Race report by Ray Long
Beautiful, scenic, hilly, hot – are some of the words used to describe the annual Ironman 70.3 triathlon on the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
Held on the first Sunday in May almost continuously for the past 25 years, this is a race for any triathlete’s bucket list. There are only about 500 competitors and it draws a deep pro and amateur field of athletes looking to grab qualification spots for the Ironman World Championship in Kona and the Ironman 70.3 Championship in Las Vegas.
This event is a big deal to the locals on the Island – they shut down all of the roads on the race course from 6 AM to 4 PM including the town of Christiansted, where the transition area is located. The locals are very kind and bend over backwards to help the athletes have a good time.
Tropical climate = no wetsuits
The course itself is both beautiful and challenging. The tropical climate sees water temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s (wear your swim skins – no wetsuits). The air temp can go into the 90’s (as it did this year) with high humidity.
The swim course is unique – athletes swim a few hundred yards to a nearby cay and start out from this little island around a clock-wise course in pristine blue water.
The bike course is very scenic, with stretches along the coast and beautiful views of the ocean. The hills are legendary – at mile 20, riders start to climb “The Beast” which has inclines from 12% to 26%. This actually wasn’t that bad! The more taxing part of the course came after the beast where a constant barrage of rollers slowly sucks at rider’s energy reserves – many riders pay this price when they get out on the run.
Of course the run takes place when the sun and heat are at their peak, and the course is hilly. Like the bike, the run is beautiful and scenic. The two loop course takes you through the grounds of The Buccaneer resort, where many of the athletes stay. The trail winds through the golf course and along the shoreline before going back up near the housing, where there were friends and family stationed with water, ice and everything their triathlete could want. The race organizers boast that there are more aid stations on the run course than any other Ironman event – about very half mile, which you will need to keep cool – ice down the shirt, sponges on your head.
Flat tires but lots of fun
This year there were monsoon like rains the night before the race which washed debris in many areas all over the bike course. The locals were out in force cleaning up the roads and assisting the safety personnel. In spite of these efforts, there were many, many flats. After losing both my spare tubes early in the race, I sustained two flats – both within 15 miles of the bike finish – which cost me about an hour of time.
Due to the flats, the heat and the terrain, I finished almost two hours later than usual for a 70.3 race. And, it didn’t matter! My wife and I had a wonderful short vacation; I checked off a bucket list race; and I now feel well trained for the rest of the season. This is a great event in a fantastic location. I would do this again and would bring my kids next time.
The bottom line
- Do this race: If you want a classic Ironman event, early in the season, in a great location, that will get you race-ready for the rest of the season.
- Forget it: If you don’t like hills, heat or swimming without a wetsuit.