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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!