Ben Hoffman and Heather Wurtele have special connections to Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
Hoffman attended the University of Montana and the first Ironman he watched was when Polson’s Matt Seeley took second in the Lake City. Wurtele’s first Ironman race and first Ironman victory came in Coeur d’Alene.
That made Sunday even more special for the two as they captured professional titles in record times at the 11th annual Ironman Coeur d’Alene. The Boulder, Colo.-based Hoffman took the lead early on the bike and covered the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in 8 hours, 17 minutes and 31 seconds, eclipsing Craig Alexander’s 2011 record by more than 2 minutes. Three-time champion Viktor Zyemtsev was second in 8:26.01.
“I trained a little bit with Craig in Boulder so it’ll be fun to go back there and give him a little crap about it,” said Hoffman, who earned $15,000 for the win.
Wurtele took control on the bike and finished in 9:16.02, 38 seconds faster than 2011 champ Julie Dibens. Wurtele, of Kelowna, B.C., also pocketed $15,000. She finished 12 minutes, 34 seconds ahead of Caitlin Snow.
“These things are hard and they don’t get any easier,” Wurtele said. “I was just full throttle all day. I had a strong ride and really wanted to keep pushing it on the run. It hurt all day, but it’s a satisfying kind of hurt when your body is cooperating with you and you can keep pushing.”
Not all of Wurtele’s Coeur d’Alene memories are warm ones. Last year she was in first place when her bike developed mechanical problems. She used another competitor’s bike to finish and was disqualified for violating a rule requiring athletes to finish using their own bike.
“It was just a really negative experience (last year),” she said. “More than anything I just wanted to kind of have a do-over, turn it into a positive experience and just go out and have the race that I could.”
Wurtele, 34, was stalled briefly by a flat tire and a situation involving medical personnel attending to an age-group athlete, but said it was “generally a smooth sailing day.” She has five Ironman wins, the first coming in Coeur d’Alene in 2008. Her husband, Trevor, took fourth Sunday in a 70.3-mile Ironman in Quebec.
Snow, from Brockton, Mass., ran a swift 3:05.22 marathon. That was good enough to catch Uli Bromme, who eventually finished third, but Snow trailed Wurtele by nearly 16 minutes entering the run.
Two months ago, Snow’s status for Coeur d’Alene was in doubt. She crashed on a training ride and suffered a lacerated liver and four fractured ribs.
“I was in the hospital for a little while and I didn’t know if I would get the volume and durability back,” said Snow, who earned $7,500 for second place. “To have such a good day, I’m really happy.”
Hoffman, 29, caught the triathlon bug as a student at Montana. He has a degree in Spanish and studied abroad, but noted that he “majored in triathlon, if you will, because we had a really good club team that won the national championship when I was a senior.”
Hoffman, who had two Ironman wins in 2012, was strong in all three disciplines. He was third after a 50-minute, 24-second swim, but a 4:30.48 bike split put him firmly in control.
“Once you’ve won an Ironman all you want to do is win another one,” he said. “Obviously my goal is to win Ironman Hawaii and this is another step in that direction.”
Zyemtsev, 40, made up roughly 3 minutes on the run but never seriously challenged Hoffman. TJ Tollakson, of Des Moines, Iowa, placed third.
“I raced two weeks ago (a 70.3-mile Ironman in Maryland) and my plan was to improve my conditioning, but I just felt a little worse than last year,” Zyemtsev said. “It might have been a preparation mistake. I didn’t feel very good on the bike.”
Hoffman’s post-race plans included rest, a beer – “I’ve abstained from beer for a couple of months,” he said – and his dad’s birthday celebration today.