Neither defending champion (Mathias Hecht and Heather Wurtele.) will be racing on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean that the top contenders aren’t familiar with this challenging course. Maik Twelsiek led for much of the day last year and will be wearing race number 1. Wurtele is the only woman who has ever won this race and will be on hand as an “ambassador” for the event. That leaves Meredith Kessler, second in St. George two years ago, as the pre-race favorite. Kessler was in second place last year, too, before having to drop out of the race at 22 miles.
Twelsiek will take on a few other Ironman champions on Saturday, including former Ironman Lake Placid champ, Ben Hoffman, and multiple Ironman champion Chris McDonald. Mackenzie Madison’s last Ironman was an impressive 9:10 runner-up finish at Ironman Florida, so she’ll be another to watch in the women’s field.
The race has been touted as one of the most challenging courses in North America, with a cool, 2.4-mile swim in the Sand Hollow Reservoir, a 112-mile bike through the surrounding canyons, followed by a 26.2-mile run back through the arduous red peaks. This year, due to construction, there’s a new, flatter, run course that will have athletes run by the downtown area a number of times during each of the three laps.
Ironman St. George has become renowned as one of the most family-friendly races on the Ironman circuit, in part because of the many hiking areas and state parks around the area. Athletes have enjoyed their time in St. George over the years. 99% of the respondents in a post-race athlete survey gave St. George the highest possible rating, saying it was a “great place with friendly people,” while 86% considered the race to be “fabulous.” Three out of four of the athletes who have competed at the event say they’ll return for a vacation, while more than half said they’ll be back to train in the area.