It was hard not to notice the swagger of 2010 Ironman world champion just two days before the 2013 event. While many of her fellow top contenders talked of injuries and setbacks, the 32-year-old Australian was calm, self assured—even excited—to show off what a full-year of uninterrupted training was about to bring forth. And bring it was exactly what she did, winning the race in 8:52:14 for the new fastest overall female course record, and knocking down her own 2011 run course record by almost a minute and a half, running the third fastest marathon of the day in 2:50:35. Carfrae is now also the first woman to ever go sub-9 hours in Kona three times. But even Carfrae’s self-assuredness pre-race couldn’t hide her own amazement at her accomplishments. “I didn’t know that I had that performance in me,” admitted Carfrae at the finish line.”

It was a day of surprises, with first-time Kona athlete Liz Blatchford pulling out a stellar performance in only her third-ever Ironman attempt. Runner-up finisher Rachel Joyce had a solid performance out there today after a disappointing 11th place here last year, biking a 4:55:25 on her way to a 8:57:28 finish. Her sub-9 time puts her in an elite club with only three other women to ever go sub-9 in Kona (Paula Newby Fraser, Chrissie Wellington and of course Carfrae).

The day started as expected, with former collegiate swimmer and first year pro Haley Chura, who had the fastest overall female swim split last year. This year she swam 10 seconds slower, but was still out of the water first. Hot on her heels were some other fast females, Meredith Kessler and Amanda Stevens (54:06), Liz Blatchford (54:07), Rachel Joyce (54:09), Caroline Steffen (54:10) and Michelle Vesterby (54:12).

Within the first loop through town, Kessler, Steffen, Stevens, Joyce and a surging Jodie Swallow, Michelle Vesterby and Gina Crawford had passed Chura, forming the first real solid lead group of the day. With little crosswind and a prevailing tailwind all the way to the turn out to Hawi, no clear leader made a big move, although by mile 30 defending champ Leanda Cave had crawled her way into the mix as well. The lone wolf of the chasers, Amy Marsh of the USA, was the closest to the lead group but was still 1:35 back.

It wouldn’t be until the climb up toward Hawi that anyone would dare attempt a move. First would be Kessler, who climbed to the front. Cave and Steffen responded quickly, with Cave pulling to the lead briefly before Steffen took over. Stevens, Joyce, Blatchford, Vesterby and Swallow held steady close behind, letting the three women ahead of them play cat and mouse through the turnaround point.

All the while, at roughly 4:30 back, sat Carfrae, looking far stronger at the halfway point of the race than in 2012, when a lost nutrition bottle and subsequent quad cramp would cause her to lose several minutes in this same section. Once back into town, a few members of the lead group began to show signs of trouble, with Crawford, Cave and, somewhat surprisingly, Steffen, losing several minutes in the final 20 miles. Kessler held strong, but it was Joyce who seemed to be making the boldest move of the day. “It’s hard to break up a group with the tailwind we had on the way out, but on the way back we got a headwind, and I just put my head down and went for it,” said Joyce.

Joyce and Kessler would enter T2 within a minute of one another, but Kessler would be the first out. Swallow was only a minute back of Kessler, and Vesterby was hot on her tail. Steffen, who usually enters T2 way in front, was showing signs of stress, entering T2 in fifth and 3:30 behind Kessler. Blatchford would enter with Steffen, but had to serve a four-minute draft penalty before heading out onto the run course. Joyce would seize the lead by mile four, with Blatchford running hard and making her way quickly up to third.

Carfrae would exit T2 8 minutes back of the leaders, but by the 10km mark she had already burned off three minutes, and had moved up to sixth place just in front of Cave. By the halfway mark of the marathon, Carfrae had already run up to third place just two minutes back of Joyce, and it was clear that unless Joyce and Kessler put on some serious speed, this race was Carfrae’s for the taking. Shortly before making the turn into the Energy Lab, Carfrae passed Joyce for first.

With Carfrae continuing on marathon course record pace, Joyce holding strong in second, the race behind them began to unfold—and crumble. Yvonne Van Vlerken had successfully picked her way through the field to fourth-place by the 14-mile mark, with Blatchford eventually moving into third as Kessler began to crumble. At mile 22, Blatchford had a somewhat comfortable 30 seconds on Van Vlerken, while Kessler would eventually get passed by Steffen, who had a second wind after stomach issues just before entering the Energy Lab.

Van Vlerken wouldn’t be able to pass Blatchford, but she held off Steffen and Kessler, crossing the line in fourth-place. One of the more impressive run performances of the day would have to be American Cait Snow, who at mile 22 still had four minutes to run down in order to pass Kessler but managed to get there, crossing seven seconds ahead of her for a sixth-place finish and 2:58:51 marathon.

GoPro Ironman World Championship

October 12, 2013

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Women’s Top 10

1. Mirinda Carfrae (AUS) 8:52:14

2. Rachel Joyce (GBR) 8:57:28

3. Liz Blatchford (GBR) 9:03:35

4. Yvonne Van Vlerken (NED) 9:04:34

5. Caroline Steffen (SUI) 9:09:09

6. Caitlin Snow (USA) 9:10:12

7. Meredith Kessler (USA) 9:10:19

8. Michelle Vesterby (DEN) 9:11:13

9. Gina Crawford (NZL) 9:14:47

10. Linsey Corbin (USA) 9:17:22