Canadians Sanders, Findlay win Ironman 70.3 St. George

ST. GEORGE – Canadians Lionel Sanders and Paula Findlay won the men’s and women’s, respectively, Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championships St. George Saturday.

Eventual men’s winner Lionel Sanders at the bike-to-run transition area of the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Sanders set a new course record with a time of 3:41:11, breaking the old record of 3:41:58 established last year by Alistair Brownlee of the U.K.

Coming in second place in the men’s race was Sebastian Kienle of Germany, who finished in 3:42:38, or 1 minute 27 seconds behind Sanders.

Sanders and Kienle had completed the first leg of the event – the 1.2 mile swim in Sand Hollow Reservoir – within two seconds of each other, with Sanders finishing the swim in 25:26 and Kienle in 25:28. They were the eighth and ninth competitors out of the water.

The water temperature at the event’s rolling start just after 7 a.m. was 62 degrees, with an air temperature of 59 degrees and very little or no wind.

Lionel Sanders and Sebastian Kienle at the finish line of the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

During the second portion of the event, the 56-mile bike ride, Kienle was the fastest competitor, moving into the overall lead by completing the bike leg in 2:01:15. He opened up a 15-second lead on Sanders, who completed the bike portion in 2:01.32.

That left the third and final leg, a 13.1-mile run that follows a loop from Town Square Park and goes along Bluff and Diagonal streets before climbing up Red Hills Parkway through and along the south end of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and back to the heart of downtown St. George.

It was during that final leg that Sanders was able to overtake Kienle for the overall victory. Sanders completed the running portion in 1:11:47, while Kienle finished that leg in 1:13:14. They were the second- and third-fastest finishers in the running portion, however, as Austrian Michael Weiss had the best run time with 1:10:41. Weiss finished third overall with a time of 3:43:14.

See St. George News’ earlier News LIVE coverage and ‘everyman’ gallery:

Hundreds of spectators clapped, cheered and took photos with their cell phones as the top finishers approached the finish line.

L-R: Runner-up Sebastian Kienle of Germany, winner Lionel Sanders of Canada and third-place finisher Michael Weiss of Austria douse each other with champagne atop the medals podium after the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Afterward, Sanders told St. George News that while the course itself is challenging enough, he knew Kienle would be right with him to the end.

“I love battling with Kienle,” Sanders said. “I mean, I knew pretty quickly on the bike when I put some big digs in like over 400 wide digs for five minutes … he was not going away, that’s for sure. So I knew we were going to have a battle and I knew it was going to come down to the run.”

“It’s just all the more reason to get your nutrition and hydration in check because you’re gonna need to be able to close very well,” Sanders added.

Sanders said that while he was happy to set a new course record, he doesn’t expect it to last long.

“It’s great to go, I guess, into the history books for a little bit. I’m sure someone will come around next year and probably break the record, but it’s cool to be part of that.”

Sanders said that more important than a record time, was the goal of getting himself into peak condition for the race.

Lionel Sanders talks to the media at a press conference after winning the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“One goal of mine was to get back to how I used to race,” he said.

“Last year, I got beat by two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee, and you know, I really cherish this race. I really found myself (by) doing this race and coming here.”

“Ironman saved my life,” Sanders added. “I was in a dark place for whatever reason, and the idea to do an Ironman popped into my head. I devoted my life to it and I’ve continued to devote my life to it. And I truly believe that it’s a spiritual journey if you do it properly, there’s just no way that you can’t be a different and better person on the other side. So I love every minute of it. And I come into these races with that mindset that I’m doing a spiritual journey right now.”

About a half hour after the top male finishers crossed the finish line, Findlay claimed the women’s title with a first-place time of 4:15:53.

L-R: runner-up Jeanni Seymour, winner Paula Findlay and third-place Sarah True, the top female finishers of the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Notably, Findlay didn’t place first in any of the three individual legs, taking fourth in both the swim and the bike ride and third in the run. Her respective times were 24:46 for the swim, 2:25:11 for the bike and 1:23:05 for the run.

Coming in second place for the women about a minute and a half behind Findlay was South Africa’s Jeanni Seymour, who finished in 4:17:19. American Sarah True placed third in 4:17:46.

Just as the top three men had done a short time earlier, the top female finishers doused each other with champagne while posing and celebrating atop the post-race medals podium.

“I had a surprisingly good swim and felt really good on the bike,” Findlay said during the press conference following her victory.

“I haven’t done a lot of these races. This is my third one ever, so I’m still kinda learning the ride and how to pace it properly.”

Paula Findlay talks to the media after winning the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“This run course was super, super hard and just the first three miles were climbing uphill and I felt like I wasn’t moving anywhere, but I think everyone probably felt the same way, so I could use the downhills to really kind of open up and recover from the uphills.”

“I came from a running background, so I tried to remember like track running and just having a faster number and I could see on the out-and-back is where the other girls were,” Findlay said. “So, that was motivating to keep the pressure on and had no idea that I was going to hold anyone off. I’m just like totally shocked. So, yeah, it was a great day.”

Findlay had praise for the course, calling it “the nicest course, honestly, that I’ve ever done.”

“I raced growing up and traveled all over the world and I honestly think this is my favorite,” she said. “I was lucky that my mom could come down and be here, and I get really inspired by the landscape and it makes the lead up to the race really relaxed and enjoyable.”

Paula Findlay crosses the finish line as the winner of the Ironman 70.3 St. George, St. George, Utah, May 5, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

“It’s just a beautiful place. I can’t say enough good things about it. I didn’t look up much in the ride to appreciate it, but the pre-race in the lake is beautiful, and it just makes the whole experience pretty awesome. So, thank you to this great city for hosting this event every year. I’ll definitely be back.”

Fellow Canadian Heather Wurtele a four-time winner of the St. George race finished sixth among women with a time of 4:22.50.

Wurtele said she didn’t feel well the morning of the race. “I was just kind of empty, but that happens sometimes,” she said. Her husband Trevor Wurtele finished eighth among the men with a time of 3:57.19.

In addition to the 54 professional entrants, nearly 2,700 other people were registered to compete in Saturday’s race. For complete results and other information, visit the Ironman website.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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