By way of introduction, the official name of this race is the Ironman 70.3 St. George Utah North American Pro Championship, which makes it a pretty big deal.
I am sharing this article written by Ryan Miller and Terell Wilkins, which was published in The Spectrum (local newspaper) the day prior to this year’s event.
“Ironman 70.3 St. George is the race that determines the Ironman 70.3 champion for North America. Winners can then go on to other races, including the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa or even the full Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Being a North American Pro Championship means there are more qualifying spots at this race than a normal Ironman 70.3. It also means the weather and course at Ironman 70.3 St. George are tougher than a traditional event. The St. George course has been noted by many of the racers on the circuit as one of the most difficult courses in the world.”
And some more facts about the Ironman 70.3 as stated in that newspaper article:
“The race consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run — the distances give the event the “70.3” in its name. In order to be considered a finisher, the racers must compete the entire course in 8 hours and 30 minutes. The athletes will have 1 hour and 10 minutes to finish the swim portion and must be through the bike section 5 hours and 30 minutes after the final wave starts. For perspective, the Ironman men’s winner usually finishes around 10:45 a.m. and the women’s winner at 11 a.m.”
“Participating in Ironman can be a personally-fulfilling but wallet-emptying experience. It costs between $225 and $300 to register to participate in an Ironman 70.3, and between $650 and 825 for full Ironman races. Add to that equipment, clothing and other gear, and you’ll see money is just one more big commitment that these athletes make to their sport.”
Oh IronMan, you are powerful! Fortunately for us, the Ironman 70.3 St. George offers a relay option with 2-3 team members. We had our sights set on this one for months and months, having registered about 5 months prior to Judgment Day. It’s not easy to plop down $133 so far in advance, not knowing for certain if it would truly come to fruition! Blending the lives of 3 busy women who are in different stages of life is not easy, especially when said women live hundreds of miles apart and experience different seasons which makes training a tad more tricky.
I give credit to Julie, who reached out to me early on regarding the opportunity to participate in the swimming leg of the IronMan relay. I mean really, who WANTS to swim recreationally, let alone competitively? I latched on to that idea and quickly summoned Amber for the biking leg, with myself taking the running leg. Last year when I competed with a team in this event, I got to take the biking leg — which I absolutely LOVED. But since Amber is the avid biker and I am more of a runner, I was thrilled when she climbed aboard the Relay Team Train.
Finding a team name was a thoughtful task. We batted some ideas around via group text message, then as “team captain” I decided to pursue a name that pretty much defined us: Thirty, Forty, Fifty = 70.3. Julie is in her 30’s, Amber is in her 40’s, and I am in my 50’s which makes our team even more original, I think. We got registered and then set to the daunting reality of getting prepared.
We often exchanged progress via text message throughout the course of the subsequent months. The concussion that I sustained on March 3rd while trail running was cause for concern, and though I was “headstrong” and hell bent on pressing on, I truthfully lost a great deal of confidence and was not sure this goal was attainable. It took running the course in its entirety on two separate occasions to give me back the assurance that I needed. Amber, on the other hand (or leg), crashed on her bike while mountain biking on a trail in Santa Clara about a week after my fall. She was fortunate that she did not break her leg, and her trip to the emergency room “cost an arm and a leg.” Pun intended.
Julie, up there in Northern Utah, had never swum in open water, so she was anxious about how this would differ from pool training. She swam competitively in high school, however, so had some solid history regarding swimming experience.
Race day approached, and we coordinated our schedules to allow us to meet at the Athletes’ Village for packet pickup on the day prior to the event. It was the first time Amber and Julie met each other!
Being the somewhat over-organizer that I am, I had printed off all the instructions, carrying them around in my hand to refer to when necessary. So many rules and regulations accompany an IronMan event!
I set out my outfit of choice, and it just happened to match from head to toe. What a coincidence — even my shoes were gray.
I opted to drive to Sand Hollow on race morning to support Julie and Amber, even though it would be at least 4 hours before my “leg.” That put my starting time close to noon. This is the view of T1 (Transition 1).
I found Julie, thanks to her husband answering my phone call (athletes are not allowed to carry their phones/cameras without special permission). She blended right in with the other wetsuit-clad swimmers who were awaiting their turn to step in the water.
I gave Julie my blessing but never did connect with Amber at the reservoir; I did speak to her on the phone and verified her status (ready and raring). I then came home and tracked them from the comfort of my bedroom floor where I was resting, using my phone. Whomever came up with the tracking application is genius! I was able to track Julie from when she got in the water until she got out (total swimming time of 41:53) and passed the timing chip (a Velcro ankle strap) off to Amber. I then tracked Amber as she rode her bike from Sand Hollow up over the hill and into Hurricane, then back west along the highway and into St. George, over to Snow Canyon and then down the highway to T2. The excitement there at T2 where I was sitting in the shade was palpable!
The heat continued to rise along with my anticipation. In good time (3:13), I saw Amber coming into the transition area where she racked her bike then secured the strap around my left ankle. And off I ran, 85 degrees not withstanding.
Making my way up Diagonal Street, which is a straightaway road with a gradual uphill climb, was where I would find my groove. The course was familiar to me, and I am no stranger to running, so I locked into “go mode” and knocked out the 13.1 miles to the best of my ability. Staying hydrated and cool was key; I carried a small sponge and poured water on it at every aid station (located a mile apart). I kept sponging my arms and face with it, as well as filled my white hat with ice atop my head. I learned that trick at the Boston Marathon, and I believe it is what saved me from completely melting.
Todd had maneuvered his way to various locations along the course, standing there with a spray bottle and offering me a cool mist as I passed each time. He is the one who deserved the medal that day. Or how about the man who did the entire event solo with two artificial legs?
I was impressed at the reverence on the course demonstrated by the athletes. Keep in mind that most of the participants had already swum 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles, and were now running a half marathon SOLO. As for me, I was fairly fresh and, other than the extreme heat, felt great. I would say that the majority of the athletes were walking at this point, the “ultra” athletes having long since passed through and finished this section of the IronMan. How do they do it??
The course was very hilly with no real level sections; rather, it was an out-and-back hilly mother, which meant what went up eventually came down, like a law of nature. Fortunately, the last few miles were downhill which was to the advantage of the runner. Did I mention that it was very hot?
Seeing the finish line for the last couple of blocks was a welcome sight! Hearing the crowd of spectators who were standing in the heat and cheering the athletes on brought tears to my eyes. I gave it all I had there at the end, running the last several yards on red carpet that was stretched out at the finish line.
The total run time was 2:08:22 (9:47 minute/mile average). I accepted the medals for me and my teammates, who were there waiting with smiles and stories to compare.
The flip side of that photos is this one of our patient, supportive husbands:
We finished 29th out of 80 relay teams with a total time of 6:08:09, and 908th out of 2683 finishers. Not too shabby for IronMan rookies!