After spending two years in the shadow of her 2010 victory, the best runner in IRONMAN notches a crown-worthy comeback.
by Jennifer Ward Barber
The canon blast at 6:35 this morning signaled not only the women’s start of this year’s GoPro IRONMAN World Championship, but a new tide in professional women’s IRONMAN racing. For the second year in a row the women enjoyed their own race start five minutes after the pro men. Five more women on the start line also set the stage early for a lively race.
The swim differentiated itself from the men’s race almost immediately when a lead pack broke off containing first-year pro Haley Chura, 2010 IRONMAN 70.3 world champ Jodie Swallow (GBR), as well as Leanda Cave (GBR), Meredith Kessler (USA), Amanda Stevens (USA) and Rachel Joyce (GBR). American Mary Beth Ellis, four-weeks post collarbone surgery, still managed to exit Kailua Bay in 15th—a coup for her given the recent stall in her swim training.
Once onto the bike, a new group race dynamic began to develop—one that hasn’t historically imbued the women’s race. Today’s 112-mile ride through the forgiveably cool day in the lava fields showed the kind of strategic riding usually reserved for the men’s race; there was no room for individual time trials among the women today.
American Meredith Kessler took the lead by mile five, following her fourth-best swim (54:06) by making a mark early on. Amanda Stevens, in excellent form this year, put the pressure on Kessler, cutting into her lead and passing her at the 30-mile mark. Caroline Steffen, Jodie Swallow and Rachel Joyce chose to ride smart and steady all day as Kessler and Stevens played leapfrog at the front, until Joyce chose to make a strategic move after the turnaround at Hawi. Steffen surprised spectators, choosing not to respond to Joyce’s push, and all eyes were glued to Carfrae as she pushed a hard solo effort, trying to keep her deficit to a minimum, and proving significant gains in her cycling over the past year.
Entering T2, speculations began to fly when it became clear that Carfrae had lost only four minutes to the leaders. She came in off the bike with just under eight minutes to make up—challenging, but doable for the Australian. As if she had a bone to pick with this race, she set out at a blistering pace putting 30 seconds per mile into the leaders. Looking stronger than she did last year after losing a water bottle of calories, the Carfrae of 2010 began to show signs of a remarkable comeback.
The rest of the day belonged to the Brisbane-born Carfrae. Joyce held a strong pace through mile 15, when her friend gave her a quick pat on the back and blew by her like the Kona crosswinds we usually see here. Though the Brit had opened up a gap on the always-strong Kessler, it wasn’t enough to hold off the woman whose marathon would best the bulk of the pro men.
Carfrae soared across the finish line, tasting her second victory on Ali’I Drive, in 8:52:14, two minutes ahead of Chrissie Wellington’s world record of 8:54:02. With a tearful smile and a leap into her fiance’s arms (fifth-place pro Tim O’Donnell), Carfrae swept up the new course record, as well as the third-fastest overall run split of the day: 2:50:38.
“I’m getting married in two months—I think I’ll be able to cover the wedding bill,” a jubilant Carfrae said at the finish, crediting her victory to longtime coach Siri Lindley. “I just had one of those days where you don’t hurt—I didn’t know I had a performance like that in me.”
Rachel Joyce finished just 5:14 back for a time of 8:57, putting her in second—her best ever placement on the island. “I gave everything and when you do that, you can’t ask for any more,” she said at the finish line. Great Britain’s Liz Blatchford finished third for the biggest surprise of the women’s race. She only decided to race here in August, and her showing made a mark here on the island. It was a day of comebacks, consistency, and joyful firsts for the top three women.
Top 10 Women
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 00:58:50, 4:58:20, 2:50:38, 8:52:14
2. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 00:54:09, 4:55:25, 3:03:37, 8:57:28
3. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 00:54:07, 4:57:40, 3:03:23, 9:03:35
4. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 1:01:57, 4:54:38, 3:03:25, 9:04:34
5. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 00:54:10, 4:57:50, 3:11:55, 9:09:09
6. Caitlin Snow (USA) 00:58:47, 5:08:05, 2:58:53, 9:10:12
7. Meredith Kessler (USA) 00:54:06, 4:55:13, 3:16:35, 9:10:19
8. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 00:54:12, 4:55:53, 3:16:31, 9:11:13
9. Gina Crawford (NZL) 00:54:14, 5:04:17, 3:11:18, 9:14:47
10. Linsey Corbin (USA) 00:59:11, 5:07:50, 3:04:54, 9:17:22