I was lucky to be able to make the trip to watch the inaugural Ironman St. George last weekend and it was both inspiring and heartbreaking.
I missed the morning shuttle to Sand Hollow State Park and had to walk 3+ miles in to the park to see the swimmers and T1. On the positive side, I was able to see all of the cyclists coming out of the park on the long walk in. I was impressed by the diversity of athletes I saw speeding by. Nearly every skill level was represented from the incredibly fast elite pros to those who were struggling to stay ahead of the cutoff times.
By the time I got into the park, the last swimmers were getting out of the water. There were a few swimmers who didn't make the 2:20 swim cutoff and had to end their Ironman quest early. It was painful to watch as one swimmer got out of the water and started to cry; missing the cutoff time by only about two minutes. Although I didn't see the first swimmers out of the water, I can't imagine that the cheers for them were any louder than they were for this swimmer. One of the reasons that I love triathlon is that the spectators and athletes are so supportive. I can't think of another sport where your competitors will yell "good job" as they fly past you on the bike or run.
I was really impressed with the organization and number of spectators and volunteers. The magnitude of an Ironman event is staggering and it's difficult to imagine how much time and work goes into putting a world class race like this together. I heard from some volunteers that there were nearly twice as many volunteers as there were athletes.
Sand Hollow is a beautiful park and was especially beautiful that morning. I love how the red sand and rocks contrast against the blue water. The water itself was chilly (Utah State Parks reported 55 degrees) and many of the swimmers I saw getting out looked really cold even with their wetsuits.
After the athletes left T1 I started walking back to where I had parked my car. I didn't get far before a race volunteer pulled over and offered to give me a ride. She was a delight to talk to and was obviously excited about Ironman St. George. As a native of the area she was also excited about the economic benefits of having such a high profile race in her hometown. I could tell that she was proud of her hometown and proud to be involved with the race. I too was proud that my home state was host to one of the sport's premier events.