Matthews Overcomes Injury, Rodriguez Hernandez Sets Run Course Record at IRONMAN Texas

Patrick Lange had to settle for 2nd place, as Mexico’s Tomas Rodriguez Hernandez set the IRONMAN Texas run course record en route to victory. Rodriguez Hernandez came off of the bike in 5th position and set off at a blistering pace on the run. By the 8 mile mark, Rodriguez Hernandez was averaging 5:30 per mile or 2:24 marathon pace. Rodriguez Hernandez would overtake early leader Matt Marquardt around the 17 mile mark and would not look back. The early pace started to wear on him in the closing miles but he held on to break the tape and Matt Hanson’s run course record by 25 seconds. Rodriguez Hernandez’s win comes as a bit of a surprise. He has always been a strong runner but has not achieved a result like this against a top tier field. He most recently finished 45th at Oceanside 70.3. It was Patrick Lange, after his disappointing result in Oceanside, at the pre race press conference who said, “After a bad race I take some time off mentally also to recover from that. At the end of the day it was just a bad day at the office. So it’s part of the process and you get up the next day and you just do what you keep doing best. This is refocusing. I switched the focus quickly to erase that a lot. So that’s done. It’s over. Focus on the good stuff that will happen on Saturday.” Rodriguez Hernandez and Lange moved on quickly from their Oceanside results to top the IRONMAN Texas podium.

Kat Matthews is tough as nails. Just 7 weeks ago she suffered a calf tear that forced her to withdraw from T100 Miami. Today, she is your IRONMAN Texas champion. Matthews downplayed her injury at the pre race press conference saying that it was a boring injury that half the audience has probably had. She added, “I wouldn’t be here unless it was really very possible that I’ll have an outstanding race including a really excellent run. So it’s gone really well and I’m really proud of my rehab, more proud than I think I’ll be of the result on race day.” Matthews, just like Rodriguez Hernandez, came off of the bike in 5th place. Matthews left herself a little less work to do and was able to hit the front of the race by the halfway point. While she walked some of the aid stations in the closing miles, the win was never in doubt. Matthews split 3:00:15 for her marathon. Australia’s Penny Slater finished in 2nd. Lotte Wilms, one of the early swim and bike leaders, gutted out a tough marathon to finish 3rd.

Men’s Race:

Dutch athlete Menno Koolhass led out the swim, with Florian Angert (GER), Ognjen Stojanovic (SRB), Matthew Marquart (USA), and Simon Shi (USA), in tow. Andrew Horsfall-Turner, who was expected to be in the front pack, led the chase pack at the halfway point. In that group was Nick Thompson, Braden Currie, Dylan Magnien, Patrick Lange, Tomas Rodriguez Hernandez, and Robert Kallin. Robert “The Wolf” Wilkowiecki and Clement Mignon were another minute behind the chase pack. Matt Hanson, Chris Leiferman, and Joe Skipper were all further back. That positioning would hold into T1. The front group would get out of the water with ~1:00 lead on the chase pack. Wilkowiecki and Mignon would get out of the water 2:00 down. Hanson would trail by 5:30, with Leiferman 6:00 down and Skipper 8:00 down.

Marquardt moved to the front of the race quickly and opened up a more than 1:00 lead 20 miles into the bike. By the halfway point, Kallin would join Marquardt at the front but did not take anybody up with him. Thompson and Angert trailed by 1:00, with another 4:00 back to Mignon, Koolhaas, Lange, Magnien, and others. With less than 20 miles to go on the bike, Kallin went down hard. He would be okay enough to continue the race but the fall allowed Marquardt to put 90 seconds on him heading into T2. Marquardt ended up biking 4:03:22, after biking 4:08 (& getting dropped by Rudy Von Berg) the previous year. Mignon came off the bike in 3rd, nearly 8:00 behind Marquardt. Angert came in next, another 2:00 back. Rodriguez Hernandez was 12:30 back. Lange was 13:30 back.

Marquardt looked well in control in the early miles of the run. The faster runners were more than 10 minutes behind him. It was looking like the full-time medical student could win & take the lead in the IRONMAN Pro Series. Rodriguez Hernandez and Lange were clawing back time with every step but Marquardt still had a comfortable lead approaching the halfway point. That is, however, when trouble struck for Marquardt. It is unclear if it was a fueling or cramping issue but Marquardt was forced to a halt 6 hours and 27 minutes into the race. Rodriguez Hernandez was running sub-2:25 marathon pace and his gap to Marquardt was really starting to shrink. Rodriguez Hernandez moved into 3rd place by 8 miles and into 2nd by 25k. He made his race winning move around the 17th mile and the only question would be how fast would he run.

The early pace began to get to Rodriguez Hernandez. Patrick Lange’s IRONMAN run record became increasingly safe in the closing miles but the IRONMAN Texas course record was still a possibility. Rodriguez Hernandez was slowing down but you knew the race was over when he played the bongos in Hippie Hollow right before the 24 mile mark. Lange was pulling some time back but it was a little too late with the lead Rodriguez Hernandez had built. Lange reached out and high fived Rodriguez Hernandez, who was running in the other direction, on one of the final out and back sections of the course. Rodriguez Hernandez crossed the finish line in 7:42:38 and snuck under the Texas run course record. Lange was 2nd and put together a respectable 2:35 marathon. Mignon rounded out the podium. Marquardt and Kallin hung on for 4th and 5th place, respectively. After the race Rodriguez Hernandez said, “I didn’t have any expectations. I wanted to win.” He also said that he just wanted to survive the bike and that he ran the first two laps of the run too fast. He thinks he can run faster and said a 2:28 marathon is possible. Rodriguez Hernandez says his goal now is to win the Pro Series.

Women’s Race:

Lauren Brandon predictably went to the front of the swim when the race began. Fenella Langridge, Lotte Wilms, Rebecca Clarke, and Diana Castillo Franco went with her. That group would come out of the water with a 4:00 lead over the chase pack, consisting of Hannah Berry, Maja Stage Nielson, Jocelyn McCauley, and Kat Matthews. Alice Alberts was another 1:20 down and Penny Slater was an additional 2:00 back. Danielle Lewis, Joanna Ryter, and Kylie Simpson, would have even larger gaps to the front.

Brandon, Wilms, Langridge, and Clarke led through the early stages of the bike. McCauley, Matthews, Nielsen, and Berry formed the main chase pack. Matthews would eventually pick up a drafting penalty that would cost her some critical time in trying to get to the front of the race. By the halfway mark, the pace was too hot at the front of the race for Brandon. Langridge and Wilms would shortly drop Clarke too. Langridge and Wilms worked together to build their lead to 4:00 over Berry and McCauley. Matthews, Alberts, Slater, and Clarke followed.

Langridge and Wilms would enter into T2 together. Langridge immediately took off through transition and got onto the run with a small lead over Wilms. McCauley, Berry, and Matthews came through transition next, with Slater and Alberts a little further behind. Langridge and Wilms ran nearly identical splits through the first 8 miles but Langridge led by ~40 seconds, which is what she gained in transition. By 10 miles, however, Wilms took over the lead. Her lead would be short lived, as Matthews soon reeled her in around halfway. Matthews had to walk several aid stations in the closing miles but would go on to win in 8:42:22. She has now won back to back IRONMAN Texas titles. Penny Slater had a breakthrough race to finish in 2nd. This is the strongest podium result of her career to date. Wilms hung on for 3rd. Berry finished 4th. Alberts finished 5th. Similar to her Oceanside run, Langridge dropped back and finished in a respectable 6th.

After the race Matthews said, Well, it was good enough.” She was happy with her swim start and finding the right feet early on. While she eventually swam on her own in the back half of the swim, she was very positive heading onto the bike. She said that she had a strong will to push herself on the bike and committed to making it a hard bike because she did not know how her run would go. The race did not go as smoothly as it might have appeared. Matthews lost her nutrition 30 minutes into the bike and received a drafting penalty. Her calf then started to bother her on the run. She somehow controlled that discomfort and could not believe that she was able to hold off Penny Slater. Matthews credited the Pro Series for elevating the field this year compared to her win last year. Slater said, “I knew I was pretty fit going into this but maybe not that fit.” Things did not go according to plan for her even before the start of the race. She got sick after breakfast but still started the race, thinking maybe it was just nerves. The stomach issues continued on the bike but Slater just kept pushing and moving up in the field. These two women showed how tough you need to be to do well in the Pro Series. If this is how the first full distance race of the series went, you can be sure that the racing will keep us entertained throughout the season.

Photos: Kyle Rivas / Getty Images for IRONMAN