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Kona 2017 – How the Female Race Unfolded

Here are the results of the top finishers and the athletes that had an influence on the outcome of the FPRO race:

Rank Name Nation Swim Bike Run Time Diff to exp.
1 Daniela Ryf SUI 00:53:10 04:53:10 03:00:02 08:50:47 -07:01
2 Lucy Charles GBR 00:48:48 04:58:19 03:08:09 08:59:38 -25:22
3 Sarah Crowley AUS 00:53:07 04:57:51 03:05:36 09:01:38 -27:23
4 Heather Jackson USA 00:57:58 04:53:54 03:06:19 09:02:29 -17:13
5 Kaisa Sali FIN 00:57:53 04:59:50 03:01:33 09:04:40 -12:11
6 Susie Cheetham GBR 00:57:54 05:03:27 03:09:25 09:16:00 -06:53
7 Carrie Lester AUS 00:57:51 05:00:31 03:16:35 09:19:49 -05:33
8 Elizabeth Lyles USA 01:00:08 05:04:10 03:11:21 09:20:31 -10:48
9 Annabel Luxford AUS 00:53:02 04:59:15 03:24:06 09:20:58 -15:10
10 Jocelyn McCauley USA 00:54:31 05:04:34 03:16:41 09:21:08 -20:02
11 Mareen Hufe GER 00:59:04 04:58:06 03:21:17 09:23:11 -14:12
26 Lauren Brandon USA 00:48:53 04:58:53 04:03:26 09:56:03 20:42

Here’s the Race Development Graph for these athletes:

WPRO Major

Race Development

The race at the front can be divided into three distinct phases:

Start to Bike Mile 90

In the swim, Lucy Charles builds a lead of 4.5 minutes and more to the rest of the field. After the swim, Lucy continues to hold on to that lead, with Lauren Brandon in close pursuit. For most of the bike Daniela Ryf (blue line) is closely followed by Sarah Crowley (green line) – their lines overlap and are almost impossible to distinguish. By mile 90 they trail Lucy and Lauren by just over five minutes. Heather Jackson (violet line) is 9 minutes back after the swim and for the first 40 miles of the bike, but then she’s able to make up time to the front. By mile 90 she has closed the gap to Lucy to 6 minutes and is riding just over one minute behind Daniela and Sarah.

Rest of the Bike and Early Run

With about 40k left on the bike (about 25 miles), Daniela decides to take a risk and rides hard for the remainder of the bike. She quickly starts to eat into Lucy’s lead and drops Sarah. At about that time Lucy seems to have a bad patch: Almost everyone in the field is making up time on her between miles 100 and 110. But the fastest athlete in this part of the bike is clearly Daniela, and within the last hour of the bike she turns a 5-minute deficit into a 30 second lead in T2. Once in front, Daniela starts to build her lead – it’s obvious that she’s running faster than Lucy (by mile 5 she has put another two minutes into Lucy) and everyone else is already more than six minutes behind after the early miles of the run.

Last 20 Miles of the Run

After the early part of the run, Daniela has asserted herself as the clear leader of the race, and for the rest of the marathon she just extends her lead. (In the end, she also posts the fastest run split.) Lucy is losing time to the faster runners behind her, but with a new marathon PR of 3:08 she’s able to hold on to second place. Sarah and Heather are within a few seconds of each other for most of the marathon, in the end Sarah claims third place with a gap of only 51 seconds to Heather.

Let’s have a closer look at the Top 11 finishers.

Winner: Daniela Ryf

Once again, Daniela Ryf was able to defend her Kona title – she is now a three-time Kona champion.


But compared to the last two races, this year was a lot tighter: She won by eight minutes (last year the gap was 24 minutes), and as discussed before she took the lead just before T2 instead of early in the bike as in previous years. Her finish-line demeanour also showed how hard the race was for her: Last year she still had a lot of energy and bounced around, this year she had to lie down and take a breath after crossing the line:

FLOWS Daniela

In the after-race interviews she said that with 40k left on the bike, she felt she needed to take a risk and put out a big bike effort. She said before the race that she trusts her run and is prepared to win the race on the run, and if we take this year’s data, she would have won the race even without the big effort in the last 40k of the bike and the six minutes she was faster than the other top finishers in that part of the race.

So why did she feel the need to take a risk by putting out such a huge effort? I think there are two factors: One is that she wanted to assert herself in the race and start to eat into the lead that has been hovering around five minutes for the whole bike ride, she wanted to show both to herself and others that even though her day was far from perfect she was still the odds-on favorite to win the race. The second – and in my opinion bigger reason – was the number of athletes that were still “racing for the win” that late in the race: Lucy and Lauren were more than five minutes in front of her, she was riding with Sarah Crowley and Annabel Luxford, Heather Jackson was closing the gap to her and was only a minute back, possibly even a strong runner like Kaisa Sali might still have a chance with just four minutes behind. So at this point you probably have five or six athletes other than Daniela with a chance to win the race. Daniela would be the clear favorite in any of these one-on-one matches, but it would take only one of the athletes mentioned to have a magical day to beat Daniela. That would be quite unlikely if it had been just one athlete, but with five or six the chance for that was much much larger.

So Daniela decided to put in a surge, and what a surge it was. Basically she was riding the last 40k of the bike at least six minutes quicker than everyone else in the field. At the start of the run, she had taken the lead over Lucy Charles and put more than five between herself and Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson – and by then the race was firmly back in Daniela’s control with only a total breakdown as a scenario for her not to win the race. But she did much better: She even posted the fastest run split of the female field, and won her third Kona title in a row.

Second Place: Lucy Charles

Lucy had a great day in Kona – always either leading the race or being in second place:


It was pretty much expected that Lucy would lead the swim and build a lead to the rest of the female field, she even managed to swim into the second bike male pack. In the FLOWS photo below you can see Lucy in T1 and Sebastian Kienle in the background:


However, it was a surprise to see Lucy ride very strong and hold on to her lead for most of the bike. It took a big effort by Daniela to relegate Lucy to second place in T2, right around the time when Lucy probably had a bad patch (most of the field was making up time on her around mile 110). At the start of the run she had a lead of less than five minutes to Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson,  and she said herself that she didn’t know if she’d be able to run well when she hit T2. But she ran extremely well, posting another personal best in the marathon (3:08 after running 3:18 in Lanzarote and 3:13 in Frankfurt earlier this year). She hardly lost any time to Sarah and Heather on Ali’i Drive, and less than two minutes in the rest of the marathon, claiming second place in her Kona debut.

Third and Fourth Place: Sarah Crowley and Heather Jackson

Sarah and Heather had a close fight for the last podium spot:


After the swim, Sarah was with the Daniela group, and she continued to ride with Daniela even as the group was dwindling in size. Even a crash after 35 miles wasn’t able to stop her. (She took a short tumble when she was hit by a gust of wind during a bottle grab.) She was only dropping back from Daniela when Dani stepped on the gas at mile 90, after riding with her for a bit she scaled her efforts back a little bit. Heather had a slower swim, but a sub-58 was still an IM swim PR for her, and she was only five minutes back to Daniela (in her first Kona in 2015 it was more than eight minutes). She was also riding strong, and by mile 90 had almost closed the gap to Daniela and her group. By T2 she had ridden up to Sarah and both started the run within seconds of each other – in the following FLOWS picture of Heather at the start of the run you can see Sarah in the background:

FLOWS Heather Run Start

For the first part of the run Sarah said she was still trying to listen to her body if there were any adverse effects of the crash, but she was okay and took the chance to follow Heather while making sure she was well hydrated and fueled. When they entered the Energy Lab, Sarah ran up to Heather and for a while they ran side by side. Heather said after the race that this was her first Ironman that she was racing person-to-person, almost like an Olympic Distance or 70.3 race. Sarah had prepared for the last ten k of the run and started to slightly move ahead of Heather at the top of the Energy Lab, but the gap was never larger than 30 or 40 seconds. Even in the last k Sarah had to push the pace to stay ahead of Heather and was jubilant crossing the finish line in third place.

FLOWS Sarah Finish

Fifth Place: Kaisa Sali

As last year, fifth place went to Kaisa Lehtonen:


After the swim Kaisa was in a better position than last year: The gap to Daniela was under five minutes (compared to more than six last year,), but she was also in a better position in the field, just outside of the Top 10. She was also riding really well, hardly losing any more time to Daniela while moving ahead in the field:

FLOWS Kaisa Bike BW

At the start of the run Kaisa was part of a group of four females, about in eighth place, compared to 12th last year. She had a strong start of the run, posting the fastest first half-marathon in the female field, clearly moving onto fifth place shortly after Palani and steadily closing the gap to those in front of her – by mile 20 she was within two minutes of a podium finish. But at that point Sarah and Heather started their fight for a podium finish and held the distance to Kaisa. Kaisa had built a solid gap to sixth place (almost ten minutes at the end of the Energy Lab) and she was probably worked extra hard for a podium finish, but in the end remained in fifth place.

Sixth to Eleventh Place: Susie Cheetham, Carrie Lester, Liz Lyles, Annabel Luxford, Jocelyn McCauley and Mareen Hufe

As usual, the final positions in the Top 10 were close contested (only 3.5 minutes between seventh and eleventh!), with lots of position changes even in the last 15 minutes of racing:

Top6 11

Annabel Luxford (green line) was riding with Daniela and Sarah for most of the bike:

FLOWS Bella Bike

She only started to drop back from the front pack when Daniela put in her effort towards the end of the bike. She was caught by Heather Jackson before T2 but gained one position early in the run when Lauren didn’t have a good run. Bella was running in fifth place, losing time to the front of the race but also to the faster runners behind her. But she fought hard and was still running in sixth at the turnaround in the Energy Lab. In the end she finished ninth, barely holding off tenth place finisher Jocelyn McCauley by ten seconds.

The best runner in the second group of athletes was Susie Cheetham, and she claimed sixth place. Susie had an even race, coming out of the water just ten minutes back and not loosing much more time on the bike. In T2 she was just outside of the Top 10, after five miles of the run on Ali’i Drive she had already gained three spots. Even though she wasn’t running as fast as the Top 5, she continued to move forward in the field, and at the top the Energy Lab (10k to go) she was in sixth place. By then she was ten minutes behind fifth place so a better placing seemed far-fetched, but just two to four minutes ahead of seventh to tenth place. Susie continued to run strong and defended sixth place until the finish, probably satisfied with a successful return to the Top 10 in Kona.

Carrie Lester was among those that finished the bike in front Susie. Carrie was off the bike in ninth place, and while she was running better than many of the athletes starting the run close to her, she wasn’t able to make up many positions and ended up in seventh place, having to fight hard to stay ahead of three athletes finishing less than 80 seconds behind her.

Liz Lyles was closest to Carrie, working hard until crossing the finish line in eighth place, just 42 seconds behind Carrie:


Liz managed to stay in very close proximity to Susie on the bike, starting the run just 2.5 minutes behind in 15th place. Even though Liz had raced (and won!) IM Chattanooga just three weeks before Kona, she was running well (only slightly slower than Susie), climbing all the way into eighth. She gained two spots in the final miles and finished ahead of Bella and Jocelyn by 27 and 37 seconds. She’s also the “first Super-Mom in Kona” (other mothers who finished are Jocelyn in tenth, Rachel Joyce in 20th and Sonja Tajsich in 21st) and the first Pro athlete to secure her Kona 2018 slot.

Jocelyn McCauley finished in tenth place. She said she didn’t have the race she was looking for and felt sluggish most of the day. It’s a testament to her determination that even though she didn’t feel good she continued to race hard and kept herself in the battle for a Top 10 finish. It was only in the final two miles of the run that she loosened up and was able to move into tenth place, barely missing overtaking a few more athletes with her strong finish.

The first female to finish outside the money was Mareen Hufe. Mareen had a great race: Her swim was more than six minutes faster than in her last Kona race in 2015, and her 4:58 bike split was only beaten by Daniela, Heather and Sarah. In T2 she had moved into sixth place, but a couple of faster runners were not too far behind and it was clear that she’d be dropping back. She fought hard for a finish in the money, but two miles before the finish she lost tenth place to Jocelyn. Still, Mareen was the top German female, and eleventh place is her best Kona finish so far.

Photo Credits: Thanks to my friends Ana Borba, Jacques Rangel and Romulo Cruz from FLOWS Journal for allowing me to use their photos. They have a lot more great shots in their Kona gallery. The photo of Liz is by Etienne Van Rensburg. All photos used with permission. Please respect their great work by not reusing the photos without their consent.

1 thought on “Kona 2017 – How the Female Race Unfolded”

  1. Hi Thorsten,

    thanks a lot for the run down, as always a very good read! Small correction: Behind Lucy it is actually Jesse Thomas heading out of T2, not Sebi.


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