Island House Invitational Recap: Kona, ITU, & Xterra Stars Battle in Bahamas

And now we bring you…a little somethin’ different: Island House Triathlon.

If you thought Kona was the most exclusive event of the season, think again.

Island House Triathlon – in its inaugural year – is the brainchild of power couple Luke McKenzie and Beth Gerdes. Just 10 men and 10 women – by invitation only – toe the line every year, and they have a pretty strong incentive to show up: guaranteed prize money. 10 slots, pays 10 deep (pretty good odds, right?). Not to mention the total purse adds up to a cool $500,000. So basically, you’re being paid nicely to hang out in the Bahamas for 3 days.

So what’s the catch?

Pain. Lots of pain.

This is thanks to Island House’s unique 3-day format. Day 1 (Friday) kicks things off with an individual time trial. Athletes depart 60 seconds apart, and draw numbers (#1-10) from a hat on Thursday night to determine the starting order. Then it’s a fast and furious time trial: a 300m swim, 7km bike, and 2km run. Good luck to the Ironmen/women with that one! An additional $1000 goes to the winners of this stage, as well as $250 primes for each of the fastest swim/bike/runs.

Day 2 (Saturday) is where things start to get interesting. A draft-legal, endure-style race – 3 times through a 500m swim, 13km bike, and 3k run, which in sum adds up to an Olympic distance race, and makes for some interesting run-swim transitions. Unlike days 1 and 3, there’s a mass start.

And finally, Sunday. After 2 days of hard racing, you better hope you have some fast-twitch muscle fibers left intact for the final sprint, non-drafting race (750m swim/20k bike/5k run). The finish order of this race is also the final finishing order, so there’s no confusion over who’s ahead of who when athletes cross the line. This is accomplished by sending off the leader (coming out of Saturday) first, and each subsequent athlete by their time gap to the leader. Chase down someone in front of you, move up a place overall. Simple, right?

Additional rules: Road bikes only, but you can change wheels day-to-day. Aerobar extensions are also kosher, and discs are allowed on the draft-legal days. Two officials will be out on course – and there’s a 200m penalty lap run for anyone violating the rules.

So who got the invite this year? A mix of ITU stars, people who just raced (and won, cough cough Flora Duffy) Xterra Worlds, Olympians (Alicia Kaye, Lisa Norden), and long course athletes fresh off Kona (if such a thing is possible). So for all those who’ve ever wondered what would happen if Gwen Jorgensen was pitted against Mirinda Carfrae, this is your chance to find out.

Start List:

              Women: Gwen Jorgensen, Lisa Norden, Rachel Joyce, Heather Wurtele, Flora Duffy, Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae, Rachel Klamer, Alicia Kaye, Lauren Brandon

              Men:  Luke McKenzie, Javier Gomez, Richard Murray, Tim Don, Tim O’Donnell, Cam Dye, Leon Griffin, Ben Hoffman, Trevor Wurtele, Barrett Brandon

* Also originally invited were Nicola Spirig and Aaron Royle, who withdrew due to injury.

Friday: Individual Time Trial

Friday actually started Thursday, with numbers pulled out of a hat to determine Friday’s start order. #1 went to Leanda Cave, who would experience the joys of being hunted by 9 super-fast women starting 1-10 minutes after her. That athlete with the 10 minute lag? None other than Gwen Jorgensen. Perhaps having 9 women up ahead to potentially run down added extra fuel to the fire, since Gwen went on to best Lisa Norden by 7 seconds in the individual time trial – if she’s been taking some easy time before starting to get ready for Rio, well, that’s kinda scary, since she’s still damn fast. Norden’s performance – particularly her smoking 11:30 bike split – showed she’s back in full form after a slew of recent injuries. Not surprisingly, our Ironwomen brought up the rear.

Luke McKenzie was first to depart in the men’s field, while Tim Don had the honor of starting 10th. Javier Gomez showed his short-course speed with the fastest swim of the day, while Cam Dye put up the fastest bike split (10:30 for 7km) – although the entire men’s field posted bike times with a spread of only 31 seconds. Like we’ve seen in recent ITU races, the fastest runners decided Day 1’s finish order – the top 3 run times represent the final standings, with Gomez (1st, 6:46), Murray (2nd, 6:59), and Don (3rd, 7:04).

Standings:

Women

Men

1. Gwen Jorgensen 23:52

1. Javier Gomez 21:35

2. Lisa Norden +0:07

2. Richard Murray +0:25

3. Flora Duffy +0:09

3. Tim Don +0:32

4. Alicia Kaye +0:27

4. Cam Dye +0:35

5. Rachel Klamer +0:55

5. Leon Griffin +0:57

6. Lauren Brandon +1:03

6. Ben Hoffman +1:03

7. Mirinda Carfrae +1:07

7. Trevor Wurtele +1:09

8. Heather Wurtele +1:16

8. Barrett Brandon +1:12

9. Rachel Joyce +1:37

9. Luke McKenzie +1:26

10. Leanda Cave +1:42

10. Tim O’Donnell +1:27

Saturday:  Olympic Enduro (Draft-Legal)

On day 2, it was pretty clear that the short-course athletes still had the advantage – despite the swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run-swim-bike-run exhaustive merry-go-round. The relatively short distances (500m swim, 13km bike, 3k run) and drafting format that ITU racers are already accustomed to allowed the speedsters to get away from toasted Kona athletes.

On the women’s side, Lisa Norden bested Friday’s swim champ Lauren Brandon in the mass-start swim (round 1), coming out first in 6:40 – but followed closely by Brandon and Gwen. The first bike leg saw Flora Duffy, Jergensen, and Norden out in front together – at least until Norden flatted and had to change wheels – and a 5-woman chase pack including Klamer, Cave, Brandon, Kaye, and Joyce. A little further back, Heather Wurtele and Carfrae took turns pulling each other along, leaving them some catching up to do on the run. Run #1 had, to no one’s surprise, Gwen Jorgensen putting a gap on Duffy, and holding onto that lead through swim #2. Norden had put herself back in the mix by now, forming a pack with Duffy, Kaye, and Klamer that caught up to Gwen on bike lap 2. Interestingly, the short-course and long-course athletes had separated themselves (quite literally) into two groups of 5: Jorgensen, Duffy, Kaye, Norden, and Klamer out front, and Cave, Carfrae, Wurtele, Brandon, and Joyce in pack #2. Gwen ran away from the group again in round 2, and swim/bike/run round 3 looked largely like a repeat of lap 2 – the short-course athletes getting out in front on the bike, and Gwen running away for the win to retain her overall lead.

The men’s race started after the women had finished (talk about a time gap) – I hear it’s pretty hot by 11am in the Bahamas, and Javier Gomez apparently wanted to get this whole thing over with. After swimming to an early lead, he pretty stayed in front through each leg and each lap. Cam Dye stayed with him during swim #1, and Richard Murray and Tim Don caught up during bike #1. Once out on the run, Dye was dropped by the Gomez-Murray-Don trio. It was clear where Gomez’s relative strengths were, as he gradually put time on his competitors during each subsequent swim and run, while Murray and Don made up a few seconds during bike #2 and 3. Gomez crossed the line 30 seconds ahead of Murray, who outkicked Don for 2nd.

Women

Men

1. Gwen Jorgensen 2:01:30

1. Javier Gomez 1:50:43

2. Flora Duffy 2:02:02

2. Richard Murray 1:51:17

3. Lisa Norden 2:02:27

3. Tim Don 1:51:32

4. Alicia Kaye 2:03:43

4. Leon Griffin 1:53:08

5. Rachel Klamer 2:03:43

5. Ben Hoffman 1:53:18

6. Rachel Joyce 2:06:37

6. Cam Dye 1:54:09

7. Heather Wurtele 2:06:44

7. Luke McKenzie 1:55:46

8. Mirinda Carfrae 2:07:22

8. Trevor Wurtele 1:57:07

9. Leanda Cave 2:07:31

9. Barrett Brandon 1:57:29

10. Lauren Brandon 2:07:36

10. Tim O’Donnell 2:00:22

 

Sunday: Sprint Race (Non-Draft)

One. Final. Sprint.

At 8am, the women set off in order of standing after Day 2, with the men following at 10am. That gave Gwen a 41 second head start on Flora Duffy, with Norden taking off 3rd. The movers & shakers in this final (and deciding stage) were Norden, who biked her way from 3rd to 2nd past Flora Duffy (hey, she’s fresh off winning Xterra Worlds), and Rinny and Lauren Brandon, who each moved up 1 place (7th, 8th) past Rachel Joyce. On the men’s side, after falling to 6th overall in day 2, Cam Dye moved back up past Griffin and Hoffman for 4th.

And, everyone had fun.

Final Standings after 3 Days:

Women                                      Men

  1. Gwen Jorgensen                1. Javier Gomez
  2. Lisa Norden                        2. Richard Murray
  3. Flora Duffy                          3. Tim Don
  4. Alicia Kaye                          4. Cam Dye
  5. Rachel Klamer                    5. Leon Griffin
  6. Heather Wurtele                6. Ben Hoffman
  7. Mirinda Carfrae                 7. Luke McKenzie
  8. Lauren Brandon                8. Trevor Wurtele
  9. Rachel Joyce                      9. Barrett Brandon
  10. Leanda Cave                      10. Tim O’Donnell

Overall Race Primes:

Swim: Lauren Brandon, Javier Gomez

Bike: Lisa Norden, Cam Dye

Run: Gwen Jorgensen, Javier Gomez

Rumor has it the accommodations were pretty sweet. Professional triathletes aren’t used to fancy things:

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/.