The 2nd Fastest Ironman Ever: Records Fall (and batteries fail) at South American Championship Race

Welcome to the Ironman South American Championship Race! Held in Florianopolis, Brazil, this is traditionally a fast course, and the day did not disappoint. Last year’s champ and hometown favorite Ariane Monticeli returned to (try to) defend her title, as did several previous top finishers (Brent McMahon 3rd in 2015, Liz Lyles 2nd, and Laurel Wassner 5th). With Kevin Collington racing his second Ironman ever and Tim Don thrown into the mix, it looked like we might actually have a race not dominated by German uber-cyclists. And of course, a regional championship means KONA SLOTS! Now that you’re paying attention…

#Swim

Just in case you forgot you were doing an Ironman branded event, the swim course was conveniently M shaped. 70-something degree water made for a wetsuit legal start to the day, with the pro women going off 5 minutes after the pro men, and a 15-minute gap to the age groupers. Strong cross-currents added to the challenge, pushing athletes over to the left – a bad day to be a weak swimmer. The two-lap swim in Florianopolis requires you to exit the water for a short run on the beach in between each lap, and as anticipated, Lucie Zelenkova finished lap 1 in the lead, with a chase group led by Liz Lyles 1:15 back. Zelenkova exited the water with a 2:32 lead over Laurel Wassner, followed seconds later by Cait Snow, Bruna Mahn, and Liz Lyles.

Just ahead of the women, Marcus Fernandes was first out of the water after one M-shaped lap, followed by Igor Amorelli and pre-race favorites Brent McMahon and Paul Mathews. Fernandes completed the swim with a 30 second lead over Matthews, McMahon, Tim Don, and Amorelli coming into T1.

#Bike

Heavy rain hit Florianopolis as the ladies headed out to the bike course with Zelenkova still in the lead. Liz Lyles didn’t waste time chipping away at that lead, pulling within 20 seconds of her in the early miles and making the pass at 35k. Mechanical bad luck had struck last year’s champ and pre-race favorite Ariane Monticeli, who after a 7-minute deficit off the swim, was spotted on the side of the road struggling with her Di2 battery (isn’t it about time we made those things solar powered?) Monticeli got back on her bike, but was reportedly unable to switch gears, which I’m guessing becomes a problem when you have 4 big climbs/ descents per lap of the bike course. Laurel Wassner, riding on a borrowed bike due to airline issues, initially sat 3 minutes back in 3rd and soon passed Zelenkova for 2nd, while Lyles continued to extend her lead up front.

Igor Amorelli – a last minute add to the start list – was off the front early on the bike, but by 45k, Amorelli, Kevin Collington, McMahon, Matthews, and Don were all within 15 seconds of each other. McMahon and Amorelli were trading the lead at 55k, but McMahon managed to drop Amorelli by the end of the first lap, which left Don, Mathews, Amorelli, and Collington 0:55-1:11 off the lead. Amorelli dropped out not too long after, while McMahon continued to build his lead. As he hit T2, McMahon had 10 minutes on closest competitor Tim Don and 12 on 3rd place Kevin Collington.

As the women finished their first lap, Lyles had accrued a whopping 9 minute lead over Maureen Hufe, now in 2nd, with Wassner still close behind in 3rd. Wassner dropped back on lap 2, allowing Gurutze Frades and Mariana Borges to move up. At T2 Lyles still had 7:36 on 2nd place Hufe…and then quite a significant gap to the rest of our women, with Gurutze 3rd +16:52, Borges 4th +20:21, and Monticeli +25:27 minutes after her Di2 shifting issues.

#Run

As we know in Ironman (and saw in Texas a few weeks ago), a lot can happen on the run.

It didn’t today. This could’ve been an aquabike, and it wouldn’t have changed much (#spoileralert). In fact, I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading right now. Except then you would miss vital information about which records were broken and the one athlete that *did* make a late-race comeback move.

After posting a 4:11 bike split, McMahon was still running like it was no big deal. He stayed in the lead with no competition in sight. At 23k, he had a 12:01 lead over Don, who was also still in 2nd. Kevin Collington was also still in 3rd. Sure, Collington was losing some time to Don, but lucky for him, Paul Mathews (4th) was bleeding time to the lead at an equal or faster rate. So everyone stayed where they were, basically.

After a 2:42 marathon, McMahon broke the tape first in – wait for it – 7:46:10, which is (a) the Ironman Brazil course record, (b) the second fastest IM ever, and (c) another recent victory for Canada. Told you Brazil was a fast course.

  1. Brent McMahon, 7:46:10
  2. Tim Don, 8:04:15
  3. Kevin Collington, 8:04:58
  4. Paul Matthews, 8:08:57
  5. Pedro Gomes, 8:16:42

Liz Lyles also stayed in first and expanded her lead to +11:05 on Hufe at 10k, with Frades and Borges still way back in 3rd/4th. However, Monticeli was channeling all of that Di2-induced rage into her marathon, passed Borges, and came within seconds of Frades. The defending champ probably wasn’t making it all the way up to Lyles, but clearly wanted to be on that podium come hell or high water. And p.s., the rain had mostly stopped, so high water was less of a threat. Ultimately, Monticeli was unable to crack the top 3, but held on for a respectable 4th place. And Liz Lyles? Well, the women’s course record also fell today when she crossed the finish line in 8:54:10.

  1. Liz Lyles, 8:54:10
  2. Mareen Hufe, 9:09:36
  3. Gurutze Frades, 9:15:52
  4. Ariane Monticeli, 9:21:18
  5. Mariana Borges De Andrade, 9:34:01

In addition to their course records, Lyles and McMahon also automatically qualify for Kona, since this was a championship race. As everyone on the internet has pointed out, yes, Jesse Thomas won Wildflower and then won his next Ironman, and now Liz Lyles won Wildflower and has won HER next Ironman. OH MY GOD. It’s magic. If you’re good enough to win one race, you might win a second one too!

            *Still reading? Handy tip for next year!*

photo credit: P1010100 via photopin (license)

About the Author

Adrienne Taren
Adrienne is a MD/PhD in Neuroscience researching stress, your brain & the neuroscience of mindfulness training. She is also a fairly decent triathlete/runner/writer and an average ultra-distance swimmer, if there is such a thing. Visit her blog: http://www.adriennetaren.com/.