CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — When athletes from around the world come to St. George for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sept. 18, they will participate in a local tradition that is now over a decade old and racing on one of the most unique courses in the world.
Paul Huddle, senior regional director, Southwest for the Ironman Group, told St. George News that ever since Ironman competitors started racing in St. George in 2010, the course remains one of the most difficult and exhilarating challenges on the Ironman stage.
“A lot of races around the world have varying levels of difficulty,” Huddle said. “The St. George course is hard, but it’s so visually stunning that most competitors don’t even think about that during the race.”
Huddle explained that in pretty much all Ironman races, the swimming portion is usually flat. It’s held in a lake or calm river without much opportunity for variety. The 1.2 mile swim in the World Championship will start and finish at the boat ramp at Sand Hollow Reservoir.
“The swims are the swims,” he said.
It’s in the biking and running portions of courses that Ironman competitors face varying degrees of difficulty. Generally, Huddle said, courses with lots of hills for the running portion will have a flat bike course, or vice-versa.
“It’s rare that you have a hilly run and a hilly bike like you have in St. George,” he said. “It’s such a challenging but gorgeous bike course and run course. It’s just stunning.”
The bike portion of the Sept. 18 race starts with a climb up the appropriately named Nemesis Hill, a 1.5 mile steep grade that peaks with a glorious view of the Hurricane Cliffs.
The bike course covers 56 miles and goes through the communities of Hurricane, Washington City, St. George, Ivins and Santa Clara.
The St. George Ironman is known by competitors as a difficult course, but it’s what Huddle called “an honest course.”
One of Ironman’s defining characteristics during the bike portion of the race is that, by rule, no drafting is allowed. Riders cannot position themselves close enough to the rider ahead of them to get pulled along by their draft.
“On a hilly course, drafting does not come into play. That’s why we call it an honest course,” Huddle said. “A hilly course rewards strength and fitness. You can’t fake a 70.3.”
The final stretch of the World Championship is the 13.1 mile run up and down Red Hills Parkway, offering competitors stunning views above the city of St. George.
Fans new to Ironman might wonder where the 70.3 name originated. Huddle said that the standard Ironman course, with swimming, biking and running combined, covers 140.6 miles.
However, years ago it became popular to run a half Ironman, similar to a half marathon, he said, and rather than call it a half Ironman, such races were renamed “Ironman 70.3.”
“Obviously it’s significantly shorter, so athletes figure it’s that much more attainable. It’s a stepping stone to the full race,” Huddle said. “It’s become a distance and a specialty in itself.”
Huddle said that for professionals who race Ironman, some are more specialized at the longer distance.
“By the same token,” he added, “there are some real pros who are considered the best at 70.3.”
The combination of a unique challenge on the course along with incredible community support makes St. George the ideal venue for an Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
“I’ve worked races all over the country and all over the world,” Huddle said. “People have always told me that not just St. George but the whole Greater Zion area offers such a friendly embrace to the athletes and the race. That makes such a big difference.”
The are plenty of ways for local businesses and residents to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. First and foremost, anyone can volunteer to help with the race in a variety of available positions.
More information and sign up forms for volunteer and business opportunities are found at the race’s main website.
Written by E. GEORGE GOOLD for St. George News.
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