Michelle shows her mettle
Port Elizabeth’s Michelle Enslin completed a much sought-after and superb double when she claimed an age-group world title at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, on Sunday morning (SA time).
Competing in the 50-54 category in the women’s field, Enslin outclassed 70 other women to claim her first title at the 40th anniversary race of the gruelling spectacle. Enslin, who won September’s The HeraldSPAR Homegrown award, completed her race in a preliminary time of 10 hours, 12 minutes and three seconds, to add the full World Championship title to the Isuzu Ironman 70.3 (half distance) global title she claimed in Port Elizabeth at the beginning of September.
This was Enslin’s third appearance at the World Championships in Kona after races in 2017 and 2011 and it will be cherished for years to come by the Sardinia Bay resident.
She put up an impressive display, controlling her race down to a tee, as she recorded times of 1:06:50 in the swim and 5:16:28 on the bike before running 3:41:36.
Speaking about her performance, Enslin was still in disbelief as she described the conditions on race day.
“I would say conditions were perfect, the seas was a bit choppy on the day, but nothing we haven’t experienced before, almost like PE on a choppy day, my previous swims in Kona it had been like glass,” she said.
She said despite the massive win, she was still the same person as she was the day before the race.
“It’s actually unbelievable, Its a dream you keep deep down in your soul, and don’t let it out, only your closest family and friends know what the dream is, and I am still waiting for someone to tell me it didn’t happen,” she explained excitedly.
“On the bike, conditions were quite favourable, I spent three weeks prior to the race preparing, everytime I go out riding, I would ride back into a headwind, it felt like a crosswind, but more from the tail.
“It wasn't too hot and humidity was quite kind too, we had a bit of rain out on course, so I was sticking my tongue out and feeling the rain was amazing,” she added.
Enslin said her game plan was simple and she had studied it down to a tee. “If I wanted to win, I had to do a specific swim, bike and run and I had to be in control and stay committed at all times, and not be afraid of the hurtbox,” she explained.
She said her coach at My Training Day Richard Lawrie, had given her only one game plan. ”He told me that if I stick to the plan, I will win Ironman, I needed to decide how badly I was willing to hurt and how badly I wanted to win."
Enslin said she was surprised at the amount of control she had throughout the race. “It was like I put all the ingredients in and baked the perfect cake, and believe me I cannot bake,” she said.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I envision that I could have won both the 70.3 world championships on home soil and Kona,” she remarked.
She thanked all the people who supported her, especially her husband Chris Howes and her daughter Cassidy Enslin, and all the other supporters who have been by her side through thick and thin, supporting her to the very end.
Enslin, who took up the sport as a celebration of life after a near-death experience in 2007, has since then competed in more than 20 Ironman full and half distance races.
She gained her slot at the 70.3 World Championships after being the first South African athlete to cross the line in her age group at the 2017 Ironman African Championships.
For the full-distance spectacle, she earned the place after claiming victory at the Ironman African championships in April this year.
Meanwhile, another Bay hopeful in Kyle Buckingham did not have the best day as he finished in 23rd place in the men’s pro race.
He finished the race in a time of 8:26:01, which included splits of 50:44 (swim), 4:20:17 (bike) and 3:10:15 (run).
“The truth is that I’m disappointed with the outcome at the end.
“I would love to be happier, but 23rd is not what I came here for,” Buckingham said on a Facebook post after the race.
“It’s my fifth year as a pro and things haven’t gone to plan yet, but I will keep fighting till I get it.
“The day started off great with my best swim to date which I really worked hard at, and a very strong bike ride in good competition.
“My run started off great but after half way I started getting stitches again, and tried everything to get rid of it and soldiered on to the finish line.
“Leading into Kona I was in amazing shape and feeling really good going in but unfortunately, you cannot control the uncontrollables .”
Germany’s Patrick Lange and Swiss Daniela Ryf delivered record-breaking performances to defend their respective titles.
Lange was steady during the swim, cycle and run portions for a final time of 7 hours, 52 minutes and 39 seconds – easily bettering the previous mark of 8:01:40.
Ryf blazed a new course record of 8:26.16 on a day when competitors took full advantage of the ideal weather.