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Meet the World Champs, Part II
This is the second installment of stories on "how the day was won" by age group competitors at the 2011 XTERRA World Championship at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui on Oct. 23
Tamara Donelson (35-39 Division) Edwards, Colorado – 3:09:47
If any competitor can relate to the extremes of the XTERRA World Championship, it is Tamara Donelson. At the 2010 XTERRA Worlds, she was assisted off the bike course following a harrowing crash. At the 2011 XTERRA Worlds, she emerged as a world champion. And not just the champion for her age group, but the fastest overall female among the entire amateur field.
“Yeah, quite amazing isn’t it?” she said with a laugh. “My goal for this year was to be first amateur at XTERRA Nationals and Worlds, and I’m blown away that I’ve managed to achieve those goals. I’m not getting any younger, and after last year, I realized that anything can happen so I decided I wanted to make this a big year and I trained really hard for it.”
Donelson, 36, was also the fastest amateur female at the XTERRA USA Championship at Utah in September.
At the Maui race, she rallied from a slow swim with a solid bike. At the end of the swim, she trailed the lead amateur females by as many as six minutes. By the end of the bike, she was in the lead by more than a minute. “The bike is my strength, and I loved the course,” she said. “The run, I think, was hard for everybody, so I was just trying to hold on.’
The sight of Donelson on the victory podium this year was a stark contrast from last year, when she was rushed to the medical tent with a tourniquet around her arm. As she crashed during last year’s race, the brake handle from her bike punctured her arm near the biceps.
Fortunately, fellow racer Kathy Coutinho is a doctor and was not far behind Donelson when the crash happened. Coutinho and other racers helped stop the bleeding for Donelson before more medical help arrived. It was also fortunate that the injury did not require surgery, and Donelson did not lose any training time in her preparation for 2011.
“I was on antibiotics for a week, but that’s it,” she said. “The length of the brake lever went all the way in my arm, so they had to flush it out. I guess it’s a good thing my bike was clean because I was able to walk away with everything still in place.”
Donelson is originally from Australia, but now works as a personal trainer in Colorado. She has another lofty goal for 2012 -- turning professional. “I still need to improve my swim and my run, but I definitely want to try and see what it’s like,” she said.
Jaroslav Balatka (55-59 Division) Jablonec, Czech – 3:19:56
Last year in Maui Jaroslav Balatka, a police officer in the Czech Republic, finished two minutes shy of winning an XTERRA World Title. While coming so close to victory left him with the desire to return and win, he didn’t actually find the motivation to train until early August.
It was August 13th to be exact, the day his daughter - Helena Erbenova - finished a close second in the women’s pro race at the XTERRA Czech Championship.
“When Helena finished second in Spindleruv Mlyn, we began to think about her start in Hawaii and I decided to start training again for my return. I was able to lose more than 35 pounds since then and was very surprised with my condition at XTERRA Worlds,” said Balatka.
His experience in Maui also taught him to take it easy on the swim to save energy for his strengths in biking and running. So, while he came out of the water in 39:09, more than 12 minutes behind John Royson (the runner-up in the 55-59 division) he put together the best bike and run splits, caught Royson at about mile four on the run, and won comfortably.
“I had absolutely no problems, no crisis,” said Balatka. “After last year's experience, I slowly began to swim, bike perfectly fine and I truly enjoyed the run. More than my performance, I was thinking about my daughter and how she was going, whether she had any problems. It’s a good feeling to win, but I have greater pleasure from the result of Helena, who finished third among pro women.”
The day after Worlds, Balatka, his daughter, and their friends from the Czech Republic rode their bikes all the way up Haleakala.
“It was my dream from last year to climb the hill, and it was fantastic.”
Alexander Haas (20-24) Georgensgmuend, Germany – 2:33:37
Alexander Haas (pictured having some fun on the course before the race) is in the middle of writing his bachelor thesis to complete his engineering degree, and just three weeks before Worlds he crashed so hard on his bike that he suffered a concussion and wasn’t sure if he would even be able to fly. Neither the project nor crash, however, kept him from finishing the 2011 XTERRA World Championship as the top amateur (13th overall) just seconds behind his fellow countryman – Olympic gold medalist Jan Frodeno.
Haas dominated within his division, finishing nearly 12 minutes ahead of the runner-up Oliver Shaw, to win the 20-24 title for the second time in three years. Next year he’ll race as a pro.
Daniel Carleton (25-29) Sheffield Beach, South Africa – 2:49:21
Just 10 months after his first-ever XTERRA, Daniel Carleton is a world champ.
“Just by chance a friend of mine said his younger brother was going to do an off-road tri and I thought it sounded like fun so I went along too,” explained Carelton. “Well, I thought I was going to die but still loved it so much I started training the next day.”
With the training Carleton, a commercial pilot by trade, went from weighing 210 pounds to 145 pounds and finished 5th in his first XTERRA at Buffelspoort Dam in South Africa this January. Shortly thereafter he focused his efforts on qualifying for Maui, with two very notable countrymen to look up to.
“Dan and Conrad have been a great inspiration. They set a standard that I am striving to achieve. They are great promoters of XTERRA in South Africa and I hope that I can reach their level,” said Carleton.
In the 25-29 division it turned out his toughest competition was from fellow countryman Tyronne White. White jumped to the early start by swimming three minutes faster, then added to that lead with a bike split that was two minutes better. By the time Carleton hit the run he was more than five minutes back.
“I took the lead about 6km into the run, although at the time I was unsure of my position. I had a mechanical on the bike which seemed to take forever to fix and I thought I was out of contention. But when I passed Tyronne, who I knew was a contender, I thought possibly I was in the top three,” said Carleton. “It was only about half an hour afterwards while I was showering and got a message from back home that I was the world champ that I knew. I was just so excited I had to keep checking the results as I almost did not believe it. I am just elated and it’s still settling in.”
Carleton stuck around and celebrated “the experience of a lifetime” with some extra time on Maui.
Maia Ignatz (30-34 Division) Boulder, CO – 3:12:44
In XTERRA the swim is just about 10% of the race, and that’s a good thing for Maia Ignatz as she wasn’t within three minutes of the top 10 women in her division coming out of the water. What’s also good for Maia, is the other 90% of biking and running, where she got back into the race and then ran away with the victory.
“The race gets a little more fun for me as I make my way through each leg. Swimming is something I just get through, biking is where I can find my groove and start passing & racing, and running is my strongest suit, where I find my sweet spot.”
Sweet indeed as Ignatz ran more than five minutes faster than everyone else in her division – a 53:35 that was good for the 2nd best amateur run split (8th overall).
“I didn’t know I had won until I saw my timing card, then a twitter post from Shelby Katz, "well done Maia! 1st in AG!!!" said Ignatz. “It feels so awesome, especially to share it with my husband. Doing something you love, with the one you love, & doing it well is an amazing feeling & a very special thing.”
Ignatz, a massage therapist by trade and wife to former XTERRA Pro turned age group champion Ryan Ignatz, also got to share the victory with her parents, grandmother and uncle.
“We stayed in Maui through the Thursday following the race to relax & vacation, eat good food, and have good times,” said Ignatz about the extended celebration.
Ryan Ignatz (30-34 Division) Boulder, CO - 2:36:53
While running down the biggest celebrity to ever race XTERRA in front of huge crowds just before the finish might have been the coolest thing that happened to Ignatz on raceday, reeling in Tim Van Daele – the two-time and defending overall amateur world champion – is what secured his first-ever XTERRA World Title.
Van Daele was two minutes faster than Ignatz out of the water and turned in a near identical bike split, but Ignatz crushed the run – posting a 43:17, the best amateur split of the day and 10th best run overall to finish three-minutes ahead of Van Daele – who had to settle for second for the first time in three years.
“I actually had no idea when I took the lead, there were too many people out on the bike to notice and I wasn't really focused as I passed people on the run,” said Ignatz, who was 22nd overall, 3rd amateur, and 4th American behind only Josiah Middaugh, Tim DeBoom, and Branden Rakita.
What he’ll likely always remember is finishing six seconds ahead of Lance Armstrong.
“I had to dig the deepest on that last hill before the finish, what a rough thing to do to athletes! However, having that hill at the end created a bit of excitement for spectators since Lance and I were next to each other after I just passed him then walked a couple of steps to make it up the hill. Amazingly, people seem to cheer for the underdog. Weird, but fun considering the present company,” said Ignatz.
What also made his seventh trip to Maui a special one was the success of his wife Maia, who won the women’s 35-39 division.
“It mostly felt great to be a co-world champ with my training partner, best friend, and wife. Being on stage together with her parents, grandma, and uncle in the crowd was really special.”
Thomas Vonach (35-39) Schwarzach, Austria – 2:40:10
Thomas Vonach (pictured) won it on the run, posting the fastest 10K run split in his division and the second-best amateur run split overall in 44:11. It’s his second 35-39 XTERRA World Title in three years.
The day before XTERRA Worlds his partner, Ironman standout Yvonne Van Vlerken, won the women’s XTERRA 10K Trail Run in 44:20. Turns out that was a good sign for Vonach, as Van Vlerken had also won the 10K in 2009 when Vonach won his first XTERRA World Title.
Vonach has raced in Maui six times, and last year won the Hawaiian Airlines Double Competition for having the best combined Ironman and XTERRA World Championship times. This year due to health issues Vonach had to pull from Ironman, which may have saved his legs for XTERRA but nothing was certain until race day.
“Those two weeks were mentally very difficult for me,” said Vonach. “I was motivated, but health wise it did not really go uphill which depressed me more and more. I was considering calling off XTERRA Worlds, but later in the week I was feeling better and new hope came up. I would not have expected in my wildest dreams that I could perform like this after all that.”
Vonach had a good swim and was third in his division coming out of the water, and took the lead for good after passing Bryce Phinney about halfway into the bike.
“I heard I was leading after around 10 miles into the bike and I couldn´t really believe it. I had some strong competition so I never really felt comfortable, I kept looking back,” said Vonach. “When I hit the run and I was still leading I knew that not too many could still catch me, but you never know. The whole race was crazy, it was one of the best races I could ever be part of.”
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