Kevin Lewis has some great advice for spectators at Saturday’s Ironman World Championship in St. George: You might think that after spending sun and wind and occasionally sleet on the course from sunrise to sunset – no talk about generating the energy to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles — the last thing riders at Saturday’s Ironman World Championship in St. George would want to do is party .
And that’s where you’re wrong, noted Lewis, director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office.
“Come down there at 11 o’clock at night, watch the end of the race,” he said. “It’s the only sport I know where the last person to cross the finish line can get more applause than the first.”
This will be the first time Ironman’s flagship event will be held outside of Hawaii in its 44-year history. And the course is unlike any other Ironman, full or half distance, that St. George has run. So, following athletes and knowing where and when to watch the action – or how to avoid it – will be new to everyone.
Enter our spectator guide. Whether you’re watching from the couch, the computer, or in the crowd on location, here are the essential facts you need to know.
FIRST, SOME BASIC FACTS AND HISTORY
This will be the 43rd edition of the Ironman World Championship, a race that started with a few handfuls of people in Oahu, Hawaii, before being moved in 1980. Kona, which has become synonymous with racing, has been its home ever since – eh well, until the islands’ strict COVID-19 policies force the relocation of this breed.
This year’s race will be considerably larger. The greatest yet, in fact. Due to fewer space constraints and because athletes have been qualifying since 2019, Diana Bertsch, vice president of world championships for The Ironman Group, said she expects between 3,000 and 3,500 runners on Saturday. The previous largest was 2,385 participants in 2018.
Some of those riders entered simply because they signed up for the annual St. George 70.3 before it was converted into a World Championship. Most, however, had to earn their spot by completing a qualifying race, competing in 12 or more Ironman triathlons, or winning an eBay auction.
Each runner has 17 hours to finish from their start. Go beyond that, and they officially don’t end. Each leg also has its own cut. That’s 2 hours, 20 minutes for the swim, 10:30:00 for the bike and what’s left of those 17 hours for the run.
BUT WHO WILL WIN THIS THING?
Professionals should have no problem wrapping up their runs before the cut-off. The winner will be expected at the finish line around 2:15 p.m., around eight hours after his start at 6:15 a.m. The best woman will arrive around 3 p.m., which is 8:40 a.m. after leaving at 6:20 a.m. For the record, Germany’s Jan Frodeno holds the fastest time title after winning the 2019 event in 7:51:13 . Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf set the bar for women in 2018 with a time of 8:26:18.
Frodeno, who has won three of the last five championships, will miss Saturday’s race after partially tearing his Achilles tendon. Male favorites therefore include reigning Olympic gold medalist Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, Lionel Sanders of Canada and former St. George 70.3 champion Alistair Brownlee of Great Britain.
Ryf won four straight from 2015-2018 and will look to regain her crown after Anne Haug of Germany won in 2019. Haug also returns as a favorite. Germany’s Laura Philipp, the top-ranked athlete in the Pro Triathlete Organization, meanwhile dropped out on Monday after testing positive for COVID. Another candidate, Lucy Charles-Barclay, withdrew with a stress fracture in her left hip. That could leave the door open for Skye Moench of Salt Lake City. Moench, ranked No. 8 in the world, will make her world championship debut but has five St. George races on her roster and recently set the American Ironman women’s record.
The winners each receive $125,000 for their efforts. The second brings in $65,000. But that money will be hard-earned on the St. George course, Ryf told a triathlon website that she says will “destroy everyone.” The bike has an elevation gain of 7,374 feet and the run adds 1,413 feet of climbing. That makes it barely less grueling than the first three full Ironman races held at St. George from 2010 to 2012, before it was shortened to 70.3 because it was deemed too difficult.
Click on these links to access maps of swim, bike and run courses.
HOW TO WATCH IRONMAN FROM HOME
So, you’ve decided you’re not committed enough to make it to St. George for the race, and that’s understandable. But are you committed enough to watch the whole race?
If the answer is yes, your options are to connect to Facebook or YouTube and tune in to the live webcast via the Ironman Now page or channel. The webcast will cover the event from start to finish. When Ironman launched the feature in 2018 (previously, NBC coverage only aired a few weeks after the race), around 20 million viewers tuned in. The organizers expect twice as many this year.
Just interested in the pros? Then log in through NBC’s Peacock app. Coverage will begin at 6 a.m. and continue until the end of the elite competition.
The Tribune will also be in St. George to report on the action. For this cover, follow @julie_jag and @trenthead on Twitter or @julie_jag.sltrib and @trent.photo on Instagram.
Another handy app to have on your phone while watching, whether you’re doing it in person or during your kid’s Saturday football game, is the Ironman Athlete Tracker. Available for Apple and Android, it does exactly what it sounds like, so you can follow your favorite pro or age group on the course without even taking your feet off the track (consider checking in on #179. It’s Kyle Brown of Kaysville, who will race against time to become the second person with Lou Gehrig’s disease to compete in a world championship).
HOW TO WATCH THE IRONMAN OF ST. GEORGE
Whether you decide to make the trip on a whim or have been planning it since the announcement of the world championships last September, prepare to immerse yourself in triathlon if you travel to the St. George area. . Also prepare to be diverted, turned back and delayed by the myriad of closed roads.
Definitely check out this interactive map before you go. Some road closure signs will have QR codes on them directing drivers to alternate routes. However, the Greater Zion Tourist Board also suggests downloading Waze as one of the ways to help navigate traffic and detours.
A few things to note for both people following the race and those just passing through or in the area for non-Ironman related visits.
The access and flow of Interstate 15 should not be disrupted, although cyclists will pass under it and ride along it for several miles.
Traffic to and from Snow Canyon State Park and The Ledges Golf Course along State Highway 18 will be significantly delayed between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday. A southbound lane will be part of the Veyo to St. George bike path. Snow Canyon Drive, an alternate access to the area, will be closed during the race. Similarly, Gunlock Road will be closed to northbound traffic from Shvwits to Veyo, including via Gunlock State Park.
No private vehicles will be permitted in the Sand Hollow Reservoir area on Saturday. Anyone wanting to watch the swimming portion will need to take a shuttle. Free shuttles from the Dixie Convention Center, 1835 S Convention Center Dr., can take spectators to Town Square in downtown St. George. From there, another shuttle can take them to Sand Hollow. To watch the pro races, it was suggested that spectators be on the Dixie Center shuttle by 5:15 a.m.
Most of the action, including the finish, will be centered around Town Square. Television screens broadcasting the Facebook Live stream of the race will be installed in the area.
Another tip: watch the weather. It is currently expected to be hot and dry, with a high expected near 90 degrees and humidity peaking at 15%. But, this being St. George, that could change any minute, so come prepared with sunscreen as well as a raincoat.
And if you can handle it after the early start, be sure to go – or at least tune in – to the chaos of the finish line at midnight as the athletes race against the deadline. Bertsch, Vice President of the Ironman Group, agrees that’s the best part of this vast and grueling event.
“It’s quite spectacular,” she said. “The finish line of an Ironman race definitely touches your soul. There’s a piece of it you take home.