing up for that race played a role in changing, in some way, everyone crossing that finish line. This change, this accomplishment, is more easily defined than many things in life. It symbolizes the journey to get there, and then culminates in one incredibly long, physically grueling day. You do it alongside thousands of other individuals. Crossing the finish line represents the accomplishment of a goal in a way that is somehow different than landing your dream job or even graduating college. 

Or is it? It could be that because there is a culture of these tattoos, that is what leads more people to do it? As Seth Godin would say, “people like me, do things like this.” 

While other companies put on races of this same distance, they are not technically called Ironman’s. Surely the feat is the same; for many they are actually more challenging than most of those put on around the world by the World Triathlon Corporation. 

Deep within me, I am skeptical of big, for-profit corporations. Okay, maybe even smaller businesses. I do not want to feel taken advantage of, and I figure they are always trying to get me to purchase something that I wouldn’t naturally want. As I age, and as I also start my own business and go to work for another for-profit business, my thoughts in this regard are changing. Yes, the World Triathlon Corporation is out to make money. But should that take away from the opportunities that they provide so many individuals? In my experience they provide an excellent product. Not just the distance in good locations, but I have found them to be well organized events, which I have also learned through experience is not something that should be taken for granted. 

I refer to the event as an Ironman in my writing. I recognize this is a corporate name that the other races of the same distance cannot use. It is also convenient; far easier than saying “a triathlon that consists of…” and listing the distances. I also think it is more universally recognized than saying long-distance triathlon, which is more vague, and frankly many consider any triathlon to be long distance. 

I hope that they wont get too big that they cannot keep up with the good quality. And do I think It is great that they have trademarks on the term Ironman and even the distance, 140.6? No. But I suppose that is part of a bigger system concern, why in the heck a number can be trademarked is beyond me. For now, I will continue to refer to an Ironman, and I will continue to do them. Maybe some day another race will appeal to me – schedule and course wise. Maybe someday I will even join the ranks of folks with a tattoo to symbolize my triathlon lifestyle.