By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — After a recent family scare, Craig Alexander was a surprise starter in Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens triathlon.
The finish, though, was no surprise at all.
The 40-year-old Alexander, an Australian professional who is a three-time Ironman world champion and a two-time 70.3 (half Ironman) world champ, toured the swimming, biking and running course in and around Lake Stevens in 3 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds to beat runner-up and fellow Australian Luke Bell by 36 seconds.
The women’s winner was American pro Meredith Kessler of San Francisco, who finished in 4:18:05 (15th overall), a little more than five minutes better than runner-up Melanie McQuaid of Victoria, B.C.
Alexander, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., had initially planned to race last weekend at the Vineman 70.3 in Windsor, Calif. But his wife Nerida became sick and ended up spending five days in the hospital — including two days in intensive care — with a viral illness that led to breathing problems.
With three children and an ailing wife to look after, Alexander had to cancel his California trip. But with his wife at home and improving — “She’s a lot better than she was a week ago,” he said — he made a late entry into the Lake Stevens race.
It was his first time competing in Lake Stevens and he made it a memorable debut by completing the 1.2-mile swim in 24:01, the 56-mile bike ride in 2:16:28, and the 13.1-mile run in 1:12:49. Alexander was all alone in the final straightaway, and he crossed the finish line with a big smile and hands upraised in triumph.
Afterward he spent a few minutes chatting amiably with race officials and spectators, and looking no more weary than if he’d been returning from a leisurely Sunday stroll.
“I had a good day,” Alexander said. “I heard it was a very challenging course, and it was. But I always enjoy these sorts of course because I think they’re a good test of your fitness. … I was a bit below my best in the swim, but I think I biked and ran pretty much as well as I can. So I’m happy to win.”
Likewise, Alexander was delighted with the support of fans who cheered on a field of approximately 1,400 athletes.
“I love races in smaller towns because that tends to be the case,” Alexander said. “The people in the town really get behind the race, and it’s awesome that everyone comes out. Today the whole course was lined on the run and it’s nice to have people cheering you on like that.”
Kessler was also making her first appearance in Lake Stevens and she breezed to a victory in the women’s pro division. McQuaid had a slight lead as the two completed the bike leg, but Kessler slipped in front early on the run and went on to win convincingly.
The course “is a good one,” Kessler said. “It’s a beautiful lake … and the bike course is pretty stellar with lots of twists and turns. And I loved the run.”
It was, she added, “probably my favorite Ironman course. To be able to go through town a couple of times and see all the people cheering. … I was smiling ear to ear. I even took my sunglasses off so I could look people in the eye and thank them for cheering. The fans were first class, cheering on everybody.”
The race began at 6 a.m. with fog and cool temperatures, though the day slowly and steadily became brighter and warmer. Kessler called it “perfect race weather. You couldn’t ask for better weather for racing.”
The first age-group (non-pro) finisher was Reece Edwards of Australia, who won the men’s 18-24 division and was ninth overall in 4:11:53. The top Puget Sound-area age-group finisher was Andrew Mullenix of Seattle, first in the men’s 30-34 division, who stopped to kiss a few loved ones before crossing in 4:17:21.
Among Snohomish County athletes, the top finisher was Colby Titland of Everett, who placed sixth in the men’s 40-44 division (43rd overall) with a time of 4:32.28.
The field included 915 men and 438 women, including 28 male pros and 15 female pros. Almost every American state and Canadian province was represented, along with 23 other nations.