Despite some magnificently strong bike performances by Germany’s Andi Boecherer and American Amy Marsh, today’s race was most definitely won on the run. American Andy Potts showed for the fifth time that he knows this course like no one else after hanging on the front chase pack for the entire bike ride before passing rising pro Jesse Thomas in the final quarter mile. Meanwhile, local Heather Jackson finally cracked the code in Oceanside on her third attempt, holding off Canada’s Heather Wurtele and Scottish rocket Lesley Paterson to take her first win in Oceanside.
With nearly perfect temps in the mid-60s, relatively light winds on the bike and the warmest water temp (roughly 63 degrees inside the harbor) this race has seen in years, the stage was set for a cracking race in what has become known as the season opener on the American Ironman racing circuit. Jackson, who won Escape From Alcatraz last month, said that while she does every race in the season in preparation for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas in September, she considers Oceanside to be her first real test of the year. “I was really surprised with how things came together in Alcatraz, that was really more of a bucket list race for me,” said Jackson. “Oceanside is what I always consider my first real race of the season, my chance to really see where I’m at and where I need to improve.”
As expected, Potts exited the water first in 20:47. Less expected was the large pack of pros who finished the water just 30 seconds behind him. Potts had swam almost two minutes faster than in 2012, but fellow Americans Brandon Marsh and Tim O’Donnell were on his heels, with another group including Germany’s Andi Boecherer and Australian Paul Matthews. At roughly a minute and a half behind Potts exited Thomas, who admitted that he was just glad he managed to stay with a group in the water. “The swim is like a washing machine to me, so I just tried to stay relaxed and in a good place when I got on the bike.”
Within the first 10 miles, it was clear that Boecherer was going to dictate the pace of the day, and it would be at breakneck speed. An enormous group of 16 pro men—Potts, Thomas, Marsh, O’Donnell and Sweden’s Bjorn Andersson among them—fought for most of the 56-mile ride through the hills of Camp Pendleton to stay within three minutes of him. “I think we definitely had to work together out there to keep up the pace because Andi was just flying,” said Thomas. “I just really wanted to keep contact with the group so I worked really hard to get up to them just so I would be in a good spot by the time we got out on the run.”
During the last 10 miles of the bike, which are completely flat heading back toward the remote T2 located at the Oceanside pier, Boecherer just let it all go, averaging speeds between 28 and 30 mph and entering T2 in a time of 2:11:11, which had bridged his gap to almost 4 minutes and given him the best bike split of the day.
Within the first 10K of the run, it was clear that his impressive lead out of T2 wouldn’t hand him the race, and by the start of the second lap Thomas had run to the front, with Potts not far behind. In what Thomas would late describe as a breakaway made too soon, the former University of Oregon track athlete surged ahead with less than three miles to go. “In hindsight, I probably should have just stayed with Andy for a while,” admitted Thomas. “I just had absolutely nothing left.” With a quarter mile to go, Potts pushed passed Thomas, crossing the tape 10 seconds ahead of him in 3:49:45. Close finishes like that in Oceanside are nothing new to Potts, who has had them with Matty Reed and Craig Alexander over the years. “I just got close enough to the finish line that you could just smell it, and I thought to myself, ‘That smells good. I want some of that!’”
For defending champ Melanie McQuaid of Canada, things did not get off on the right foot after she missed the in-water start of the women’s pro wave, starting her day 45 seconds back of the entire group. While her swim clearly didn’t go as planned, it certainly went well for the Czech Republic’s Radka Vodickova, who exited first in 22:17, just in front of Denmark’s Camilla Pedersen and Amy Marsh. A minute back of them sat former Ironman world champion and 2011 Oceanside 70.3 winner Mirinda Carfrae, Heather Wurtele and pre-race favorite Linsey Corbin. Jackson sat more than three minutes back of the leader, a big improvement on her swim times during her last two years in Oceanside where she would have at least twice that much time to make up on the bike.
Much like Boecherer, Marsh quickly climbed to the front of the bike and more or less stayed there, with Pedersen not far behind and Wurtele and Jackson trading third place back and forth with Corbin as well. More than three minutes back in seventh place sat two-time XTERRA world champion Lesley Paterson, who knew she would have to play her cards carefully on the bike so she could run as many people possible down on the run. “I haven’t been on my TT bike all that much heading into this race, so I was a bit nervous about it,” Paterson said. Carfrae was handed a red card for failing to pass in time and would have to sit out almost five minutes. She continued on, entering T2 in 14th and still managing to run herself down to 8th place by the end of the day.
Marsh pulled ahead of Pedersen in the final 10 miles of the bike, gathering together a 1:30 lead heading into T2—not much padding when you have Jackson, Wurtele, Corbin and Paterson on your tail. Looking like she was about to start an 800-meter dash instead of a half marathon, Jackson wasted no time in running Marsh down within the first two miles, and by the 5K mark she had built a minute lead on her.
But the surprise run of the day came from Canada’s Heather Wurtele, her second of the race season in fact as she ran from 8th off the bike to a 4th place finish at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon last month. “I used to think if I wasn’t off the bike in front my race was over,” said Wurtele. “But I’ve spent three years of consistent work on my run and it’s really coming together.”
By the halfway mark, Jackson was easily holding her lead, but Wurtele wasn’t more than 30 seconds behind her. “I knew she was there, so I would take note of where she was at the turns in order to see if she was gaining ground or not,” Jackson said. “It didn’t seem like she was, and to be honest, I was more scared of Lesley [Paterson]. I kept on asking people where she was because I knew she could be running me down.”
Jackson had reason to worry. Paterson had run her way up to fifth place by the 10-mile marker, and with less than three miles to go she passed Corbin for third. “I just ran like hell,” said Paterson, who pulled out a staggering 1:16:21 on her way to third place.
But the day was clearly Jackson’s, as she sailed across the finish line in 4:13:48. “This is the biggest win of my career so far,” said Jackson.
Ironman 70.3 Oceanside
March 30, 2013
1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
1. Andy Potts (USA) 3:49:45
2. Jesse Thomas (USA) 3:49:55
3. Andi Boecherer (GER) 3:51:56
4. Ronnie Schildknecht (SUI) 3:52:09
5. Brandon Marsh (USA) 3:52:32
1. Heather Jackson (USA) 4:13:48
2. Heather Wurtele (CAN) 4:16:11
3. Lesley Paterson (SCO) 4:17:46
4. Linsey Corbin (USA) 4:18:41
5. Amy Marsh (USA) 4:19:44