Brenda Avery of Kona performed like a pro in the water and on the bike en route to one of the top finishers of the 11 Big Island competitors at Saturday’s VinFast Ironman World Championship in her hometown.
The 58-year-old Avery exited Kailua Bay after the 2.4-mile swim in just 1 hour and 55 seconds, 97th overall and second in her age group of 55-59.
She had a strong bike in 5:45:08 on the grueling 112-mile bike course from Kona to Hawi and back. It was only 13 minutes slower than pro triathlete Hilary Hughes.
But then came the marathon.
“I don’t know what it is,” Avery said. “Just mentally I’m not into it, or something.”
As was the case during her first Ironman in Kona last year, she started to suffer around mile two or three with a bloated stomach that stuck with her until well after she crossed the finish line. She felt like she hydrated well enough but the gels she ate were not settling and her stomach felt distended.
Avery was the first to cross the finish line of the Hawai‘i Island competitors. Her run time was 4:55:18.
Avery finished the historic first all-women’s Ironman World Championship at 6:44 p.m. with an unofficial time of 11:54:03. She beat her 2022 time by about an hour.
The time was good for 20th overall in her age group.
Feeling dizzy and draped in a white towel, Avery was escorted by volunteers to an area near the luau grounds at Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, where she picked up a medal and went to a medical tent. They gave her beef broth.
Sitting on a rock wall, Avery reflected on the race saying she was proud of her performance and the fact that she finished under 12 hours.
Hawai‘i’s youngest triathlete in the race, Skye Ombac, 27, of Hilo, finished her second Ironman World Championship in 12:23:40, also beating her 2022 time by an hour. She crossed the finish line with her arms stretched to the sky and a smile on her face. She ranked 96th in her age group.
“I’m tired. My hands are numb and tingly,” Ombac said. “But once you cross the finish line you forget all the pain.”
Ombac said she had the bike ride of her life. With a goal to get through the ride in 6 1/2 hours, she road it 32 minutes faster. She attributes the success of the bike to training in windy and miserable conditions.
On race day, Ombac said the wind was OK until she started headed back onto Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway. Then, she was hit by a headwind.
“I might have over-biked a little,” she said. “My legs were sore for the run, but I kept it together and kept reminding myself why I was out there and what my goal was. The closer I got to the finish line I realized I’m not only going to reach my goal of going sub-13 [hours] but I was going to beat it by quite a bit.”
This Saturday is the first time in the history of the championship race, the women are competing in a different location than the men, who raced last month in Nice, France. Last year, the Ironman held a two-day race event after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the race to be canceled in 2020 and 2021.
Avery didn’t like that the Ironman has split up the men’s and women’s races, however, she conceded the energy at this year’s event was calmer.
“Everyone is nice to each other,” she said. “They cheer each other on. When I’d walk, girls would say: ‘You got this, come on.'”
The other Big Island competitors and their unofficial times are below:
As of press time, Big Island competitors Brenda Bettencourt, 64, of Kailua-Kona, and Greta Friesen, 36, of Hōnaunau, were still on the course. Sonja Correa, 44, of Kailua-Kona, didn’t finish.