Andy Potts and Mirinda Carfrae took their third Ironman 70.3 California wins with swift runs that gave them slender margins of victory over strong fields.
Potts broke into a 2 minute lead in the swim and held to it for 50 miles on a challenging windswept bike. Potts then settled into a 10-mile shoulder-to-shoulder duel with Rasmus Henning on the run before making one last surge in the final mile to earn an 18-second margin of victory in 3:55:49.
"I am thrilled because there is no tougher competitor in the sport than Rasmus and he was on his game today," said Potts. "I know he was having a good day because he was encouraging several other competitors he knew on the course and I was maxed out and could only manage a high five and two words - 'My man!' when I passed my son Boston on the course. It just shows you should be careful what you wish for. In the days before the race I thought to myself 'I'd love to get in a sprint finish with him.' With a mile to go I said to myself 'I wanted to get into a sprint finish with him?' Now I'm getting what I wanted -- and it is painful!"
Potts and Henning left behind Michael Weiss and Ronnie Schildknecht and Matt Reed a mile or two into the half marathon and ran elbow to elbow down the Oceanside strand for the better part of two laps. With 5k to go, Henning, started to feel intimations of the cramps that forced him to DNF at Abu Dhabi three weeks before. "I was feeling good for most of the run and tried to test him a few times, " said Henning. "But with 5km to go, I started to feel a little cramp in my hamstring and when it was time to move with 500 meters to go, I just didn't have the power and I had to slow down."
Potts closed out the duel with a race-best 1:12:17 half marathon - 20 seconds faster than Henning's 2nd-best run. Austrian Michael Weiss, after posting a race-best 2:11:54 bike that made up the 3:28 he lost to Potts on the swim, arrived in T2 with Potts, Henning, Ronnie Schildknecht and Matt Reed. After Potts and Henning left their rivals in the dust and Reed dropped out on the run. Weiss and Schildknecht settled into a duel. In the final miles Weiss surged and Schildknecht could not answer and the former Austrian Olympic mountain biker took 3rd, 22 seconds behind Henning after a third-best 1:13:26 run. Schildknecht posted a 1:13:26 run to finished 4th, 28 seconds behind Weiss.
Jordan Rapp, coming off a 12th place finish at Abu Dhabi, combined a 26:05 swim, a third-best 2:13:34 bike and a 10th best 1:16:50 run to take 5th in 4:00:29. "I am very happy, said Rapp. "This was my best fast half Ironman since I took 4th at Wildflower in 2009 - and it came against a similar top field. It's a good sign because this course doesn’t suit me as much as the hills of Ironman Canada and Wildflower."
The women's race had even more drama as two-time defending Rohto Ironman 70,3 California champion Mirinda Carfrae was suffering both from the aftereffects of her cold, rainy second place finish at Ironman New Zealand effort four weeks ago and from a stomach ailment that had her contemplating withdrawing from Oceanside. After an excellent-for-her 4th-best 26:52 swim, Carfrae could only manage a listless 2:37:17 bike that dropped 7 minutes 20 seconds to Heather Jackson's race-best 2:29:56 ride and significant time to at least seven other rivals.
When Carfrae started the run, she was 4:45 behind T2 leader Melanie McQuaid, a few seconds more to Magali Tisseyre, and about 4:08 to Jackson (despite a 30:04 swim) and about 3:20 to Heather Wurtele. Jackson, a former Princeton ice hockey player who became a pro triathlete in 2009 and was coming off a 5th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds last November, left McQuaid behind after 3 miles of the run and surged ahead of Tisseyre just after the first lap run turnaround at mile 6.5 on her way to a personal best 1:22:44 half marathon.
"I was right behind Mags and I thought I better get going because I knew Rinny was coming," said Jackson, who has upped her run mileage to 55 miles per week over the winter in order to shore up her second weak link after her swim. Then, unlike the 2010 Ironman 70.3 Worlds at Clearwater in which Tisseyre outran Jackson to take 3rd, Heather surged away into her very first lead in an event with a world-class field, trusting her fate to her feet.
"I felt so bad on the bike, I wasn't expecting to feel so good on the run, and I was expecting to settle for 2nd or 3rd," recalled Carfrae. "I just didn't have the strength and endurance on the bike I had last year. I didn't know if I had the run I needed to win, because all these girls run quickly, too. But that first lap I felt unbelievably good. It felt wonderful. The second lap, I felt heavy and thought the wheels might come off. But I took in some Coke and GU and got my rhythm back."
Jackson said she "just locked in and drove hard and never looked up" once she took the lead. "It was a little weird," she added, "because Rinny is my friend and my role model and now I was competing with her."
Finally, on her way to a race-best 1:18:25 run. Carfrae came up on Jackson with half a mile to go and tapped her lightly on the hip. "She said 'You're having the race of your life,' and offered me encouragement," said Jackson. "I just said to myself, 'Hold on!' The crowd was screaming 'Don't let her get away!' I put in a surge and tried to stay with her and I was able to stay with her a tiny bit. But when she made the last right turn for home, she was gone."
"I had to sprint to the finish line because I knew she'd be there if I gave her an inch," said Carfrae.
When Carfrae hit the line, she was spent and dropped flat on her back to the carpet. Jackson hit the line with her arms upraised in triumph, then collapsedf next to her hero on the carpet - two warriors, two friends, who gave it their all.
"I was happy to win, but I was very happy for Heather," said Carfrae. "Heather is one of the nicest girls on the circuit who had yet to make her big breakthrough. We all knew she was about to make that step, and I guess she made it. She made a statement today that she is a force to be reckoned with in 70.3 races and Ironman too if she decides to do it."
After Carfrae's 4:26:18 finish with Jackson just 10 seconds back, Magali Tisseyre finished her 1:23:54 run 54 seconds later in 3rd. "I was surprised by Heather," said Tisseyre. "I knew she is a great cyclist, but today she stepped up on the run."
Canadian Heather Wurtele took 4th, 63 seconds back of Tisseyre.
Kelley Williamson came into this race with two impressive wins, but fell off the chase with a 2:39:22 split on the bike which even her second-best 1:19:54 run could only advance her to 5th, 62 seconds behind Wurtele.
Rohto Ironman 70.3 California
Oceanside, CA / April 2
1.2m swim / 56m bike / 13.1m run
Top 10 men
1. Andy Potts (USA) 3:55:49
2. Rasmus Henning (DEN) 3:56:07
3. Michael Weiss (AUT) 3:56:29
4. Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI) 3:56:57
5. Jordan Rapp (USA) 4:00:20
6. Paul Ambrose (GBR) 4:00:29
7. Maxim Kriat (UKR) 4:01:19
8. Chris Legh (AUS) 4:03:03
9. Maik Twelsiek (GER) 4:03:10
10. Matt Lieto (USA) 4:03:44
Top 10 women
1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 4:26:18
2. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:26:28
3. Magali Tisseyre (CAN) 4:27:22
4. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:28:25
5. Kelly Williamson (USA) 4:29:27
6. Melanie McQuaid (CAN) 4:31:03
7. Kate Major (AUS) 4:32:28
8. Linsey Corbin (USA) 4:33:32
9. Dede Griesbauer (USA) 4:34:54
10. Desiree Ficker (USA) 4:37:03