Frederik Van Lierde shut down his triathlon season in June to focus on the pinnacle event of his sport.
Upon arriving in Kailua-Kona earlier in the month, the affable Belgian kept a low profile to make sure his priorities were still in order.
When the marathon at Saturday’s Ironman World Championship rolled around, it was finally time to stop lying in wait.
Van Lierde surged ahead with just under 10 miles left to secure his first world championship, ending Australia’s six-year reign in 8 hours, 12 minutes, 29 seconds in what he called the race of his life.
“It’s amazing. The best that I could have imagined,” the 34-year-old said after becoming the second Belgian to win the event. “Running is my strong point. I tried to be smart and I’m always patient, and it paid off.”
While his run was inspired, Mirinda Carfrae’s marathon was otherworldly.
Carfrae cut 2 minutes off the course record to win the women’s title for a second time in 8:52:14, lowering her own marathon mark (2:50:14) by almost three minutes with a split that was better than all but two of the men in the race.
“An amazing day,” she said. “I didn’t know I had a performance like that in me. I’ll never forget this day.”
Carfrae, a diminutive 32-year-old from Australia, looked like she had plenty left in the tank when she reached the final stretch on Alii Drive.
She slowed only so she could walk past the finish line, then she jumped into the arms of her fiancé, American Tim O’Donnell, who had finished fifth overall.
They’re planning on forming the first couple of Ironman in two months.
“I think I’ll be able to cover the wedding bill,” said Carfrae, who collected $120,000 for her victory.
Van Lierde, who used a late burst to finish second in 2012, pocketed a similar check.
He got off the 112-mile bike ride to Hawi and back in fourth, steadily climbed the leader board during the marathon and then finally passed Luke McKenzie after the turnaround at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.
“The second half of my marathon is as strong as my first,” Van Lierde said.
He had a comfortable lead as he hit Palani Road, and Van Lierde flashed a wide grin and began celebrating as he headed south on Kuakini Highway.
He, too, slowed down at the finish, but he still recorded the eighth-best time in the 35-year history of the event.
“To be honest, after last year I believed I could do it,” Van Lierde said. “I’ve never worked as hard as I have this year. Since the month of August, I put everything into this race.”
McKenzie (8:15:19), who led for most of the first 16 miles of the marathon, was nearly 3 minutes behind in second, and Sebastian Kienle (8:19:24) was third.
“Just to lead for that long is a dream come true,” McKenzie said. “I can see how one day I can win it now.
“Freddie is so strong on the back end.”
But the showstopper of day was Carfrae.
How overpowering was her run?
Runner-up Rachel Joyce posted only the fourth time under 9 hours in women’s history, and she never had a chance once her close friend burst by her halfway through the marathon. She finished more than 5 minutes in back in 8:57:28.
“When you know (Mirinda) is only 8 minutes behind you, you’re running scared,” said Joyce, 35, from Great Britain. “I didn’t have an answer for (Mirinda), but I’m delighted with my performance.”
Carfrae said she considered letting up during the latter stages of the 140.6-mile triathlon, but her coach got word to her that she was on track to break the course record set by Chrissie Wellington in 2009.
She also was in position last year to pull ahead during the marathon, but a lack of hydration cost her as she wound up in third.
“I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance,” Carfrae said. “Whatever I had left in the tank, I was going to go all out. No regrets.”
Liz Blatchford, a relative newcomer to Ironman, took third in 9:03:35, and Yvonne Van Vlerken and Caroline Steffen rounded out the top five.
Defending men’s champion Pete Jacobs was fourth out of the water after the 2.4-mile swim, but he fell out of contention on the bike and finished 79th in 9:06:39. Craig Alexander, a former three-time champion, who had hinted before the race that this could be his final Big Island triathlon, was 29th in 8:43:59.
Defending women’s champion Leanda Cave was the 13th female finisher.