To everything, there is a season, according to legendary American rock band, The Byrds. Actually, folk singer Pete Seeger wrote that song, but never mind that.
As years, and Ironman races, pass, some of our favourite triathletes retire. Chrissie Wellington retired in 2014 after winning four world championships and now inducted into the Hall of Fame. Natascha Badmann threw in the towel in 2016 after Kona.
The good news is, every winter is followed by a spring. For the Ironman World Championship women’s race in Kona, that means new triathletes are joining the ranks of professional competitors.
Two newbies to keep an eye on this year are Britain’s Lucy Charles and Switzerland’s Celine Scharer.
First Kona Race as Pro Triathletes
Both Charles and Scharer are competing on Hawaii’s Big Island this year as pros for the first time. Unlike Scharer, Charles won’t be on this course for the first time. She won the under-25 age group in the Ironman World Championship race in 2015. She is 23, and Scharer is 27.
In 2015, Charles won 1st place in both the Kona race mentioned above and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship for the same age group.
She also nailed 1st place in Ironman Lanzarote 2017, near the Canary Islands, where she set a new bike record of 5:23:30. Her total time was 9:35:40.
Her first race as a pro was the 2016 Lanzarote race, where she came in 3rd place. She made a 2nd place this year at both the Ironman European Championship and Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote.
Lanzarote is considered one of the toughest courses in the world because of high heat and wind plus a high bike course elevation.
Scharer’s claim to fame is her win in Ironman Switzerland 2017. Her finish time was 9:23:02. Runner-up Tine Holst of Denmark trailed her by 14:42. Scharer also won Ironman 70.3 Cozumel 2015.
In 2016, Scharer came in 4th in the Switzerland race. She made second place in Ironman Vichy 2016 with a finish time of 9:17:21.
In 2007, she ranked highly in a number of Swiss triathlons in her age group. In 2008, she won the Zurich and Uster Triathlons. 2009 was also a good year, with a victory in the VW Circuit junior race and top 10 rankings in others.
Saturday will be her 11th Ironman race.
One advantage Charles has over Scharer is her experience with the Kona course. She’s familiar with the heat levels and the high winds there. Because of this, she based herself in Club La Santa in Lanzarote this year for training. Both areas boast high heat. As she told Ironman.com, “Heat acclimatization is probably my biggest focus leading into Kona.”
About wind, she noted, “Another plus side to training in Lanzarote is that it is notoriously windy, similar to the Big Island. This has really improved my bike handling skills in the strong crosswinds, and I am hopeful this will pay off in Kona.”
Charles’ familiarity with the course also allows her to practice a technique used by many of the world’s top athletes: visualization. Part of her training is to run a number of experimental scenarios in her head to prepare herself for whatever may come up.
Another one of her strategies is to pace herself by spacing out sessions. This allows for rest time and rejuvenation, which she considers important.
Scharer appears to be a little more laid back in her approach. She plans to do the best she can and not even think about competitors until the last 10 kilometres of the run.
Her biggest advantage may be a well-known coach, Brett “The Doc” Sutton. He trains Scharer and 2015 and 2016 Kona winner, Daniela Ryf. He has also coached Olympic gold medal winners Nicole Spirig and Emma Snowsill, four-time Kona winner Chrissie Wellington, and other well-known triathletes. Sutton is known for creating some pretty tough training sessions.
Fellow Swiss triathlete Daniela Ryf also gives Scharer advice on how to do well in Kona.
Scharer will be new to the Big Island, but she’s not new to Hawaii. She did make a trip to Maui for two weeks of training with Kona in mind.
Who Will Win?
It’s a safe bet that neither Scharer nor Charles will knock Ryf out of the top spot, but how will they fare against each other? That’s a tough call.
Switzerland’s not exactly known for heat, and this is where most of Scharer’s history is. Charles is working on both heat acclimation and pain tolerance with a goal of finding Kona’s course easy in comparison.
Both triathletes are strong in the swim and bike. Scharer expects Charles to do about as well as she does, or perhaps better.
Comparing numbers won’t help us much. Scharer clocked an impressive 9:17:21 in Vichy, France. On the other hand, the bike and run courses are both described as “flat and fast”. In Ironman Switzerland this year, it was 9:23:02.
Charles’ 9:35:40 is more than 18 minutes behind Scharer’s personal record, but Lanzarote is one of the world’s toughest courses. France and Switzerland aren’t exactly known for heat.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the two of them do, but I won’t place any bets on one over the other.