Chelsea Sodaro: ‘You get a free pass when it’s your first Kona’

The US star is happy to keep a low profile as the women’s Ironman World Championship gets underway on Thursday but could yet be a contender...

Chelsea Sodaro racing Ironman Hamburg

Chelsea Sodaro can boast to have beaten Daniel Ryf, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Anne Haug

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To that list you can also add Chrissie Wellington, Natascha Badmann and Paula Newby-Fraser.

It might not have been in head-to-head competition, but the US triathlete – with her 8:36:41 set in Hamburg in June – holds a faster Ironman debut than any of those leading lights of the sport.

In fact, the only woman who has gone quicker than Sodaro at first attempt is the triathlete who beat her in Hamburg, Laura Philipp, with a a spectacular 8:34:57 in Barcelona in 2018.

Alongside Ryf, Charles-Barclay and Haug – and with the unfortunate withdrawal of GB’s Kat Matthews after a bike crash – Philipp is one of the Big Four favourites for Thursday’s Ironman World Championship.

Far fewer are tipping Sodaro to make the podium, but it’s a situation the 33-year-old who trains in the San Francisco Bay Area doesn’t mind one bit.

The road to Kona

“I think there’s very little external pressure,” she explained when 220 caught up with her before the race. “My team is excited for what I can do out there, but you get a free pass when it’s your first Kona.”

Sodaro’s tight-knit ensemble in Hawaii includes her parents, husband Steve, and 18-month-old daughter Skye, who is keeping everyone entertained. 

But she’s also a member of BMC Triathlon Team, is coached by New Zealand-based Brit Dan Plews and is thankful for all the support she’s had over the past few years.

“It’s been a project to get me back to fitness and health after giving birth. I’ve got amazing physiotherapists and chiropractors and Team BMC, who signed me for my first pro season, have supported me through the pandemic and childbirth, and here we are.”

While it’s Sodaro’s first Ironman World Championship she has trained on the course on numerous occasions with training partner Sarah Piampiano, who has raced here six times with a best-placed seventh from 2015.

Plenty more to come

The performance in Hamburg, where Philipp set the fastest Ironman branded time ever of 8:18:20, also showed she has the talent to master the long distance. 

“On one hand my performance would have won a lot of races. On the flipside I got to be part of one of the fastest Ironman races ever, which allowed me to raise my level,” Sodaro explains. “I also got to see what the best looks like.” 

And she feels there is plenty more to come. “I didn’t have a smooth run-in. I was so undertrained for that race,” she adds. 

“I got in most of the volume but failed at least 50% of my training sessions. I’d dropped out of races in the build-up, it was challenging getting to the start line. A week out I didn’t know if I could finish – or even start!”

It serves as a reminder for triathletes not to fret when their own preparations don’t seem to be panning out as planned. 

“I think people get super nervous around race week and worried that they don’t feel perfect,” she adds.

“But all those who have qualified for Kona are really good athletes, so trust in the process and things can come together magically on race day.”

To make the top five, finish leading US triathlete, or simply to deliver a strong performance, Sodaro says her focus needs to stay with what she’s doing and avoid distractions.  

“I have a lot of respect for this distance and think I have a healthy fear of Kona and really believe if I execute my best performance things will work out and it’ll be a positive experience.”

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Image credit: Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images for Ironman