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:
|Diff to expected
|Frederik Van Lierde
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
With Patrick Lange another German finished in third place, and as in 1997 the German males swept the podium.
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!
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.
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.
Boris Stein was the fifth German finisher – in seventh place overall!
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.
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).
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.
The athletes that finished just outside the Top 10 were also close together.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)