By Jared Eborn
It was considered the most challenging, most difficult and most demanding Ironman in North America.
With brutal climbs on both the bike and run courses, Ironman St. George, in just three years, had earned a reputation as the ultimate test of endurance and training discipline.
That reputation, however, may have been its undoing.
Before the event was even able to complete its third year there were rumblings the 140.6 mile race might not see a fourth running. In the end, though, the World Triathlon Corporation chose not to pull the plug on the event, but to cut it in half.
“We’ve listened to our athletes and they’ve told us that while they love St. George — the people, the community and surroundings — St. George does not work for them as a full-distance Ironman,” said Andrew Messick, Chief Executive Officer of Ironman. “Our belief is that St. George will flourish as a 70.3 and we are pleased that we are continuing our relationship with St. George and with the state of Utah.”
The inaugural race in 2010 sold out quickly as triathletes – especially those from the western United States – seized on the opportunity to compete in an early-season race. The 2011 event saw barely 2,000 competitors and the 2012 race will have about 1,700 racers. It was a trend that bothered WTC brass enough to make the drastic change.
The reaction among the Utah multi-sport community was mixed. While many lamented the loss of the 140.6 distance, others welcomed the change to a distance more attainable by a larger group of athletes.
“We welcome this new race as a continuation of the momentum we’ve started with Ironman St. George,” said Kevin Lewis, Director of Sports Marketing with the St. George Convention and Tourism Office. “We estimate that the economic impact to our community will be similar to that of a full-distance Ironman, while the cost of hosting and the need for road closures and necessary services is reduced.”
While the day-of-race impact will be profound in many ways, St. George may be impacted around the calendar. With the race distance cut in half and the demands reduced, triathletes may be less likely to schedule training camps in the area. Additionally, rather than spend three or four days in advance of the race preparing and scouting the course, many athletes will be able to arrive in St. George the day before the race and still be able to effectively compete.
Athletes from around the state weighed in on the change via social media.
“Lame,” said Taylorsville’s Leslie Howlett, who raced in the 2010 event and was planning on giving the 2013 race another shot after taking a season off to have a child. “I’m no business woman and I know money talks but really? (Ironman) can’t put on one race that doesn’t sell out in its infancy just to say they put on epic races, too?”
And though the move from 140.6 miles to 70.3 will undoubtedly attract many athletes that might not have been drawn to the longer distance, there are also plenty who feel let down.
“I was planning to do my first 140.6 in St. George in 2013 – just days after my 40th b-day,” Jeremy Smith said on Facebook. “So much for that plan. No interest in a 70.3 – yawn. I agree with Leslie… “we’re only bringing in a million dollars in entry fees, better get rid of the event.””
The loss of Ironman St. George as a 140.6 mile event leaves the state without a full Iron-distance race. There are a handful of 70.3 races in the area, however, including the Utah Half, Bear Lake Brawl, Ironman Boise and a few races in the Las Vegas area. The closest full Ironman races for Utahns will be Ironman Couer d’Alene in June and Ironman Arizona in November.