Ironman 70.3 St. George is tough. Not only will you face hills, you’ll face unexpected weather. A cold swim. A hot hilly bike. And a brutal run.
Ironman Florida? Well, that’s just for flatlander wimps. The real men and women head out to the desert of Utah to prove their mettle, because nothing screams challenge like the brutality of Ironman 70.3 St. George.
But as in life, you need balance, and the difficult and challenging course is offset by the enthusiasm and energy of all the volunteers and residents of St. George, Utah. Sure, the course is tough. But Ironman is the Cadillac of triathlons and they have the process down to a science. It’s well organized, well executed, and the people make the challenge engaging and enjoyable.
The 2014 version of Ironman 70.3 St. George faced an unusual heat wave with temperatures on the run forecast to hit 93+ degrees (my watch read over 100 degrees in the sun on the black pavement). Of course, this being the desert, you didn’t feel the hit until well into the bike.
The swim is around an island in very cold waters (60 degrees). For me, having swam in the San Francisco Bay, this water was at least a bit warmer than my worst swimming experiences, but it wasn’t pleasant. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to hit the water the day before, and I was very glad I did. On race day, unless you are an average to above average swimmer, you have zero opportunity for a warmup. The start line is about 125 meters from the shore, and you are given 3 minutes to swim from shore to the start. Needless to say, I was about 25 meters from the start when the gun went off for my wave.
My “warmup” was the swim to the start. Several athletes found the water too cold to handle, particularly with no time to adjust to the frigid temperature.
By the way, a word to the fast swimmers: You’re fast. That’s awesome. Try to watch where you are going when you hit the preceding wave – swimming over the top of a slower swimmer just ain’t cool.
The elevation profile for Ironman 70.3 St. George is deceiving. Due to the huge climb out of Snow Canyon, all the hills leading up to that point look small and insignificant in comparison.
This is not the case. There are a couple of category 3 climbs and a category 4 climb before the big climb out of Snow Canyon. And the climb out of snow canyon is so tough it got even the pros down to 15mph (I don’t think I’ll ever get a KOM there).
The climb out of Snow Canyon is so steep, in fact, that I saw many bicyclists walking up the hill. For me, having practiced in Red Rock Canyon, I was able to power up the hill – but I used some running muscles to do it.
A wise triathlete will save their energy on the bike, however, because the run is just as hilly.
My run suffered this year from a couple of issues: First, my hell spur and PF issues were still nagging, second, I’ve gained weight, and third – holy crap was it hot and hilly!
I have a bit of a “home-field” advantage in the fact I am used to running in hot, dusty weather with all my trail running in Las Vegas, but I felt for those who weren’t used to the heat.
In fact, I walked part of the run because my HR was at the max aerobic zone – while walking. It was that hot and steep in places.
The Transitions and Nutrition
They call this sport “Tri-Athlon” for the three sports. But really, this is a sport of five disciplines: Swim, Bike, Run, Transitions, Nutrition. All five are part of the game.
The nutrition went very well for me as I used my own instead of what they provided on the course. I prefer Honey Stinger products and I used a variety of the Waffles, the chews, and gels on the run. I finished with an Accel Gel near the end of the run, to get some protein in to kick start recovery, but otherwise everything stayed with honey stinger and I had no GI issues at all.
The well-practiced and planned nutrition was balanced by the poor transition work. My times were abysmally long – 11 minutes and 8 minutes. The first was due to trying to put on clothing while wet – I should have skipped the socks and worn the arm coolers under the wetsuit. Also, I lost track of items in the transition and wasted time looking for them. I had left my shoes tied (requiring me to untie and re-tie them) and didn’t put the transition nutrition in a quick easy place to consume. All of this was due to my lack of transition practice using the plastic bags Ironman provides. At my previous Half triathlons, my equipment was laid out under the bike – in Ironman, all items need to be placed in bags.
It was simply a lack of practice and it cost me a lot of time.
Ironman 70.3 St. George is a brutal challenge. Finishing the race is an accomplishment no matter your time. It isn’t easy. But if it was, anyone could finish St. George, and that would diminish its value. It was designed to be tough. It delivers. The Race Director said, “[sic] This may be the toughest 70.3 in the world.”
I think it is.
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