THE ELBAMAN Triathlon has built a reputation as being one of the toughest Iron-distanced triathlons in the world, attracting athletes from around the globe to be able to say they have finished 3.8km of swimming, 180km of cycling (including more than 3,000m of climbing) and then the 42.2km marathon in the blistering heat on the beautiful island of Elba off the west coast of Italy.
Never ones to avoid a challenge, Evesham’s Michelle Parsons and fellow Vale-based athlete Danny Harris – who both represented Worcester Triathlon Club – were among the field and Parsons produced a magnificent performance to finish as second placed woman, whilst Harris also turned on the style to finish 24th overall as the team-mates finished the event together and clocked 11.48.52.
Parsons was returning to international competition for almost the first time in two years following the successful operation on her Achilles tendon earlier in the year and then recovering from a stress fracture sustained in her recovery period.
The race starts with a two-lap swim in the bay at Marina di Campo, the scene of Parsons’ last international victory in 2013, and unsurprisingly she was apprehensive as she entered the water, but the weather was kind and the choppy seas of two years ago were replaced by relatively calm conditions.
Her swim performance once again left her trailing the female leaders in tenth position overall, some 20 minutes behind the then leader Kathrin Schneider from Switzerland.
She completed the swim in just over 1 hour, 22 minutes and was now ready for the infamous 112 miles of cycling over six climbs around the west side of the island.
Harris produced a superb swim time of 1.09.23, placing him in 61st position in the men’s race, and he was soon out on to the bike course working steadily through the field.
With no rain forecast and instead high temperatures and coastal winds, the bike was going to be a tough test, but in her customary style Parsons set about picking off the athletes between herself and the leaders.
She was soon up into the top five and was aiming to pass the Swiss and German athletes who with Italian athletes occupied the top four positions.
This she did in the second half of the race, climbing all the way up to third position, literally seconds behind Schneider as they entered T2 at the end of the bike section. Parsons recorded the fastest female bike split of the day of 6 hours, 42 minutes and 5 seconds.
Harris steadily moved up the order in the men’s race, finishing the bike in 6.39.07 – a very respectable time for the tough course but more importantly in good shape to start the marathon run.
The runners had not only their fellow participants to compete with but also the heat of the day as the temperatures increased in the midday and afternoon sun. With little shade available on the course, it was always going to be an attritional run.
However, Parsons was running exceptionally well and was soon in second place and hunting down leader Carolin Engelke-Horn from Germany. The two had raced before in Ironman Lanzarote in 2013 when Parsons had got the better of her German counterpart and it looked as though she would do the same again.
The course is made up of six laps of just over 7km around the town, taking in the seafront twice on every lap. The first three laps saw the gap between the two close but at the same time Italian Monica Ferrari was also running well and had moved into third place before they reached the halfway point.
On lap four Parsons finally caught Engelke-Horn and edged into first place for first time in the race and built a small lead of 30 second towards the end of the lap.
The German regathered herself and made a strong effort at the start of the fifth lap to retake the lead and pull away. Both were running at sub-3.30 marathon pace and, as the final laps unfolded, it was Engelke-Horn who was stronger and managed to hold on to first place overall in a time of 11.40.03.
Parsons was second with Ferrari in third place, some four minutes behind.
On the last lap Harris, who was still running strongly, was finally caught up by Parsons and team-mates ran in together to complete the course in 11.48.52, with Parsons recording a 3.38 marathon split, bettered only by Engelke-Horn in the female field on the day.
Harris finished with the 19th fastest male run time of the day, pushing himself up into 24th position overall, which is a fantastic result in his first attempt at the race.
The male winner for the second year in succession was Lucky Berage of Belgium who finished in a phenomenal time of 9.26.15 with over an hour’s lead on second place.
Parsons is now back into training for a late-season Ironman race in Perth, Western Australia, in December.
THE ELBAMAN organisers also run a half-distance race on the same day on basically the same course and taking part this year (all based in Evesham) from Worcester Triathlon Club were five more triathletes.
Most notable was Lee Harvey who was attempting his first ever open water triathlon. Harvey, who was nervous at first, soon got into the swing of the race and produced an exceptional debut as he finished in an overall time of 6 hours, 22 minutes and 36 seconds in 161st position overall.
Other WTC finishers were Phil Parsons 5.10.51 (8th), Iain Jennings 5.37.53 (34th), Mark Ellison 6.06.15 (114th and 6th in his age group) and Phil Johnson 6.31.29 (192nd).