The sun dawned red behind a blanket of orange fog on Saturday, July 28 over Lake Sonoma for the opening of the Sonoma County 70.3 Ironman competition.
Over 3,000 athletes participated in the triathlon. Hailing from Australia, to France, to Argentina, the competitors poured in from all across the globe to pit themselves against each other in a trial of endurance and resolve.
“In my twenties I was a lawyer. I got out of shape—fat. There was a part of me that wanted to become an athlete again,” said participant and Ironman coach, Kevin Cody. “When I discovered triathlon it was an outlet that took me back to when I was a kid. I loved training and racing and it kind of woke up that part of myself that was dormant—a part I feel is important.”
Initially, the competition was supposed to consist of three legs: a 1.2 mile swim in Lake Sonoma, a 56 mile bike ride down from Geyserville, and a 13.1 mile run around the Santa Rosa Creek Trail. This totaled up to 70.3 miles, hence the name.
However, thick morning fog at the start of the competition resulted in a cancellation of the swimming leg due to safety concerns.
Cody suffered an injury before the competition that prevented him from running. With the cancellation of the swim, the only leg he could compete in was the bike. “I’m a little disappointed. It’s a big part of the excitement of the race.”
While there was certainly some displeasure, most competitors agreed with the decision—competitors like Andy Frey, who drove up for the triathlon with his family from Santa Monica.
“It is what it is. We’ll be out to race another day,” Frey said. “Safety is the priority. When you can’t see the buoys and you put three thousand people in the water it’s a recipe for someone to get hurt. That’s not worth it.”
The biannual Ironman competition is estimated to stimulate about 13.6 million dollars of economic activity in Sonoma county over the course of its two events. That’s a lot of money, but it comes at the cost of widespread road closures and increased traffic. Not everyone is a winner—like the Tudor Rose Tea Room in downtown Santa Rosa, which opted to shut its doors for the weekend due to decreased revenue.
“The Ironman event may make Santa Rosa money, but that only applies to hotels and larger restaurants,” Tudor Rose manager, Angela Grant wrote on the company’s Facebook wall. “It’s so sad that yet again bad decisions affect all the small business owners.”
In the free market there are always winners and losers. While Tudor Rose and other downtown businesses suffered, others gained. In Rohnert Park, both the Roadway Inn and the Budget Inn reached full occupancy over the weekend.
“It was really busy—not only because of the Ironman, but also because of the fire,” said Chris Shrestha, manager of the Roadway Inn.
As the last few participants crossed the finish line Saturday, the Ironman competition came to a close. For Missouri native, Ben Stringer, the triathlon was never about first place, but rather the perfect excuse to spend more time with his daughter.
“My oldest child won a triathlon when she was five-years-old. She was so excited that she jumped right in,” Stringer said, speaking on what initially drew him to Ironman. “I had never swam or ridden a bike before, but to spend time with her I started riding a bike and swimming and that way when we traveled I could race and she could race and it became kind of a family event.”
Now fully hooked, Stringer is a regular participant.
“I don’t know if I’d want to take my family everywhere I race, but to take your family out here is kind of a no-brainer. It’s friendly, accessible and safe. It’s a great spot,” Stringer said.
This weekend’s Ironman was the last in Sonoma County for the year. The next will take place on May 19, 2019.