Craig Alexander promised maximum effort in Sunday’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene, but the two-time world champion wasn’t sure what that would be.
Turns out it was the best there’s ever been in the nine-year-old event.
Alexander was a little faster than the previous bike record – which was shattered by Maik Twelsiek – and shaved about a minute off the marathon record. That added up to a course record of 8 hours, 19 minutes, 48 seconds, almost 4 minutes faster than the previous best for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run.
“I was prepared to give 100 percent of what I had but I didn’t know what that was,” said the 2008 and 2009 champion, who missed his planned season debut two months ago in his native Australia because of a viral infection that cost him a month of training.
“I think what you saw today was my residual fitness from 16 weeks of amazing training. Then I got sick and had four weeks off. Maybe that was a blessing, it freshened me up. Sometimes a rest is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.”
Twelsiek, who is from Germany, was second in 8:24:59 and two-time winner and local favorite Tom Evans, from Penticton, B.C., was third another 25 minutes back.
“Those two chaps are at a whole different level,” said Evans, who last won in 2008. “Even in my prime I wasn’t as good as those two guys. … They’re Tier I athletes, they don’t usually come to races like this, they usually do bigger ones. … It was quite incredible to see what they did.”
There was also a record on the women’s side but it was set in quite the opposite fashion.
Julie Dibens of England dominated until midway through the run, when she bonked and had to walk. However, she recovered and beat the previous record by 74 seconds, finishing in 9:16:40, almost 13 minutes ahead of Caitlin Snow. Spokane’s Haley Cooper-Scott was 40 minutes back in third.
The key was shaving 7 minutes off the bike record, which at one point put her fourth overall and more than a half hour ahead of Snow.
“I had mixed emotions on the day,” Dibens, a veteran triathlete including two Olympics, said of just her second race at this distance. “I had an OK swim, a great bike and I was feeling great on the run. Then I hit a really bad stretch, for about 3 miles. I think I ran out of calories.”
Alexander, who celebrated his 38th birthday Wednesday, came out of the water with Twelsiek, about 90 seconds behind Evans, then watched Twelsiek just roll away, finishing in 4:29:10. The effort made Twelsiek, 30, ill and unavailable after the race.
“He had a great race today,” Alexander said. “They told me I broke the bike course record and he outran me, so he smashed it. He’s a brilliant bike rider, one of the best.”
Making up a double-digit deficit is not unusual for Alexander, but it’s not a given, either.
“You never quite know,” he said. “Even when I caught Maik, I think Mile 14, you still have 12 miles to go.”
He credited the crowd with helping him get to the course record.
“I felt great until 5 or 6 miles to go when I started to tighten up a little bit,” he said. “The crowd support helped me out, it was an amazing atmosphere. I’ve raced all around the world but I haven’t raced in too many atmospheres like that, maybe Kona.
“The people around town and even out of the bike course are just amazing. It makes a huge difference and I know the athletes really appreciate it.”
The race went just how Evans expected, which isn’t all good.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better day. It was a good, strong steady day. I didn’t have any low spots at all,” he said, adding, “It was quite rude of them to show up and wreck my day. It wasn’t even a race. I just let them go. I knew before the gun went off it was a race for third place.”
He finished about 13 minutes ahead of Brian Hadley of Coeur d’Alene, who finished his sixth local race in 9:02:44, a personal record by 22 minutes in his professional debut.
“That was pretty neat. I wish I wasn’t so out of it so I could have appreciated it a little more,” he said of his local cheering section.
At the halfway point of the bike ride, Dibens was just 8 minutes behind Evans, and 24 up on Snow.
“You have to do your own race whether you’re the leader or the chaser,” said Snow, 28, from Brockton, Mass., whose husband, Tim, was sixth. “If she over-biked and ended up blowing up and ended up having a tough run, maybe I could have caught her.”
Dibens, an All-America swimmer at Louisiana State in the mid-1990s, exited the water fifth for a healthy 4 minute lead, and then went to work, biking in 4:52:18.
“That bike course is unbelievable,” she said. “I probably ended up riding a little bit too hard because I was having way too much fun out there.”
That may have played a role in her struggles, although so could have being in the midst of the male professionals or her inexperience, accentuated because the other full-distance Ironman for the 2009 70.3 champion was in humid Kona last October, where she was third.
“It helps my confidence,” she said. “I wanted to come here and learn as much as I could. To come here and win, it shows I’m going in the right direction. … It (also) shows I still have a lot of work to do if I want to be competitive in Kona.”
The top amateurs were Douglas Maclean of Boulder, Colo (9:19:09) and Sarah Piampian of New York City (10:03:37). The top local finishers were from Spokane – Sam Picci, ninth (9:31:31) and Pamela Schultz, seventh (10:47:07).