Well Ranked Pros Not Racing Kona

There are a number of professional athletes that are ranked high in the KPR but still won’t be racing Kona: Some didn’t race an Ironman even though they would have had enough points to qualify (“Didn’t Validate”), some declined the slots they were offered (“Declined”). This post looks at these athletes and discusses their reasons for not being on the startline in Kona. To those that can’t race Kona this year because of an injury, speedy healing!

Emma Bilham (SUI, Declined)

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Emma has been racing as a Pro in 70.3s in 2014 and 2015, including a 10th place at the 70.3 Worlds in 2015. This season she continued to race well in  70.3s but also stepped up to the full distance, quickly finding great success: Two second places at IM France (behind five-time winner Tine Deckers) and at IM Switzerland (behind Daniela Ryf posting the first sub-9 in Zürich) gave her enough points for a Kona slot.

After some deliberation, she decided to decline her slot. “Mainly I’m not going to Kona this year as it’s my first year doing long distance races and I don’t believe I have the necessary experience to tackle Kona yet, or the level to produce a competitive result. Also, it is an expensive trip which requires a great deal of physical and nervous energy. At this stage in my career I would rather focus on other races around that time to pick up valuable experience, points and hopefully some pennies, to put towards 2017. My next races include Challenge Mogan (Gran Canaria), IM Mallorca, possibly Asia and IM Malaysia. I’m just going with the flow this year and following my nose and heart!”

If she continues to learn as fast as she has this season, I have no doubt that she’ll be racing Kona very soon .. and that she’ll be competitive!

Photo: Emma finishing second at IM France, Credit: Getty Images for Ironman

Liz Blatchford (AUS, Didn’t Validate)

After a great third place in Kona 2015, Liz was practically assured a slot – provided she finished another Ironman race to fulfill the minimum requirements. She decided to focus on her “home race” IM Cairns that she had won three times in a row from 2013 to 2015. The fact that is was designated the Asia-pacific Regional Championship was another good reason to race there. While she was racing some 70.3s in the months leading up to Cairns, a foot injury kept her from doing proper run training and she was forced to cancel her start at Cairns, instead supporting the race on the media side being part of the IMLive broadcast.

Liz was optimistic that putting her foot in a boot would quicken up the healing – here’s a picture she posted on Instagram shortly before Cairns:

LizPhoto

She hoped to be able to race IM Mont Tremblant – a race she’s done before her two Kona podiums finishing fourth and second, and one she’d love to win. However in late July she had to announce that she won’t be able to race after all:

“I’m homeward bound which means no Ironman anytime soon.. which unfortunately means no Kona. It seems this little foot and perhaps the universe has other plans for me this year. Still unable to run and with no known return to running date, getting through an Ironman in the next month is just not an option. I’m in a surprisingly good head space about it. I’m actually very grateful that my foot, with basically the same injury last year, was less symptomatic and allowed me to get through Kona so well.”

Michelle Bremer (AUS, Declined)

Michelle has raced very well in the 2016 season: She started the “Australian summer” with two fifth places in 70.3s, then was sixth at IM New Zealand and almost won IM Australia when she posted a new marathon PR of 3:11 but was run down by Beth Gerdes who ran a 2:56. After a fourth place at the Regional Championships in Cairns she had more than enough points for a July slot.

She had some time to make a decision about her slot, but finally declined: “My heart wasn’t in racing at Kona this year. We have had an expensive year with buying a new home, furniture, car and puppy, and Kona is a very expensive trip. The final decision was made with being sick with the flu and chest infection the past couple of weeks – so I just felt that I’m better off physically, mentally and financially bypassing Kona this year and allowing someone else who really wants to race there to have the slot! I’ll be there racing one day in the near future for sure, just not this year.”

Beth Gerdes (USA, Declined)

Beth seems to always be on the edge of Pro Kona qualifying. Last season she had to do a lot of racing until she finally secured her slot by winning IM Switzerland in late July. After a 15th place in Kona she focused on 70.3 racing for most of the Australian summer. In May she was able to get her second IM win by running a spectacular 2:56 marathon at IM Australia – followed by getting married to fellow Pro Luke McKenzie. After that she wanted to defend her Switzerland title, but things didn’t go to plan and she took “a mind and body break”. This left her on the edge for July qualifying – after all the racing was done she ended up in the final July slot.

While Beth initially accepted her slot, she was forced to decline it a few days later. In early August she wrote on her blog: “Just as I was hopeful that things were starting to pick up again, I got another doozy. I have a pretty large cyst that needs to be removed with a minor surgery. As it is in the ‘saddle region’- no cycling for 4 to 6 weeks. Just under 10 weeks out from Kona, that’s a deal-breaker for me, especially on top of all the other things I have going on right now. So, although I accepted a July qualification spot, I am returning that slot to another deserving woman.” For now Beth is focused on helping husband Luke in his lead-up to Kona.

Rachel Joyce (GBR, Didn’t Validate)

After Rachel’s second place in Kona 2015 it was a bit of surprise when she announced in March that she was pregnant and would be sitting out the 2016 season. She has written at length on witsup (“A Joyful Bump in the Road for Joyce“) how she and her partner Brett Hedges decided to prioritize getting pregnant. Qualifying and racing in Kona was obviously out of the question for her and while she would like to return to racing, she says she doesn’t have a fixed schedule and will take things based on how she feels after the birth. On August 8th, Rachel gave birth to little Archie and posted this photo on Instagram:

Archie

Congratulations to Rachel and Brett, enjoy this new exciting phase in your lives!

Chris Leiferman (USA, Declined)

When Chris was lining up for IM Mont Tremblant, he had scored a decent number of points in 70.3 races (including a second place at 70.3 Boulder) – but I considered his chances of qualifying as more as less theoretical as it would require a win in his first Pro Ironman against a very good field including defending Champion Jordan Rapp and a number of other, more experienced athletes looking for Kona points. But winning the race is exactly what he did, storming into first place with a 2:45 run on a day when there were only three sub-3h runs. This was enough for him to move into the 10th and final qualifying spot in the August KPR.

Chris quickly declined his slot, here’s his view: “The biggest reason of me not taking my Kona slot is because it wasn’t part of the plan. I want a little more experience in the fulls before I put a giant financial stress on racing in Hawaii. And I’m not only wanting experience for Kona, I’m wanting experience for the full distance as a whole. So more fulls will do that for me.”

Caroline Steffen (SUI, Didn’t Validate)

Caroline has had some great results in Kona, coming close to winning in 2010 (when she finished second to Miranda Carfrae) and 2012 (second to Leanda Cave). She’s been eying the top spot for a while, and her two 5th places in 2013 and 2014 were almost disappointments for her. Her 2015 season didn’t go to well with a lot of little injuries and sicknesses, in Kona a stomach bug only allowed her to finish ninth after a long, hard day of grinding it out.

For 2016 Caroline took a different approach. She decided to travel not quite as much and to focus on 70.3 racing, winning or finishing second in a long list of races. She finished a very respectable fifth in the 70.3 Championships in her adopted home town in Mooloolaba. Under the guidance of her new coach, Daniel Plews, expect her to be back to Ironman Hawaii next year – and to be a serious contender for at least a podium finish!

Matt Trautman (ZAF, Declined)

So far Matt hasn’t had much success racing Kona as a Pro. He turned Pro after he was the second fastest agegrouper in Kona 2013, last year he qualified but then broke his collarbone in June, still managing to start in Kona. After being in the second pack in the swim he tried to catch the lead group with Marino Vanhoenacker, Bart Aernouts and Ronnie Schildknecht but thinks he “overcooked in the heat”. Similar to the athletes he was riding with, he ended his race shortly after the start of the run.

Matt had a solid 2016 season: A fourth place in the Regional Championships in South Africa and a few nice wins in 70.3s (Korea, South Africa, Staffordshire and Durban) easily qualified him in the July KPR. But in early July he announced on Twitter that he was having problems that were subsequently diagnosed as a broken ankle:

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At that point his hopes for Kona were slim and by the end of July he declined his slot.

By the end of August he has made some progress: “Updated situation is that the fracture has healed and so now I’m starting the rehab process. Will run in the Alter-G for the next week or so then will look at getting back in the road. No race plans yet but looking at November/December.”

Annah Watkinson (ZAF, Declined)

This year was Annah’s first season as a Professional after picking up triathlon pretty late in her life: “I dabbled in gymnastics (started too old – which seems to be the theme of my sporting life), running then cycling (due to a boyfriend – the usual story) and started triathlon in 2010.” She had some great results as an agegrouper, including qualifying three times for Kona (but only racing it once), finishing 3rd in the W30-34 agegroup in Kona 2015 and posting a 9:31 in Austria 2015 that is faster than the South African Pro record of 9:37 by Diane Emery. She is coached by South African Ironman legend Raynard Tissink, and it was Raynard who suggested to consider racing Pro – much to her surprise. “My career as an Investment Banker has been my focus for most of my life, so taking your foot off the gas at work was a tough decision. Even though I am racing Pro, I still have a full time job to take into consideration and it still influences a lot of my decisions, recovery, training and racing opportunities overseas. Ultimately Raynard believes it is still holding back my progress – not necessarily to how far I can go, but rather how quickly I get there.”

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Annah didn’t take long to adjust to the new level of racing: Her Pro debut was a 3rd place in 70.3 South Africa in January 2016 followed by an 8th place at her home Ironman in Port Elizabeth. This summer she won 70.3 Durban, was 9th in 70.3 Vineman as part of her build up towards IM Lake Placid where she finished second. “I have used every race this year as validation of my decision to race professionally and I feel that although I am making gains, there is still a big gap between myself and those top girls. I had to change my mental state, from ‘oh my goodness, these are all the athletes I looked up to’ to ‘these are my competitors, I am ready to race them’ – it is getting there but has been a real challenge.” Even though she was short of the cutoff in July and didn’t race in August, she received the last August qualifying slot which she declined.

“It was tough to decline the spot – but without a doubt in my mind it is the right decision. When I decided to turn Pro it was with the idea that I could (on the perfect day) be in a position to get into the Top 10 at Kona. Unless I am doing better in the local and international races, I am not going to Kona just for an experience. I have been to Kona twice and I want to at least be competitive even if I don’t get the result I want. I will be racing at IM Barcelona this year and a couple of 70.3 races at the end of the year.”

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