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St. George to host 2021 IRONMAN World Championship, prestigious event moves from Hawaii for the first time since 1978

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In addition to the 2021 and 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships, IRONMAN turns to Greater Zion to host their postponed Championship, bringing millions more in economic impact to Washington County

Read IRONMAN’s press release regarding the 2021 IRONMAN World Championship in St. George here.

St. George, Utah (September 23, 2021)– On the heels of the prestigious IRONMAN® 70.3® World Championship held in St. George last week, IRONMAN announced today that it is bringing its 2021 IRONMAN World Championship event, traditionally held in Kona, Hawaii, to St. George on May 7, 2022.

The IRONMAN World Championship is the longest running and most distinguished endurance event in the world, but due to Covid-19 restrictions in its home state, the culminating experience in IRONMAN’s full-distance triathlon (140.6-miles) circuit has not happened since 2019. The 2020 race was scrapped entirely and in early August, the 2021 event slated to happen on October 9, 2021, was postponed. As travel restrictions and accessibility in Hawaii continued, IRONMAN executives looked for solutions and found one in Greater Zion.

“We are fortunate to have built such a strong and trusted relationship with our friends in the greater St. George region over the past 10-plus years,” said Andrew Messick, President & Chief Executive Officer for The IRONMAN Group. “St. George stepped up to ensure IRONMAN athletes will have a 2021 world championship, even if delayed into 2022. We all just witnessed why this special place has been dubbed the ‘Land of Endurance’ and we are confident that we will have an outstanding championship in May.”

“The honor to host the first IRONMAN World Championship outside of Hawaii is as humbling as it is glorious,” said Kevin Lewis, Director of the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office. “There are few events that hold the prestige and respect of Kona. To be chosen as the destination with the capacity and character to host this event takes my breath away.”

“Hosting the IRONMAN World Championship is yet another example of the Utah Sports Commission’s sport and Olympic legacy efforts that showcase globally why Utah is known as the State of Sport,” said Utah Sports Commission President and CEO Jeff Robbins. “Together with our partners, we look forward to welcoming the world to Utah.”

The 2021 IRONMAN World Championship will replace the previously scheduled IRONMAN North American Championship on May 7, 2022. The 2022 World Championship is slated to return to Kona in October 2022.

“I think we understand the weight and responsibility we now have to carry forward the cherished significance of Kona and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” said Lewis.  “We have the deepest respect for the IRONMAN legacy and all that has gone on before – the passion, the dreams, the gut-wrenching persistence and the human spirit of caring for one another, as we push forward to build something better. We now have the opportunity to truly honor that legacy in a place where the land holds a familiar spirit and the people comprehend what it all really means.”

With continuing uncertainty of travel around the world, officials felt confident in the opportunity in St. George. Moving the race to St. George in 2022 gives world-class international athletes another chance to race in the Land of Endurance, and it rewards the local efforts and the community’s commitment to success.

“It’s clear that IRONMAN officials respect and appreciate St. George and our surrounding communities,” Lewis said. “They have confidence in our ability to host a World Championship. They have witnessed the professionalism in our communities and the agencies that support the race. They’ve seen our capabilities, they’ve felt the spirit of our people and they’ve reveled in the beauty of our landscapes. In a time when many things in the world are unclear, IRONMAN officials are certain of our hosting abilities and our hospitality.”

With today’s announcement, St. George will now play host to three World Championship events over a 13-month period bringing millions of dollars in economic impact to the region. Last week’s IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship brought an estimated $18 million in economic impact to Washington County. The event featured over 3500 athletes and brought more than 12,000 visitors to the area. Next year, St. George will host two additional World Championship events. On May 7, the IRONMAN World Championship is slated to host 4,000 athletes, and up to 20,000 guests and spectators. An independent study for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona estimated economic impact of more than $70 million to the island annually. Then on October 28 and 29, the 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship will feature nearly 7,000 athletes in an expanded two-day race format. Economic impacts from that race are estimated at $20-$25 million. Since its first event here in 2010, IRONMAN has infused more than $118 million directly into the local economy. With the World Championship events in 2022, that number could easily rise to over $200 million. “We’re already seeing substantial benefits from the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, not just economically, but in positive exposure throughout the world,” Lewis said. “Much like what the Winter Olympics did for northern Utah in 2002, hosting these three back-to-back world championships showcases the qualities of this area and strengthens the fundamental economic value of our communities in an unrivaled way. Through them we gain credibility and respect across the globe. The benefit to our overall economic development efforts from the media exposure we gain is unlike anything this area has ever seen.”

“This is an incredible privilege and we are grateful that we’ve earned the confidence and trust of the IRONMAN organization,” said Gil Almquist, Chairman of the Washington County Commission. “The positive characteristics symbolized by IRONMAN blend perfectly with the qualities of the people in our communities. The enduring effort of athletes and volunteers inspires us to be better people, to be more caring and to support each other through challenges and adversity. Throughout history, our communities, agencies and volunteers have accomplished remarkable feats by working together. Those who’ve been here understand what makes this place so special. Those who haven’t are about to find out.”

“In spite of challenging conditions in the world, we’re honored to be able to host these elite and prestigious events,” said Lewis. “We live in a ruggedly beautiful place. It’s a place where hearts beat with passion, sweat weeps for the good of others, and blood flows with determination. I think we understand the weight and responsibility we now have to carry forward the cherished significance of Kona and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. We have an enduring legacy of success here, and once again, we will rise to it.”

Upcoming IRONMAN events in St. George

2021 IRONMAN World Championship – May 7, 2022

2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship: – October 28 and 29, 2022 (Women’s Race Friday; Men’s Saturday)

IRONMAN 70.3 North American Championships: 2023, 2025

IRONMAN North American Championships (140.6): 2024

About Greater Zion

Located in the southwest corner of Utah, Greater Zion is a destination that offers more than 2,400 square miles of adventure and inspiration. Zion National Park, the fourth most visited National Park in the United States, is the premier attraction, but Zion is only the beginning. Four state parks and a multitude of year-round recreational lands set the stage for a burgeoning mountain biking scene, some of the best off-highway vehicle riding in the country, scenic and challenging play at 13 top-rated golf courses, world-class cultural performances at Tuacahn Center for the Arts and so much more. The vibrant communities of St. George, Springdale, Hurricane, Ivins and towns in between offer a wide range of lodging options, dining experiences and access to outdoor pursuits through local outfitters and tour companies. Home to the 2021 and 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, and the 2021 IRONMAN World Championship, Greater Zion also is a world-class destination for sporting events, conferences and meetings. The Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office is a transient-room-tax-funded entity of Washington County, Utah. For more information, please visit GreaterZion.com.

The roundabout at Tabernacle and Main Street received a new art installment Saturday, one that pays tribute to the spirit of sport, the optimism of art and the legacy of the Ironman triathlon competition in Southern Utah.

Ironman-Sculpture

The 10-year history of IRONMAN races in St. George, Utah.

If you’re training for an endurance event, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time planning for every contingency: what you’ll wear, what you’ll eat, how long each leg of your race will take, and so forth. All those things are important, but when you’re competing in an endurance event in the high desert—whether it’s the True Grit Epic, the St. George Marathon, a half-IRONMAN, or a challenge of your own design—you’ve got a few added elements to consider.

Racing in the desert is incredibly rewarding, in part because the environment is so unlike any other. But this landscape comes with its own set of possibilities for which to prepare. The climate is, of course, hotter and drier, and weather changes quickly. Navigation can be challenging, and there’s the unpleasant feeling of sand in your shoes to contend with. If you’re considering signing on for an endurance event in St. George, plan ahead for these desert-specific concerns.

Hydrate Early and Often

Conventional wisdom has it that if you’re exerting yourself in the desert in the more moderate temperatures of spring and fall, you’ll need to consume three to five quarts of water per day. That’s if you’re hiking or backpacking—if you’re running a marathon or otherwise pushing your body to its limits, you’ll need more water.

“One element that often gets overlooked in the desert is the wind,” says Tiffany Gust of Utah-based TG Triathlon and Fitness Coaching. Gust holds a master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science/Sports Nutrition. “Gusting up to 30-plus miles per hour isn’t uncommon during the spring and summer months.”

That’s part of the reason you’ll need to carry more water than you might think. Consider using a bladder and hose, which make it easier to drink frequently than stopping to pull out a water bottle.

Most organized endurance events have aid stations where you can refill and refuel, but don’t count on those to be the only time you’re eating and drinking. Arrive a few days before your event to give your body time to acclimate to the dry climate, and spend those days drinking enough fluids so you’re hydrated well in advance (no need to overdo it, however, as you can go too far with this strategy where it actually hurts you). On race day, carry enough water to get you from one aid station to the next without bonking.

Drink More Than Just Water

In order to stay hydrated, Gust says, you’ll need more than plain old H2O to stay hydrated. The amount of salt your body loses over the course of a day in a hot, dry climate means it’s essential to replace electrolytes as you exercise, too. There are a number of ways to replenish electrolytes, which are essential to some of your body’s most basic automatic processes.

“Monitor urine color and aim for a light yellow color, similar to a yellow post-it note,” she suggests. “Pay attention to thirst and realize that when you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.”

Salty foods like chips and pretzels, which are frequent long-distance aid-station fare, are great for replacing those salts. There are also tons of mixes, powders, and tablets on the market—each have qualities to recommend them, but the most important thing is making sure a specific supplement works for you. Play around with timing and amounts before you arrive for your event, and know that you may need to increase frequency when you’re actually in the desert. Bring your chosen electrolyte replacement with you so you’re guaranteed to have what you need out on the course, even if aid stations aren’t stocked with your preferred brand or flavor.

Be Sun-Savvy

When you spend as much time outside as it takes to train for a long-distance or multi-day event, it’s more important than ever to take care of your skin. Even a short day out without high-enough SPF can have brutal consequences, and that phenomenon only increases in the desert, where the sun will likely be beating down on you all day with little shade for cover.

For an 8-plus-hour day in the desert, sunscreen alone simply won’t cut it. You should reapply often, especially vulnerable areas like your face, the back of your neck, and your hands as often as is feasible (at every aid station, if you can) and use SPF-50 or greater.

You should also cover as much of your skin as possible, says Gust. “UPF clothing and sunscreen is a must when dealing with the heat in the desert,” she explains, adding that “arm sleeves that can be dipped in cool water can be very beneficial.” A hat with a wide brim will keep your eyes and face from bearing the brunt of harmful UV rays.

Take Care of Your Feet

You may not think you have particularly sweaty feet, but when they’ve been carrying you through the desert all day, things may look a little different. When sun bounces off sand, it can easily heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter during the warmest parts of the day, not to mention that it’ll likely make an appearance in your shoes.

With this in mind, you may want to consider running gaiters or something similar to keep sand out of your shoes and be prepared to deal with blisters early and often. Think about carrying a pared-down blister-repair kit (even if it’s just some duct tape on your trekking poles) and stop to fix address hotspots as soon as you notice them. Problems with your feet can escalate quickly in the heat.

Expect Unexpected Weather

Weather in the desert often changes quickly and without much prior warning, and it doesn’t help matters that you’re unlikely to find anywhere safe to take shelter in the event of a storm. With that in mind, check the weather forecast carefully not only for possible storm events in the immediate vicinity, but also in the area surrounding your destination, since a storm upstream can easily cause flash flooding miles downstream. Always avoid camping in washes, and if you’ll be traveling in narrow canyons or washes are unavoidable, plan your escape route well in advance.

Learn to Deal with Sand

It won’t take much time in the desert to discover one of its universal truths: Sand gets in everything. It finds its way through the mesh in your shoes, under your hat, into your teeth. Some of this is preventable, like using running gaiters to prevent tons of sand from seeping into your shoes, wearing shoes with more Gore-tex material and less mesh, and choosing sunglasses that wrap around your face rather than leaving the sides open to blowing sand.

But some blowing sand is simply a reality of desert travel. There’s not much to do in terms of preventing it from happening, but you can head in prepared by mimicking conditions during training as much as possible. That goes for training in the heat, too, says Gust. “Athletes enjoy training early in the morning to escape the excessive heat,” she says. “But if they plan on racing in the heat, some of their training needs to be in the heat—so they’ll be able to tolerate it, both physically and mentally.”

Yes, an endurance event in the desert adds another layer of complexity. But that’s also what makes the challenge fun. With a little preparation, that medal hanging around your neck at the finish line will feel all the sweeter.