On the second Saturday of October, some 2,000 men and women, professional and amateur, waded into the warm waters of Kailua-Kona to take part in the Holy Grail of triathlon. The Ironman Hawaii race is to triathletes what the Super Bowl is to a football fan, the World Cup to a soccer fan, Mount Everest to a mountain climber.
Every triathlete has dreamed about floating in that salt water waiting for the cannon to go off, felt chills watching the finish line tears, and vowed to one day cross that line. The difference between the Ironman and the Super Bowl is that anyone, including me, can one day make it there to complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.
In 2007, an unknown professional athlete named Chrissie Wellington decimated the field on her way to a near record breaking performance. She was such an unknown that her name was nowhere in the media guide leading up to the race.
In 2008 Chrissie was well on her way to crushing the field on the bike when she got a flat tire. She went through both of her C02 cartridges trying to fix it but couldn’t get back on the road until she got another C02 cartridge that worked from a fellow racer. Down 10 minutes at that point from the women’s leader, she made up all that time and more, running a record marathon to crush the field by more than 10 minutes.
Going into Kona in 2009, the question was not whether Chrissie could manage to win again but by how much. Some thought she was bound to blow up at some point and three in a row seemed a reach.
Those people were wrong. Wellington rode the 112-mile bike leg in 4:52 to bury the rest of the field and hold off Mirinda Carfrae of Australia’s blazing 2:56:51 marathon to beat her by 19:57. The victory time of 8:54:02 broke an Ironman record set by the legend Paula Newby-Frasier from South Africa 17 years previously. It also made Chrissie Wellington a perfect eight Ironman races entered to eight Ironman races won and propelled her into the conversation of best woman racer ever with Paula Newby-Frasier, eight wins in Hawaii, and Natascha Badmann of Switzerland, seven wins in Hawaii.
On the men’s side, Australian Craig Alexander had finished in second in 2007 and was the returning champion from 2008. His countryman Chris McCormack had won in 2007 but had to drop out of the race in 2008 due to a mechanical problem with his bike. McCormack, one of triathlon’s more outspoken personalities, was sure to push for his crown back.
Going into the marathon, everyone was chasing American Chris Lieto. With 10 miles left in the race, Lieto had a 5:20 lead on Alexander, but Alexander was cutting into that lead with every step. At the 22 mile mark, Alexander finally caught and passed Lieto who tucked in beside Alexander and matched him step for step. For a mile and a half, the two were like Siamese twins, drinking Gatorade and water in unison before Alexander’s pace was just too much for Lieto.
Alexander finished in 8:20:21, only 2:35 ahead of Lieto who managed to hold off German Andreas Raelert by just 96 seconds. McCormack finished in 4th place but only 50 seconds behind Raelert. In all, the top ten men were only 11 minutes apart.
For the record, here are the final results for the top ten men and women:
1. Craig Alexander (AUS) 8:20:21
2. Chris Lieto (USA) 8:22:56
3. Andreas Raelert (GER) 8:24L32
4. Chris McCormack (AUS) 8:25:20
5. Rasmus Henning (DEN) 8:28:17
7. Dirk Bockel (LUX) 8:29:55
8. Pete Jacobs (AUS) 8:30:15
9. Andy Potts (USA) 8:30:30
10. Faris Al-Sultan (GER) 8:31:44
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:54:02
2. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 9:13:59
3, Virginia Berasategui (ESP) 9:15:28
4. Tereza Macel (CAN) 9:25:48
5. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 9:25:48
6. Samantha McGlone (CAN) 9:30:28
7. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 9:32:27
8. Joanna Lawn (NZL) 9:32: 27
9. Sandra Wallenhorst (GER)O 9:38:28
10. Dede Griesbauer (USA) 9:40:59