Reed, Carfrae run away to win California 70.3

ITU star Matt Reed and 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Champion Mirinda Carfrae ran their way to victory today at the California Ironman 70.3 race at Oceanside.

When the race started, Reed got his goggles kicked off his face in a swim start scrum. Immediately thereafter, he suffered an asthma episode that had him contemplating pulling out. Luckily he gathered himself and exited Oceanside Harbor more than two minutes down to two-time defending champion Andy Potts.

Happily, the 6-foot 5-inch ITU star, who was once known primarily for his swim and bike skills, turned on the jets for a record 1:11:15 run to break away from 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Champion Potts. Reed hit the finish with a 1 minute 46 second margin of victory in 3:51:50, with Potts besting his Oceanside PR by 5 minutes in 3:53:36. Switzerland’s Ronnie Schildknecht, the 4th place finisher at Ironman Hawaii last October, took took third in 3:54:14, while Aussies Richie Cunningham and Joe Gambles finished 4th and 5th respectively.

“I did a lot of hard training for the Olympics which really picked up my run last year, but I was off on the day in Beijing and didn’t get to take advantage of it,” said Reed, whose best previous half Ironman performances were a fourth at St Croix and a sixth at Wildflower.

“Today, I got the full benefit of my run.”

Carfrae, who was shocked when she faded out of the top ten while defending her title at last November’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship, overcame a 3-minute deficit halfway through the run to pass Ironman 70.3 newcomer Sarah Groff and Leanda Cave with a quarter mile to go.

When Carfrae hit the line in 4:25:02, she had recorded the second-fastest ever women’s run at this race with a 1:20:22 half marathon. Carfrae’s margin of victory was 21 seconds over Groff, with Cave another six seconds further back in third.

Defending champion Erika Csomor was never in the hunt for the win this day and finished 4th in 4:28:31.

“I am thrilled that I could come back in my first big race this year at the level I set for most of last year,” said Carfrae. After puzzling over her shockingly off-form performance at Clearwater to finish off an otherwise excellent 2008 season, Carfrae concluded that she had failed to take an off season break, raced too much, and tried to rescue her falling fitness with more last minute intensity. “This year I got my rest, did more base work to start the season, and I was confident I would race well again,” she said.

The men

Potts hit the cold Pacific water like a sleek seal and broke his own Oceanside swim mark with a 21:27 time that gave him a minute head start on burly Swedish bike star Bjorn Andersson, former Oceanside winner Luke Bell of Australia, up and coming British Olympian William Clarke, France’s Sylvain Sudrie, Olly Freeman, Kevin Lisska and 4-time Ironman champion Bryan Rhodes of New Zealand.

As it turned out, the real drama in the swim was taking place with Reed.

“Somebody kicked me in the face, rang my bell and knocked off my goggles,” said Reed. “At the same time the combination of adrenaline, cold water and the claustrophobic feeling I get with a full wetsuit set off my asthma and I could not breathe. So I did the breast stroke and some back stroke. Started and stopped. I tried the two strokes again and wondered if I should pull out. Finally I thought ‘It’s a four hour race, a long day. I’ll just keep going and see.'”

On the bike, Andersson blazed away alone to a second-best 2:11:18 bike and the lead going into T2. Switzerland’s Ronnie Schildknecht had the best bike – 2:11:00 – but his 25:29 swim left him in the first chase pack. Reed charged hard with a third-best 2:13:03 bike to catch Potts (2:15:53 bike) and Schildknecht heading into T2.

“I got out of the water with (noted biker) David Thompson and rode away from him, so I knew i was riding well,” said Reed. “Bjorn Andersson was gone, but I rode up to Andy and felt good starting the run.”

Leaving T2 with Potts, Reed pulled away like a train leaving the station. He caught and left Andersson quickly, and had a minute lead at the halfway point. “I think I ran too hard for the first 10k, but when I saw Andy at the turnaround, he was running hard too. I thought if he wasn't catching me by then, he wouldn’t get me by the finish.”

Ultimately, Potts’ race to second was quicker than his two previous wins. Potts’ 3:53:36 finish was five minutes faster than his 2008 race PR, and his 1:12:55 run was 72 seconds faster than his 2008 half marathon.

With his $5,000 winning check in hand, Reed saluted his rival. “Whenever I show up and Andy is there, I know it will be a hard race. He will always give his best and he will never give up,” said Reed. “Today, my plan was to come out of the water on his feet, but I had troubles and had to work hard to catch up.”

The women

In the swim, Ironman 70.3 rookie Sarah Groff (24:03), who was top American woman in the 2008 ITU World Cup series points chase, led a pack of four, including Leanda Cave (24:06), Mary Beth Ellis (24:07) and Lisa Mensink (24:12). Dede Griesbauer (25:07) and 2008 ITU Olympic distance World Championship bronze medalist Samantha Warriner (25:22) came next.

Carfrae, in typical struggling swim form, was three minutes back of the leaders, while Csomor, an even worse swimmer, was out in 11th in 28:47.

Warriner, Cave, Ellis and Groff all hit T2 together, with Belgian Tine Deckers two minutes back and Carfrae three minutes down. While confident in her off season rest and her recent hard training, Carfrae had moments of uncertainty that she might reprise her nightmarish sluggishness at Clearwater. “I remember feeling bad that race and riding right behind Dede Griesbauer and thinking I should get going and pass her,” said Carfrae. “But when I tried , I had nothing left and I couldn’t get past her in the time allotted and got a deserved penalty.” This day, Carfrae got within 2 minutes of the bike leaders, then faded back to three minutes and change by T2. Still, her deficit was nothing like the 6 minutes she had to overcome on the run to win the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater.

“I had trained hard to strengthen my bike, so I was disappointed I couldn’t bridge the gap on the ride,” said Carfrae. “But I felt great starting the run.”

But so did Cave and Groff, who maintained a 3:15 margin on Carfrae halfway through the run. Groff, a transparently emotional competitor who expressed fear of the 70.3 distance in her blog before the race, was smiling and beaming with relief halfway through her run to find herself in contention for the win.

Then Carfrae went to work.

With six miles to go, Carfrae had chopped the margin to 2:45. With a mile and a half to run, Groff had gapped Cave by 30 seconds, but Carfrae was just a minute down.

“I was slowing down a little bit, but I probably was running closer to an even paced race than they were,” said Carfrae.

With a half mile to go she passed Cave, then took down Groff with a quarter mile left.

At the finish, Groff and Carfrae exchanged pats on the back. “We had been training together under coach Siri Lindley for almost four years, so we knew each other well and we were both happy we were on the podium together,” said Carfrae.

There was reason to celebrate. Trailing behind them was a stellar field. Cave, the 2002 ITU World Champion and 2007 ITU long course gold medalist, was 3rd, Csomor, a 4-time Zofingen winner, the defending Oceanside champion, a multiple Ironman champion who holds the second fastest Ironman-distance time ever, was 4th. Warriner, a recent 70.3 winner and 2008 ITU World Cup series points champ and 2008 ITU World Championship bronze medalist, was 7th and Mary Beth Ellis, the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Championship silver medalist, was 9th.

While 7th was not what she had hoped, Warriner did very well under the circumstances. The day before the race, Warriner was attacked by a sting ray while practicing the swim, leaving her with cuts and an ankle swollen to the size of a tennis ball. After losing 90 seconds to the swim leaders, Warriner scored the second fastest bike split, catching the leaders halfway through the 56-mile bike. Finally bearing full weight on her swollen ankle, Warriner bravely hung on in the run but faded to 7th at the finish.

“I spent last night trying to get the poison out of my leg that the kind stingray left,” said Warriner. “I was advised to keep my foot on a bowl of boiling hot water for as long as possible to draw the poison out. I got quite a few shooting pains in my leg on the bike as a result of the wound, but nothing major and I was able to put the pressure down once I caught the front. As soon as my feet hit the floor in transition, it was kind of strange. My foot felt numb and asleep, but painful, too. My heart rate was high, too. I think I probably still had some poison in my system and my heart had to work harder than normal.”

Records

Andy Potts’ 21:27 swim smashed his 22:13 mark set last year. Reed’s sizzling 1:11:15 run topped Torbjorn Sindballe’s 1:12:43 mark set in 2002, while Mirinda Carfrae’s 1:20:22 half marathon was second only to her own 1:19:32 mark while placing second last year. While the Ironman California 70.3 men’s and women’s race records held by Torbjorn Sindballe (3:47:08) and Katja Schumacher (4:18:44) remain intact, they were both set on a one-off 2002 course that had shortened, multiple loop bike that was amended at the last minute due to security concerns on the Camp Pendleton Marine base at Oceanside following the 2001 World Trade Center terror attacks. As a result, the top ten race times for the men were all set in 2002. All the other California Ironman 70.3 races have been on courses with a longer bike loop that includes a tougher, more significant hill. Reed’s 3:51:15 time thus smashes Potts’ regular course mark of 3:58:22 set in 2008 and Carfrae’s 4:25:02 falls behind only Erika Csomor’s scorching 4:23:14 set last year on the normal Oceanside course configuration.

Ironman 70.3 California
April, 4 2009 / Oceanside, CA
S 1.2 mi/ B 56 mi/ R 13.1 mi.

Results

Pro men

1. Matty Reed (USA) 3:51:50
2. Andy Potts (USA) 3:53:36
3. Ronnie Schildknecht (SWI) 3:54:14
4. Richie Cunningham (GBR) 3:54:38
5. Joe Gambles (AUS) 3:56:27
6. Luke Bell (AUS) 3:58:01
7. William Clarke (GBR) 4:00:41
8. Sylvain Sudrie (FRA) 4:01:07
9. Michael Lovato (USA) 4:03:25
10. Jozsef Mayor (HUN) 4:03:38


Pro women

1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 4:25:02
2. Sarah Groff (USA) 4:25:23
3. Leanda Cave (GBR) 4:25:43
4. Erika Csomor (HUN) 4:28:31
5. Tine Deckers (BEL) 4:31:12
6. Lisa Mensink (CAN) 4:32:17
7. Sam Warriner (NZL) 4:32:57
8. Dede Griesbauer (USA) 4:32:58
9. Mary-Beth Ellis (USA) 4:33:53
10. Kim Loeffler (USA) 4:37:08