IM Texas was the second of the Regional Championships in 2017, one of five elevated races across the globe with a big prize purse, lots of points for Kona qualifying and automatic qualifier slots for the male and female winners.
I’ll start with a discussion of the race coverage (or rather, the lack of are coverage) – to me Texas was the next step in a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed as soon as possible. If you’re mainly interested in the race results, feel free to skip the next section!
(Lack of) Race Coverage
Ironman received a lot of criticism for their coverage of the 2014 70.3 Championships in Mont Tremblant – a couple of static camera positions without any commentary. At the start of the 2015 racing season Ironman accepted the feedback (“our lack of a hosted live show was a mistake”, Ironman CEO Andrew Messick) and announced plans to highlight the Regional Championships with GPS tracking for professional athletes and an online show with live pictures from moving cameras and commentary hosted by Greg Welch and Michael Lovato. The stated goal was to “put a brighter spotlight on professional Ironman racing” and to “draw more attention and improve engagement” (again Andrew Messick). The first season was quite promising, and for Kona 2015 an improved athlete tracker that included a GPS leaderboard was in place.
However, the 2016 season was a step backward – the live shows continued but GPS tracking was mostly abandoned (at least for the public). The old Athlete Tracker was back in use – very often stopping to update at the worst moments. Things continued at the lowered level for the first of the 2017 Regional Championships in South Africa: No GPS but at least a live stream provided by a South African TV station with some Ironman commentary.
IM Texas was another major step backwards: just a few static cameras without any commentary, reminiscent of the Mont Tremblant coverage mentioned above. Just as for Mont Tremblant there was no prior communication about the lack of coverage and any reasoning behind it. Lots of fans of Ironman racing only discovered the lack of a live show when they tuned in to follow the race – resulting in a lot of frustrated tweets by friends of the sport.
How will Ironman react to the criticism this time around? Without any communication about dropping the coverage for the North American championships, one can only speculate about their reasoning. The last few years Ironman struggled to define their relationship with the Professionals – races loosing and then regaining Pro fields, their unwillingness to engage in the “50 Women For Kona” discussion even though it had broad support among male and female Pros, or more and more races but with thinner prize purses are just a few examples. However, our sport can only be the best when the goals of Pros and the Ironman brand are as much aligned as possible. I urge the leaders of Ironman to embrace Pro athletes as the best ambassadors of their brand. Renewing their efforts to improve the coverage of races would be an important step.
Before the race there was a lot of discussion about the impact of this year’s changes for IM Texas: A race date that was a few weeks earlier (resulting in less hot conditions) and a new, flat bike course. While the old men’s course record was at 8:07 (Matt Hanson from 2015), there was speculation that a sub-8 would be needed to win the race. Race day provided temperatures well suited for racing hard (sunny but relatively cool for Texas in April), but apparently there was quite a strong wind that affected the bike leg on the exposed “Hardy Toll Road”. Based on the numbers, the conditions were about 10 minutes quicker than in 2015.
Race day started with a fantastic swim by Lauren Brandon, posting the fastest swim time overall and a new female swim bike course record: Her 48:52 was nearly three minutes quicker than the previous record by Kelly Williamson from 2014. The bike leg was dominated by Andy Starykowicz, his time of 4:01:14 was a new bike course record by almost nine minutes (old record by Joe Skipper from 2015) and a new “fastest IM bike leg ever.” The run was quick as well, but the old course records (2:41 by Matt Hanson and 2:51 by Cait Snow) are still standing.
The overall times provided some new records: Matt Hanson improved his own course record by 15 minutes (most of the improvement coming from a fast bike leg where he quickly closed the gap after the swim), also posting his first sub-8 and a new fastest IM finish for a US athlete. In addition five athletes going sub-8 is also something never seen before in a full Ironman.
Male Race Results
New Pro James Capparell posted the fastest swim time just ahead of Harry Wiltshire, both were closely followed by a larger group. Once on the bike Andy Starykowicz took control of the race, eventually building a lead of more than ten minutes to the second group. It was an amazing performance by Starky as he was run over by a truck in August and severely injured, putting his return to racing in doubt for quite some time. No one else came even within ten minutes of his bike time! By T2 Starky’s lead was about 14 minutes to the other contenders, the closest of the pre-race favorites were Tyler Butterfield and Matt Hanson, with a larger group about 18 minutes back. Starky was able to hold on to his lead until about the half marathon mark, eventually running just under four hours (still beating his bike time!) and finishing in 19th place. It was a great return to Ironman racing for him, and one that will give him extra motivation to continue on his path of recovery and hopefully a return to his best racing form.
When it became apparent that Starky wasn’t in his best running shape, it was clear that Matt Hanson was in the driver’s seat for the title. In the end he posted the second fastest marathon of the day and won by almost four minutes. Ronnie Schildknecht ran just a minute slower than Matt, he was seven off the bike and able to pass almost everyone ahead of him. Tyler Butterfield took the last spot on the podium, his 2:49 was the second fastest marathon he has ever run. Similar to his teammate Ronnie, Will Clarke ran through the field, he postest that fastest marathon of the day, allowing him to advance from 12th after T2 to fourth on the finish line, closely followed by Kirill Kotshegarov in fifth.
|Rank||Name||Nation||Swim||Bike||Run||Time||Diff to exp.||Prize Money||KPR Points|
|1||Matt Hanson||USA||00:51:46||04:13:53||02:42:07||07:52:44||-24:13||US$ 30,000||4000|
|2||Ronnie Schildknecht||SUI||00:53:34||04:14:40||02:43:28||07:56:21||-14:48||US$ 15,000||3400|
|3||Tyler Butterfield||BMU||00:49:08||04:15:20||02:49:00||07:58:29||-20:29||US$ 8,000||2890|
|4||Will Clarke||GBR||00:49:16||04:22:30||02:42:01||07:59:02||-22:43||US$ 6,500||2455|
|5||Kirill Kotshegarov||EST||00:54:56||04:11:16||02:48:00||07:59:32||-21:22||US$ 5,000||2090|
|6||Matthew Russell||USA||00:54:49||04:13:43||02:47:57||08:01:35||-15:43||US$ 3,500||1670|
|7||Leon Griffin||AUS||00:49:18||04:19:25||02:49:16||08:04:04||-46:47||US$ 2,500||1335|
|8||David Plese||SLO||00:55:14||04:13:29||02:51:05||08:05:08||-15:48||US$ 2,000||1070|
|9||Callum Millward||NZL||00:49:35||04:18:56||02:53:24||08:07:13||-11:06||US$ 1,500||855|
|10||Marc Duelsen||GER||00:49:32||04:22:04||02:50:16||08:07:25||-14:54||US$ 1,000||685|
Female Race Results
The female race was dominated by Lauren Brandon for most of the day. After posting the fastest swim of the whole field (including the men!) she also rode strong and started the run with 5 minute gap to Jodie Robertson. For a while Jocelyn McCauley was also in the lead group, but she fell back with technical problems on the bike and eventually finished in 12th place. In T2, Jodie was closely followed by three more podium contenders, Maja Stage Nielsen, Tine Deckers and Alicia Kaye who were less than a minute behind her at the start of the run.
But it was quickly apparent that Jodie would be the best runner of the front group, at mile 10 she took the lead from Lauren and continued to run strong. She won the race with a solid 3:03 marathon which was also fast enough for a sub-9 finish. Second place went to Austrian Michi Herlbauer who had the best run split among the top finishers, also finishing sub-9. Third place went to the Maja Stage Nielsen from Denmark who ran by Alicia Kaye (4th), Tine Deckers (5th) and Lauren Brandon (6th). Kelly Williamson (7th) had the best run of the day, she ran a 2:56:30 marathon. Malindi Elmore in 8th also went sub-3 on the run.
|Rank||Name||Nation||Swim||Bike||Run||Time||Diff to exp.||Prize Money||KPR Points|
|1||Jodie Robertson||USA||01:02:31||04:43:45||03:03:41||08:56:32||-26:11||US$ 30,000||4000|
|2||Michaela Herlbauer||AUT||00:57:57||04:53:47||03:02:27||08:59:31||-11:36||US$ 15,000||3400|
|3||Maja Stage Nielsen||DEN||01:01:02||04:47:31||03:07:45||09:01:00||-11:23||US$ 8,000||2890|
|4||Alicia Kaye||USA||00:52:52||04:55:34||03:11:00||09:04:40||-22:34||US$ 6,500||2455|
|5||Tine Deckers||BEL||01:00:35||04:47:55||03:12:24||09:06:08||-01:54||US$ 5,000||2090|
|6||Lauren Brandon||USA||00:48:52||04:53:03||03:19:25||09:06:25||01:44||US$ 3,500||1670|
|7||Kelly Williamson||USA||00:55:41||05:13:40||02:56:30||09:11:19||-03:29||US$ 2,500||1335|
|8||Malindi Elmore||CAN||01:07:54||04:59:15||02:59:10||09:11:34||10:05||US$ 2,000||1070|
|9||Leslie DiMichele Miller||USA||00:59:25||05:01:34||03:07:08||09:13:22||-23:57||US$ 1,500||855|
|10||Caroline Livesey||GBR||01:01:21||04:52:21||03:19:12||09:18:33||-23:09||US$ 1,000||685|
|Jessica Jones Meyers||USA||00:59:29||05:03:55||DNF|
Here’s a look at the implications for Kona slots on the male side:
- Automatic Qualifier: Matt Hanson
- Safe (enough points): Ronnie Schildknecht, Tyler Butterfield, Matt Russell (Matt was already safe)
- On the Bubble (could be enough, but not sure): David Please, Marc Duelsen
- Close (more points needed): Daniel Fontana, Will Clarke
And on the female side:
- Automatic Qualifier: Jodie Robertson
- Safe: Alicia Kaye, Maja Stage Nielsen
- On the Bubble: Michaela Herlbauer, Lauren Brandon, Jocelyn McCauley (Jocelyn was on the bubble before, her 12th place was not enough to advance to the “safe” category)
- Close: Malindi Elmore, Tine Deckers, Celine Schärer