Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ironman St. George Race Report

When Ironman St. George made its way onto the Ironman circuit 3 years ago and quickly dubbed itself as one of the toughest Ironman courses, I knew that I would have to do this race at some point.  I was strangely intrigued by the difficulty of the bike course and what at that time appeared to be an equally hilly and even more difficult run course.  Last summer I decided 2012 would be the year.  When WTC announced the change in run course for this year’s event I’ll admit I was severely disappointed, feeling as though I had been cheated…after all you don’t sign up for an Ironman, and definitely not Ironman St. George, unless you truly like to suffer.  In some sick way I’ve always envied those warriors that you see towards the end of an Ironman, glowing necklace around their neck, shuffling, crying, puking and collapsing their way to an Ironman finish.  I desperately wanted to know what that felt like, to question if a finish was even possible, to throw out any limitations and find out what was my real “uncle” point. 
Looking out across the reservoir at conditions similar to the conditions of the race start.

As God would have it…on Saturday I got the ultimate sufferfest…the one that I had always so desired.  2012 Ironman St. George was relentless.   25mph winds (40-50 MPH gusts) made for a treacherous, incredibly wavy, fear for your life and those around you kind of swim, one that my words on paper will never give adequate justice to.  The morning weather was calm….however 10 minutes into the swim it was as if someone had turned a hurricane switch and suddenly everyone was in a state of panic! The waves were based on my estimation about 3 feet high with white caps spraying water everywhere making the visibility extremely difficult.  I have never seen so many heads above water and all the volunteers in boats were yelling, but the wind was so strong that I couldn’t understand a single word they were saying except one gal pointing her ore and saying “aim for the right side of the rock” (there happen to be a massive boulder right in the middle of the Sand Hallow Reservoir).  So that’s what I did… bringing my head up about every 5 strokes to get my balance and catch my breath!  It was freaky!  If you were prone to motion sickness, this was one for the record books.  At about 1.5 miles in…I was puking like a college kid, and suddenly feared for my own safety.   There was only one kayak in sight at this point and he appeared to be fighting for his own life trying to make his way over to shore near the massive boulder. 

Very choppy, racers scattered everywhere  (let me know if this is your photo so I can give credit!
 The “race” had become more about survival with the main goal of just flat out getting back to shore.  Some buoys seemed to be flung off course and I remember seeing some racers skip the last red buoy, probably more out of desperation rather than an intentional cheating of the course.  Once I finally rounded the last buoy there was somewhat of a reprieve from the face smashing waves and I could see the end in sight. As I stumbled my way up the boat launch, I knew I had already accomplished something incredible and that this was going to be an epic day!  I heard that 80 to 200 people were pulled from the water and that they even had to send a bus across the other side of the reservoir to pick up people who had swam to their safety.  So many people were unable to complete the swim that they actually allowed them to continue the race without their chip, something I’ve never witnessed in an Ironman event.  I also believe the swim cut-off was extended beyond the traditional 2:20 as official results exist for those that swam over the 2:20 cut-off on the swim.  No where can I find confirmation of this however.
View from the shore, you can barely see the buoy to the left (let me know if this is your photo so I can give credit)

Heading out of T1 I was very glad to be hopping on my bike and heading out of the reservoir, however, it quickly sunk in that these same evil winds would be right smack in our face for the next 50+ miles as we made our way north past the town of St. George. The first 20 miles or so were seemingly manageable until we started to climb into up the mountain towards the town of Veyo…. at which point things got crazy!  The winds were really whipping through the canyons in multiple directions, staying upright on your bike became a real challenge, and seeing single digits MPH readings was very disheartening…about 30 miles in I actually started to laugh as it was sinking in how truly ridiculous this was, and suddenly I was incredibly excited and invigorated by the extreme difficulty of this event. I started to notice that other racers looked mentally exhausted and some seemed to be seriously struggling.  I began to feel like Pacman gaining a little bit more energy and power with each biker that I passed.  The last 10 miles of each loop was a an adrenaline junkies dream as we had the winds at our back and were riding scary fast downhill  reaching speeds up to 51 mph…at one point it occurred to me that just a small pebble in the road could leave me skinned and very broken.  Luckily they had just repaved the roads, likely for this very reason.  I felt pretty solid on the bike and recorded my best amateur bike placing to date, something I am very proud of considering the conditions.  You can see the downhill speeds recorded on my Garmin here:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/176337847
Coming into T2 I was feeling pretty good and was really looking forward to the run.  The first couple of miles felt pretty good, however by mile 3 I could tell the swim and bike had really taken its toll as it was taking almost every ounce of mental and physical energy I had left just to keep turning my legs over….23 miles to go.  I focused on continuing to run no matter how slow it was…taking in liquids, gels, salt tabs you name it anything that might revive my tired legs.  The run course was nowhere near as hilly as the one from 2011 and not nearly as epic as the day’s swim/bike experience, however, but it wasn’t flat by any means and its 58 turns certainly kept things interesting.  At about mile 16 as I was climbing up Diagonal Street my gut was in such a knot it brought me to a walk as I tried to calm it down and revive the rest of my race. 

The next mile felt like an absolute eternity and I was feeling increasingly worse unable to take in much as the aid station and nothing seemed to ease my stomach.  Finally I reached my husband Tom, my Coach Scott, and friend Lisa at mile 17 at which point I was stopped hunched over taking in all the encouragement they could provide, and finally put on an incredible projectile vomit show for those 100 or so folks that lined that specific street.  I remember staying “I don’t know what to do” and trying to think of a means to make it through the next 9 miles as I knew that quitting was absolutely not an option and I was starting to fear if I didn’t turn things around I would pass out and leaving he course would be outside of my control.  At this point….another racer heading the other direction on her 2nd lap went out of her way running over to me and screaming so incredibly loud “c’mon lets’ go” at which point I reminded her “I am going that way” pointing to the direction I was heading…her response, “I don’t care” which was proceeded with a shove on my back that catapulted me my 4th Ironman finish. 

This was my slowest and lowest placing Ironman race to date, however it was by far my most satisfying.  I had suffered in way that I had never suffered before; and finished an event that will go down as one of the toughest Ironman’s to date.  On this epic day, only 1024 people were able to call themselves finishers, a feat 29% of starters were unable to accomplish, by far the highest DNF rate of any Ironman.   I feel truly blessed to have completed this event, and to have witnessed some incredible camaraderie, more than any endurance event I’ve participated in!  My training partners and great friends Shane, Voss, Marge, Julie, Jason, Donetto and Brian also persevered and found levels they didn’t know were possible on Saturday…having trained with all of these Ironmen, I had no doubts that we would all Finish this race. Thanks to my great friend Lisa who took time out of her life to share in this epic day with me, and thanks to my Coach Scott for your relentless passion towards my dreams and your enormous amount of patience , I know I am at times not the easiest person to coach.  So glad you got to witness this display of mental strength you helped build. Thanks a million to Chris Balser, AKA Bicycle Fit Guru...you absolutely rock, and thanks the lovely folks at The Fix Studio for your serious smashfests! Lastly, to my calm and poised husband Tom, you heal my mind…. you are so patient, and believe in me more than I do at times…I could never accomplish any of this without you.
Vegas Baby!  Post race at the Bellagio!


  1. You are an amazing athlete and incredibly tough. It was an honor to witness your greatness on the course, especially when things went South on the run and you managed to dig deep and finish! Can't wait for the next adventure!


  2. This is super inspring, April! I knew there was a reason I like you ;)

    1. Thanks Tricia....Ironman seems like so long ago now !!