BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — GLEN ARBOR — Keri Pawielski and Jeff Smoke took different approaches to winning the M-22 Challenge on Saturday.
Pawielski led from start to finish to capture the women's title in the three-event, 22-mile race.
Smoke, meanwhile, rallied in the final event, the paddle on Little Glen Lake, to take the men's championship.
Some 900 athletes competed.
Pawielski finished the 2.5-mile run, 17-mile bike and 2.5-mile paddle in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 6 seconds — more than a minute faster than a year ago when the St. Joseph's resident won in 1:23:43.
"I was pleased with that," the 36-year-old said. "It's nice to feel stronger, but everyone else is improving, too."
Abigail Paul, who hails from Cassopolis, took second in 1:29:29.
Pawielski — who was coming off the American Triple-T in Ohio, four triathlons in 48 hours — earned "Queen of the Dunes" honors by leading the foot race up the dune climb at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. It was on the bike, however, where she took command.
"I pulled away on the bike," she said. "I beat (Paul) by seven minutes and that's what the final margin was overall."
Paul made up some ground in the paddle — Pawielski's weakest event.
Saturday marked the fifth Challenge. And Pawielski has won all five.
"Five in a row is unprecedented for me," she said. "I've never won an event that many times. It makes me nervous already thinking about next year."
Smoke, 35, won the men's race for the second time in three years. The Chicago resident and 2004 U.S. Olympian finished in 1:11:23, just over three minutes ahead of Cheboygan's Dennis Paull, who was clocked in 1:14:32. Traverse City's Craig Webb placed third in 1:15:30.
All three swapped leads. Paull, the defending champion, led after the run. Webb moved ahead after the bike. Smoke took charge in the kayak.
"This was probably my best (Challenge) yet," Smoke said. "I was in better shape on the bike and that definitely paid off with a faster time."
Smoke was second a year ago in 1:14:48.
"The bike is the biggest time component of the event," he said. "It's where you have the chance to make up the most ground. In the time I had to train, I was on the bike mostly."
That was needed because Webb surged on the bike.
"He's (Webb) a fast biker," Smoke said. "I improved my bike time by three minutes, but he might have set a course record.
"I knew I had to stay next to Craig . My plan was to not let him get too far out of sight. As long as I could still see him I thought I could probably catch him on the kayak."
Smoke was 80 seconds behind Webb heading into the paddle, but that's where the sprint canoeist is at his best.
Paull was also able to catch Webb in the paddle.
Conditions were ideal.
"This was the best year for weather," Pawielski said. "No wind, no waves."