Ironman Santa Rosa triathletes brave warm, windy day in race through Sonoma County
Standing near a gravel driveway east of Windsor, Jane Maliszewski of Alexandria, Virginia got a surprise Saturday when her husband stopped his bicycle beside her and kissed her in the middle of his 14-plus hour race.
Around the corner of Faught and Shiloh roads, 11 family members wearing “Team Yandell” T-shirts cheered and whooped as Visalia resident Steven Yandell took the turn and cycled downhill toward Old Redwood Highway.
And nearby, Hiroshi Otsuka of Nagoya, Japan joined a handful of friends who encouraged 14 uniformed team members spread out among the 1,600 competitors taking part Saturday in the Ironman Santa Rosa triathlon.
It was a grueling day for the athletes and a time for well-wishers to encourage loved ones and strangers to push on to the finish line at the end of a 140.6-mile course that required swimming, cycling and running across Sonoma County.
“They hear their name and they stand up a little bit taller,” Maliszewski said of the athletes.
Otsuka, who himself has finished triathlons in France and Canada, said the event seems impossible but “once you complete it, it’s such an extraordinary experience.”
The race began at 6:40 a.m. Saturday at Lake Sonoma, where athletes were released in rolling starts by age group. The first stage on what proved to be a warm and windy spring day involved a 2.4-mile swim.
Next came 112 miles of cycling that took the athletes twice on a loop through the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys. The bike course ended in downtown Santa Rosa near B and Third streets.
There the racers handed their bicycles to volunteers and then jogged, some barefoot, about a block to the south edge of Old Courthouse Square to pick up plastic bags containing their running shoes and other marathon gear. Volunteers in lime-green T-shirts relayed the athletes race numbers ahead — “1043” or “1858” — while other helpers quickly found the appropriately numbered bags and rushed them forward as each racer approached.
The athletes entered a white changing tent and emerged for the final leg of the race — a 26.2-mile run back and forth along the Santa Rosa Creek Trail. The course finish line was on the north side of Old Courthouse Square.
Derk De Korver looked comfortable, slapping spectators’ hands as he trotted over a red carpet to finish first in the field, more than 10 minutes ahead of the next runner and less than nine hours after hitting the water at Lake Sonoma.
De Korver, 34, a native of the Netherlands who lives in San Francisco, got a medal around his neck from Miss Sonoma County Tyler-Avery Lewis and huge kiss from his wife, Anais.
“Amazing, amazing,” he said. “I’ve never crossed the finish line first so it’s a wonderful feeling.”
It was De Korver’s ninth Ironman triathlon after taking up the demanding sport just five years ago. He placed second at the Florida Ironman in November.
“I had to dig deep,” he said. “There were some dark moments out there.”
About 6 miles from the end of the run he felt dizzy and stopped for a few minutes, to “eat, drink and walk a little bit.”