There were no pros for the first time at the 14th annual Ironman Coeur d’Alene on Sunday, putting the spotlight on age-group athletes.
Amateurs often squeeze in training sessions around full-time jobs and hectic schedules. Women’s champion Morgan Busko is in the final year of her internal medicine residency at New York University. Eighty-hour work weeks are routine.
While age-groupers often compete in the same races as pros, they rarely receive pre- or post-race media attention.
That changed Sunday for men’s champion Kevin Portmann, who completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in 9 hours, 28 minutes and 29 seconds, and Busko, who timed in 10:24:45.
“It was exciting,” said the 28-year-old Busko, who had nearly a 7½-minute margin over second-place Cailla Patterson. “It’s never happened because there are usually pros. I’ve been the first amateur before but never the first woman to cross the line.”
Busko, who took the lead about 5 miles into the run, moved up the leaderboard on the bike, despite steady 20-25 mph winds. Her bike time of 5:38:26 was the lowest of the top contenders. She pulled away from everyone but Patterson in the marathon.
Busko’s husband, Billy, was waiting for her near the finish line. He finished 39th overall in 10:16:23.
“I think he had me by a couple of minutes, so the marriage stays alive,” Morgan cracked.
Busko earned one of the 65 berths up for grabs to the world championships in October. She’s finished second, third and fourth in her age group in previous trips to Kona.
“I’ve thought about it (turning pro) but I work about 80 hours a week so I don’t think it’s realistic to try to compete at that level right now,” said Busko, who ran at Duke before discovering triathlons in her junior year. “We get one day off a week so I usually do a long workout that day and I wake up pretty early to do workouts on some of the other days.”
Patterson and her husband work in real estate and compete in Ironmans.
“This is my 17th Ironman,” said the 43-year-old from Kelowna, British Columbia. “My husband and I did our first one as our honeymoon in 1997. He actually did the first Ironman in Coeur d’Alene in 2003. He’s done 23. It’s just a lifestyle for us.”
Patterson estimated she was 13th entering the run. Her time of 3:27:25 moved her past 11 competitors and she gained one minute on Busko, who had built a comfortable lead after the bike.
Portmann, who grew up near Evian, France, moved in front near the midpoint of the marathon and didn’t look back. He didn’t even look at his watch, one of several changes he made after struggling during the run at 70.3-mile Ironman Canada last month.
“I lost a lot of confidence,” said the 29-year-old Portmann, a financial consultant who recently relocated from New York to Carlsbad, California. “I knew it was going to be about focus and staying positive (on the last loop of the run).”
Portmann’s winning margin was nearly 9 minutes, 30 seconds. He was outside the top 15 exiting Lake Coeur d’Alene but his 5:04:29 bike and 3:18:22 run opened up a gap on the rest of the field.
He grabbed the tape as he crossed the finish line, took a seat on the pavement and shared a long embrace with fiancée Mariesa Carrow.
“It was a little overwhelming,” said Carrow, sporting a shirt that read Ironmate. “I didn’t expect all that emotion to come out and all the cameras.”
The men’s second-place finisher, Brian Schaning, finished 19 seconds ahead of Arvada, Colorado’s Brian Lambert and 33 seconds in front of Jorge De Amorim Filho, a Salt Lake City surgeon.
“On the bike, based on previous races, I took the first 70, 80 miles a little easier and I probably had 12 guys up the road on me,” said Schaning, a medical sales rep from Bend, Oregon.
“Because of that, I was able to gain on them and have a better run.”
Portmann’s triathlon career is right on schedule.
“The first year his goal was to finish an Ironman,” Carrow said. “The second year it was to qualify for Kona, which he did, and that’s where we got engaged. This year, it was to qualify to become a pro and I think he’s well on his way.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.