Two minutes before the 6:40 a.m. start of Ironman Kona, three-time champion Daniela Ryf felt something unusual during her warm-up drills in Kailua Bay.
“Jellyfish under my armpits on both sides sting me,” Ryf said in a Triathlete.com video interview. “Yeah, it was a bit of a shock. I was like, oh no. I tried to convince myself this didn’t happen.”
It’s just about the worst place to get stung before Saturday’s 2.4-mile swim. Ryf said it was “very painful” to make it out of the water in 57 minutes, 26 seconds, more than nine minutes behind the race leader.
She made up the deficit on Brit Lucy Charles on the 112-mile bike and ended up winning her fourth straight Ironman world title after the marathon run. Ryf prevailed by 10 minutes in 8:26:18, shattering her course record by 20 minutes in perfect, windless weather.
Ryf came “very, very close” to quitting in the water. She was surprised to find that she wasn’t in last place going into the bike.
“I really didn’t know if I’m going to make it, actually, if I’m going to just drown,” Ryf said in a Triathlonworld.com video interview. “I could barely lift my arms and they start to get numb.”
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Ryf, a Swiss who converted to distance triathlons after finishing 40th at the 2012 Olympics, was asked the next morning how she treated the stings once she got out of the water and into the transition zone.
“I’m not sure if I should tell you that because there’s two things you can do,” she said in a video interview with triathlon historian Bob Babbitt. “You can put vinegar on it. They didn’t have vinegar in that tent. I did some, how do you call it?”
Did you pee on it, Babbitt asked her.
“I improvised,” Ryf said, averting the question.
The sting may have caused Ryf to miss her goal of finishing within 30 minutes of the men’s winner. German Patrick Lange was 33:49 faster in shattering his men’s course record by nine minutes.
But as Ryf swam, she lowered her expectations, thinking about finishing in up to 15 hours.
“I just wanted to get out of that water and, hopefully, it would burn a bit less if I don’t need my arms anymore [on the bike and run],” she said.
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