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Every action has an equal and opposite reaction—so with records falling all over the place at the front of the men’s race in Kona yesterday, it might be reasonable to expect to see a high DNF rate too. Once on the hallowed turf of the Big Island, many a pro athlete has let their dreams of glory cloud their judgment and physiology—and then had to walk off the Queen K after blowing up. Yet of the 51 pro men who toed the line in Saturday’s race, 44 finished, yielding a DNF rate of 14%. Unlike the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah, in May (where 100% of the women’s field finished) the DNF rate was far higher in the women’s pro field here in Kona, with almost one in three of the female athletes not completing the race (32 finishers from 45 on the final start list). From injuries to illness and overheating to underfueling, we take a look at the stories behind some of the biggest DNFs of these two championship races.
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Kona 2022 DNFs: Men’s Field
After his bold third-place finish at St. George, Braden Currie came into this race with far more eyes on him than the humble Kiwi is used to. Unfortunately for him, he said he’d spent most of the week in bed with “something like COVID, but not COVID.” In a pre-race Instagram post, he admitted he’d actually decided to not even start the race, but his daughter convinced him otherwise, so he racked his bike in the hope he’d be OK. Yet it wasn’t to be—and by Mile 35 on the bike he’d called it a day.
David McNamee, who finished third in Kona in 2017 and 2018 courtesy of some phenomenal run splits, pulled out of the race in the early miles of the run. The Brit’s pre-race social media mentioned it being a “rollercoaster” getting back to the Big Island, “with more lows than highs.”
Another name we’re accustomed to seeing near the pointy end of Ironman races is that of Daniel Baekkegard. While his day started well with a 48:20 swim split that put him in that sizable lead pack out of the water, the Dane definitely seemed to lack his usual horsepower on the bike. After clocking a 4:19 bike split he never made it out of T2. Later, he explained on Instagram the DNF was due to numbness and pain in his leg:
New Zealander Kyle Smith was another athlete not to leave the second transition, after posting a 48:27 swim and a 4:19 bike.
The other male pros on Ironman’s DNF list were Matt Burton (AUS) and Pieter Heemeryck (BEL). Burton pulled out after Mile 77 on the bike, while Heemeryck ended his day after a 4:25 bike.
Kona 2022 DNFs: Women’s Field
In the women’s race, there were 13 athletes who ended their days prematurely, perhaps the most notable of which was Sarah True. After a two-year hiatus from the sport (during which time she had a baby and foot surgery), the two-time Olympian made a formidable return to racing earlier this year (with wins at 70.3 Eagleman and Ironman Lake Placid). Having finished in fourth place in Kona on her debut in 2018, True knows what it takes to excel here—and also knows how important it is to put health above all else. In 2019, she had to pull out of three races due to a puzzling medical condition related to the heat. On her Instagram post-race she said she was “disappointed to be sidelined by illness at Kona” this year.
As a super swimmer and strong biker, Lauren Brandon is an athlete often seen at the front of the women’s field in the early stages of almost all Ironman races she enters, yet it seems Kona is a race she’s still figuring out. She said she suffered with “projectile vomiting” from Mile 70 of the bike, struggling to keep any fuel down after that point. On her Instagram she said: “Honestly, I don’t really know what to say. Four years of racing in Kona and I’ve walked away with two DNFs and two pretty terrible finishes. I was fit, healthy, and ready for a great day, but it didn’t happen.”
Jocelyn McCauley made an emphatic return to racing earlier this year (after having her second child) with an impressive victory at Ironman Texas. In The Woodlands she was riding exceptionally well—and has ridden away from Daniela Ryf in the past—and on Thursday the American seemed to be displaying her characteristically strong bike form (posting a 4:44 bike split), but she dropped from the race in the latter stages of the marathon. On her post-race Instagram she said: “I’m OK, but not OK,” adding that she planned to enjoy some “beach healing” for a couple of days.
German Daniela Bleymehl did not hide the disappointment of her DNF, attributing it to overheating later in the race. She posted the following on her social media: “A big emptiness and disappointment that I couldn’t show what I worked for. In the first half of the race I felt very good and right there where I wanted to be, but later due to overheating, I had to pull out. I tried everything to come back, but didn’t want to risk my health.”
Getting to the start line healthy is often as much a challenge as getting to the finish line, which proved the case for Swedish pro Sara Svensk. She reported having “two challenging weeks” leading into race day, suffering with acute plantar fasciitis. Despite not running going into the race she was confident she could still finish, but ultimately pulled out in the latter stages of the marathon.
The other female DNFs listed by Ironman were: Pamela Olivera, Kate Bevilaqua, Simone Mitchell, Manon Genet, Heini Hartikainen, Dimity Lee Duke, and Jenny Schulz.
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