The Ironman World Championships is the highlight of the triathlete’s calendar, with almost 2,500 athletes descending onto Kona, Hawaii to compete in one of the world’s toughest triathlon races. Here’s everything you need to know about what happened during this prestigious event.
Photo credit: @KoruptVision (Instagram)
The Build Up
The elite and amateur athletes would have spent countless hours throughout the year training to qualify for the biggest dance of the year. Now they’re at Kona, completing the final preparations in expectation of what could be the greatest event of their life.
The buzz in the week building up to the Ironman World Championships is palpable, with triathletes worldwide discussing the race and how they think it will unfold. Enthusiastic viewers will dedicate upwards of 9 hours of their time to watch the entire event live, even going through the night, and social media will be awash with images of the professional athletes battling through the lava fields.
The Swim Start
At 6:35 am on Saturday 13th October, the cannon in Kailua Bay fired, signaling the start of the elite men’s race and all of a sudden it was underway, the most emotionally charged event of the year. The swim start was a chaotically beautiful spectacle, with a whirlwind of windmilling arms and kicking legs disturbing the peaceful blue water. You hear the cannon boom again 5 minutes later and the scene is recreated once more, as the female elite athletes begin their adventure through the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle, and 26.2-mile marathon run.
The Men’s Race
“What a day yesterday was. Ironman Kona lived up to expectations again the energy is just amazing electric around the course.” – Tim Don, Ironman World Championships 2018
For one of our athletes, Tim Don of England, the men’s race was particularly special. It was Don’s opportunity to return to Kona after being involved in a serious bike crash just days before Kona last year. Don’s performance was absolutely incredible, and he finished with a time of 8:45:17, placing him 36th overall. This perfectly rounded off the emotional journey he has had this year.
All eyes during the swim were on Josh Amberger of Australia
Amberger was expected to drive the pace of the swim from early on and dictate the early positions for the race. Last year, Amberger reached T1 alone by leading the field out solo, would we see the same again? We saw Amberger leading the men’s front pack of 9 to a quick split of just under 48 minutes.
Our focus returned further down the field
A big group of swimmers including Sebestian Kienle of Germany, Joe Skipper of England and Cameron Wurf of Australia were a couple of minutes behind and Lionel Sanders of Canada was over 6 minutes down on the lead pack in the male field.
On the bike
Once on the bike, it didn’t take long for the male “Uber-bikers” pack to catch the front pack and by 31 miles a front group of 4 had broken away consisting of Andrew Starykowicz of America, Antony Costes of France, Wurf, and Amberger. Just over 2 minutes behind was a large pack consisting of many of the other favourites.
However, the pace continued to push on fiercely at the front and by the end of the bike, Wurf had broken away solo with a record-setting bike split of 4:09:06. This hair-raising bike split enabled Wurf to arrive into T2 solo, while the main pack of contenders all reached transition together, between 6 and 8 minutes behind Wurf. Anyone with a strong run leg would be rewarded with a high finishing position!
During the run
A group of 4 quick runners formed soon after T2 to chase down the lone figure of Wurf, including Brandon Currier of New Zealand, Bart Aernouts of Belgium, Tim O’Donnell of America and reigning Ironman champion Patrick Lange of Germany. This group quickly made up ground and it became a question of who would take the lead, rather than if they would take the lead.
By 10 miles Lange had unleashed his famous run speed, dropping the remainder of his lead pack and catching Wurf to take the lead. From that point, it began to be a question of just how fast he could go. Would he break his own run course record of 2:39:45 from 2016, and would he go under the magic 8-hour mark?
Lange continued pressing on, checking his watch at regular intervals to make sure that the record was in danger of being broken. The answer? Yes, it was.
Lange crossed the line with a spectacular new Ironman World Championships record of 7:52:39
This is the first time anyone has ever achieved sub-8 hours on this magical course.
Next to finish was the fast running Aernouts, who had cycled solo for a lot of the race and joined the three other male triathletes this year who broke the previous bike course record. Aernouts made his way through the field by running a staggering 2:45 marathon. His time of 7:56:41 was also within the previous course record. It turned out to be a podium full of fast runners, with David McNamee of Scottland making up serious ground to take third in a time of 8:01:09.
The Women’s Race
As we expected, the reigning World Champion Daniela Ryf of Switzerland was a machine and took first place at Kona. Lucy Charles of England didn’t fail to deliver on her expected swim speed either, setting off at a rapid pace as soon as the cannon fired and was solo by 400m. Charles ended up exiting the water nearly 3 minutes ahead of her closest rivals and in the process broke the women’s 19-year-old long-standing World Championships swim record with a time of 48:14!
Ryf trailed Charles by 9 minutes out of the water
She had been stung by a jellyfish just before the start and looking worse for wear on the way out into T1.
Charles continued to blast her way solo through the lava fields on the bike and by 30 miles, her gap back to Ryf was considerable and they were riding at similar speeds. By 40 miles Ryf had caught up with the second lone rider Sarah Crowley of Australia and seemed to look more comfortable – perhaps a sign that she had recovered from the sting and was thinking about the victory?
At the halfway point on the bike
Charles still had a lead of 8 minutes over Ryf. Then Ryf flipped the switch and decided to make the race her own! The return bike leg back to T2 was incredible. Ryf overtook Charles with ease and in the process only lost 2 minutes to Wurf’s record-breaking bike split speed. This pace saw Ryf break the women’s bike course record and was already 21 minutes ahead of her World Championship winning time of last year! Charles reached the end of the bike course only 1:38 minutes behind Ryf, with Corrine Abraham of Wales catching up to Crowley. This meant the run began with a battle for the last podium spot.
Ryf never let up on her pace throughout the marathon
She built on her lead to finish in a phenomenal time of 8:26:16, a new course record for Ironman Kona and Ironman world record! This time is likely to stand as a record for a long time and cements Ryf’s position as a triathlon legend.
Charles held strong with an improved 3:05 marathon compared to 2017 (3:08) and finishing in 8:36:32. This time would normally be enough for the World Championship title if it wasn’t for the powerhouse performance by Ryf in front of her.
Behind Ryf and Charles, a big battle was going on for the final spot on the podium.
Sarah True of America looked set to reach third spot with her strong marathon, but in the final four miles she slightly broke down and resorted to walking through the aid stations. This left an opportunity for the fast running Anne Haug of Germany to close the gap and snatch the third position on the podium with a finishing time of 8:41:57.
All things considered, this was an incredibly fast year of competition. There was a new world record set, Ironman competition records smashed in both of the professional races, alongside swim and bike records being demolished!