By T.J. Murphy
The Hawaii Ironman is such a mass bomb of racing and drama all exploded in a single time period, there’s plenty we want to say about as we sort it all out. But here are three quick takeaways from last week’s Ironman World Championship event.
I’m not sure I’ve fully processed Daniela Ryf’s ability and what she may be capable of. She bounded through the finish line in 8:46:46, a new record. I’m still a little stunned, in part because of how masterfully she executed her race plan and also how much time she spent along off the front. Super-coach Brett Sutton continues to show why he’s the most effective triathlon coach in the world at unleashing and preparing talent for a big day. Ryf’s performance was otherworldly. What was especially impressive about Ryf’s record performance was that she clearly had another gear that she didn’t even need to bother with. She could have gone faster. What that translates to in terms of how much faster she can go is about as loud as a message as can be sent that we are in the age of Daniela Ryf.
The Ironman is Olympic Gold Medalist’s Jan Frodeno’s best distance. Frodeno won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic triathlon with a finish line sprint. The backstory on why this was so surprising is that Frodeno was more used to losing races because he couldn’t trigger the fast-twitch muscle fiber. The losses stung enough (“I hate losing,” Frodeno freely admitted in a pre-race interview) that he attached a practice sprint to every workout that included running. Easy 30-minute recovery jog? Finish it like you’re chasing a guy who just broke into your house. So with his second consecutive win in Kona, there are a host of reasons why Frodeno is now at his best distance. He not only has the physical talent (obviously), he has the right temperament. He’s patient and doesn’t get rattled. He also has the kind of belief in himself that reminds me of what Dave Scott had in the 1980s: He just knows he’s meant to win. Early during the bike leg in this year’s race, as Frodeno pedaled his Canyon like he was strumming a guitar around a campfire, he adapted his race plan for the surrounding anxiousness of those frittering away energy around him. He played the long-game so smart and well that when it came time for the marathon, it was almost unthinkable that Sebastian Kienle was going to be able to hold his position on Frodeno’s shoulder. Frodeno is smart, patient, super well-prepared, and has good coaches that are working daily to convert any weakness into a strength. Frodeno’s only weakness that I can see is that he might lose his fire for it all, which happened with ITU racing. No sign of that yet.
Another comment about Frodeno. Within a few minutes of winning last weekend, Frodeno, in being interviewed at the finish by Mike Reilly, emphatically thanked the locals of Kona for hosting the event. It was an especially gracious moment, and my first thought was, “This guy gets it.” Also, Frodeno spoke eloquently before the race about “egoism” and selfishness in being a professional triathlete. There was depth to his thinking on the subject: To be a successful professional in the sport of triathlon, you have to be selfish with your time and your focus. In listening to him, it seemed to me that Frodeno had confronted this issue with personal concern, and that he had come to terms with it in a philosophical sense.
Patrick Lange’s Hawaii Ironman Run Course Record was about as legit as it gets. First of all, what was especially remarkable about Germany’s Patrick Lange’s (the third-place men’s finisher in Germany’s 2016 onslaught) was his emotional reaction at the finish line. It was really fun to watch. He was the happiest guy in the universe and unafraid to show it. On the subject of the marathon split: The course is different now and Mark Allen’s 2:40:04 record from his 1989 showdown with Dave Scott was performed at a different time and was forged under crucible-like conditions. Allen and Scott pushed each other into hell. Allen once talked about the vast difference of what can be endured in training versus racing and then racing versus racing with your arch nemesis (in his case Dave Scott) who had been the subject of nearly a decade’s worth of nightmares for Allen. “You could never go so hard alone,” he said. Still, there were some great runners in the sport, like Lothar Leder, for example, or Luc Van Lierde, who really seemed like they were destined to crack if not demolish 2:40 in Kona. At any rate, Lange’s 2:39:45 came off of splits similar to Allen’s race:
Mark Allen: 51:09:15 swim/ 4:37:52 bike/2:40:04 run = 8:09:15
Patrick Lange: 48:57 swim/4:37:49 bike/2:39:45 = 8:11:14
Lange is going to be fun to watch in the coming years for several reasons.