Ever since the World Triathlon Corporation announced Ironman St. George as the newest addition to its Northern America Ironman lineup, there has been chatter that the course may be the hardest of them all. With the inaugural Ironman St. George event set to take place this Saturday, May 1, Competitor.com caught up with race director Paul Huddle to get his thoughts on the course difficulty and the anticipated conditions on race day.
Written by: Liz Hichens
Competitor.com: How would you compare the Ironman St. George course to other North American Ironmans?
Huddle: The swim is flat and it’s going to be wet. And, it will probably be a bit cold. So, obviously the swim is very similar to all of our Ironman courses. All joking aside, the water temperature right now is 62 degrees. Because of some cooler weather were expecting over the next couple of days, it’ll probably be in the high 50s. So, it will definitely be on the cold side, but full wetsuits shouldn’t be a problem.
The bike course is pretty comparable to our tougher bike courses. I’d compare it to Ironman Lake Placid or Ironman Wisconsin. Much has been made about how hilly it is, but honestly I don’t think the elevation is really that different from either of those two.
The defining feature of this course will definitely be the run, simply because of the fact that it is so hilly. I think everyone is so focused on the ups that they don’t remember the last three miles of each loop is downhill. I know that’s going to beat some people up, but at the same time you will be able to run because gravity will be helping you.
Competitor.com: Why do you think there seems to be so much fear heading into this race?
Huddle: I’ve been a part of a lot of Ironman events, and with every first year race there is a fear instilled about the difficulty. It’s all really weird to me because I hear people using the words “Ironman” and “too hard” together and I don’t understand that concept. The very definition of this sport is based on the difficulty. The only thing that could make people more hysterical about this course is if we somehow added a surf swim.
I love this course. It’s a hard course and it’s an honest course. It’s a course that is going to reward those that are strong and have done the work. If you are a strong, fit athlete then you are going to have a great day, but you will definitely not have your best time.
Competitor.com: What is the biggest tip you would give to athletes heading into Saturday’s race?
Huddle: I have one word for everybody: patience. I think anybody that goes out with the mindset that they need to maintain a speed or need to be at certain time splits along the way is going to be done before the first loop of the bike. This course will reward individuals that are disciplined and patient. Don’t fight the course.
Competitor.com: Do you have an idea of when the top professionals will cross the finish line?
Huddle: I think if we have good conditions and a good day, eight and a half hours is possible. A strong cyclist will be able to go really fast on these downhills, and they’re not that much slower on the uphills. I think it will be a tough day, and it will be a slower course relatively speaking. But I do think around eight and half hours for the men and nine and a half hours for the women are realistic times. That said, those times will take a good effort.
Competitor.com: What do you expect the weather to be like?
Huddle: It looks like we may have some wind and rain. People need to look back at Ironman Wisconsin. That race shows both extremes. One year, it had the highest attrition rate that I know of. It was 19% in the third year of Ironman Wisconsin. It was 90 degrees, 90% humidity and about 35 mile per hour winds. That was a brutal day. At Ironman Wisconsin two years later the high was 51 degrees and it rained all day. That rainy day we had fewer crashes and the highest finishing percentage we’ve had anywhere, which was about 5% attrition. If we do get a cool day, regardless of wind, I think were going to have a relatively high finish percentage.
We’ve experienced 80 to 85 degrees here over the last three days, and 80 degrees in St. George on an uphill with a tailwind can feel like 100 degrees. I think its going to be cold in the morning, somewhere around 45 degrees. By the time athletes hit the run I think they will be quite happy that it didn’t heat up like it could.
Competitor.com: Any final thoughts?
Huddle: It seems like there’s some excessive worrying about the course and the weather. It’s an Ironman and it’s outside. It’s exactly like what you’ve been doing in training. Get over it, and just go do it.