LAKE STEVENS — On a cool, wet summer morning there was the sign by the dock at North Cove Park that was pretty simple: “no swimming.”
Apparently, the sign doesn’t apply to Ironmen.
To the right of the sign was a dock, which also happened to be the launching point of the seventh Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3, which, among other things, included a 1.2-mile swim. The swim was followed by a 56-mile bike ride and then a 13.1-mile run.
The race came down to the final mile with two athletes fighting to cross the line first and take home the title.
Timothy O’Donnell, from Boulder, Colo., led for most of the race, despite a small one-man crash during the bicycle portion. But Australia’s Chris Legh led when it counted, overtaking O’Donnell in the final half mile of the race to win the title with a time of 4 hours, 1 minute and 29 seconds.
“This was a fantastic course,” Legh said of the trail that wound through downtown Lake Stevens. “I loved every moment of this one.”
The 39-year old Legh was so excited and exhausted after the race, he couldn’t remember when his last victory was.
“It was four or five years ago,” Legh said. “It might have been the second time they ran this race. I can’t even remember.”
O’Donnell became the favorite going into the race after last year’s winner —– and three-time champion — Luke Bell of Australia was a late scratch. O’Donnell said that at the end of the race he just didn’t have any energy left.
“I felt good on the swim and the bike, but I just didn’t have my running legs,” said O’Donnell (4:01.49), who finished 20 seconds behind Legh. “When (Legh) came by me I tried to go and I had nothing.”
The Ironman 70.3 series features distances that are half as long as full-Ironman competitions for each leg of the triathlon. The 70.3 comes from the total number of miles the athletes travel.
Many athletes staggered as they reached the finish line after exerting themselves for over four hours. Some immediately sat down, others looked like they were going to cry. Some were already crying as they ended the race.
The first non-professional athlete to finish the race was Rob Lea, from Park City, Utah. It was his best finish in the four half-Ironmans he has participated in. It was the first time Lea visited the Pacific Northwest, and the constant drizzle confirmed many of the rumors he had heard about the area.
“I now know what the Pacific Northwest is like,” Lea said. “It’s beautiful, and it’s wet.”
About a minute and a half behind Lea was Andrew Mullenix, the top finisher from the state of Washington. Mullenix, who like Lea was in the 30-34 age group, lives in Seattle. He had one of the shortest drives of the approximately 900 athletes who participated in the triathlon.
Because of late scratches and those who did not finish, an exact number of participants had not been determined.
Mullenix has completed eight full-distance Ironman competitions, but has recently taken some time off after adopting twin girls for foster care. That keeps him and his wife pretty busy, and doesn’t leave a lot of time for training.
As for any kind of home-field advantage, forget it. Mullenix said that was negated by the weather.
“My body doesn’t respond well when I get cold,” he said. “And I got really cold today. I didn’t feel my feet until three miles into the run.”
The constant sprinkle/mist made things tricky during the 56-mile bike ride. Rain from the night before made the roads even more slippery and hazardous.
“It was a little sketchy on some corners,” Legh said.
While Mullenix now runs Ironman events part-time, O’Donnell and Legh will continue the full season ahead of them. The two are on very different paths. O’Donnell, one of the top Ironmen competitors in the world, has already clinched a spot at the world championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Legh, meanwhile, will have a quick turnaround between events. It’s advised to take a week or two off between triathlons, to completely recover. Legh will be racing in Ironman competitions in each of the next two weeks, trying to earn enough points to qualify for the championships.
Said Legh: “That’s not ideal.”