That intense Tampa cyclist on Bayshore Boulevard may well be besting an Italian competitor in the Tuscan hills. And that runner sprinting down the Pinellas cul de sac, seemingly all alone? She’s one of the nearly 40,000 participants on the Rock n Rock Roll Marathon platform.
Thanks to Ironman Group’s recently launched Virtual Club, nearly 102,000 members are meeting worldwide for competition and camaraderie.
Plenty of athletes are close to the hub of the movement in Florida; Ironman Group’s corporate offices are in Tampa. It’s from the Bay Area that long-distance racing is pivoting from the classic events featured through the Ironman Series, the largest participation sports platform in the world. Apparently, a pandemic won’t stop hordes of swim, bike, and run enthusiasts from aiming for ultimate glory.
“Throughout this time of uncertainty, we’re still inspiring people to get out and move,” says Earl Walton, global director of training and coaching for Ironman Group. “People are embracing our challenges virtually.”
Ironman Virtual Club was always part of the organization’s long-term plan, Walton says; the spread of COVID-19 expedited the launch. Giving purpose to and sparking competition among a community of like-minded people who thrive on setting big goals and vanquishing them is the aim. The virtual experience aims to live up to its tagline: Anywhere is possible.
Classic Ironman events may have been canceled, but the Ironman Virtual Club is buzzing online. Simply join the free portal, register for a race, and connect to the appropriate tracking devices. The program features three tiers of competition: professional racing, competitive age group, and weekly challenges. That’s right: even the weekend warrior can now become an Ironman, complete with race swag and a rewards program.
Though the organization has a 100 percent focus on getting back to racing as usual, Walton says, the silver lining is clear: This portal has opened up Ironman for the everyman. There are plenty of opportunities now to find inspiration. Celebrated coaches are sharing training tips. Athletes who may have thought a full-distance Ironman or other events out of reach are making plans.
Some of the most talented athletes in the world race live, meaning fans can peek into their living room or wherever that bike is situated on its trainer. During social distancing mandates, the run portion of the race was completed on a treadmill. The swim portion, which proved difficult to track, was scrapped temporarily.
What used to pose such great physical barriers to entry (the classic Ironman triathlon demands a swim of 2.4 miles, a bike leg encompassing 112 miles and a marathon distance of 26.2 miles) now features sprint distance events as well. During the competitions, a virtual athlete may find themselves one of 20,000 registered athletes or more striving for the same specific goal.
“We all miss the camaraderie of racing -- of athletes standing on the beach, waiting for the gun to go off,” Walton says. “Until that day returns, we’ll continue to help athletes stay inspired.”
You can register here for the Ironman Virtual Club