Story and Photos by Jim Gourley
Mercurial weather conditions and a handful of penalties allowed chaos to again reign over the second day at the 2013 Ultraman World Championships, but did not completely upset the natural order of things as the cream rose to the top.
After battling through sickness and torrential storms yesterday, the 31 remaining athletes awoke to more favorable conditions on top of Kilauea this morning. Temperatures were unusually warm, which made for easier handling on the screaming 15-mile descent, but also foreshadowed a hot day as the sun rose.
Major groups quickly separated according to how comfortable they felt on the down slope, with the leaders cracking 45mph. From there things flattened out onto the fabled landscape of the Old Red Road, where Christian Isakson unleashed a furious attack to make up for losses on day one.
“I was totally surprised,” remarked defending champion Alexandre Ribeiro. “He’s a young man, and this is his first Ultraman Hawaii. To see him race like that, I couldn’t believe it.” Ribeiro remained true to his strategy, knowing that he had to keep to his own plan. “I wasn’t able to train as much on the bike this year. You have to keep steady through all three days, so I kept on.”
Miro Kregar gave chase, and waged a dogged back-and-forth with the Ultraman newcomer from the south end of the island all the way up the east coast. This was in fact what Isakson hoped for. “My coach told me that I didn’t come here to save anything, so race hard, try and dig into their legs and push it. I wanted to make up for yesterday and see if I could push them out of their plan.” Having raced straight from the heart in Canada this year, he held to his plan and struggled through the ensuing pain. Though he lost the lead for a time to Kregar after a flat tire, he battled back once again and threatened to get away. Kregar never left his mark, though, and eventually age and experience won out over youth and guts. Still feeling nausea from yesterday’s swim, Isakson began vomiting as the mid-day heat bore down on him north of Hilo.
Kregar passed again and finally made good his escape. By then, Ribeiro’s own plans came to fruition, with the Brazilian hero chewing his way back up to Isakson and then some. The champ finished five minutes behind Kregar, but due to a penalty for drafting Kregar incurred an extra six minutes, making it a virtual tie. Isakson came in looking the worse for wear and crumpled into a heap in the grass nearby. Though he didn’t win the day, he did earn the admiration of the veteran all-stars. Both Kregar and Ribeiro remarked that this could be the rise of a future champion.
Kregar was not the only athlete to receive a penalty. Seven others were docked for various infractions on this day. Unfortunately, Sergio Meniconi received two—one for drafting and the other for riding alongside another cyclist. Added to a penalty from the first day, he was disqualified on Ultraman’s three strikes policy. Race director Jane Bockus observed that with a maximum field of forty athletes, it’s nearly impossible for participants to get away with breaking the rules. Of note to any considering trying to enter an Ultraman race, she remarked that, as an invitational event, it is different from typical race registration procedures. “The ultra-distance community is small, and your reputation precedes you. This is an invitational event, and if you have a reputation for being a turkey, you won’t get invited.”
In the women’s race, Hillary Biscay picked right up where she left off, clocking another stellar performance and holding on to fourth place overall. She holds a solid lead over Amber Monforte, Vanuza Maciel and Beth Brewster, who remain in second, third and fourth place, respectively.
Asked if she feels assured of the win ahead of tomorrow’s double marathon, Biscay was reluctant to take anything for granted. “I’ve never had an epic meltdown on a run course before, but I know it can happen. There’s still a lot of ground left to cover.” She spent some time after the bike finish discussing pacing strategies with fellow participant Chris Draper. As of the time of this writing, she was still mulling ideas.
By contrast, Amber Monforte was much more confident of the final result, saying she believes she now has no chance to catch Biscay during tomorrow’s run, let alone overcome the time deficit. Due to a racing season plagued by injuries and a new job demanding more of her time that would otherwise have gone to training, Monforte is using this race to say farewell for now to an event that has represented a pivotal time in her life. She rode much differently today, relaxing from the stress of competing for first to take in the scenery and talk with her fellow athletes throughout the group. This leaves Biscay with only herself and the lava fields to compete against, though circumstances would never have changed that in her mind. “I came here to race the course. Whether I win or not really doesn’t matter. I want to run well and find out what I can do.”
There’s good cause to wonder what many of the athletes can do at this point. Though he was the third man across the line today, Tim Sheeper holds the overall lead. He’ll start the 52.4-mile run through the lava fields from Hawi to Kona with a 16-minute advantage over Ribeiro, 31 minutes up on Kregar, and 49 on Isakson. Ribeiro has run as fast as 6:45 and as slow as 7:30 in Hawaii. Sheeper clocked a 7:24 in his last race here in 2007. Kregar is a consistent sub-7 runner, and Isakson logged a 7:50 in Canada, though the difference in the courses makes for a poor comparison.
At this point, only one thing is certain—anything is still possible in one of the most electrifying races in several years. What we should see is an eminently talented cast of athletes pushing themselves to the brink in a last gamble for the win. Close friends and longtime training partners Kregar and Ribeiro should start the day together at a frenetic pace. Their strategy will be to force Sheeper to chase and then see who cracks first. Sheeper will have the option of allowing the pair to gradually get away during the first marathon, then hope that they’ll slow down and allow him to hold onto enough minutes to keep the win at the finish line. Isakson may either run a steady pace to fourth place or go all out with his idols and enjoy running with these legends on their last outing. It’s anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to be exciting.
Ultraman World Championships
Day 2 bike splits and cumulative times
1. Tim Sheeper 8:08:28 16:27:32
2. Alexandre Ribeiro 7:54:06 16:43:50
3. Miro Kregar 7:55:59 16:58:52
4. Christian Isakson 8:05:35 17:16:54
1. Hillary Biscay 8:26:45 17:06:55
2. Amber Monforte 9:14:57 19:07:22
3. Vanuza Maciel 10:18:22 21:04:52
4. Beth Brewster 10:02:22 21:26:17