Race Previews

To the Land of Endurance...


By Brian Storhaug

Top professional and age-group triathletes from around the world will test their mettle while traversing the red rock canyons in St. George, Utah, at the 2021 Intermountain Healthcare IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. The challenging course with breathtaking views of American Southwest scenery is an athlete-favorite that attracts the best in the sport. This marks the first time the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship will be held in St. George.

On September 18th, two local Triathletes are making the trek to St George Utah- nicknamed The Land Of Endurance. Tom Emmerich (photo L) and Brian Warzecha (photo below) became qualifiers to compete in the Half Ironman Stage of the World Championships at their most recent race in Des Moines Iowa. The top five to ten percent in each age group are eligible to make the trip. For those who don’t know- a half ironman entails a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, followed by a half marathon- a 13.1 mile run. Only the best of the best qualify for a chance to represent their country. 

Brian Warzecha- had been a 3 sport athlete in high school- including football, basketball and was an avid golfer, as well. Growing up, and through his post-high school years, he enjoyed the sport of running to stay in shape. As a medical nurse, working in the city of Rochester, he met his soon-to-be wife, who unbeknownst to him, was (and still is) quite the endurance athlete herself. His second date was actually the longest run of his life (5 miles). Trying to impress her, he kept up with the training volume and eventually worked himself up to competing in his first marathon.

If you know Brian, it would not come as a surprise that his first road race was the Twin Cities Marathon. He kept training after his first race with more of a focus on the half marathon distance. He achieved his goal of one hour and thirty minutes (~6:50 min/mile pace) and then slowly made his transition back to marathon distance once his kids...

were older. Starting in 2007, he converted to road biking once he moved to the Lakes Area of Alexandria. Looking for a new challenge, he began training in the sport of triathlons. His first race being the Half Ironman in Chisago lakes (2018), then competing in a full ironman at Madison, Wisconsin (2019), and finally the latest being Des Moines, IA, therefore qualifying him for Worlds. 

Tom did not get into endurance sports until ROTC in college. He played hockey in high school, as well as for UND's Army ROTC team. His first triathlon was after his sophomore year at UND. He found the sport of triathloning enjoyable and completed a few Sprint triathlons and some Olympic distances in college and shortly thereafter, while stationed in Alabama. Tom's biggest aspiration came after he decided to set a goal to compete in an ironman after he transitioned out of the Army--9 years with 2 deployments. He signed up for the Lake Placid Ironman which was held in July of 2017. He was stationed in New York at that time and also did some of his training while deployed in Iraq. Once back in New York, he completed the Ironman 70.3 in Syracuse to help prep for a full ironman in July. 


If you know Tom, he's always been setting goals, most of them physical achievements of some kind. After he got married in 2019, he started prepping for Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin, and his goal was to qualify for the 2020 World Championships, which was to be held in the U.S. (rotates to a U.S. location every 4 years). When races in 2020 started getting cancelled due to COVID only a few weeks before his event, he was crushed. He had been training for months. However, he was able to defer his race entry to a later race (June 2021) in hopes to qualify this year. Now, he is doing Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin on Sept 12 before heading to St. George for the World Championships. Qualifying for Worlds was something he said he would love to achieve before starting a family.  His wife, Kelly, is thankful that things worked out! 

What does the average training load look like for a half-ironman athlete, you may ask? Well, the week to week training volume changes gradually throughout the year- most athletes have a 20 week training plan. At around week 11, an athlete would be expected to spend about 5.5 hours on the bike, 3.5 hours running and just over 2 hours swimming. Balance is the name of the game- planning your week to include the time allotted for training, work life and family. It really comes down to some early mornings and after supper hours some days to get in the time-spent training. 

For a triathlete, competing at Worlds, with the cream of the crop stepping on the starting line, is really quite the feat. If you see Tom or Brian out and about, make sure to congratulate them for all of their hard work. Also, if you see Kelly (Tom’s wife) or Jennessa (Brian’s wife) congratulate them, as well, because for this type of commitment, it really can be a family affair. 

To monitor Brian and Tom on race day- download the Ironman Tracker app and search for their name. The gun goes off at 7:25 am Mountain Time. You can also watch the race on Facebook Watch.