By GARETH DODD
Special to Stephens Media
Overcast skies Sunday morning and a brisk breeze out of the southwest that rippled the usually calm waters of Anaehoomalu Bay failed to dampen the enthusiasm of fans, friends and family who whistled, whooped, hollered and rang cow bells at the start of 2013 Lavaman Waikoloa triathlon.
Professional, individual competitors and members of relay teams churned the water for 0.9 miles, transitioned to road-race bikes for a 24.8-mile ride on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, then donned running shoes for a 6.2-mile run to the finish line of the Olympic-distance competition.
And when all was said and done the first pro competitor to cross the finish line was Chris Lieto. Lieto, 41, had not raced since Nov. 24 because of an Achilles injury when he placed seventh overall at the Laguna Phuket Triathlon in Thailand.
Lieto was second coming out of the water, first off his bike and into running shoes and flashed a big smile when he came across the finish line with a time of 1 hour, 53 minutes, 55 seconds. The course record is 1:49:22.
“When I race I don’t look to break records,” Lieto said. “I race to win. I’ve been struggling with the injury in training, but today my body was feeling good. Before the start of the race I was complaining it was cold. But it was a good day, perfect because it was cooler, and I’m grateful for that.
“I ran the first half of the race too hard, got a little tight about mile four but kept my pace and breathing even. The last mile, running on lava, coral and sand, was brutal. I suffered for sure out there.”
Lieto was the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship runner-up and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii runner-up in 2009 and 2011. He won Lavaman Keauhou on Nov. 18 and was participating in Lavaman Waikoloa for the first time.
A missionary with University of the Nations in Kailua-Kona, Lieto said Sunday’s triathlon was more than just a race to him.
“This race is part of being appreciative for my family and faith,” he explained. “There is so much more to life than racing.”
Lieto said his next race will be in three weeks in Vietnam.
Last year’s women’s pro champion Bree Wee was unable to defend her title because she was racing in the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne which gave Anchorage resident Amber Stull an opening as she came in first with a time of 2:19:46.
Stull, 35, placed third two years ago, signed up for last year’s race and then broke an arm during a bike training session a week before the race.
“Last year I had a bad accident on a lava wall a week before the race, and during the past year I’ve had some serious spiritual growth,” Stull said. “I’m so thrilled to be here; it’s one of my favorite races.”
Stull said she lost some time during the swim portion of the triathlon when she became disoriented.
“I got disoriented in the swells when I rounded the second buoy and I started swimming the wrong way,” she said. “Then I saw all these people swimming toward me, looked around and saw the beach and turned around. I lost about 30 seconds, but made it up in the transitions.
“I was hoping for 2:10:00, but I’m not in the best shape yet, so I’ll take the win. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate the course as an 8. Yeah, I’ll be back next year — absolutely.”
Finishing first among local ladies with a time of 2:20:40 was Kristin Drost. Drost, 33, is a teacher at Kealakehe High School and founder of Waveriders Triathlon Club. She said 12 of her students were also in the competition.
“I’ve done Ironman triathlons before, but this was the first time I’ve done this race,” Drost said. “It was fun to run a local race and to run with your students — that was the best part. It was very well organized and the volunteers were wonderful — there was lots of aloha.
“Why do I do this? I race because it’s a challenge and gives me goals. I like to see what I’m made of. It shows that if you put in the time you can accomplish your goal.”
Drost said she will race in the upcoming Ironman 70.3 Hawaii before competing in Ironman Wisconsin.