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Canada’s Brent McMahon and the United States’ Meredith Kessler had stellar days in tough conditions at the 11th running of Ironman Arizona in Tempe.
Ironman Arizona is known for its ability to produce fast times with relatively flat bike and run courses and spectacular spectator support throughout much of the race. The 2014 version turned in brutal winds on the Beeline Highway, making this year’s event tougher than usual. Despite the windy conditions, Canada’s Brent McMahon turned in a stunning performance to claim the Ironman victory and a new course record of 7:55:48 in his debut at the distance. For the women, American Meredith Kessler finally got the Ironman Arizona victory—she’s started every offering of this race—and some redemption from a disappointing DNF in Kona.
American super swimmer David Kahn was first out of the frigid Tempe Town Lake at 47:18 with McMahon following seven seconds later. Joe Umphenour (USA), Clemente Alonso McKernan (ESP), Tim O’Donnell (USA), Paul Matthews (AUS) and Edo Van Der Meer (NED) followed less than a minute later. Then the attention turned to when the stronger cyclists would make their way toward T1. Both Maik Twelsiek (GER) and Jordan Rapp (USA) came out of the water at about four minutes down and quickly put their cycling power to work on the bike.
Both Kahn and Mathews enjoyed their moments out front but Rapp, who decided to forgo a Kona spot and instead focus on this race, was on a mission. The American found the front of the race early on the second of three laps and continued to ride strong. Only Alonso McKernan managed to stay on pace with Rapp, leaving Matthews 1:31 back, Kahn 1:51 back, McMahon 2:36 back, Twelsiek 3:39 back and O’Donnell 3:41 back at the midway point.
Rapp continued to ride strong out front, but the determined athletes behind him were by no means going to give him an insurmountable gap. When bike turned to run Rapp’s lead stood at 1:37 over Twelsiek, 3:37 over McMahon, 4:06 over Alonso McKernan, 8:52 over Markus Fachbach (GER) and 8:54 over O’Donnell.
Once on the run Twelsiek excelled and caught Rapp and the two maintained a steady pace out front together. The real story was McMahon in third who was quickly cutting time into the lead pair. Would the Canadian be able to maintain that pace throughout his first full Ironman marathon?
Unwilling to give up his top spot, Rapp found a second gear and broke free from Twelsiek. Neither could do anything about the impending arrival of McMahon. He turned in a 1:20:46 half marathon to earn the lead. The former ITU athlete nearly maintained that pace to the finish line. His 2:43:30 marathon was the exclamation point on one of the best Ironman debuts the sport has ever seen. The 7:55:38 victory broke Eneko Llanos’ previous course record of 7:59:38, which was set in 2011.
“Wow is all I can say for a number of reasons,” McMahon said after his finish. “Wow that was tough, wow I didn’t think it would go quite that well. And wow, what a great race… I came across the finish line and it took a couple of minutes to sink in that holy cow I just did this. It was painful, but it was awesome.”
Alonso McKernan used a 2:47:30 marathon to claim second at 8:00:42. Rapp rounded out the top three at 8:03:14.
Kessler said before the race that the fact that she dropped out of Kona at mile eight of the marathon meant she was fairly fresh coming into the race. The American, who has competed in every offering of this race since the inaugural event in 2005, looked strong from the beginning. She started out the day leading out of the swim in 50:22, with fellow strong swimmer Amanda Stevens (USA) following in second at 53:26. It was a steady stream of women from there, with pre-race contenders—and strong cyclists—Heather Jackson (USA) and Lisa Huetthaler (AUT) coming out of the swim over eight minutes back of Kessler.
After the first of three laps Kessler’s gap out front stood at 5:32 over Stevens, 6:50 over Huetthaler, 6:52 over Carrie Lester (AUS), 7:13 over Christina Jackson (USA), 9:10 over Katy Blakemore (USA) and 10:12 over Heather Jackson. As Kessler continued to sit in the lead, Jackson was the big mover. Once they reached T2 Kessler maintained the top spot with Jackson second off the bike at 7:22 back. Following them were Huetthaler in third (10:14 back) and Stevens in fourth (12:22 back). Kessler cruised through the marathon in 3:07:56 to earn her first Ironman Arizona victory in 8:50:41.
“This is my 11th time doing it and my sixth time as a pro,” Kessler said at the finish line. “We got seventh my first year as a pro then fourth, third, second, second so to come home with the victory for us is a huge feat. For everyone who helped to get me here.”
Huetthaler claimed second at 8:58:46, with Jackson earning the final podium spot in her Ironman debut at 9:08:57.
2014 Ironman Arizona
Tempe, Ariz. – Nov. 16, 2014
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Brent McMahon (CAN) 7:55:48
2. Clemente Alonso Mckernan (ESP) 8:00:42
3. Jordan Rapp (USA) 8:03:14
4. Maik Twelsiek (GER) 8:07:59
5. Tim O’Donnell (USA) 8:11:00
1. Meredith Kessler (USA) 8:50:41
2. Lisa Huetthaler (AUT) 8:58:46
3. Heather Jackson (USA) 9:08:57
4. Katy Blakemore (USA) 9:11:32
5. Amanda Stevens (USA) 9:15:32