On a day when course records collapsed around him, New Zealand athlete Braden Currie dug unbelievably deep to finish in fifth place at the 2018 Ironman World Championships – achieving the sixth fastest finish time in the history of this event.
This 226.26km ruthless race on the island of Hawai`i in Kailua-Kona extracts every last ounce of energy out of the globe’s fittest athletes and Red Bull’s Currie gave it his absolute all to cross the line in 8hours:04mins:41secs.
It was a truly gutsy performance from Wanaka’s Currie in what is only his second time racing this grueling event that takes the world’s top professional athletes many attempts to master. Finishing the best of the Kiwis, Currie just held off American athlete Matt Russell by 4secs – exerting an effort so great that he needed to intravenous drip inserted straight after he finished.
CREDIT Sally Currie
“I absolutely gave it everything I had in the tank today. To be honest I’m really proud of the result. I held tough. I held in there. At the end of the day, I tried to go for the win and that was what I was there for,” an exhausted but elated Currie says.
German athlete Patrick Lange was the repeat Ironman World Champion, celebrating the 40th anniversary of this event by smashing his own course record in the process and becoming the first person to break 8 hours in Kona, clocking a 7:52:39. Bart Aernouts, of Belgium, was second, achieving this career high in his seventh attempt at Kona – highlighting just how hard it is to get on the podium here. He also broke 8 hours in 7:56:41, closing with a 2:45 marathon.
Great Britain’s David McNamee was third with a time of 8:01:09, also under the previous course record.
The race day began early with the 50 pro athletes starting the out and back ocean swim at 5.35am (NZ time). Currie had been making gains in his swimming recently but as any professional athlete will tell you, sometimes on race day, it just doesn’t all go to plan.
“I had a really bad swim start and got stuck over on the right hand side. [Josh] Amberger and [Javier] Gomez and all those guys got well away from us. I ended up pretty much swimming solo leading the second pack. I had to swim quite hard. We didn’t lose too much time in the end but it wasn’t the swim I was hoping for. I was hoping to be up the front.”
Currie finished in 49mins:28secs – 1min:17secs down on swim leader and swim specialist Australia’s Amberger, which was enough of a deficit for him to have to push hard on the 180.2km bike ride.
The brutal course, started with the traditionally searing temperatures milder than usual and the often-fierce crosswinds uncommonly light. There was slight drizzle and ridiculously high humidity.
“I felt pretty good on the bike but I knew I probably didn’t have the power of those other bike specialist guys. About 40km in Andreas Dreitz and Patrick Lange came through. Andreas just went in front of Patrick and set the tempo and we just sort of hung in behind and that soon bridged us up to the front group.”
At the 67km mark as the pro men started their energy-sapping climb, Currie had ridden his way into fifth place 3.15mins down on the lead group of three – nicknamed the uberbikers by the commentators – Andrew Starykowicz, Cameron Wurf and Amberger.
At the Hawi turnaround at 95km, Currie was riding hard and fast in the chase group, as the sun broke through and temperatures began to soar as they raced back through the volcanic lava fields on the Kona coast.
In the final kilometres of the bike ride there were 25 pro men within 9 minutes of each other. Currie was 11th off his new Specialized SWorks Shiv Disc TT bike in 4:17:18, situated in a ‘runner’s group,’ 6mins:47secs down on Australian Cameron Wurf, who set a new bike course record of 4:09:06.
“I rode really well and just kept on top of nutrition and hydration. The back of the course was a lot easier than normal and there wasn’t much headwind. We all moved really fast.”
Currie accidentally left his watch in transition as he headed out on the 42.4km run, which travels through Kailua-Kona and on to the same highway, the Queen Ka`ahumanu, used for the bike course.
As a result, he pushed the pace but never knew when he was fading off it. Currie had his supporters, who were watching the race live on various Ironman platforms, on the edge of their seats, as he moved into 3rd position by the 8.5km mark.
He held on to third place until around 16km in, when Aernouts passed him but Currie’s cracking pace saw him run the first 22km in 1:27:44. By the 32km split the heat was beginning to wear Currie down and he slipped to fourth behind McNamee.
Currie battled neck and neck with eventual fourth place finisher Tim O’Donnell for several kilometres in the final stages of the race before the American eventually slipped away sometime after the 37km mark.
“I love racing at the front. I love seeing what is humanly possible of me. I probably could have eased up and played a safe card and kept a better pace. I wanted to see if I could race Patrick – at the end of the day he’s the best in the world right now and he’s shown how dominant he is. I wanted to put some pressure on him and just see what happened. He is a step above and he showed me his cards pretty soon – about 15km in to the run he just started pulling away. I wasn’t going to stick with it. You never know until you try and it was lesson learnt for me. It was good fun and I definitely don’t regret it because I’m proud of the result,” Currie says.
Pre-ceding Kona, Currie said he wanted to go to that deep, dark box of hurt and see what his body was truly capable of. He certainly journeyed right into the depths of that world of pain today. To emerge fifth in the world, against the toughest, strongest ironmen, having conquered one of the planet’s most celebrated tests of physical toughness and mental strength, is an achievement, of which he can be incredibly proud.