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Strength of Field

One of the questions I’m often asked is how the fields in a races compares to that of another race (or year) and which one was stronger. I have tried a few different approaches but couldn’t quite figure out how to account for “super stars” in a race and at the same time for the “depth” of the field or “how close” the race is going to be.

As there are no races this weekend I’ve taken another stab at this question. This time I have come up with a relatively simple system that nonetheless yields some good results. This post contains a description of the system, my analysis of the strength for the 2016 IM-distance races and a look forward to the 2017 races.

Points System

For each athlete in a race, I’m assigning a simple points value:

  • 1 point for each athlete that has raced the previous Kona race (so for the 2016 races athletes that have raced Kona 2015),
  • 0.5 points for each athlete that hasn’t raced the previous Kona race but the year before (so for the 2016 races athletes that haven’t raced Kona 2015 but Kona 2014),
  • 0.5 points for each athlete that hasn’t raced Kona the two previous years but who has a rating that places them in the Top 50 (for new promising athletes that haven’t had a chance to race Kona yet, athletes that have declined their Kona slot or athletes that decided to focus on other races).

Based on this scheme, each athlete counts for either a full, a half or no points. (Because Ironman still keeps the female Kona Pro field smaller than the male field, this leads to lower scores for the female fields. I will adjust for this inequality when comparing each field against the typical Kona field in the next section.)

In addition, there are bonus points for having done well in Kona in the past:

  • 1 bonus point for an athlete that has won Kona in the past
  • 0.5 points for an athlete that has finished on the podium in Kona before

For example, Frederik Van Lierde or Daniela Ryf count for two points in the 2016 races: One point because they have raced Kona 2015 (no “extra” points for having raced there in 2014 as well), and one bonus point as they have won Kona (regardless of how often or how long in the past).

Of course you could make this a lot more complicated by coming up with additional points and bonus points for other things, but for now I consider this simple system to be “good enough”.

Comparing Against Kona

The first observation is how much stronger Kona is compared to all the other races:

  • After the introduction of the KPR (limiting the Pro field sizes), the female Kona fields have about 40 points (2016: 40.5 points), the male fields around 55 points (2016: 56.5 points). This is pretty consistent with the number of slots (females: 35 plus 5 Regional Champs, male: 50 plus 5), so you the typical “turnover” (new athletes qualifying for Kona) is offset by the previous winners and podium finishers.
  • Even the strongest non-Kona IM-distance races start have a score of less than 20 points – the 2016 race with the most points was the male field at IM Germany with 17.5 points.

In order to account for the different points available for male and female fields, I calculate a “Kona Strength” for each male and female race by dividing their points by the “typical” Kona points (40 for the females and 55 for the males).

Based on this simple scaling, the strongest 2016 fields were:

  • for the males: IM Germany at 32% Kona strength (results)
  • for the females: IM New Zealand at 25% Kona strength (results)
This “scaling” also creates a meaningful interpretation of the strength  of a field: For IM Germany it means that roughly a third of the male Kona field was racing in Frankfurt, and about a quarter of the female Kona field in New Zealand.

Male Races

Here’s a closer look at the strength for the 2016 long distance male fields:

MenStrength

(Regular Ironman races are shown in blue, Regional Championships in green and Challenge races and the ITU long-distance championship in yellow.)

For the men the best fields are racing in the Regional Championships: IM Germany, IM Texas, IM South Africa and IM Cairns have had the four best 2016 fields (Kona strength between 32% and 25%). IM Brasil wasn’t quite on a similar level, but 15% Kona strength is still better than almost all other “regular” Ironman races.

Challenge Roth (16%) and the ITU Long Distance Champs (15%) also had strong fields while some of the smaller IMs weren’t able to generate much interest among Kona level athletes.

Female Races

Here’s a closer look at the strength for the 2016 long distance female fields:

FemaleStrength

(As for the men, regular Ironman races are shown in blue, Regional Championships in green and Challenge races and the ITU long-distance championship in yellow.)

Interestingly, the strongest field of the year (of course outside of Kona) wasn’t in a Regional Championship but at IM New Zealand – lots of Kona racers started their season early in the year, and Mareen Hufe finished in 7th place with a time of 9:16 – a time usually good enough to win the race or at least finish on the podium. For more details on New Zealand, have a look at my results analysis.

Most of the Regional Championships were able to draw strong fields: South Africa, Brasil and Germany had a Kona strength between 20% and 16%, and only Cairns (with a relatively small field) fell off a bit with 9%. Challenge Roth had a female field comparable to the Ironman Regional Championships, their 2016 female field (18% Kona strength) was slightly stronger than the field in Frankfurt.

2017 Races

The first long-distance races of this year have already been raced, and while the fields at Challenge Wanaka had similar Kona strength as last year, IM New Zealand wasn’t quite able to hold on to their great field strength from last year: The female field was at 18% and the male field at 12%. It seems that the strong 2016 fields led to some athletes making different plans for this season.

With the start lists for the first 2017 races, we can calculate the Kona strength of the fields:

  • Ironman South Africa (start lists and seedings): female Kona strength: 40%, male Kona strength: 37%
  • Ironman Texas (entry lists): female Kona strength: 24%, male Kona strength: 32%

Of course the fields and the corresponding numbers are still preliminary (for example not all the athletes registered for both races will do Texas if South Africa isn’t a complete disaster, also the Texas list isn’t closed yet). But the South Africa number seems quite firm and if they end up anywhere close to where they are now, the fields would already be stronger than for any race in 2016. I can’t wait for the racing season to start!

Updated Female Top 10 Ratings

The following is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details about the Report in this post or get your own free copy here. The full Top 10 Ratings (male and female, including for the individual legs) are posted here.

Rating Analysis 2016 – Female TOP 10

Here are the top ranked female athletes at the end of 2016, comparing the ranking and rating to the end of 2015:

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 (1) Daniela Ryf SUI 08:45:06 (-14:23) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
2 (3) Mirinda Carfrae AUS 09:02:01 (-6:11) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
3 (-) Kaisa Lehtonen FIN 09:13:42 (n/a) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 3
4 (19) Heather Jackson USA 09:14:57 (-9:20) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 6
5 (-) Melissa Hauschildt AUS 09:15:55 (n/a) IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 4
6 (9) Yvonne Van Vlerken NED 09:16:20 (-1:11) IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 24
7 (13) Anja Beranek GER 09:16:56 (-2:22) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 8
8 (12) Lucy Gossage GBR 09:17:08 (-1:14) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14
9 (15) Jodie Cunnama GBR 09:18:18 (-1:34) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 9
10 (10) Mary Beth Ellis USA 09:19:32 (+1:44) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 19

DaiBIkeKonaAfter continuing her domination in 2016, Daniela Ryf has not only defended her first place, but also extended the gap to second place. She now has a rating that is more than 15 minutes better than her closest follower.

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

Mirinda Carfrae is the solid second place in my ranking. Her results this season – a lightning fast finish in Austria and a second place finish in Kona – have been great, but she’s probably frustrated that this year she wasn’t even close to Dani in Kona. I’m sure she and her coach Siri Lindley will have a close look at how to change that for next year.

The athlete in third is my “Rookie of the Year”, Kaisa Lehtonen. She’s raced three great IMs storming into the top ranks. Will she be able to continue to race at this high level in 2017 … or maybe get even faster?

Third place finisher in Kona is my fourth ranked athlete: Heather Jackson. She’s made steady progress this year, improving her rating by almost ten minutes with two great IM finishes in Lake Placid and Kona.

Melissa Hauschildt (#5) is another athlete in this year’s Top 10 that hasn’t been ranked last year. She’s been dealing with an injury for most of last year and was forced to withdraw from Kona. This year she qualified by winning the European Championships in Frankfurt, then DNF’d in Kona with muscular problems, followed by a sub-9 win in Western Australia. Hopefully she can stay healthy, then she’ll be a force to consider in each race she enters.

Even though Yvonne Van Vlerken (#6) gained three places in the rankings, she’s probably not fully satisfied with her season. She’s had some great results with a win at Challenge Wanaka and a third place at Challenge Roth, but her plans were focused on a good result in Kona – unfortunately she DNF’d when she didn’t have enough energy on the run. She quickly rebounded with a second place finish in Arizona, chasing Meredith Kessler for the whole day. She has already announced that she’s going to race Ironman Maastricht in August and Challenge Almere in September. It’s unlikely that she’ll race Kona 2017, my gues is that she’ll work to improve on her record of twelve sub-9 IM-distance finishes.

The next three athletes were just outside the Top 10 at the end of 2015: Anja Beranek (#7) had a great Kona race finishing fourth, proving she is one of the strongest women on the bike. Lucy Goossage (#8) was racing a lot this year, finishing second at IM New Zealand, third at IM South Africa and winning IM UK. Unfortunately, she broke her collarbone in the summer, but recovered just in time for Kona where she was able to race without too much pressure and even improved with a ninth place finish. For 2017 she’ll return to work as a doctor, and while she will continue to race as a Pro and is already targeting IM UK and IM Wales, she does not plan to return to Kona in 2017. Jodie Cunnama (#9) was having a great race at IM South Africa until she crashed when the camera helicopter was getting close. She recovered from a broken elbow with an emotional win at IM Cairns, the Regional Championships for Australia. At Kona she was close to the front for most of the day, but had to walk the last part of the run just to be able to finish. With the way she races, she is a contender for the win in any race she enters.

Mary Beth Ellis (#10) has won two Ironman races in her last season as a Pro at IM Netherlands and Mont Tremblant after suffering from Lyme’s disease in the summer. In her last Kona Pro race, she was in the Top 10 almost until the end, it was only in the last six miles from the Energy Lab to the finish that she dropped back from eighth place to 14th at the end. Now she wants to focus on growing her family, but it would be great to see her stay involved in long-distance triathlon.

A number of athletes have dropped from the Top 10. Rachel Joyce (was #2) and Eva Wutti (was #6) have had children and are likely to return to racing in 2017. Caroline Steffen (was #4) has raced shorter distances, it would be great to see her tackle Ironman racing again. Liz Blatchford (was #5) struggled with injuries and couldn’t race, now she has announced that she’s pregnant. Susie Cheetham (was #7, now #15) DNF’d in Kona, as did Julia Gajer (was #10, now #16), who has only finished IM Texas which was on a shortened course. Both are already working hard to return to Kona 2017 and a good performance there.

Updated Male Top 10 Ratings

The following is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details about the Report in this post or get your own free copy here. The full Top 10 Ratings (male and female, including for the individual legs) are posted here.

Rating Analysis 2016 – Male TOP 10

Here are the top ranked male athletes at the end of 2016, comparing the ranking and rating to the end of 2015:

Rank Name Nation Rating Last Race # IM Races
1 (1) Jan Frodeno GER 07:59:12 (-8:10) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 7
2 (2) Sebastian Kienle GER 08:10:48 (-3:35) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 13
3 (3) Brent McMahon CAN 08:17:17 (+0:46) IM Arizona on 2016-11-20 7
4 (10) Marino Vanhoenacker BEL 08:18:37 (-6:01) IM Chattanooga on 2016-09-25 21
5 (6) Nils Frommhold GER 08:19:27 (-1:12) Challenge Roth on 2016-07-17 8
6 (7) Andy Potts USA 08:20:53 (-1:47) IM Western Australia on 2016-12-04 16
7 (5) Frederik Van Lierde BEL 08:22:19 (+1:52) IM Cozumel on 2016-11-27 20
8 (42) Patrik Nilsson SWE 08:22:23 (-15:48) IM Barcelona on 2016-10-02 7
9 (-) Jesse Thomas USA 08:22:27 (n/a) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 3
10 (21) Andi Boecherer GER 08:22:32 (-9:26) IM Hawaii on 2016-10-08 14

JanKonaRun

Jan Frodeno was my #1 ranked athlete last year, and of course he remains in first place, even increasing his lead. The fact that his second place in Lanzarote was his worst performance of the year is indicative of the level he’s racing at: His two other IM-distance races were a world-record time at Challenge Roth and a win in Kona. How long will his domination of male IM-racing last? There hasn’t been a three-peat in Kona since the days of Mark Allen (who won five in a row between 1989 and 1993) and Dave Scott (among his six wins was a three-peat from 1982 to 1984). A third Kona win for Frodo in 2017 would raise his profile to “Dave and Mark level”.

(Photo: Jan slowly running away from Sebi on Palani Road during IM Hawaii. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

It’s been a solid 2016 for Sebastian Kienle (#2), and though he’ll be proud of his results I’m pretty sure he’ll be looking for more in 2017. This year, he had a win at Ironman Frankfurt that included a new marathon PR of 2:44. Second places at 70.3 Champs and in Kona were good results, but probably a bit too close to the very front to be satisfied. In Mooloolaba Sebi came up just short after lots of back and forth in a sprint finish to Tim Reed, and in Kona Jan was able to run a bit faster when it mattered. After Sebi wasn’t rewarded for more aggressive racing in Kona 2015, he was a bit more conservative this year – forcing Jan to use every last drop energy but not enough to crack him. After struggling with a few injuries in previous seasons, Sebi has been healthy for most of this year. If his progress on the run continues for 2017, it means he can probably afford to be a bit more active on the Kona bike.

2015’s summary for Brent McMahon (#3) is also applicable to this year: Great racing – except for Kona. Unfortunately, that’s where it matters most and the performance on race day determines whether an athlete has had a great year – or merely a good one. Brent had two fantastic races in Brasil and in Arizona, both times posting extremely fast times: 7:46:10 in Brasil (a North American record at that time) and a 7:50 in Arizona which was overshadowed by Lionel Sanders going 7:44 and grabbing the North American record. In Kona, Brent lost contact to the front group in the early parts of the bike when he received a drafting penalty. Similar to Patrick Lange he raced his own race and was running well, almost working his way into the Top 10. But around the Energy Lab he started vomiting and though he tried hard he didn’t have any power left, dropping all the way back into 30th place. If Brent manages to figure out how to race well in Kona, he’s easily a podium candidate. He’ll be back in 2017 to give it another hard try!

With Marino Vanhoenacker (#4) there is an athlete who is very unlikely to return to Kona. Marino is picking races that better suit his strengths, and two wins at IM Austria and IM Chattanooga allow him to close this year with a much better feeling than after his 2015 Kona DNF. I expect him to continue to pick races he loves to race – and chase his goal of winning an Ironman on each continent. He was scheduled to race Ironman New Zealand 2016, but had to withdraw when he sprained his ankle in the last run before his departure. Expect him to give it another try in 2017!

Nils Frommhold (#5) has improved his ranking and his rating – but he’ll probably view his tri season as a disappointment. He was struggling to race well in the heat of 70.3 Brasilia, then DNF’d at IM Texas when he was trying to secure a Kona slot. In the summer he posted his second sub-8 at Challenge Roth. Even that wasn’t what he was hoping for in his title defense – the gap to Jan Frodeno was too large, and he lost second place in the final kilometers of the run to Joe Skipper. He was eyeing a fall IM to get started on Kona 2017 qualifying but then was diagnosed with another stress fracture, ending his season. At least the year ended well on a personal level: In late November his daughter Louisa was born – congratulations! I’m sure that’ll be extra motivation for him to have a solid 2017 season.

#6 Andy Potts has also gained one spot compared to last year, but his season was somewhat mixed. As usual he won his North American summer IM (this time IM Canada) and 70.3s (winning Coeur d’Alene and Vineman) and he was eying the Kona podium after finishing in fourth place in 2015. In Kona he lost seven minutes to the front in the last hour of riding and crashed coming off his bike. The first part of the marathon went well, but eventually he ran out of steam and dropped back to 11th place. He closed the year by racing IM Western Australia in a new North American record of 7:55:12, but his performance was a bit overshadowed by Terenzo’s win. Having already secured his Kona slot, he can now try a different season plan – either not doing an IM over the summer or racing the deeper fields in Europe. He’s already 40 years old, but he hasn’t given up chasing a Kona podium!

For #7 Frederik Van Lierde 2016 could have been another “lost year” when he broke his collarbone in a spring race. But he handled the challenge well, and was on the start line of IM France just six weeks later. Of course he wasn’t yet at 100%, but a fourth place finish took care of Kona validation. In Kona he faced another challenge when he received a drafting penalty early in the race. He continued to ride hard, then had to pay the price when he wasn’t able to go with the faster runners that caught up to him. Still, tenth place is a very respectable finish considering his year and the penalty. Fred closed the year with a win at IM Cozumel, giving him complete freedom to focus on Kona 2017. If his preparation goes well and he doesn’t overrace in the summer, he’ll be at least a strong podium contender for Kona.

Having turned 25 this August, the youngest athlete in the Top 10 is Patrik Nilsson (#8). In 2015 Patrik decided to focus on his home Ironman race instead of taking his Kona slot. In tough conditions he won with a comfortable margin. After a long build into this season he put up two sub-8s within six weeks, winning IM Copenhagen and IM Barcelona and taking the Swedish Ironman record. After these two great performances he had to withdraw from racing IM Cozumel which could have already secured his Kona slot. Nonetheless, Patrik was signed by the BMC Uplace team – and they have clearly stated their goal of having a member of their team win Kona in the next few years. If Patrik is given the time to stabilize his performance, gain some experience in big, deep fields and develop a bit further, he may well be the athlete in the team to fulfill the dream goal.

With Jesse Thomas (#9) there is another new athlete in the Top 10. Jesse has cautiously moved into long-distance racing, after winning IM Wales at the tail-end of the 2015 season he also won IM Lanzarote, earning the distinction of being the only athlete who was able to beat Jan Frodeno in 2016. Going into Kona he said he would be racing his own race, but he got caught up in the Kona atmosphere and rode up to the front group, only to get dropped on the climb to Hawi. The rest of the day was tough, and even working as hard as he could he finished in 16th place. He might have hoped for more, but even blowing up in Kona he delivered his fastest Ironman finish to date! He also seemed intrigued by the race, and I’m sure that this was not the last time we’ll see him race in Kona.

After suffering from a tough bike accident, it’s great to see Andi Böcherer (#10) back to enjoying racing. As last year, he was in excellent form in the summer and was unbeaten in all his races on the 70.3 distance. He had a great race at IM Frankfurt where he challenged Sebi Kienle all day, was finally able to run an excellent 2:45 marathon, and finished in second place just a minute behind Sebi. This year he also managed to hold on to his summer form for Hawaii. He was in the front group all day and ended up in a close fight with Ben Hoffman and Tim O’Donnell. It took Ben Hoffman all he had to stay 20 seconds ahead of Andi, but while Ben was completely gone and needed medical attention, Andi was able to celebrate his fifth place and finally being able to improve on his eighth place from 2011. I’m sure that next year he’ll try to reach more aggressive goals … and he hasn’t won an Ironman yet!

Last year we’ve also had a couple of other athletes in the Top 10:

  • Andreas Raelert (was #4, now #22) struggled with injuries all year. He managed to qualify for Kona, but DNF’d. He’s already back to get in shape for the 2017 season, chasing his dream of a Kona win.
  • Timo Bracht (was #8, now #16) had to race quite often to get the points to qualify for Kona. He was racing Kona with high hopes, but was probably a bit tired and finished 28th. I’m looking forward to see him focus on one or two big races for the 2017 season
  • Eneko Llanos (was #9, now #13) is still a very solid athlete, but this year he struggled with stomach issues on the run and didn’t have a stellar result.

Data on Female Participation in Ironman Races

Every year there are announcements that record numbers of women are participating in Ironman races. This post checks the numbers behind these claims and offers some more data on female participation.

Number of Female Finishers

The last years before the Ironman World Championships in October, a number of press releases and posts claimed record numbers of female participants in Kona such as an Ironman press release from 2015 (“It will be the largest female field in the event’s history”) or a post by Triathlete magazine from 2016 (“That marks the largest female field ever at the Ironman World Championship”).

So here’s a look at the number of Female Finishers in Kona:

FemaleFinishersKona

There has been a steady climb in the last years from about 500 in 2008/09 to 697 in 2016. This growth in absolute numbers is not limited to Kona, here’s a graph showing the total number of female finishers in all Ironman races:

FemaleFinishersAllIM

For all Ironman races the growth is even more pronounced, female finisher numbers were pretty steady at about 7.000 between 2007 and 2009, the number of females in Ironman has more than doubled to almost 16.000 for the 2016 season.

Percentage of Female Finishers

While it’s great to see more and more women finish in Kona or an Ironman in general, absolute numbers are not indicative of women playing a bigger role in Ironman racing. For Kona, the number of females racing is mainly a result of the qualifying system (I’m sure there are a lot more men and women who’d love to race there), and for all Ironman races you can evaluate the growth of female finishers only in conjunction with the increased number of Ironman races per season. So here are graphs showing the percentage of females among the overall number of finishers, both for Kona and for all Ironman races:

PercentageKona

PercentageOverall

These graphs paint a less positive picture: While the share of females has been increasing in the last few years, that growth is relatively small: For Kona it has grown from about 27.5% between 2008 and 2011 to 30.2% this year, and the overall growth has been even smaller (from about 18% to 20% this year). Obviously, there is still a lot to accomplish before even close to 50% of Ironman finishers are females.

Regional Differences

In analyzing the data, I have noticed that there a lot of differences between races. The following graph shows the percentage of female finishers by continent, distinguishing between the North American, the European and “rest of the world” races:

PercentageContinents

Clearly, North America has the biggest share of female racers, while Europe has the smallest.

Breaking this down into individual races shows that there is surprisingly little “overlap” between these three groups, for example even the European race with the biggest percentage (IM Sweden with 14.7% of female finishers) has a lower share than all North American races, even the one with the lowest percentage (IM Louisville with 21.4%):

PercentageRaces

Outlook

The data shows large regional differences, and there are probably lots of others differences buried in the data (maybe between age groups or finishing times?). I haven’t found any detailed analysis of finisher data such as the graphs above (please let me know if they are out there), and I’d be interested in further analysis.

Also, I am not aware of a “good explanation” for these differences, but I hope that a discussion can lead to hints at how to further increase female participation in the future for existing races – and for new races as well. I hope this post helps in advancing the discussion.

Thank you to Russell Cox for supplying the data underlying the analysis and the graphs.

Ironman Hawaii 2016 – How the Male Race Unfolded

This post looks at the details of how this year’s Kona race unfolded for the male Pros (a similar post for the female race can be found here).

Here’s the results table for the Top 10 finishers and a few other athletes that played a role during the race:

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time Diff to expected
1 Jan Frodeno GER 00:48:02 04:29:00 02:45:34 08:06:30 -06:48
2 Sebastian Kienle GER 00:52:27 04:23:55 02:49:03 08:10:02 -10:26
3 Patrick Lange GER 00:48:57 04:37:49 02:39:45 08:11:14 -17:25
4 Ben Hoffman USA 00:48:55 04:28:06 02:51:45 08:13:00 -26:40
5 Andi Boecherer GER 00:48:10 04:28:07 02:52:05 08:13:25 -18:51
6 Timothy O’Donnell USA 00:48:12 04:29:10 02:55:01 08:16:20 -24:15
7 Boris Stein GER 00:54:10 04:23:04 02:55:19 08:16:56 -18:59
8 Bart Aernouts BEL 00:53:58 04:32:37 02:48:44 08:20:30 -11:45
9 Ivan Rana ESP 00:48:52 04:38:13 02:50:17 08:21:51 -09:47
10 Frederik Van Lierde BEL 00:48:49 04:35:33 02:53:21 08:21:59 -08:54
11 Andy Potts USA 00:48:02 04:35:46 02:56:56 08:25:35 -03:51
12 Matthew Russell USA 00:54:02 04:33:08 02:54:24 08:25:52 -25:27
13 David McNamee GBR 00:48:06 04:45:36 02:49:56 08:28:05 -04:28
14 Marko Albert EST 00:48:04 04:33:33 03:02:53 08:28:20 -12:34
15 Ronnie Schildknecht SUI 00:53:55 04:35:02 02:55:47 08:29:11 -04:35
16 Jesse Thomas USA 00:52:30 04:34:13 02:57:28 08:29:40 01:25
29 Lionel Sanders CAN 00:56:41 04:26:35 03:17:01 08:44:49 07:03
35 Luke McKenzie AUS 00:48:56 04:27:55 03:36:26 08:57:35 16:47
40 Harry Wiltshire GBR 00:48:00 05:00:47 03:31:25 09:24:18 28:01
41 Joe Skipper GBR 00:54:11 04:49:58 03:34:14 09:25:07 47:31

Based on the detailed splits, the “Race Development Graph” shows for various points on the course who was in the lead and who was how far back and in what position. This is the graph for the leaders in the MPro race (Harry Wiltshire into T1, Sebastian Kienle into T2) and the eventual Top 10 finishers:

Top10Male

Let’s have a closer look at the top finishers and how their races developed.

Jan Frodeno was the clear favorite to defend his title and there was immense pressure on him.

Kona2016Male Frodo

All day on the racecourse he did not show any weakness – he came out of the water with the front group (apparently a bit annoyed that Harry Wiltshire was first out of the water) and then rode with the front group on the bike. He was never out of the Top 10 and not more than a few seconds off the leader. After the race he said he had phases where he struggled, but there never seemed to be a real danger that he might get dropped from the leading group. Going into T2 he was 20 seconds behind Sebi, but a fast transition saw him in the lead at the start of the run. He ran the first ten miles shoulder-to-shoulder with Sebi, then slowly pulled away on Palani at around 10 miles. He steadily increased his lead up to four minutes and took his second Kona win with a final margin of 3:32. It was only in the finish line area after the race that one realized how much he had to work for his win, he struggled to make it onto the podium for the champagne ceremony, and almost everyone of the top finishers made up time to him in the last five miles. But that’s how to pace an Ironman – and while his win wasn’t as dominating as Daniela’s, all day there was never a doubt that he was in an excellent position to defend his title. Jan is the first male athlete since Craig Alexander in 2009 to successfully defend his Kona title.

Frodo

After he didn’t have a good Kona last year finishing 8th, Sebastian Kienle had a much better result this year and ended up in second place.

Kona2016Male Sebi

Sebi was hoping for his improved swim to limit the distance in T1 (maybe to two minutes as in 2015), but he was four and a half minutes behind at the start of the bike. He didn’t panic and methodically worked his way to the front of the race. By Hawi he had bridged up, and the front group started to break up soon after that. He continued to put pressure on Jan and the other racers and was first off the bike, but only by a small margin. He ran the first ten miles of the run together with Frodo, both of them running at roughly 2:38 marathon pace. Sebi had to slow down a bit more than Frodo, but he was still able to run strong: His 2:49 is his second fastest marathon to date, he was able to have the second best run of the front bike group and finished in second place. Similar to Rinny, one can speculate if that is a bit of a disappointment to him. He showed a solid race and stayed with Frodo for a long time, but if next year he wants to beat a Frodo in top shape, he will need to put more pressure on Frodo in order to crack him.

Sebi

With Patrick Lange another German finished in third place, and as in 1997 the German males swept the podium.

Kona2016Male Patrick

As Patrick hadn’t really completed a full Ironman before Kona (he qualified by winning the slightly shortened IM Texas), it was next to impossible to predict what he’d be able to do in Kona. He swam well (less than a minute off the top swimmers) and had closed the gap to the front when he received a penalty (apparently for blocking). Andi Raelert was in the penalty tent with him and encouraged him to stay relaxed even after dropping back into 42nd place. Patrick did not try to chase the front group and even though he lost another 5 minutes to the leaders, he started to move up in the field – at the start of the run he was 10:12 back in 22nd place. He was about as fast as Frodo and Sebi for the first 10 miles of the run and by the time he climbed Palani he had moved into the Top 10. By the time he hit the Energy Lab, he had run up to his friend and training partner Boris Stein, moving into 6th place. Each athlete he passed gave him more and more energy. At the end of the Energy Lab he was able to see third to fifth place in front of him, and picked off TO, Andi and Ben to move into third. By then he was flying and when he crossed the finish line he was clearly on an adrenaline high. His run split was 2:39:45, beating Mark Allen’s 1989 run course record. Patrick finished less than five minutes behind Frodo, so you could speculate about what might have happened if he hadn’t received the penalty. Even though he received his penalty early on the bike, it gave him a bit of a break and probably aided in a good run split – so it doesn’t make much sense to go too much into this “what if”. But here’s an interesting parallel between Frodo and Patrick: Both came third in their first Kona races with a great run split after receiving a penalty on the bike. Let’s see if Patrick’s run strength is forcing Frodo to adapt his typical strategy of just staying with the front group and then winning it on the run. If Patrick continues to improve with the experience from his first Ironman races, next year could get very interesting!

Patrick

With Ben Hoffman, Andi Böcherer and Tim O’Donnell there are three athletes in fourth to sixth place that were close to each other for most of the day, frequently shifting positions.

Kona2016Male Andi

Kona2016Male TO

Ben had the slowest swim of this group, but he quickly bridged up to the front group. All of them rode with the bike leaders, occasionally pushing the pace. Towards the finish line, Ben had to give everything to stay ahead of Andi who was very happy to finally improve on his 2011 eight place. TO had some dark patches both on the bike and the run, but he worked hard to stay in the race and a sixth place is a great result on a not quite perfect day for him.

BenAndiTO

Boris Stein was the fifth German finisher – in seventh place overall!

Kona2016Male Boris

Similar to last year, Boris was more than six minutes behind in T1. Before the race he indicated that he would try to ride up to front group, and he managed to do that before the start of the climb to Hawi by quickly riding up to Sebi (almost two minutes ahead of him after the swim!) and then working together with him. When the front group broke up, Boris was one of the Top 7 riders staying ahead, and he entered T2 just 35 seconds behind the lead. He was hoping for a Top 5 finish, but while his run was solid it was not good enough to contend for the podium spots. Maybe by riding up to the front group he had to exert too much energy to run faster than 2:55. Still, his marathon was more than three minutes quicker than last year, and with another improvement he’ll be a solid podium contender.

Boris

There was more close racing for the last spots in the Top 10, finally going to Bart Aernouts (8th), Ivan Rana (9th) and  Frederik Van Lierde (10th).

Kona2016Male Frederik

None of them were part of the front bike group. That was pretty much expected for Bart and Ivan, Bart is not a strong enough swimmer to make the front group and Ivan usually looses time on the bike. Frederik received a drafting penalty early in the bike, in almost the same spot as Patrick Lange. After the race Frederik said he struggled mentally with the penalty that he felt was unfair, but after serving his penalty it didn’t take him long to get back into the race and he had a strong ride on his own. On the run he also continued to overtake other athletes but then paid the price for his aggressive bike in the last miles when the stronger runners Bart (running a third-best 2:48) and Ivan caught up to him and he wasn’t able to fight back.

BartIvanFred

The athletes that finished just outside the Top 10 were also close together.

11To16

Four of them were able to ride with the front group for some time. Andi Potts only lost contact in the final part of the bike, he seemed pretty much gone when he lost seven minutes in the last hour of riding and crashed coming off his bike. But he ran well in the first half of the run, climbing as far as into 7th place at Palani (10 miles). But then he ran a bit out of steam, dropping back to 11th place. Marko Albert was able to limit the time lost on the bike, and he was in the Top 10 in the early parts of the run. But he was steadily loosing time to those around him, eventually finishing 14th. David McNamee had posted the fastest 2015 run split finishing 11th and was hoping for a Top 10 finish this year. But in the climb to Hawi he lost contact with the front group, dropping back all the way into 35th place in T2. Again, he was one of the fastest runners (his 2:49 was the fifth best time), moving through the field into 13th place. Though he was frustrated with the way his race developed, he was still able to beat Tom Lowe’s fastest time by a British athlete (Tom finished 8:29:02 in 2011). Going into Kona Jesse Thomas said he would be racing his own race. But he got caught up in the Kona atmosphere and rode up to the front group, only to get dropped on the climb to Hawi. The rest of the day (as he said on his blog) was tough: “I pushed every ounce of effort I had out of my body for the next FIVE FREAKING HOURS when all I wanted to do was stop.” Still, he held on to finish 16th – well within his pre-race “good performance” goal. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides to focus on in the next years.

Kona2016Male Jesse

Matt Russell and Ronnie Schildknecht never made it up to the front group on the bike but then were able to have solid 2:54 and 2:55 runs to improve their positions. Matt had his best Kona finish in 12th place, almost catching Andy Potts in the end. Compared to my predictions, he had one of the best races in Kona this year, improving on the predicted times in all three legs. In the past years Ronnie’s Kona efforts have often ended in a DNF, this year he was solid all day being able to move from 31st in T2 into 15th place at the finish.

Almost everyone in the Kona field has some interesting stories to tell about his or her race day. I just want to add some details about a few athletes: Luke McKenzie (orange line in the graph below) was in the lead group on the bike and fourth off the bike. He was in a good position while running on Ali’i Drive, but then struggled after running up Palani. In the end he finished in 35th place.

Kona2016Male Luke

Lionel Sanders (aqua line) and Joe Skipper (blue-gray line) are two athletes that were given good chances for a Top 10 finish before the race even though they are slower swimmers. Joe was six minutes behind after the swim. He started the ride with Boris Stein, closed the gap to Sebi and was moving towards the front of the race. But that seemed to be a bit too much for Joe – he started to fall back as soon as the climb to Hawi started. He was about a minute behind the leaders at the start of the climb, by the turnaround the gap was almost six minutes and it continued to grow to almost half an hour in T2. A 3:34 marathon (including a long walk with fellow Brit Will Clarke) saw him finish in 41st place. Lionel was even further behind after the swim (almost nine minutes), but he was a bit more cautious in closing the gap. By the turnaround in Hawi he was three minutes behind the leaders and had moved from 55th to 25th place. In the second half of the bike he was able to improve his place (13th in T2), but he started to loose some time to the leaders (his gap in T2 was six and a half minutes). The early part of the run went also well – by Palani he had moved into 8th place at about ten minutes back. But when things started to fall apart for him, he quickly fell back, ending his race with a 3:17 marathon in 29th place.

Other

(Photo Credit: A big “Thank You” to Jay Prasuhn for allowing me to use his great photos. Please respect his work and get in touch with him if you want to re-use the photos.)

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