Dry, warm conditions on a sunny summer day, a deceivingly hilly bike and convection oven run—oh, and let’s not forget altitude—made for a challenging conditions at the inaugural Ironman Boulder
The town of Boulder, on the outskirts of Denver, Colo., is nestled up against the Colorado Rockies, and is widely regarded as one of the sport’s hotbeds. It’s where Mark Allen crafted many of his Hawaii Ironman titles, as did names like Chrissie Wellington, Craig Alexander and Leanda Cave in recent years. A lion’s share of the top pros prep for Kona here or call Boulder home.
But it hadn’t hosted a branded full Ironman race until today. With many top-name locals passing on the race to save their bullets for Kona in October, the field was one for strategic opportunists. And given the high altitude location, it was mainly locals and other Colorado residents who took up the charge to race at over 5,400 feet above sea level.
The thin air, along with heat and hills diminished the field, forcing many to back off, walk, or ultimately drop out. In the end, it was longtime journeyman Justin Daerr taking the men’s crown in his hometown in 8:20:26 and young Ironman pro Danielle Kehoe running away with the women’s title in 9:19:54. It was the first pro Ironman victory for both Coloradans.
Former short-course pro and veteran 70.3 ace Richie Cunningham exited Boulder Reservoir first in 50:28, with a healthy buffer of nearly three minutes on the next athlete out, which was Daerr. In the early miles of the bike, Daerr worked hard to stay within shouting distance of the Aussie, while the rest of the men’s pro field fell behind, losing handfuls of time to the two charging men.
An eager Cunningham extended to five minutes on Daerr, but by the closing miles of the bike, Daerr closed that gap down to just over three minutes.
“Experience; that was the difference,â€ Cunningham said. “He’s been doing this for a while.â€
Daerr echoed Cunningham’s sentiment. “I feel like I’ve got a Rolodex of experiences to call upon in races,â€ he said. “I know when I feel bad, when to back off, when I should power through, if it’s good, if it’s bad … just how to respond to any situation.â€
But no “situationsâ€ arose all day for Daerr. He kept Cunningham within a relative stone’s throw gap, responding to Cunningham’s surges. And with third and fourth another 12 minutes behind, it became a race for the win between the two men on the run.
And Daerr’s experience begain to show right away. By the midway point, the lead was just 1:30 and the American steadily began chipping into the Aussie’s lead. “When I started getting some cramps in my legs on the run, I knew he would be on me quickly.â€
Sure enough, Daerr overhauled Cunningham and extended his lead, using his steady, strong 2:56 marathon to sealed his first ever Ironman victory. Cunningham finished 10 minutes later in second. Boulder’s Scott DeFilipis took the final podium place 24 minutes behind Cunningham. The result is a solid build for Defilippis, who finished second at Challenge Atlantic City and hopes to shake out his legs in time to race well at Challenge Penticton in less than three weeks.
As expected, former American ITU World Cup pro and Olympian Laura Bennett exited Boulder Reservoir first in 54:02. But it was Australian Carrie Lester that made up the 1:30 deficit and seized control of the race, blasting into the lead by the 20-mile mark. Bennett gamely gave chase, while a collection of women including Kehoe, Uli Bromme, Morgan Chaffin and Christine Hammond pursued further back.
Lester pulled into T2 with the lead, and set off, and Bennett started the run in second five minutes back.
Still on the mend from a stress fracture, Lester pulled herself from the run course just four miles in, handing the lead to Bennett. But after 112 miles of hard riding, the former 10k gazelle in ITU racing was in for a new experience: Ironman legs.
“Off the bike, I thought ‘holy shit, what is this feeling in my legs?â€ she told LAVA. Experiencing nutritional challenges, she managed caloric intake and low power. She kept moving, but it wasn’t a pace that was going to help her maintain the lead. With 10 miles left in the race, Kehoe moved past Bennett to assume the lead, and extended straight through to the finish line.
As energetic as a 5k runner, Kehoe leapt into the air as she approached the finish tape, crossing in 9:19:45 to take her first Ironman win. Additionally, she finished ninth overall, including all pro and age-group men.
Bennett finished second, while Christine Hammond passed Uli Bromme and Morgan Chaffin on the run to claim third place, nine minute in arrears of Bennett.
While Kehoe clearly has Kona in her crosshairs, the Boulder experiment was just that for Bennett: an experiment.
“I had a lot of positives to take away from today,â€ Bennett said. “It is intriguing. It would be great to go to the big show, but it’s so hard to make now. For the most part, I really just wanted to do one of these and see if there was any interest. We’ll see.â€
2014 Ironman Boulder
Aug. 3, 2014, Boulder, Colo.
2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
- Justin Daerr (USA) 8:20:26
- Richie Cunningham (AUS) 8:30:38
- Scott Defilippis (USA) 8:54:19
- Steven Sawaski (USA )9:01:53
- Mark Hillers (USA) 9:14:44
- Danielle Kehoe (USA) 9:19:54
- Laura Bennett (USA) 9:43:59
- Christine Hammond (USA) 9:53:04
- Morgan Chaffin (USA) 9:57:28
- Uli Bromme (USA) 10:12:53