Lee Gruenfeld recounts a record-setting day of racing in Tempe

April 18th 2007

It started sometime around noon with an unfortunate athlete serving out his three-minute penalty in a tent set up on the bike course. The official timer said, "Okay! Only ten seconds left! Ready? … four… three… two… one… Go!" Nothing. "Okay, go!" Zip. "Hey! You can go now! Penalty's over!" Nada. Couldn't get the guy to leave.

About twenty minutes later another athlete came into the tent. The timer looked at his bib, then looked again. "Uh…you don't have a penalty."
"Whatever," the athlete replied. "I'm going to serve one anyway."

Point is, chillin' in the gentle calm of the Sin Bin was preferable to hanging it all out on the bike course itself, which at times on Sunday looked like a cross between "Twister" and "Sahara."

After a day or two of howling winds and a freakish desert downpour, race day started out with relative serenity: beautiful clear skies, an easy breeze ruffling the lake, a flawless start to the swim…the whole picture-postcardy Kodak moment.

And then something went horribly wrong.

Okay, not horribly, exactly. It was just wind. But wind in the desert isn't like wind on a tropical island. Wind on an island blows air. Wind in the desert blows sand. Island wind pushes your bike around. Desert wind takes the paint off. And at the triple-loop Ironman Arizona there's the additional treat of knowing that, no matter how bad it was on the first loop, you can look forward to it getting even worse.


Hey, don't look at me. This is the life you chose.

Here's a re-cap of our predictions:

Women 25-29 We picked Molly Zahr and she came through, big time, winning by an hour. Not bad on top of last year's Lake Placid win.

Women 30-34 We said this was going to be a horse race and it most certainly was. Kelly Lear-Kaul, coming off her second place finish in Kona last year, squeaked past Miranda Aldritt, whom we failed to predict in the money, by two minutes, beating the old course record by about 12 minutes in the process. Wendy Mader rounded out the field in third.

Women 35-39 Christine Dunnery, veteran of ten IMs, was our choice to top this division. She came close but it was Jennifer Chalmers who took top honors by twelve minutes and knocked down another course record.

Women 45-49 Taking credit for predicting a Kelly Molaski victory is like a rooster taking credit for predicting sunrise. Gee whiz, another win. Golly gee, another course record. And, oh yeah, at 49 she's at the top of the age group, and uh, did we mention? Her time would have won 40-44 and come within a minute of breaking that record, too. We have it on good authority that there's a bill in Congress to stop her from turning fifty next year.

Women 50-54 We blew this one, only because our predicted winner didn't race. (Otherwise, we would have been right.) Mary Johnson took it by a seven-minute margin over Cathy Tibbetts.

Women 55-59 We said it would be Susan Shafer in a squeaker over Barbara Beutler. It was Susan Shafer in a squeaker over Barbara Beutler. It was a good one-two combo, because Susan bested the course record by twenty-seven minutes and Barbara did it by twenty-three.

Women 60-64 I was forced under duress to predict Cherie Gruenfeld. (If you want to know how, read Lysistrata.) Thankfully, it all worked out, as the Psycho Tri Beast took her division and broke the course record in the process. Unfortunately, I can't add that she was also the oldest female finisher because I value my limbs too highly.

Women 70-74 We said there might be a "Sister Madonna" moment if the conditions were favorable but, alas, they were not, and Bobbi Pollock, the lone entrant in this division, will have to seek a calmer day to make history.

Men 40-43 Mark Prinzel sure tried to make us look good but came in third. On the other hand, it was the tightest cluster of the day, with only three minutes separating first and third. The winner was David Jones, with Paul Meade in second.

Men 45-49 Geoff Cleveland we said, and Lt. Col. Cleveland it was, by seventeen minutes over Wolfgang Schmidt. No course record, though: To do that, Geoff would have needed to shave off an additional forty-four minutes to best Ironman legend Scott Molina's 9:23:38 at the inaugural IM-Arizona.

Men 75+ Lew Hollander was not just the only finisher in this division, at seventy-six he was the oldest finisher ever in this event, so setting the course record in this category was just a question of beating the cutoff. But that's not how Lew does things. He finished in an astounding 15:24:34 and it's worth noting that, the next morning at the Kona signups, he was sprinting from tent to tent. (Incidentally, seventy-one year old Roger Daniels turned in a 14:20:59 in Men 70-74.)

I have a feeling that IM-AZ, which had a field of some 900 first-timers, is going to see a much higher rate of repeat participants next year. A lot of finishers are going to want to better their times, and many of the ten percent who didn't finish (which was twice as many as last year) are going to come back and see if they can.

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