Maureen Douglas, the new communications director for Ironman Canada, sees a lot of parallels with her current position and her past position handling communications for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, at least when it comes to answering the public's questions about traffic.
"Two things (are a lot like the Olympics)," she said. "Most people are really excited, which is great. And two, there's a little bit of concern over the traffic plan, so we're working to get that information out next week. Once people know what to expect they can plan around it, and all the stress and worries tend to evaporate."
Ironman Canada takes place on Sunday, August 25. Whistler is a new venue for the event after being staged out of Penticton for the past 29 years. Douglas said the traffic plan is a huge component of the overall plan, with 2,600 athletes expected on race day.
The 2.4-mile/3.8km-swim course will be based out of Rainbow Park with athletes doing two laps. The cycling leg is 112 miles/180km and heads north from Rainbow Park to Alpine Meadows before turning south and heading to the Callaghan Valley Road and a loop up to Whistler Olympic Park. After returning to the highway, riders then start heading north to Pemberton and out to the Pemberton Meadows before turning around and coming back to Whistler and the next transition in Lot 4.
The 26-mile/42.2km run course consists of two laps and takes place almost entirely on the Valley Trail, including some of the gravel sections around Lost Lake. It heads from Lot 4 into Lost Lake Park and then north to the Green Lake lookout before returning on a slightly different route that sends runners down Mons Road and the Valley Trail back to the turnaround point.
Douglas said the road plans confirmed next week would look at impacts to the highway and management of the racecourse. More detailed neighbourhood plans will be released at the end of June, and at the beginning of August organizers will release maps for spectators so they can get to key locations to watch the event.
Miller Capilano Maintenance Corporation is handling the traffic management, and is looking to get electronic billboards in place early to advise drivers of race closures and delays.
It's a huge logistical challenge, but Douglas said everything is coming together.
"The logistics are pretty incredible, but it's amazing at how efficient (Ironman staff) are at running events," she said. "They do dozens of these every year so they have a good handle on it. It's a new venue for them with new facilities, but there's nothing here they haven't seen before."
The traffic delays will be significant. The top male and female athletes generally finish the race between eight-and-a-half and 10 hours, but a number of athletes take the entire day until the midnight cutoff to finish — 17 hours after the 7 a.m. mass start. Some take even longer than that, although they aren't awarded an official time if they finish after midnight.
Douglas said the other main component of staging a successful race in Whistler is ensuring there are enough volunteers. They have roughly 3,000 volunteer shifts to fill, and 1,000 people have already stepped forward. Some 80 different volunteer captains have been named and are working to recruit others.
Some volunteers will also take more than one shift on race day, or in the days before the event. As well, many of the volunteers have worked at previous Ironman Canada races, or are coming here to support friends and family members.
More volunteers are needed. To see what positions are available, visit www.ironman.ca.
Recently, Douglas said Ironman organizers have also been approached by retailers and hotels in Whistler that want to know how to get involved, and to learn more about what Ironman racers and their supporters will be looking for. Ironman is expected to generate roughly 15,000 room nights for the resort over the weekend, not counting thousands of visits to the resort by athletes who want to train on the course.
"They want to know what kind of special products they need to carry," said Douglas. "Bike shops already recognize that there will be a surge in demand for road cycling accessories, tubes and tires and those kinds of things, and we're encouraging people to have 'Welcome Ironman' signs in their windows.
"If restaurants are offering specials, they should be on the healthy side. We've also learned that Ironman athletes love to stop at coffee shops on the way and will be checking out the coffee shops in Pemberton and Whistler on their training rides. They'll explore the whole area, so a big part of it is just making them feel welcome. They're excited to be in a location to learn more about who we are."
Riders training for the race have already been spotted in Pemberton and along the highway, said Douglas, so there's no better time to start planning for the event.
Douglas said organizers have yet to confirm what pro athletes will be attending the event, as pros can register until almost the last minute. There's a $75,000 U.S. prize purse available, plus 100 age group slots for the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii on Oct. 12.
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