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The Road To St George: Mark Allen on the IRONMAN WC course

The countdown to the delayed 2021 IRONMAN World Championship is well and truly on, and Mark Allen is back again to analyse the course in his latest ‘Road To St George’ feature. The six-times Kona king assesses the challenges the rugged Utah terrain will present for the world’s greatest triathletes as they lock horns in an epic showdown.

Well, the news is final and official – IRONMAN announced the race course for the IRONMAN World Championship in St George in May.

We knew it was going to be challenging, but just how challenging is it? Let me break it down for you.


Elevation pitch

On the bike, there’s going to be more than 7300 feet of climbing total on 112 miles of biking – that’s a lot, over 1500 feet more than you have in Kona. On the run there’s about 1400 feet of elevation gain – which is almost 500 feet more than you have on the marathon in Kona.

Definitely hilly, definitely challenging. Snow Canyon comes at about mile 90 on the bike – one of the main climbs in the St George area. So at the point when you’re thinking: ‘okay, I’m almost home’, you still have one of the biggest climbs to go.

Fortunately there is a long downhill after that, you can kind of recover before the marathon, but let me put the marathon in perspective for you.

The marathon has a little bit more climbing than they had in the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in St George, about 50 metres/150 feet more of climbing.

But think of it this way – those folks who did St George at 70.3 World Championship – can you imagine telling them ‘okay you’re done with the 13.3, now go run another 13 miles’ – even if it’s on flat. Very challenging.


The keys to staying the course

So what’s it going to take to win, what’s it going to take to have a big race?

First of all, you’re going to have to have a huge aerobic cardiovascular system built. Because one of the only ways you’re going to make it through that course without going into complete depletion of glycogen, is to be able to manage the climbs with a lot of room to spare in your physiology.

You can’t be completely anaerobic going up the climbs. It’s going to take a lot of strength, especially on the marathon, because all of the downhills that are associated with those uphills – they’re going to pound your legs. And the more pounding there is the more muscle breakdown there is, the slower you’re going to go at the end of it.

A very challenging course, is it impossible? Absolutely not. But the preparation will have to be very diligent for every age-grouper and especially for the pros.

How does this course stack up to other ones? It’s right up there with all the great climbing Ironman bike courses like Nice, UK, Wales. Wales has a little bit more, Nice has just slightly more, but it’s right up there with them as far as elevation gain.

How about the run? It’s right up there with the hilliest of runs. Wales has actually I think the hilliest run course of any Ironman-distance race. But St George is going to be just behind it in terms of elevation gain – which means again elevation loss, which means pounding on the legs.

It’s going to be so exciting to watch and I think what will ultimately separate the people who do great from those who blow up is one word – patience.

May 7th, I can’t wait…

Mark Allen
Written by
Mark Allen
Mark Allen has to be in any conversation about the greatest triathlete of all time. A six-time IRONMAN World Champion, he won every other title that mattered in the sport and dominated like few others
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