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Despite cooler temperatures and rain earlier in race week, Sunday dawned crystal clear in Boulder, portending a typical warm and dry Colorado summer day. The predicted high of 85 degrees, with only mild winds, meant that athletes would be spared the more brutal conditions that Boulder can serve up, especially during the second half of the bike where the course is entirely exposed to the sun and oftentimes relentless wind, and the temperature can easily reach into the 90’s. All in all, it looked to be an ideal day for athletes and fans alike to enjoy the inaugural race, bringing the full-distance M-dot madness to the town that has become a high-altitude training Mecca for the professional ranks. Of course, in witnessing the large number of athletes walking throughout the run, as well as many who were struggling to even continue moving forward, the conditions on course were perhaps a bit hotter than predicted and the altitude certainly took a toll on any out-of-towners. Local athletes indeed ruled the day as Colorado residents swept the podium in both the men’s and women’s races, with Boulder’s own Justin Daerr (USA) and Danielle Kehoe (USA), who splits her time between Boulder and Arvada, Colo., landing on top to earn each of their first Ironman titles. Also hailing from Boulder, Curt Chesney scored fourth overall and the men’s age group win. Nicole Callan of Fort Collins, Colo. was fifth among women and the fastest female age group competitor.
The Men’s Race
Longtime Boulder resident Richie Cunningham (AUS) earned an advantage in the men’s race straight from the start of the swim and seemed determined to add to that edge throughout the day. He was first out of the water in 47:28 with a comfortable lead over the rest of the men; he cleared T1 and began the 112-mile bike course–a course he knows like the back of his hand–before anyone else emerged. Justin Daerr trailed Cunningham by nearly three minutes into T1, followed by Karol Kristov (EST) a few seconds later. Scott DeFilippis (USA), another pro considered in contention for the win and a member of Siri Lindley’s Boulder-based Team Sirius training squad, was fourth out of the water.
As Cunningham powered through the early miles of the bike with Daerr in hot pursuit, it became quickly clear that the battle was between these two. The gap between them stretched to as great as 4:35 and shrunk to 3:04 by the time they reached T2, teetering back and forth just a tad throughout the 112 miles. But the real drama was in the lead the duo built over the rest of the men–third place Kristov was more than 26 minutes in arrears when he finally bid his bike adieu and began the run.
With both Cunningham and Daerr known for their run prowess, and both looking strong and determined throughout the first several miles, it seemed the space between them might hold. But by the halfway point it became clear that Daerr had an extra gear in his arsenal, as he had whittled Cunningham’s lead in half. Working with a smooth and steady rhythm and stride, he continued his attack, making the pass near mile 17 and not letting up until he reached the finish, clocking the day’s only sub-three-hour marathon (2:56:41) and a finish time of 8:20:26 to win his first Ironman title in 28 races over the distance. Cunningham, struggling but with a secure cushion over third, slowed in the final miles to finish 10 minutes behind Daerr. Nearly 24 minutes later it would be DeFilippis who crossed in third, having fought his way from fifth off the bike into podium position with a 3:02:48 marathon.
Daerr, asked whether winning in Boulder was a dream come true, said, “Absolutely! It took me 13 year to figure this out.”
“I pretty much only felt confident about 30 seconds ago,” he continued, shortly after finishing. “You can’t take anything for granted in a race this long and this difficult. I had a hard time high-fiving anyone because I didn’t want to take it for granted.”
The fact that the victory was on his home turf was especially sweet for Daerr. Asked for the three words that best summarize his post-race emotions he said, “Really there’s just one: satisfaction. I’m a highly emotional racer. I have to pick events that sort of touch my heart. Because when it’s difficult I need to have that emotional connection to a course and a town. I’m able to really use the energy of the people around me and out there supporting me. And last night and in the last few days, I’ve just never had that many texts and messages and words of encouragement. I was really humbled by that, by how many people wanted to see me do well. I’m glad I was able to do it for them.”
The Women’s Race
Beloved Boulder local and Olympian Laura Bennett kicked off her iron-distance debut in fine form, using her decisive swim speed to gain more than a minute and a half lead over her closest rivals, Carrie Lester (AUS) and Christine Hammond (USA). While Bennett was a wild card at the distance, her athletic talent is undisputed–thus many believed she might ultimately triumph in the lead position at day’s end. But also a pre-race favorite and a force to be reckoned with on the bike, it was no surprise that Lester took control of the women’s race at mile 15 and continued to build an advantage against Bennett.
Bennett held tough, however, allowing Lester only a 4:57 advantage by the end of the bike and holding off the rest of the field. While it was Morgan Chaffin (USA) riding in third at least through the 75-mile mark, the women’s order was shaken up by the bike-to-run transition, with Kehoe starting the marathon in third almost four minutes behind Bennett and Uli Bromme (USA) running in fourth another three minutes back.
True to the unpredictability of Ironman racing, and unbeknownst to the women she had bested on the bike, Lester had been struggling with gastrointestinal issues since the 50-mile mark. By mile four of the run, debilitated by severe stomach cramping and vomiting, her day came to an unceremonious end. Bennett was the new race leader and was running with light-footed finesse, for the time being holding off the charge of both Kehoe and Broome behind her. By lap two, however, it was apparent that Kehoe was the faster on her feet–the gap to Bennett was shrinking and at the mile 16 mark she had moved into first position. Kehoe, who raced her first triathlon as an IronKid at age seven, and whose fiancé (age grouper Jeff Mack) was racing his iron-distance debut, was all smiles and bouncy energy as she ultimately crossed the line victorious in 9:19:54. Bennett, though obviously laboring in the marathon’s latter miles, never gave up and was welcomed to her second place finish (9:43:59) by a wildly cheering crowd. Broome was eventually overtaken by Team Timex’s Christine Hammond who rounded out the women’s podium in 9:53:04.
Kehoe, a 2012 USAT Amateur Athlete of the Year, was honored to receive her finisher’s medal in tandem from her mother and her soon-to-be mother-in-law (the couple plans to wed in November). When asked if the win was the most exciting day for her ever, she screamed in delight, “Amen to that!”
Kehoe offered words of encouragement to the crowd based on the fact that she was far back following a less than stellar swim. “Just keep going forward,” she said. “I was last out of T1, so if you’re ever really far behind just keep your head up because you can do it!”
And although she missed seeing her fiancé during the race, Eben G. Fine Park, a feature of the run course, is the spot where Mack, her high school sweetheart, proposed, thus providing added motivation for her 3:16:42 marathon, the fastest among the pro women.
Boulder, Colo. – Aug. 3, 2014
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
1. Justin Daerr (USA) 8:20:26
2. Richie Cunningham (AUS) 8:30:38
3. Scott Defilippis (USA) 8:54:19
4. Steven Zawaski (USA) 9:01:53
5. Mark Hillers (USA) 9:14:44
1. Danielle Kehoe USA 9:19:54
2. Laura Bennett USA 9:43:59
3. Christine Hammond USA 9:53:04
4. Morgan Chaffin USA 9:57:28
5. Uli Bromme USA 10:01:13