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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Boon or bust? How will the world-popular Ironman race impact Williamsburg?

The Ironman 70.3 Virginia half-triathlon is coming to James City County next year, and tourism officials say it will be a boon to the local economy. (WYDaily/Courtesy James City County)
The Ironman 70.3 Virginia half-triathlon is coming to James City County next year, and tourism officials say it will be a boon to the local economy. (WYDaily/Courtesy James City County)

Come May, Greater Williamsburg is going to get busier.

Drivers may see numerous cyclists trekking through the streets, or professional athletes running mile after mile on county roads. Hotel and motel parking lots and restaurants may start to fill up a little more at night.

The Ironman Virginia 70.3 half-triathlon is coming to James City County, and it’s expected to bring more than 2,000 professional athletes and their spectators to the region, the county said in a news release.

The half-triathlon will be on May 5, centered around Chickahominy Riverfront Park.

While Ironman’s 2,000-plus athletes and spectators are expected to keep area roads and businesses busy ahead of and during the race, sports tourism officials say it may the the type of tourism Williamsburg needs.

“We’re very excited,” said Lisa Pacheco, director of sports development for Sports Williamsburg, a part of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance. “We’ll be the only destination in Virginia hosting an Ironman event. It will bring in a lot of room nights.”

Williamsburg is a tourist destination, and is equipped with an abundance of hotel and motel rooms, timeshares and campgrounds to handle the influx of people from Ironman, Pacheco said.

Further, the amount of visitors during Ironman may help backfill hotel and motel rooms that ordinarily might be empty during that time of year, Pacheco said.

“Sports tourism is one of the fastest growing markets,” Pacheco said. “As long as we can bring sporting events to the area, our hope is that we can fill these hotel rooms.”

Pacheco said the area “absolutely” has the infrastructure and space to support the event’s 2,000 guests.

The triathlon

This is the first year the Ironman 70.3 will be in the Williamsburg region.

For about six years, the area has played host to the REV3 Triathlon, which was acquired by Ironman in July and renamed the Ironman 70.3 Virginia Triathlon, REV3 spokesman Eric Opdyke said.

Opdyke said Ironman will cap registration between 2,200 and 2,500 athletes, meaning about 2,000 will be in the area on race day.

Last year’s REV3 Triathlon had about 1,300 racers.

May’s race is a qualifying event for the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in the Oceania region, according to a James City County news release. There are 30 qualifying slots offered through the Virginia half-triathlon in May.

Ironman holds more than 230 events across 53 countries worldwide.

Pacheco said Ironman draws hundreds of professional athletes, which should attract a large number of spectators to the area.

“Some of these athletes, that’s all they do, is train and compete in these races,” Pacheco said, adding that many athletes will arrive weeks early to familiarize themselves with the terrain.

Last year, the REV3 triathlon brought about $1.5 million, which includes room night rentals, dining and incidental such as gas and groceries, Pacheco said. That number is provided annually to Sports Williamsburg by race organizers.

Next year, Ironman organizers will give Sports Williamsburg information of the half-triathlon’s impact on the community.

“The goal is to build a partnership,” Pacheco said. “We want to continue to work with them.”

Still preparing

Although Opdyke works for REV3, he will work as race director for the local Ironman triathlon in May.

Opdyke said he hasn’t finalized a race route yet, because some of the 56-mile bike route may go over railroad tracks, requiring coordination with Amtrak and CSX.

“We’re carefully considering the best course,” Opdyke said.

Opdyke is also responsible for making safety manuals, compiling mass casualty incident response plans, bad weather contingency plans and more. Some of that involves enforcing rules, such as requiring cyclists to ride single-file on roads unless they are passing.

James City County and Sports Williamsburg staff are waiting on additional information to determine road and facility closures, traffic impacts and more, county Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Veda McMullen said.

James City County Police spokeswoman Stephanie Williams said police will make safety plans once more information is available.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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