LAKE PLACID - South Africa's Kyle Buckingham picked up his first Ironman victory Sunday in Lake Placid after strong performances in the biking and running stages of the race.
The 30-year-old Buckingham finished with a total time of 8 hours, 38 minutes and 43 seconds, coming in ahead of Hungarian Balazs Csoke, who had a time of 8:51:26. Jonathan Shearon finished third in 8:59:22.
"It was amazing," Buckingham said of the win. "It was incredible, just the crowd and support and to see my beautiful wife at the finish line. It was awesome, very special."
Kyle Buckingham of South Africa celebrates after winning the overall title of Sunday’s Ironman Lake Placid triathlon. Buckingham finished in 8:38:43.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Buckingham is a former surfer who did his first full Ironman in 2009. This is his first year as a pro, but he took first place among amateurs in the Kona Ironman World Championships. This recent win qualifies him for the Kona later this but he said he's not sure yet if he'll be competing there.
Buckingham didn't lead the whole race. He came out of the 2.4-mile swim in fourth place with a time of 52:04. Tomas Martinek of the Czech Republic led the first stage with a time of 48:24, followed closely by Csoke who was just four seconds behind.
Csoke led the first of two laps on the hilly 56-mile bike course, but Buckingham increased his effort over the second half of the course and rode a race best time of 4:43:47. Csoke came in 2:56 later, followed by Shearon. Martinek dropped out of contention with a time of 5:26:12.
Running the marathon, Buckingham seem to get stronger and steadily ran away from the rest of the men's field. He put together a 2:57:49 final 26.2-mile run, nearly 10 minutes faster than Csoke.
Buckingham said his lead extended to 18 minutes at one point during the run, allowing him to rest at points. He walked through some aid stations and on the long hill into the village, he said.
A big part of Buckingham's success in the race could likely be attributed to his training heading into the race, he said. The South Africa has been in Boulder, Colorado for the past couple of months doing some high altitude training in the Rocky Mountains.
"It was just my whole preparation in Boulder," he said. "I've been training really, really well, putting out some great times in training, so I was confident that I was going to win or get on the podium."
But the biking portion of the race wasn't easy for most of the racers Sunday as a thunder and lightning storm rolled through the area, starting at about 8 a.m. The storm dumped heavy rain and actually caused at least 700 participants to be pulled out of Mirror Lake halfway through their second lap for safety precautions. The swimmers were directed to swim to the nearby shore on Mirror Lake Drive instead of finishing. They then walked and ran to their bikes. Because of that, all of the amateur swim times were based on their first lap, even though some had completed their second one.
By the time the storm hit, the pros were already on their bikes.
"The rain was bad on the first lap of the bike," Buckingham said. "There was a lot of water on the roads, but the speed was still up there. It was just stinging in my eyes because I lost my visor for my helmet so I didn't have any protection, so the rain was stinging my eyes a little bit so that made it a little tricky."
Shearon agreed that the first loop on the bike was tough.
"Definitely the first loop of the bike was a bit scary, so I didn't take too many risks," he said. "The second loop the sun came out, and I started to feel quite a bit better so I was able to push pretty good to the finish."
Shearon said he tried to catch the leaders on the run. He had a chance to catch Csoke but ran out of time. Shearon finished the run in 3:03:23, ahead of Csoke's 3:07:08. Fourth-place finisher Ryan Cain also had a strong run with a time of 3:01:42.
"I just decided to go for it and go as hard as I could. Actually felt pretty good until I got to about mile 20. My quads started tightening there" Shearon said. "Yeah, from there it was basically grit your teeth and try to push through. Unfortunately, the big hills are there in the end and I really suffered my way up the hills and I just had to dig deep to make it to the finish."
Cain finished fourth in 9:05:19, after coming in fifth last year when he lost a sprint to the finish line. Vinny Johnson came in fifth in 9:09:56.
"Today was super tough," Cain said. "With the weather, it was super windy, really stormy out on that first loop of the bike, so it was tough and then it kind of cleared up a little bit but still super windy on the second lap of the bike, which made it super tough coming back through the (Wilmington Notch)."