IM North American Championship: Turnapalooza 2016, or How the Germans Conquered Texas

Jessica Jones Meyers bicycling. Photo courtesy Dark Mark.

So. Much. Drama.

Seriously, only a bunch of triathletes could raise this much of a stink about something. You need that 140.6 sticker and not a 122.6 sticker, you already tattooed your calf with the M dot, you need to go to Kona, it’s too hot, you don’t know how to make a U-turn on your $10,000 bike…

But no seriously, I get it. You paid a crap-ton of money and poured your sweat/tears/urine into training, and there probably almost wasn’t a race, regardless of what those emails from Ironman Corp said.

But there WAS a race, and it happened today. The bike course may have been 18 miles short with enough turns, driveways and craziness to make your head explode, and T1 was also changed last-minute, but they pulled it off.

Just in case you missed ALL the lead-up to this race, you should know that Matt Hanson, Eneko Llanos, Jordan Rapp, Terenzo Bozzone, Justin Daerr, Starky, and Matt Russell were among the big names lining up on Saturday. Fan favorite Jeff Symonds was confirmed OUT on race morning, twelve days after breaking his elbow – if you listen to the Triathlon Preview Show, Emily & Zach totally called this. And while I hate ever calling the women’s field “weak”, the general consensus was that it was, given that this was a “championship” race. I guess all those other pro women are tired from having to race five Ironmans to get to Kona. But there were still a good number of names to watch out for, especially the strong runners: Kelly Williamson, Lisa Roberts, Kirsty Jahn, Julia Gajer, Rebekah Keat, and Alicia Kaye in her debut Ironman.

Swim

With the water temp at 81 degrees, wetsuits weren’t going to be legal for anyone (or at least anyone wanting an award, which I’m pretty sure is 99% of triathletes). Personally, I think it would be crazy to swim in a wetsuit when it’s that warm, especially when the rest of the day is predicted to be in the high 80s, and the swim is maybe your only chance to actually feel normothermic.

Harry Wiltshire and Balazs Csoke led out of the gates, and then we saw the men split into 3 packs, with about 100m between pack #1 and pack #2. Matt Hanson and Barrett Brandon were both reportedly at the front of the lead pack, which still consisted of Wiltshire, Csoke, Brandon, Bozzone, and even Starky, plus about 10 others.

Lauren Brandon led the women’s swim. I think I have typed that sentence in every race she’s been in. It got extra entertaining when she started to pass the pro men, who had a 5 minute head start by the way. I’m talking to you, Baucco. Brandon exited the water in 48:32. Note that the top pack of men all swam 48:43 – 49:02. Alicia Kaye was second out in 52:24, followed by Rebekah Keat in 3rd (despite losing her goggles somewhere along the line).

Turnapalooza

Photo courtesy Dark Mark.

Photo courtesy Dark Mark.

And just like that, they were onto the bike for a fun-filled 94 miles.

Starykowicz jumped out to the front on the bike, as he does. Cranking away at 28-29mph, Starky built up a 5 minute lead over a tightly packed chase pack of 11 men. And yeah, there was a second chase pack full of big names just a couple minutes behind THEM, but what we were all really excited about was that Lauren Brandon was still biking on the tails [legally] of the pro men, going through the 31 mile turnaround (#turnapalooza) with a total split time of 2:04 (25.1 mph average) – equal to that of the Rapp/Cunningham/Millward/Hanson et al pack split. Unfortunately she would go on to…implode, but we’ll get there. #foreshadowing. Brandon maintained an 8 minute lead over her closest competition (Alicia Kaye, Julia Gajer) through 54 miles, with Keat and Jocelyn McCauley another few minutes behind in 4th and 5th.

Starky, meanwhile, was seeing speeds as high as 33mph up front, giving him an 11 minute lead over Llanos, Russell, Frommhold, Rapp, Wilshire, Kotsegarov, Alonso-Mcker, and Lange at the 65 mi mark. And although the turn-induced carnage wasn’t materializing, the roads themselves seemed to be taking people out – Baucco flatted, Mike Weiss flatted, Richie Cunningham needed a new back wheel. Matt Hanson got a blue card, and Frommhold dropped out after his own penalty. #turnapalooza

No surprise, Starky was first off the bike, 14 minutes ahead of the chase group. Technically Jordan Rapp hit T2 second, but in reality, there were still 14 men off the bike within 30 seconds of each other, making this more reminiscent of an ITU race. Lauren Brandon also held onto her massive lead, hitting T2 6:02 ahead of Gajer (who actually posted the fastest bike split for the women, 4:01:44 to Brandon’s 4:02:17). McCauley came off the bike 3rd, bumping Keat to 4th and Kaye to 5th.

Run

As the chase group tripped over each other coming into/out of T2, Terenzo Bozzone made it out onto the run course first to begin The Great Starky Chase. From the looks of it, they really wanted to chase him down, with Llanos, Lange, Russell and Hanson all running 5:30 pace for the first 1-2 miles. Starky lost 4 minutes to Lange in the first 5 miles of the marathon.

Then it happened. Around mile 8, Starky was spotted walking. And then talking on his phone, as Lange ran past him. Shortly after,

Photo courtesy Dark Mark.

Photo courtesy Dark Mark.

Starykowicz dropped out of the race with a pinched nerve in his glute (a real pain in the ass…literally…get it?), leaving Lange and Matt Russell in the best position to win. Matt Hanson poured himself into a hard charge back from a deficit following his bike course penalty, pulling himself within 6 minutes of the leader at the 16 mile mark, and closing the gap to briefly take over 3rd place by 20 miles. Too briefly. Hanson was walking, and Bozzone re-claimed 3rd place.

Lauren Brandon, after leading the entire race, was also suffering – Gajer made up her 6 minute deficit in the first few miles, and had amassed a 4 minute lead by the 8 mile mark. Keat and Kaye were the next ladies to pass Brandon, who was reportedly feeling sick. The exciting part was still coming – while we knew that there were some fast women runners sitting in this field, they finally showed up on the radar around the 13 mile mark. Julia Gajer still had an 8 minute lead and Kaye was hanging onto 2nd, but just 1 minute back Kirsty Jahn had run all the way up to 3rd. Jodie Robertson and Lisa Roberts had materialized in 4th and 5th, and Kelly Williamson and Jessica Jones Meyers were also making up serious time.

After a long, twisty 122.6 miles (and a 2:40:02 marathon), Patrick Lange* was the 2016 Ironman North America Champion. By the way, this was his first Ironman. Solid, consistent running kept Matt Russell and Terenzo Bozzone in 2nd and 3rd

*no relation to TRS amateur triathlon journalist James Lange. At least I think.

  1. Patrick Lange, 7:13:13
  2. Matt Russell, 7:21:56
  3. Terenzo Bozzone, 7:25:55
  4. Jeremy Jurkiewicz, 7:28:30
  5. Clemente Alonso-Mckernan, 7:30:59

Julia Gajer also held it together, making it a happy day for Germany. The women’s race drama wasn’t over quite yet, though – Gajer/Kaye/Jahn became Gajer/Jahn/Robertson after Kaye faded, and then Gajer/Robertson/Roberts as Jahn went down with a foot injury at mile 20.

  1. Julia Gajer, 8:11:01
  2. Jodie Robertson, 8:16:30
  3. Lisa Roberts, 8:17:58
  4. Kelly Williamson, 8:22:06
  5. Alicia Kaye, 8:29:29

After the pros finished, all hell broke loose with the weather, by the way. Heat turned into some serious rain and cold temps – bad enough for Ironman officials to hit the “pause” button on the age-group race, causing a secondary mass-pausing of Garmin devices in Texas.

Also, Lauren Brandon is a really good sport.

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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/.