Christensen shines in his first Ironman, Hjeltness in her 17th

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Chrystie Hjeltness, from Coeur d'Alene, receives a hug from her boyfriend after crossing the finish line with a time of 11:47:36.

The top Kootenai County finishers in Sunday’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene hailed from opposite ends of the competitive triathlete spectrum.

Chrystie Hjeltness, the first female of the area to conquer the finish line, is a veteran Ironman athlete. The county’s leading male, Graham Christensen, meanwhile, wrapped up his first Ironman ever.

“(It feels) really good, actually,” Christensen said of his time of 10 hours, 18 minutes, 55 seconds that put him ahead of his local competitors and 88th overall.

Winded and glazed with sweat after crossing the finish line, Christensen said there was nothing special about his training that gave him such speed.

“Just lots of it,” the 39-year-old said, estimating he had trained 12 to 15 hours a week.

The Coeur d’Alene resident was inspired to give the 140.6-mile competition a shot, he said, after living in the city and watching others manage the feat for seven years.

Already a competitive cyclist, he added on swimming and running about 18 months ago.

The extra sports didn’t seem to tax him too much. Christensen said the swim and the biking portions of the race went fine.

“The run was hard, just because it was at the end, and hot,” he said.

Hjeltness jogged through the finish at 11:47:36 on Sunday in her 17th Ironman.

“I love all the friendships and the camaraderie. Everyone is so positive,” the 46-year-old said of why she has raced in Coeur d’Alene, Canada and Hawaii.

Hjeltness said with a laugh after finishing that she wasn’t feeling too fresh.

But she had enjoyed the race, she said.

“I love the new course,” the Coeur d’Alene woman said of the portion newly located on U.S. 95. “I think it’s really fast and I love the hills. It’s great.”

She had done much of her training with her boyfriend Bryan Keller of Spokane, she said. Keller materialized at her side on Sunday afternoon to help her walk away from the finish.

“She’s a stud,” said Keller, who was taking a break after competing in three previous Ironmans.

There’s still more to go, Hjeltness added.

“We’re going to do next year together,” she said.

Among the county’s other top female finishers was 50-year-old Dixie Ziegler of Post Falls, who crossed the finish at 12:31:15.

Jennifer Cowper, 42, of Coeur d’Alene also finished at 12:51:13.

Nathan Vetsch of Coeur d’Alene jumped across the finish line with an 11:00:48 time.

Also a first-time Ironman competitor, he was surprised to be the second male finisher from Kootenai County.

“I just found a book in Barnes and Noble and followed it,” the 29-year-old said of his training strategy.

He had also trained with his brother Jason, he added, who finished later in the day at just under 13 hours.

It all was the right recipe, apparently, as Nathan never walked during the marathon portion of the competition, he said.

All the while maintaining a 9-minute mile pace, he added.

“I had a perfect day. Just perfect,” Nathan said. “I was trying to do 12 hours, and that would have been a great day. And I ended up with 11 hours.”

Graham Christensen, from Coeur d'Alene, raises his arms as he crosses the finish line after completing the 140.6-mile Ironman Coeur d'Alene course with a time of 10:18:55.

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