McMahon, Kessler top IM Arizona

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Ironman rookie Brent McMahon of Canada ran away from the field with a 2:43:29 marathon and smashed the race record with a 7:55:38 overall time and Meredith Kessler led wire-to-wire to finish in 8:50:41 as the two won the elite titles at Ironman Arizona.
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McMahon topped runner-up Clemente Alonso McKernan of Spain by 4:54 while Jordan Rapp, who led from halfway through the bike leg until halfway through the run, finished 3rd, 7:26 behind McMahon.

McMahon's 7:55:38 time was also the 15th fastest Ironman-distance men's time in history.

Kessler posted the women’s fastest swim, a second-best 4:48:05 bike leg and a women's 2nd-fastest 3:07:57 marathon to leave runner-up Lisa Hütthaler of Austria (women's race-best 3:05:48 run) and 3rd-place finisher, Ironman rookie Heather Jackson of the U.S., well in her wake.

Kessler’s 8:50:41 time was the 3rd-best in Ironman Arizona history falling behind Chrissie Wellington’s 8:36:13 in 2010 and Leanda Cave’s 8:49:00 in 2011. Kessler’s winning time was also the 30th fastest Ironman-distance women’s time in history.

Men

On a moderate, sunny day, swift fish David Kahn of the U.S led the way out of Tempe Town Lake with a race-best 49:32 split, followed 19 seconds later by ITU-honed Canadian Olympian Brent McMahon and Australian Paul Matthews 27 second later. They were followed by likely contenders Clemente Alonso McKernan of Spain (6th in 50:36), Tim O’Donnell (7th in 50:38), Viktor Zyemtsev of Ukraine (11th in 53:31), Maik Twelsiek of Germany (13th in 53:49) and 5-time Ironman winner Jordan Rapp (14th in 53:50 – 4:18 in arrears).

The three loop bike course is a Jekyll and Hyde setup with the 18.5-mile outbound into the desert slightly uphill and into a bracing wind and the inbound well over 30 miles per hour buoyed by a slight cumulative downhill and tailwinds.

Kahn held on to a 41 seconds lead over Matthews at the 10-mile mark, followed by McKernan (+43 seconds), McMahon (+44s), and Edo Van Der Meer (+46s), O’Donnell fading a bit to 1:33 down. By the first turnaround at 18.5 miles, Matthews took the lead followed by Kahn (+5s), McKernan (+9s), McMahon (+1:03), O’Donnell (+2:02), an aggressive, fast-closing Rapp (+2:39), with Twelsiek and Zyemtsev 3 and one half minutes down.

Matthews, who before a disappointing 8:37 at Kona this year had never gone slower than 8:05 in his Ironman efforts, led through the first loop - 37 miles - 5 seconds ahead of McKernan, 17 seconds ahead of Kahn while Rapp was closing fast at 1:04 down, 33 seconds ahead of McMahon. O’Donnell was 2:05 down, Twelsiek 3:14 behind the leader and Zyemtsev was starting to fade at plus 4:51.

Rapp took the lead at the 56 mile mark, 2 seconds ahead of McKernan 1:31 ahead of Matthews, 1:51 ahead of Kahn, 2:36 up on McMahon and 3:41 ahead of O’Donnell and Zyemtsev headed south with an 8:36 deficit. His average speed for the first 37-mile loop was 25.97, on pace for a 4:18 split which would be 4 minutes off his course bike split record.

At 74 miles – the end of the second loop -- Rapp increased his speed and was on pace for 4:12 split. McKernan lost the least time and was 33 seconds down but the two leaders were opening up a bigger lead on the field. Ironman rookie but new 70.3 master McMahon was hanging tough at 3:21 down, Twelsiek 3:26 back and O’Donnell fading slightly to a 5:38 deficit. Early contenders were fading – Ironman vets Matthews (9:34 back in 8th) and Zyemtsev (11th and 12 minutes behind) were not faring well.

On the final loop, Rapp held his pace and concluded the ride in 4:14:01, 43 seconds better than his 2013 record split. Powerful cyclist Maik Twelsiek, who finished the Ironman World Championship bike leg second to Sebastian Kienle, pushed hard to negative split his second-best 4:15:23 ride and arrive in T2 just 1:12 back of Rapp. McMahon made good use of his superior swim so his 4:21:23 bike split left him in excellent contention, 3:23 down and McKernan also in range with a 4:06 deficit. Strong runners like O’Donnell (8:54 down) would need a PB to crash the podium and Zyemtsev was off the back, 16:28 behind.

While Rapp had obviously recouped much of his 5-time Ironman winning form since a dispiriting 36th place finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship at Mt. Tremblant, it seems he still had not reached the easy, sub-2:50 speed he exhibited winning Ironman Texas in 2012. Still, he held stubbornly to the lead past the halfway point of the run, holding a fast charging Maik Twelsiek 20 seconds back. Ominously, McMahon has shaved his 3:21 deficit to 1:10 at Mile 10 and McKernan was 40 seconds back at that 10 mile marker.
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Approaching the halfway point of the run, Rapp bowed to the inevitable. In the next mile and a half after 10, McMahon sliced Rapp’s lead by 30 seconds.

At Mile 13.1, McMahon led Rapp by 18 seconds, Twelsiek by 59 seconds and a revived McKernan by 1:38. O’Donnell, not back on form, was 6th, 11:03 back and Zyemtsev, in 7th, was hanging tough at 14 minutes arrears.

At Mile 15, McMahon led Rapp by 49 seconds with Twelsiek (+2:24) holding off McKernan by 4 seconds.

At Mile 18, McMahon led Rapp by a comfortable 2:02, but McKernan appeared ready to make a move, shaving his deficit to Rapp to 53 seconds. Twelsiek had a firm grasp in 4th 5:10 off the leaders, while O’Donnell moved up to 5th, 13:11 off the pace.

At Mile 21, Rapp surrendered the runner-up slot to McKernan, who was on his way to a second-fastest 2:47:30 marathon, 6:38 faster than Rapp's decent 2:54:08 effort.

But nobody was making inroads on McMahon, whose lead on McKernan increased to 4:54 by the finish.

At the end, the Canadian rookie closed with a stellar 2:43:30 marathon to smash the course record with an overall time of 7:55:38.

Women

Of all the talented women in this race, Meredith Kessler seemed to be on a mission to make up for a slightly disappointing 4th at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and a sad DNF at Kona. With her race record third straight win at Ironman New Zealand, a win at the prestigious St. George 70.3 and her three-peat at Vineman 70.3, Kessler seemed ready to join the heavy favorites at the Ironman distance, primed to prove it at Tempe. While Heather Jackson seemed on track to make a big splash in her Ironman debut, mid-season injuries left her behind in training for Mt. Tremblant 70.3 Worlds, unable to make the Kona start and likely with reduced hopes at Tempe. Lisa Hütthaler came to Tempe hungry with several European 70.3 wins and a somewhat disappointing 7th at Ironman 70.3 Worlds.

Kessler broke out of the box like a quarterhorse, leading the swim in 50:22, 1:38 ahead of top swimmer Amanda Stevens, 3:05 up on Christina Jackson, 3:08 on Carrie Lester, a whopping 8:36 ahead of Heather Jackson (8th) and 8:44 up on Hütthaler (10th).

At the first turnaround on the bike course, 18.5 miles into the race, Kessler was in command with a 4:18 lead on Stevens, 4:46 on Lester, 5:36 on Christina Jackson and 7:45 on Hütthaler and Jackson trying to gain traction at 10 minutes down.

At the end of loop one, 37 miles down, Kessler reigned with a 5:32 lead on Stevens while Hütthaler the only woman gaining ground – 6:50 down, 2 seconds ahead of Lester and 10:11 up on Heather Jackson.

Halfway through the ride, Hütthaler pushed her way to second, 7:28 behind Kessler, with Stevens 3rd 9:09 back, Christina Jackson 4th at 12:13 down and Heather Jackson charging up through the field to 5th but not making up any ground at 13:05 behind.

After 112 miles, Kessler’s second-fastest 4:48:05 brought her into T2 with a 7:22 lead on Heather Jackson (4:47:05 split), 10:14 on Hütthaler (4:50:16 split) and 12:22 on Amanda Stevens (4:57:54 bike split).

Starting the run, Kessler did not allow any leaks to her lead, maintaining a 9:12 advantage on Heather Jackson and 10:56 on Hütthaler at Mile 8. But by 10 miles, Ironman rookie Jackson was fading as Hütthaler, with more Ironman experience, took over 2nd place at 10:35 back, 7 seconds ahead of Jackson. At 11 miles, Kessler seemed to have a stranglehold on her pursuers, holding a 10:15 margin on Hütthaler and 10:47 on Jackson.

By Mile 21, Kessler exhibited no weakness and led Hutthaler by 8:59 and Heather Jackson by 17:50.

At the finish, Kessler's 8:50:41 gave her an 8 minutes 5 seconds margin of victory over Hütthaler and 18:16 advantage over Heather Jackson, who held the final spot on the podium with a 3:18:51 run.
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