Last Wednesday, I made the trip down to St. George, Utah with a group of friends to spectate and watch them compete at Ironman 70.3 St. George. My friend Nicole, whom I have been training with this past year, along with several other Bend athletes, were taking on the challenging course. Because I had originally planned on racing there this year, I still wanted to experience the environment and check out the course in prep for years to come. Plus, this would be one of my last opportunities to travel and get away before the baby comes.
At 835 miles the drive from Bend to St. George is pushing it for a one-day road trip, so we decided to break up the trip by driving from Bend to Elko, Nevada (475 miles) on Wednesday, and the remaining 360 miles from Elko to St. George on Thursday. Nicole and I left mid-morning and made our way to Elko along some pretty lonely rural Oregon and Nevada highways, where we met up with Mike (my coach), Mickey, and Jake for dinner and casino fun. Nicole and I are NOT big gamblers and were pretty stingy when it came to spending any money. We failed to win but succeeded at having fun.
Up early the next day, we made the final push to St. George, which was unlike any place I had ever seen. The town is surrounded by beautiful red rock and desert terrain, with biking and running paths/trails branching out all over the area. After a quick stop at packet pickup, we checked into the condo and got settled.
The first two days were all about race prep, shake out rides, runs, and swims, and relaxation. It was fun to check out the swim start and T1 area, which is at a separate location from T2, and to drive portions of the bike and run course.
I also finally got to meet fellow blogger Katie, which was meant to be because we randomly kept running into each other over the next few days – once after the race at the froyo shop (naturally) and once on the shuttle in Zion (what are the chances?). She and her dad were so sweet! Katie, just let me know when you want to come to Bend!!! 😉
I’ve never traveled with a group for a race, so it was fun to see and experience the dynamics unfold and observe everyone’s little quirks. You learn a lot about people (and people learn a lot about you) when you’re cooped up with them in close quarters for several days. For example, who knew that Mike had a domestic side and could give Martha Stewart a run for her money in the kitchen?
The night before the race he whipped up an awesome meal for all of us. Although I wasn’t racing, I decided to carbo load for a day of spectating. It’s a good thing I did. Dinner was topped off with home made brownies and vanilla ice cream. Maybe that’s the secret to being fast. I’m starting to figure these athletes out.
Race day rolled around in no time and alarms could be heard at 4am echoing from every room. Everyone had breakfast and was out the door by 4:30am, heading to T2 to catch the shuttle. Because I wouldn’t be out on the course until 8:30am, I went back to bed.
I would say that the course was very spectator friendly. I positioned myself in a great spot on an intersection where both the bike and run course pass by. Loaded with plenty of food and water, I parked myself in some shade and waited for the athletes to zip by on their bikes. I tried to capture some photos of everyone as they flew by, but they were way too fast, only allowing enough time for me to cheer them on by name. All of that waiting for two seconds of excitement (now I know how my husband feels at all the races I drag him to!). At least I got to see them all make their way up the grueling hill near the beginning of the run leg.
Once I saw everyone up the hill of horror, I quickly made my way down to the finish area to meet up with Mike (he had been cruising around the course on his bike) and to watch everyone make their way through the finishing chute.
The atmosphere was electric as Jake, Mickey, Nicole, Michael, and Adrian all finished with impressive times. Jake and Nicole finished 2nd and 4th in their respective age groups, so after we got cleaned up we made an appearance at the awards ceremony. I was so proud of my friends. Someday I hope to make it up on that stage!!
St. George has got to be one of the most difficult Ironman 70.3 events for three reasons:
1) The heat. Brutal. Especially when you are traveling from northern regions and have had no exposure to these types of temperatures since the previous summer
2) The hills. Particularly on the run course. Great for someone who considers running to be his or her strength.
3) The competition. It seems like a lot of strong, talented athletes show up for this event. This year’s race doubled as the North American Pro Championship, and as a result the competition was top notch!
I also have a whole new level of respect and appreciation for spectators. It’s not easy spending the day out on the course and coordinating what-where-when-how from moment to moment. Being a cheerleader. A photogapher. A Sherpa. Hustiling from one location to another while trying to navigate traffic and road closures. It’s a different type of physical/mental exertion, but one I will no longer take for granted when I see my husband, family, friends, and strangers out on the course cheering my name.
That night we celebrated with dinner, froyo (hi Katie), and relaxation at the condo. Everyone was pretty worn out from the day’s activities and with a trip to Zion awaiting us the next day, we hit the sack early and got lots of rest.
Zion National Park has been on my bucket list for years. Although we only had a day to spend in the park, I was excited to get my feet wet (literally) and get a taste of this beautiful area of the country. When we got to the park around noon, there were multiple options for hiking and exploring. With limited time, we had to prioritize and select only a couple activities from the list of hikes and “things-do-do.” As any triathlete knows, this could be tough to do with a bunch of strong Type-A personalities trying to come to a consensus, but we all decided that we would hike up to the Emerald Pools and then make our way to the Narrows for a little trek through cold water and canyons.
I think we all agreed that we could have passed on the Emerald Pools and headed straight to the Narrows. While they were beautiful, it was a fairly crowded hike and there were A LOT of people making their way up and down the narrow path. There were a few sketchy areas where my pregnant body felt off balance, but I handled the hike pretty well.
The Narrows were INCREDIBLE. I could have spent an entire day walking through the cool, clear water, not knowing what beautiful sights would emerge at each bend in the river. All of us agreed that this was the highlight of Zion and a must-do if you visit the park.
After a day of hiking in the sun and trekking through water, I was pretty exhausted and ready for cozies and couch time. That evening after consuming some yummy tacos at our group’s new favorite Mexican restaurant, we packed up and got everything ready for our early Monday morning departure. It would be a long 14-hour drive back to Oregon – but at least the company was good. ☺
All in all, I had a blast traveling with this crew. It was fun experiencing the other side of racing and being there to cheer on and support athletes whom I deeply admire. I’m not sure if I would take on the grueling St. George course next year (or wait until I can really compete), but it is definitely on my list. Being around this environment and these people really inspired me to continue training as much as I can – I am really excited to start racing again next year!
Do you have a favorite spectating experience? Pros and Cons of spectating?
When you attend races, do you prefer to go it as a solo athlete or travel with a big group?