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Ironman St. George - TriathlonFull Ironman

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St. George, Utah
United States
World Triathlon Corporation
80F / 27C
Total Time = 15h 04m 46s
Overall Rank = /
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

On May 5, 2012, I competed in Ironman St George in southwestern Utah. Typically, Ironman races boast around 2500 competitors but for this race only 1432 toed the line. Most speculate the lack of interest was due to the race being early in the season and because of the historically challenging nature of the course. As a result it was announced days before the race that this would be the last full Ironman to be held in St George and that the next year it would be converted to a half Ironman distance.

If the cancellation hadn’t happened prerace, I’m confident it would have been cancelled anyway because of how race day went for many people. Although the run course was changed to be less challenging, due to the extreme nature of the wind and conditions during the swim and bike this year the race only had 1024 finishers which resulted in a 29% DNF rate. One of the highest DNF rates was apparently also in St George in 2011 at 18% but I’m not sure if that was a record. Additionally, the average finish time of this race was one of the slowest in history at 13hrs 52min 55sec, a full 15 minutes slower than the average finish time of 2011.

Personally, the reasons it was cancelled were the reasons that drew me to the race to begin with. This was not a course known to be first timer friendly. In fact less than 500 of the registered competitors were first timers. After having had a successful experience at Ironman Lake Placid in 2011, I was ready for the next challenge. I also liked the idea of training through the winter with the opportunity to enjoy the rest of the summer at smaller low key races.

Pre Race

We arrived in St George on Wednesday for the Saturday race. The week leading up to the race went pretty smoothly for the most part. Travel into town was easy and prerace activities like registration, groceries, the banquet, gear drop offs, and everything else went really well. The only real hiccup I had was at the practice swims. Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve been going back and forth with goggles not being able to find a pair that fit, don’t fog, and don’t leak. The pre race swims kept causing my goggles to fog up and made me anxious for the swim. Unknowingly, this would be the least of my problems come race day!

Leading up to the race I had a few back to back nights of bad sleep from the time change, excitement, and pre race anxiety. However, the night before I was actually able to get around 8 hours of sleep which was an unexpected surprise.

On race morning, I woke up around 3:30AM, force fed a bottle of perform, oatmeal, a banana, a granola bar, and a power bar. I was out the door by 4:30 to head to the shuttle and to drop off my special needs bags for the run and bike. The swim and T1 were at a reservoir about 30 minutes outside of town. This meant that most of the athletes were shuttled from town to the reservoir by busses on race morning. My bus for the most part was pretty quiet with a few people nervously talking which I tried to tune out for the most part.

Once I was off the bus the pre race routines started. First was body marking. Unfortunately, the super cheery body marker was occupied so I opted for the quiet one. After I found my bike, pumped the tires, checked everything, and loaded my nutrition, I was off to the port-a-potty to take care of some pre race business. Mistake number 1 of 3 of pre race happened while in line. After about 5 minutes of waiting, I decided to have some water. I looked down into my pre race bag to get some and noticed that my wetsuit looked different. In fact, it was not my wetsuit but someone else’s! When leaving my bike I had accidentally picked up Bag #721 instead of Bag#720. So I scurried back to the bikes found my bags and switched them. The person with bike/bag #721 wasn’t there and neither was his bike so hopefully he was in line getting his tires pumped and never knew the difference. Little things like that can sometimes have an impact on your mental state before the race.

So after waiting through the now exponentially longer port-a-potty line, I found some quiet space to try to relax, apply sunscreen and bodyglide, eat another power bar, and put on my wetsuit. Then when they started calling people to line up for the swim entrance I dropped off my morning clothes bag, took another quick pee break outside of the transition area. That’s when I realized my next mistake (2 of 3 for those counting). I had forgotten to take off my flip flops and leave them with my morning clothes bag, forcing me to abandon them on the side of the chute. Oh well.

As the pros were starting their swim, my feet were already in the water heading towards the start. In fact I was in the water a good 15-20 minutes before the start of the race which ended up being my last big mistake. I was very nervous about what happened at IMLP with my goggles coming undone so I wanted to have time to get in the water, swim around a bit, and test everything out so I would be ready to go when the cannon went off. And because everything was working well, I had plenty of time to seed myself in the middle of the start buoys toward the front of the middle of the pack and mentally prepare for the day ahead and get myself psyched up. It didn’t hurt that one of our favorite IM training songs was pumping through the speakers at that point either.

  • 1h 40m 18s
  • 4224 yards
  • 02m 22s / 100 yards

This swim leg of the race was 2.4 miles in a manmade reservoir. The course was an imperfect rectangle of about 1200m out, 400m across, 1800m back, and 600m across with the start and finish a few hundred yards apart from one another.

At just after 7:01 according to my watch the cannon fired and all 1432 starters began swimming at the same time in the same direction. After IMLP I had been mentally prepared to try to shut my mind off during the swim start and for the first several 100 meters because it would undoubtedly be difficult. Although it wasn’t as difficult as the LP swim start because of more space and fewer competitors, it was still a challenge during the first 5 minutes or so of the race so I spent most of it swimming with my head above water in a wide water polo freestyle type stroke.

During the first 1200M out, I tried my best to swim quickly but relaxed.
I’d been focusing a lot on swimming and had noticed tons of improvement in the pool so I was confident if I executed my race plan, I could beat my IMLP swim time which were the only real comparable parts of the course between the two races. About halfway through, I found a little bit of open water and space and found a rhythm and some feet to draft off of. But once we started approaching the first turn buoy the field tightened back up again and I ended up swimming right over top of someone’s shoulder and pulled them under a bit. (Sorry if that was you!)

After turning at the first red buoy, for the next 400m leg across, that’s when I noticed something wasn’t right. There was a lot more chop than just the typical chaos of making an OWS buoy turn. I decided to just plow through it until what seemed to be out of nowhere I was hit in the head with something. I popped up to see that it was a kayak floating in the middle of the swim field. My instinct was to reach out and grab the kayak so I did that and held on for a bit to get my bearings before pushing it out of the way to continue swimming. In retrospect, I think the current and swells had blown the kayaker into the field right around the buoy. But while I was holding on, I noticed the wind had really picked up and there were large waves and swells coming from our left in the direction that we had just finished swimming. I overheard a lot of people that seemed to be confused about what to do because the conditions seemed to be getting pretty bad. This was the first time of many I completely stopped swimming to tread water and get my bearings. Because this point of the course was pointed directly into the sun, I took off my goggles and talked with another competitor about where to site to get to the next buoy. Thinking that the conditions would improve and that this was just a few bad wind gusts, I continued with my head down toward the next turn buoy.

I don’t remember what happened after making the next turn buoy, but I knew that I had the longest section of the course ahead of me – roughly 1800meters or a little over a mile swimming directly into white caps, wind, and what seemed like continuous 2ft swells. Because the swells were so high, you couldn’t sight towards the next buoy unless you stopped to look as you rode over the top of the swell. So that was my strategy for the first part of swim back. Once I got to the first buoy I started looking for the second buoy and noticed that it didn’t seem to be in line with where I thought the line to the end of this leg would be. On top of that, time seemed to elapse to the point where I thought I should be a lot further ahead than I was and that was the first time thoughts of not finishing the swim started entering my head. I started swimming towards where I thought the second buoy was until I realized it must have been detached or have blown off course. The field was pretty scattered by this point so it was difficult to tell who was on the right course because there were so few people around. Additionally, I saw large rescue boats blowing their horns and coming very close to the field but after being hit by a kayak, I wanted to avoid swimming near a boat as much as possible for fear of being hit again.

So I changed my strategy a bit and sighted to the right of a small rock island in the middle of the reservoir which is where I knew the course line was on the map. As I was swimming I could feel the wind blowing on my arms and face and could feel the white caps and mist splashing me. Nothing in training could really prepare you for that part of the swim. I tried to stay as relaxed as possible but about halfway through this leg I got a severe cramp in my left calf. I stopped and rubbed it and tried to relax and take deep breaths but it wouldn’t subside. During training, I had experienced leg and foot cramping in the pool after doing a hard bike or run beforehand so I knew that if I just kept swimming and tried to relax that eventually it would go away. So I started trying to swim again trying not to use my calf muscle and the pain got so bad I had to stop again. Thoughts were seeping into my head of DNF and I looked around and didn’t see any boats or kayakers to swim over to. Thankfully the wetsuit was fully buoyant so I knew I wouldn’t need to ask for help. I extended my foot into a calf stretch position and took a few deep breaths which seemed to do the trick and was back on my way. The rest of this portion of the swim was spent in a mental battle with myself. I knew I was using tons of energy to prevent not finishing the swim in exchange for having to deal with the ramifications on the bike.

It seemed like it took forever to swim past that rock island and once I was passed it I began looking for the red turn buoy. It seemed like it was not in the right place but I swam past it anyway. At that point I began looking for the exit. I seemed to be almost all alone at that point with most people having started swimming towards the shore already. So I talked again with someone around me and we decided to do almost a 180 and swim back towards the tent and red flags for the swim exit. I was a little confused at this point also because I was picturing a swim exit arch but I just hoped I was sighting off of the right point. It was a wavy but faster swim on the way back in since we seemed to be sort of riding the current in the direction of the waves on the way back. Eventually I made it back to the shore, stood up, and heard Mike Riley call my name and here’s “Ryan Johnson from Washington DC.” That was the little dose of reality I needed to realize I had actually finished the swim in the right location.

My swim finished in a time of 1hr 40min and 18 seconds, a full 22 minutes slower than my Lake Placid swim time. I’m normally around a 2:00/100m pace guy but this was around 2:38/100m. It was my second strongest event of the day.

Transition 1
  • 05m 31s

The T1 area was in a parking lot immediately adjacent to the swim exit. You got out of the water and up one leg to collect your gear bag. Then after going through the tent at the end you ran back in the same direction, collected your bike and headed out.

After exiting I headed towards some wetsuit strippers who did a good job of getting my suit off. Once I stood up I, immediately noticed the strong wind and began to feel extremely cold. I had been in the water for over 2 hours including the prestart time and was just ready to warm up and get on the bike. When I was collecting my bag I was surprised at how many T1 bags were still there and knew many people must have been having a really tough time with the swim. This was even more evident because I had two volunteers helping me change from the swim to bike. After heading through the tent and getting some sunscreen smeared on, I was out for an epic day on the bike. I finished T1 in 5min 31sec.

  • 8h 06m 35s
  • 112 miles
  • 13.81 mile/hr

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the bike so I’ll just start with the course description. The bike was 112 miles broken up into a 22mile section back to town followed by two loops. Each loop included 30 miles of climbing and 15 miles of descending.

As I left T1 on the bike I immediately noticed how thin the field was in comparison with IMLP. Heading out of the reservoir was fun because of the cheering from the crowds and the excitement of something new, so I didn’t really pay attention to the wind at this point.

By the time I got onto the access road leading to the reservoir on my way out, that’s when I noticed the winds and began to feel really cold. I passed a funny sign saying “Don’t worry, it gets much warmer” which made me feel better in a cynical kind of way. It didn’t take long to start noticing the wind because it was blowing sand everywhere. I felt like I was in a sandstorm but at this point it seemed to be sort of manageable because it was more of a crosswind.

I started out good with my nutrition and felt like I was in a race. I was passing people both on the descents and the climbs and felt like all the climbing I had been doing during training was really going to pay off. There were a few major climbs on this part of the race but it also offered some relief which was nice. The only real issue I had with this part of the race was that it seemed like my bike shorts were pulled too far forward and the padding was rubbing the inside of my leg causing some pain. That problem either disappeared or was masked by other problems later in the bike leg.

Once I got back into town and started the first loop, I began to think that I had been pushing it way too hard on the first 22 miles back into town and slowed down substantially. This part of the course also began the first part of the 2 loops and the gradual 30 mile uphill section. I still felt relatively fine through the town of Ivins but once I made the turn on the road leading through an Indian reservation things went downhill for me very quickly. This section was uphill straight into the headwind. I began to feel very nauseas which I attributed to being “sea sick” from the swim but also from being blown around on the bike so much. It seemed like I was riding only in the single digit miles per hour forever and I went from having a strong start to being passed continuously.

At some point after mile 30 I remember seeing the sign for mile 70 on the second loop and thinking that this was really going to be an even more difficult day. People were not smiling and cheering eachother on like they had been at Lake Placid. The field seemed much more serious after the swim and the only sound was the wind rushing past my ears. During this 30 mile uphill section there were 3 major climbs. On the first one which is the steepest but one of the shortest I noticed people walking their bikes. I was determined not to do this so I put my head down so I couldn’t see the duration of the hill and spun away at a blistering pace of 4-6mph. By the time I got to the second major climb which is known as “the wall” I was still feeling poorly and eating mostly gu and drinking perform and water as I could. But immediately as I made the switchback to start climbing up the wall, the headwind changed to a tailwind and I was able to sit straight up and let tailwind use my body as a sail to push my body up the hill. Completing this section felt like a major accomplishment and was rewarded with a much needed aid station shortly afterwards.

Once I got to the aid station I remember one of the volunteers mentioning that one of the portapotties had blown over. I still can’t believe that happened. I asked them if this was windier than normal and they said that it was which made me feel a little better.

After heading up the third major climb which I don’t remember much about and going through the town of Veyo, I stopped at around mile 55 to pick up my bike special needs bag. I had finished a couple powerbars by this point and restocked those but I also got out some tums that I had put inside to try to relieve the nausea. Next time I will make sure to also put in pepto or some sort of anti nausea medication just in case! At the special needs section I thanked the boy who was holding my bag for me and he asked me if we could do the race without volunteers which I thought was cute. Another blonde hair blue eyed boy who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old walked over and asked me if I was having fun. I wasn’t so I honestly didn’t know what to say so I smiled and said, yeah I guess you could call this fun! So that was a good mental check and reminder to try to stay positive if I could.

The next 15 miles was the last part of the first loop and ended in a long descent. It was a relief from pedaling but not from the nausea. I like descending so this part of the course I thought would be fun but the motion seemed like it made the nausea worse and not better. It was fun though to watch my average miles per hour to go up by over 1mph on average over the course of the descent after being sabotaged by all the climbing.

On the second loop I must have looked pretty miserable because someone told me to hang in there because its turning out to be a long day. The field was really separated at this point and the course felt really lonely because of the lack of spectators out in the desert areas. I switched from any solid food to mostly gu and some bananas at aid stations and forced down as much water and perform as possible. I also began try to calculate what I needed to do to ensure I made the bike cutoffs and was able to continue to the run.

The hills didn’t seem as bad the second loop either because my nausea finally started to subside or because the wind wasn’t as strong. By the time I made it to the descent section, I knew I would finish the bike with time to spare. The finish line of the bike was in site which pumped me up and this section turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the race. I topped out at 48.5mph on the downhills which was the fastest I’ve ever been on my bike. But I also started to try to calculate how long I would have to finish the marathon and how much I needed to run if I needed to walk a large portion of it.

In the end I finished the bike in 8hr 6min 35sec with an average speed of 13.87mph. It was my weakest event and while I was definitely happy to finish it, I still have mixed emotions because I focused a lot on climbing during training and had really noticed my cycling had improved dramatically. I’m just telling myself that had I not improved that much, the bike would have probably been even more difficult than it was given the circumstances.

Transition 2
  • 04m 44s

The T2 was shaped as a long run into the tent and then straight out onto the course. I didn’t get lost going into T2 which was a big improvement from Lake Placid. There weren’t many volunteers there to help I noticed and there were lots of people just sitting around in the tent before continuing out on the run. I tried to get out on the run as fast as possible and was pretty successful in that. I finished T2 in 4min 44sec.
  • 5h 07m 38s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 11m 44s  min/mile

The run course was 3 loops for a total of 26.2 miles. Each loop was a series of 4 separate short out and backs. Each out and back was uphill in one direction and downhill in the other. You passed by the finish line multiple times and the only true flat sections were the short horizontal parts connecting the out and backs.

Coming out of T2 into Loop 1 I decided I would run the first 6 miles which is what I needed to do to walk the rest of the marathon at a 20min/mile pace and still finish. I was feeling pretty good at this point and the nausea had finally gone away. I tried to stick to my nutrition plan of alternating gus and perform at each aid station with water at every one. I also took bananas and lots of cold water sponges to squeeze on my head. I chatted with a couple people including one guy for a long time on the diagonal back into town about the race and that helped to pass the time.

By the time I got to loop 2 I was still feeling good and decided I would try to just run that entire loop as well. The crowd support was good because the course was all throughout town so there were plenty of things to hold my attention and keep me entertained. On this loop I began to feel a lot of pain in my left quad so I tried something new by taking some ice and putting it into the compression of the tri shorts right over the sore section of my quad. It worked like a charm. On this loop I noticed that the field was getting smaller since more and more people were finishing the race. During the run you ran by the special needs section 3 times so you could get your bag at least once whenever you wanted. I decided to take it on the second loop and got some gum to chew and my bag of medicine for my back pocket just in case the nausea came back.

Once I started loop 3 they had began to get out the glow necklaces because it was getting dark. I managed to get by before they started passing them out. I was feeling good at this point but definitely not in any mental state to “push through the run” knowing that I wanted to take some time to enjoy the finish and not be totally spent getting there and afterwards. So as it started getting dark, I started taking chicken broth and stopped using the cold sponges. I also decided to quickly walk the uphill sections of the first three out and backs.

At this point I was feeling great and knew the end of the race was almost near. What should have been one of the most difficult sections of the day getting to the finish line was one of the easiest and most pleasant. I ran the last several miles of the race and even through the last aid station. Once I got to the finish line chute, I knew that all the challenges of the day leading me to that moment would make crossing the line even more sweet. And it was. Hearing “Ryan Johnson, 33 years old from Washington DC, You are an Ironman, Ryan!” somehow made the pain of the day worth it. I finished the run in 5hr 7min and 38 seconds which was my strongest performance of the day.

My total time for the race was 15 hours 4 minutes and 46 seconds almost a full hour and a half slower than Lake Placid. I still hit my goal of finishing in under 17 hours and my secondary goal of finishing in about 15. My rank overall was 720 which coincidently matched my bib number. Even though overall the race wasn’t what I expected at all and it was a hard day, for some reason it was worth it in the end and I can’t wait for the next one!

Post race

Last updated: 2011-10-15 12:00 AM
01:40:18 | 4224 yards | 02m 22s / 100yards
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Suit: Full sleeve
Start type: Deep Water Plus:
Water temp: 63F / 17C Current: High
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Time: 05:31
Cap removal: Helmet on/
Suit off:
Wetsuit stuck? Run with bike:
Jump on bike:
Getting up to speed:
08:06:35 | 112 miles | 13.81 mile/hr
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Wind: Strong with gusts
Road:   Cadence:
Turns: Cornering:
Gear changes: Hills:
Race pace: Drinks:
Time: 04:44
Riding w/ feet on shoes
Jumping off bike
Running with bike
Racking bike
Shoe and helmet removal
05:07:38 | 26.2 miles | 11m 44s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2012-05-17 2:49 PM

Subject: Ironman St. George

2012-05-17 7:04 PM
in reply to: #4215593

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Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
Way to push through on a tough day.

2012-05-17 7:29 PM
in reply to: #4215593

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Payson, AZ
Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
nice job on a rough day
2012-05-18 10:17 AM
in reply to: #4215593

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Fountain Hills, AZ
Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
Nice job, my man.
2012-05-18 3:12 PM
in reply to: #4215593

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Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
Congrats.  Very well written...I enjoyed the read.
2012-05-19 3:07 PM
in reply to: #4215593

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Jupiter, FL
Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
Man, do I feel nauseous...could you send me some of your Tums!! Great recap of a very challenging race...way to hang tough!

2012-05-20 1:10 AM
in reply to: #4215593

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Boise, ID
Subject: RE: Ironman St. George
What a tough guy....wierd thing is you saying can't wait for next time!! Maybe I shuould have said wierd guy!!
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