Last Sunday had all the drama of a Home and Away, or any other soap opera, season finale and it climaxed in back to back Ironman Western Australia titles for Mel Hauschildt and carnage at the finish line as athletes crumbled into an exhausted heap.

Text by Stef Hanson and Rob Sheeley | Images By Witsup

 

Hauschildt won the race, which was reduced to a bike and run, by a margin of seven minutes from compatriot Carrie Lester with Sweden’s Camilla Lindholm Borg a further two minutes astern in third. It was a jawdropping, 4:37:42, bike split – a new *bike course record previously set my Mareen Hufe the year before (4:41:32) that helped Hauschildt capture the win.

It was the second victory in a two weeks for Hauschildt who has had a trying year with injury. She explained to Witsup how much the last fortnight has meant to her.

“I’m definitely stoked. I felt like I was never getting back to normal when I was in Boulder. Even at Kona seven weeks ago, I still felt so unfit but once my blood levels returned to normal and I got back home my fitness improved really quick,” she said after the win.

“I guess it just takes time to replenish the blood stores after that much loss. You can’t really speed it up with supplements or rest or altitude, It just takes time. I’ve never really shown much emotion after races, but at Western Sydney I couldn’t hide it. When I crossed that line first all the memories of being in my hospital bed hacked to pieces, saline drip in one arm, blood transfusion in the other and unable to move, only listen to the drug addict across the room abusing the nurses and telling them he was suicidal and then the surgeon walking in telling me I had to go back under the knife for the fourth time, I just lost it. Bring on 2018!”

The day took a dramatic twist early when a shark sighting meant that the Ironman 70.3 athletes who had already started were withdrawn from the water, and the event was restarted with a run from the swim exit into transition, with the original bike/run to follow. Later it was also communicated that the swim for the Ironman athletes would also have to be cancelled with concerns over athlete welfare.

The new format would see competitors leave in a time-trial style start, running from the swim exit, through T1 and onto the bike with the standard 180km and marathon to ensue. Athletes began in reverse-seeding order, meaning that defending champion Hauschildt would be the last on course and, given that the swim is her weakest leg, she would start a resounding favourite.

Despite this, it was a bittersweet outcome for the Australian who had set herself the goal of lowering her own course record, set a year earlier.

“When they first told us I was pretty devastated as my ultimate goal for this race was to smash my course record,” Hauschilidt said.

“I know the swim is not my strongest leg but I was pumped for it. I swam really well here last year even though I swam way off course chasing the 70.3 buoys that were left out. It’s a beach start, wetsuit swim and salt water; three things to my advantage.

“I was wasting energy being annoyed when Jared snapped me out of it and told me, ‘It is what it is, you’ve already got the record, prepare for a duathlon.’ Quickly I changed focus and worked out how I’d prepare myself to jump straight on my bike for 180km. It definitely made it different but we were all in the same boat and all in unfamiliar territory.”

With warm conditions in Busselton, Hauschildt looked to stamp her authority on the race when she notched up the fastest bike split. However, the result was far from beyond doubt with Hauschildt not making inroads on Lester who was having a cracking bike leg on the first lap. By the end of the bike leg, Hauschildt had managed to crank it up a few notches, hitting T2 one minute ahead of Lester in second (who also rode faster than the previous bike course record), and Germany’s Mareen Hufe three minutes further back. Yvonne van Vlerken was also not far away and with stifling conditions awaiting athletes on the marathon, there was still a lot of racing to be done.

Hauschildt could ill afford to relax in the baking sun, but was fully aware of the toll it was taking on her rivals.

“At about 110km I was really starting to feel the heat. I was grabbing water at aid stations and drinking the entire bottle before the end of the aid station. I still felt good though and when I came up on Carrie I just went straight past. It was less than 10km after I passed her though that I really started feeling it, my power dropped a bit and I was worried she’d come back past.

“By then after some more out and backs I could see she was struggling too and that Mareen (Hufe) was dropping further and further back. Mareen set the bike course record last year so I was confident I was in a decent place and just had to keep pushing on.”

Hauschildt drew on every inch of experience she had to produce a second-fastest run of 3:10:46, which proved to be more than enough to secure the win.

While she may have given the impression that she was in control, the race had really left the competitors with nothing in their tanks.

“I don’t think we were expecting it to be so hot.

“We’d just raced Kona less than two months ago, where it’s meant to be the most brutally hot conditions in the world so I think we underestimated Aussie summers. Both Carrie and I agreed that this was way hotter than Kona.

“Also, not having the swim first possibly changed things a bit. Usually you’d be catching your breath a bit and easing into the bike leg, instead I think we all just hammered it from the start.

“The bike leg also didn’t have enough aid stations and it was hard to grab two bottles at them, as the volunteers were not expecting us to be clearing out their stations. With a bush fire erupting during the age groupers bike leg I think it was fair to say it was bloody hot!”

Lester’s second placing capped off a solid 2017 for her, with consistent results throughout the year.

“It was hard, we didn’t get to really warm up and it’s hard riding on a flat course, you’re not really out of the saddle for too long and then in the run you start to feel that in your legs.

“It got hot out there, I started to feel the heat at about the 150km mark on the bike and that was about the point that Mel caught me. I made the choice to not try and go with her and to just get some fluid in.

“Then it was just carnage on the run, there is no shade out there and you get the glare off the bitumen. I started running and it was the first Ironman all year where I actually thought ‘I don’t really want to do this’.

“I felt like, after the run form I was in after Hawaii that I was in really good shape to run well and I really would have like to finish the year with a really good marathon. I was just not in any state to do that. I am just able to run a good marathon when I am completely wiped out, just keep ticking away.

“ I knew that Mel was going to be the one to beat, she wanted to win and she wanted the course record. I really would have had to bring my A-race. I raced well, but that wasn’t my A-race, she’s a world-class athlete. I am very happy to have finished.”

Lindholm Borg overcame the heat to post the fastest run of the day, which barring Hauschildt, was seven minutes faster than anyone else in the race and allowed her to secure third place.

“I am really happy,” she said after the race.

“I started quite early so it was difficult to tell where everybody was behind me, you really just don’t know.

“I just had to do my own race, some of the girls went past me really fast on the bike and I thought ‘oh my gosh they are biking hard!’, I just had to stick to the pace.

“People were telling me I was third, but I knew I was fifth because Mareen and Yvonne were still close and they started behind me. I had to start calculating at every turn and try and see if I was two minutes in front. At the finish line I had to wait and see; it was very difficult.

“At the start the run was good but it just got hotter and hotter and I though I was not running fast but nobody was running fast actually, it was really cooking hot.

“Normally I like the hot weather so I was just sating on the run ‘it’s hot, you better like it’, I wanted a hot race and I got it. Everybody has been in Hawaii or China, I’ve been at home in Sweden, training in the basement.

“My coach said if I do everything right I could make the podium, but I didn’t believe him, but he was probably right.

“I had a boy one year ago, it was my second kid. Having one is ok but two is hard. But my season started well, then I had a big crash on the bike and it has been a stressful season for me. So I am so happy to finish the season with a podium, these girls are great athletes.”

Despite last minute game changes out of everyone’s control, the racing was a fitting finale to the Ironman year.

Ironman Western Australia 2017 Results

T1 Bike T2 Run Finish
1 Melissa HAUSCHILDT AUS 0:01:54 4:37:42 0:01:41 3:10:46 7:52:04
2 Carrie LESTER AUS 0:02:11 4:38:43 0:02:06 3:16:05 7:59:07
3 Camilla LINDHOLM BORG SWE 0:02:08 4:48:20 0:01:48 3:09:41 8:01:59
4 Yvonne VAN VLERKEN NLD 0:01:47 4:45:06 0:01:47 3:22:19 8:11:01
5 Meredith HILL AUS 0:02:23 4:56:21 0:02:42 3:22:32 8:24:01
6 Mareen HUFE DEU 0:02:01 4:41:52 0:02:52 3:43:03 8:29:50
7 Tracy MORRISON AUS 0:02:25 5:08:11 0:04:37 3:30:52 8:46:07
8 Monica JUHART AUS 0:02:02 5:05:19 0:02:41 3:48:16 8:58:20
9 Kierra SANSOME AUS 0:03:02 5:24:59 0:02:26 3:38:12 9:08:40
10 Els VISSER NLD 0:02:09 4:53:26 0:01:43 4:17:06 9:14:25
DNF Jessica MITCHELL AUS 0:03:03 5:16:27 0:18:48
DNF Michelle GAILEY AUS 0:02:37 5:36:36 0:04:21
DNF Alise SELSMARK AUS 0:01:59 5:10:12 0:02:48
DNF Claire DAVIS AUS 0:02:12

*Without the swim this year, a pure comparison to previous years is hard to gauge.

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