It is billed as perhaps the most gruelling one day race in the world, a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full 26.2 mile marathon run staged in the 95 degree heat and sometimes brutal bike head and cross winds on the exposed lava fields of Kona, Hawaii, where shade is almost impossible to find on the bike and run. And then there is the equally brutal pace you have to maintain to be able to reach the podium. For last year’s winner Jan Frodeno that meant a 100m swim pace of 1 min 18 secs for the 2.4 miles, an average bike speed of over 25 mph for the 112 miles and after all that a marathon average pace of 6 min 34 secs per mile. And on Sunday, Bermuda’s Tyler Butterfield will not only be battling the distances and elements but an exceptionally strong field with perhaps 15 to 20 athletes capable of finishing on the podium on any given day depending on their preparation, how they feel on the day, whether they take in the right nutrition and whether they can stay mentally tough when they pass through the inevitable “pain” zones when you just want to stop and rest.
Tyler finished a very impressive 5th last year and so he has the added pressure of knowing that to achieve the same this year or even a top ten finish he will again need a near perfect day. Having had a number of set backs in his training and health this year another top 10 finish would be an excellent achievement but he knows that even over these long distances the margin between 5th and 20th is less than 20 minutes and if the body shuts down that 20 minutes can be lost very quickly.
Last year’s results which can be seen by clicking here shows just how close those margins are.
And what an outstanding mens, and womens, field is lined up for 2016 with returning veteran and experienced warriors who will draw on their years of experience, young pretenders who showed in 2015 that with another year of long distance racing under their belts are ready to break into the top 10 or even podium in Kona and the inevitable dark horse who suddenly finds inspiration from the Kona gods and has the race of a lifetime.
Top of the list is defending champion Jan Frodeno of Germany who not only won the 2015 Ironman World Championships but also the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. He sent out a strong message in Roth, Germany this year where infront of over 250,000 delighted German fans he did what he said he would do before the race, post the fastest time ever for the Ironman distance ; 7 hrs 35 mins 39 secs, a full 20 mins and 44 secs ahead of 2nd place Joe Skinner ( see below).
The veterans include Germany’s Andreas Raelert ( age 41 -2nd in 2015), Andy Potts of the USA ( 40 – 4th in 2015) and Spain’s Eneko Llanos (40 – 7th in 2015)
And then there are the 30 something guys who are less battle scarred but have also developed the knowledge of the course, built up years of mental and physical strength battling Ironman and 70.3 (Half Ironman) courses and having tasted success are hungry for more . They include Tyler, the 2014 winner Sebastian Kienle of Germany (33 -who was also 3rd in 2013 and 4th in 2012) who had the fastest bike split in 2015 but faded on the run, Frenchman Cyril Viennot of France ( 35 – 5th in 2014 and 6th in 2015) who has an exceptional run if he in 2016 he can finish the swim / bike closer to the leaders, Canada’s Brent McMahon (36- 9th on his Kona debut last year) a former leading Olympic distance triathlete weighing in at just 10 stone and with three sub 8 hour ironman times in his short career, Tim O’Donnell (36 – 4th in 2015, 8th in 2012 and 5th in 2013) who has been somewhat overshadowed by his wife, three time Kona winner Mirinda Cafrae, but showed last year that his experience is beginning to count.Boris Stein of Germany (31 – 10th in 2015) – he too may have to make up time after the swim but his bike and run are right up there and what a difference a year can make as he was 20th in 2014, Jesse Thomas (36 ) won Ironman Lanzarote in May 2016 handing a rare defeat to Jan Frodeno. He will need to have a good swim. Australian Tim Reed (31) was the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Champion and Australian and Asia Pacific Ironman Champion. A tough Aussie he outlasted Sebastien Kienle at the 70.3 World Championships in a thrilling run battle. This hard racing speedo clad pocket rocket may just have the physique and mental strength and run to win it all.
Then there are the young pretenders, most notably the UK’s Joe Skinner (28 – 13th in 2015 but who this year became the first Brit to go under 8 hours for Ironman and ran the fastest 2016 Ironman marathon time of 1 hr 38 mins), Canada’s Lionel Sanders (28 – 14th in 2o15) who has had an impressive string of Ironman 70.3 wins in 2016. If he can limit his lost time on the swim he has the bike / run to match the best. I tip Sanders as the winner this year, despite his crazy training techniques ( see video below).
The man I think may be the big surprise in 2016 is the UK’S David McNamee (28 – 11th in 2015) . A former Olympic distance triathlete ( 2011 Silver Under 23 world champs medalist) he took up long distance racing in 2015 and produced some strong results, including 2 x 3rd places. In 2016 he has had three Ironman wins including in Ironman UK but his most impressive result was 3rd in Lanzarote, a very tough Ironman, in May 2016 where he finished just behind Kona defending champ Jan Frodeno, who admittedly was coming back from injury. If McNamee can stay in touch after the bike, something he was not able to do last year, then he has the run to win in Kona, as his 2 hr 49 mins last year, the only sub 2 hr 50 min time, showed.
And the list goes on with the likes of Switzerland’s Ruedi Wild, American Ben Hoffman ( 2nd in 2014), Australia’s Pete Jacobs and New Zealand’s Terrenzo Bonzone.
One athlete who will not be on the start line is Australian Nick Kastelein, 5th in Roth and Jan Frodeno’s training partner. If he lines up healthy for Kona in 2017 I am going to put money on him for a top three finish !!
So my top 10 bold prediction :
Lionel Sanders, Jan Frodeno, David McNamee, Sebastian Kienle,Tim Reed, Jesse Thomas, Joe Skinner,Cyril Vienott,Brent McMahon, Andy Potts with Andreas Raelert most likely actually somewhere in the top ten. Prove me wrong Tyler !!
So, find a comfortable seat and tune in here this Saturday 8th October at 1.25PM Bermuda time and watch to see if Tyler can produce another great Kona and Bermuda moment.