Nearly 2,500 athletes are registered for the Ford Ironman Arizona, the April 15 triathlon that will start and end at Tempe Beach Park.
Most of them will come from somewhere else, spend at least three or four days in the Valley and bring along family and friends to cheer them on, said Helen Manning, spokeswoman for the Ford Ironman series.
The visitors are expected to fill up Tempe hotels, shops and eateries and spend more than $5 million while they are in town, just when rising temperatures start the mass exodus of the high-season tourist crowd.
Unlike marathons and other foot races, which typically attract a lot of locals, triathlons draw a bigger percentage of out-of-towners.
Only 17.5 percent of the athletes signed up for Ironman Arizona are from the state, Manning said. The rest come from around the country and the world. Manning said 26 countries are represented in the registrations.
The Ironman — there are now 21 annual sanctioned versions worldwide — is one of the most grueling events in the sports world.
Participants must complete, in succession, a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2-mile marathon in 17 hours or less.
It’s the third year for the Tempe event, and it is proving a hit with tourism leaders as well as the triathletes.
Race slots were sold out in the fall, Manning said. Hotel rooms have been reserved for months, said Stephanie Nowack, president of the Tempe Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have more than 3,000 room nights already booked,” Nowack said. And that’s just from known race participants.
While only a few hundred room nights were saved for the Ironman at the Buttes Marriott Resort in Tempe, many more participants probably have booked rooms on their own based on the spike in business surrounding the race, said general manager Steve Eberhart.
“Demand is very strong that weekend, and Ironman is likely the reason,” he said. Tempe Mission Palms expects to sell about 1,000 room nights to triathletes and their entourages, said Chris Kenney, the hotel’s marketing director.
Fed Ex is already delivering bicycles, and their owners will start showing up within days to assemble them, Kenney said.
“It’s a unique event, and we’re very excited about it,” Kenney said. “While the number of participants is not as large as the (P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon), more supporters come along — three, four, five people — and they start arriving as early as (April) 7, 8, 9.”
Ironman visitors are expected to spend more than $5 million in Tempe, Kenney said.
And that doesn’t even count the trips they’ve already made to check out the course. “One of the beauties of an event like the Ironman is that the person coming to compete comes multiple times throughout the year to practice,” Kenney said.
Manning said that’s so and, in fact, Ironman organizers held a training camp in Tempe earlier this year. This will be the third Tempe Ironman. Organizers and participants plan to keep it an annual destination, Manning said, but 90-degree weather may force future events into fall.
“We’ve found a good home for a race in Tempe,” she said. “But there’s been some discussion about moving the date. Because it’s the first full triathlon of the year and it’s very warm in April, people come in and aren’t used to the heat.”