After four straight second-place finishes in Kona, Great Britain’s Lucy Charles-Barclay can finally call herself an Ironman world champion, as she flew to the title on Saturday in a new course record of 8:24:31. Since her debut in Kona as a pro back in 2017, Charles-Barclay has had tremendous success at the Ironman World Championship, but she fell just short of the win in each of her four races on Hawaii’s Big Island. She put all of those near-misses behind her on Saturday as she pieced together a perfect race and etched her name in the Ironman history books once and for all.
Gun to tape and course record!
— Graham McKenzie (@gramck24) October 15, 2023
Leading out of the water
As usual for Charles-Barclay, she took the lead early in the swim and held onto it as she ran approached T1. She is the swim course record holder with a PB of 48:14 (a time she swam in 2018), and although she didn’t challenge that result on Saturday in rather wavy conditions, she did give herself a healthy lead over the rest of the field. She exited the water in 49:36 for an average pace of 1:18 per 100m.
The chase group, led by American Haley Chura, was a full minute and a half behind Charles-Barclay as they entered T1. Included in that chase pack was Kona rookie and two-time 70.3 world champion Taylor Knibb of the U.S. Knibb lost a bit of time in transition, and she eventually made her way onto the bike course with two minutes between herself and Charles-Barclay.
Further back in another chase group about four minutes off the lead were three former Kona champions: 2022 Ironman world champion Chelsea Sodaro of the U.S., 2019 world champion Anne Haug of Germany and five-time Kona champion Daniela Ryf of Switzerland. Charles-Barclay had lost to each of these women in Kona in years past, but she showed that she wasn’t going to let that happen again, gapping them all early on and never letting up.
Fastest ride of the day
If you had to place a bet on one part of the Ironman World Championship, your best chance to win would be to put money on Charles-Barclay being the first woman out of the water. She was an elite swimmer before transitioning to triathlon, so it’s never a surprise when she is the first to make it into T1. Something Charles-Barclay has never done before in Kona, however, is record the fastest bike split of the day. That is, until Saturday.
Charles-Barclay is no slouch on the bike, that’s for certain, but in her four races in Kona, she has always been bested on the ride by at least one woman. She changed that this time around, not only flying into T2 in first place, but also clocking the fastest split of the day with a final time of 4:32:29 (which also happens to be her personal record on the Kona bike course).
Knibb, a strong cyclist in her own right, made an admirable effort on the ride. She made up for her slower transition immediately, and by the 15-kilometre checkpoint, she was in second place. After that, she carried up the road on her own, riding solo for over 100 miles in her Kona debut. By 40 kilometres, she managed to get within 90 seconds of Charles-Barclay, but no closer, and at the 50-kilometre marker, the gap was back up to two minutes.
Other than one more blip in which Knibb gained 15 seconds on Charles-Barclay, the lead continued to grow over Knibb and the rest of the field. With five kilometres to go in the ride, Charles-Barclay had a healthy lead of almost three minutes over Knibb. In those final few kilometres, she laid down another magnificent effort to push that lead to almost four minutes as she entered T2. Knibb made it to transition with the second-fastest split on the day, recording a final time of 4:34:00.
There was much more drama further back down the road in the battle for third place. After exiting T1, Ryf got to work on the bike, passing everyone but Knibb and Charles-Barclay. Just before the halfway mark, Ryf had a lead of almost a minute on fourth place, but only 20 kilometres later, she had faded to sixth. By the 125-kilometre checkpoint, she was more than a minute behind a chase group made up of Germany’s Laura Philipp, Sweden’s Lisa Norden and American Jocelyn McCauley.
That chase pack stuck together right through to T2, and after a quick transition, Philipp had moved into third (10:49 back of the lead), followed by McCauley and Norden. Ryf was still in sixth (not far behind Norden) and Haug was in seventh, 12:17 behind Charles-Barclay.
Holding on for the win
After hopping off her bike and onto the run course, Charles-Barclay looked as focused as ever, ticking off the kilometres with extreme efficiency. Ten kilometres into the marathon, she had put 90 seconds into Knibb, who was still running comfortably in second place. At that point, Philipp was still in third place, running more than 10 minutes back of the lead.
It was around the 15-kilometre mark when things started to get interesting, but not for Charles-Barclay, who was still well clear of any threat of being caught. Instead, the drama was yet again in the battle for third place, where Haug passed her compatriot Philipp to move into podium position. Haug, a fantastic runner, was four and a half minutes behind Knibb at that point in the race, but with 27 kilometres left to run, she was not done with her chase.
Around the half-marathon point, Charles-Barclay lost a little time to Knibb, but only a few seconds. Meanwhile, Haug had shaved another minute off of the gap between herself and second place. With 12 kilometres to go in the run, Haug had made yet another pass, this time on Knibb.
By the time Charles-Barclay hit the 10K to go mark, it was all a matter of holding on and continuing to move. Haug kept on cutting down the lead, running at a blistering pace, but Charles-Barclay had put enough time between them to make any hope of a comeback quite slim. In the closing stages of the race, Philipp clawed her way back to third place, passing a fading Knibb with less than four kilometres to go.
Charles-Barclay broke the tape in 8:24:31, her lips quivering as she held up the finish line banner—the first sign of emotion in what appeared to be nerves of steel in a perfectly executed race. She broke down in tears as the championship garland was hung around her neck.
Haug finished extremely strong, high-fiving fans as she came down the chute only three minutes behind Charles-Barclay and crossing the line in 8:26:33 for her fourth podium result in Kona. Haug’s marathon time of 2:48:23 toppled the previous run record of 2:50:26 set by Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae in 2014. Rounding out the podium in third was Philipp, who ran an excellent 2:55 marathon to propel her to a 8:32:55 finish. Knibb held on for fourth in a gutsy debut on the Big Island, stopping the clock in 8:35:56. Ryf finished in fifth in 8:40:34 and the 2022 champ Sodaro crossed the line in sixth in 8:42:25.
An historic day in Kona
Saturday was a day of Ironman firsts: it was the first all-women’s world championship race at Kona. Charles-Barclay is the first Ironman champion, man or woman, to take the lead and hang onto it through all three disciplines. The pro women put on an amazing display of racing on Saturday, culminating in a spectacular, long-awaited finish for Charles-Barclay.
To see the full results from Kona, click here.