If there’s ever a time for Utahns to be Ironman fans, it’s right now. In a landmark first, the Ironman World Championships jumps from Kona, Hawaii to St. George on May 7.
Thousands of international athletes — including four Utah triathletes — qualify to run 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, then run a 26.2 miles marathon amidst the red rock landscape of Greater Zion.
Since the 1980s, Kailua-Kona has hosted this crown jewel of Ironman racing. But due to a series of pandemic postponements and rescheduling, St. George receives the high honor of hosting the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare Ironman World Championship (presented by Utah Sports Commission) this May before it returns to Kona for the 2022 Ironman World Championship in October.
St. George is no stranger to this endurance race series. The city hosts the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, also known as a half-Ironman, every October putting it in perfect positioning to host the rescheduled full-Ironman. In place of the Pacific Ocean and Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, the Utah course will lead triathletes to Sand Hollow Reservoir, Sand Hollow State Park and Snow Canyon State Park.
Four Utah Triathletes to Watch
Qualifying for Ironman World Championships is no easy feat. It takes years of training, both on-course and off, oftentimes in grueling conditions—running in extreme weather, swimming at odd hours, i.e., “chlorine for breakfast,” and biking in basement “pain caves.” These four Utah triathletes aim to break through the finish line on May 7 to hear Mike Reilly say, “You are an Ironman!”
Skye Moench, Salt Lake City
Skye Moench suffered a traumatic bike crash in 2019 that left her with a shattered elbow and thumb. After multiple surgeries and physical therapy, this accountant-turned-pro triathlete hoped to race in 2020 until races were cancelled because of the pandemic. After a two-year hiatus, Moench roared back with impressive Ironman finishes in Texas and Oklahoma and finished sixth at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship last September in St. George.
Kyle Brown, Farmington
Kyle Brown, 51, of Farmington was diagnosed with ALS in 2020 and given months to live. After the diagnosis, Brown created a bucket list that included getting married and completing an Ironman 70.3. Triumphantly, he checked off both last year. He was the subject of an OutsideTV documentary on the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.
Diane Tracy, St. George
Diane Tracy doesn’t let age drag her down in a pack of Ironman athletes. This 71-year-old completed her first Ironman just 10 years ago at the age of 61. At 70 years young, she is going strong and ready to rock the Ironman World Championship race in her hometown of St. George.
Zachary Josie, Herriman
Dwarfism hasn’t slowed down Zachary Josie, who has been crossing triathlon finish lines for the last six years. Zach was born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome (EVC), a rare type of dwarfism characterized by short limbs, slightly bowed legs, and abnormal development of bones. At 35 years old, Zach has conquered Ironman 70.3 finishes in St. George, Utah and Indian Wells, Calif. He now has his eyes set on conquering the IRONMAN World Championship in St. George this May.
Shop Like a Local Ironman
Feel like trying out a tri? Or making a tri-gear upgrade? Whether you’re an expert or an amateur, you won’t find all your gear in one spot, however, a running or biking specialty shop is the best place to start. Here are some tri finds (because half the fun of triathlon training is the sweet gear) and the Utah local shops where you can get it.
Bike: Contender Bicycles, Salt Lake City
Utah houses a plethora of locally-owned and operated specialty bike shops, whether you’re a beginner or pro. Contender Bicycle is one such bike outfitter. While Ironman athletes race on tri-specific bikes tricked out with lightweight metal, high-end components and aerodynamic shape, novices can be fitted for any new or used road bike that has been properly tuned.
Shoes: Wasatch Running Center, Sandy and Centerville
Imagine lacing up those Hokas, Brooks or Altras on race day. Whatever your go-to brand of running shoes is, make sure they fit properly to avoid nagging blisters or, even worse, long-term injuries. Running stores like Wasatch Running Center house in-store treadmills and employ die-hard runners to meticulously measure a runner’s arches, foot shape and gait.
Wetsuit Rental: Salt Lake Running Company, Salt Lake City
Road bike? Check. Running shoes? Check. How about that wetsuit for your open water swim? Pros likely own their own wetsuit, but for those triathletes who only race a few times a year, renting them is a more affordable option. Specialty shops like Salt Lake Running Company rent high-quality wetsuits in just about every size, but for the best options, book your rental early because they sell out early on popular race weekends.
How to Become a Triathlete in Utah
No doubt, training for an Ironman takes years of dedication. But most got their start at the same place: the starting line of a local sprint triathlon.
Sprint triathlons vary slightly, but typically measure a 300-meter swim, plus a 12-mile bike ride, then end with a 5K run. Some Utah sprint triathlons including TriUtah’s Women of Steel or IceBreaker host their swims in a pool, rather than a lake or reservoir, where triathletes swim the stroke of their choic) in lanes, starting every 5 to 10 seconds based on their self-seeded level. Entry-level triathletes are allowed to ride 12 miles on just about any bike they can find, whether it be a road, gravel or mountain bike. Once off the bike, beginners can run, jog or even walk the 3.1 miles to the finish line.
Once you’ve gotten the triathlon bug, it’s time to level up. Open swims occur in a reservoir, lake or river while wearing a wet suit, where you can choose sprint-distance or Olympic-distance triathlons like the Daybreak Triathlon, Southern Utah Triathlon, Sand Hollow Triathlon, Echo Triathlon or Burley, Idaho’s Spudman Triathlon.