It was a unique day of racing for the Ironman athletes with no professionals at the front of the field. It meant age group athletes Dan Plews and Vanessa Murray took the Ironman New Zealand tape in the men’s and women’s races, cementing themselves a place in history few others can claim.
Auckland-based Plews was the first Ironman athlete to cross the finish line on Saturday afternoon, completing the course in 8:50:12. Wellington’s Jeff McHardy and Tauranga’s Gregory Bassam rounded out the men’s age group top three.
Plews is a triathlon coach, with the women’s 2022 Ironman World Champion Chelsea Sodaro under his tutelage and is himself the 2018 Age Group Ironman World Champion. That race four years ago was the last time Plews raced an Ironman.
“It’s really special, it’s probably the only time ever really that an age grouper will cross the line and take the tape, so I think that’s quite cool. It was a definitely a big draw because I made the decision eight weeks ago, it all happened in October. Chelsea Sodaro who I coach won the Ironman World Champs, I turned 40, and I was all motivated to try and get an entry, so then I got an entry, got in a good little block of eight weeks solid work and it was worth it for that,” said Plews.
“I’m a sports scientist so I’m very meticulous about numbers, powers, and my watch broke, I had no data at all on the bike, so I was absolutely running blind so I just kind of went on feel. I might have biked a little bit too hard maybe I’m not that sure. I think I was five minutes behind out of the water and then it took me ages to catch the first guy on the bike and I didn’t catch him until close to the turnaround on the second lap. I did the second lap exactly the same as I did the first lap and I think that’s what made the difference,” he said.
Melbourne-based Kiwi Vanessa Murray claimed the overall women’s age-group title, crossing the line in 9:41:10, more than 14 minutes clear of Queenstown-based Irish athlete Fiona Gallagher in second and over 27 minutes ahead of Auckland’s Taryn Ryan.
“It feels awesome, I had a really challenging day, so I was just determined to hang onto the win so that I could come away with something. I had a great run, so I’m stoked with that, but I had a few challenges on the bike with getting a puncture,” said Murray. “It’s amazing, as age groupers we don’t get the opportunity to take the tape very often, so it was extra motivation to try and get the win.
“I had a great swim, I felt really good in the swim, it’s so nice to swim in a lake, living in Melbourne we don’t have the best water in St. Kilda, so the lake was beautiful. The bike I was actually feeling really good all day, felt really strong but getting a puncture at 170k’s put a dampener on the day but I guess I need to look past that, I had a good day. Really wanted a solid run to round it out so overall I’m really, really happy,” she said.
It’s been a busy year so far for Murray who won her age group at the 2021 Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah, in May, finished runner up at the Qatar Airways Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney in September and claimed victory in her age group in last month’s Ironman 70.3 Melbourne.
Today was the first time the Aucklander returned to New Zealand since racing Ironman New Zealand in 2020.
“I raced here in 2020 before COVID lockdown. It was so good to be back, most of my friends and family are still in New Zealand so it was like reunion here. My dad was out on course and whole lot of friends I haven’t seen in years, so it was a great day,” said Murray.
The last finisher is expected at midnight, where an emotional farewell will be said to legendary Ironman announcer Mike Reilly as he calls his last ever athlete across the finish line before hanging up his mic after an incredible 33-year and 214-Ironman career.