ROANOKE, Va. – The Ironman Triathlon finally kicked off Sunday in Roanoke after a year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pumping air in their tires and suiting up, about 1,600 athletes waited for their cue to plunge into Carvins Cove. Western Virginia Water Authority granted permission for people to swim in the reservoir for the first time on behalf of the intense race.
Training for the 1.2-mile swim was not as easy this year with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down pools.
“In the beginning, it was a real pain,” Jeremy Duvall said.
“Yeah, so when they opened back up, they were very crowded because everyone was flooding the pools to try to get their time,” Kathy Davis, the president of the Roanoke Triathlon Club, said.
After the one-lap swim, athletes raced to land to strap on their helmets and shoes to undergo a 56-mile bike course through the Roanoke Valley. Less than a month ago we caught up with Allison Paul from Durham, North Carolina as she practiced the brutal ride.
“Well, I practiced the hill three times,” Paul said. “So, I’m ready for it.”
Once they dried off, racers then rushed to the Roanoke River Greenway to run the last 13.1 miles. A stunning view Brian Walter called it, but a difficult run.
“It’s brutal,” he said. “We got there, and it was a death march more than a run.”
In four hours and 11 minutes, 24-year-old Matt Schafer from Boston, Massachusetts seized the winning title as the first male to pass the finish line.
“I went a little too hot I think, and then I slowed down a bit,” he said. “Everybody was like ‘go, Matt, go, Matt,’ and they kept me going. It was fantastic.”
But determining the top female finisher was not as easy. Marni Sumbal from Greenville, South Carolina, threw her hands in the air thinking she won, but Kate Buss narrowly claimed the title by just a two-second difference.
“I thought it was a mistake,” Buss said. “I had no idea if someone else was going to come from behind. Like, I knew I was first on most of the course of the run. But really I had no idea. I was just trying to hold it together on the run.”
Earning the title of second female finisher by overall time, Sumbal clutched her accomplishment with pride.
“Yeah, because they have a rolling start, you never know where you are. I had my husband out on the court telling me I had to push it at the end,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that close. But I gave it all I could. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for.”
She said if another race is held in Roanoke, you can expect to see her return.