Sunday, June 1, 2008

Classic Big Island Conditions Rule at Ironman 70.3 Hawaii

Crosswinds, headwinds, tailwinds, heat, humidity and chop were the name of the game at this year's Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. The Hawaiian sun rose over a scene of roiling seas and blustery winds this morning, conditions that proved to favor those most experienced with racing on the Big Island. In the end, reigning champs Samantha McGlone and Chris McCormack held on to their titles while making the course look easy, while some of the other pros and age groupers struggled against the weather.

For some, the conditions were too much - several racers were unable to make the cutoff times for the swim and the bike - but the large majority of the field was able to endure, albeit at slower times than they might have had on a different day here. This was the case for age-groupers like John Lancaster, from Wisconsin, who was hoping for a faster time but was gratified with the toughness of the 70.3 Hawaii course as a "character building" experience. "You definitely felt like you got your money's worth," he joked.

An upbeat spirit was found throughout the race. Age groupers who were bent into headwinds on the Queen Ka'ahumanu were still smiling and waving "chakas" at cheering fans. Other visitors like Jason Bishop from Vancouver, Canada, acknowledged the swell-filled swim, the blustery bike course and the hot run, but were happy to be celebrating with their families after the race nonetheless.

Women's Race

McGlone headed onto the bike course just behind eventual fifth place finisher Gina Kehr and quickly made the move to the front. She came off the bike ahead of the women's field and held on to best her time from last year and win comfortably in 4:30:38. McGlone acknowledged that the "swim was tough," the "bike was hard" and the run "hot and long," but these conditions couldn't have made her happier. For McGlone, the race was "awesome. I was looking forward to a hard, windy day for practice," in the event similar conditions appear in October.

Tyler Stewart took second four minutes later after hammering out a strong run. Stewart also appreciated the hot, blustery conditions: "I love it. The harder, the better. The race was fun. The volunteers were great and the spacing of the aid stations was perfect." Stewart held off Kate Bevilaqua, who put in a strong effort against the heat and humidity and the constantly changing terrain of the run. Bevilaqua enjoyed the opportunity to race in Hawaii, where the aloha spirit is alive and well. "I can't believe how friendly everyone is," said Bevilaqua after the race.

Alison Fitch finished just moments later in her first race in six months after suffering from stress fractures. While she's still regaining her legs, her bike was strong and she's looking forward to her upcoming race at Ford Ironman USA Coeur D'Alene. In a disappointment to local fans, Bree Wee was sick and unable to compete in today's race. She's looking forward to recovering and racing in the upcoming Ironman Japan Triathlon.

Men's Race

Choppy conditions in the water made for a slower swim for many swimmers, but not everyone paid attention to the water reports. Oahu swimmer extraordinaire John Flanagan III took off through the turbulent water like a missile and swam by himself to a 23:49 split. Proving his amphibian might, Flanagan hung on to finish eighth overall. Flanagan wasn't far into the bike when he was passed by the top men of the day – McCormack, Luke McKenzie and Tim Marr, who came out of the water close together.

McKenzie and Marr tried valiantly to hang with McCormack on the road to Hawi, but ultimately dropped back, giving McCormack the course to himself for the rest of the race. McCormack crossed the line in 4:04:22. McCormack said that this year's conditions were "definitely the toughest conditions of my three years" of racing the 70.3 Hawaii, and that he suffered with the heat and humidity on the run. "You never know what this island throws at you."

Still, he bested second place finisher McKenzie by almost eight minutes. McKenzie realized halfway through the bike that he would not be able to hold on to McCormack. "It was his day," said McKenzie, who felt it was "an honor" to race against an experienced veteran like McCormack. Tim Marr celebrated his fifth straight year at 70.3 Hawaii with a third-place finish, in 4:15:17. Marr felt he had a steady race. "It was hot and humid, just like always, but fun. I really had a good time."

The Big Island's own Luis De La Torre, who knows this course like the back of his hand, finished in fourth place, in 4:19:53. De La Torre finished sixth here last year and went on to a 48th place finish overall last year in Kona. Today, De La Torre says he's had "the most relaxed race I've ever had. I felt better with every passing mile." De La Torre is looking forward to re-visiting the course in October. New Zealand's Andrew Mackay rounded out the men's top five.

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