It’s hard to not be impressed with the fitness level of folks who commit themselves to training and participating in Ironman-distance triathlons and that was surely the case in downtown Chattanooga Sunday morning.
There are three words to describe these folks and that’s fit, fast and friendly. And most of them cross the finish line with a smile on their face and a spring still in their step.
The latest was the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga and it attracted more than 3,000 triathletes from all over the world to the scenic city for a race that began with a 1.2-mile, continued with a 56-mile bike ride through North Georgia and then concluded with a 13.1 double loop run that featured the Chattanooga Riverwalk and parts of North Chattanooga.
Germany’s Sebastian Kienle was the overall winner as the two-time world champ splashed his way down the Tennessee River for an exit at Ross’s Landing in 23:08 before needing just 2:03:30 to cover the challenging bike course.
Then with eventual runner-up Sam Appleton hot on his heels, the 31-year-old German got into a running groove where he averaged 5:50 per mile for a run time of 1:16:15 and an overall time of three hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds.
And to think that he was feeling so good after crossing the finish line down by the aquarium that he quickly turned around, retraced his steps back on the final stretch giving high fives to as many spectators as he could reach.
Appleton was the only other competitor who busted his tail in an effort to stay with the slender fellow, who had finished second in a similar race two weeks ago at St. George’s in Utah.
Appleton stayed within striking distance for the first few miles of the run, but Kienle’s quick pace was simply too much as Appleton had to settle for the runner-up spot with a time of 3:48:46.
Russia’s Ivan Tutukin was third in 3:53:05 after exiting the water first while Americans Justin Park and Matt Russell completed the top five with times of 3:57:34 and 3:57:51, respectively.
The race among the ladies wasn’t as close.
American Heather Jackson, one of the pre-race favorites from Bend, Oregon, trailed runner-up finisher Magali Tisseyre of Canada when the bike segment began, but that’s when she created a gap that just keep getting wider and wider.
Jackson gained almost six minutes on that bike ride before posting a time of 1:24:03 for the run for an overall time of four hours, 11 minutes and 56 seconds, which was 18th overall.
Tisseyre was next in 4:18:33 as she finished 23rd while Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae was third in 4:19:32. Jeanni Seymour and Lauren Barrett completed the top five with times of 4:21:12 and 4:21:22, respectively.
Kienle apparently didn’t like finishing second two weeks ago and he came to town this week with the sole intention of making amends to himself for that less-than-satisfying performance.
“I just went a little faster today,” he said to the public address announcer shortly after his day’s work was complete.
“It takes me two or three races to get all of my cylinders firing and most were working today. I’m still working on my engine, but the atmosphere here in Chattanooga was awesome and I’m really looking forward to coming back next year for the world championship.
“I had a tough race two weeks ago, but I’ve worked really hard on my swim since then. I’m very happy with my own performance today as I was focused only on winning. There’s not a lot about it that I would change,” he added.
Appleton is originally from Australia, but he currently lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado.
The 26-year-old gentleman had the lead over Kienle for the first half of the race and he did all he could to stay in contact during the second half.
“Sebastian caught me about halfway on the bike course, but I had to go with him. I biked really hard and didn’t feel super strong when we started running as I was cramping a bit. And it was windy on the run, but I gave my best shot and I’m really happy,” he nodded while sipping on a bottle of water.
Jackson, like Kienle, had a tough race at St. George’s, but she didn’t let that slow her down in Chattanooga on Sunday. If anything, it inspired her to go just a little bit faster.
She was far better than any of the other women in the field.
“It was an incredible experience here for me today and this is one of my new favorite races,” she said after finishing.
“Not every race can be your best, so I just had to forget the past and focus on having fun today. Racing at this level can be so up and down, but I finally put it all together today. And I definitely have my eyes on Kona (Hawaii) this fall, but I can’t wait to come back here next year.
“This course was awesome and the volunteers and spectators were even better. I normally try to stay close to home on the west coast, but I’m glad I decided to enter this race,” she concluded with a smile.
Tisseyre also competed at St. George before coming to Chattanooga after that and spending more than a week at a local campground. The gap she created over the third-place finisher really came into play during the run.
“Right now I’m in so much pain, but I’m sure I’ll feel much better about today’s race later. We camped here for the past week and I got a chance to ride the course a couple of times. I probably should have rested more, but I’m so glad I had a nice gap when I got off the bike because I was running scared the entire time, the 34-year-old from Montreal suggested.
While the pros totally dominated the overall results, there were some familiar faces who have had success in Chattanooga triathlons before.
One of those faces belonged to Kevin Moats, a 62-year-old from Atlanta who was a dominant figure in the Riverbend Triathlon back in the mid 80s.
“I’m not as spry as I used to be, but anytime I can go the whole distance, I’m happy,” he said after finishing in 4:51:22.
Marshall Martin is another triathlon veteran who now lives in the Nashville area. He had a finish time of 4:53:18, which was pretty good overall, but he’s hoping to get much faster than that.
“I had a good swim and I knew I needed to put some time in the bank on the first half of the bike because the wind was a factor. Then I just told myself to stay strong on the run, but I found the inner strength of Chattanooga in those final miles.
“The good news is that I can still do this stuff and I’m thrilled with my time. I definitely wanted to break five hours, but I’d like to get back down in the 4:30s. I’m just thankful that I didn’t make any major mistakes today that cost me,” the 51-year-old Martin said.
Daniel Loveless is a 33-year-old Chattanoogan who completed his first triathlon of this distance. It turned out to be a positive experience for the UTC professor who teaches electrical engineering.
“It went way better than I thought it would, but this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I just love endurance events like this. I used to do a lot of long-distance swimming, but have since gotten into biking and running. Maybe I should have paced myself a little better on the run,” he said after finishing in 5:05:44.
Connie Petty is an energetic head of therapy at the Chattanooga Center for Sports Medicine. She celebrated her 50th birthday recently and also finished her first full Ironman here back in September.
Her training took a hit when she suffered a torn labrum in her hip and wasn’t able to run for the last eight weeks before September’s race, but she still did great with a walk-run time of just over 13 hours. Despite a dedicated training schedule, she’s still not 100 percent.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better day as we had a nice breeze blowing and the folks at the aid stations were loud and happy. My time today was slower than what I was hoping for, but it’s called unfinished business.
“I was hoping to be around 5:20 or 5:30, but I still haven’t regained the speed I had before I got hurt. And it didn’t seem as hard last year when I did this race for the first time,” she said after crossing the line in 5:55:49.
Two more Chattanoogans who were thrilled with their finish times included Peter Hurley and his lovely wife Lorraine. Peter is the CEO of the Chattanooga Bicycle Group and one of the driving forces behind getting these Ironman races to come here.
He practices what he preaches as he participates in triathlons all over the world. He couldn’t have been happier with his race on Sunday.
“I got a personal record by 15 minutes as it was just a great race for me,” the 59-year-old who once had quadruple bypass heart surgery said after finishing.
“I got so excited that I ran past where my bike was located, but I had a great day and I’m so proud of this city. All the folks in Chattanooga did a fantastic job supporting this event and that makes me so happy. And I’m so proud of Lorraine as she had a great race too,” he said, admitting that he has now done 42 triathlons total which includes two full distances and 15 of the 70.3s.
“We both broke six hours for the first time ever and I’m so happy, but he’s still king at our house,” Lorraine said after finishing about five minutes after her husband with a time of 5:56:09.
McKee Bakery is the chief sponsor for this race and next year’s race will be even bigger, better and more competitive as it will serve as the world championship for 2017.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)