Female Podium at IM Frankfurt

A lot has been written about IM Germany at Frankfurt: Anne Haug not racing with an injury, the Frodo vs. Sebi duel, Patrick’s sub-standard day, or Sarah True being forced to abandon almost in sight of the finish line. Some of these stories have been continued right after Frankfurt, some are analyzed as precursors for Kona, and most will get a new chapter in Kona. But a few weeks after Frankfurt (and my nice vacation right after Frankfurt), I feel that a closer look at the athletes who finished on the female podium is still missing. So without wanting to take away from the other athletes and their often still developing stories, here are more details about the female podium in Frankfurt!

First, here’s a table with the results of the athletes mentioned in is post:

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time Diff to exp. Prize Money
1 Skye Moench USA 00:57:32 04:58:39 03:14:01 09:15:31 -31:34 US$ 30,000
2 Imogen Simmonds SUI 00:52:42 05:03:30 03:24:38 09:26:01 n/a US$ 15,000
3 Jen Annett CAN 00:59:26 05:12:28 03:19:07 09:36:25 -03:45 US$ 8,000
4 Amelia Watkinson NZL 00:52:41 05:14:49 03:36:11 09:49:32 n/a US$ 6,500
Sarah True USA 00:52:40 05:03:42 DNF
Daniela Bleymehl GER 00:57:48 04:59:00 DNF
Kimberley Morrison GBR 00:57:37 06:42:29 DNF

In addition, here is the race development graph showing who was in the lead and who was how far back:

FRA WPRO RaceDevelopment

Before the Race

The women who ended up on the podium at the Ironman European Championships in Frankfurt were lining up with different expectations.

Jen Annett was the only one who was invited to the pre-race press conference on Thursday. She was excited to race in Frankfurt: “I have never traveled outside of North America, so this is a huge new experience for me. There were a few reasons why I chose Ironman Frankfurt this year. Timing, more Kona spots, more opportunity to travel this year, and I’ve been told that racing in Europe is an amazing experience. Going into this race, I was nervous and worried. Not because of the race itself, but a heatwave had come through Europe and the forecasted temp for race day was 39 C. I have NEVER had a good race in extreme heat, and they usually end with me puking my way through the run. I have been working on my hydration and nutrition very closely since last year, trying to figure out patterns and causes for things. It is inevitable that heat will affect everyone, and I really felt that race day was going to come down to the one that could handle the heat the best.”

Jen PressEvent

Skye Moench had raced in Frankfurt the year before, finishing in seventh place. Since then she had finished second at IM Switzerland and was able to post a sub-9 finish for a fourth place at IM Arizona. She had trained well in leading into the 2019 season and was eager to find out where she was at: “I never expect anything from a race, and given it was my first Ironman of the year, and at the peak of the European heatwave, I wasn’t sure how things would play out! I do expect a lot from myself, and I could tell from how training was feeling, and how my few 70.3 races before Frankfurt went, that I was feeling good and prepared for a solid Ironman. I have been steadily improving under Cam, so I was excited to see what I could produce in Frankfurt.”

While Skye and Jen were thinking about Kona qualifying on a good day, Imogen Simmonds didn’t really know what to expect from Frankfurt: She was just getting ready for her debut on the long distance. Coming off a dominating win at 70.3 Luxembourg she was clearly someone to watch, but there is a long list of promising rookies who never managed to replicate their 70.3 successes.

Swim

As was expected before the race, the small female field was quickly strung out. At the front of the race it was Sarah True who was setting the pace, but Imo and another “Iron-rookie”, Amelia Watkinson, were able to stay on Sarah’s feet. They started to build a solid lead: At the Australian Exit after 1.8k they were already two minutes ahead of the next group with Daniela Bleymehl, Kim Morrison and Skye. Jen was working to stay with them but had already lost 24 seconds to them.

The groups stayed together but the gaps between them got larger until the end of the swim: Sarah was first out of the water, closely followed by Amelia and Imo. Skye, Kim and Dani started the bike five minutes back and clearly had their work cut out for them. Skye says, “I had a terrible start. I spent most of the first part of the swim just catching up to Daniela and Kim. I then took the lead of our little group after we dove back in after the Australian exit. I didn’t know if they were on my feet or not, but I was just focused on putting out my best swim performance since I knew I was not with the front ladies and likely behind where I wanted to be.”

Jen was another two minutes back and started the bike in tenth place. “The swim start was a beach start, which is usually pretty disastrous for me. However, this start went well, and I found some feet right away. The field here was a little stronger in the swim, and I knew I was one of the slowest in the field. My goal was not to be last out of the water, so I really needed to hang onto those feet. I was able to do this until the last km, where I got separated from the group on one of the turns. I still had a 59-minute swim which was nothing to complain about in my books!”

Bike

The pace in the early part of the bike was clearly set by Imo. Sarah decided right away not to stick with her – Imo put more than a minute and a half into her in the first 20k, and after 30k Amelia also stopped to match Imo’s pace.

Imo Lap1 Bike

Imo continued to extend her lead for the first bike loop, and by 90k she was seven minutes ahead of her next competitors. “I just get too excited when I’m on my bike .. thought it was a 70.3 and maybe I went out a little too hard, and then remembered that I still had another loop and a marathon to run.”

While Imo was riding alone at the front, a bigger group had formed behind her: Sarah and Amelia had fallen back to Dani, Kim and Skye and the five of them were riding together. Skye felt good in the first loop: “Dani was definitely setting the pace. I have never raced with Dani or Kim before, but I knew they were both strong riders, so trusted that we were keeping a respectable pace.” After 80k, Kim fell back – just after moving to the front of the group she caught a flat on her front wheel that she wasn’t able to fix with the pit stop she was carrying. She continued her race after waiting 90 minutes for tech support but then dropped out after the end of the bike to save her legs for the next race.

Jen is usually one of the strongest females on the bike, but instead of making up time she was losing more and more ground to the front. By the end of the first lap, she was more than 17 minutes behind Imo and more than ten minutes behind the chase group. “I was having one of those days where I just didn’t feel comfortable on my bike right from the beginning. Maybe I was stressed about the heat, but I just couldn’t relax. My back seized up by 80km and my legs were burning. The longer I rode, the worse it got and the lower my power was. I even had to stop and stretch on the side of the road so I could continue. I honestly thought about dropping out as I really didn’t see how I was going to be able to run well with how my legs felt.”

Gaps started to appear in the chase group at the start of the second loop when Skye felt they needed to push harder: “I started to feel like we weren’t catching Imo fast enough and that the effort wasn’t hard enough, so not too far into the second loop I rode up to the front and no one came with me! I didn’t necessarily plan to break away, but I was riding solo for a while. Eventually Sarah made her way back up to me, and I led the charge to T2 and catching Imo.” By 120k the gap was down to five minutes, at 150k just three minutes remained, and coming back into Frankfurt Skye and Sarah were able to ride up to Imo. “When we finally caught Imo I was really starting to feel the heat. My head was very hot in my helmet and my back was hot as well. I was starting to feel a bit foggy in the head from the heat and was telling myself to focus, so I knew I had to cool off as much as possible at the next aid station if I wanted to have a nice dismount and start the marathon. I was able to cool down at the next aid station (thank you volunteers for the ice-cold water bottles!!) and once I got off the bike and took my helmet off, I felt totally fine – still hot, but I was thinking clearly again.” Skye, Sarah and Imo reached T2 within seconds of each other with Dani just 20 seconds back.

Skye T2

Run

Within her first few steps out of the T2 tent, Sarah asserted her position as the nominally strongest runner. Imo was impressed: “Chapeau to Sarah for setting such a brave pace for the run. When I saw you flash past out of T2 I was in awe.” Sarah quickly moved away from Imo and Skye who were running within seconds of each other in the first of four run loops, but Skye was focused on her own race: “We all started very close. My coach told me we weren’t racing the first loop, just eating and drinking, so that’s what I did. I know from prior experience how tough the last 10km of an Ironman marathon are, so I was just trying to set myself up for a strong finish. The heat was concerning, so while I was racing, I was almost more concerned about just making sure I stayed with it all day. I pulled away from Imo pretty early on in the run. She started a bit quicker than I did, but I settled in and caught her about 5km in and then stayed ahead the rest of the race.”

The number of contenders was further diminished when Dani felt the effect of a race week bug. She was already struggling towards the end of the bike and she ended her race after 4k on the run, disappointed after what was intended to be her main summer race.

This also meant that the gap behind the leaders got even larger: After the first loop Amelia was running in fourth place 16 minutes back, Jen followed in fifth another four minutes behind: “I knew I was somewhere around sixth place heading out on the run. It took a good 5km to get into a groove, but my legs and back felt a lot better than I thought they would. Every aid station I put ice down the front and back of my suit, sponges tucked in my neck and water over the head. Stay cool and hydrated was what I kept telling myself. I was not expecting a fast run in the heat, and kept my pace conservative as I was terrified of overheating.”

Everyone was forced to deal with the blazing sunshine and temperatures close to 40°C (more than 100°F), and while the second and third loops of the run didn’t change things dramatically, the positions seemed to solidify: Sarah extended her lead while Skye was putting more and more distance between herself and Imo who was still having a firm grip on third place. Jen had a solid run and was able to overtake Amelia for fourth place: “By halfway, I had moved into fourth and no one had caught me. I wasn’t feeling the heat barely at all and my stomach felt great. It was still a long way to go, I knew I was in good shape.” At the start of the fourth loop, the smallest distance between the leading athletes was five minutes between Skye and Imo in second and third.

Skye had some energy left for the fourth loop and was clearly the fastest runner at the end of the race. She was making up ground to Sarah who was starting to struggle with the effects of overheating and probably underfueling. Skye slowly started to eat into Sarah’s lead, but even at 41k (the last split before the finish) the gap had only come down two minutes and she was still more than five minutes behind. “I wasn’t even going to try to run down Sarah because she was probably out of reach for me. I felt confident in my ability to stay strong and smart for the whole marathon, so I focused on running my own race and seeing how the race played out. I had no idea that Sarah was suffering so badly at the end of the run. I saw her briefly at one of the out and backs on the last loop, just barely, so I knew she was still in the race and several minutes ahead, at that. I was settled into second and was preparing for an American 1-2 at Frankfurt, and both of us getting our Kona slots.”

With less than one kilometer to go, Sarah collapsed and had to be taken out of the race. All of a sudden, Skye was in the lead: “When I hit the 1km to go mark I saw the lead cyclist. I thought, ‘that’s weird, they must have let Sarah go early’ (usually they pull off the course at the last minute, right around when the finish carpet starts). I didn’t think much of it, then a few seconds later that same cyclist starts riding with me. I look behind me just to double-check and see that it said ‘1st Female’ on the bike. The man riding said to me, ‘Congratulations, Skye. This is your race now. You’re in the lead. Sarah isn’t going to make it to the finish.’ In disbelief, I responded ‘ARE YOU SERIOUS?!’ and he kindly responded ‘Yes! Enjoy this moment. Congratulations!’ At that point I was totally shocked – I had no time to even process that I was about to win one of the biggest Ironman events in our sport. I immediately thought ‘I have to get to that line first!’ because at that point, I didn’t know if there were any big movers behind me, and I’ve been passed in the final 1km of an Ironman before. I still had no idea what happened to Sarah. I think I even asked the lead cyclist what happened to Sarah, but he didn’t have much of an answer.”

Skye’s tenacious work all day was rewarded with the win at the 2019 European Championships.

Skye Win

Imo also had to work hard and she was losing more time to Skye and was even running a bit slower than Sarah during the fourth run loop. But she had things under control and was elated to finish in second place. “They said it wasn’t a PB day but that’s a PB for me and officially an ‘Ironman’. Beginner’s luck got a 2nd place for me at Ironman Frankfurt European Championship and Kona bound.”

Third place went to Jen who was very happy with her solid heat marathon. “By the time I was halfway through my last lap, I had lost all hopes of making the podium. I had no idea how far ahead first and second were, but I had a feeling they were out of reach. It was a HUGE surprise that the third-place biker jumped out at me in the last kilometer, informing me that I was now in third! Unfortunately Sarah had collapsed with less than a km to go. I was devastated for her, but excited for myself. This was not the way I wanted to make it to the podium, but it was how it worked out this day. Third place at the European Champs felt amazing, but unfortunately was one spot out of Kona Qualifying. The fact that I performed well in the heat was enough to make me extremely happy with my race. I now have the confidence to race in super-hot conditions, and I know I could have pushed a little harder. Now it’s crunch time to Ironman Canada to get that Kona spot!”

Postscript

At the awards ceremony on Monday after the race, Skye Moench and Imo Simmonds accepted their Kona slots. One month after Frankfurt, Skye was able to take her first 70.3 win at Boulder in early August, while Imo has taken a break before starting her build for the big autumn races.

Most of the other athletes mentioned in this post are also able to race at the World Championships: Daniela Bleymehl had already qualified in 2018 by winning IM Italy. Jen Annett raced IM Canada four weeks after Frankfurt and got her Kona slot by finishing second. Even though Kimberley Morrison was once again overtaken in the finish chute, she got her slot at IM Tallinn with a third place. Sarah True managed to get the very last slot for Kona 2019 by finishing second at IM Mont Tremblant in mid-August.

It’ll be interesting to see how these women are going to perform in Kona.

Photo Credits: All photos by Ingo Kutsche (@ingo_kutsche_photo), used with permission.


There’s going to be a lot more information about Kona and the Kona Pro field in my “Kona 2019 Rating Report” that you can already pre-order here.

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