Five times Mother Nature brought drama on race day – Triathlete


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Last weekend, Ironman California has been canceled just 45 minutes before the start of the race due to a bomb cyclone that hit northern California, bringing windy and rainy conditions deemed too dangerous for the competition. While weather-related cancellations are rare, Mother Nature made things messy for many days of racing. From freezing water temperatures to scorching heat, here’s a look at five races held in extreme conditions and downright wacky weather, and how the organizers and athletes handled what was thrown at them.

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Ironman China and 70.3, Hainan Island, China

The date: April 19, 2009

Weather: Extremely hot and humid. At the start of the run, the thermometer read 90 degrees F with 85% humidity, and only continued to climb throughout the day, eventually reaching 110 degrees F.

The result: With the intense heat and very little shade on the course, the athletes suffered in the very first Ironman branded race in China. “The heat was incredible. I can’t describe it ”, eventual 70.3 champion Chris McCormack recalled on his blog. “I watched ambulance after ambulance on the course put Ironman competitors, who couldn’t cross the bike course and collapsed, in the back of them. It was like a war zone. McCormack, who went on to say the race was “without a doubt the toughest event” he has ever done, noted that winner Rasmus Henning posted what was the slowest split by a winner of any Ironman (3:38:22). The following year, the race organizers decided to postpone the event to early March in the hopes of reducing the risk of a hot racing day.

Ironman Lake Tahoe, Kings Beach, California

(Photo: Susan Lacke)

The date: September 22, 2013

Weather: With temperatures hovering around 30 degrees F on race morning and not increasing much throughout the day, Lake Tahoe remains one of the coldest Ironmans on record. And after a snowstorm hit the area the day before the race, bundled up athletes found themselves chomping on ice cubes on their bikes in the transition zone.

The result: After leaving the relatively soft water (the temperature was 61 degrees F in the morning) into the freezing air, many athletes struggled to warm up and stay warm on the bike. In total, 267 athletes – 12% of the peloton – either gave up during the bike part of the race or did not cross the threshold. The race continued to be a wear race, with 182 other athletes calling it a day. In total, some 21% of the peloton did not finish the race, and the 2013 peloton’s average finish time of 14 hours and 6 minutes, remains among the highest in Ironman history. (The next year’s race was canceled due to a big fire and smoke in the area.)

Ironman Texas, The Woods, Texas

(Credit: David Welby)

The date: May 14, 2016

Weather: Although the day started out hot but otherwise mild enough, about nine hours after the start of the race, a thunderstorm hit, eventually dropping the temperature from 90 degrees F to 68 degrees F within an hour and sending out heat. rain, pea-sized hail, 20mph wind gusts and lightning on the course.

The result: During the storm, race officials rounded up all the remaining competitors and took them to parking lots, under porches, or had them huddle under overpasses until time passed. It took up to 48 minutes to do just that, after which the athletes were allowed to return to the race and finish their race. (In an effort to be as fair as possible, race officials based the age group rewards and slots for Kona on the leaderboard of the timing mats they crossed before the storm.)

Auckland World Triathlon Grand Final, New Zealand

The date: October 20-22, 2012

Weather: Heavy, cold rain was the theme of the Championship weekend, with torrential rains devastating several high-stakes races from elites to juniors. There has been enough carnage for the World Triathlon to be staged a montage of wrecks on the winding hilly bike course, showing how slippery and dangerous the conditions were (the race was less dangerous, but the athletes were still slipping on wet roads). In the elite events, most of the race favorites managed to stay on the sidelines, with Spain Javier Gomez beats Briton Jonny Brownlee two seconds to win the men’s race. (The day before, the German Anne Haug crossed some 12 seconds before the American Gwen Jorgensen take the title.)

Escape from the Alcatraz Triathlon, San Francisco, California

The date: June 11, 2017

Weather: High winds from a chaotic spring weather system turned the bay into a relentless chop, creating conditions too dangerous for small boats, including rescue kayaks.

The result: Minutes before the start of the race, Race Director Bill Burke climbed into a megaphone and informed 2,000 athletes that they would have to disembark the ferry they were about to jump off to swim from Alcatraz Island, take a bus for the transition, and participate in a bike race instead. It was the first time in 37 years of racing history that the “breakout” itself would be canceled.


About Todd Wurtsbach

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