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Variable weather just part of Ironman experience

Regardless of an athlete’s fitness level, completion of an Ironman triathlon is going to involve its fair share of pain.

Still, some are worse than others.

Carbondale’s Chris McKelvey finished her third Ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y., late last month soaking wet with rain.



Chris Spence of Glenwood Springs, competing in his first Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was drenched with sweat when he crossed the finish line in the last week of June.

The race conditions for Spence and McKelvey were at different ends of the meteorological spectrum. But weather is simply part of the rigors of an Ironman triathlon, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon.



“Whether it’s bad weather or bodily dysfunction or equipment failure, it’s just part of dealing with it and deciding if you’re going to go on or just cash it in,” McKelvey said.

McKelvey finished the swimming leg in good shape, coming out of the water in ninth place in the women’s 40-44 division.

“Swimming is my strongest part,” said McKelvey, who swam competitively in college. “Coming out of the water strong I’m pretty confident, but I do get passed on the run.”

The rain and wind made the cycling and running legs even more difficult than normal.

“We had headwinds the entire day,” McKelvey said. “This is the third one I’ve finished and I’d say it was the most painful one.”

“I would say the weather just made the whole thing hurt so much,” she added. “This one hurt more than natural childbirth. It felt like I was cycling backwards at times.”

But the goal of most Ironman triathletes is to cross the finish line. McKelvey, whose other goal is to compete in all the Ironman races in North America, did manage to finish the course under the allotted time. She placed 54th out of 64 in her age class with a time of 16 hours, 44 minutes.

“I finished under terrible conditions, but did finish under the deadline and that was my goal,” she said. “It was a grueling day, and not my fastest time, but I just wanted to finish and get through it.”

Of the 1,835 competitors, 162 were listed as “did not finish” on the event Web site.

For Spence, the weather conditions were almost the exact opposite in Coeur d’Alene, but had a similar impact on the field. Of the 1,574 competitors in the race, 230 didn’t complete the course.

Coeur d’Alene typically tops out in the low to mid 80s in late June, but it reached a sweltering 95 on the day of the Ironman and “caught everybody by surprise,” according to Spence.

“I had a pretty strong swim and a great bike, but the marathon just killed me,” Spence said.

“I think in training you prepare as far as nutrition, and you’ve just got to compensate if it’s hotter,” he added. “Dehydration can really kick in, and it becomes a bigger player when you’re out there for 10-12 hours.”

While the final marathon leg took over five hours for Spence to complete, the rookie Ironman competitor finished a solid 64th out of 287 in the men’s 35-39 division and 273rd overall with a time of 11:44:46.

“I was just really glad to be there,” said Spence of reaching the finish area. “It had been a long run, and it was exciting to see the line and run down the chute.”

With McKelvey planning to run the Coeur d’Alene Ironman next June, Spence had a couple of things for her to look for.

“I would say there’s two really big hill climbs on the bike and the run has quite a few hills, too. It’s a pretty challenging course.”

And the weather? Well, that’s anybody’s guess.


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