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Female Rookie of the Year: Kaisa Lehtonen

The following profile is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details in this post or get your own free copy here.

Kaisa has been eying long-distance triathlon for a long time: “The first time I heard about this sport was when I was only 12 and my father told me about it. I instantly thought that it would be something very cool and so on one beautiful day I went out and did the longest discipline of IM, the 180 km ride, on my little pink mountain bike. After that I knew that Ironman would be my passion! However, I ended up swimming and didn’t start triathlon until high school. Then it was the Olympics I was heading for. My whole ITU career was packed with injuries and after one of those in the summer 2015 I really started to think what I want to do with the rest of my career. I felt in my heart that I have to follow that childhood dream and to go for Hawaii. So here I am!”

Her first Ironman race was IM Barcelona in October 2015, and she was in the lead from the start: “I never thought I would be the first out of water. Then on the bike I was leading all the way without knowing how hard I should push as my plan has been to follow the other women, not to go faster than them! But I started a little too fast and was pretty tired at the end of the bike, so Yvonne caught me at T2. During the marathon I was scared the whole the time: It was my first time running that distance so I did not know how it would be after 30k. Towards the end I was sure I would faint but somehow I survived until the finish line.” She makes it sound as if she exploded and barely walked the last 10k – but in fact even an experienced Ironman athlete such as Yvonne Van Vlerken was able to put less than three minutes into her. Kaisa finished in 8:48, the fourth fastest time of the 2015 season!

Going into her next IM, the African Regional Championships in South Africa, she was looking for a solid 5th place that would put her firmly on the road to Kona. She had another great day, and when some other athletes had problems (including Jodie Swallow who crashed on the bike when the helicopter was getting close to her), Kaisa ran a 3:02 marathon, the fastest of the day, and won the race and an automatic qualifier slot. “It was quite a surprise, winning was amazing! My feelings were a bit mixed as I was very happy to win the race and get my ticket to Kona, but at the same time I was sorry for Jodie as it is never nice to win when someone has been forced to pull out because of bad luck. But my goal in Ironman racing is to find my own limits and to do my very best on race day, so I don’t want to focus too much on what everybody else is doing.”

After qualifying, Kaisa was very much looking forward to Kona, but didn’t feel too much pressure to place well: “My goal was to enjoy the experience of fulfilling that childhood dream! My goal was just to do a solid race without blowing up and to collect as much experience as possible for the next years. My coach Paul Sjöholm and I thought that Top 10 might be possible.” Her ‘Sport for Good’ teammate Timo Bracht mentioned her as a solid Top 5 contender: “I did not believe it when Timo told about that Top 5 prediction!” But in the end Timo was right, and Kaisa had a great Kona debut. After a slow swim she didn’t panic but worked for the first two hours on the bike to ride up to Mirinda Carfrae’s group: “For some reason I swam a little too easy and getting out of the water I was full of energy and excitement. After I caught Rinny I was riding with her for a while, then took up a faster pace again. I did have a goal wattage but I started way too fast and blew up a lot more than planned.

“After a slow T2 I caught Rinny at about 1k. At this point I could not believe that I was running with her. The audience was incredible and I got so excited that I overtook Rinny and at some point I heard that I had a lead on her of more than 15 seconds. Timo ran in the other direction and was yelling to me not to be crazy and to slow down. Then I got scared. I knew I was in real trouble, what a rookie mistake! Rinny caught me and I was trying to go with her for as long as I could so I would get some draft advantage in the head wind, but soon after the 10k mark I had to let Rinny go. I had to dig really deep and recalculate what might be the fastest pace for my body to do the marathon without having to crawl at the end.”

Jay Prasuhn captured Kaisa getting water from Peter Reid in the Energy Lab – it’s pretty clear she didn’t recognize him:

“I was so dead that the only thing I could think about was to go straight and to survive to the next aid station! But quite cool to see that Peter Reid gave me water – thanks a lot to him!” Again, she makes it sound as if she completely blew up, but she finished in fifth place, lost only five minutes to Mirinda Carfrae and towards the end almost caught fourth place finisher Anja Beranek.

Kaisa received a lot of attention in her home country: “Triathlon is now a quite fast growing sport in Finland and it has been very nice to see that my performance has inspired new people to try this sport. However, the most heart-warming welcome after Kona I received from some of my best training mates – the lovely grandpas and grandmas with whom I share the lanes in the local pool every morning. They bought some beautiful flowers for me and were all incredibly happy and proud of me!”

After Kona, Kaisa made some changes to further improve over the long distance. “I now have a new coach, Siri Lindley. We were working with my former coach Paul Sjöholm for 18 years but after Kona I really felt that I needed someone more experienced with IM racing to be able to take the next step. Of course it was not easy for either of us to let go from our long term relationship, but this change gave us both great new opportunities. His biggest strength and passion is in Olympic distance and coaching younger athletes – maybe not so much in coaching this ‘old diesel machine’. Despite of our paths going in different directions, Paul will always stay as one of the most important persons behind my sports career.

“I saw Siri in Kona at one swim session where she was coaching Mirinda, and I said to my boyfriend that it would be so awesome to have that kind of a positive and passionate coach one day! So when I contacted a few coaches around the world this autumn, Siri just felt best for me. It’s a great honor to join Team Sirius.”

Siri is also happy to work with Kaisa: “Kaisa is such a great athlete, and a phenomenal human being. I am so excited to have the opportunity to really work with her. Training her specifically for the great challenges of Kona, our goal is to build up her strength, fitness and speed so that she can be consistently performing at the highest levels, while staying healthy, motivated, happy and fulfilled!

“The training she is doing now will be quite different to what she is used to. It is exactly what she needs to get to the next level of performance. We are an amazing fit as athlete and coach, and are one million percent committed to achieving all new levels of performance, and fulfillment in the sport. We are both so excited to embark upon this great journey together!”

Kaisa describes how they plan to work together: “I was in Boulder for ten days in late November so Siri and I got to know each other. Now for the winter I will be training in Spain so the coaching will happen through TrainingPeaks and Skype. In the spring I will go to Boulder for about six weeks and then also for at least three months before Kona. I really look forward to these blocks in Boulder as that will be the first time for me that I’ll be training with other world class Ironman athletes!”

The coaching change is a clear sign to me that Kaisa has bigger goals in mind than just another fifth place finish in Kona. It’ll be interesting to see what improvements she will be able to make under the guidance of Siri in the next years.

(Photo: Three-time Kona winner Peter Reid handing water to Kaisa in the Energy Lab aid station. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

“Fall Down Seven Times, Get up Eight” – Natascha Badman Will End Her Career in Kona 2016

Natascha Badmann is one of the true legends of triathlon: She started her career in the early 1990 as a duathlete (winning a number of European and World titles over short and long distances) and had some success in short-course triathlon (including a European title in 1997). She is best known for her string of six wins in Kona between 1998 and 2005, racing with her trademark smile.

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(Credit: Garr Reynolds’ rendering of an old Japanese saying, from his “Presentation Zen” blog.)

Natascha has had a lot of ups and downs in her long career. During the Kona race in 2007 she crashed on the bike, apparently trying to avoid a motor cycle in a construction zone. It took her a long time to recover from multiple injuries that threatened to end her career, only by 2011 she was able to finish her next Ironman race in Lanzarote. (She covers the Kona accident and her recovery in her book “9 Hours to Glory”, currently only available in German as “9 Stunden zum Ruhm”.) She won another Ironman race (IM South Africa 2012) and also raced well in Kona (14th in 2011, 6th in 2012, 14th in 2013). Her most recent race in Kona was in 2014 where she finished 24th after a flat tire.

One of Natascha’s goals for the 2016 season was to race Kona one more time. She almost qualified under the KPR rules (ending up as the 5th alternate) and ended up with a wild card slot. This post looks at Natascha’s path towards racing Kona 2016.

Planning to Qualify for Kona 2016

NataschaProfilePicTo put Natascha’s plans for the 2016 season into context, one has to look at her 2014 and 2015 seasons. In early 2014 she was hit by a car when training on the bike. Originally she had planned to do IM Melbourne, but that was too close to the accident and she switched to IM South Africa, which was still to early and resulted in a DNF. In order to secure a last minute Kona slot she had to race both IM Germany and IM Switzerland just three weeks apart. Her Kona race didn’t go too well, she had a flat on the bike and finished in 24th place.

After Kona 2014 Natascha needed some more time to properly recover from the injuries she had suffered in her most recent accident and the amount of racing she had to do to make it to Kona. “When I talked to my doctor about racing again, he asked ‘Do you know how old you are?’ I think he suggested I should retire – but that’s a song I heard before!” She skipped the 2015 European summer racing season but planned her qualifying campaign: “I want to race Kona again in 2016. It would be 20 years after my first race in 1996 [where she finished second to Paula Newby-Fraser] and I’d race with a ‘Kona Age’ of 50 [she is born in 1966 so would be racing in the women’s 50-54 agegroup if she didn’t race as a Pro]. But first I have to qualify!”

In order to qualify under the “Kona Pro Ranking” Natascha would have to finish on the podium in three Ironman races and another two 70.3s between September 2015 and July 2016 – a lot of racing for an older athlete usually dealing with a niggle or two that makes even regular training a struggle.

(Photo: Natascha in a relaxed mood, Credit: Georg Wallner / Red Bull Content Pool)

Fall 2015

Natascha was optimistic going into her first race of the qualifying period, IM Vichy. She wasn’t too far back after the swim, and she is still one of the strongest bike riders among the female Pros. In T2 she had a ten minute lead but her lack of run training showed and she fell back to third place, less than two minutes behind second place. (Both winner Gurutze Frades and second place Tine Holst went on to qualify for Kona.)

Just five weeks later Natascha started another Ironman race, IM Barcelona. She hadn’t yet fully recovered from Vichy and decided to end her race shortly after T2. “I’ve had the legs for a great bike split [4:40:22] – it would have been a new course record – but I wasn’t yet ready for a good run. I decided to save the energy for my next race.” Another five weeks later she took the long trip to Malaysia for her next Ironman race. This time she had another solid race: A well executed bike allowed her to run strong, finishing in third place – the minimum she needed to stay on her path to Kona.

Spring 2016

Natascha still wanted to qualify for Kona 2016 and after her 2015 results she was on track but still needed another good Ironman – and some points from 70.3 races. She decided to race the South American 70.3 Championships in early April as part of her build-up to her next Ironman race. Another niggle kept her from doing solid run training during the winter, but as 70.3 Brasilia was a higher points race, even an 8th place was par for Kona qualifying. She had to smile when five minutes before the start it was announced that the race would be delayed to wait for the sun to rise and much enjoyed racing in somewhat “less rigid” circumstances.

Natascha planned to do her next Ironman in Brasil as well – the high-points race of Regional Championships in Florianopolis at the end of May would be a good chance to score the remaining points for her Kona slot. However her coach and partner Toni Hasler was in a bike crash. “Toni had some skull fractures, a broken collarbone and broken ribs that punctured his lung. Flying was impossible for him, and I wanted to care for him during his recovery. He was with me for all my ups and downs, and he was at my side in 2007 after my accident.” She changed her plans and targeted IM France in early June depending on Toni’s condition but also registered for IM Austria three weeks later.

Summer 2016

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Toni was quickly feeling better and getting adventurous, but Natascha’s niggles kept her once again from decent training. They decided to scout the course of IM France – only to be robbed when thugs slashed their tires. (Luckily the most valuable things stolen were their laptops – not her one-of-a-kind Cheetah bike.) The race itself wasn’t much better: After getting beaten up for most of the swim, she was frustrated when big packs rolled by her in the early parts of the bike course. Once again she decided to save her legs for another race. Two weeks after Nice she raced 70.3 Italy. She placed sixth but crashed in rainy conditions on the bike and was barely able to finish the run. It was quickly apparent that she wouldn’t be able to race Austria or the European Championships in Germany one week later. Her last chance to qualify would be her home race, IM Switzerland.

Natascha was barely able to race six weeks after her crash. Even so she posted up the second best bike split (behind Daniela Ryf who was on her way to the first sub-9 finish in Zürich) and reached T2 still in sight of the podium places. But her lack of proper run training showed and she didn’t have the run legs to place better than 9th. This left her as the fifth alternate in the July rankings.

Improving her ranking and qualifying in August would have required her to place well in another Ironman – that would have been her sixth Ironman start within less than one year, in the hopes of racing another Ironman in Kona. However Natascha decided she wasn’t recovered enough to place well in another Ironman and was forced to accept that she wouldn’t be able to race Kona 2016.

(Photo: Natascha readies her unique “CAT Cheetah” bike for IM Switzerland. Supplied by Natascha.)

Receiving a Wild Card for Her Last Pro Race

On September 17th Ironman announced the official Professional start list for Kona, and the last athlete on the list was Natascha with bib number 144: “To commemorate her retirement from professional racing” she had received a wild card slot from Ironman in order to be able to participate in the Professional wave. She has made it clear that this will be her last Professional race – and this wonderful gesture by Ironman allows her to end her extraordinary career in an appropriate location: Racing the Ironman World Championship in Kona, the site of her greatest successes.

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:

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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:

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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.”

Yvonne Van Vlerken: Roth is My #1 Race

Yvonne Van Vlerken has been a perennial contender in long distance triathlon for the last ten years: Since her debut at Challenge Roth (8:51:55 in 2007) she has won a total of eleven IM-distance races and raced four times in Kona, with a best result of second in 2008. Last season she qualified again for Kona, but she declined her slot after racing Roth in July and instead focused on the buildup for the 2016 season.

Taking Care of Business: Kona Qualifying

When Ironman announced a new Ironman in the Netherlands, they also announced two Dutch athletes that would race there in August: Bas Diederen and Yvonne Van Vlerken. Bas raced IM Germany five weeks before, then won IM Maastricht but struggled in Kona and DNF’d. Yvonne’s racing plan was even tighter: She raced Roth and Maastricht within four weeks, and after she went sub-9 in Roth, she had her slowest Ironman finish so far in Maastricht, still winning the race.

After Maastricht it was time for Yvonne to set up her 2016 summer. She had two major goals for this year’s season: To race her favorite long-distance race in Roth but also to prepare well for Kona without racing too much over the summer. In order to do that, she needed to secure a safe spot for Kona 2016 as early as possible. A big first step towards that was to race IM Barcelona in October. She had to work extremely hard for the win – a 3:02 run and an 8:46 finish gave her a margin of less than two minutes over Kaisa Lehtonen who was shoulder-to-shoulder with her for most of the run. (Kaisa went on to win this year’s IM South Africa.)

With the fall season coming to Europe, Yvonne and her parter Per Bittner had the chance to travel to Australia and race the southern hemisphere season. While not taking first place in the races she started, she finished third at IM Western Australia and had two second places in the 70.3s in Mandurah and Ballarat. While that still left some doubt, it pretty much made her safe for a Kona slot. As she planned some more prep races in Europe where she could also score a few more points, she was able to relax a bit and plan her build-up towards Challenge Roth with coach Siri Lindley.

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(Photo: Yvonne finishing third at IM Western Australia. Credit: witsup)

Chasing Records in Roth

With her 8:46 in Barcelona 2015, Yvonne managed to take the first of Chrissie Wellington’s many records: Yvonne is the first women to finish ten Ironman-distance races in under nine hours, surpassing Chrissie’s mark of nine sub-9 finishes. For this year’s Challenge Roth, Yvonne is again looking for a good race and a fast finish. Here are some potential goals she is looking at:

  1. Improve her personal best (currently 8:43:07 from Florida 2013) or her fastest time in Roth (8:45:48 from 2008 which was the world best time for a female at that point)
  2. Add to her list of sub-9 finishes (10 sub-9s so far)
  3. Become the woman with the most wins in Roth. She’s currently tied at three wins with Chrissie Wellington (2009-11) and Paula Newby-Fraser back from the times when Roth was “Ironman Europe” (1992, 1994-95). Jürgen Zack has the most Roth wins with five (1994-96 and 1998-99), Chris McCormack has four wins (2004-7).
  4. Try to take the record for the fastest finish by a pair of athletes in one race. Yvonne likes to call this “Pärchen-Rekord“, a play on her partner’s first name (Per, pronounced like the English “pair”) and the German word for pair (either “Paar” or the diminutive “Pärchen”). This is another record currently held by Chrissie with her partner Tom Lowe dating back to Arizona 2010 with 16:47:57 (8:11:44 + 8:36:13). Yvonne’s and Per’s best is currently just eight minutes slower at 16:55:22 (8:04:29 + 8:50:53) from Roth last year. My predictions for them have a combined total for them of 17:10:53, so both of them will need to have great races to attack that record!

While this would allow her to break some more of Chrissie’s records, she freely admits that Chrissie was on another level and that she could never be as fast. A humble statement from the athlete that has gone sub-9 more often than any other woman!

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(Photo: Yvonne and Per after racing in Ingolstadt in early June. Yvonne won the Middle Distance, Per was second in the Olympic Distance race. Credit: Ingo Kutsche)

Caroline Livesey

Life Before Turning Pro

ClimbingWhen Caroline Livesey decided to do her first Ironman, she was a Royal Engineer Officer in the British Army stationed in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Before joining the Army, she was massively into rock climbing and jokes that she still has “forearms that no sane triathlete needs”. She did a lot of expedition routes in Africa and South America, and the demands of 12 to 15 hour-long days made her incredibly fit. When she joined the Army in 2003, she was one of the fittest in her platoon at officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. She didn’t have a background in swimming or biking, still one of the physical training instructors pointed her towards triathlon. Her “first triathlon was absolutely dreadful”, but she was quickly putting out impressive power on the bike. When she met her future husband Mark in 2007  she started to take triathlon more serious and was fifth in her agegroup at the ITU World Champs in 2008.

(Photo: Caroline on a 2006 climb in Kalymnos, Greece.)

In 2010 the Army sent her to Afghanistan as an Engineer to design and manage infrastructure projects. She had to work in full body armor in the Afghanistan heat and dust.
Recce of damaged bridge

(Photo: Caroline in full gear, reviewing the site of a damaged bridge in Afghanistan.)

Almost anything sounds good compared to Afghanistan, so when her fiancee (now husband) Mark suggested Mexico as the destination for their honeymoon, she quickly accepted – even when Mark casually mentioned doing Ironman Cozumel as part of it. Caroline’s engineering background has taught her to deal with problems, so her training in Afghanistan was on two routes – either the camp perimeter which was less than a kilometer or the helipad which was roughly 400 meters. The bike had to be done on the trainer. She finished Cozumel 2010 in 10:42, Mark even qualified for Kona. She qualified herself with a 10:02 at Texas 2014, broke 10 hours with a 9:46 in Austria and finished third in her agegroup on the Big Island with a 10:13. What was planned as a “one off” experience and only a temporary break from climbing had quickly developed into a quest to find out how good she can be.

2015: First Pro Season

By 2015 Caroline had left the Army and was working as a geotechnical consultant, dealing with projects such as cliff stabilization or building and maintaining dams. Even with a full time job she decided that getting her Pro card was the best way to find out how she measured up against the best women in the sport. As a “rational  engineer” she gives practical reasons for turning Pro (such as easier registration for races), but talking to her it’s clear that that’s not the main reason. Most of the other Professional athletes with a Kona focus are either delaying, suspending or scaling back their career, at least for the time that they are racing professionally, but Caroline loves both her job and racing too much to want to decide between the two. “I don’t want to give up Engineering, I’ve worked so hard to be where I am with my job, so racing as a Pro never meant going full-time. Ironman racing is never going to pay my way – I earn the money in my job so I can go racing. I’m not an Olympic Champion or Ironman Champion such as Jan Frodeno, but it was amazing to sit next to him at the IM Lanzarote press conference in a beautiful hotel. I know that being part of this crazy circus is not going to last, so why not have a good time!”

IMUK PodiumCaroline’s first Pro race was IM South Africa in March 2015. In the deep Regional Championship field she finished in 12th place. She received a lot more attention in her next race when she grabbed her first Pro podium with a 3rd place at IM Lanzarote. She backed that up with her current personal best Pro IM: A 10:05 at IM UK was good enough for a second place behind a dominating Lucy Gossage – a result beyond her “wildest dreams”. At the start of the year she did not think about Kona at all, but after these great results “just one more” good race at 70.3 Wiesbaden would have given her enough points for an August slot. But she was probably exhausted after racing three IMs in the first half of the year – her body wanted to “call it a day and hit the off season with gusto”. After a disappointing 11th place finish she was five spots short of qualifying – similar to a couple of other female Pros who raced well across the year, but just not quite good enough for a slot. Looking back, she realized that she had lacked a plan geared towards qualifying.

(Photo: Caroline (left) on the IM UK podium, Credit: Finisher Pix)

Planning 2016

Caroline started the 2016 season with the clear goal of qualifying for Kona as a Pro. Qualifying for Kona means being ranked as one of the Top 35 female Pros in the Kona Pro Ranking. She is disgusted that there are more Pro slots for the men, making qualifying harder for the women and requiring them to race more often. To be ranked in the Top 35 female Pros she will have to score about 4.500 points in her races. (The actual number will depend on how athletes race and may end up higher or lower, but 4.500 is a good starting point.) To translate this into race results, it corresponds to three third places in “normal” Ironman races (roughly 3.800 points), and some more points from 70.3s. As a male, about 3.500 points are needed to be ranked well enough for a Kona slot, which can be achieved with two podium IM finishes and some more points from 70.3 races. While frustrated about this inequality, she has to work within the rules that Ironman has decided on.

To reach her goal of Kona qualifying, Caroline was well aware that she would need some exceptional races. She planned to race at least four full distance Ironman races, knowing that racing a lot is very hard on the body. As she is still working full-time she has to squeeze her racing into long weekends of unpaid leave – probably not sustainable for the long term. She started to collect points towards Kona 2016 in the fall of 2015 with a podium finish at 70.3 Turkey. As one of her Ironman races she had picked Ironman Malaysia in November 2015. The hot, humid race usually doesn’t attract many athletes and is therefore a good scoring opportunity. However, she couldn’t spend much time getting acclimatized to the conditions, and realized pretty early in the race that she was overheating. She wasn’t able to finish the race and therefore couldn’t improve her KPR ranking. But she quickly turned around to race 70.3 Bahrain just three weeks later. A fifth place finish gave her a total of 1.100 points at the end of 2015. That was pretty much what she needed from 70.3 races (and gave her a slot in the 2016 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia), but she would have to score the bulk of the Kona points in her 2016 Ironman races if she wanted to qualify.

Caroline was optimistic for her first Ironman of 2016 in Lanzarote. After a prep 70.3 race in cold Pays d’Aix her goal was to finish on the podium by racing smart on the bike and then having a strong run. Her swim and bike went well (she biked 14 minutes faster than a year ago) and she was in fourth place at the start of the run.

CarolineLanza
(Photo: Caroline on the IM Lanzarote bike course. Credit: James Mitchell Photography/Club la Santa)

But a couple of athletes had great runs while she struggled to hold her pace. She ended up in fifth place after promising herself on the run to retire from the sport. Her husband Mark was able to qualify as an age grouper in Lanzarote, and just one night after the race Caroline was back to being highly motivated to qualify as well. She had registered for Ironman France which gave her only two weeks of recovery. Even with lots of work and last minute travel planning she tried to make the most of it. But her race in France was similar to Lanzarote – after a good swim and bike (her fastest IM bike leg so far) she was within minutes of Leanda Cave who was in third place. The first 10k went well: She made up one place and was closing the gap to Leanda, but at around 15k she started to struggle. After the second of four run loops she had dropped back to eighth place and she decided to call it a day in order to save the legs for the next race.

Before Ironman Frankfurt

Caroline’s next race is Ironman Frankfurt – the fourth Ironman start in her quest towards Kona 2016 qualifying. In the Kona Pro Ranking she is at 1.870 points, and she could secure a Kona slot by finishing third (=2.890 points). However, that is an unrealistic goal for her in the strong and deep field in Frankfurt. More realistic goals for her are to finish “in the money” (Frankfurt is paying 10 deep) and to set a new Ironman PR on the fast Frankfurt course – currently her best Pro time is 10:05 from Ironman UK 2015 (she also has a 9:46 from Austria 2014 as an agegrouper). But I think the main goal for her should be to have “a good race”, one where she can still race well in the second half of the run and make up some places. If she manages to do that, she should also score well in the Regional Championship race (for example a seventh place is 1.335 points, similar to a third place in a “normal” IM). With good points from Frankfurt I’m sure she’ll continue to work to qualify for Kona – even if it means to race her fifth Ironman of the season before the final cutoff in August!

All photos supplied by Caroline.

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