The King of Chattanooga!
Earlier this year, 23 year old Sam Long clinched his first professional victory at the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. Yesterday, Sam secured his first professional full Ironman victory in the same city!
Although a young athlete, Sam is no stranger to the Ironman distance. However, after two 70.3 pro victories this season, it was time for Sam to earn his nickname, “Big Unit”, and go big… Ironman champion big.
In his post race interview, Sam mentioned that fellow American, Matt Russell was the race favorite and Sam’s goal was to stick by him as long as he could until he could figure out how to beat him.
Neither known for their amazing swim talent (sorry guys), Sam focused on swimming with Matt, hoping to make his move somewhere on the bike or run. Setting a high pace aboard his new Cervélo P5 with Enve wheels, Sam quickly found himself leading the race and eventually pulling away from the field altogether. Clocking a bike course record split of 4:23:51, Sam had a gap of over 10 minutes back to chasers Matt Russell and Nick Chase coming into T2.
Cruising through the first 14 miles of the run, it looked like Sam had his victory in the bag. However, the temperature was rising and the humidity was near 50% making anything possible, including a total meltdown. Dumping ice water over his head at each aid station, Sam worked hard to cool his core temp down as much as possible. It was a stressful few miles as he struggled to keep pace and even walked up a handful of hills, but once Sam reached the 20 mile marker he started to believe a victory was possible. His legs started turning over faster and you could see a spark back in his eyes.
Sam crossed the finish line in a time of 8:22:20, claiming his first Ironman victory and punching his ticket to the Ironman World Championships in 2020.
Sam is young and hungry for more. As the race announcers mentioned during the broadcast, “This kid is going to be a future Ironman star for the USA”.
Sam may have crossed the line first but the rest of the Suunto Team helped steal the show!
Pros Lisa Roberts and Katie Morales were towards the front of the race nearly all day. Katie unfortunately suffered back spasms and eventually pulled out, however Lisa, coming off the bike with a 14 minute deficit to uber-bike, Angela Naeth, was still in the hunt. Lisa, who holds the run course record in Chattanooga, was quickly making up time on Angela. Clocking 20-30 seconds per mile faster, the math made it look like Lisa could reel Angela in right near the finish line. In the end, the combination of tough conditions and an even tougher competitor kept Lisa from closing the gap, she finished 2nd, only 4 minutes behind Angela.
On the Age Group side, it couldn’t have gone much better for the Suunto Team. James Burke and Emily Rollins had dominating performances and came across the line first amateurs overall. Fellow M40-44 age grouper Matt Davidson secured second place behind James and all three of them punched their tickets to Kona 2020!
Rookie pro Eliot Scymaski, Cristin Tillinghast, and Jason Tillinghast also raced strong through the tough conditions. Eliot finished 8th in the men’s Pro field while Cristin finished in the top 60% of her age group. Jason struggled through 8 miles of the run before pulling the plug on his 8th Ironman.
Out at Augusta 70.3, Elyse Gallegos and Chris Johnson refused to be outshined by the Chattanooga crew. Elyse finished 3rd amateur overall and 2nd in her age group, while Chris, fresh off 70.3 World Championships in Nice, secured a 2nd place finish in the competitive M40-44 age group.
For the runners, Tara Warren took on the Bear 100 for the fifth time in a row. The Bear is a 100 mile trail race starting in Logan, Utah with 22,ooo feet of gain at an average elevation of 7,700ft. Tara had a strong performance setting a PR and finishing 8th female overall.
Ralph Nurse finally got that elusive overall victory by winning the Xterra Fort Custer race in Augusta, MI.