By Jared Eborn
In its last year as a full distance Ironman event, the race considered the most difficult in North America showed every intention of going out with its reputation intact.
Strong winds from the start turned Ironman St. George into an epic adventure that as much survival as it was endurance.
And many of Utah’s best triathletes made sure they said goodbye to the 140.6-mile course in fine fashion.
While professionals Ben Hoffman and Meredith Kessler captured the overall wins, Utah was well represented on various age-group podiums.
B.J. Christenson, a contender at any race he enters, put together a nearly perfect race, winning the Men’s 30-34 division with a time of 10:09:23 – more than six minutes ahead of his closest age-group competitor and good enough for 14th overall.
A competitor – and Kona qualifier – in each of the first two Ironman St. George races, Christenson said this was the hardest race St. George has had.
“Finally the wind showed it's ugly head. Year 1, it was cold. Year 2, it was hot,” he said. “The final year, St. George decided to give us a goodbye kiss. We all knew it could get windy we just hoped it wouldn't.”
The winds a Sand Hollow State Park created a treacherous swim that saw numerous competitors hop into the safety of boats to escape the whitecaps.
“It was by far the hardest Ironman I have ever done and the first one that took me longer than 10 hours to finish,” Christenson said. “I am pretty certain everyone just wanted to just be done. I was happy with my place and really happy to see everyone doing their best to get to the finish line. My heart goes out to all those who didn't make the cut offs.”
That was a sentiment shared by another of Utah’s best triathletes, Spencer Woolston. Despite suffering a flat tire and not having a spare, Woolston survived and finished the race with the 10th fastest time overall and finished second in the Men’s 35-39 division – earning another trip to Kona for the World Championships this fall.
“The swim was the craziest thing I have ever experienced in a triathlon. Swimming into a 40 mph wind was tough. I was 20 minutes slower than what I had hoped for,” Woolston said. “I was unhappy with the wind on the swim but I was ecstatic about the wind on the bike. Having it windy gives me an advantage, It gives me more time to distance myself from those who are great swimmers and runners but not great bikers.
As he powered through the wind, Woolston was on pace to have the race of his life.
“Unfortunately with about 25 miles to go my worst fear became reality as I had a flat tire. I had brought nothing with me on my bike to fix the flat so I got off my bike and started walking with it,” he said. “I had trained seven months for this one race and in that moment I thought it was over. I was still in a shocked state of trying to come to terms with the race prematurely ending when out of nowhere bike support stopped and changed my tire. I was very lucky to only be on the side of the road for I’m guessing 10-15 minutes.”
From there, Woolston logged a still-amazing bike split and had one of his best marathon times ever, finishing with a time of 10:04:22.
“My marathon has been a weakness for me in the past but it worked out this year,” he said. “I usually get passed by others on the run but this year I was able to do the passing. My 3:07:45 marathon was 20 minutes better than last year. It was a frustrating day due to the swim and the flat tire but I am happy that it ended well.”
Also finishing strong and punching a ticket to Kona was Keena Schaerrer, who placed second in the Women’s 40-44 division with a time of 12:42:00.
Though Ironman St. George is not officially gone – it will remain as a 70.3 event next year – the race has earned a spot in Ironman lore.
“Now that the race has ended I have recovered a bit. I know I am stronger and more committed from the experience,” Christenson said. “It was an Epic day and one I know I will never forget.”