Steel City Ironman Triathletes Cross the Kona Finish Line

Three Steel City Endurance athletes crossed the finish line at the Ironman World Championships on October 11, 2014.  Each of our three athletes has had their own journey to make it to the starting line, and each of them experienced their race day unfold over the blisteringly hot and windy 140.6 mile course.

We are very proud of…

  • Kirsten Sass, 35, McKenzie, TN
  • David Wirth, 25, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Gregory Christiansen, 48, Pittsburgh, PA

Kirsten Sass of McKenzie, TN qualified at IM Louisville this year.    Kirsten grew up watching her father train and enter innumerable running & triathlon races.   His dream of nearly 20 years to race in Kona became a reality this year when he won a legacy spot.   Kirsten immediately added IM Louisville to the 2 other IM races she’d already registered for in an attempt to qualify.  She ended up winning  her age group and taking 4th place female overall.


David Wirth of Pittsburgh, PA qualified at IM Arizona in 2013, taking 3rd in his age group after an all day battle among the top 5 men in the competitive 25-29 year old category.   He ended up 85th overall in that race and qualified as a 2013 Silver All-World athlete.  David’s build up to Kona for 2014 was planned to include racing at several shorter distances, earning him several podium spots along the way as well as a PR at the Boston marathon (again) in 2014.


Gregory Christiansen of Pittsburgh, PA won a lottery spot after competing in Syracuse 70.3 as well as Ironman Lake Placid for 2014, with a respectable first time Ironman finish in the upper 5th of his age group during a treacherous weather-filled day.   With about 8 weeks of recovery & build between Lake Placid and Kona, Greg maintained excellent fitness. Given the severe heat and winds of Kona as compared to Lake Placid, Greg’s finish was superb.


All three athletes are coached by Steel City Endurance head coach Suzanne Atkinson, MD.  If you are interest in seeing if you might have the potential to qualify for Kona in the next few years, please contact us for a consultation.

**Photos coming**

Kirsten Kona Bike

Kirsten Sass along the hot bike course at Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii October 12, 2014




KIrsten Sass hydrates and refuels at the aid station on Palani hill between miles 10 & 11 as the run course climbs from Ali'i drive up to the Queen K

Kirsten Sass hydrates and refuels at the aid station on Palani hill between miles 10 & 11 as the run course climbs from Ali’i drive up to the Queen K


Greg Kona Bike


Greg Kona Run 2


Greg Run Alii


Greg Kona Finish 2


Greg Kona Finish


David Swim Finish - Kona






David Finish Kona funny

Chris Lieto’s Triathlon Swimming Technique Analysis

We can learn a lot from elite and professional triathletes by simply observing what they do.  Sometimes you may not know exactly what to look for in order to emulate and improve your skills.  I took some of the guesswork out of this for you by grabbing some screenshots of a recent open water swimming video posted on YouTube by Chris Leito.   The clarity of the water in Kona provides a fantastic opportunity to study the strokes of those who have worked hard to get to the Ironman World Championships in October.

Watch this sequence of still shots where you can clearly see the same excellent swimming technique that we teach in Total Immersion swimming programs.  These fundamentals are key…if you can get a video of yourself or a partner to watch you, see if you can match these three swimming ‘checkpoints’.   Can you get a ‘stroke score’ of three out of three?

Stay Long on Wide Tracks

In this still shot you can see several things going on, the most important being that his lead arm remains on a wide track, and waits there while he ‘cultivates’ his grip on the water. In the side view at nearly the same point in the stroke, you can see his palm ‘searching’ for a solid feel, and waiting until the momentum of moving forward creates solid leverage in his stroke.


Side view at same moment in the stroke. Visualize the lead arm still remaining on a wide track here as shown above.


Front Quadrant Timing

Here we see Chris’ left arm having just entered the water, and his right arm is still in the front part of the stroke. Both arms remain (mostly)  on wide tracks.   Front quadrant timing has a range of variations that you can see displayed be different swimmers, and you should experiment with the amount of overlap, or when you begin your stroke.  You’ll find that at different speeds, your stroke timing may change in order to maintain a fluid stroke and minimize slowing down between strokes.


The same moment in the stroke viewed from the side.  Notice the tips of Chris’ left fingers just entering the water, and the position of the right arm still in the front quadrant. (Arm is still in front of the shoulders or head). When viewed at this moment in the stroke, you can see how the arms “trade places” in the front quadrant, assisted by body rotation. You can read more about how to develop an “Early Vertical Forearm” without strain on “When to catch the water”.

Swimming Technique, Front Quadrant
Streamlined Legs

As he finishes his stroke and begins the right arm recovery the legs remain streamlined behind him. At this point in many swimmers strokes, they experience some lateral instability and the legs will compensate for balance by ‘scissoring’.  As you look at the image below, visualize how this feels in the water. What muscles do you need to activate to keep legs streamlined? What soft tissue structures need to be mobile to allow this to happen? Finally, even though they are out of the frame, where do you visualize his arms being? What arm positions will allow this streamlining to take place while maintaining the flow of the stroke ?



So does Chris have the perfect stroke? No, but everyone will always have things to improve upon, even Michael Phelps.*  If I were Chris’ stroke technician, there are a handful of things that we would work on, but this article is intended to highlight the elements of good triathlon swimming that we should be trying to emulate.

Total Immersion Coaches have a keen eye and an effective methods of teaching you how to incorporate these elements into your swimming. If you are looking for a good coach, look for a Total Immersion certification or a good recommendation from a technically sound swimmer on a good coach.  Feel free to contact me to arrange private lessons or a full video session for yourself or your group. (I travel to teach clinics as well, contact me for fees)

*Phelps even stated in his post-race interviews in the 2012 Olympics that he took his (poor) turns and finishes from practice with him to the Olympics this year