By Jared Eborn
Staring at 140.6 miles from the start line is intimidating enough.
Throw in two trips up the Veyo Wall and a mind-crushing run through the scenic but grueling streets of St. George and it is little wonder Ironman St. George is considered by many as the most difficult event on the World Triathlon Corporation calendar.
“The thing that I love about this course is that it is what I call a true Ironman,” Utah professional triathlete Heath Thurston said. “Nowadays there are too many marathons and other races that are trying to be the race that can accommodate everyone and they are trying to make everyone happy with the course, this is why so many marathons are mostly downhill or flat, whereas Ironman St. George is really none of this.”
Indeed, the St. George course scares off a lot of participants.
Though road construction has forced a change on the run course – making it a little more tame – there will be no shortage of suffering during the day.
And that, perhaps, is what makes Ironman St. George so unique.
In its third year, IMSG has yet to sell out – an extreme anomaly for North American Ironman races which typically sell out their approximately 1,500 spots in 48 hours or less. St. George, because of the course and the early season date attracts plenty of locals and professionals trying to record a qualifying placing for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii – but the hundreds of participants from around the country that are the hallmark of many other 140.6 races have been a little more difficult to attract.
That doesn’t bother those who relish what Ironman St. George has become in just a few short years.
“I really really wish the old run was still there and I hope that it comes back,” Thurston said. “I do think the switch to this new run hurt the race a bit, but also helped a little because a lot of people that never considered doing St George because of the bike/run combination now are doing it because of the change.”
Thurston said the seasonably cool temperatures in the water at Sand Hollow State Park present the first challenge racers must deal with, especially if there is a late spring snowstorm in the mountains that feed the reservoir.
“The swim is awesome and amazing one of the best lakes to swim in,” he said. “It can be tough if we continue to get cold temps in the water.”
After the refreshing 2.4 mile swim, things really get interesting.
“The first section is just 22 miles and then it’s done and over with,” Thurston said. “Although that section is still very challenging to get through, once you do it your done, and you can check it off the list. “
After passing through St. George, triathletes hit the wall – almost literally.
A ride through Ivins and Gunlock takes Ironman St. George racers to the Veyo Wall, a short but brutal climb. It’s not uncommon to see weary cyclists walking their bikes up this section – especially on the second loop. Instead of stopping for pastries at Veyo Pies, however, athletes are sent downhill on a blazing return to St. George to begin the second loop.
“You are rewarded for the climbing with the decent down from Veyo which is very much needed because you can get that rest before you have to do that loop again,” Thurston said.
The second loop provides a much-needed recovery ride into St. George where the marathon beings.
“This is where it will be kind of funny,” Thurston said. “Because this new run course isn't all that easy for a number of reasons. First, you are never running flat, it is either slightly uphill or slightly downhill the entire 26.2 miles. And this type of running will really work the body a lot and will break down a lot of people that didn't expect this kind of difficulty.”
The new course, however, will make the final 26.2 miles much more enjoyable for spectators and fans. By sending runners on a three-lap circuit up and down several downtown streets, runners will see their supporters frequently.
“A lot of people think this changed run is going to be easy or a piece of cake. I almost think it is a harder run in many ways than the old course,” Thurston said. “Yes, it is maybe a physically easier and faster course but mentally this will really come into play.”
For those racing with a podium, trip to Kona or a personal record in mind, the course change will present a challenge unlike years past.
“The mental side of doing three loops is very monotonous. Having to run down a road then right back up that same road then over to another one and doing the same thing then to a third road and down and back then running up to Diagonal Street and running up it and back and then right next to the finish line will just absolutely play and mess with your mind,” Thurston said. “Because you have to do this three times which is you are running by the finish line about 12 times before you finish the race.”
But actually reaching that finish line, for most, is a feeling like none other.
Ironman St. George takes place on May 5, 2012. For more information, visit ironmanstgeorge.com.