When my teammate Michael floated the idea of racing Ironman 70.3 St. George with him on Cinco de Mayo, I knew there was no way I was going to do it. I had only been dabbling in sprint and olympic distance triathlons since July, and, as a Texan, the 5th of May has always been reserved for guacamole and margaritas. That night, out of curiosity, I pulled up the official St. George race website, and, to my dismay, the course photos were far more intoxicating than any margarita on the rocks I’ve ever drunk. I registered immediately.
The swim kicked off with a rolling start into the cool waters of Sand Hollow Reserve. I’m sure some triathletes will say that it isn’t really an Ironman if you don’t get kicked in the face during the swim start, but this organized rolling start allowed the water to feel more like a busy race than an MMA brawl. With about 15 feet of visibility, it was easy to navigate other swimmers, and by taking it one buoy at a time, the swim felt like a quick and refreshing warm-up for the work to come.
We were greeted out of T1 by our first of (so very many) hills, and while that initial 300 foot gain was a wake-up call for the legs, it was also the first of (so very many) incredible views. I was so grateful for all the hill repeat brick workouts leading up to the race; they definitely kept my butt in that saddle during the race. I passed several impressively lean male athletes walking their bikes up portions of the four-mile Snow Canyon climb (an ascent that starts at mile 38-ish and would be totally evil if the scenery wasn’t so devastatingly beautiful), and, while I wasn’t progressing much faster than 4-6 mph towards the top, I never had to dismount.
The out-and-back run was certainly my toughest leg, for a number of reasons. There were several massive and completely shadeless hills that had me walk-running in intervals. That being said, the course offered aid stations at every mile, and walking those aid stations kept the course moving quickly. My usually half marathon pace is an 8:30 min/mile; this course had me running around a 10 min/mile. But, honestly, I cannot stress the views enough. The majority of the run was on a canyon road that towered over downtown St. George. Just looking out and remembering that I somehow ran my way up there gave me such a sense of accomplishment.
In the end, I finished my first Half Ironman in 6.5 hours, with enough gas in the tank to sprint to the finish line. I only started seriously considering my nutrition plan a few weeks before the race, but I have to say, it made all the difference!
Ironman 70.3 St. George was no walk in the state park. With 3,536 feet of elevation gain on the cycling course, a 1,267 foot gain on the run, and not a single corner of shade to be found, this probably isn’t the course to pick if you’re hunting a PR. But, if you’re like me, and an absolute sucker for the majesty of Mother Nature, you will be hard-pressed to find a more aesthetically rewarding course in the North American circuit.