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Karen Smith books place at Ironman 70.3 World Championship with age-group win

Road to glory: Karen Smith on her way to clinching victory in the 50 to 54 age group of the Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast event in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Saturday (Photograph courtesy of Karen Smith)

Karen Smith booked her place at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship after clinching victory in her age group in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Saturday.

In her first Ironman event since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Smith was one of 364 female competitors to take on the course consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile half-marathon.

After completing a challenging swim, exiting the water in 36min 20sec in 67th place, Smith climbed up the places on the bike discipline, clocking 2:36:24, before giving a determined run of 1:40:54 to cross the finish line in 4:59:52 and claim an impressive thirteenth-place finish overall.

However, more importantly for the 52-year-old, her display was good enough to see her earn first place in the 50 to 54 age group and book a spot at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, scheduled to take place in St George, Utah, on September 17.

“Overall I’m really pleased with the division win and to be racing at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in September,” said Smith, who conceded to enduring a tougher return to racing than expected, particularly in the swim.

“This was my first race back since the pandemic began and so being a bit rusty without having any races, my plan was just to have a good event with no pressure and just see what level I was able to maintain over the last year.

“The swim was much rougher than I expected. The winds had shifted and brought larger than normal swells. I didn’t adjust to the conditions the way I should have and was just relieved to finally hit the shore and get on the bike.

“The bike course was pretty flat, although it was windy and it started to heat up; the Florida sun is so intense.

“The run was three laps through the resort area and I felt pretty good. I ran steady as I didn’t want to overheat and end up slowing down.”

Having made an impressive return to the Ironman discipline, Smith is now preparing to build on the encouraging foundation laid in Florida, ahead of the World Championship race.

“I will definitely need a few more races under my belt before the World Championship,” she added. “I haven’t booked anything yet, as many of the races had to be postponed or cancelled, but more than likely I’ll be racing again in July or August.”

Meanwhile, there was also a superb performance from Smith’s compatriot, Cathy Gurret Lama, to finish second in the 65 to 69 age group.

Lama, who resides in the United States, was the fastest out of the water in her age group, completing the swim in 40:27. She built on the momentum on the bike, clocking the third-fastest time of 3:14:47 to keep herself in sight of the leader.

Despite running the fastest half-marathon in her group, crossing the line in an impressive time of 2:24:31, Lama could not quite reel in her main rival, with her total time of 6:35:56 agonisingly just a second short of divisional winner Anne Pileggi.

Lama’s efforts saw her finish 216th out of all the female competitors across the different age groups and 933rd out of the 1,323 total competitors at the event.

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Published May 17, 2021 at 10:16 pm (Updated May 17, 2021 at 10:16 pm)

Karen Smith books place at Ironman 70.3 World Championship with age-group win

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