Funny thing about people who submit to swimming in 56 degree water, cycling 112 miles in the rain and running a marathon all in the same day: they smile when they talk about it.
“It was wet all the way, it was raining, it was raining,” said Joseph Paray, a registered nurse from New York who completed his first full Ironman triathlon in Juneau last Sunday. “The wind was strong. The ascent of the climb is brutal.
His friend Richard Secretaria, a medical technician from New Jersey, was also a finisher. He was almost giddy as Paray talked about it. Secretaria said his bike got so dirty it looked like he was mountain biking instead of racing on the road.
It almost sounds like they are complaining, but they really enjoyed their stay in Juneau. Partly because they said they were representing the Philippines when they raced. Upon arrival, they introduced themselves on an Ironman Alaska Facebook group.
“Everyone sends us messages, like, ‘How can we meet? “Like, we feel like celebrities here,” Secretaria said with a laugh.
“The support of the Filipino communities of Juneau? They rock, man,” Paray said. “It felt like it was like home. They were everywhere!”
Of course, they also support Juneau with their visit. Last year, when a local travel organization was negotiating to host the Ironman Alaska Triathlon, boosters predicted that up to 1,500 athletes would come, along with friends, family and support staff. It would be an economic boon.
The number of people who actually attempted the inaugural Ironman Alaska ended up being well below that. Ironman said there were 850 athletes, of which 62 were locals.
And yet another early estimate — that the event would inject $7-9 million into the local economy — appears to be on the money.
Like most athletes, Paray and Secretaria did not come alone. An Ironman official said that on average, each participant brings about three people with them. Paray and Secretaria brought their relatives and they stayed here for seven nights.
The two couples shared a hotel room and car rentals which they booked very early, even before the opening of registration for the race. At first they booked six nights, but then decided to add a seventh. By then, the rate per night had doubled to almost $350.
Besides Ironman events, they visited the Mendenhall Glacier, rode the Goldbelt Tram, and ate at local restaurants.
“Not to mention you still have to buy, you know, stuff. You know, memories,” Secretaria said.
“Memories, yeah!” Paray said. “You went to Alaska! You need a little remembrance.
They estimate that each couple spent around $4,000 on the trip.
City CFO Jeff Rogers was also an Ironman finisher. On Monday, he was browsing loot at a pop-up shop in Centennial Hall.
“I have a jacket and a hat, because the hat I’m running in is falling apart, and a few bottles of water,” Rogers said.
The cashier phoned him for just under $200, which includes about $10 in municipal sales tax.
By hosting Ironman, Rogers expects a noticeable increase in city revenue from sales tax and the additional 9% tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals.
“I think a big weekend of a few thousand people in town certainly impacts, not just the revenue of the town, but just the health of local businesses. And certainly a lot of people have been renting out their homes, trying to help out and be generous, but also put some money in their pockets,” he said. “So I think the economic impact will be significant.”
City officials and race organizers are not aware of any formal economic impact studies being conducted around the event. But Meilani Schijvens, who runs business publications firm Rain Coast Data in Juneau, was personally interested in the race. She had the athlete tracking app, followed discussions about it on Facebook, and was willing to share her own rough estimate of the economic impact.
“To be clear, I haven’t done a study on this, have I?” she says. “Those are just my numbers, because I’m obsessed with all these things, and I like, like, trying to figure these things out.”
But she’s done some solid analysis in the past, backed by surveys and more on-the-ground verification, to find out what the typical independent traveler spends on a visit. To come up with spending assumptions for this event, Schijvens looked at Ironman schedules, attendance numbers, Facebook chats, and even the weather.
“A typical independent traveler, we’d assume they’ve all gone on an excursion,” Schijvens said. “And I just decided that 20% of them were going on tours, partly because we had an atmospheric river. And a lot of the tours were shut down, like the helicopter tours that people definitely would have taken.
In total, she estimates that out-of-town participants and their travel companions invested about $8 million directly in Juneau’s economy.
The race organizers have also spent heavily in the community. Liz Perry runs Travel Juneau, the city’s destination marketing organization. He partnered with Ironman to organize the event.
Perry said Ironman organizers used local vendors whenever possible, from local artist Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl’s logo design to Alaska Waste port-a-potties.
Which means some of the athlete entry fees and license fees that Travel Juneau paid to Ironman to host the event also went back to the community. Travel Juneau paid $50,000 this year and will pay $125,000 in 2023 and again in 2024.
Perry said volunteers representing local nonprofits could also get cash grants from the Ironman Foundation. And there were plenty of volunteers – Ironman said over 1,400.
“So the whole community has benefited, top to bottom,” Perry said. “So this ripple effect is going to have a real impact on the whole city.”
There’s even free word-of-mouth from all the proud Ironman participants themselves. Both Paray and Secretaria said they plan to return.
“Maybe not for the race, but for the holidays,” Paray said. “Yeah, it’s a must. I have to tell my friends, I will tell everyone I meet, ‘Yeah, go to Juneau, go to Alaska. It really is a beautiful place.’”
They said their home triathlon club was eager to hear how it went.
Registration for next year’s Ironman Alaska Triathlon in Juneau opens August 15.