Triathletes contend in Northwest, Canada

In Kona, Hawaii and at two or three national triathlon championships this fall, Whidbey Island will become a well-known place.

Over the past two weekends, South Whidbey triathletes proved themselves to be some of the top athletes in the Northwest, placing at the tops of their divisions in Olympic distance, half-Ironman and Ironman triathlon distances.

The most grueling of these races took place Sunday in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where islanders Curt Gordon and Matt Simms not only made it into the top 100 in 141-mile race, but qualified to go to the granddaddy Ironman of them all, Ironman Hawaii.

“It was nice to finish feeling good,” said Gordon, who placed 67th in the race, his fifth Ironman competition.

In a starting field of about 1,800 athletes, Gordon covered a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in 10 hours, 11 minutes and 30 seconds to take second place in the men’s 45-49-year-old division. The finish earns him his second trip to Ironman Hawaii in three years. Ironman Hawaii is the world championship for Ironman-distance racing.

Gordon’s placing, as well as Simms’, came despite a brutal race start and a windy, technical bike course. Gordon called the mass start of the swim “a slugfest” in which no triathlete was shy about swimming over another.

Behind Gordon, Simms — an unltramarathon runner in his first-ever Ironman race — made his race with a solid, 5:39:17 bike ride, then by running the 15th best marathon at the event. His run time of 3:25:49 helped move him from 416th after the swim to 90th at the finish. Though he finished 19th in the 35-39-year-old division, he still managed to grab one of the 11 spots at Ironman Hawaii when eight people ahead of him declined to make the trip to Kona.

A day before Gordon’s and Simms’ qualifying races, Clinton triathlete Marti Riemer-Reiss was two states away in Bend, Ore., trying to win the Pacific Crest Half Ironman. On a course half as long as the one in Coeur d’Alene, Riemer-Reiss swam, biked and ran her way into the lead and seemed on her way to victory in the women’s division. But, with three miles to go on the run, she ran out of food energy, which allowed Traci Orcutt of Seattle to slip by for the victory. Riemer-Reiss took second in 4:58:48.

Held in the foothills of Mount Bachelor, the race was the most difficult Riemer-Reiss had attempted. A world-championship participant in triathlons at half the distance she raced Saturday, Riemer-Reiss said she was certain after finishing that she would not attempt another half Ironman.

“But then, the amnesia set in,” she said, vowing to try again.

With her placing, Riemer-Reiss is qualified to race at the Vineman Half Ironman in Northern California next month and in the U.S. national long-course triathlon championship.

Also competing in Bend over the weekend was Riemer-Reiss’ husband, Nate Reiss, and Freeland masters triathlete Kurt Johnson. The two men raced in a shorter, Olympic distance race Sunday, and both placed high in the masters division. Reiss, 40, was ninth overall in the race and second fastest among men over 40 with a time of 2:20:05. Johnson, 50, covered his 1-kilometer swim, 40K bike and 10K run in 2:32:03 to take sixth in the masters division and 23rd overall.

A week earlier, Langley triathlete Challis Stringer also earned the right to move onto bigger and better races. At the New Balance Half Ironman in Victoria B.C. on June 20, Stringer clocked a 5:51:18 in her first-ever half Ironman, taking 12th place among women ages 25-29. She placed 308th overall and 57th in the women’s division. Her finish was fast enough to earn her a trip to Ironman Canada in Pentictin, B.C. on Aug. 29.

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