Friday, 8 May 2009

I've been kicked out of Ironman UK

Well, it's official. I'm out of Ironman UK. It's been a most bizarre past few days, but the lowdown is that the IMUK race owner, Alison Boon, has taken offense to my posting an e-mail she had sent to me to the forum. As such, she's sent me a litany of accusatory and berating e-mails and withdrawn me from the race. Thankfully (and surprisingly) she did refund my money, so I suppose I should be happy for that at least.

A little background: I signed up for the race back in December, knowing fully that it would be a new course this year, but believing the IMUK organisation when they said they would have courses organised and the website updated by the end of January. January and February came and went with no update; finally in March they posted a map to the bike course but no other information about the transitions, the run, where the finish line would be or much else. Not only me but a lot of other competitors were getting antsy about it, as was evidenced by the posts to the forum. And frankly, judging from the standard set by other IM websites around the world, IMUK's was and still is woefully inadequate, so we did have something to be antsy about. It's now less than 3 months to race day with many questions still left unanswered.

Finally, last week IMUK sent out a mass e-mail with a link promoting an affiliated training programme created "specifically for the 2009 IRONMAN UK course in Bolton". Interesting, since no official info on the run course has been released! I e-mailed them to ask what was going on, and to say that instead of sending me spam trying to sell me something, how about some real information about the course? IMUK's rep Ms. Boon replied with a long list of as-of-then not publicly known information, which I posted chapter and verse to the TriTalk forum in the interest of sharing it with other racers. One of the things she mentioned that struck me as particularly unfair and unprofessional was that there were two different run courses being considered and being "tested" by competitors in the race: meaning that some competitors knew what the run course could be, while others still had no idea. Hmmm.

And that's where it really went wrong. Yep, I'll admit it, I was definitely critical of the IMUK organisation on that forum thread, and I wasn't the only one. But I stand by my opinion that IMUK has been extremely remiss in providing proper info to its competitors this year. The big irony is that the same day they withdrew me from the race, they updated the website with all the same information about the transitions, aid stations, and the run course that had been in the e-mail sent to me, so in a way my mission has been accomplished. Too bad it had to be accomplished like this!

There are two sides to every story, no doubt, and I should have paraphrased rather than posted her e-mail as a direct copy-and-paste to the forum. But that was out of pure laziness rather than malice. And I don't think it should have gotten me kicked out of the race. In the original letter from IMUK's rep Ms. Boon, she said they are kicking me out due to my "overwhelming inability to follow instructions" (i.e, that I didn't notice the confidentiality disclaimer at the bottom of the previous e-mail which stated that the contents could not be reproduced without permission). Nowhere can I see in IMUK's rules or in any Ironman rules anywhere that a competitor should be kicked out for neglecting to adhere to a small-print e-mail disclaimer.

As well -- through my postings to the forum I guess? because I was very definitely polite to her in my e-mails -- she said I was "unacceptably rude" to her organisation. She informed me she isn't going to stand by while I "bring the name of Ironman into disrepute" and "constantly rumour-monger and cast aspersions about her event and the Ironman brand". To top off her letter, she says she's kicking me out in order to avoid my choosing not to follow rules or instructions on race day (apparently she's clairvoyant too).

Subsequent letters from Ms. Boon have included childish rhetoric and nonsensical statements about Freedom of Speech, whether what I posted was "fact", and the interpretation of the race rules. After her first e-mail, I posted to the forum warning another competitor to be careful what he wrote there as it could be construed as a violaton of the Ironman rules, and she then e-mailed me quoting what I said and lambasting me for it. When I replied to say that we would have to agree to disagree about the whole thing, she informed me that there was no need for that, as she knows I was completely in the wrong. Or something like that. It's been difficult to tell what she means at all, between the spelling errors, incoherent rants and general unprofessional tone she's taken with me.

For me, these e-mails have just confirmed what I already suspected about the lack of professionalism in the IMUK organisation. I did call her immediately upon receiving her first e-mail, hoping I could apologise and straighten out what to me was a bad misunderstanding. But she never called back, instead choosing to write those long rambling e-mails justifying her actions. I've since read that IMUK allegedly sued some racers a few years back for writing critical comments about one of their events on a forum, and also for writing to the World Triathlon Corporation to complain about a possible lack of safety in the race. Unbelievable. I think at this point, I need to simply give up and cut my losses. What's that old saying about not trying to argue with fools?

Anyway, with friends like that, who needs enemies, so I'm out of IMUK and it's probably an opportunity more than a crisis. I was really gunning for a Kona slot this year -- hence my desire to know the course as early as possible -- and now I fear that there's no way I could be treated fairly if I did this race. I'm probably lucky to get my money back. This is after all, a race that bascially sells out every year, and people will continue to sign up for it (as it's the only official Ironman race in the UK) regardless of who's running it.

So tell all your friends: be careful when dealing with any races put on by these organisers. I also advise anyone who is considering anything to do with IMUK to do their research before paying their money. Wish I had done that. Instead I'm now lodging official complaints with the WTC, along with various local governments who have paid IMUK to host the event in their jurisdictions.

As for me, I'm not put off from doing an Ironman. In fact, just the opposite: I think Ironman is a fantastic product and I will continue to do races in the future. I've been planning and training for this event for months now, and this is the best shape I've been in for years, so I don't want to give that all up. I'm now thinking about a charity slot for Lake Placid for my "A" race of the season. Will cost a bit extra but it's for a good cause, and it means my family in North America can come and watch. Still gunning for that Kona slot! It's just too bad I won't be able to go for that slot in my adopted country anymore.


Carmen said...

Good for you Maryka, but it sure sounds like to have been fed a load of BS. Any chance your efforts with the WTC will pan out?

Who the hell thought sports would be so political!?

Ironrav said...

Wow that is a shocking story. There are however some places open for Switzerland I do believe. Come and join us over there!

Anonymous said...

I think the root of the issue is that Ironman UK doesn't understand the nature of social media. When I wrote to them suggesting that they carried a directory of Ironman bloggers they replied saying that they had tried it in the past and the facility had been "abused". Given the demographic of triathletes, who I guess are amongst the most engaged group of people around when it comes to social networking it would make sense for IMUK to get a grip with the phenomenon and engage with it by building communities, not trying to silence people. Unfortunately I feel compelled to make this comment anonymous :-(

karlijn said...

Wow, that is one crazy woman thar mrs Boon.
Good for you you've got your money back. As Daan suggested, please join your Hellas friends in Keulen. We'd love to see you again!


Triathlonmom said...

Maryka, I'm so sorry you had that experience. Hopefully something really good will come of it in the end. Like for example at IMUSA maybe you'll get do meet some of my really cool teammates who are doing that race. Keep your eyes open for TRIgirl Training and the male crew from Maramarc Fitness!
Good luck on your race, glad you are trying to stay positive.

Anonymous said...

I have raced IM in France Germany and Switzerland. IMUK is less than 60 miles away from my house - I wouldnt even drive out to see it.

If IMUK was a decent product - would they need their team of lawyers on call to silence competitors ?

It should be a safe race - but has it got the buzz of the Euro races ? No way.

Brybrarobry said...

Maryka, thanks for taking the time to share with me your diet advice on my blog. I really aprechiated it and I'm going to try it.

Sorry to hear about your IMUK problems. That's a bummer.

maryka said...

Thanks everyone for the support and comments (and also to those who e-mailed me or posted on Facebook/Twitter). It's a week later now and I feel quite a bit better about the whole thing -- onwards and upwards and all that. It's been sad but affirming to see that I'm not the only one who's had a bad experience with the IMUK organisation.

Just a little follow-up: I did end up e-mailing an apology to the race directors of IMUK, as that was my original intention when I called them, though having never had my call returned, I was unable to do that. Alison Boon replied with a long letter touting how fair and friendly her company is, the fact that they are "non-profit", how strictly they sic their lawyers on people who publish "downright lies" about their organisation, and how unfairly she feels to have been treated on various internet forums and this blog.

To that I say, go ahead and publish your side of it, Alison, you're well within your right to do so; in fact, I'd love to read both the story from your side and the feedback you'd get from publishing it. But I doubt she'll ever do so. I can only hope that people doing their research on IMUK in the future will find this blog enlightening or helpful when deciding for themselves whether or not to do the event.

So it's going to be Lake Placid after all for me; the WTC has been quite good in hearing me out and helping me solve my problem of finding a new Ironman race. Of course, they didn't take sides, and I wouldn't have expected them to, but at least the WTC understands that I, as an Ironman racer, am a customer as well as a competitor, and they have treated me accordingly. I do feel that when you pay $500/£280 in race fees, you deserve to be treated as a consumer with rights, rather than as a poor sucker who's at best privileged to be allowed to pay to participate.

Thanks again everyone for the support! This time last week I was feeling pretty rough about the whole thing but now the future is looking quite a bit brighter.

Anonymous said...

Sadly they have a long track record of suppressing criticism of their races and businesses. Many of us have received their "cease and desist" letters. You can ask as much as you like, they'll never put their side until a case gets to court. They have nothing to loose by keeping quiet.

The original Triathletes UK Yahoo group was essential closed down 8-years ago as a result of a 3rd party run in with them.

You need to be very careful where you write or post from if you are not unemployed or self employed. In my experience, their lawyers have no problem in notifying your employers of your actions based on IP addresses used etc. You don't need that hassle as well.

Hopefully this years race will go off without problem and everyone will have a great time, sorry you won't be part of it, me neither...

Anonymous said...

Ironman UK seems to be a group of bullies. They are greedy and really don't deserve to be allowed to host this event. They are not very popular in many circles, but after Bolton this weekend many truths will emerge about their organisational and social bullying tactics will emerge.

Anonymous said...

I can confirm that Alison is an absolute nutter. I've also been on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse. IMUK will not listen while the race continues to be sold out.

maryka said...

Just a little epilogue to this story. Last weekend I competed in Ironman Lake Placid and finished with an excellent result: first place in my age group, 16th woman overall, and that coveted Kona slot secured. What a great feeling to overcome my problems with IMUK, refocus on my new race and achieve what I set out to do! More to come in a long race report with photos, but in short Lake Placid was an amazing race -- well-organised, wonderful volunteers, challenging course, great local support -- and I'm so glad I ended up doing IMLP instead of IMUK.

Anonymous said...

Well done you and as it turns out - it was for the best. I completed IMUK yesterday. It was my first Ironman and my goals were much more modest than yours but the preparation and the organisation to such an event is so important - whether competing for a Kona slot or whether aiming to survive. Survive I did and I enjoyed it but no thanks to IMUK. The event was poorly organised. Chaos at the start - due to rain (who would have thought it in Bolton!), which left competitors with a 1.5 mile walk to the start. A delayed start while we were left treading cold water, they ran out of fluid on several of the aid stations ( I biked for 13 miles with no fluid) and no mile markers on the run course (which was not the same route as published on the website!). Fortunately for me, I was there to enjoy it so I did but really this is not acceptable.

Anonymous said...

no idea of run course, asked at the race briefing and the officials looked at each other and did not know. there was no mention of the run route in any of the race packs. it was left to following the leader on the race day. no mile markers, ran out of water on drinks stations (got told they were conserving water!) the run lanes were not side enough on the main road, and missed the start because the buses were late getting us there and dropped us at the end of the road and had to walk to transition.

Anonymous said...

From what I've read and heard from many friends over a number of years about the IMUK organisers and event, and experienced first hand at 4 EU IM's, I'm in no rush to do the UK event. No event can ever be perfect, be it weather, daft locals/competitors, or a host of reasons, but this does seem to be a slick outfit worthy of a circa £300 investment.

Anonymous said...

you are more than welcome to come to Ironman Wales, we would be delighted to have you!! New event, but it will be a stunning course and very friendly atmosphere!!