Vineman victories go to Australian Sam Appleton, San Franciscan Meredith Kessler

Australian Sam Appleton lowered the course record and Meredith Kessler of Santa Rosa won the women's division for the fourth year in a row to highlight Sunday's Ironman Vineman 70.3 half-triathlon in Sonoma County.|

Sam Appleton lowered the course record and Meredith Kessler won the women’s division for the fourth year in a row to highlight Sunday’s Ironman Vineman 70.3 half-triathlon.

Appleton, a 25-year-old from Australia, completed the course in 3:43:06 bettering the record of 3:45:10 set by Bevan Doherty in 2013.

The half-triathlon began with a 1.2-mile swim in the Russian River followed by a 56-mile bike ride through Wine Country and ending with a 13.1-mile run that concluded on the track at Windsor High School.

Appleton and Kessler both left Sonoma County with $10,000 checks from the total purse of $50,000.

The top finisher from the Redwood Empire was Windsor’s Jody Palko. He came in 60th with a clocking of 4:33:08. Aaron Gallo, also of Windsor was clocked in 4:50:21. Other top finishers from the area were: Lance Munselle (Windsor) 4:54:05, Ryan Bennie (Santa Rosa) 4:58:40 and John Moore (Santa Rosa) 4:58:46.

Elizabeth Mullen turned in the best showing by a Sonoma County woman. A Healdsburg resident, Mullen completed the course in 5:39:26 and she was the 615th athlete to finish.

Petaluma’s Holly Wick had a time of 5:50:44. Cotati’s Amy Schmuecker was timed in 6:10:30 and Santa Rosa’s Amy Ware crossed the finish line in 6:13:22.

A total of 2,300 endurance athletes signed up for the 25th renewal of the race. All 50 states and 30 countries were represented.

Kessler, the women’s winner, finished 17th overall in a time of 4:11:58. That was just over a minute faster than female runner-up Magali Tisseyre.

“This is one of my favorite places to race,” Kessler said. “There’s such camaraderie among the athletes and the people putting on the race are super. This is the ninth year in a row I’ve raced here.

“The conditions were good and it was an enjoyable day. My family came up for the race which made it even better.”

Kessler, 37, finished the swim in 24:06, the bike ride in 2:19:31 and the run in 1:24:28.

“It took me awhile to find my groove in the run,” she said. “I heard officials calling out the splits and knew I had about a two-minute lead at the midway point.

“I began calculating in my mind the pace I would have to maintain to keep the lead and conserved some energy in case I needed it for the final miles.”

The Ironman 70.3 Vineman was the fourth half-triathlon in five weeks for Kessler.

Next up for her is the Half-Ironman World Championships on Aug. 30 in Austria. If she wins, it will be her seventh victory of the year.

Sunday’s race was a qualifier for the World Championships.

Appleton, who trained in Boulder, Colo., for the Vineman, finished the swim in 22:42, the bike ride in 2:03:17 and the run in 1:13:40.

Appleton defeated fellow Australian Craig Alexander by just over two minutes. Alexander was attempting to win the race for the third time.

“This was my first race in this country,” Appleton said. “I’ve been training in America the past four weeks.

“I definitely want to come back next year. People told me it was a beautiful course and Wine Country certainly lived up to its name with me. Those vineyards are a beautiful sight.

“It’s an honor to now have the course record because so many great athletes have competed here.

“I didn’t even think about the record until near the finish when people started yelling I had a chance. I went strong to the finish.”

Like Kessler, Appleton has his sights set on the World Championships in Austria.

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