Dan Plews, who coaches IRONMAN World Championship winner Chelsea Sodaro, claimed a significant win of his own on Saturday at IRONMAN New Zealand in Taupō.
It was an unusual day with no professionals at the front of the field as the race returned for the first time since March 2021.
It meant age group athletes Plews and Vanessa Murray took the tape in the men’s and women’s races, cementing themselves a place in history few others can claim.
Auckland-based Plews was the first to cross the finish line, completing the course in an impressive 8:50:12. Wellington’s Jeff McHardy and Tauranga’s Gregory Bassam rounded out the men’s age group top three.
Plews still holds the Kona age group course record from his 2018 overall AG IRONMAN World Championship win and that race four years ago was the last time he raced at full-distance.
Speaking after his Taupō success, he said: “It’s really special, it’s probably the only time ever really that an age grouper will cross the line and take the tape, so I think that’s quite cool.
“It was a definitely a big draw because I made the decision eight weeks ago. It all happened in October – Chelsea Sodaro, who I coach, won the IRONMAN World Champs, I turned 40, and I was all motivated to try and get an entry, so then I got an entry, got in a good little block of eight weeks solid work and it was worth it for that,” explained Plews.
“I’m a sports scientist so I’m very meticulous about numbers and powers but my watch broke; I had no data at all on the bike, so I was absolutely running blind.
I just kind of went on feel.
“I might have biked a little bit too hard, I’m not that sure. I think I was five minutes behind out of the water and then it took me ages to catch the first guy on the bike and I didn’t catch him until close to the turnaround on the second lap. I did the second lap exactly the same as I did the first lap and I think that’s what made the difference.”
Reilly hangs up his mic
Melbourne-based Kiwi Vanessa Murray claimed the overall women’s age-group title, crossing the line in 9:41:10, more than 14 minutes clear of Queenstown-based Irish athlete Fiona Gallagher in second and over 27 minutes ahead of Auckland’s Taryn Ryan.
“It feels awesome, I had a really challenging day, so I was just determined to hang onto the win so that I could come away with something. I had a great run, so I’m stoked with that, but I had a few challenges on the bike with getting a puncture,” said Murray. “It’s amazing, as age groupers we don’t get the opportunity to take the tape very often, so it was extra motivation to try and get the win.”
The race – one of his favourites – marked an emotional farewell for legendary IRONMAN announcer Mike Reilly as he called his last ever athlete across the finish line before hanging up his mic after an incredible 33-year and 214-IRONMAN career.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand’s Jack Moody and Sweden’s Anna Bergsten claimed maiden victories in the IRONMAN 70.3 New Zealand professional races.