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Last changes:

Ironman New Zealand 2018 (March 3rd) – Startlist

Male Race Participants

Name Nation KPR points KPR races
Guy Crawford NZL 1030 1+2 (720/30)
Jan Van Berkel SUI 340 1+0
Leigh Stabryla AUS 230 1+0
Valentin Zasypkin RUS 2 1+0
Cyril Viennot FRA 0 0+0

Female Race Participants

Name Nation KPR points KPR races
Jocelyn McCauley USA 4490 1+2 (3100/640)
Kate Bevilaqua AUS 2215 1+2 (1600/75)
Laura Siddall GBR 1810 1+1
Fawn Whiting CAN 540 1+0
Palmira Alvarez MEX 125 2+0
Caroline Gregory USA 40 1+0
Tracy Douglas AUS 0 0+0
Natascha Schmitt GER 0 0+0
Helena Kotopulu CZE
0

New Pro Qualifying System

Ironman has announced a new system qualifying Pros for Kona. Some of the initial reactions were quite positive, but with the timing of the announcement I was sceptical: Typically the “low news” time around Christmas is best for news not intended to get much attention. So let’s unpack the announcement and discuss the changes the new system will bring .. even if posting this on Christmas Eve might result in not too many readers. (Happy Holidays to you if read this during the Christmas Days!)

Still no Equality in Kona … In Fact Hardly Any Change at All

When quickly reading the Ironman press release, the main point you notice that “slot allocations will be equal for both male and female professional athletes”. The “featured image” is a jubilant Michelle Vesterby, further enhancing the perception that this is great for female athletes. However, the sentence I quoted is preceded by the qualifier “base” and followed by “additional slots being distributed to events based on the number of professional starters”. Only when looking closer what this will mean for races and the gender distribution it becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of these “additional slots” will be allocated to the male Pros, and that the breakdown of the Kona field will be very similar to what it is now (roughly 40 females and 60 males, see my post Estimating the Gender Distribution for Kona). The females will have to constitute about 38% of the total Pro field (the 2017 average was 33.9%) before they have a chance of snagging one of the floating slots.

From an equality perspective, probably the only advantage of the slot system is that increased female Pro participation can lead to more female Kona slots, whereas the KPR system fixed the number of slots. However, I don’t like that this pits the female Pros against the male Pros – if the women want more slots, they have to “take” them from the men. This is counter-productive for growing Pro racing and the sport as a whole.

Equality is also a glaring contradiction in the new Ironman system: While Kona won’t have equal Pro slots, the 70.3 Championships provides the same 85 slots for both the male and females. Ironman has to be applauded for equal slots at the 70.3 Champs, but their argument of “increasing the female field in Kona would dilute the field too much” is making less and less sense. It’s also hard to see why there are 85 Championship-worthy women on the 70.3 distance, but no more than 40 on the full distance.

From the equality viewpoint, the new system is a “meh” – hardly any change. It would be so easy to provide equal slots for male and females in Kona – just provide the same number of floating slots to males and females! They don’t even have to be assigned to the same races, you could showcase the female Pros in a couple of races by assigning two additional slots just to the females (of course offset by races with only additional slots for the men).

Less Racing Required To Qualify

When looking through the changes the new system would have made to the Kona 2017 field (see my post Determining the Kona 2017 With the New Slot System) one big advantage for athletes is obvious: One great result (resulting in a win in an Ironman) is enough for a Kona slot – the new system’s quick summary could be “win and you’re in”. In the KPR system, most male athletes had to race at least two IMs and most females three IMs or more to score enough points to secure a slot. This aspect is a great benefit especially to the female athletes – the KPR system forced them to race more often than the male Pros as they needed more points to qualify. Of course there is a drawback for the second tier athletes that were consistently racing well but not winning races: It’ll be a lot harder for them to make it to Kona now as qualifying with a third or fourth place needs a big element of luck (athletes finishing in front have to decline their slots).

In an indirect way, this also addresses the issue of female Pros returning after their pregnancy to racing: Often they couldn’t race a full season to collect points, for example in 2017 Rachel Joyce or Eva Wutti only started racing in March when more than the half of the season was already gone and most athletes were already way ahead of them. It took Rachel three full IMs to make up this deficit, while even a win and a second place were not enough for Eva. With the new system in place, their first good IM would have been enough to qualify them for Kona: Rachel won IM Boulder and Eva won IM Austria.

The new system is also good as a lot of athletes secure their Kona slot early in the season (well before the current first cutoff at the end of July) and are then able to plan their season without having to focus on scoring more points to qualify. This probably won’t matter to the very best athletes – they didn’t have to worry too much about qualifying anyways. But overall a lot more athletes can be rested and in top shape on the Kona start line, probably making the race in Kona even tighter and more exciting than it already is.

Overall, the fact that less racing gets you to Kona addresses a big deficiency of the KPR system and gets a “thumbs up”.

Decreased Weight of Kona and 70.3s

Under the new system, only the Top 3 finishers in Kona will secure an AQ slot for the following year (validation still required). Under the KPR system, you could pretty much secure your slot after a Top 10 finish in Kona by racing another late season Ironman (some popular choices in November or December were Arizona, Cozumel or Western Australia). On the back of Kona fitness, a Top 6 finish was achievable in the usually relatively small fields. This will no longer be enough to qualify – even after a Kona Top 10 a win will still be needed.

Also, 70.3s don’t play any role in Kona qualifying at all (unless you win the 70.3 Champs). This is also a good development, sometimes lots of 70.3 points made it relatively easy to qualify for Kona. Altogether, another positive change.

Number of Qualifiers Tied To Number of Pro Races

As each of the Pro races creates at least one slot for the male and female racers, the number of athletes in Kona and the 70.3 Champs can’t be any lower than the number of Pro races. Currently, this will make it quite hard to reduce the number of male athletes in Kona – even though a lot of Pros would have preferred smaller fields to allow for a “cleaner” race. Fewer Kona Pros would only be possible with a reduced number of Pro races. So far Ironman has not indicated that they want to shrink the Pro calendar, and there are good arguments for an expansion in the Asian market. Still, the overall reduction in Ironman prize money (6% less in 2017 as compared to 2016) could also indicate fewer races in the future – we’ll probably have to wait for Ironman to indicate what their plans are going to be.

Tying the number of races to the number of qualifiers leads to the huge number of 170 Pro athletes for the 70.3 Championships, almost twice the number of Pros in Kona. The actual number of athletes on the start line will likely be lower. For example, this year’s 70.3 Champs in Chattanooga had more about 55 male and female qualifiers who accepted their slots, but only 33 males and 36 females actually racing.

Overall, “one race, one slot” isn’t much of a problem for Kona qualifying but creates a huge field for the 70.3 Champs. Unless a lot of athletes decide not to race, this is likely a “breaking point”, leading either to fewer Pro 70.3s or to 70.3s that offer a Pro category and prize money but no Kona slots.

Overall Assessment

To me, the benefit of the old KPR system was that it provided a lot of analysis opportunity for data geeks like me. So far I haven’t heard anyone who is sorry to see the KPR to disappear. The slot system is definitely an improvement by removing a lot of the criticisms of the KPR, but the way it is proposed for now it still falls short of providing equality in Kona.

Determining the Kona 2017 Pro Field With the New Slot System

This post has a closer look at how qualifying for Kona would have turned out if the new Kona Pro Qualifying System had been in place. Of course athletes would have adapted to the new system, probably choosing different races, but going through a few examples gives a good indication of how the new system will work and how it might change the Kona field and racing during the season.

Kona_RuediWild

Slot Assignment Examples

Ironman New Zealand

As discussed in my previous post on the Gender Distribution for Kona, New Zealand is a likely candidate for a race with an extra two slots. First, let’s determine how the slots get assigned to the male and female fields:

  • Number of Starters: 17 female, 23 male
  • Base slot calculation: 1.7 female, 2.3 male (calculated as fraction of starters times total number of slots)
  • First round of slots: 1 female, 2 male (based on the integer part of the base slots)
  • Remainder: 0.7 female, 0.3 male (fractional part of the base slots)
  • As the female remainder is larger than the male, the remaining slot is assigned to the females.

We end up two slots for both the males and the females.

Here are the top finishers in New Zealand and who would have received the qualifying slots:

  • Male Winner: Braden Curry
  • Male Second: Cameron Brown
  • Female Winner: Jocelyn McCauley (already qualified by winning IM Mallorca earlier, slot rolling down)
  • Female Second: Laura Siddall
  • Female Third: Meredith Kessler (already qualified by winning IM Arizona earlier, slot rolling down)
  • Female Fourth: Annabel Luxford

Ironman Germany

As a regional Championship, Germany receives two base slots for each gender plus another two floating slots. The floating slots would be determined as follows:

  • Number of Starters: 18 female, 50 male
  • Base slot calculation: 1.6 female, 4.4 male (calculated as fraction of starters times total number of slots)
  • First round of slots: 2 female, 4 male (based on the integer part of the base slots and the number of base slots)
  • No more slots to assign

As for all of the Regionals in 2017, the females would have only been racing for their two base slots while the males would have four slots, two base slots plus both the floating slots.

Here’s the resulting slot assignment:

  • Male Winner: Sebastian Kienle (Automatic Qualifier as previous Kona winner, slot rolling down)
  • Male Second: Andi Boecherer
  • Male Third: Patrik Nilsson (already qualified as winner of IM Barcelona, slot rolling down)
  • Male Fourth: James Cunnama
  • Male Fifth: Ivan Tutukin
  • Male Sixth: Patrick Lange (AQ as third in previous Kona race, slot rolling down)
  • Male Seventh: Marko Albert
  • Female Winner: Sarah Crowley (already qualified as winner of IM Cairns, slot rolling down)
  • Female Second: Lucy Charles (already qualified as winner of IM Lanzarote, slot rolling down)
  • Female Third: Alexandra Tondeur
  • Female Fourth: Liz Lyles (already qualified as winner of IM Wisconsin, slot rolling down)
  • Female Fifth: Michaela Herlbauer (already qualified as second at IM Texas, slot rolling down)
  • Female Sixth: Sonja Tajsich (already qualified as second at IM Brasil, slot rolling down)
  • Female Seventh: Dimity-Lee Duke

As you can see, there are a number of athletes who raced in Frankfurt as they still needed the points to qualify under the existing KPR system. If the new system had been in place, they might have decided not to race but instead to focus on their Kona prep.

Qualified Under the Slot System

Here are a couple of athletes that would have received a Kona slot under the new system but didn’t qualify under the points-based system. I’ve tried to group them into categories to show commonalities:

  • IM Winners but not enough additional good results to get a KPR slot
    Catherine Faux (winner IM Vichy), Darbi Roberts (winner IM Wales), Danielle Mack (winner IM Taiwan), Eva Wutti (winner IM Austria), Daniela Saemmler (winner IM Hamburg), Fredrik Croneborg (winner IM Malaysia), Jeff Symonds (Second at IM Chattanooga, but winner Marino Vanhoenacker likely declining his slot)
  • Getting a relatively “high” rolldown slot
    Jordan Monnink (third at IM Mont Tremblant), Victor Del Corral (fifth at IM France), Kelly Williamson (fourth at IM Boulder)

Not Qualified Under the Slot System

Of course there are also athletes that were good at collecting points for the KPR but wouldn’t have qualified with the new slot system:

  • Podium results, but no wins
    Jesse Thomas (third IM Lanzarote, second in two 70.3s) Lauren Brandon (second IM Cozumel, sixth IM Texas), Markus Fachbach (second IM Mallorca, third IM Hamburg), Cameron Wurf (tons of races, including a second at IM Sweden), Mareen Hufe (second places at IM Malaysia and IM Western Australia)
  • Good Kona, but no wins during the season
    Boris Stein (secured his slot with a sixth at IM South Africa after a seventh in Kona), Ivan Rana (after a ninth in Kona a fifteenth place in Austria and a few 70.3 points were good enough), Anja Beranek (got her slot after her fourth place in Kona with an eighth place at IM Germany), Asa Lundstroem (was safe for Kona after a fourth place at IM Western Australia and an eighth place in Hawaii), Camilla Pedersen (after an eleventh in Kona and a third at IM Cozumel a few 70.3 points were enough for her slot)
  • Many 70.3 points, but no IM wins
    Ruedi Wild (he scored almost 3.000 points just by racing 70.3s)

Additional Observations

There are a few more things I noticed when I simulated the 2017 qualifying season:

  • Much earlier decisions for declines
    With the KPR declines only happened after the qualifying periods (end of July and end of August). With the slot-based system the decision whether to accept or decline a slot has to be made the day after the race. For example, IM Chattanooga winner Marino Vanhoenacker would have needed to decide in September 2016 instead of August 2017.
  • No provisions for “late rolldown” if racing in Kona is not possible
    Meredith Kessler won IM Arizona in November 2016, she declined her slot in July 2017 as she got pregnant in February. (Baby boy “MAK” has been born by now.) Another example is Will Clarke who suffered a shoulder injury in August. Both were not able to race in Kona and declined their slots who then rolled down to the next athletes. Under the new system, once a slot has been accepted (which Meredith would have in November and Will in April), the slots wouldn’t have rolled down when they were forced to decline.
    (This will also impact the size of the Pro field in the 70.3 Championships. Even though there are about 85 slots for each gender, the number of actual starters is likely to be much lower.)
  • Late season racing still allows for Kona even if not initially planned
    When Daniela Sammler planned her season, she focused on IM Hamburg in August, even if that meant she wouldn’t be able to race Kona (to have a chance to qualify she would have needed more points before Hamburg). Under the new system, her win in Hamburg meant that she could have raced Kona instead of ending her season at IM Barcelona.
  • Much less racing needed for a slot
    Especially the women had to do a lot of racing to secure the points required for a Kona slot. Laura Siddall needed to race IM Australia (which she won) even after her third place at IM Malaysia and second place at IM New Zealand to get the required points. Rachel Joyce (coming back from her pregnancy) won IM Boulder (which would have secured her slot under the new system) but then had to also race IM Canada and IM Mont Tremblant, likely ruining her chances to have a good race in Kona. Another example is Eva Wutti: Her win at IM Austria (also coming back from a pregnancy break) would have secured a slot, but with the KPR system even a second place IM Hamburg wasn’t enough for a KPR Kona slot.

I’m also working on another post summarizing the changes that the new system is likely to bring, likely to be published over the Christmas days.

(Photo: Ruedi Wild on the bike in Kona. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

Estimating the Gender Distribution for Kona Pro Race 2019

On December 20th, Ironman has announced a new system for Pros qualifying for Kona (Press Release on the Ironman website). Starting with qualifying for Kona 2019, the system will revert from the Kona Pro Ranking (KPR) back to a slot-based system. This post tries to estimate the resulting number of females and males that are likely to receive slots for Kona. It is the first one of a series that looks into the implications of the new system, more will be released over the next days.

FLOWSKonaStart

Basic Slot Count

In the 2017 Kona qualifying season (i.e. races from September 2016 to August 2017) there have been 32 different Professional Ironman races, including Kona, five Regional Championships, 20 regular IMs with both male and female races and six single-gender IMs.

Let’s have a look at the base slots for the different race categories:

  • Kona: Podium finishers (first, second and third) will get a slot for the next year (which still needs validation by finishing another Ironman race during the season)
    -> 3 slots per gender
  • Regional Championships: Each of the Regionals gets two male and two female base slots (plus two more “floating” slots, see next section). There were five Regionals in the 2017 season, that number decreases to four in the 2018 season with Brasil no longer a Regional Championship, but might increase again in 2019.
    -> 2 slots per gender (5 times)
  • Regular IMs: For each gender there were 23 regular IMs (P-2000 IMs in the KPR system).
    -> 23 base slots per gender

Summing up, the total number of base slots per gender is 36.

There will also be Automatic Qualifier slots for Kona winners for five years and for the 70.3 Champion from the previous season (all requiring validation). The actual number of AQ slots depends on how many different athletes have been able to win Kona in the last five years and if the 70.3 Champion decides to race Kona the year after. A rough estimate is two more AQ slots per gender (in addition to the current Kona champion).

Floating Slots for Regionals

Looking at the 2017 Regional Championships, here is how their two floating slots per race would have been assigned:

  • Ironman South Africa: 26 females, 37 males -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Texas: 21 females, 35 males -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Brasil: 18 females, 29 males -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Cairns: 13 females, 27 females -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Frankfurt: 18 females, 50 males -> 2 male slots

With the 2017 participation numbers, all floating slots from the Regional Championships would have been assigned to the male Pros, i.e. places 1 to 4 of the MPROs would have received a Kona slot while only the first two finishers of the females. It was closest in South Africa, just one more female racing would have created an even split of slots.

Remaining Floating Slots

In order to reach the intended number of 100 Pros racing in Kona, there are another 14 slots that will be assigned as floating slots to the other races. Assuming that there are always going to be an even number of slots for a race, there are likely seven Ironman races with additional floating slots. The number of male and female Pros racing there will determine the distribution of these slots between male and female Pros.

To get an indication of how the final split between male and female Pros is going to end up, here is the distribution if the floating slots would have been assigned to the highest paying races in the 2017 season. Here are these races (including the combined single-gender races), their split of female and male athletes in 2017 and how the floating slots would have been assigned:

  • Ironman Wisconsin / Chattanooga: 12 female, 25 male -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Arizona: 25 female, 45 male -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Cozumel: 19 female, 34 male -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman New Zealand: 17 female, 23 male -> 1 female slot, 1 male slot
  • Ironman Boulder: 10 female, 15 male -> 1 female slot, 1 male slot
  • Ironman France: 6 female, 18 male -> 2 male slots
  • Ironman Lake Placid / Canada: 17 female, 29 male -> 1 female slot, 1 male slot

Under these assumptions, the participation in four races with floating slots would have led to two male slots, the remaining three would have had an even split between male and female slots. Overall, three of the 14 floating slots would be assigned to the females and eleven to the male Pros. (While you can debate this selection of races, they are probably even slightly optimistic for the females. Among the 23 regular IMs, only 6 or roughly a quarter of all races had a strong enough female participation to lead to an even split of slots.)

Summary of Likely Slots Distribution

Here’s a summary of the likely distribution of Pro slots:

  • 36 base slots for each gender
  • 2 additional Automatic Qualifier slots for each gender
  • 10 male floating slots from the Regional Championships
  • 3 female and 11 male floating slots from the regular Ironman races

This would mean a total of 41 female slots and 59 male slots. In Kona 2017, there were 40 females and 58 male Pros on the start list. The proportion of male and female Pros would be pretty much unchanged between the old KPR system and the new slots-based system.

Kona 2017 – How the Female Race Unfolded

Here are the results of the top finishers and the athletes that had an influence on the outcome of the FPRO race:

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time Diff to exp.
1 Daniela Ryf SUI 00:53:10 04:53:10 03:00:02 08:50:47 -07:01
2 Lucy Charles GBR 00:48:48 04:58:19 03:08:09 08:59:38 -25:22
3 Sarah Crowley AUS 00:53:07 04:57:51 03:05:36 09:01:38 -27:23
4 Heather Jackson USA 00:57:58 04:53:54 03:06:19 09:02:29 -17:13
5 Kaisa Sali FIN 00:57:53 04:59:50 03:01:33 09:04:40 -12:11
6 Susie Cheetham GBR 00:57:54 05:03:27 03:09:25 09:16:00 -06:53
7 Carrie Lester AUS 00:57:51 05:00:31 03:16:35 09:19:49 -05:33
8 Elizabeth Lyles USA 01:00:08 05:04:10 03:11:21 09:20:31 -10:48
9 Annabel Luxford AUS 00:53:02 04:59:15 03:24:06 09:20:58 -15:10
10 Jocelyn McCauley USA 00:54:31 05:04:34 03:16:41 09:21:08 -20:02
11 Mareen Hufe GER 00:59:04 04:58:06 03:21:17 09:23:11 -14:12
26 Lauren Brandon USA 00:48:53 04:58:53 04:03:26 09:56:03 20:42

Here’s the Race Development Graph for these athletes:

WPRO Major

Race Development

The race at the front can be divided into three distinct phases:

Start to Bike Mile 90

In the swim, Lucy Charles builds a lead of 4.5 minutes and more to the rest of the field. After the swim, Lucy continues to hold on to that lead, with Lauren Brandon in close pursuit. For most of the bike Daniela Ryf (blue line) is closely followed by Sarah Crowley (green line) – their lines overlap and are almost impossible to distinguish. By mile 90 they trail Lucy and Lauren by just over five minutes. Heather Jackson (violet line) is 9 minutes back after the swim and for the first 40 miles of the bike, but then she’s able to make up time to the front. By mile 90 she has closed the gap to Lucy to 6 minutes and is riding just over one minute behind Daniela and Sarah.

Rest of the Bike and Early Run

With about 40k left on the bike (about 25 miles), Daniela decides to take a risk and rides hard for the remainder of the bike. She quickly starts to eat into Lucy’s lead and drops Sarah. At about that time Lucy seems to have a bad patch: Almost everyone in the field is making up time on her between miles 100 and 110. But the fastest athlete in this part of the bike is clearly Daniela, and within the last hour of the bike she turns a 5-minute deficit into a 30 second lead in T2. Once in front, Daniela starts to build her lead – it’s obvious that she’s running faster than Lucy (by mile 5 she has put another two minutes into Lucy) and everyone else is already more than six minutes behind after the early miles of the run.

Last 20 Miles of the Run

After the early part of the run, Daniela has asserted herself as the clear leader of the race, and for the rest of the marathon she just extends her lead. (In the end, she also posts the fastest run split.) Lucy is losing time to the faster runners behind her, but with a new marathon PR of 3:08 she’s able to hold on to second place. Sarah and Heather are within a few seconds of each other for most of the marathon, in the end Sarah claims third place with a gap of only 51 seconds to Heather.

Let’s have a closer look at the Top 11 finishers.

Winner: Daniela Ryf

Once again, Daniela Ryf was able to defend her Kona title – she is now a three-time Kona champion.

2017Daniela

But compared to the last two races, this year was a lot tighter: She won by eight minutes (last year the gap was 24 minutes), and as discussed before she took the lead just before T2 instead of early in the bike as in previous years. Her finish-line demeanour also showed how hard the race was for her: Last year she still had a lot of energy and bounced around, this year she had to lie down and take a breath after crossing the line:

FLOWS Daniela

In the after-race interviews she said that with 40k left on the bike, she felt she needed to take a risk and put out a big bike effort. She said before the race that she trusts her run and is prepared to win the race on the run, and if we take this year’s data, she would have won the race even without the big effort in the last 40k of the bike and the six minutes she was faster than the other top finishers in that part of the race.

So why did she feel the need to take a risk by putting out such a huge effort? I think there are two factors: One is that she wanted to assert herself in the race and start to eat into the lead that has been hovering around five minutes for the whole bike ride, she wanted to show both to herself and others that even though her day was far from perfect she was still the odds-on favorite to win the race. The second – and in my opinion bigger reason – was the number of athletes that were still “racing for the win” that late in the race: Lucy and Lauren were more than five minutes in front of her, she was riding with Sarah Crowley and Annabel Luxford, Heather Jackson was closing the gap to her and was only a minute back, possibly even a strong runner like Kaisa Sali might still have a chance with just four minutes behind. So at this point you probably have five or six athletes other than Daniela with a chance to win the race. Daniela would be the clear favorite in any of these one-on-one matches, but it would take only one of the athletes mentioned to have a magical day to beat Daniela. That would be quite unlikely if it had been just one athlete, but with five or six the chance for that was much much larger.

So Daniela decided to put in a surge, and what a surge it was. Basically she was riding the last 40k of the bike at least six minutes quicker than everyone else in the field. At the start of the run, she had taken the lead over Lucy Charles and put more than five between herself and Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson – and by then the race was firmly back in Daniela’s control with only a total breakdown as a scenario for her not to win the race. But she did much better: She even posted the fastest run split of the female field, and won her third Kona title in a row.

Second Place: Lucy Charles

Lucy had a great day in Kona – always either leading the race or being in second place:

2017Lucy

It was pretty much expected that Lucy would lead the swim and build a lead to the rest of the female field, she even managed to swim into the second bike male pack. In the FLOWS photo below you can see Lucy in T1 and Sebastian Kienle in the background:

FLOWS Lucy T1

However, it was a surprise to see Lucy ride very strong and hold on to her lead for most of the bike. It took a big effort by Daniela to relegate Lucy to second place in T2, right around the time when Lucy probably had a bad patch (most of the field was making up time on her around mile 110). At the start of the run she had a lead of less than five minutes to Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson,  and she said herself that she didn’t know if she’d be able to run well when she hit T2. But she ran extremely well, posting another personal best in the marathon (3:08 after running 3:18 in Lanzarote and 3:13 in Frankfurt earlier this year). She hardly lost any time to Sarah and Heather on Ali’i Drive, and less than two minutes in the rest of the marathon, claiming second place in her Kona debut.

Third and Fourth Place: Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson

Sarah and Heather had a close fight for the last podium spot:

2017SarahHeather

After the swim, Sarah was with the Daniela group, and she continued to ride with Daniela even as the group was dwindling in size. Even a crash after 35 miles wasn’t able to stop her. (She took a short tumble when she was hit by a gust of wind during a bottle grab.) She was only dropping back from Daniela when Dani stepped on the gas at mile 90, after riding with her for a bit she scaled her efforts back a little bit. Heather had a slower swim, but a sub-58 was still an IM swim PR for her, and she was only five minutes back to Daniela (in her first Kona in 2015 it was more than eight minutes). She was also riding strong, and by mile 90 had almost closed the gap to Daniela and her group. By T2 she had ridden up to Sarah and both started the run within seconds of each other – in the following FLOWS picture of Heather at the start of the run you can see Sarah in the background:

FLOWS Heather Run Start

For the first part of the run Sarah said she was still trying to listen to her body if there were any adverse effects of the crash, but she was okay and took the chance to follow Heather while making sure she was well hydrated and fueled. When they entered the Energy Lab, Sarah ran up to Heather and for a while they ran side by side. Heather said after the race that this was her first Ironman that she was racing person-to-person, almost like an Olympic Distance or 70.3 race. Sarah had prepared for the last ten k of the run and started to slightly move ahead of Heather at the top of the Energy Lab, but the gap was never larger than 30 or 40 seconds. Even in the last k Sarah had to push the pace to stay ahead of Heather and was jubilant crossing the finish line in third place.

FLOWS Sarah Finish

Fifth Place: Kaisa Sali

As last year, fifth place went to Kaisa Lehtonen:

2017Kaisa

After the swim Kaisa was in a better position than last year: The gap to Daniela was under five minutes (compared to more than six last year,), but she was also in a better position in the field, just outside of the Top 10. She was also riding really well, hardly losing any more time to Daniela while moving ahead in the field:

FLOWS Kaisa Bike BW

At the start of the run Kaisa was part of a group of four females, about in eighth place, compared to 12th last year. She had a strong start of the run, posting the fastest first half-marathon in the female field, clearly moving onto fifth place shortly after Palani and steadily closing the gap to those in front of her – by mile 20 she was within two minutes of a podium finish. But at that point Sarah and Heather started their fight for a podium finish and held the distance to Kaisa. Kaisa had built a solid gap to sixth place (almost ten minutes at the end of the Energy Lab) and she was probably worked extra hard for a podium finish, but in the end remained in fifth place.

Sixth to Eleventh Place: Susie Cheetham, Carrie Lester, Liz Lyles, Annabel Luxford, Jocelyn McCauley and Mareen Hufe

As usual, the final positions in the Top 10 were close contested (only 3.5 minutes between seventh and eleventh!), with lots of position changes even in the last 15 minutes of racing:

Top6 11

Annabel Luxford (green line) was riding with Daniela and Sarah for most of the bike:

FLOWS Bella Bike

She only started to drop back from the front pack when Daniela put in her effort towards the end of the bike. She was caught by Heather Jackson before T2 but gained one position early in the run when Lauren didn’t have a good run. Bella was running in fifth place, losing time to the front of the race but also to the faster runners behind her. But she fought hard and was still running in sixth at the turnaround in the Energy Lab. In the end she finished ninth, barely holding off tenth place finisher Jocelyn McCauley by ten seconds.

The best runner in the second group of athletes was Susie Cheetham, and she claimed sixth place. Susie had an even race, coming out of the water just ten minutes back and not loosing much more time on the bike. In T2 she was just outside of the Top 10, after five miles of the run on Ali’i Drive she had already gained three spots. Even though she wasn’t running as fast as the Top 5, she continued to move forward in the field, and at the top the Energy Lab (10k to go) she was in sixth place. By then she was ten minutes behind fifth place so a better placing seemed far-fetched, but just two to four minutes ahead of seventh to tenth place. Susie continued to run strong and defended sixth place until the finish, probably satisfied with a successful return to the Top 10 in Kona.

Carrie Lester was among those that finished the bike in front Susie. Carrie was off the bike in ninth place, and while she was running better than many of the athletes starting the run close to her, she wasn’t able to make up many positions and ended up in seventh place, having to fight hard to stay ahead of three athletes finishing less than 80 seconds behind her.

Liz Lyles was closest to Carrie, working hard until crossing the finish line in eighth place, just 42 seconds behind Carrie:

LizLyles

Liz managed to stay in very close proximity to Susie on the bike, starting the run just 2.5 minutes behind in 15th place. Even though Liz had raced (and won!) IM Chattanooga just three weeks before Kona, she was running well (only slightly slower than Susie), climbing all the way into eighth. She gained two spots in the final miles and finished ahead of Bella and Jocelyn by 27 and 37 seconds. She’s also the “first Super-Mom in Kona” (other mothers who finished are Jocelyn in tenth, Rachel Joyce in 20th and Sonja Tajsich in 21st) and the first Pro athlete to secure her Kona 2018 slot.

Jocelyn McCauley finished in tenth place. She said she didn’t have the race she was looking for and felt sluggish most of the day. It’s a testament to her determination that even though she didn’t feel good she continued to race hard and kept herself in the battle for a Top 10 finish. It was only in the final two miles of the run that she loosened up and was able to move into tenth place, barely missing overtaking a few more athletes with her strong finish.

The first female to finish outside the money was Mareen Hufe. Mareen had a great race: Her swim was more than six minutes faster than in her last Kona race in 2015, and her 4:58 bike split was only beaten by Daniela, Heather and Sarah. In T2 she had moved into sixth place, but a couple of faster runners were not too far behind and it was clear that she’d be dropping back. She fought hard for a finish in the money, but two miles before the finish she lost tenth place to Jocelyn. Still, Mareen was the top German female, and eleventh place is her best Kona finish so far.

Photo Credits: Thanks to my friends Ana Borba, Jacques Rangel and Romulo Cruz from FLOWS Journal for allowing me to use their photos. They have a lot more great shots in their Kona gallery. The photo of Liz is by Etienne Van Rensburg. All photos used with permission. Please respect their great work by not reusing the photos without their consent.

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