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Matt Hanson, a former Iowa resident, and Skye Moench win Ironman Des Moines championships

Des Moines Register logo Des Moines Register 6/13/2022 Lance Bergeson, Des Moines Register

Matt Hanson requested the full fury of heat and humidity that a June day in Iowa can provide. The conditions at the Ironman Des Moines North American Championship were nearly more than he desired.

The former Storm Lake resident captured his fourth Ironman North American Championship on a day with temperatures approaching 90 degrees. The 37-year-old Hanson bent over and then crumpled to the carpet after holding up the winner's banner at Court Avenue.

"I got across the finish line and the vision went blurry," Hanson said after claiming the $15,000 top prize. "It wasn't my plan to end up being flat on my back. I'm not feeling great right now. Bittersweet. A great day overall, didn't finish well. The heat definitely got to me."

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Hanson covered the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in 7 hours, 56 minutes, 48 seconds to hold off a fast-charging Andre Lopes of Brazil by 2:39. Lopes and third-place Tim O'Donnell, competing in his first Ironman since suffering a heart attack at the Miami Challenge in March of 2021, both secured spots at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October. Hanson had already qualified.

Skye Moench of the United States rides through Water Works Park during the Ironman North American Championship 140.6-mile Des Moines Triathlon as athletes compete in a 2.4-mile swim at Gray’s Lake, 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile run in the Des Moines metro on Sunday, June 12, 2022. This regional competition offered qualifying slots to the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in early October 2022. © (photo by Lee Navin on 06-12-22) Skye Moench of the United States rides through Water Works Park during the Ironman North American Championship 140.6-mile Des Moines Triathlon as athletes compete in a 2.4-mile swim at Gray’s Lake, 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile run in the Des Moines metro on Sunday, June 12, 2022. This regional competition offered qualifying slots to the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in early October 2022.

An act of nature seemingly was the only thing that would stop Skye Moench from winning the women's professional race. The 33-year-old from Salt Lake City opened a 14-minute lead after averaging just over 24 mph on the bike loop to Winterset.

The gap only grew when Moench ran the best marathon of 3:06:20 among the women. She cruised to the finish in 8:51:44, 20:05 over Canada's Jen Annett.

Moench owned a big enough lead to survey the beautiful farmland on the way to Winterset and let her mind wander a bit.

"Honestly, I was really enjoying the bike course," Moench said. "I love the movie 'Twister' and I was looking around and just thinking, 'This looks like "Twister."' I actually really want to see a tornado sometime. Just not while I'm on my bike."

Moench, making her first trip to Iowa, is getting accustomed to winning by big margins. She dominated Ironman Chattanooga by more than 25 minutes in September. And she also won by more than 10 minutes at Ironman Germany in 2019.

"I was happy when I heard my first update and the gap was 6 minutes and I said, 'Hey, this is good.' That was like only an hour and a half into the bike. So I thought, 'OK, we will keep pushing and see how big we can get that gap.' "

Hanson also knew a great day could be in the cards when he exited the first transition area after the 2.4-mile swim at Gray's Lake Park less than 2 minutes behind Sweden's Jesper Svensson. Hanson and Lopes charged after Svensson and O'Donnell on the rural roads to Winterset, catching up with the lead pair after an hour and a half of riding. Hanson pulled out a slight 25-second advantage over O'Donnell at the second transition area in Water Works Park. 

Hanson, who almost always has to charge from behind during the run to win triathlons, said it was only the second time in his career that he owned a lead after the bike leg of an Ironman race. 


Video: Iowa native wins Ironman in Des Moines (KCCI Des Moines)

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"It's been a long time," Hanson said.

What was the thought process for the man known as The Professor in triathlon circles? 

"I have 26 miles not to screw this up," said Hanson, who was a faculty member at his alma mater, Buena Vista University, before moving to Castle Rock, Colorado, less than two years ago. "Unfortunately it shifted to, 'Hang on.' "

Hanson built the gap over first O'Donnell and then Lopes to more than 7 minutes after 20 miles. But he paid the price for running several miles under a 6-minute pace during the first leg from Gray's Lake Park to Court Avenue. 

"I definitely overbiked and part of that was intentional," Hanson said. "I wanted to go out hard on the bike and get a gap on the run and then try to maintain the gap. I didn't plan on losing the gap like I did in the end."

Hanson averaged over 7 minutes a mile during the final 10 kilometers, but the gap was large enough to fend off Lopes.

"It got real ugly, real fast," Hanson said of his final lap to Court Avenue. "I made it on fumes. I went bankrupt in the end."

Lopes set the marathon course record of 2:47:22, nearly two minutes faster than Hanson, in his best finish as a professional. Lopes improved on his best Ironman finish, which had been third at a 70.3 race in Maine in August of last year. The 70.3 distance is half of what the athletes covered Sunday. Lopes also erased the bad vibes from Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga three weeks ago, when he collapsed from the heat.

"I am really happy," Lopes said. "You've got to pace yourself when it's humid. It's very hard."

So is Lopes a good runner in the heat?

"Yes. When I don't pass out," he said.

Hanson was hoping this Ironman could be a prep run for the conditions he would face at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, which are almost always held in muggy, windy conditions. Owning the fastest bike leg of 4:09:58, over more accomplished riders such as training partner O'Donnell or Svensson, showed Hanson that he might finally have the resume to post a top-five finish at the most prestigious Ironman race in the world.

"It (heat) was what I needed," Hanson said. "I proved I have the bike fitness that I need to have carrying into Kona (Hawaii). Now I have to show the run legs over the final nine miles."

No matter the ending, Hanson's sixth career Ironman win was a special one.

"Living so much of my adult life in Iowa and having so many friends and family here, seeing so many people in the (Hanson) team kit today, it was definitely a special day," Hanson said.

The Ironman provided mixed results for other Iowa natives. Des Moines' Tyson Wieland, making his full Ironman debut, took advantage of the fifth-best swim leg to finish 12th among the men's pros in 10:38:50. Wieland is a former Johnston High and Iowa Central Community College runner.

Carson Christen, a former Cedar Rapids Washington and Luther College swimmer who now coaches triathletes in Taiwan, did not finish after dropping out early in the run. Lesley Smith, an Iowa native who finished fifth at the Ironman 70.3 event in Des Moines a year ago, also dropped out after completing at least 20.6 miles of the run. Smith now lives in Boulder, Colorado.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Matt Hanson, a former Iowa resident, and Skye Moench win Ironman Des Moines championships

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