SLO County wants to host Ironman triathlon

The first full Ironman triathlon race on the West Coast in a decade could be coming to the Central Coast.

The San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau plans to submit a proposal by the end of January to host the event.

If successful, it would be the first full Ironman competition on the West Coast, attracting potentially thousands of athletes and their friends and families to the area —and give the area an economic boost.

“Ironman is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of race,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director of the county Visitors and Conference Bureau. “Our area can be a really ideal location for these kinds of events.”

But the county will face some steep competition — Jacob said she knows of several other areas that plan to submit proposals, including Bend, Ore., Lake Tahoe, and an unknown locale in Washington state.

A spokesperson for World Triathlon Corp., which owns and organizes Ironman and Ironman 70.3-branded events, declined to disclose the locations involved, citing the competitive bidding process.

Shelby Tuttle wrote in an email that the company expects to announce the race in May and would most likely award a five-year contract, with the first race in fall 2013.

The Ironman competition began in 1978 as a challenge between Navy Seals and consists of a 2.4- mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

The Ironman series includes 28 events worldwide that qualify athletes for the Ironman World Championship held every October in Kona, Hawaii.

While there are several Ironman 70.3 events (half the full Ironman distance) on the West Coast, there are no full Ironman races in California, Oregon or Washington.

The VCB board in December decided the organization would serve as the lead agency in the process, Jacob said. One of the VCB’s goals is to have San Luis Obispo County become a platform for such events.

On average, Tuttle added, about 2,500 athletes compete in each event in the Ironman series — not counting the friends, family and volunteers who also travel to the area.

The direct economic impact of an Ironman event could exceed $15 million, Tuttle wrote. Some races sell out a year in advance in a matter of minutes.

The average Ironman competitor is 39 years old and has a household income of $174,000 a year, Jacob said, citing information provided by World Triathlon Corp. Jacob envisions a four-day event that may include a kick-off celebration and other events. Still undetermined is where the actual Ironman event would take place; however, Jacob said the swim, bike and run courses could take participants into various areas of the county.

The overall cost of putting on an Ironman event here is unknown, though the company does request that $100,000 in sponsorship money be raised locally, Jacob said. In turn, the company, through the Ironman Foundation, commits a minimum of $50,000 to nonprofit organizations in the host community.

The VCB and Sunset magazine host Sunset Savor the Central Coast in late September, a four-day food and wine event that attracted 2,933 visitors from outside the county last year. Ideally, Jacob said, an Ironman race could be held at the end of October or in early November — when the county’s hotels, restaurants and other infrastructure aren’t heavily impacted.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.

NOTE: This article has been edited since it was first posted. The story had noted that the Ironman event on the Central Coast would be the first full Ironman contest on the West Coast. I would actually be the fist such even in the West Coast in 10 years.