STOCKBRIDGE — Kent Lemme said that the running portion of his Ironman competition in the 40th annual Josh Billings RunAground was, on this day, the toughest for him.
Fighting off cramps, Lemme not only repeated as the Ironman champion in a kayak, but he shattered his record for the fastest Ironman race in a kayak.
Lemme finished the 27-mile cycling leg, the 5-mile canoe leg in the Stockbridge Bowl, and the 6.2-mile run way ahead of second-place finisher Josh Flanagan. Lemme's time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 44 seconds smashed the kayak Ironman record he set in 2013, when he beat Michael Bienhowski with a time of 2:35:23.
"I'm 49 and five-sixths," Lemme said with a laugh. "Anytime I get a win — I don't know how many more I'm going to get — they're all great at this point."
For the second consecutive year, Lemme beat Flanagan, who was the 2012 champion. Last year, Lemme beat Flanagan by five minutes. This year, the margin of victory was just under 10 minutes.
"This is my first back-to-back. The one I missed was when Kris Freeman beat me [in 2014], when I had a spill on the bike," said Lemme.
For the record, both Lemme and Flanagan registered top-25 overall finishes. Lemme was sixth overall, finishing some 15 minutes behind champion Allen Heights Veterinary. Flanagan was 22nd.
Matthew Palmer was the top canoe Ironman, completing the course in 2:45:53, good for third fastest overall. He beat former champion Kyle Breier by almost 11 minutes.
Flanagan, who was the runner-up in 2011 and won the kayak division in 2010, was a last-minute entrant into the 2016 Josh. Lemme said that while he was looking for orange wristbands, signifying Ironpeople, in a group of competitors around him, he didn't see any.
Lemme said the cycling leg caused few problems for him. He successfully maneuvered his way around some early wet spots on the cycling leg from Great Barrington to the Stockbridge Bowl boat ramp off Route 183.
"I thought I was working hard out there" in the Bowl, said Lemme, "and it didn't seem like I was going that fast. When I got out, I saw my split, and I said 'I've got a shot at a new course record.'"
The course record almost didn't come to pass because Lemme said his legs were cramping up on the second lap around the Bowl. He got on a roll about a half-mile into the run and was catching runners before the cramps came back.
"At mile four, I got a big cramp on the inside of my left leg, and had to slow it up to try to get that to go away," he said. "Everybody who I caught, caught me."
Lemme was able to work out the cramp as he came up the final hill, and came in triumphantly at the Tanglewood finish line. He was two seconds behind Sarah Dunham, the first woman to cross the finish line and a member of the fifth-place Vermont Sports Connection team. Lemme also crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Phillip Warner, who was the runner for seventh-place Spin, Splash, Sprint.
"My training wasn't perfect, and I didn't really think I was in course-record shape," said Lemme. "I thought there was going to be some stiff competition for the Iron today, so I was more concerned about trying to win the Iron if I could.
"It kind of just played out the way it did."