Ironman Santa Rosa featured 1,800 triathletes racing across Sonoma County
Jan Stepinski, 27, sat on the asphalt in the middle of Fourth Street after traversing 140.6 miles through Sonoma County in a little more than 8 hours and 52 minutes at Saturday’s Ironman Santa Rosa race.
Stepinksi, a New York City native who now lives in Palo Alto, finished first overall in the full-distance triathlon. It was an amazing feat for only his third Ironman. Last year, at the same race — his first full-distance triathlon — he finished 26th, his time nearly 42 minutes slower.
Stepinski, who said he considers the Santa Rosa course home turf, had no illusions coming in about winning.
“No expectations, that’s the key. Gotta keep calm,” he said.
He was among more than 1,800 athletes from 44 U.S. states and 49 countries, territories and regions who participated Saturday in the third annual Ironman Santa Rosa. The grueling test of endurance is one of more than 40 events in the worldwide Ironman series.
Beginning with a morning plunge in Lake Sonoma, the race took competitors through vineyard country and into downtown Santa Rosa. For most of the day, streets along or near the course were closed or partially shuttered.
For some of the athletes, Saturday mild temperatures made for a great race.
“I couldn’t have asked for better weather. I’ve never done an Ironman in such perfect weather conditions,” said Ailsa MacDonald of Canada, the first woman to cross the line, with a time of 10:16:43.
Athletes entered the lake in staggered times beginning at 6:40 a.m. for the 2.4-mile swim around a rectangular course bordered by sighting buoys. The last swimmers were out of the water by 9:30 a.m.
“The conditions for the swim were great. We had beautiful flat water and clear visibility,” said race director Dave Reid. The first athletes started crossing the finish line shortly after 3:30 p.m. The last finishers would cross before midnight.
After the swim, the 112-mile bike ride led competitors through vineyards of Alexander and Dry Creek valleys, down Highway 128 and Chalk Hill Road, west through Windsor and north on Westside and Dry Creek roads before heading to downtown Santa Rosa.
Stepinski, a software engineer originally from Brooklyn, was the first one out of water at 48 minutes and 59 seconds. He extended the lead during the bike leg, as he averaged 24.84 mph during the ride, arriving right near Old Courthouse Square at 12:15 p.m. to quickly don his running shoes.
As he began the marathon, Stepinksi held an 11 minute and 44 seconds advantage over Jack Toland, a University of Colorado student. Robin Schneider of Germany was 12 minutes and 15 seconds behind Stepinski.
At the finish line was Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, who cheered the athletes and praised the event for its economic impact, even as he acknowledged its effect on traffic and parking.
“This is a great event for Santa Rosa, all the people that are coming downtown and visitors from out of town,” he said. “It really pays off well for everyone in the community. Yes, it’s an inconvenience for some people ... but for two days a year, this is well worth our effort.”
Supporters and spectators started coming out to Old Courthouse Square in droves around noon to catch the leaders. Some wore T-shirts in support of their athlete while others carried signs.