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That's what everyone kept texting me as I ran around Kona in the sun.
Kona special edition: Oct. 8, 2022
Reminder: We’re doing post-race special editions after the women’s and men’s races in Kona. And then will be back with the regular Wednesday weekly schedule next week.
Yesterday Chelsea Sodaro won the Ironman World Championship in one of the most intense craziest women’s races I’ve ever seen here.
It’s almost like we’ve all been saying: If you give them their own race and the same number of spots, there will be better racing and it will be more exciting. And that’s exactly what happened.
But apparently a lot of you all don’t know anything about Chelsea, so let’s start by bringing you up to speed. She’s the first American woman to win in over 25 years. She’s the first Kona “rookie” to win since Chrissie Wellington in 2007. She’s also a new mom—not the first mom to win here, because Natascha Badmann also had a daughter (as everyone on the internets has felt the need to point out), but since Natascha didn’t become a pro athlete until 12 years after giving birth I think we can agree that’s quite a bit different than popping one out and being world champion 18 months later.
Chelsea ran at UC Berkeley and was a pro runner until she burned out after injuries and not making the 2016 Olympics. Her husband (whose sister I used to live with) suggested tri, and she did her first-ever triathlon in 2017. She tried ITU for a couple years and went through a development process with coach Paulo Sousa, and then moved to long-course because she didn’t love the traveling all over the world part of draft-legal and wanted to be at home. She won her very first 70.3 and won a lot more of them consistently after that, including 4th at the 70.3 Worlds back in 2019—I remember interviewing her about being the top American at that race—but I’d say she’s primarily been a working woman’s pro (ie. she was making it work, but she wasn’t a big big name). She said “pro runner” was a loose term, because she wasn’t making much money, but still. She had a kid early last year, came back to earn a 2021 Collins Cup spot, but it was a really tough return to racing and then she had some injury issues. She made her Ironman debut at Hamburg this summer and quietly delivered one of the fastest debuts ever. Most notably, I thought she ran conservatively since it was her first and still went 8:36. This, here in Kona, was her second Ironman ever, but she seemed to be coming fully back into form this summer (IMO) and put down a blistering run into third at the Canadian Open. She has a small “team,” but a good coach in Dan Plews and I know it’s been tough for her with figuring out the physical part of postpartum, the logistics part, all of it, but she gets it done—she was out on the island for a big training camp block three or four weeks ago—and her family all pitches in with childcare and making it work. And so I had her picked for a 4th or 5th place in Kona.
People thought that was a bold pick. Well, have I got news for you.
Look, I’m not super impartial about this. But I was going nuts and so was every woman I know. An American mom winning this race is huge. An American mom on this historic first-ever women’s race day is chills. Put her on the Today Show, Oprah, Wheaties boxes, let’s do this.
I cried. I also screamed like crazy and jumped up and down on the empty road at the top of Palani (which is one mile to go) and, apparently, made the broadcast. What I was yelling was: Chelsea!! You did it! You’re there, you’ve got four minutes on them! I was wrong; she had actually opened it up to seven.
Women for the win
The big question mark going into this two-day event was, well, everything. Could we get through the Thursday race without any major accidents? Would it work out logistically and not piss off the community more than they’re pissed off? How would it affect the actual race? Would the women deliver?
As far as I know, we got through the first part. Spectators were sparser than typically—seems like people who came for just a male athlete weren’t out, so it was a little emptier in spots—and the Thursday thing is apparently a problem for all of you who are actually at jobs and not in a Kona daze where days mean nothing. But there were no major incidents or accidents (I think).
On the second part: Putting all the focus on the women and adding more athletes did exactly what we thought it would do. It made it deeper, fairer, and more exciting.
Lots more penalties were handed out than we ever see. When all the officials are only focused on one race it changes the officiating. When there are no pro or age-group men in the mix it also changes the dynamics of the bike.
One of the other things the women’s only race did was let us see more of the middle of the field and the groups moving and changing. Some of that always happened, but we just never saw it before.
There was a new psychological component as well, though. The women could all see each other without confusion about who that was up the road. There was no hiding, and I think you saw that play out in how closely together they were out of T1 and how fast some of them were going through that first half of the run.
Every woman said the bike was a lot more aggressive than usual, too. There are more front-pack swimmers now (when you add 15 spots there are more people and it affects the race), the level has been up’d, and all these factors contributed to a much tighter, more aggressive, and more dynamic race through the first half of the run.
There are a bunch of stats that demonstrate how that density of field never happened here before, but here’s what it felt like—however you want to read this: It felt more like how the men’s race often plays out, with the way groups formed and tactics were utilized and people close together started out hard and then many imploded from the early efforts.
Every single person I talked to agreed it was completely a success and please let’s keep giving the women their whole own race.
A few odds and ends from the day:
I will admit I did not think Lucy Charles-Barclay was going to be able to run that whole run. Not after the injury and slow build back she’s had. She ran a 3:02 and got second for the **fourth** time, and this one clearly meant more than all the others.
I will also say I was arguing with a few people by text, because the tracker would say Chelsea’s pace was 5:45/mile or something crazy, and I was like ‘no, I’m watching her, she’s running 6:30s.’ Look, man, we all know the tracker is good for time on day but not for pace; it’s based on where they think the mats are, not where the mats actually are. She was maybe going to fade or get caught, but she wasn’t running a 2:30 marathon pace, she was running a 2:51.
Every time Daniela Ryf has won before, apparently, she has been in the lead off the bike. She was not today. She didn’t catch Lucy and Fenella Langridge until basically T2 and they came in together. She almost immediately did not look happy, and she only looked more upset as it went on, and really in tears at the end (and got a hug from Lucy)—but, hell, she still toughed out a 3:23 marathon for 8th. She did not have a reason or excuse for her day, just that she felt good going in, doesn’t know what happened, will spend time figuring it out later after she’s home, it was a hard bike with lots of surges and changes, and she simply didn’t have it on the run.
Anne Haug also seemed to be holding back tears in 3rd. She just could not close the gap to Lucy.
Every single time I yelled at Fenella I got a shaka or a fist pump or she high-fived every person on the sidelines and tried to pump up the crowd. And she held on for 6th on her Kona debut.
Maybe the biggest holding onto it shoutout has to go to Lisa Norden in 5th post-penalty. Though the biggest hug I gave was to Laura Siddall in 10th!
And, yes, Jan Frodeno was at the aid station up Palani, handing out cups and dumping water on age-group athletes. I saw him and he was fully committed to the role.
Photo: Jan getting at it.
Now Ironman Now
Maybe one of the biggest announcements of the day is that Ironman has a very nicely done new broadcast platform: IronmanNow.com
It turns out I didn’t miss the announcement of this; it wasn’t actually announced. They’ve been soft rolling it for six months or so to test and so quietly told people to go check it out this morning. And it is excellent. I also quite enjoyed Mirinda Carfrae on the color commentary.
I knew they were looking to develop their own platform and it looks like there’s the capacity to use it for pay-per-view down the road, but kudos have to be given now. You can choose multiple camera views, click on the leaderboard, and leave comments. OK, we could do without the comments part—80% of which were ‘where is Noel?’—but you can’t win them all.
Oh, the men go tomorrow
Race starts at 6:25 a.m. HT/12:25 pm ET—with coverage beginning at 4:30 a.m. HT/10:30 am ET (except on Peacock). Watch on:
Or get a drink and sit on the side of the course with the pro women—as long as everyone recovers today.