Given to Tri

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 St. George

After a long and brutal Jackson Hole winter, it’s finally race season again, and I just finished my first race of the year, Ironman 70.3 St. George. I chose this as a B event for a few reasons: it’s within driving distance of where I live, it looked like a tough challenge, and I thought it’d serve as good race prep before my first full Ironman next month in Coeur d’Alene.

I originally planned to come to this race prepared to put in a decent effort and improve on my 6:14 finish in Boulder, but after facing some challenges with my swim training over the winter, and a potential knee injury in the past couple of weeks, I ended up downgrading my race goal from “sub-6 finish” to “just finish.”

Despite that, the race went both better and worse than I expected—read on for my first race report of the year.

Pre-race prep

I drove straight down to St. George from Jackson Hole on Thursday before the race, arriving shortly before the Ironman Village closed for the day, so I was able to check-in immediately, which gave me plenty of time to organize my gear that evening. I was fortunate to find a great Airbnb just two blocks away from the Ironman Village and the finish line—say what you will about Airbnb these days, but it’s still the best choice for races like this. You not only get the benefit of having a full kitchen for pre-race meals, it simply beats the hell out of commuting to the race and dealing with parking on race day.

The next day, after spending a few hours exploring Snow Canyon State Park, I grabbed my bike and gear bags and headed over to Sand Hollow State Park to check them in, since this race does a split transition. Actually, hold that thought…

How does a split transition work?

Part of the reason I write these reports is to share information that might be useful to anyone considering doing these races, in particular things I wish I had known before race day. Split transitions are one of those things; while the athlete’s guide explains pretty well how to check in your gear, it doesn’t really go into much detail on what to do with your bags in transition, and the race volunteers I talked to didn’t really know either. Online searches returned generic explanations about split transitions. They may vary by race, and I think it’s different for a full Ironman, but in any case, here’s how the split transition works at Ironman 70.3 St. George, specifically:

  • When you check in for the race at the Ironman Village in downtown St. George, you’ll get your race packet as usual, which includes your race bib, wristband, swim cap, stickers, etc. You’ll also get three plastic bags: a clear one, labeled “morning clothes,” a blue one, labeled “bike gear bag,” and a red one, labeled “run gear bag.” These bags have a space to put a sticker with your bib number; don’t forget to do that, and you might want to also write your name and bib number on them with a sharpie just in case the sticker falls off. You will not get a timing chip at this time, you’ll get it when you check in your bike in T1.
  • In the morning clothes bag, you’ll place the clothes you’ll wear before the start of the race; anything you can’t bring with you to the swim, such as your phone and keys; anything you need to finish setting up T1; and anything you might want at the end of the race, like a change of clothes or a snack.
  • In the bike gear bag, you put… your bike gear: helmet, bike shoes, socks, sunglasses. I also put a sports towel and a small tube of sunscreen in mine. Don’t put anything you don’t want to leave overnight in T1, such as your bike computer and bike bottles; you can bring those things in your morning clothes bag on race day.
  • Same with the run gear bag, you just need to put your running shoes, socks, hat, and running belt with bib attached, plus anything you might need in T2, like sunscreen.
  • The day before the race, you’ll bring your bike and your bike gear bag to T1 in Sand Hollow State Park, about a 25 minute drive from downtown St. George. You’ll rack your bike as usual, and tie your bike gear bag to your bike. Make sure your bag is cinched tight, in case it rains overnight. Before leaving the transition area, pick up your timing chip at the tent near the exit.
  • Then, you’ll drive back to T2, at the Ironman Village in downtown St. George, and check in your run gear. You’ll simply walk to the transition area, and tie your bag to your spot on the rack. That’s it. The racks in T1 and T2 are labeled and numbered the same, to help you remember where to go. I was in the middle of row H in both areas, for example.
  • On race day, you’ll take a shuttle from the Ironman Village to T1 to start the race (you can’t drive there, there’s no parking on race day). When you get there, you can untie your bike bag from your bike, and set up your transition as usual: attach your bike computer, set up your bottles, hang your helmet from your handlebars, clip your shoes to the pedals if you’re doing a flying mount, or just place them on the ground next to your bike (it’ll take less space since you won’t have running gear to worry about). Make sure to tie the bag to the rack, or pin it down with your bike wheel, so it doesn’t fly away while you’re swimming; you’ll need it later. Don’t bring anything that won’t fit in the bag, such as a bike pump—there’ll be plenty of them you can use.
  • Before heading to the swim, place your clothes, shoes, phone, keys, etc. in your morning clothes bag. As you walk out of T1, you’ll hand the bag to one of the volunteers stationed for that purpose near the swim staging area.
  • After the swim, when you’re back in T1, take off your wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and stuff them all in your now-empty bike gear bag. You can just leave it on the ground under your spot on the rack; the volunteers will pick them all up and bring them back to St. George. You won’t have to come back to Sand Hollow after the race.
  • When you get to T2, rack your bike, get your running gear from the bag, and place your bike gear into your now-empty run bag. Hang it from your bike or the rack itself, and head out to the run.
  • Shortly after going through the finish line, a volunteer will hand you your morning clothes and bike gear bags, and then you can go to T2 and check out your bike and your run bag. That’s it!

Pre-race prep, continued

On race morning, I woke up at 3:00 AM, had a bagel and coffee, took a COVID test, walked out the door at 4:30 AM, and was at the Ironman Village by like… 4:35 AM. Fortunately, they let me board one of the earlier shuttles even though I had a ticket for the 5:00 AM one, so I didn’t have to stand around waiting (not that it saved me any time, because the driver got lost twice on the way to Sand Hollow).

The T1 transition area for Ironman 70.3 St. George in Sand Hollow State Park, shortly before dawn. The racks with bikes can be seen, along with athletes setting up their gear before the swim.
T1, shortly before 6:00 am.

After setting up my transition, I just hung out, chatting with the folks around me. I may also have geeked out a little bit when I saw Lionel Sanders and Sam Long setting up their gear. It was a pretty cold, breezy morning, at about 50ºF (10ºC), and I was shivering while I waited for the swim start, even though I put on my wetsuit and threw my hoodie on top to keep me warm while I stretched.

After the national anthem was sung, I took in a Maurten 100 Caf gel, handed my morning clothes bag to a volunteer, and headed to the staging area. The pros started at 6:50 AM on the dot; I seeded myself in the 44-46 minute group and started my race at 7:29 AM.

The swim

Between the lifeguard shortage at the Teton County Recreation Center that has kept the lap pool closed on weekends since last fall, the ongoing expansion project that closed it for all of February and two weeks over Easter, and just work and time constraints, I’ve had a hard time training consistently for the swim these past few months. So, while I was reasonably confident I could swim the 1.2 miles, I wasn’t expecting to have a good time.

It was so much worse than I thought, though.

The water temperature was 60ºF (16ºC), according to the Sand Hollow State Park website (which at least meant Sand Hollow’s famous Swimmer’s Itch wasn’t active). While I usually swim in cold water during training, I haven’t done that since last fall because the lake I train in is still frozen over, and since then I’ve seemingly lost all my tolerance to the cold, so it hit me hard in this race. Normally it takes me a just a few strokes to get used to the cold water, but this time it took me forever to get over the cold shock response and be able to simply breathe properly, and even then, I never got truly comfortable—I felt tense and tight the entire time, and just couldn’t seem to focus on maintaining good swimming form. I suspect my full-sleeve wetsuit might have been part of the problem; I think it restricts my movement too much. Maybe I should have used my sleeveless one, but I thought it was too cold for it.

Even though I was in one of the last groups to get in the water, I was constantly passed by what felt like hundreds of people, and of course many of them swam right on top of me. It was like this the entire time:

To make matters worse, the outbound leg of the course was aligned perfectly with the rising sun, so I couldn’t see a damn thing, even with tinted goggles. I wasted so much time just trying to figure out where the next buoy was. You can see how wobbly my GPS track is; I was all over the place.

A screenshot of the GPS track of my swim leg from Garmin Connect, on a map of the Sand Hollow reservoir.
The track colors show pace; the dark spots are the places where I had to stop to get my bearings.

I had a somewhat easier time sighting on the way back, although I still had to deal with the constant washing machine effect. When I had about 500 m to go, someone caught up with me and I accidentally kicked them, and for some reason that triggered the worst leg cramp I’ve ever had in my life. A volunteer in a kayak heard me scream and started paddling towards me, but I was convinced I was so far behind, I was in danger of missing the cutoff, so I waved them off and did my best to swim through the pain. To my surprise, I finished in 47:25, only two minutes slower than in Boulder last summer; I could have sworn I had been in the water for at least an hour. In any case, I was exhausted, frustrated, and in pain as I hobbled into T1.

I’m not sure exactly why it went so wrong, but I hated every second of this swim. I’ll need to put some serious work into fixing this before Coeur d’Alene next month; there’s no way I could have done another lap of this.


I spent 12:18 in T1, most of it trying to massage out the cramp in my calf. By this point I was fully in “just finish” mode, so I didn’t even try to hurry. I applied sunscreen, used the toilet, dealt with my gear bag, and headed out when I felt I could pedal without pain.

The bike

After that awful experience with the swim, I decided to take it easy on the bike and just have fun. I had prepared a pacing strategy and set it up in my bike computer, targeting an intensity of 84%, but once I got out on the bike course I mostly ignored it and just went by ✨ vibes ✨. It was great.

Me, riding a green Specialized Aethos bike through SR7 in Utah. The Sand Hollow reservoir and mountains can be seen in the background, under clear blue skies. I'm wearing a black helmet, black trisuit, black gloves, black shoes, and gold sunglasses. I have a race tattoo in my right arm with the number 997.
Riding through SR7 after leaving Sand Hollow. Credit: FinisherPix

The bike course was phenomenal, and the weather was absolutely perfect, with temperatures in the low sixties and partly cloudy skies the entire time. It was very hilly, though, with seven climbs long and steep enough to trigger my bike computer’s ClimbPro feature, and a total elevation gain of 1,011 m (3,316 ft). I paced myself pretty well, putting a decent effort on the climbs without blowing myself up. After getting beat up like a piñata during the swim, feeling strong on the bike, along with the encouragement from some of the people I passed on the climbs, lifted my spirits. I paid it forward as often as I could.

Me, riding a green Specialized Aethos bike through SR7 in southern Utah. Mountains can be seen in the background, along with a little bit of the Sand Hollow reservoir. I'm wearing a black helmet, black trisuit, black gloves, black shoes, and gold sunglasses. I have a race tattoo in my right arm with the number 997.
One of the first climbs on the course, on SR7. Credit: FinisherPix

The course went through a couple of highways with spectacular views of the sand dunes and landscape around St. George. At every point the pavement was perfectly smooth, without a single pothole or even debris in sight. While the bikes shared the road with car traffic at times, there was generous space between us, with plenty of room to safely pass other riders—nothing like Boulder’s “no passing” zones, which felt incredibly dangerous. Some of the descents did feel a little sketchy, but I blame my poor descending skills—I’m definitely no Tom Pidcock.

A screenshot of a Garmin Connect map showing the route for the bike leg of Ironman 70.3 St. George.
View this course in Garmin Connect or Strava.

Of course, the highlight of the bike leg is the segment through Snow Canyon State Park, an 8 km (5 mi) climb with about 300 m (1,000 ft) of elevation gain at an average grade of 4%, almost at the end, where, according to the race director, “you may be questioning your life choices.” I put in my hardest effort here and made it to the top in just shy of 24 minutes, but honestly it wasn’t so bad. The beauty of the landscape, the perfect weather, and the fact that I paced myself up to that point helped. I would have definitely suffered if it had been any hotter or I had gone harder earlier in the course. I think my bike helped too—I’m hoping I can do my next race on an proper tri bike, but the Aethos is such a great climbing bike, I really loved it on this course.

Me, climbing off the saddle on a green Specialized Aethos bike, through Snow Canyon, with its red cliffs visible in the background. I'm wearing a black helmet, black trisuit, black gloves, black shoes, and gold sunglasses. I have a race tattoo in my right arm with the number 997.
Climbing through Snow Canyon. Credit: FinisherPix

After reaching the top, the only thing left is a fast 15 km (9.3 mi) descent back into T2 in downtown St. George. My final time was 2:49:52, and I finished 39th in my age group, my best result of the day. The intensity factor for the ride was 73.5%, far below what I had originally planned, but I’m okay with it. I loved every minute of this bike course, and unlike the swim, I just didn’t want it to end.

Front view of me climbing on a green Specialized Aethos bike through Snow Canyon. A group of cyclists can be seen in the background behind me. I'm wearing a black helmet, black trisuit, black gloves, black shoes, and gold sunglasses. I have a race tattoo in my right arm with the number 997. The helmet has a sticker on it with the same number.
Almost at the top! Credit: FinisherPix

This bike course alone is enough reason for me to sign up for next year’s race. It’s that awesome.


I wasn’t in any rush to get out into the run course, for reasons that I’ll get to in a minute, so I spent 7:51 in T2.

The run

A couple weeks ago, while I was swimming in the pool, I must have misplaced my feet on the wall during a turn, because when I pushed off I felt a twinge of pain in my right knee, and it hasn’t felt quite right since then. I took a full week off from running, and ran a slow 10K on the treadmill with some discomfort the Monday before the race to test it out, but I was worried about it coming into the race. This was the main reason I decided to abandon my race goals and just try to finish it—I thought there was a decent chance I’d have to walk it in, if I could even finish.

The knee didn’t bother me at all during the bike leg, until I got off the bike and tried to jog in bike shoes in T2. I spent a few minutes in T2 stretching out my quads and hamstrings, and housed 800 mg of ibuprofen before heading out, hoping that’d get me to the finish line.

The run course consisted of two laps through the streets of St. George, all on pavement, except for a few sections of grass at Dixie Red Hills Golf Course, at the northern end. The segment through Diagonal Street had a relatively mild average grade of 1.9%, and the one through Main Street was slightly steeper, at 4.5%, but nothing that bothered my knee in either direction. The loop through the golf course, though, had some short but steep rolling hills that made my knee scream, especially on the second lap, so I slowed down and took it easy there.

A screenshot of a Garmin Connect map showing the route of the run leg of Ironman 70.3 St. George.
View this course in Garmin Connect or Strava.

By the time I got to the run it was pretty sunny, but still pleasant. A guy standing on Diagonal Street kept calling out the temperature: 65ºF (18ºC) on the first lap, and 67ºF (19ºC) on the second lap. I had a cup of water at every aid station, and a Maurten gel every three aid stations; probably a little too many, but I never felt like I was in danger of bonking. I felt great the entire run, and could have gone a lot faster if it wasn’t for my knee. I ended up with an average pace of 5:35 min/km (8:59 min/mi), and was happy to have a sub-2 finish, at 1:57:48. I was even happier to have a total time of 5:55:12—I had abandoned my sub-6 goal, yet accomplished it anyway!

Me, seen mid-stride just after crossing the Ironman 70.3 Utah finish line. I'm wearing a black Ironman cap, black trisuit, primrose-colored shoes, and gold sunglasses. I have a race bib at my waist with the number 997.
Victory! Credit: FinisherPix

Equipment list

  • Tri suit: Roka Gen II Elite
  • Wetsuit: Roka Maverick MX
  • Swim goggles: Roka R1
  • Sunglasses: Roka Matador Air
  • Bike: Specialized Aethos
  • Bike helmet: S-Works Evade 3
  • Bike shoes: Giro Regime
  • Bike computer: Garmin Edge 1040 Solar
  • Watch: Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar
  • Heart rate monitor: Garmin HRM-Pro Plus
  • Running shoes: Hoka Rocket X 2
  • Nutrition: Maurten gels, Maurten Drink Mix 320

Random thoughts & observations

  • I loved St. George, what a gorgeous town. I’m particularly impressed by the bike infrastructure; I saw bike lanes and bike paths almost everywhere I went. I could see myself riding that Snow Canyon loop every weekend if I lived there. (Of course, I say that having visited in May—I might feel differently in August.)
  • I should have put on another layer of sunscreen in T2, though, that sun was no joke. I have a pretty good sunburn, despite applying SPF 70 sunscreen in T1.
  • The bike performed like a champ, a big thank you to the folks at Fitzgerald’s for the pre-race tune-up and for hooking me up with tubeless tires.
  • I was disappointed by the FinisherPix photos for this race. For such a high-profile, scenic location, they had surprisingly few photographers out there, and the photos aren’t great. I think there were maybe three photographers in total on the bike course, and a single one for the run, at the golf course. I got far better photos at both Boulder and Arizona last year. (I know it’s vain, but health and fitness are fickle things, and I want visual records of the times I was a triathlete, in case it all goes away tomorrow.)
  • This was my first complete triathlon using Garmin gear. I definitely miss the automatic transitions on the Wahoo Rival, but everything worked flawlessly on my watch and bike computer. Even though I mostly ignored it, the Power Guide feature on the Edge 1040 was particularly great, it’s a so much better experience on the bike than Best Bike Split on the Wahoo Bolt (although Best Bike Split itself as a planning tool is still light years ahead of what’s on Garmin Connect).
  • I don’t have a lot of big climbs in Jackson Hole, but I enjoyed the climbs on this race enough, I’m going to make a point to climb up Teton Pass more often this summer. Who knows, maybe I’ll make an Everesting attempt at some point.
  • The course went from 820 m (2,690 ft) at its lowest point to 1,240 m (4,068 ft) at the top of Snow Canyon, compared to Jackson Hole’s 1,950 m (6,400 ft) of elevation, but once again, the lower elevation made no perceivable difference in my performance.
  • I really love racing, y'all. I don’t care if I never make it to the front of my age group, it’s still so rewarding to feel like I can accomplish very hard things.


Like I said at the beginning, this race was simultaneously better and worse than I hoped. Better, because I really enjoyed most of the race, the location was incredible, and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I also eschewed my race goal in favor of just having fun, and ended up accomplishing it anyway, so I feel like I had my cake and ate it, too. Worse, because the swim was a disaster, and between that, and my knee—which, as I write this a couple days after the race, definitely feels like it’s paying the price for finishing—I don’t see how I can do a full Ironman six weeks from now. I think I still have some time to address both issues, and thankfully I have the option to transfer or defer it through the Flex90 program, but at this point Ironman Coeur d’Alene is not looking good for me.

We’ll see how that goes, but one thing is for sure—I’ll be back next year.

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