A Challenging, Unpredictable Triathlon Experience
Stunning red rock vistas and immense community support in an outdoors-oriented locale characterize the ultimate southern Utah triathlon experience, IRONMAN 70.3 St. George. “It’s the perfect culture and environment for a race,” says Ryan Rowbury, who competed in the 2015 event. “To participate in a local race just confirms how great of a place St. George is.”
Rowbury says locals are fortunate to have countless miles of trails available; training never feels like a chore.
IRONMAN in Southern Utah
The event started in 2010 as a full-distance IRONMAN triathlon. In 2013, it transitioned into a 70.3-mile race. Sometimes called a “Half IRONMAN,” the more compact course now consists of a 1.2-mile swim across Sand Hollow Reservoir, a 56-mile bike ride through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and Snow Canyon State Park, and a 13.1-mile run, which ends in historic downtown St. George.
“IRONMAN 70.3 St. George is an athlete favorite due to the beauty of the course,” says Keats McGonigal, senior regional director for IRONMAN. “The bike and run courses are two of the most challenging on the IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon circuit, but what goes up must come down—which means epic descents.”
In addition to thousands of passionate amateur athletes who travel from across the country—and even the world to compete—the race boasts a top-notch professional field. As the North American Championship event, $100,000 in prize money will be distributed among the top 10 male and female finishers.
This year’s race is set for Saturday, May 6. McGonigal says athletes will be pleased to learn that the first eight miles of the cycling course through Snow Canyon are freshly repaved and “buttery smooth.” That segment is notoriously grueling, gaining roughly 1,100 feet in elevation from one end of the park to the other—testing even the strongest riders.
A Community Effort
Every year, locals come out in force to support the athletes—either by cheering from the sidelines or serving as official volunteers. Volunteer duties vary, from manning aid stations and assisting with registration to taking off wetsuits and helping athletes stay within course boundaries. A staff of several hundred is needed to make the event possible.
“The volunteers are amazing individuals,” says Levi Arnone, a 2014 race participant. “They work so hard to make sure the athletes are taken care of and safe. They are encouraging, and at times were the only thing that kept me going.”
IRONMAN vs. Nature
Springtime in St. George is known for its fickle weather. Last year, temperatures left competitors who trained for the southern Utah heat confounded and shivering in the 60s—with steady wind and rain. A few were forced to drop out and seek treatment for hypothermia. Others ran wrapped in ponchos and emergency blankets.
Hot or cold, anyone who has experienced the race will attest that you battle the conditions as much as you do the course. “I thought [the run]would be the easiest, because I knew I could walk a 10-minute mile if all else failed,” Arnone says. “Well, after a 1.2-mile swim and 56 miles of intense biking in 98-degree weather, I was cramping up and would constantly have to stop to stretch. I was having a hard enough time standing, much less running.”
Heather Eden, who makes her IRONMAN debut this year, has learned that having a strong support group to share ideas with makes you a more confident and prepared competitor.
She also recommends athletes divide their time between group and solo training. Taking a break if you feel burnt out—mentally or physically—isn’t something to feel guilty about, Eden says.
Ultimately, the goals shared by most of the amateur field are to cross the finish line with your best possible time, and to just embrace the experience. “The reason people do it isn’t because it’s easy, but to test and push themselves. As long as you go into it with an attitude centered around those thoughts, you’ll be able to prepare yourself appropriately,” Rowbury says. “No one’s really training to win except for maybe 10 people, so if you’re just expecting to have a good time, you may surprise yourself with your results.”