Ironman 70.3: Canadians Sanders, Wurtele rule on cool, wet race day

ST. GEORGE — Battling rain, wind and cool temperatures is no big deal for Lionel Sanders and Heather Wurtele. After all, they’re Canadians.

ironman703 stgeorge naprochampionship 02Sanders emerged as the pro men’s winner for the first time in St. George and Wurtele captured her second straight Ironman 70.3 in St. George, earning them both the North American Pro Championship title.

“The weather was terrible, but it was fantastic for me, I’m from Alberta,” Sanders said. “When I start to lose feeling in my hands and feet, that means there are perfect conditions.”

Winner's podium with winner Lionel Sanders (center), second place Sebastian Kienle (right) and third-place Joe Gambles (left), Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Winner’s podium with winner Lionel Sanders (center), second place Sebastian Kienle (right) and third-place Joe Gambles (left), Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

Sanders cruised across the finish line in a time of 3:48:18, about three minutes ahead of Germany’s Sebastian Kienle. Joe Gambles of Australia came in third, just over a minute behind Kienle and five minutes after Sanders’ winning time.

For Sanders, winning in St. George was a case of therapeutic redemption.

“Two years ago I finished 18th, I was 10 minutes behind the winner and was just a terrible person to be around,” Sanders said. “I was so upset and I started to ask myself, ‘Why is my self worth so wrapped up in racing?’ I remember going over there by that building alone, me and my girlfriend, and being so angry. And then I realized that I needed to make a change.”

Sanders said his whole attitude about racing — and life — changed that day.

Winner Lionel Sanders, Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Winner Lionel Sanders, Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

“I came in with kind of a big head and got humbled,” he said. “I also realized that I wasn’t having fun anymore. From that point on, I changed my whole orientation. I came back today and wanted to sort of give thanks to this race for giving that sort of insight into the human nature of this whole thing.”

The Windsor, Ontario, resident said that new attitude helped him to cope with the fact that he was more than four minutes behind the leaders after the first leg of the race, the 1.2-mile swim in Sand Hollow Reservoir.

“It didn’t matter,” he said. “I was here to have fun and give it my all, go as hard as I can, and that’s all I wanted to do.”

It is the third Ironman 70.3 win in a row for Sanders, who has been running triathlons for nearly seven years. He beat the time of last year’s winner Tim Don, by more than three minutes. Don did not run this years’s race.

Women's pro winner Heather Wurtele (60) hugs second-place finisher Holly lawrence, Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Women’s pro winner Heather Wurtele (60) hugs second-place finisher Holly lawrence, Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

On the pro women’s side, Wurtele, from Kelowna, British Columbia, finished in a time of 4:16:48. Holly Lawrence, from Great Britain, was the second women’s finisher, coming in at 4:18:04. Meredith Kessler, a past winner of the race, placed third with a time of 4:22:02. Kessler is from San Francisco.

Wurtele, huddled in a warming blanket, said the weather was definitely a factor in the race.

“The climate for this race is usually hot and dry, so the rain and cold and choppiness of the lake definitely made it more challenging for everyone,” she said. “You’re sort of just doing your thing and it doesn’t really faze you. It was a bit tricky in the transitions, my hands were so cold. I couldn’t really get my shoes on. I saw Holly struggling as well. We couldn’t really grab the tongues. We were just kind of shoving our feet inside. But it was just small challenges like that.”

Wurtele said the competition has improved each year she has run the St. George Ironman 70.3 and the 2016 race was tougher than ever.

“All day, it was just a battle,” she said. “Sometimes in a race, in the last couple miles or so, you can kind of ease off. But the whole day today I felt like I was pushing max, max, max. It just goes to show the level of competition is so amazing and everyone is working incredibly hard.”

Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

Wurtele beat her own winning time from last year (4:17:58) by more than a minute.

There were 2,639 athletes competing in the race this year, including three racers in the 75-79 age category. Jose Ramirez of Henderson, Nevada, Greyson Quarles of Duck Key, Florida, and Douglas Wells of Santa Clara, Utah, were the oldest competitors.

This race marks the seventh consecutive year that St. George has hosted an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 triathlon. The professional prize purse is $100,000, which is distributed among the top 10 male and female professional finishers. The 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship is in Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia on Sept. 4.

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1 Comment

  • knobe May 7, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Sooooo , how many of the over 75 guys finished the race ?
    Other curious old geezers want to know !

    !

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