Ironman Santa Rosa triathletes race through thrilling, grueling day in Sonoma County
Starting with a dawn swim at Lake Sonoma and finishing with a marathon that stretched into darkness Saturday, the first full Ironman to cover Sonoma County’s central core tested nearly 1,900 triathletes from around the world, as well as the patience of a community with a strong endurance sports following but perhaps less familiarity with such a day-long event.
Ironman Santa Rosa, now in its second year, but its first based in downtown Santa Rosa, was unlike any other endurance event the county has hosted — playing out in a reservoir, on roads and even along bike paths across a huge swath of the county.
It drew hundreds of spectators to Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, where festivities started on Wednesday and will wrap up Sunday morning with an awards ceremony.
Among those fans was Olivia Aina, 4, who joined her five brothers and sisters, and shook a small cowbell while looking down the closed road for signs of her father.
Sam Aina, a 38-year-old auditor from Valencia, California, trained for the Ironman mainly when his brood was asleep.
“I love my kids seeing him setting a goal,” Melissa Aina said of her husband. “It’s hard and takes a long time. But he accomplishes it.”
Elyn Amacker, 16, traveled a little farther to watch her father, Yves, participate in the Ironman. The family lives in Valais, Switzerland.
In halting English, Elyn said she found Santa Rosa to be a “great city.”
“And the weather is great,” she added.
Race Director Dave Reid characterized the day as a success.
“We feel like it’s gone really well,” he said about 6:30 p.m., more than five hours before the final athlete was set to cross the finish line. “It’s been a great venue, with a lot of good energy.”
Like its shorter predecessor held in May, the Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa, Saturday’s race generated frustration from some motorists and residents over delays stemming from road closures and detours necessary to move 1,891 competitors from Lake Sonoma to Rohnert Park, and back to Santa Rosa.
Several crashes, some causing injuries, were reported during the cycling segment.
Many of the competitors bring their families and friends for support, booking hotels or renting homes and spending days leading up to the race by dining out or touring the sites.
“I probably wouldn’t’ come to Santa Rosa if it wasn’t for her,” Mike So, a retired Chrysler engineer from Virginia, said of his daughter, Jamie So, an Ironman participant who celebrated her 40th birthday Saturday.
The family rented a house in Healdsburg along with Ironman athlete Jeff Gordon, 60, of Fairfax, Virginia, and his sister, Gail Gordon.
“I’m his Sherpa,” Gail Gordon said. “I go to all of his races. I cook all of his food. I carry all of his crap.”
Santa Rosa officials estimated the two Ironman races this year will together generate about $14 million in economic activity for the area.
For racers on Saturday, conditions along the course were ideal, with a high temperature of 82 degrees in Santa Rosa.
Nick Noone, 22, was the overall winner, finishing the event in an official time of 8 hours, 53 minutes and 44 seconds. Noone, who recently graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in computational mathematics, entered Saturday’s competition having won the Olympic-distance event in the Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships, held April 24 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.