The Elbaman triathlon has built a reputation as being one of the toughest Iron distanced triathlons in the world attracting athletes from around the world to be able to say they have finished 3.8km of swimming, 180 kms of cycling (including more than 3,000m of climbing) and then running the 42.2km marathon in the blistering heat of the midday sun on the beautiful island of Elba off the West coast of Italy.
Michelle Parsons, from Evesham and representing Worcester Triathlon Club 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 Marino di campo, the scene of Michelle’s last international victory in 2013 and not surprisingly 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.
Michelle’s swim performance once again left her trailing the female leaders in 10th position overall some 20 minutes behind the then leader Kathrin Schneider from Switzerland. She completed the swim in just over 1 hour and 22 minutes and was now ready for the infamous 112 miles of cycling over 6 climbs around the west side of the island.
Also competing in the iron distance event was fellow Evesham based teammate Danny Harris (also representing Worcester Tri Club). Harris produced a superb swim time of 1.09.23 placing him in 61st position in the mens race and so was soon out onto 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 rain but in her customary style Michelle set about picking off the athletes between herself and the leaders. She was soon up into the top 5 and was aiming to past the Swiss and German athletes who with three Italian athletes occupied the top 4 positions. This she did in the second half of the race climbing all the way up to 3rd position literally seconds behind Schneider as they entered T2 at the end of the bike section. Michelle recorded the fastest female bike split of the day in 6 hours 42 minutes and 5 seconds.
Danny Harris steadily moved up the order in the mens 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. But Michelle was running exceptionally well and soon in 2nd place hunting down the leader Carolin Engelke-Horn from Germany. The two had raced before in Ironman Lanzarote in 2013 when Michelle 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 6 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 3rd place before they reached the half way point. On lap 4 of 6 Michelle 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. Unfortunately the German regathered herself and made a strong effort at the start of the 5thto 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 onto first place overall in a time of 11.40.03. Michelle was second with Ferrari in third place some 4 minutes behind. On the last lap Danny Harris who was still running strongly was finally caught up by Michelle and the two team ran in together to complete the course in 11.48.52 Michelle 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. A fantastic result in his first attempt at the race. The male winner for the second year in succession from Belgium, Lucky Berage, finishing in a phenomenal time of 9.26.15 with over an hour’s lead on second place.
Michelle is now in recovery mode for a week or so before she gets back into training for a late season Ironman race in Perth, Australia in December.
The Elbaman organisers also run a half distance race on the same day on basically the same course. Taking part this year (all based in Evesham) from Worcester triathlon club were 5 more triathletes. Most notably 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 finishing 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).