A couple weeks ago I traveled to St. George to watch the third, and last, IronMan St. George. By now, you’ve probably heard a bit about a wind storm, a hard swim — all around a tough day. It was a tough day, and I had a front row seat for it.
Personally, I think the spirit of IronMan St. George heard about LeadMan in Las Vegas and said “Really, you think you can beat me?”, and then proceeded to dish out the hardest IM swim ever (that comment about the hardest swim, came right from Mike Reilly too, so it definitely must be true).
Side note – One thing I learned this weekend: IronMan Spectating is exhausting! Last year I did the race, took a shower, went to dinner, came back and stayed till midnight watching the last finishers, and drove home non-stop the next day. This year I was just watching the race, physically had to leave at 10pm, and fell immediately to sleep on the floor of my friend Tom’s house. The next day I had to pull over for a nap on the drive home. So, the verdict is that watching an IronMan is more exhausting than actually competing in one.
Rather than give you a long run down of everything I saw that day, let me first point you to some great race reports. There are some really good ones out there from a lot of different perspectives.
Michelle, a paddleboarder swim support from the race. She had a wild ride. Interesting to hear her perspective.
James Lawrence – He’s working on completing 30 ironman races in a year (world record). This was his 7th.
Jonathan Minori’s blog with a nice write-up of the day.
Michael Wasserman – Did St. George all three years. Good description of the swim.
The swim defined the day
I swam in Sand Hollow the night before the race, and all signs were that conditions would be absolutely perfect for racing. Not too hot, not too cold, reasonable winds. The water was pretty much ideal — just a tad bit cool, but not cold. On race morning, the Pro and Age Group starts looked perfect. Nearly calm water, with the sun cresting the horizon just before the start.
I’ve never seen the character of a lake change so quickly. I was standing with a friend on the dam just south of the entry point. In the time it took to walk around transition, maybe 5 minutes, the lake changed from calm pond, to a raging, boiling sea. Visibility had dropped dramatically from all the red dust in the air. This was all in the time it took the age groupers to reach the first turn buoy. I felt a rock in my stomach thinking of the nearly 500 first-timers out in that water.
I was hanging on the side of a dock next to the swim exit, and from here I witnessed a steady stream of people brought in via boat and jet ski, many in tears. Once the age groupers started coming in (almost no-one was under an hour) I saw every reaction and emotion coming from the racers who’d made it. Some were yelling and pissed off at the world, others stood at the water’s edge and cheered, but I’d say the typical reaction was a dizzy, eyes reeling, I-just-got-my-clock-cleaned look. Now, with the knowledge that no-one was seriously hurt, it was pretty fantastic.
Not to kick you when you’re down, but the bike isn’t easier!
With the swim down, racers faced winds gusting up to 40 mph from the NE. This made the canyon ride up past Gunlock a grueling affair. I heard Ben Hoffman, ultimately the Pro Men’s winner was blown off the road at one point. Strange as it may sound, I don’t think the wind conditions on the bike were that out-of-character for St. George, but they are definitely harder than a typical IM. Maybe one more reason this is the last year for the full race. But, that kind of hard day in the saddle would be extra hard after that completely crazy swim.
On to the “easier” run course.
On the run, if you were still standing, the day gave you a break. Temperatures were pretty good, there were lots of volunteers, and the run course was a bit easier than last year — though not “easy”, there aren’t many truly flat spots on the new course either.
Isn’t this what IronMan is all about?
Watching everyone competing was definitely inspiring. And if you finished, I feel confident that you can say you completed the hardest year, of the hardest IronMan in North America. I feel a little envious of the participants this year — they were given a true challenge, a chance to dig deep and really find out what they are made of.
Congratulations to everyone — those who finished, and those who fought the good fight but didn’t quite make it. And, thanks to all the fantastic volunteers. These last three years I’ve been consistently impressed with the friendly and helpful attitude of St. George residents.
I’m still not totally sure about the politics of the decision to end the full IM. Declining registration numbers don’t totally add up to me. And, it just seems kind of wrong to eliminate the hardest of a series of hard races. Maybe Leadman will be the new IronMan for those looking for an extra-tough challenge. Regardless, I will be back for the half next year, but with a little sadness that IronMan St. George is no more.
I stuck around ’till around 11pm, watching a few more friends come in after completing their epic journey. A few friends were knocked out by the swim, a couple others on the bike, and one by an unfortunate mechanical (sorry Kathryn!). It really just emphasized that with an event like this, you can plan and calculate all you want, but sometimes your plans go out the window once that gun goes off! Regardless of the outcome everyone should feel proud to have competed in what will go down as one of the hardest (if not the hardest) IronMan races ever held.