Kona 2014: Behind The Races That Didn’t Go To Plan

A recap of some of the pro races that didn’t go as expected.

Photo: John David Becker

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Every year, the Kona course offers varying degrees of choppy waters, blistering heat, heavy humidity and intense winds that cause even the most well-prepared and mentally strong athletes to crumble. There’s a reason the world championship is held here—it’s certainly not an easy place to compete.

This year was no exception, with 16 DNFs in the pro men’s field and four in the pro women’s field. According to Raymond Britt at Runtri.com, overall there was a 6 percent DNF rate this year, compared to a similar year in 2012 when 4.9 percent of the field did not finish (comparable because 11:35 was the average finish time in 2014; it was 11:32 in 2012). In 2013, bike splits were 20–25 minutes faster than average, showing that last year had likely “easier” conditions than 2014.

In addition to the athletes who decided to pull the plug when things went south, there were others who battled through issues just to cross the line, even if it meant getting there an hour slower than normal. Here’s a recap of some of the races that didn’t go as expected.

The Men

Frederik Van Lierde (BEL)
Eighth place, 8:24:11

The defending champion still posted a solid top-10 result, but would’ve preferred to be on top of the podium again this year. He was in the front pack of the swim and positioned himself well on the bike to come into T2 in fourth, but he battled side stiches on the run to finish eighth. In a recap sent out after the race, Van Lierde said this: “On the bike I felt strong from the beginning but I also wanted to save some energy for the second part. But when the later winner, Seb Kienle came over our leading group after 70km, the whole game changed. All out from then on, in very windy conditions and the field was blown apart. … I ran really good and till 30km I felt really strong and I was in 2nd position. For some reason (have to find out why later), when I came out of Energy Lab, I had painful stitches in my right side. 3km I suffered walked, ran, walked before it started to get better … That’s it for now, rest and recovery time now!”

Luke McKenzie (AUS)
15th place, 8:38:12

His day didn’t start in the usual front swim pack and he didn’t make up enough ground to get back to last year’s spot on the podium, but with a year of tough races (and having a baby four months ago!), he sounds ready to vie for his top spot again in 2015. “Not my day but proud of a hard fought 15th place,” McKenzie said on Twitter. “I will be back.”

Ivan Raña (ESP)
17th place, 8:38:59

The Spaniard had a slower swim and bike than usual, and even his race-fastest 2:44 marathon couldn’t quite make up enough time. In a message after the race, Raña said, “It was tough, for a lot of people. I felt really bad in the swim and on the bike. I felt like sleeping. Same feeling when I have a big rest.”

Tim O’Donnell (USA)
32nd place, 9:25:13

Last year’s top American started out in the front swim pack but began to feel iffy on the bike and dealt with a host of issues throughout the race. Afterwards he tweeted, “Humbling day here in Kona. Lots of small things going wrong led 2 whole thing going really wrong. Thanks 2 all who cheered me on regardless.” O’Donnell’s wife, now three-time Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae, said she saw him in the Energy Lab on the run and he told her, “You’re racing for both of us now!” He still got himself across the line with a 3:52 marathon.

Marino Vanhoenacker (BEL)
34th pro (353rd overall), 9:55:19

In 2012, Vanhoenacker had a meltdown that resulted in a DNF; this time he was third off the bike, but suffered during the run. He made it to the finish after a lot of walking during the marathon. In an interview with Triathlete.com after the race, he said, “It was a hard day and a really long run/walk at the end. There’s nothing much to tell about it. I just wanted to finish because I’m not coming back here, so I had to finish this story. I’m done with this race. I’ve tried enough. I don’t want to go through this again.”

Andrew Starykowicz (USA)

The 2013 bike leader was expected to take charge again, but he said afterwards he wasn’t quite prepared for the race and started walking in mile 1 of the marathon before he dropped out. Post-race via Twitter: “Thanks 4 all the support. I missed 70.3Worlds bc I was on crutches, & I thought I was healthy enough to give it 100%. Thanks again”

Eneko Llanos (ESP)

Llanos cited a cold that held him back. From Facebook, “I was hoping to be recovered from the cold for the race but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I wasn’t too bad but not strong enough. Survived the swim and the bike, hoping to do a good run but couldn’t find any strength. I decided too quit, I didn’t have much power to keep going and I didn’t want to risk my health any more. Another bad year in Kona but we will keep fighting. Thank you everybody for your support!”

Terenzo Bozzone (NZL)

Bozzone didn’t have the day he wanted, but congratulated his fellow competitors who hung tough all day. Afterwards he said on Facebook: “It wasn’t my day today and unfortunately I had to pull the pin at 120km. I am grateful for all the support and well wishes, thanks everyone for the encouragement.”

Bevan Docherty (NZL)

The Kiwi dropped out early in the race, and tweeted this afterwards: “Very disappointin day, I just had nothin in my legs & no excuses or reasons why. Thanks 2 every1 behind me I wish I could have performed 4 u.”

Pete Jacobs (AUS)

The 2012 champion was into T1 in the top 5, but decided to call it quits when he realized he would be reduced to a walk/run, and plans to focus on Challenge Bahrain in December. On Twitter, Jacobs said, “For my physical and mental health, my future, my income, I couldn’t run/walk today when not 100%. Doing that twice this year was enough.”

In an interview with Triathlete.com, he explained, “I was riding pretty well, but I started to fall back around the 40-mile mark. I thought ‘well I’m still going OK’ but once we went past Kuhawaiai and the rollers, I just sort of went further and further and slower and slower. … I haven’t had the perfect build-up. It has been far from the perfect year. … In the back of my mind I knew that I didn’t have a great feeling about this race.”

Tyler Butterfield (BMU)

A top 10 finish couldn’t be replicated this year; Butterfield said lower back pain took him out of the race. From Twitter: “The things I thought might b weaknesses, were. & today I was found out. Unhappy 2 have 2 pull out w/ lower back pain. Now to watch to show.” … “Thank you to all that supported me this year. The pursuit of perfection had its cost. Last year was 2 steps 4ward, this year 1 step back!”

TJ Tollakson (USA)

Tollakson ran until the turnaround point on Ali’I Drive until he decided to pull the plug ultimately because of a plaguing back/nerve issue. “I jogged back to transition to turn in my chip, but I quit racing at the turnaround, and made up my mind to retire from the race,” he said. “The day before the race, I was bent over adjusting my rear derailleur when my back gave out (muscle spasm). I’ve dealt with two bulging discs in my back for years, and undergo a lot of treatment and a demanding strength and conditioning program to keep my back from causing me problems. I brushed it off on Friday and went for a short ride and felt great and used my Compex to help relax my muscles.” His back started acting up on the swim, and once in the aerobars, the nerve pain down his right side prohibited him from putting out the power he wanted to. “I had a lot of confidence in my run so I thought after riding very easy for 112 miles, I could have one of my best runs. My back pain was intense on the run, sending shooting nerve pain down my right leg with every right foot strike. I told myself it would get better and after a few miles I wouldn’t even notice the pain. Contrary to my wishes, the pain just got worse the longer I ran, so I decided to shut it down and call it a day in hopes that I would minimize the damages and not make the problem worse.”

Other top contenders such as James Cunnama and Faris Al-Sultan also had DNFs but we do not have the details on their races.


RELATED PHOTOS – 2014 Ironman World Championship: Men’s Race

The Women

Linsey Corbin
12th place, 9:25:38

Her impressive 2:58:58 marathon, which was the second-fastest women’s split, catapulted her from 24th place off the bike to an eventual 12th overall female, but she had too much room to make up after a 1:06 swim to crack the top 10 (and better her best result, which was 8th in 2012).

Heather Wurtele (CAN)
15th place, 9:34:18

Wurtele has had a tremendous year of results, but wasn’t able to best her 8th-place 2011 finish (in 2012 she was 14th, last year she was sick and DNFed). At one point, she got up to sixth place during the run, but faded to a 3:25 run split and 15th place.

Caitlin Snow (USA)
22nd place, 9:48:14

Her typically sub-3:00 fast marathon splits have taken her to the top 10 in the last four years, but she didn’t have the same run this time around and ran a 3:16. She tweeted that she was “proud to have been able to finish” after the race.

Meredith Kessler (USA)

Kessler exited the swim as a leader with Jodie Swallow and continued to bike at the front of the field. But she started getting sick during the ride and started her run depleted. By the time she got around mile 8, a combination of being physically depleted and the intense heat caused her body to just shut down in the early miles of the marathon.  Afterwards, the team-focused pro said this on Facebook: “We were so prepared+did everything in our control to set us up for the best race we could muster – sometimes dreams are just put on hold! I care the most about ‘US’ thus my extreme disappointment as the technician (me) of the TEAM could not deliver on the day. As we know, in sport AND in LIFE – the highs are so high, the lows = so low YET those who LOVE you and BELIEVE in you – support you regardless which is beyond priceless.”

Yvonne Van Vlerken (NLD)

The “flying Dutch girl” has crazy bike speed that took her to fourth in 2013, but with a 1:06 swim and not her usual strength, she called it a day early. “Very sorry it wasn’t my day today. Horible swim, no power at all. My bike was very weak and didn’t get my ritme during the whole race,” she said on Twitter.

*Other top contenders such as James Cunnama and Faris Al-Sultan also had DNFs but we do not have the details on their races.

RELATED PHOTOS – 2014 Ironman World Championship: Women’s Race

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