Jan Frodeno sets a new iron-distance world record of 7:27:53 racing Lionel Sanders in the Zwift Tri Battle Royale.
Three-time Kona Champion Jan Frodeno lowered his own iron-distance world record on Sunday at the Zwift Tri Battle Royale, besting his previous time from Roth 2016 by over seven minutes to set a new standard of 7:27:53. Meanwhile, Lionel Sanders set a new PB of 7:43:28.
In order to ensure this is a world record that will stick, the whole event, while unconventional, was officially ratified by the Deutsche Triathlon Union with accurate race distances, applicable rules and race referees.
How It Played Out
Frodeno took control of the race from the start, swimming away from Sanders as expected. The racers were aided by an underwater rope charting the course so there was no need to sight.
The German’s swim split was 45:58 – not his best in an iron-distance competition but a strong start considering zero opportunities to draft and a legitimate 3.8km distance. Sanders’ 50:58 shaved over 30 seconds from his PB – quite a feat for a solo swim.
After the short run to transition, there was a brief moment of frustration for Frodeno as he dropped his helmet – a quickly stymied release of emotion that showed just how much the event meant to him.
Once on the bike, Sanders initially narrowed the gap but as the four-lap bike course drew on, Frodeno increased his lead in spite of Sanders hitting his own goal power numbers throughout. Flying around the huge banked Canyon Turn at the turnaround point of each lap helped the riders maintain momentum.
It wasn’t long before the rain fell in earnest but both athletes continued to push on at incredible paces over the non-drafting course. Frodeno managed an average speed of 45.9km/h despite the weather slowing down proceedings.
Frodeno completed the bike in a new record time of 3:55:22, dipping well under Andrew Starykowicz’s previous best of 4:01:19 from Ironman Florida 2019. Sanders also broke that bike record with his 4:00:26 split, bettering his 4:04:38 time from Ironman Arizona in 2016.
As the marathon got underway, the old record seemed well within reach for both athletes. Frodeno set a ferocious pace but there was a heart-stopping episode at the end of the first of four laps as the German slipped on the wet carpet and came down hard on his hip.
It was the only moment of the race that reduced commentators Paul Kaye and Helle Frederiksen to silence as the shadow of Frodeno’s previous sacrum fracture seemed to hang in the air. Clearly in deep pain but ever the champion, Frodeno limped, jogged and eventually got back into his stride.
Behind, Sanders was making good time, doing well to match his hero for pace, the two crossing paths on each lap to gauge each other’s form and progress.
Despite the fall, Frodeno’s predicted finish went as low as 7:21 by 20km in, but as the run wore on, both athletes slowed. Frodeno was clearly going deep, constantly checking his watch in the final 10km to push towards the record while Sanders’ running legs appeared even more diminished in the final stages.
Fighting hard to the end, Frodeno brought the marathon home in 2:44:21 to cross the line in a new world record of 7:27:53 – 7:46 faster than his performance at Challenge Roth in 2016.
Frodeno On His Race
Utterly spent but clearly delighted by setting a new world best, it took the German a while to recover before getting painfully to his feet to talk with Helle Frederiksen.
“That was hard, so unbelievably hard,” he said. “You haven’t done an Ironman for two years and you race it like a 70.3, that’s a mistake in the beginning.
“A massive thank you to everybody who came out. It was so tough because it was cold and it was rainy. Everybody was out and It was really quite something. I’m speechless but I’m a broken man right now.
“The truth is, it’s not exactly what’s referred to as Frodeno weather – so I’m sorry to everybody who came out and endured the conditions – it’s amazing. I have to say it got quite cold on the bike, but really it was just amazing to do this kind of thing.
“It was so clinical because you never had to look up, you could just try to go as fast as possible,” he said.
“I was doing the maths in my head. I don’t think I’ve ever calculated so much… one minute 20s, one kilometre at 45km/h. I don’t know how many times I worked that out!
“Same thing on the run, trying to keep the time as fast as possible, of course. We dreamt of this but I didn’t have a time in my head. Lionel said he wanted to go 7:29 and I’m like ‘I’ve gotta go faster than that if he’s going 7:29’.
“Lionel is a great athlete who has pushed me further and further over the last two years and who was on for a world record here for a long time, which many people certainly did not expect of him.”
Sanders Pushes His Limits
Sanders’ decline in run speed meant towards the end of the run meant that the clock ticked past the old record, but the Canadian reinforced his ‘no limits’ mantra by crossing the line in a new PB of 7:43:30 after a 2:50:31 marathon.
When asked by Frederiksen what was going through his mind, Sanders replied: “Jan is an amazing athlete, that’s what’s going through my mind. I gave my very best, it was an honour to be invited to this event.
“We put it as a battle but I always knew Jan was going for the world record. He didn’t want to say too much about it beforehand – because as you know, the conditions and everything. And it wasn’t that fast conditions today – that’s the impressive part.
“But when he asked me to come, that’s an opportunity of a lifetime, to go up against literally your hero and to go toe-to-toe with him. I mean I don’t know how much I pushed him but it was an amazing experience.”
On whether his revised nutrition strategy after a long walk at Ironman Coeur d’Alene three weeks prior had solved his issues, he said: “Yeah I definitely feel like I did better in that department. I mean I probably should have gone out and tried to do 7:40 pace and not 7:35 pace because I think I paid for it pretty badly at the end there.
“But I don’t have any regrets, this was the opportunity of a lifetime – this is something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”