Bahrain Endurance locked out the top spots at Challenge Roth on Sunday, with Jan Frodeno setting a new world record for long distance triathlon and Daniela Ryf logging the third-fastest finish time on the Roth course.
Frodeno exited the water with a race-best 45:22-minute swim split over 3.8 kilometers, putting a minute’s distance between him, the rest of the large men’s field, and Andreas Raelert’s swim time from his world record-setting day in 2011. The German continued to pull away on the bike leg, logging a 4:09:22 on the 180-kilometer course and shaving off even more time from Raelert’s bike split of 4:11:43 despite falling into a ditch on the second lap. Matching Raelert’s marathon time almost down to the second at 2:40:53, the Olympic gold medalist and Ironman world champion smashed the old world record by six minutes, taking the victory in 7:35:39.
“When I read the time, I was obviously really happy with it but it was a real mixture of disbelief and contentment,” he said.
He had made good on his word to break the world record, doing everything possible to make it happen. “I wanted to go big or go home, which is what you want to do when you want to break a record. I’ve worked hard and trained hard for this and I’m really, really glad to do this bucket list race,” he said. “I am very, very sore. It’s quite hard coming down from the hype. It was absolutely manic and equally sensational out there. There were so many goosebumps moments!”
Admitting to being in a dark place on the marathon, Frodeno praised the 260,000 spectators and volunteers who cheered him on in his race against time. “Anybody who saw me in the last 2kms saw what was actually going on – man I was in pain! It was awful to be honest. A marathon at the end of 180kms is always painful, but this being my fastest marathon, it really hurt. But the endorphins did kick in.”
Ryf not only set the race-best swim split of 49:10 but also came out ahead of all the pro males except for the top three. She tackled the bike leg with metronomic precision on the first lap, then put down the hammer to set a new bike course record in 4:31:29. This put her 10 minutes ahead of Chrissie Wellington’s world record. She ultimately ran a new personal best of 2:57:40, breaking the tape in 8:22:04— just four minutes shy of the world record. Only Wellington, who hugged Ryf at the finish line, had ever gone faster.
“It’s a motivation to be as fast as Chrissie was one day. She’s a legend and I really admire her, and how strong she was. But not everything is about the record. I do hope to come back here one day and come back and race faster,” said Ryf. “Big respect to Frodo for saying he was going for the record before the race and actually doing it.”
The Swiss thanked her coach Brett Sutton for the go-signal to race Challenge Roth. He had previously written, “We agreed her racing would never be so pressured and to enjoy all the positive experiences that triathlon does offer. Three World Championships, a Kona win and a Triple Crown later and I would say this approach has served her quite well. Roth is an iconic and great race. Roth is a fun race. So the question is not why she’s racing it, but why she shouldn’t be?”
Ryf further explained, “I’ve missed going to races and enjoying them. Usually it’s about a record, or qualifying, or trying to win, but this race was all about enjoying it,” she said. “It was one of those days when I didn’t care about winning. I just wanted to go out there and swim, bike, run and that’s what I did and I am super happy it went so fast!”
Both Frodeno and Ryf were in a different zip code to their pursuers, their lead uncontested from start to finish and stopping the clock 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the field.
Their wins marked the first time Ironman World Champions had gone on to win Challenge Roth, a fitting present for the race celebrating its 15th anniversary.
“The way that Roth lives and breathes triathlon is why it’s the favourite amongst all the age groupers and I think the pros too – you can’t buy tradition, and that’s what they’ve got here,” says Frodeno.
In another instance of racing for fun, Ben Hoffman crossed the finish line in 4th at the XTERRA Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado. He said, “Main objective complete: finish without getting hurt! Painful, but fun.”
The athletes now enter preparations for world championship season.