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Ironman competition is coming to Morro Bay in 2023



Ironman, the internationally renowned endurance competition, is coming to Morro Bay next year.

In June, Morro Bay city and tourism officials finalized a three-year agreement with the Ironman Group to host its 70.3-mile triathlon—the "half Ironman"—in May 2023, 2024, and 2025.

Sign-ups for the May 20, 2023, race went live on the Ironman website on Aug. 10.

"It's big news," said Michael Wambolt, executive director of Visit Morro Bay, one of the partners in the race agreement. "It's big for the brand, big for SLO County, big for outdoor recreation."

GLOBAL DESTINATION In June, Morro Bay and Ironman Group inked a three-year agreement to bring the internationally renowned triathlon brand to town next May—SLO County's first time hosting the endurance event. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • GLOBAL DESTINATION In June, Morro Bay and Ironman Group inked a three-year agreement to bring the internationally renowned triathlon brand to town next May—SLO County's first time hosting the endurance event.

Ironman first burst onto the world scene in 1978 with its trademark 140.6-mile swim, bike, and run in Hawaii. The brand now hosts 400-plus competitions across six continents.

According to local stakeholders behind the agreement, Ironman approached Morro Bay in early 2022 about establishing a new race in the bayside town. It already has 70.3-mile races in Santa Cruz, Oceanside, and Indian Wells in California, but leaders wanted to add another on the state's coast.

"As we were looking at different options and different towns that could accommodate a race of our scale, Morro Bay has had big events before, and it has the capacity with SLO just down the road to house and accommodate people," said Tim Brosious, the northwest regional director for Ironman.

The Morro Bay Embarcadero was chosen as the competition's central hub, and the event is expected to draw as many as 2,500 athletes and thousands more friends, family, and race spectators, according to Wambolt.

"It's a very big event for Morro Bay," he said. "It could bring close to 10,000 or more people."

Those visitors will inject an estimated $10 million into the area's economy, according to race organizers, including $200,000 to $300,000 in local tax revenue.

"It's helping out our hotels, of course, but also all of our businesses," Wambolt said.

With 70.3 miles to cover, one of Ironman's key logistical hurdles is planning a route for the race. That's still under development and negotiation, organizers say, but their hope is to hold the 1.2-mile swim inside the protected Morro Bay harbor, the 56-mile bike ride on Highway 1 going north, and the 13.1-mile run across and around town, finishing back at the Embarcadero.

"We'd love to showcase Highway 1 and some of the rolling foothills in the area for the bike course," Brosious said.

An event of Ironman's size and scope will undoubtedly have impacts on Morro Bay and the North Coast—including road closures, parking challenges, and packed hotels and restaurants.

But Wambolt said that Visit Morry Bay, the city, and Ironman are committed to making the Saturday race as painless as possible for locals.

"The beautiful part about Ironman is they have so much logical help and organization—it's just going to be a huge lift for Morro Bay—they have a full volunteer department," Wambolt said. "They start the outreach early to make sure everybody knows what's happening. And we'll work day and night to make sure [residents] are enjoying it and can get behind it.

"They can go from their houses to the Embarcadero and be spectators and enjoy watching all levels of athletes really challenge themselves."

Brosious, with Ironman, added that the company always looks to get local organizations, schools, and nonprofits involved, offering grants via the Ironman Foundation for their volunteer work.

He told New Times that the response thus far across the Ironman community about Morro Bay has been "overwhelmingly" positive.

"It was really cool to see how many people knew Morro Bay," said the Boulder, CO-based Brosious. "It's a special place. It's one of those locations when you enter the town, you feel it."

For Morro Bay officials and county leaders, the introduction of an Ironman event feels like a milestone in making SLO County a known destination for athletes across the world.

Morro Bay will host its local triathlon in November and the Ironman race in May—two events to celebrate the city as a distinctive place for outdoor races.

"As a region, I think it's something we've been working toward," City Manager Scott Collins said, "to be seen as an outdoor recreation mecca. This is sort of another validation of that."

Fast fact

Atascadero Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit that reduces food insecurity in the Atascadero community, needs new volunteers. Call (805) 466-1504 or email [email protected] to sign up. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to [email protected].

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