Coach Rich St. George Scouting Report

I spent this past weekend on the St. George course, training and recon-ing the event with some TeamEN athletes. Well worth the long drive from LA to meet and connect with our athletes in what is, hands down, my favorite part of the country. We covered all of the bike course on Friday and ran the run course on Saturday. Below are my impressions, notes, and observations. I took a TON of video and will work to get that up soon.

Overall

  • Very, very cool to have this course added to the US calendar. It’s a classic western course in a very unique area of the country.
  • It’s tough! I’ve trained and/or raced on every US Ironman. In my opinion…St. George will probably be regarded, after the event, as the hardest WTC Ironman® on the US calendar.

Swim

  • Likely the most scenic, and certainly the most unique, swim venue on the calendar. A calm reservoir surrounded by red rock desert, cliffs, and scenery. Sunrise over T1 and the lake will be magnificent.
  • The separate T1 and T2 areas will present their own logistics challenges but I’m sure WTC will have this sorted out.

Bike

  • I don’t know any way to describe it, other than “classic western terrain:” big vistas, views, and horizons that go on forever. If you’ve never seen red rock desert, cliffs, and high desert vegetation, you’re in for a serious treat. However, those characteristics come with a price…
  • Deceptive grades: for those of you not used to it, your visual perspective of a hill is going to be challenged and, in short, it will be very easy for you to get in over your head because this 8% hill looks nothing like you’re used to. Many times I found myself on long, long climbs. The wide horizon and big views told my eye that it wasn’t that steep. But, toggling over to the % grade on my Ergomo, I saw 4, 5, 8, 9% many times, for a long time. This is not 8% through the trees with an obvious transition at the bottom and top (IMWI), or a series of noticable rollers (Coeur d’Alene), or a long flat section next to a river (IMLP). This is a long grind up a long 6-7% hill that doesn’t look it at all because your eye is tricked by the scale of the terrain around you. In particular, there are more than a few deceptively steep and long climbs in the ~20 miles from T1 to the start of the loop. Many athletes will ruin their day in the first hour by working too hard on these “false flats,” which ain’t false at all. They just look it because, welcome to the American West, we gots big horizons.
  • Wind: deserts mean wide temperature changes = wind with no terrain to block it, or terrain that funnels the wind. The mostly downhill ride from Veyo? I drove it on my way out of town on Saturday and the net elevation loss was about 1500ft. But when I rode this section on Friday, it was into a strong headwind and there are at least 2 x 1.5 mi @ 6% pitches. In other words, riding from Veyo back to T2 isn’t a relaxing coast. You’re gonna have to work on some hills and into the wind. I predict many people will be sitting upright into the wind = a sail on the second loop.
  • Two legit, this-hill-is-no-joke climbs, both on the stretch to Veyo:
    • Eagle Ranch: relatively short but steep pitch, probably 10-11% grade.
    • The Veyo Wall: a sharp right hand switch back into a climb that brings you out of the valley and on top of the plateau where Veyo sits. 1-1.5 miles long at 8-10%, even saw 14-15% kickers a couple times. Good news: ain’t no way you can miss this. Bad news: it’s steep, really steep. It reminds me of Beach Hill on the Wildflower course (cliff on the left, drop on the right), but likely shorter and slightly steeper.

Welcome to Southern Utah!

Run

  • Before the race, everyone is going to talk about the bike. After the race…they’ll be talking about the run. The St. George is, in my opinion, the most challenging run on the US calendar.
  • St. George, the town, is relatively flat but surrounded by red rock bluffs to the west and north. The route leaves central downtown, climbs gently to the north to the right on Red Hills Parkway. This pitches up slightly steeper and takes you up to the top of bluff. You run along the bluff (still mostly climbing), with a quick detour loop through Pioneer Park (another hill in here), before a relatively steep drop down to 900 East. Flip it and come back. The net:
    • You’re going up, at a slightly greater and greater grade, for likely the first 3-3.5 miles. There really isn’t any place in here to settle into your stride on flat ground and just relax. Instead, you’re constantly running uphill at near constant grade for a long, long time.
    • The course makes a quick out and back on 1250, twice per run loop. No worries, it’s only about 1/4 mile and 1/4 mile out, on a dead end street with an Elks Lodge at the end. I suspect the Elks will put a huge aid station there. However, it’s a decent climb with a very short, but steep little kicker likely right before the aid station. Think short, steep driveway up to the aid station, but doing this for the last time at about mile 24-25 will be…challenging.
    • Once on top of the bluff…it’s a false flat. Again, nowhere to really relax on a flat, or freewheel down a slight grade, until the kinda steep (but too short) pitch down to 900 East. Flip it, kinda steep climb back up, then false downhill (ie, should be a downhill but it’s not really an “I can coast here” downhill) across the top of the bluff. More importantly, look down on the town and you’ll see just how far above St. George you are. Two reactions: (1) “Holy crap, I just climbed a long way up!” (2) “Holy crap, I gotta do this again!” No other run course so vividly lays out before your eyes what you just did…and what you gotta do again.
    • At some point on the bluff, about mile 9-10 of the first loop, you’ll finally start the lonngg downhill back to the finish. The downhill bit on Red Hills Pkwy will be tough on the quads. Not crushing, but lap two is gonna hurt. Then, once you make the left Hwy 18 and the next left on Diagonal, it just goes and goes and goes. You can see forever where you gotta go, it’s downhill, but only enough to take about 15-20″/mi off your pace, not coast, rest, and take 30-45″/mi off your pace.
    • Right in a traffic circle a nice 1/4 straight roll downhill through town to the finishline. This will be cool, similar to the finish at Coeur d’Alene.

TeamEN prepares to assault the St. George run course

Admin Notes

Gearing:

  • Compact (50/34): 26-11 in the back…or 27 or even 28-12. You can’t have enough gears.
  • Standard (53/39): 27-12 preferred. 25-12 = borderline stoopid. 23-11 = you’re an idiot and I’ll be there to take pictures.

Point-to-Point: with T1 and T2 separated by over 20 miles, there will be some interesting race week and race day logistics. No worries, WTC will have a plan, but you’ll need to pay attention to the Athlete’s Guide when that comes out.

Food: St George is a real city with real supermarkets so no problem getting any special stuff you might need. Here are some additional resources for you:

  • Benja Thai and Sushi: good Thai food, but 5/5 on the spicy-0meter didn’t make my shaved head sweat, which is how I gauge hot 🙂
  • Iceberg Diner: CRAZY thick milkshakes. Located about 4 blocks from the finish, be sure to stop in after the race.
  • Veyo Pies: “If pie is in the name of the restaurant, you have to stop.” — Rich’s Road Rules. Seriously though, excellent pie shop in the town of Veyo, about mile 50 on the course. I talked to the owner, and the owner of the gas station across the street, and they are excited about the increased traffic to their stores. Do your part to spread the economic luv outside of St George to stopping in town when you drive the course. Fill up your gas tank and buy a pie at Veyo Pies. You’ll dig it, I promise!

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AUTHOR

Coach P

All stories by: Coach P
22 comments
  • Mike Russell
    REPLY

    Great post Rich. I was riding the bike course last weekend too and I would add the actual Veyo volcano hill to your list of two hills. It is that hill that you hit once you turn out of the town of Veyo and climb up for about a mile. If it was all alone, the hill would be easy but after climbing the Eagle Mountain Ranch hill and the Switchbacks, it is a challenge.

    I rode the course with an 11×25 and will be changing to a 12×28 before the race. The first loop on the bike is manageable, but the second is a bear without the right gearing like you mentioned.

  • Mike Russell
    REPLY

    Great post Rich. I was riding the bike course last weekend too and I would add the actual Veyo volcano hill to your list of two hills. It is that hill that you hit once you turn out of the town of Veyo and climb up for about a mile. If it was all alone, the hill would be easy but after climbing the Eagle Mountain Ranch hill and the Switchbacks, it is a challenge.

    I rode the course with an 11×25 and will be changing to a 12×28 before the race. The first loop on the bike is manageable, but the second is a bear without the right gearing like you mentioned.

  • Torsten Erfurt
    REPLY

    Thank you guys to the nice and very informative report 😉
    Whenever you want to race in Germany/Switzerland or Austria let me or my AZ friends Robin + Kim
    (who fowarded it to me) know maybe I can give some advice too 😉 Unfortunately the IMSG is too early in the season for most European IM people 🙁 but maybe on my retirement to do list 😉
    good luck at the race and go for it!!!
    hang loose
    Tor (from Germany)

  • Torsten Erfurt
    REPLY

    Thank you guys to the nice and very informative report 😉
    Whenever you want to race in Germany/Switzerland or Austria let me or my AZ friends Robin + Kim
    (who fowarded it to me) know maybe I can give some advice too 😉 Unfortunately the IMSG is too early in the season for most European IM people 🙁 but maybe on my retirement to do list 😉
    good luck at the race and go for it!!!
    hang loose
    Tor (from Germany)

  • Randy
    REPLY

    Thanks for the post. especially the gearing. i have been debating on what to use. still not sure if i want to ride my tri bike or my road bike.

  • Randy
    REPLY

    Thanks for the post. especially the gearing. i have been debating on what to use. still not sure if i want to ride my tri bike or my road bike.

  • sme54
    REPLY

    Rich, Thanks for great info. My wife and I are heading out there next weekend to also check the coarse. Sounds like it will be a good day !!

  • sme54
    REPLY

    Rich, Thanks for great info. My wife and I are heading out there next weekend to also check the coarse. Sounds like it will be a good day !!

  • steve
    REPLY

    Great summary of the course. I've been on the course 4-5 times since October, in all conditions. I'll add a few thoughts.

    1) As for gearing, if you're an MOP-athlete with moderate cycling fitness, gearing will probably not matter so much. Less strong cyclists who struggle on hills in training will make use of a triple, or simply embrace the short walk at the top of the Veyo Wall. The hill is steep enough that if you stop it's just WAY easier to walk up than to mount and get started again; but let's be clear, this is true only on a small portion of the climb, near the top.

    If you're a strong cyclist and/or Kona-seeking athlete, you may want to pay attention to gearing on this course. I've had both head & tail winds coming out of Veyo, and I've geared out (i.e. wished for an 54/11 instead of 53/12) going UP the 1%-2% grade with a tail wind. And I usually left some free speed on the descent into town, when the headwinds weren't abominable.

    In all, I've been fine with 53/39 – 23-12 9sp. If I changed anything it'd be a move to 10-sp 23-11, but I would have done that long ago if it made financial sense. The course doesn't have a ton of flat, so you won't miss the 18 or whatever is skipped by going to a 25-12.

    I don't have any bike fitness or racing goals to speak of, so I'm not too worried about my gearing. But that's just me, I had some real bike fitness 4-5 years ago so my opinions are skewed.

    2) As for the run, what will really make this a hard day is the sun and heat. There is no shade on the bluff, and only a wee, wee bit on Diagonal. I found the run on Diagonal, in both directions, quite pleasant and easy to find rhythm. In fact, in an odd way, the whole run course has great rhythm. I realize rhythm is personal, but I ran most of the course (20-miles) last month and it just flew by. My girlfriend ran a loop and said the same thing, unprompted. Not bad, considering we had FEROCIOUS headwinds. The hardest part is the hill on the return trip, after passing Skyline. Ouch, walk city.

    3) I don't want to start a holy war, but I think it's worth addressing the obvious: This is probably the hardest WTC event in North America. For the Southwest crowd that may be familiar with the Silverman course (which I've done twice), I would say Silverman is the harder course, but they're comparable. Certainly neither race could be fairly compared to any other race in the country.

    The bike course at Silverman is just plain harder. I could understand someone arguing the other way, but I doubt I could be convinced of this.

    The run courses are more comparable, with StG being a bit harder. One thing Silverman has going for it is Mountain Standard Time and November. The sun is much lower during the run (for all but the fastest athletes) and there's a surprising amount of shade on that run. Silverman's hills are more subtle, but I don't like the course's rhythm.

    In terms of elevation gain, I have 1,865ft of elevation for my 20-mile StG run. The total elevation cannot be that much more (I skipped the Pioneer and Elk loops on my second loop, and started the run about .5-mile from the finish line, at the post office). The official Silverman run profile (DeLorme) claims 1,562ft elevation. As I mentioned earlier, the sun and heat can really make this run hard. In terms of terrain, scenery and rhythm I greatly prefer StG. In terms of sun & shade, I'll give the nod to Silverman.

    4) It looks like we only do the Pioneer & Elk loops once each loop, on the return trip. I believe this is a change from the first running of the race. It looks like they run the race further downhill toward 900E. See the IMStG run course text directions.

    5) Veyo Pies is the bomb. So is the Bean Scene.

    All in all, this looks like a great course for those who are looking for a challenge instead of a PR. Oh, and I love 1-loop swims, so all the better.

    Just my $0.02

  • steve
    REPLY

    Great summary of the course. I've been on the course 4-5 times since October, in all conditions. I'll add a few thoughts.

    1) As for gearing, if you're an MOP-athlete with moderate cycling fitness, gearing will probably not matter so much. Less strong cyclists who struggle on hills in training will make use of a triple, or simply embrace the short walk at the top of the Veyo Wall. The hill is steep enough that if you stop it's just WAY easier to walk up than to mount and get started again; but let's be clear, this is true only on a small portion of the climb, near the top.

    If you're a strong cyclist and/or Kona-seeking athlete, you may want to pay attention to gearing on this course. I've had both head & tail winds coming out of Veyo, and I've geared out (i.e. wished for an 54/11 instead of 53/12) going UP the 1%-2% grade with a tail wind. And I usually left some free speed on the descent into town, when the headwinds weren't abominable.

    In all, I've been fine with 53/39 – 23-12 9sp. If I changed anything it'd be a move to 10-sp 23-11, but I would have done that long ago if it made financial sense. The course doesn't have a ton of flat, so you won't miss the 18 or whatever is skipped by going to a 25-12.

    I don't have any bike fitness or racing goals to speak of, so I'm not too worried about my gearing. But that's just me, I had some real bike fitness 4-5 years ago so my opinions are skewed.

    2) As for the run, what will really make this a hard day is the sun and heat. There is no shade on the bluff, and only a wee, wee bit on Diagonal. I found the run on Diagonal, in both directions, quite pleasant and easy to find rhythm. In fact, in an odd way, the whole run course has great rhythm. I realize rhythm is personal, but I ran most of the course (20-miles) last month and it just flew by. My girlfriend ran a loop and said the same thing, unprompted. Not bad, considering we had FEROCIOUS headwinds. The hardest part is the hill on the return trip, after passing Skyline. Ouch, walk city.

    3) I don't want to start a holy war, but I think it's worth addressing the obvious: This is probably the hardest WTC event in North America. For the Southwest crowd that may be familiar with the Silverman course (which I've done twice), I would say Silverman is the harder course, but they're comparable. Certainly neither race could be fairly compared to any other race in the country.

    The bike course at Silverman is just plain harder. I could understand someone arguing the other way, but I doubt I could be convinced of this.

    The run courses are more comparable, with StG being a bit harder. One thing Silverman has going for it is Mountain Standard Time and November. The sun is much lower during the run (for all but the fastest athletes) and there's a surprising amount of shade on that run. Silverman's hills are more subtle, but I don't like the course's rhythm.

    In terms of elevation gain, I have 1,865ft of elevation for my 20-mile StG run. The total elevation cannot be that much more (I skipped the Pioneer and Elk loops on my second loop, and started the run about .5-mile from the finish line, at the post office). The official Silverman run profile (DeLorme) claims 1,562ft elevation. As I mentioned earlier, the sun and heat can really make this run hard. In terms of terrain, scenery and rhythm I greatly prefer StG. In terms of sun & shade, I'll give the nod to Silverman.

    4) It looks like we only do the Pioneer & Elk loops once each loop, on the return trip. I believe this is a change from the first running of the race. It looks like they run the race further downhill toward 900E. See the IMStG run course text directions.

    5) Veyo Pies is the bomb. So is the Bean Scene.

    All in all, this looks like a great course for those who are looking for a challenge instead of a PR. Oh, and I love 1-loop swims, so all the better.

    Just my $0.02

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