The Mercuryman Triathlon is only three years old but already established enough to attract top pros – and now it’s going to be staged in South Africa as well.
It’s quite a progression for a grueling half-Ironman distance on such a small island where the number of entrants is always going to be from a tiny pool.
Nevertheless, five female professional triathletes and more than 150 entrants in various categories took on one of sport’s most demanding events – 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile half-marathon run – from East End’s Reef Resort on Sunday.
Predictably, the pros took the first four places, with Emily Cocks winning in 4 hours, 31 minutes, 57 seconds, ahead of last year’s champ Lisa Roberts. Third was Kim Schwabembauer, and Charisa Wernick was fourth. Jennifer Lentzke did not finish.
Marius Acker, the first local participant home, was fifth overall in 4:47:38. Acker, the perennial triathlon champ had decided to enter only a few days before. Rafael Goncalves was sixth, Jeffrey Jakubiak, seventh, and David Lim eighth.
Fastest female amateur was Ashley Naelon, ahead of Stephanie Schuck and Suzanne Aquila in third place.
Geoff Cornwall won the aquabike, and the team triathlon champs were Chafing the Dream.
Cocks adored the setting, one of the most picturesque places she has competed in. She is based in Napa, California, so the step up in heat was not too bad.
She said she thoroughly enjoyed the scenery and the magnificent course that included North Side.
“I’ve been here on vacation a long time ago, before Hurricane Ivan (2004), but coming to race is amazing, and I’ve never been to the East End of the island before,” Cocks said. “It was great to see, and I got a nice tour on the bike first.”
Cocks was four minutes ahead of the others out of the water, around that distance after the bike phase, and held her form in the run, although at one point on the first of two loops, she fleetingly thought she might be caught.
Cocks said that she intends to come back next year because it is a “great early season head out, to see where your fitness is, racing in a great spot, have fun, relax, and it’s easy in terms of logistics.”
Later this year, she will be racing in local Californian events, including the Wild Flower Triathlon in central California in May, and the extremely competitive Escape From Alcatraz in San Francisco in June.
She said, at 38, she no longer has Olympic ambitions, nor does she race that format where drafting is legal.
Drafting is when competitors position themselves behind the person in front to gain the benefit of reduced wind resistance. This is especially so in the cycling phase. The person ahead is doing the hard work and competitors behind them are gaining an unfair advantage.
Some forms of triathlon allow drafting, but it is not for Cocks. “I stick to the non-drafting and try to do what I can while I’m still able,” she said.
Lisa Roberts, nee Ribes, enjoyed winning Mercuryman last year and has since got married.
Finishing second this time had nothing to do with marital distractions, though she admitted not being in the same shape. Having completed six Ironmans last year, she has reason to start off the new season cautiously.
Conditions were so blustery last year that she commented that the swim was like being in a washing machine. This time was much calmer, but far hotter on the run.
Roberts acted like an ambassador for the Mercuryman, recommending this event to the other pros.
Based in Tucson, Arizona, she wants to win a couple of Ironmans this year, particularly in Switzerland or France, and is shooting for Ironman Texas. An excellent runner, she hopes to qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon.
Acker had only four bike rides to train for this, although his swim and run routine meant he was confident of a fast time. He initially intended to go kiteboarding, but because there was barely any wind and the organizers and some athletes wanted him to enter, he decided to commit on short notice.
Although a multiple champ in the Cayman triathlon and half marathon, winning this event at his first attempt was never easy. Acker was behind David Lim after the bike phase and had to work hard to run him down.
Acker enjoyed being part of it. “Great organizing, fantastic event, superb location, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather,” Acker said. “The sponsors did great, and all the volunteers at the water stops were excellent.”
Jon Roney has completed all three Mercuryman events. “It was fantastic race, congratulations and a big thank you to all organizers, volunteers, pros and fellow athletes,” he said. “Despite the crushing heat I did a personal best by 11 minutes and managed my quickest splits in all three disciplines.”
Trevor Murphy, president of the Cayman Islands Triathlon Association, was race director.
“It was a great day,” he said. “Generali came on board and they were a huge help as a sponsor. Tower Marketing and CUC did a stunning job and made it the best yet.
“It was a cooker this year compared to the chill of last year. One of the pros raced in Hawaii and said her heart rate never got as high as here, so that goes to show how hot it was. That’s insane.”
Murphy added that he was satisfied with how well the newly introduced chip timing went and that things generally went smoothly, including the video filming and contributions from the volunteers.
He also praised fellow organizers Justine Plenkiewicz, Claire Griffin, Greg Meaker, Sarah Superfine and Brent Buckner. “I can’t thank the Reef enough either,” he said. “Linda Locke, one of the event’s managers, has helped us so much every year, and we are blessed to have her.”
Mercuryman in South Africa will be on the east side of Port Elizabeth in October or November, Murphy revealed. Mercuryman is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds go to charity. This year the event benefits the Estella Scott-Roberts Foundation and East End Primary School.
“It’s not about making money but helping out the community and making the races as popular as possible,” Murphy added.
Plenkiewicz said, “This was the biggest and best, and from a race directing perspective, it was probably the easiest.
“We are getting things down pat and have routines now. It’s smoother every year.”
She said that having the pros here who enjoyed themselves was great because they will encourage others to enter.
“I love people pushing themselves, even though it’s really hot out there,” Plenkiewicz added. “Some are walking and pouring cups of ice and water over themselves, but they keep going, and as a race director and spectator, it’s so inspiring.”
For more information, go to www.mercurymantri.com.