Oct 15, 2022
Last week's IRONMAN World Championship was historic on many levels. We saw the IMWC raced on the big island after a two year pandemic induced hiatus. We saw the first two-day format with the women's race Thursday and the men's Saturday. We saw records blown away including all of the top 10 pro men finishing sub 8.and an American professional champion after a 20 year stretch.
This week we have coach and age group Kona competitor Lauren Vallee joining us to review last week's historic Ironman World Championship.
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IRONMAN World Championship
Tri-Rating Thorsten Radde
Straight from the start cannon, a large pack formed, led by Sam Laidlow and Florian Angert. Despite attempts to pull away in the first half of the swim, neither were successful in building a definitive lead.
Instead, a staggering 19 pros exited the water within 15 seconds of each other, led by Angert in 48:15 and Laidlow in 48:16. This tight pack included some of the most dangerous triathletes in the field, setting up the likes of Kristian Blummenfelt, Gustav Iden, and Braden Currie in perfect position for a tactical race at the front of the field.
One minute and 15 seconds later, another large pack emerged from the water, containing even more strong cyclists capable of quickly bridging the gap. These included Igor Amorelli, Patrick Lange, Rudy Von Berg, and Magnus Ditlev.
A third and final large pack, four minutes down from the leaders, contained Matt Hanson, Chris Lieferman, Cam Wurf, Sebastian Kienle, Joe Skipper, and Lionel Sanders.
Laidlow was the one to take charge in the initial miles of the bike, setting an average pace of 27 miles per hour over the first 25 miles. Max Neumann was the only one willing to take the bait, staying just out of Laidlow’s draft to avoid a penalty. Behind them, big groups stuck together as the crosswinds picked up through the lava fields. Fifty seconds down, the first chase group of 11 included Ditlev, Blummenfelt, Iden, O’Donnell, and Bakkegard; almost two minutes behind was a group of 18 that included contenders like Lange, Currie, Ben Hoffman, and Denis Chevrot.
At mile 30 on the bike, the massive groups continued through the rolling hills on the way to Hawi. With 42 men racing within 5 minutes of each other, space was hard to come by – and the referees noticed. As with the women’s race on Thursday, the penalties began early and often, with Angert, Clement Mignon, Mathias Petersen, and Arnad Gilloux being the first to serve their five-minute punishment for position infractions. Leon Chevalier soon joined them for a one-minute penalty as well.
Soon, more setbacks started to snowball in the men’s field. With each passing mile, Sanders saw the race get away from him as his position slipped from 4:42 down out of the water to 7:13 by mile 30. Colin Chartier, who was in the first large pack out of the swim, found it difficult to recover after an early flat tire. Lange seemed unable to jump on to the train of competitors passing him at full speed, and in a shocking twist, pre-race favorite Currie dropped from the race around mile 35.
Meanwhile, the men’s race began to take shape near the base of Hawi as Ditlev went to the front of the race and took control. Behind him, Laidlow and Neumann could not match the effort, while countrymen and training partners Iden and Blummenfelt sat 30 seconds behind Ditlev, working together near mile 50.
Just after the Hawi turnaround, Laidlow reclaimed his lead, but Ditlev, Neumann, Blummenfelt, and Iden were hot on his tail. Further back, a group including Kyle Smith, Tim O’Donnell, and Jesper Svensson trailed the leaders by 2:30; 3:30 back from the leaders were Kristian Hogenhaug and Daniel Bakkegard. A big group of dangerous bike/runners sat 5 minutes behind the front pack that included Wurf, Chevalier, Skipper, Lange, Kienle, and Andreas Dreitz.
Near mile 90, disorganization plagued the chase group of Iden, Blummenfelt, Ditlev, and Neumann as they lost an additional 1:30 to the race leader, Laidlow. Further back, Wurf, Kienle, and Chevalier led a rally to try to get within striking distance of the front, putting 2:20 into the Norwegian group over a span of over 10 miles. As the race barreled toward T2, the chaos continued, with Ditlev receiving a five-minute position penalty at a time when most would be making their critical moves in a race.
Up front, Laidlow seemed to not know – or care – about what was playing out behind him. Instead, the young gun stayed focused on his own race, surging ahead. By mile 88, Laidlow’s lead grew to 2:37; at mile 94, a 4:11 advantage.
Heading into T2, Laidlow smashed Cam Wurf’s 2018 bike course record with a split of 4:04:36—knocking almost five minutes off the previous time. Behind him, the chase group was six minutes down, and the second chase had 8:30-9:45 to make up.
Laidlow set out on the run with a target on his back. The question then became: Would his bold bike strategy pay off, or would it end in disaster? Could he actually beat the notoriously fast Norwegian runners to the finish line? Could anyone?
As the men’s pro field moved through T2, the field shifted from large packs to a steady trickle. It was soon clear who had paced themselves well on the bike and who had burned their matches. Behind Laidlow, Blummenfelt and Iden led the charge, setting out at a 5:54 minute-per-mile pace to the leader’s 6:13 pace. Behind them, O’Donnell and Kienle were the fastest movers in the second chase pack early in the run, along with Ditlev—finally released from his penalty.
As Laidlow made his way up the Palani climb, his pace slowed to 6:23. Iden and Blummenfelt powered on, checking their watches to ensure they were sticking to their staggeringly consistent 5:58 pace. With every footfall, they seemed to cut into Laidlow’s lead. Neumann, looking to hold his own in his Kona debut, followed suit.
Slightly further back, strong runners like Kienle and Ditlev were working together as well, slowly making their way up through the top ten, through the first half of the marathon—as did Joe Skipper. At the halfway point, they found themselves in fifth and sixth place, with elder statesman Kienle offering words of encouragement to the young Dane as they ran together.
Between miles 11 and 16, the Norwegians’ march toward Laidlow started to stall as the Frenchman found a way to staunch the bleeding. As he made his way out the Queen K, it seemed as if he found a pace he could comfortably sustain. At the turnaround in the infamous Energy Lab, Laidlow could see exactly where he was relative to his competition. He knew he had a lead of just over two minutes, but what he didn’t know was whether or not the Norwegians had another gear. Anticipating a battle, Laidlow gathered all he could from the aid stations – cups of ice, a gallon bottle of water to douse himself on the scalding Kona pavement.
Indeed, Iden had just decided to drop his friend and training partner, pulling ahead in the Energy Lab just before mile 19, while Blummenfelt trailed behind. With less than eight miles to go, Iden broke out into 4:38 min/mi pace, laser-focused on the task ahead.
At mile 22, Iden gave Laidlow a pat on the back to let him know his time at the front was up. With a handshake and a smile, Iden made the pass, striding confidently to the finish line.
After the pass, it was the Iden show, as the Norwegian extended his lead to set a new course record with a time of 7:40:24 and a new run course record of 2:36:15. Not far behind, Sam Laidlow valiantly hung on for second place with a time that also broke the previous run record, 7:42:24. Kristian Blummenfelt would fade only slightly, but still stand on the podium with another course record time of 7:43:23.
“That was so freaking hard,” Iden said just moments after his record-setting finish. “The last 10K I was worried about the legend of the island killing me. Everything was going pretty smoothly until I caught Sam Laidlow. When I passed him, the island really tried to put me down. But I think my hat must be stronger than the legend of the island.
“That was so epic, and I’m so proud of Sam and Kristian making the podium. I’m not sure if I’m coming back here, this was too hard.”
What's New in the 303:
Oct 12, 2022–I promise, this opinion is not rooted in sour grapes. I really think IRONMAN should consider either moving the championship race somewhere affordable with easier logistics, or go back to one day of racing and figuring out how to make it somewhat bigger and equitable for men and women. Much easier said than done.
Some have suggested having the men and women race at different times of year, in Kona, or rotating the men and women every other year. It seems to me keeping this format of a Thursday/Saturday race with 5,000 amateurs competing isn’t sustainable or good for the race long term. And, I suspect it was quite hard on the island despite the economic windfall estimated at over a $100 million.
The IRONMAN World Championships is a very unique sporting event. It’s really the most successful pro/am event in the world if you ask me. Sure golf tournaments usually have a VIP pro/am round before the tournament, but name a world championship where the best of all categories compete at the same time in the same venue.
What I fear with the new two day format, by more than doubling the number of participants and more than doubling the cost, the Golden Goose of triathlon will get squeezed too tight and stop laying the proverbial egg which lures age group athletes to dedicate their lives (and pocketbooks) to racing in Kona. And for marginal pro’s with very little hope at a prize and footing their own bill, maybe they forgo Kona and the field shrinks?
After shopping condos for 2023 at unbelievably high prices, I know 303 probably won’t be able to bring you first hand stories and celebrate the success of our well represented state of Colorado. I”m sure we aren’t the only ones and I would fear, more importantly, if deserving athletes and their families forgo participating because of costs. I know that has happened over the years, but now it will probably become a reality more and more.
This race, Kona, is way more than a race. It’s a celebration. It’s a lifetime pursuit and a lifestyle. The red carpets are literally rolled out. Age group athletes feel like rock stars. And they are.
But the race needs folks like us, and volunteers, and fans and industry support. We all know it costs a fortune to attend the Olympics, or a Super Bowl. They are exclusive as well. But they are TV sports and most of the world is happy to watch at home. And those venues take place in large cities and are accessible by car. It’s easy and affordable to be near the venue in most cases and feel the vibe. But not in Kona. You pay to get there or you don’t. No drive by’s happening there.
This year it seemed to go fairly “ok” logistically from all accounts but no doubt there were complaints. We were supposed to go, but our condo was mysteriously condemned due to “mold” in late July—I’m skeptical and think it went back on the market for double the rate. That’s what happened to pro Joe Skipper who almost pulled out when his condo booking was revoked and they asked for three times more and he vented frustration on his IG account. https://www.instagram.com/p/Ch27WEirBdO/
I am curious how the two midnight finishes played out and if it was electric like always. I can’t imagine any men racing on Saturday hung out to cheer Thursday. I was sad to miss Mike Reilly’s last call. I was bummed to miss all of it.
I’m torn because I loved watching the pro women race by themselves and get the attention they deserve and race under more fair conditions without the fast age-group men interferring and having more favorable weather. But as far as a race experience, I’ve heard some complaints about less aid stations because of less volunteers available and a few other minor things.
Said finisher and triathlon coach Lauren Vallee who will be featured on our podcast this weekend to talk about all this, “There was a notable decrease in volunteers, but that’s expected given the demand this event takes on the community. We knew in advance where aid would be and given the opportunity to plan accordingly. The run aid stations being farther apart certainly impacted peoples days, but I decided to race with a bottle and had no issues with getting anything I needed from one station to another.”
This race is already darn hard to qualify for, now it’s darn hard to afford. With so many more participants, volunteers, and spectators converging on the big island with the same amount of bed space as always, does this just make the sport that much less inclusive than it already is? There is already a correlation between the high incomes of triathletes and participation, does this just makes it worse? It must.
Condo’s for 2023 have more than doubled in cost to more than $500 per night plus fees for a one bedroom. I booked a two bedroom condo for this year (the one condemned), in the same building, for $225 per night. And I’m just a guy with laptop. I don’t have race fees (which are going up substantially next year), bike transport and all that goes with racing.
I really don’t fault the tourism industry, it’s a free market, take what you can get, and during Covid they got pretty much nothing. Thats how it works. And IRONMAN must see a demand of people willing to pay to play, but something has to give, and it will at some point.
I get the tradition of this race and importance of its heritage, legacy and the aspiration it provides. I get the mentality of “you can’t move the Boston Marathon to Las Vegas and call it the Boston Marathon.” But this is the IRONMAN World Championship. It’s not the Kona World Championship. It could be somewhere else like what happens with the 70.3’s.
The solution is not easy, nor do I really have one other than being open to changing something to keep it accessible to not only athletes, but to fans, supporters, volunteers and others who want this sport to have the best championship possible.
I’m just asking for a friend, posing a question of what, if anything is possible.
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Video of the week:
Adventure Writer, Laura Killingbeck, joins us to tell her story about finding freedom through cycling, finding that space to process our lives, and her amazing endurance journey to this life changing discovery.
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