Journey to the IRONMAN World Championship: An ACTIVE Network Employee Spotlight

Title: Journey to the IRONMAN World Championship: An ACTIVE Network Employee Spotlight

It’s 7:05 a.m., partly cloudy with temperatures in the 70s. The water is calm. Conditions are perfect. A group of 1,500 or so men line up on the dock of Kailua Bay, arms tattooed with race numbers, heads adorned with skin-tight swim caps. Spectators are already out in full force along Ali’i Drive to watch one of the greatest competitions across all sports. There’s a nervous energy in the air.

The gun goes off, and these 1,500 men begin their journey–some with upwards of 17 hours of work ahead of them, many with time goals and podium finishes on their minds, others hoping merely to finish.

It’s impossible to count the hours of hard work, sacrifice and pure pain that go into reaching this point. And it’s certainly not easy. Not one of those men will even think that phrase, let alone say it. So why do it? Why put their body through so much turmoil? For what?

“It’s Kona.”

Eric Koenigs with his IRONMAN World Championship medal

Eric Koenigs at the IRONMAN World Championship finish line.

For Eric Koenigs, global account manager at ACTIVE Network, the journey to the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, started when he was a young boy in Wisconsin, coming in from a long day of shoveling snow with his brothers and sitting down in front of the TV to watch Dave Scott and Mark Allen battle it out for 140.6 miles on the swim-bike-run.

Koenig would later go on to race the famous IRONMAN himself in 2001 and again 17 years later, in 2018, thanks to receiving a spot allocated to ACTIVE because of its partnership with IRONMAN and the World Triathlon Corporation.

“It was a childhood dream,” Koenigs says. “For four years since I joined ACTIVE, I’ve had a burning desire to toe the line again at Kona.”

IRONMAN is a global brand, with 84 countries represented at the world championship this year and athletes ranging from 18 to 89 years old. But what makes this race in particular special—not just to Koenig, but to the masses that attempt to qualify every year?

“There’s just a status quo of excellence and perfection,” Erin Swiatek, technical account manager at ACTIVE Network, says. “There’s a certain amount of structure and expectation.”

While many use the IRONMAN moniker to indicate any 140.6-distance race, an IRONMAN is unique unto itself. The M-dot branded races set themselves apart in more ways than one, making them aspirational not just for race directors of other full-distance triathlons but directors of any race at all. This distinction is what made Swiatek, who had her own unique journey to Kona, choose the IRONMAN path as opposed to another series of full-distance triathlons or any physically demanding athletic feat.

Hip surgery in college forced Swiatek to take a step back from the sport, but after seeing a number of co-workers gearing up to tackle a half IRONMAN last October, she caught the bug once again.

Starting 2018 with the goal of merely completing a 140.6, Swiatek performed better than expected, finishing fourth in her age group. The possibility of Kona inched its way into the back of her head.

So she took on another IRONMAN with the intention of qualifying for the world championship. Three and a half months later, after many more hours of training, early mornings and missed happy hours, she did just that, not only winning her age group at IRONMAN Mount Tremblant but also earning a coveted qualifying spot at the starting line in Hawaii. Then, just 55 days later, she put on her tri suit and prepared for her third IRONMAN in six months—something few pros even dare tackle.

Why did she put herself through it all? Why not wait until next year? Give herself a break?

“It’s Kona.”

Erin Swiatek crossing the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championships.

Erin Swiatek crossing the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championship.

IRONMAN sets itself apart thanks to collaboration, communication and consistency. The volunteers keep the race operating like a well-oiled machine–each one is trained to know exactly what to do, where to go and how to handle any issues that might arise, leaving no question in the athletes’ minds about, well, anything. At other races, many volunteers show up, receive their free T-shirt and sit through a 15-minute briefing before being sent on their way.

“There’s no walking around wondering what you’re supposed to do,” Swiatek says about IRONMAN. “There’s an expectation that the volunteers are going to perform at a certain level and then preparing them to be able to perform at that level. That makes a very big difference.”

Swiatek also notes a difference in communication from IRONMAN. “[At other races], you normally sign up, and then you’re pretty much disengaged until you go to packet pickup,” she says. “IRONMAN doesn’t spam you with emails, but they do keep you updated and reach out with things you might need to be thinking about. You usually even get a welcome letter from the mayor of the town.”

The final, and perhaps most important factor for athletes, is the consistency not just across IRONMAN races but within a single race as well. One seemingly inconsequential example Swiatek notes is the consistent order of the aid stations throughout the course.

Athletes can experience a wide range of difficulties when it comes to refueling during a race—whether that means completely missing the aid station because it’s poorly marked or having “WATER!” shouted at you only to pick up a cup filled to the brim with Gatorade. But at an IRONMAN, “you know you’re going to come up on water, Gatorade, bananas, gels, Gatorade, water,” Swiatek says. “The more you can set the standard and expectations, the better experience participants are going to have.”

IRONMAN is the pinnacle of endurance sports, and Kona is the pinnacle of IRONMAN. That’s why all these athletes strive for the near-impossible year in and year out of constant training just for a chance to toe the line on the dock of Kailua Bay, arms tattooed with race numbers, heads adorned with skin-tight swim caps.

“Some people get really driven by the pursuit of what’s possible,” Swiatek says. “And that just lights me on fire.”

It’s Kona.



Takeaways from the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships

2018 Phillips 66 National Championships

ACTIVE Network attended the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships this year to support some of USA Swimming’s best athletes. The championship meet is the biggest domestic event for USA Swimming every year and ACTIVE Network’s swim team was proud to be a part of the experience. We wanted to give our readers a taste of what the five-day event was like, as well as insights into how USA Swimming uses our mobile app to get its fans fired up. Continue reading

ACTIVE Network Lends a Hand at the 2018 Fair Park Olympic Day Games for Kids

ACTIVE Network volunteers at Fair Park Olympics

“How did you spend your summer vacation?”

This classic essay question gets a cool new answer, following a unique volunteer effort. Together with our client Kidventure, ACTIVE Network had the privilege of helping out at the second annual Fair Park Olympic Day Games for Kids this June. The event provided local kids with a way to get active, build confidence and have a whole lot of fun during their summer break–and did we mention they got to hang out with Olympians, too? Continue reading

ACTIVE Network Celebrates Freedom and Fun with Independence Day Runs

Happy Fourth of July from ACTIVE Network

In the United States, Independence Day is a celebration of freedom from coast to coast. Each Fourth of July is filled with backyard barbecues, family and fireworks–and it’s also a great day for a run. In fact, according to Runner’s World, the Fourth is more popular than Christmas, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day when it comes to logging miles (though it can’t hold a candle to Thanksgiving Turkey Trots).

Here at ACTIVE Network, we love any reason to get up, get out and get moving, and we hold a special place in our hearts for our red, white and blue runs. Read on as ACTIVE team members describe why they love running on Independence Day, and how hitting the road, track or trail on this holiday ties into our mission to make the world a more active place. Continue reading

ACTIVE Network Celebrates Global Running Day

ACTIVE Network Celebrates Global Running Day in London

ACTIVE Network joined the worldwide celebration of Global Running Day to embrace fitness and fun on June 6, 2018. Global Running Day began in 2009 as a way for participants of all ages and abilities to take part a in a running activity by submitting their names to a pledge through the official website. Today, the holiday reaches some 162 countries and attracts over 280,000 participants.

What better way to emphasize ACTIVE Network’s mission to make the world a more active place by connecting people to the things they love, want and need to do than by participating in Global Running Day? Continue reading

ACTIVE Network Rallies for Global Payments’ Worldwide Day of Service

ACTIVE Network Joins Global Payments' Worldwide Day of Service

Here at ACTIVE Network, we’re all about connecting people to the things they love, want and need to do. We’re also a part of Global Payments, which is committed to building a culture of Service. Driven. Commerce. Sounds like a great match, right?

From clothing drives to clean-ups, ACTIVE goes “all in” for doing good in the community, and we always have fun while we’re doing it. So, in honor of Global Payments’ biannual Worldwide Day of Service on Wednesday, May 9, we rallied the troops in all of our offices to join Global Payments’ international efforts in the spirit of corporate citizenship. Continue reading

ACTIVE Network’s Aaron Trujillo Runs the 2018 Boston Marathon – in Sub-3!

The Boston Marathon is a big deal, to put it mildly. The Super Bowl of running represents the ultimate race–and unparalleled prestige–for endurance athletes.

The inaugural Boston Marathon was held on April 19, 1894, the first Patriots’ Day, with a field of 15 runners. Now taking place every third Monday in April, the Patriots’ Day tie imbues the event with themes of liberty and purpose. For runners, its exclusivity makes the Boston Marathon the ultimate dream. After growing to over 1,000 participants, qualifying standards were put in place in 1970 by the Boston Athletic Association to reserve the honor of participation for only around 30,000 top runners each year.  Continue reading

ACTIVE Network Celebrates International Women’s Day 2018



International Women's Day 2018

It’s time to #PressforProgress.

Thursday, March 8, 2018, marked the 117th annual International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration of achievement, unity and the drive for equality. ACTIVE Network rallied around this year’s theme of “Press for Progress” through empowering words and actions. Continue reading

Top Takeaways from Running USA’s 2018 Conference: Experiences Matter

The 2018 Running USA Industry Conference powered by ACTIVE Network wrapped earlier this month, marking another year of insights and innovation at the largest endurance running trade association event in the world. Gathering industry professionals from across the globe–this year’s attendees represented over 20 different countries–the conference included presentations, breakout sessions, panel discussions and, of course, plenty of group runs and networking.

Powered by Purpose

ACTIVE Network is a founding member of Running USA, and Cristine Kao, ACTIVE’s Senior Director of Global Marketing, was on the scene from day one to the closing reception. Throughout the conference, she noted attendees’ high energy and open minds. For example, a first-time Women’s Networking Meetup drew a crowd so large, it was standing-room-only.

“There are so many new ideas in the industry,” says Kao. “There’s a sense of purpose.”

Afdhel Aziz’s keynote speech reinforced this sentiment. The author of “Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn” touted the power of endurance events to drive purpose-focused goals. A staggering $1.2B is raised by running events each year for causes big and small.

The Endurance Experience

A two-fold industry trend ties back to Aziz’s key insight. As larger, longtime organizers see a decline in registration, more first-time events are popping up each year. Participants are also skewing more heavily toward the experience-seeking enthusiast, rather than the competitive runner, and they may be more attracted to smaller, regional and more purposeful events.

Kao explains the takeaway for organizers. “How do you create a holistic experience for both the racer and the everyday runner? As a race director, you have to consider both,” she says. “There’s an inherent alignment in that endurance running provides a unique experience for people.”

Designing Destination Events

An Idea Lab session led by Sam Renouf of Motiv Sports placed even greater emphasis on the experiential consumer. Entitled “Running as a Destination: How to Attract International Participants,” Renouf’s presentation highlighted the Sydney Marathon as a case study.

The popular event, marking its 17th year this September, courts runners from around the world via multilingual marketing, enhanced digital initiatives and positioning itself as a destination event that showcases Sydney’s unique culture. Renouf’s four elements of a destination event that will attract an international audience include (1) Location, Culture and History; (2) A Sense of Community; (3) Ease of Access and (4) Bragging Rights.

Watch the Experts

Building on the above insights from this year’s Running USA Industry Conference, check out our panel video featuring a discussion with three industry veterans:  Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA; Sam Renouf, President of Motiv Sports and Dave McGillivray, Founder of DMSE Sports.

Will we see you in Puerto Rico in 2019?