Monday, May 24, 2010

Morrison wins her first Ironman on the toughest course

Catriona Morrison overturned one of the biggest deficits in triathlon history, staging what will rank among the most dramatic sporting recoveries ever as she won the Lanzarote Ironman on Saturday.

Scotland’s three-times world duathlon champion spent 45 minutes stranded, waiting for a mechanic, after her bike chain snapped. She had battled to establish a lead of more than eight minutes but was impotent at the roadside as it haemorrhaged away, reduced to a spectator’s role as five rivals rode past.

The three-discipline event is arguably the hardest in sport, and the Lanzarote Ironman rivals Hawaii as the toughest: a 2.4-mile open water swim in the Atlantic, 112-mile bike ride involving 8365 feet of climbing, and concluding with a marathon.

“I picked them off one by one and took the lead with around two kilometres to go,” said Morrison. She finished in 10hr 03min 53sec, winning by 88 seconds. Her marathon leg was 3hr 04 min 46sec, a time that would have placed her among the first 100 UK women in the London Marathon and eighth among Scots. The third man on the podium yesterday ran slower.

Louise Collins, a former GB rowing medallist, finished in 10:05.21, with German Nicole Woysch third (10:11.18), and Aberdeenshire’s defending champion, Bella Bayliss, fourth in 10:16:47.

They all gasped as my chain snapped. If it had happened out in the country I’d have been running around headless. Catriona Morrison

“Nothing remotely like this has happened to me before,” said Morrison, her back blistered in the 70-degree heat. On her only other Ironman, Hawaii last year, she made the fastest ever debut. But she has won two ITU long distance duathlon world titles and one over the short distance.

“I was lucky where the chain broke,” she said. “It was in the town of Teguise and people were cheering me as the first woman. They all gasped as my chain snapped. If it had happened out in the country I’d have been running around headless. But somebody phoned a mechanic, and I just got some water, some food, and tried to keep calm in the shade. But it was hard watching everyone go past.”

Her husband, Richard, confirmed yesterday that she had been at the roadside for 45 minutes. Otherwise she would have been comfortably inside the course record.

Back in the saddle, Morrison rode with controlled frenzy. “The race climbs a volcano to over 8000 feet. There are four long, brutal drags as you go up, but you must come down again, and these descents are scary. One guy crashed right in front of me. I was so frightened it made me shake.

“He took a corner too fast and went over the Armco crash barrier at the side of the road. I was so close that I was past him before I could do anything to help. There was an ambulance attending to another crash victim barely 100 metres further down the hill. I yelled at them to go back up.”

It turned out to be David Deak, a Canadian racing for the first time since donating a kidney to save his father’s life last summer. He broke a bone in his hand and sprained an ankle.

“By the time I got on the bike I was so far behind that I was going to abandon, but I started playing the numbers game,” added Morrison. “I thought that eight-minute plus lead before halfway on the ride might have meant I was pushing a wee bit too hard.”

Hillary Biscay of the US had been first out of the water in 52min 40sec, with Morrison 1:59 behind, just a second ahead of double defending champion Bayliss. The Aberdonian (formerly Comerford), who was 2008 World champion, was bidding for a third successive victory. She managed to claw her way into the lead when her compatriot was stalled, but after Morrison passed her in the final six miles, she faded to fourth.

England’s Louise Collins was second. “She is not even a professional triathlete,” said Morrison, “so she is ineligible for any prize money. It was a fantastic performance, and I really felt bad about catching her so close to the end. It was a real shame.”

Brought up in Scotstoun, and a Commonwealth Games triathlete in 2002, the 33-year-old Morrison collected €8500 for victory, second biggest win of her career.

This qualifies Morrison for this year’s world championship in Hawaii . She is determined to improve on 16th last year, when she had swine flu but refused to pull out. So she paid her $550 Hawaii entry fee in Lanzarote yesterday morning.

Unlike the marathon’s prima donnas (average: two races per year) Morrison will be back in action next weekend. “I’ve a sprint event in Spain,” said the iron woman, “then a half Ironman in the Basque country a fortnight later.

“After that I will be putting in some serious training for Hawaii and the World Duathlon Championships in Edinburgh in the autumn.”

I am so darn proud of you, Cat!!!!!

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