This is my race report for the Ironman Saint George event with my friends and co-triathletes, Jay Stanley and Will Colston.
The problem with Ironman-branded (a.k.a.
M-dot) races is that they are very popular. Getting into most of them require in-person registration at the race site, which opens for the following year the day after the race with a preference for volunteers – online registration opens the following day for whatever remaining spots. We tried to get into IM Lake Placid two years ago by going online. I never even had a chance to login before registration closed. So, not only would I have to
- pay the $500+ registration fee
- take several days off from work and family (mandatory checkin ends
on Thursday, bike racking on Friday, race Saturday, just sit
stupified on Sunday, return Monday.)
- get plane tickets, rent a car or drive a long way
- book a place to stay for the race
but I would have to go to the race the preceding year just to get the opportunity to do all that! Oh yeah, and train hard for what conventional wisdom suggests to be ten months preceeding the race.
I had decided that an M-dot race was out of my reach.
So when a new Ironman race was announced in January 2009, I gave it little thought until I and a select group of triathletes received an email from Jay Stanley on April 11, 2009:
I too am seriously considering doing this event. Really really seriously Registration Confirmation for: 2010 Ford Ironman St. George Dear Jay, Congratulations! You are now registered for 2010 Ford Ironman St. George. Please check the event's official website for updates: http://ironmanstgeorge.com .....
and then from Will Colston only three and one half hours later:
Gauntlet picked up. I'm in: Registration Confirmation for: 2010 Ford Ironman St. George ....
So for a couple days I researched the race, while the number of registrations were quickly rising to the limit and signed up. Saint George is in the south western corner of Utah, next to Zion National Park, characterized by large hills of red limestone that appear to glow at sunrise and sunset. Not a bad place to have an event.
Now some background for the IM event. It starts with the 2.4 mile swim leg in a reservior twenty miles from town. When you get out of the water, you change and hop on your bike for a 112 mile bike ride that ends in the town square (by comparison the D.C. Beltway is 66 miles.) After that you change to running gear and do a two-loop 26.2 mile run that, again, finishes in the town square. 140.6 miles total.
By the time they closed registration, 2400+ people had registered. One unique feature of M-dot races is they are a mass start – meaning everyone starts at the same time (except for the professionals who go off fifteen minutes prior to everyone else.) That means we expected to have 2200+ anxious type-A athletes all starting a very long race at the exact same type, 7am. There are stories of people getting an eye socket shattered, or goggles kicked in, or fingers broken as people swim over them in the adreline-stoked moments of the swim start.
At the time, I equated registering for this to buying a really nice furniture set with zero interest for twelve months. You have the choice of
- chip away at the stamina payments every month by training hard
- or relax all through the winter and hope you can muscle through 140 miles on all that rest you’ve had during the winter
Without going into details, we trained hard all through the winter except for the period of heavy snow. Swimming and running were on individual time but we would group-up for long rides: usually Jay, Will, me and a couple other strong riders – most notably Dave Phillips – would do some amazing rides to Mt. Weather, Sugarbush, Prince William County, etc. On the long rides, I tended to fall off the back group and just hope the others would stop for me; they always did.
All the while, Jay would send periodic links and videos about the race with blurbs like
the run course is a doozy… and
the bike is very hilly… and
…this will be the called the hardest IM in North America….
Jay’s comment on all this?
…in for a dime in for a dollar…
And then, suddenly, our training time was done and we were
tapering: resting, recovering and healing our bodies for the race. Two weeks before the race, we drop our bikes off with Tribike Transport to be driven across country to Utah. After that, I did some light running and biked around town but mostly swam.
On Wednesday, April 28 we boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Las Vegas, arrived there, got our luggage, got the rental car and drove to Saint George Utah. The drive got prettier and prettier the closer we go to Saint George.
For lunch, we stopped at a Del Taco in a Nevada town on the border of Arizona and Utah, clearly placed there to provide easy access to gambling. Del Taco, according to Jay, is
so much better than any Taco Bell, and it was.
We arrived at Saint George, which is bigger than I had anticipated, and checked into our rental condo. Jay found it on VRBO – cheaper than the recommended hotels, had a kitchen and was two blocks from the race finish.
Then we explored the town, went to the convention center for race packet pick-up. We drove to the reservior, which was stunningly beautiful, and talked with a couple people as we watched swimmers going around one of the turn bouys.
The next day, we got our bikes and check them out then drove to Zion. Zion was really beautiful. I wish I could have enjoyed it more but I kept thinking about the race in two days. After that we went to the IM pre-race dinner and
required racer meeting. I ate too much and then listened to what to expect on race day – ominous.
On Friday, we did our final prep. We delivered our T1 and T2 changing bags and then racked our bikes. Jay, Will and I stood around talking to people and then I decided to try the water. Jay and Will stayed in the car as I put on my wetsuit and walked down to the waters edge. I gingerly stepped in and started swimming to the turn bouy we saw on Thursday. The water was really choppy due to the wind and swimming was tough. I swam around the turn bouy and back to the shore. The choppy water really threw me off and my googles started to leak and I was really out of breath. I walked out of the water having struggled for maybe 400 yards. I could not believe I was going to have to do ten times that distance the next day. I just could not believe I was going to do it.
We go home, get something to eat and turn in early. I did not sleep well, and kept waking up to look at my watch.
Race morning came soon enough. We got up at 4:30 and trudged down town center where masses of school buses were lining up four at a time to take the racers and volunteers to the reservior. We climbed on to one of the buses and found seats.
It’s interesting to see how nerves affect different people. One guy was talking REALLY loudly about his training and course expectations. Almost everyone else was quietly sitting in the dark, some with headphones on.
We get to the reservior, which was closed to all traffic except for official race vehicles and saw large arclamps illuminating the T1 area.
And now, as I do on my occasional race report, I like to write in stream-of-consciousness mode.
The bus stops near the T1 area and I get off. There are literally thousands of people milling around under the cast of the arclights and I can’t make out faces too well. I go over to my bike to fill water bottles and then over to the T1 bag drop to put in a jacket. On the way back to my bike, I see Jay and Will. I need to hit the portapotties, as does Jay, so we get in line. The line is moving very slowly so we start talking with the others in line. The sun starts to come up and I really start to think about my options if I don’t get to the john pretty damned quick. A woman next to Jay says she has done seven IMs and been to the World Championships on Hawaii twice. At 6:40 I’m close to the head of the line but am wondering if I’m going to make it before 7am. I put my wetsuit on and stuff my other clothing in the
morning bagthat will be returned at the end of the race. At 6:50 I get into the port-a-potty, do my business, get out and hand over my
morning bag. I turn to go to the big banner that says
SWIM START and see Jay right there. We walk over together in a crowd. It takes a couple minutes to get through the banner and down to the water. I step in and want to get out into the reservior before the guns goes. I look at my watch and it says 7am; the gun sounds and everyone starts. I wade in farther and slide into the water.
I start to swim, hypersensitive to everything – the feeling of the water, bumping into people, my breathing. I’m just waiting for the panic moment when a wave hits me or my googles fill with water or someone kicks me or something. But I get into a groove and starts swimming strongly. I get to the first turn bouy – the one I tried two days before – and come around it. There are still hundreds of people around me and I keep expecting them to thin out but they never do. The big advantage to a 2000+ person mass start is I don’t need to
sight much. When taking a breath if I see arms I’m probably going the right way, otherwise something may be wrong – then I sight.
My one mishap during the swim is I slapping someone pretty hard on the head as I felt contact and then forced my stroke through. It turned out to be a small woman who, I am sure, was distressed by the blow. Other than that the swim is really fun and fast. I get out of the water and see the race clock says “1:16″. NICE!. Dreading the bike and relieved the swim went so well, I joke with a volunteer:
Can I do the swim leg again instead of the bike? He says
No. So I walk to the T1 area, get stripped out of my wetsuit, pick up my T1 bag and run into the changing tent. Very little room but I wade through people and finally find a chair. I change into biking clothes and hear Will shout
Dave!. I look around and see him changing also. I wave and then put on my bike shoes and walk out to get my bike.
On the bike course, my aero bottle is splashing water all over me so I slow down to get the sponge above the waterline. This ends up being more effort than I had anticipated and I almost crash into someone trying to do it. So I stop, get the aerobottle fixed and then start riding again. I feel pretty good.
We come to the reservior exit, turn left on the main road and start on a long grinding climb. Nothing too bad but not easy by any means. Will passes me and we exchange
Hey. I crest the climb and then have a big descent. Eventually we get to Saint George where there is a support station; I glide by and pick off a powerbar and gatorade bottle. I fill the aero bottle with the gatorade bottle and then stuff the empty bottle in my back pocket. I start eating the powerbar and it tastes great.
The bike stage is two loops so I just want to take it slowly on the first loop. I settle into an easy pace, comfortable with position and speed. I’m into a section of rolling hills that seem to keep rising until the final one called
The Wall because it’s a steep .8 mile climb. Not a
Wall, I think, but I’m definitely tired at the end. And then I stop at the bike special needs station, pee and get a peanut butter sandwich I had stored. I start riding again and am surpised how fast I’m going – 23mph. I realize this is the start of the 15 mile descent into Saint George that Jay talked about. It keeps getting steeper. I’m not pedalling but don’t want to tap the brakes unless I’m really out-of-control. Shortly I see the outskirts of Saint George, blow through them and then start the second loop.
The wind has picked up considerably and I start to feel tired. I take a gel and a couple electrolyte pills, which pick me up. A lot of people are passing me. I’m surprised how many riders I see, there must be fifty stretched out in front of me. At the next aid station I get a banana, a gel and a bottle of gatorade. The banana tastes great, the gel is starting to taste not-so-good and the gatorade is just too sugary.
I hit the rolling hills part of the bike and am really suffering. I just keep pedalling without much energy. I’m not sure how to recover so I just keep moving forward. At the next aid station I stop and clean out the banana, gel and powerbar wrappers from my pockets. A lot of people are passing me now. I pair-up with a young japanese woman who beats me down the hills and then I catch up on the up hills. It’s usually the other way around; go figure. Finally, we come to
The Wall, which means one more climb and then coasting downhill for fifteen miles. I start up it and, surprisingly, pass several people and then several more. I pass a couple guys walking and then crest the hill. Oops, I forgot there is one more riser after this to tackle, THEN it’s all downhilll. Man, that riser seems far away. I get up it and then turn onto the long downhill. I’m just pedalling at this point, no power. But I don’t need much power, just coast downhill. A guy screams past me pedalling hard. At the end of the downhill, I go into town come around a traffic circle and then realize I need to climb one more steep hill. A guy next to me says to no one
Where the f*ck did this f*cker f*cking come from.I could not have said it more eloquently. Once I crest that last one it REALLY is coast all the way to T2, which is what I do.
Coming into T2 I see the volunteer telling riders where the
dismount line is and I sidle up to it, dismount, give over my bike, someone hands me my T2 bag and I go into the changing area. I change completely and a volunteer comes over to take my bag. I say
Not so fast, I still need to get some stuff. In reality I just want to sit there and relax. Guys come running in, change, and run out. Don’t they know what is in front of them? So finally I get up, give my T2 bag and walk out. I walk across the Run start timing mat and start running. I see the race time is
9:11. Nine hours and eleven minutes? Wow, the bike ride was something like seven and a half hours. I didn’t think I was going that slow. Oh well. The run is a two mile slight uphill out of town to a 500′ hill that takes you to a beautiful crest overlooking Saint George. I shuffle (technically, I ran) to the bottom of the hill I start walking. This becomes my mode: run a little, walk a little, hang out at the aid stations eating whatever I want. The coca-cola starts tasting really good; the chicken broth, which everyone says is great, doesn’t taste that good to me; the gels, well, finally I told a very energetic young woman that I just couldn’t eat another one. So on the second loop I mostly drink coke and eat potato chips. The view on the skyline is gorgeous and I keep looking out trying to enjoy it but not quite achieving that. The wind picks up on the ridge and night is falling. Arclights are started at the aid stations so I see a cluster of lights and activity periodically as runners carrying glow sticks go running past me in the other direction. I descend off the ridge and start the two mile run to the finish. I’m running now, with the finish so close. The final 100 yards is a steep downhill into the
Ironman Saint George finish line. The street is lined with a large crowd of very vocal townspeople and participant families. Everyone is yelling and I feel just great. I come in strong:
Number 2013 Dave Turvene, You are an Ironman! I hear the announcer say.
As soon as I cross the finish line two volunteers take each side of me, a young woman drapes a finishers medal over my head, another gives me an
Ironman Saint George Finisher hat and t-shirt and a third gives me one of those space blankets. Then a paramedic asks me how I feel. I say
fine. After a few more questions to make sure that I’m not going to collapse, one of the volunteers takes me to the cordoned-off finishers area. I get a coke, some fruit and something else yummy but I can’t remember what. I walk over and really want to sit down but don’t quite know how to do that. I see a young woman with ice bandages next to me so I finally just collapse on the ground. It feels good; I’ll worry about getting up later. I eat the fruit and coke while watching all the spectators – there are hundreds outside of the racer area – watching us. Then I hear a familiar voice, look up and see Jay and Will looking changed, showered and rested saying
He must be around here somewhere Maybe he's getting a massage You think he's in the massage tent? Maybe he went back to the place I don't see him
Jay, Will. They keep talking. I say louder
Jay, Will, HEY They look down and smile the smile of a benevolent god. We talk for a little, I get some pizza, get my bike and gear and walk home. I take a long shower and then sit there for a while. At 11:30 I go back to the finish to see the last stragglers come in. Each stage has a cutoff time so many people are pulled from the course if they have no hope of finishing. At 11:45 the announcer says thirty people remain on the course. We see them come in sporadically and each gets a big cheer from the crowd. At 11:50-something a 62yo woman comes in running. She does not look anywhere near capable of finishing an Ironman but there she is crossing the line. At midnight the fireworks go off and the race is officially ended. One more runner comes in at 12:03am and the announcer says something like
John Doe, you just went 140.6 miles. That is not something I would want to hear after busting my ass for seventeen hours and three minutes.
The next morning we get up and find a great big greasy breakfast with lots of coffee. It hit the spot. Jay wanted to go down to Las Vegas for the night and visit with his friend Jeff Jonas. Jeff is a charasmatic guy, a self-taught genius who sold his software company to IBM and now works for IBM as a Distinquished Engineer doing whatever he wants. Jeff has done a large number of Ironman races world-wide and was suppose to do this one but caught something recently in Cairo – long story that. Anyways, he’s a great guy and
lives in Las Vegas. I say this because he spends almost all of his time traveling (his refrigerator has: bottled water, beer and two big bottles of top-shelf gin.)
Will and I just wanted to relax and hang out so we put Jay on a shuttle to Las Vegas and then went looking for something to do. The problem was Saint George is a thoroughly Mormom town so NOTHING was open on Sunday. We got bored, closed up the condo and drove to Las Vegas.
When we got to Las Vegas, Jeff and Jay were tied up so Will and I went to
the Strip and had a couple beers. Then we went to Jeff’s very nice house in a gated community, collected everyone and had a great dinner with Tiffany, his almost-twentyone year old daughter, and her boy-friend. She is vibrant and outgoing so between Jeff and Tiffany, the conversation kept flowing at a good pace.
And the next day we flew home.