St. George – Multisport Mecca

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By John Higgins — As well as epic mountain biking and scenic road riding, St George in southern Utah is well known in the multisport community for the St George Ironman™ 70.3 being held this year on May 5th. It’s a big event on the local triathlon calendar, and is also the North American Pro Championships, featuring a tough but scenically stunning course. Members of the Salt Lake Tri Club joined forces with the Southern Utah Tri Club for a long weekend pre race training camp 2 weeks prior to the big event for skills clinics, training, and course familiarization. I went along for the ride, some of the run, and none of the swim!

Suiting up prior to the open water swim at Sand Hollow Reservoir during the Salt Lake Tri Club training camp in St. George, Utah. Photo by John Higgins

Waking up in St George on Friday morning we were greeted with heavy clouds, snow falling in the Pine Mountains, and rain dripping down on the desert. Not the sort of weather we had driven south from Salt Lake City to experience! However triathletes are both tough and committed, and a bit of rain wasn’t going to dampen the morning swim in Sand Hollow Reservoir. A weather break saw everyone wetsuit up and plunge into the water. The first open water swim of the season was jaw numbingly cold for quite a few people, with wind-chop adding to the race condition simulation.

Preventing frozen jaw by swimming with heads out of water at Sand Hollow Reservoir. Photo by John Higgins

The swim finished with it as wet on land as in the water, and people vanished to thaw out and contemplate the afternoon bike ride up Snow Canyon. Damp, gloomy conditions lingered as we assembled in Ivins to start the bike ride but right on cue the clouds parted, the sun came out, and a nice breezed quickly dried off the road, making for perfect riding conditions on our loop through Snow Canyon State Park. The headwind going up Snow Canyon resulted in a tailwind assist for the scorching descent back down SR18. Want to experience being a human missile on a bike? That descent is hard to beat. Next up we reconvened at the bike/run transition park in downtown St George, swapped bikes for running shoes and grunted uphill for a 12 mile run course reconnoiter, or less for those moderating their effort. Day 1 was done, with a swim, bike and run in snow, rain and sun.

At the top of Snow Canyon, Salt Lake Tri Club camp participants get ready for the descent during the Salt Lake Tri Club training camp in St. George, Utah. Photo by John Higgins

Saturday dawned clear and we were treated to a perfect southern Utah day, featuring more swimming and a lap around the full bike course. Conditions out at Sand Hollow Reservoir were conducive to swimming clinics on open water technique led by some of the club coaches, and more jaw numbing swim practice. From the swim it was straight onto the bikes, and setting of in three separate groups, we looped around through Hurricane, back through St George, up Snow Canyon again (much harder the second day in a row), and back into town. The club provided well stocked aid stations along the route with food and beverages; sag wagons, and Velofix Ogden provided very useful mechanical support before, during and after the ride. This ride coincided with the Tour of St George so there were cyclists going in all directions in the area.

Post training run cool off with happy campers from the Salt Lake Tri Club Training Camp. Photo by John Higgins

Post ride recovery, food, socializing, and parties on top of a big day made for a sound sleep, except for those kept awake by snoring roommates. The joys of camp!

Sunday morning outdoor yoga helped ease the aches of the previous day’s exertions, and was followed with short talks on nutrition, injury treatment and body maintenance, bike fit, and race day mental preparation. With organized events over, people headed for home or decided to get in even more training!

Pre-run warm-up exercises with Coach Courtney Duckworth. Photo by John Higgins

The triathlon community in Utah is strong, vibrant and diverse. Many participants are not the uber athlete you might imagine, but everyday people who have decided to take on an extraordinary challenge. Hard core purist cyclists may dismiss triathletes, citing Rule #42: A bike race shall never be preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run. Cycling snobbery aside, a triathlon is a bike race inside a bigger race.

It takes a lot of courage to be a triathlete. Courage to take on 3 sports at once, at least one of which you are going to suck at (often more than 1); courage to train and participate; courage to face inevitable setbacks and challenges. Courage to ask questions, ask for help and seek advice. The strength of a tri club is the shared experience and community resources that can be drawn on. If you need help, someone in the club will have an experience to share, a resource to offer, or encouragement when the going gets tough.

If you have maxed out your potential as a cyclist or are getting bored with your cycling routine, maybe you need to add a little variety into your athletic life. It could even be an excuse for a new bike! There are many beginner friendly triathlons of varying distances in Utah, and the Idaho “Spudman” is a popular place to start. Or ease into it with a duathlon. Maybe one day you’ll line up in St George in early May for the national series championship, aiming for a qualifying slot at the World Championships.

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