SO WHY IS it so hard to do well at the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship as a rookie? As the event cel­e­brates 40 years of rac­ing this Oc­to­ber, the talk will no doubt re­volve around all the veter­ans when it comes to talk­ing favourites. And rightly so. A rookie hasn’t won the men’s race in Kona since Luc Van Lierde’s record-set­ting day in 1996 – a record that stood un­til Craig Alexan­der’s last Kona win in 2011. In fact, since Van Lierde’s win, Kona win­ners have al­most al­ways fin­ished in the top three the year be­fore, with the only ex­cep­tions be­ing pre­vi­ous cham­pi­ons.

It’s not that dif­fer­ent when you talk about the women’s races, ei­ther. Chrissie Welling­ton stunned the world with her Kona rookie win in 2007. In fact, that race was just her sec­ond full-dis­tance race – she’d com­peted in her first Iron­man race that Au­gust to get her qual­i­fy­ing spot. The last rookie to win in Kona be­fore Welling­ton? Erin Baker in 1987.

Win­ning in Kona is so tough be­cause the race is crazy hard, but it’s also a pres­surepacked event. Peter Reid al­ways used to say that de­fend­ing a Kona ti­tle is the hard­est thing to do in our sport. Af­ter a year of spon­sor­ship and me­dia re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to make your train­ing a chal­lenge, you ar­rive on the Big Is­land with the weight of the world on your shoul­ders. Win­ning in Kona as a rookie is such a chal­lenge be­cause you re­ally have to ex­pe­ri­ence that whole pres­sure-packed pre-race week – fol­lowed by a race day that can throw some hor­ren­dous con­di­tions at you – to truly un­der­stand what it’s all about.

Does that mean it can’t be done? Any­one want to bet against Javier Gomez in his Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship de­but in Oc­to­ber? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Con­sid­ered by many to be one of the great­est triath­letes the sport has ever seen, Gomez has lots of ex­pe­ri­ence, in­sane tal­ent and the de­sire to take one of the only triathlon ti­tles that doesn’t ap­pear on his ré­sumé.

Or how about Helle Fred­erik­sen, who took the ITU Long Dis­tance Cham­pi­onship in her home coun­try this year? Or Sarah True, who fin­ished an im­pres­sive sec­ond in her fulld­is­tance de­but at the Iron­man Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Frank­furt, thanks to a 2:54 marathon? Or even Cana­dian Kirsty Jahn, who you can read about on our Back Page Podium (p.64).

As good as those ath­letes are, though, they’ll likely be happy with a podium fin­ish in their de­buts. Even as great an ath­lete as Jan Fro­deno seemed to be pleased with his third-place fin­ish at his de­but in 2014, learn­ing from that ex­pe­ri­ence to take the wins the next two years.

As the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship gets older, it seems like it gets harder and harder to win with­out ex­pe­ri­ence. We ac­tu­ally have nu­meric ev­i­dence in this is­sue, cour­tesy of Ray­mond Britt (p.50), of ex­actly how im­por­tant pac­ing is if you want to be­come a Kona champ. Num­bers can’t help you when you’re deal­ing with 100 km/h winds along the Queen K and just try­ing to fig­ure out how you’ll get to the fin­ish line, let alone win the race. And they cer­tainly don’t help as you head down into the En­ergy Lab at the hottest part of the day, try­ing to fig­ure out how it ever made sense to com­pete in an event this hot that in­cludes so much run­ning through lava.

But that’s the Iron­man World Cham­pi­onship. If it was meant to be easy, Co­man­der John Collins and his wife, Judy, would never have thought of do­ing it in the first place.

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