On September 26, it was a cold morning in Lake Tahoe as Ironman participants entered the water. A fog hovered over the lake as warm air hit cool and frost covered the bike seats. Perfect racing conditions, according to Chris McDonald, who crossed the line in first place in 8:55.14, capturing his 6th Ironman victory. Lake Tahoe is a tough course and winning it is worth its own accolade, but what makes McDonald’s win all the more impressive is that just 28 days earlier, on August 25, he garnered a win at Ironman Louisville, making him the first triathlete to win back-to-back Ironman races.
We caught up with McDonald, recovering at his home in Austin, Texas before he heads to Kona to cheer on his peers. He won’t be racing Hawaii this year, but it’s on his radar for next season.
Could you describe these races? They were very different.
Both are strength courses. For Tahoe, there are a lot of people who say it’s too hard. I think it’s one of the most picturesque Ironman courses I’ve ever done out of all of the North American races. You have the two climbs, and when you’re at the top, you look out and you get this full view of Lake Tahoe. And then the finish is in Squaw Valley and you run up through the village, with this big stone face that is the ski hill. It’s beautiful.
Louisville, it’s just the place where I won my first IM and it’s my home away from home. Winning means a lot because I’ve won it 3 times and I know the town well. I know the restaurants and people recognize you, so you feel good.
The low temp in Louisville was 15 degrees warmer than the high in Tahoe. Louisville was 90+ degrees. The low was 75. I think the low in Tahoe it was recorded at 29 degrees. There was frost and ice from the dew on my saddle on my bike when I got out of the water. They forecast it to get up to 70, but it never did, the clouds never broke off. The water was 63 degrees—it was beautiful. It was twice the air temperature. But because of that there was a thick layer of steam on the water.
What’s significant about the double win?
I have tried to do it twice before, because no one had done it. I tried in 2008 to do it in Louisville and Wisconsin. I won Wisconsin, but I came second in Louisville. I tried in 2011. I won Louisville, but I was second at Revolution 3 Cedar Point. This year, when I saw the date for Lake Tahoe, I thought ‘I have to do this race.’ It’s bound to be freezing cold. It’s above 6,000 feet at altitude. I wanted to do it for those reasons. I had raced in Louisville four times. I thought, ‘I’ll go back and try to get that title back and go to Tahoe,’ even though I had never been to that race. I was motivated especially once I won Louisville again. Every time I’ve done two races close together, I generally perform better in the second one.
I was happy to get two Ironman wins in a year, let alone so close. I love the fact I was able to do it, but it’s not like I ticked the box and said I’ve done everything now. I’m just as motivated for races I might choose to do for the end of the year. And what I might do next year now that I have a jump start on points for Kona next year. I like to race. It keeps me satisfied.
After winning Louisville, did you have any trouble motivating so quickly for Tahoe?
No. Because I knew no one had ever won IMs back-to-back, which was motivating. And, I was able to race Louisville my way. I’m not cocky, but I wanted to be able to not run too hard, so I could save myself for Tahoe. I got a good lead on the bike in Louisville, so I could hold a little bit in reserve. I like to race a lot, I haven’t raced a lot this year, it was just the way the year panned out and I didn’t travel that much. So, I was motivated to go race. That’s what I do all of this training for. I love the training, but I love to race more.
What about Kona?
I’m ready to race in Kona next year. I don’t want to go unless I feel like I can legitimately race it. I didn’t plan 2012 to accumulate points in the back end of the year. The way the KPR points work, if you don’t have 2-3000 points in the bag before the end of the previous year you’re hooped. As fair as it is, they heavily weight it for people who do Kona to go back the following year.
For Hawaii, you have to be so mentally fresh and willing to suffer if you want to do well. It’s more about being mentally switched on than physically. Everyone is fit and ready, it’s who is prepared to suffer mentally.
What was your most satisfying race this season?
The best satisfaction out of any race would have to be Coeur D’Alene. You have to have a little bit of luck go your way to win. I had that in Louisville and Tahoe. But in Coeur D’Alene, I got a flat and was 23 minutes at the side of the road before I got a spare. I was 28 minutes back on the bike by the time I was done. I was well out of the race, but then I broke 2.50 for the first time in the marathon. I had a good solid marathon and ran back into 5th place, which was personally satisfying for me.
What’s on deck for next year?
Ironman Texas, maybe 70.3 Monterey and 70.3 Galvaston, and then a break to get married [Newton note: CONGRATULATIONS!]. Hopefully I’ll have enough points for Kona. There are so many races now you have to really pick and choose because you could race every other weekend, year-round if you wanted. It’s hard to pick your schedule.