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Germany’s Sebastian Kienle and Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae will deservingly grab most of the post-race attention after the 2014 Ironman World Championship, but we noticed a few other big stories that played a big role in the outcome of the race.
Ben Hoffman’s run breakthrough
Ben Hoffman has always been a solid runner, but never spectacular. That all changed this year at Ironman Coeur D’Alene in June. The American’s breakthrough came in the form of a 2:43:59, eight minutes faster than Andy Potts ran on the same day. So when Hoffman came off the bike in the first chase group, the range of possible outcomes was incredibly broad. His best finish in Kona prior to this year was 15th in 2013. Would he be able to replicate the foot-speed he showed in Coeur D’Alene or would this year be a repeat of his past in Hawaii? A 2:51 marathon split proved that Hoffman’s improved run could translate to the more challenging conditions of the Big Island.
Surprising poor swims
James Cunnama, Tyler Butterfield and Luke McKenzie all made the front group in the swim at 2013’s Ironman Hawaii. This year, all three missed the lead group badly. So badly, in fact, that Sebastian Kienle was nearby when the trio started to ride. Kienle typically loses time in the swim, several minutes, and then jams on the gas out of the swim to catch the front group as quickly as possible. Not only does he lose time, but he is forced to spend a ton of energy chasing while the other top contenders get a mental boost from riding with a big group and a physical savings from drafting at a legal distance from other athletes. The wattage savings is subtle, but still significant.
The presence of three other top contenders not only allowed Kienle to get a minimal break, it forced him to pace more carefully in the first few miles. Cunnama, Butterfield and McKenzie underperforming in the swim saved Kienle from his own exuberance. The payoff came in the final stages of the race, when the German was able to press away alone while a series of small groups struggled behind to minimize the damage.
Andy Potts is the best swimmer in Ironman and has been so for several years. In 2012 he swam solo 55 seconds faster than the first group. This year, the former All-American swimmer didn’t motor away from the pack. He sat with the other fastest swimmers, including Jan Frodeno, for the 4K trip through Kailua Bay and ran into transition just steps ahead of a sizeable group. Patience paid off, as Potts was able to start the ride with the other riders instead of gassing full speed out of T1 to face the winds by himself. Like Sebastian Kienle, the American veteran saved calories and mental energy in the first hour or two of the ride because of a more advantageous swim. He was rewarded with a career-best fourth-place finish, thanks to a 2:48 marathon split. After years of emphasizing his strength, having the confidence to try another strategy yielded the result he’s searched for.
Ryf’s unseasoned legs
Daniela Ryf is new to Ironman. At the start of this summer, she had never competed over 140.6. When she started the World Championship as one of the favorites, the ITU veteran and 70.3 world champ had completed just two iron-distance races. She announced her presence to the field by riding away and establishing a solo advantage on the bike. By the time she re-entered transition to start the run, heavy favorite Mirinda Carfrae was 14 minutes down. The gap seemed insurmountable, to many spectators and Carfrae herself.
Fifteen miles into the run, Carfrae had chipped away at Ryf’s gigantic advantage. The Aussie was gaining about 40 seconds per mile, and at the rate, the pair was forecasted to arrive at the finish line at nearly the same time. It was going to be a close finish. Then the massive experience gap between the two began to show. Ryf’s coach Brett Sutton tweeted, “@ryf now in completely foreign territory as she doesn’t have the seasoning for 42km.”
After weeks of bombastic proclamations, the inevitability of Carfrae’s metronomic run had the accomplished coach hedging against his bold pre-race forecasts. Sutton knows his pupil well. Shortly after he posted this tweet, Ryf started to fade and Carfrae just kept on moving.
Ryf proved that she has the potential to unseat Carfrae, she just wasn’t ready to finish the job this year.
In 2010, she ran 2:53:32; the following year she split 2:52:09 to break the run record; 2012 was a subpar 3:05:04 marathon; in 2013 she bettered her own course record with a 2:50:38; this year Carfrae outdid herself and set a new course record of 2:50:26. When she came off the bike 14 minutes behind Ryf, Carfrae reset her own expectations to hope for a top five, she said after crossing the line as champion. After moving through the group she upped her expectations to a top three. By the time she reached mile 21 just 2 minutes behind Ryf, the conclusion felt almost inevitable. Carfrae’s run is just too good.
Jan Frodeno’s tires
Jan Frodeno can’t catch a break. Through his brief Ironman career, he’s averaging a puncture every 56 miles. The 2008 Olympic champ suffered three flats in his Ironman debut earlier this summer and once again at the Ironman World Championship. About 30 miles into the ride, his tire blew and the German was forced to stand by the side of the road while Starykowicz powered the first group away from him. Frodeno had been an aggressor in the lead group, taking a few pulls at the front and stressing the rest of the field. As a cyclist, he was strong. His run credentials have never been in question. Frodeno was well on his way to backing up his emphatic self-confidence before the puncture derailed him. Shortly after flatting, a penalty took him back even further.
Referees played a big role in both the men’s and women’s races. Shortly after Frodeno got back on the road after his flat tire, he charged up to one of the trail groups and found himself in within the draft zone. Penalty, four minutes on the side of the road. The time lost from the consecutive delays dropped Frodeno far away from the fastest cyclists. At the 80-mile mark, he was well behind and looked broken. He rebounded admirably and only stalled out at the 23-mile mark, failing to erase Ben Hoffman’s 25-second advantage before the finish. We still don’t know just how fast an Ironman Frodeno is right now.
Jodie Swallow can’t run as fast as Mirinda Carfrae. For her to win this race, she has to do it on the bike. The Brit was dinged for not passing within the allotted time and forfeited four minutes. She started the run with lowered expectations and shouted to her coach Siri Lindley in the first steps of the run, “I didn’t [expletive] deserve that, I wasn’t drafting!” Whether she was guilty or not, Swallow’s day came up short after failing to drop the field during the ride.
Andi Raelert’s partial resurgence
Andreas Raelert came within 1K of winning a world title in 2010. He was third in 2011, second again in 2012 and DNF’ed in 2013. In both 2012 and 2013, he swam poorly and made it even harder on himself. At the age of 38, Raelert’s window to contend for the world title seemed to have closed. Then this year he came out of the water at the tail end of the front group. Raelert had solved his weakness. One hundred twelve miles later Raelert was still in contention with his strongest discipline still to come. Ten miles after that, Raelert had posted the fastest split through the early stages on the marathon. He was back in the mix, putting pressure on the top places. Unfortunately for the Ironman veteran, his charge through the field stalled out and he dropped out of the race.