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Kristian Hogenhaug

At Ironman Hamburg, 27-year-old Danish athlete Kristian Hogenhaug had taken the T2 lead with the best bike split, but I expected that the more experienced athletes just three minutes behind him would be able to take the win. Andreas Raelert and Ruedi Wild were able to reduce Kristian’s lead to just over one minute after 10k, but then something unexpected happened: The gap didn’t change much in the second of four run loops, Andi was forced to drop out and Kristian extended his lead to Ruedi back up to three minutes. At the end of the marathon,  Kristian took his first Ironman win, and a gap of five minutes to second-place finisher Ruedi Wild allowed him to enjoy the finish chute, not sure whether to laugh or cry and ending up doing both at the same time.

Kristian Finish Line

Photo: Kristian grabbing the winner’s tape at IM Hamburg (Credit: Ingo Kutsche)

In the press conference after the race, Kristian just stated that when he started to do triathlon Ironman winners were super-human to him and that he couldn’t believe that he had been able to take the win in Hamburg. Following a brief chat in Hamburg we’ve exchanged a few emails, so here are some more details about Kristian, his development over the last few years, his Hamburg race and the goals for Kona and beyond.


Thorsten: Let’s get some “technical stuff” out of the way first. In Danish, your last name is spelled Høgenhaug, what’s the best way to transcribe that for English and other languages that don’t have the extra umlauts?

Kristian: Normally we use “oe” to substitute “ø”. But I think Hogenhaug is much easier for people to pronounce, so let’s stick with that.

T: What’s your triathlon background? Which sports did you enjoy while growing up?

K: I have done a ton of different sports. I was into taekwondo, where I won some national titles as a kid, and then later on Badminton where I never really shinned. I have always been very fascinated by cycling and Bjarne Riis, our danish rider at the time, so after 7th grade I bought a road bike and rode quite a bit during that summer. But then I got introduced to the computer game “World of Warcraft” and I pretty much stopped during sports until I graduated from high school in 2010. I am a nerd by nature, so when I’m into something I am 100% – and during this time, it was gaming. In 2011 I started at a Danish folk high school, a school some people live at during their gap year. This one had a focus on sports. I pretty much stopped gaming and got introduced to swimming along with triathlon. One of our teachers had done an Ironman, and he was like a god to us. From then on I was hooked! Along with my studies in sports science at Aarhus University, I raced triathlon as an age grouper. I did my first Ironman in Copenhagen in 2012 in 9h43min. [In the Challenge Copenhagen list Kristian is shown with a 9:33, but he thinks something went wrong with his timing chip and that he started in a different wave than the results indicate.] In 2016 I qualified for Hawaii where I placed second in the 25 to 29 agegroup. 2017 was my first year racing in the pro ranks. So I am pretty much a gamer who turned his interest from computer to triathlon.

Race Date Swim Bike Run Total Rank in Race
Challenge Copenhagen 2012-08-11 01:01:23 04:48:16 03:46:38 09:43:41 5 (M18-24)
IM Frankfurt 2013-07-07 00:58:12 05:00:54 04:08:25 10:12:29 10 (M18-24)
IM Copenhagen 2015-08-23 00:56:13 04:33:22 DNF
IM Frankfurt 2016-07-03 00:54:51 04:31:50 03:10:47 08:42:57 1 (M25-29)
IM Hawaii 2016-10-08 00:55:53 04:48:00 3:14:39 09:06:40 2 (M25-29)

Table: Kristian’s Ironman Results as an Agegrouper

T: In my database I have four IM results for you in 2018 – two podiums, but also a DNF. How happy were you with your racing that year?

K: My 2018 season went above expectations. I had a terrible race in Texas 2018 (probably overtrained) but then had a near-perfect build-up to Copenhagen. [Kristian modestly skips his second place in 8:02:53, posting the fastest bike split as in almost all of his Pro races.] I decided to race Almere three weeks later, where I also had a very good race. [Again he “forgets” to mention that he finished third, with a bike split that was just slower than Cameron Wurf’s.] One of my good friends wanted to race IM Italy, and I decided to join him on the trip and do Italy, but drop out in T2, as this would have been the third IM in six weeks. So that was a planned DNF 🙂

Race Date Swim Bike Run Total Rank in Race
Challenge Denmark Half 2017-06-10 00:26:57 02:04:51 01:20:52 03:55:35 6
Challenge Almere 2017-09-10 00:55:11 04:13:25 02:56:12 08:08:40 4
IM Texas 2018-04-28 00:54:55 04:11:31 02:59:33 08:11:49 17
Challenge Denmark Half 2018-06-09 00:25:03 DNF
ITU Long Distance 2018-07-14 00:40:48 02:52:10 01:52:44 05:29:38 7
IM Copenhagen 2018-08-19 00:51:48 04:15:01 02:51:11 08:02:53 2
Challenge Almere 2018-09-08 00:54:56 04:13:50 02:50:22 08:03:31 3
IM Italy 2018-09-22 00:52:28 04:40:02 DNF

Table: Kristian’s Pro Results in 2017 and 2018

T: What was the plan for 2019? It seems you were getting ready for IM Austria, but then you DNF’d there and went to Hamburg instead?

K: 2019 started with a surprising fourth place [at ITU Long Distance Worlds] in Pontevedra and a second [at the half-distance Challenge race] in  Herning. Both of them were done without specific training, so I knew that I was on point to something good. Klagenfurt was my A+ race. With the lead-up, I knew I had a good chance of battling for the win. Sadly I felt terrible in the last ten days leading up to the race and race-pace felt super hard (probably overtrained). On race day I struggled all the way, and after 10 km on the run I literally couldn’t move my legs faster than 5:30 pace, so I decided to call it a day. After a few days Hamburg was on my mind, this time though with the focus on getting fresh. Volume was lowered but with increased intensity, especially on the bike. I started to clock some of my best bike sessions ever.

Race Date Swim Bike Run Total Rank in Race
ITU Long Distance 2019-05-04 00:21:47 02:50:57 01:54:16 05:12:09 4
Challenge Denmark Half 2019-06-08 00:26:37 02:02:38 01:16:41 03:50:37 2
IM Austria 2019-07-07 00:52:25 04:26:36 DNF
IM Hamburg 2019-07-28 00:52:03 04:17:29 02:54:03 08:11:26 1

Table: Kristian’s Pro Results in 2019

T: What was your goal going into Hamburg, and how was race day from your end?

K: I didn’t go into Hamburg with the intention to compete for the win, actually I wanted it to be a consolation race for IM Klagenfurt, Austria was quite hard on my self-confidence. The goal was to get a good swim, which was mentally important for me, then try to bike very hard until I would catch the front pack, and then sit in until the run and see how I could do. I normally bike all the way by my self, so wanted to see what I could do on fresher legs. Other than that I didn’t have a goal.

Kristian T1

Photo: Kristian grabbing his bike after the swim. (Credit: TriRating)

The startlist looked terrifying with some decent bikers and very good runners. I caught the front pack after 2h 14 min. I burned some matches to bridge the gap, but I quickly felt the benefit of sitting in a good group. I freshened up a bit, and after 35 min in the pack I went to the front and settled into my 70.3 pace for 15 minutes. When I looked back, they were gone – which surprised me quite a bit! On the small climbs I had seen them stand up on the pedals, which in my perspective meant that they were all struggling just a bit, but I was still very surprised that I had opened up a gap. Coming into T2 I was very happy with a three-minute lead. I had ridden seven minutes faster than the legend Andreas Raelert which got me pretty hyped.

Kristin Bike

Photo: Kristian working hard on the bike (Credit: Ingo Kutsche)

I did some quick mental arithmetic and thought that I could run 4:00 min/km, they are probably gonna run 3:45 min/km, so by km 10 they should pass me. My hope was that they would burn some matches in the attempt to bridge the gap, and then maybe I was capable of running with them. It never happened though. Suddenly we were running the same pace, so I knew they struggled quite a bit. But the gap had gone down to 1:30 minutes. I still felt very good at this point – to me, the key to a good off-the-bike run in an Ironman is that the first ten km have to feel like a recovery run, then when you really start to struggle the pace won’t drop dramatically – it will just get a lot harder. I know that I can run a decent marathon after a very hard bike. And I think that the run splits explain the race dynamics. The run course isn’t that hard, but the run times are quite “slow”. That just speaks HOW HARD we all went on the bike. To be honest, I never ever thought that I would run the fastest run split – a nice surprise.

Kristian Run

Photo: Kristian on the run in Hamburg. (Credit: TriRating)

T: You’ve raced Hamburg with a “blank race kit”. What sponsors do you have at this point, and do you think the win will generate some more interest?

K: I have a clothing sponsor and some smaller ones, but nothing big. I do hope that it will change. An Ironman win is very good when you have to negotiate sponsor deals – at least I hope! I hope that this can lead to a smaller work-load, so that I can focus even more on training and recovery. As of now I am actually trying to contact different brands, to see if they are interested in a cooperation 🙂 Wish me luck!

T: Now that you’ve accepted your Kona slot, how does the rest of the year look for you? Will you do some specific work in order to deal with the Kona heat and humidity?

K: I have a master of science in sports science (graduated in December 2018). I am very much into training physiology, nutrition, and right now I try to science the sh*t out of heat acclimation. I’m going to prepare here in Denmark. But I am probably gonna spend some time in a little tent with a heater and humidifier to simulate conditions that are even worse than in Hawaii. I have seen some quite interesting studies on it, they showed very promising results. I am going to do one more race before Hawaii. I race really good three weeks after an Ironman. So I am going to race Challenge Almere in September, four weeks out from Hawaii. Then I’ll have two weeks of a very hard heat acclimation protocol (in Denmark) and then fly to Hawaii 10 to 14 days prior to the race. I’m really looking forward to going full nerd-mode on the heat thing :-D. I was in Hawaii in 2016 as an agegrouper, where I also did a lot of studying on heat and cooling strategies. It went very good in the heat and humidity, but I also gained A LOT of experience on how to tackle it even better.

T: What are your expectations for your first Pro race in Kona and the next season?

K: In 2017 I made a 5-year plan. That included a Hawaii qualification in 2020 and a Top 10 in 2022. So I’m already ahead of the plan, it’s really crazy! The dream-goal this year is a Top 15 result – I would be over the moon if that happened. Experience is important, for sure racing in the pro field is something different than as an agegrouper. For now a career goal (based on the 5-year plan) is a Top 10 before 2023. After those five years, I’ll revise the goals. But for now, that is what is achievable and what I will focus on 🙂

Steady Progress Awards: Asa Lundstroem and Boris Stein

The following profile is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details in this post or get your own free copy here.

Asa Lundstroem and Boris Stein have won Ironman races before (Asa in Sweden 2012 and Lake Tahoe 2013, Boris in Switzerland 2014 and France 2015), but at this point in their career they are not focused on getting as many wins as possible but on improving in Kona: Asa has gone from 17th in 2014 via 11th in 2015 to 8th in 2016, Boris was 20th in 2014, then moved up to 10th in 2015 and was 7th this year.

Åsa Lundström (the correct Swedish spelling of her name) only needed one race of the 2016 season to secure her Kona slot: A fourth place finish at IM South Africa gave her enough points and she was able to build her season focused on a good performance in Kona. Except for her home town race 70.3 Jonköping (where she was second to Jodie Swallow) she was racing smaller, shorter races and focused on building her speed.

In Kona Asa had her typical swim, coming into T1 with a ten-minute deficit to the leaders. For the whole race she and Sarah Piampiano were within a minute or two of each other, slowly moving through the field on the bike. Asa wanted to avoid the “energy hole” she had experienced at the end of her previous bike rides in Kona and was completely focused on her own race. This year, she was riding strong into T2. She was also running well from the start, and by the Energy Lab she had moved into the Top 10.

AsaKona

In the end Sarah was probably a bit ‘hungrier’ and overtook Asa with a last-minute effort to finish seventh, with Asa just 28 seconds behind in eighth place – another solid step forward for her.

After Kona Asa raced another Ironman, finishing fourth at Western Australia. She was a bit disappointed with the placing and not being able to go sub-9, but notes that she didn’t feel fresh enough after her long season. Even so, she secured a Kona slot which was the main goal of racing WA. Now she has the chance to focus on her medical studies for the first part of – after the end of her triathlon career she wants to be a medical doctor. For now, she is trying to align her triathlon goals as much as possible with her studies. She’ll have completed those by the mid-April and can then go back to summer racing and her Kona build.

Boris Stein finished seventh in Kona this year – a result that usually generates a lot of attention. But he was only the fifth German and is well aware that it’s hard to get attention for that, especially with the “two German Big Players”. For a while Boris was still working as a teacher but is now a full-time athlete and knows that ‘getting noticed’ is part of earning his money as a Pro. His plan to get more attention? “You just have to beat them!”

His tenth place in Kona 2015 allowed Boris to plan his year completely focused on a good Kona performance. He raced IM South Africa in April, and a fifth place allowed him to secure his slot. He was able to race aggressively in the swim and bike, but his run wasn’t quite at the level he’d want for October. Over the summer he was racing very strong in 70.3s, winning 70.3 Kraichgau (beating Sebi Kienle) and 70.3 Luxembourg. He was biking and running very well, but while finishing third in the European 70.3 Championships in Wiesbaden was a good result, being three minutes behind Andreas Dreitz in T2 and losing three and a half minutes to Lionel Sanders on the run showed that he still had some homework before Kona.

Boris prepared in the Texas heat for Kona, together with Patrick Lange. Both were joking about who’d win their private little race. Boris said that Patrick “will be able to reach his goal of finishing in the Top 15, but I’d be able to beat him then” while Patrick wanted “to beat Boris in the end – I don’t really care by how much.” In the end both went on to have good races, and once again Boris’ performance didn’t get the attention it probably deserved.

Boris had a base scenario for the Kona race: “After the swim it would be great to be with athletes that also want to close the gap to the front I’m working hard to ride the full bike distance as the first half in 2015 – and then still be able to run a good marathon.” This plan worked “even better than I was hoping for: Early on I joined forces with Sebi Kienle and I was able to save some energy.” Boris worked hard for that advantage, he closed a gap of almost two minutes to Sebi after the swim within the first 30 miles of the bike.

BorisKona

When the front group broke up after Hawi, Boris was one of the Top 7 riders staying ahead of the rest, and he entered T2 just 35 seconds behind the lead. “I had a lot of confidence on the ride back to Kona. But it’s pretty rare that nobody from the front group exploded on the run [only Luke McKenzie fell back, but his spot in the Top 7 was taken by Patrick Lange], so those who ended up in front of me were simply better on race day. I’ve missed a few aid stations towards the end of the bike, it sometimes gets tricky with the larger front group and aid stations being further apart. So I’ve lost contact to the front of the race early in the run and then was managing my energy levels and loneliness as much as possible.” Boris had a solid 2:55 marathon to finish seventh, not good enough to contend for a podium finish, but three minutes quicker than in his come-from-behind tenth place in 2015.

Boris is already planning his 2017 season: “The two big German IM-distance races are the benchmark for organization and public attention, but Kona is still the more important race. As long as I think I can improve there, Kona will be my main goal and I’ll follow a similar season plan as in 2016. I’m always looking for improvements, but I can’t really see any big gains. So it’s probably maximizing my swim speed, fine-tune my season plan for the big day in Kona and maybe optimize my bike position to be able to have a better run.”

So far we’ve seen steady progress in Kona by Asa and Boris. Their good Kona finishes allows them to focus on Kona, Asa has already validated by finishing fourth in Western Australia, Boris will just need a finish in South Africa to plan for Kona. Therefore, it’s unlikely we’ll see them race an Ironman in top shape before Kona, making it hard for them to raise their profile and for others to get a late impression of their Kona chances. They are unlikely to be among many top picks, but I see both of them as strong candidates for a podium in Kona 2017. And who knows what they’ll be able to do in three or four years!

(Photos: Asa on the run in Kona, Credit: Stef Hanson, Witsup.
Boris getting aero on a Kona downhill, Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

Persistence Award: Diana Riesler

The following profile is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details in this post or get your own free copy here.

Diana had a great season 2015: She won Ironman Lanzarote in May and was optimistic for Kona but had a DNF where she suffered from a virus infection. She thought she quickly recovered from it, and just five weeks later she won her second Ironman of the year in Malaysia.

But Diana struggled with flu-like symptoms at the start of 2016, and it was determined that she had contracted Dengue fever. She had to cancel her start in South Africa and focused instead on defending her title in Lanzarote. In T2 she was still within striking distance of the lead, but then started to cramp on the run and finished only with some “encouragement” by her partner and coach Jo Spindler. But a fourth place in Lanzarote wasn’t enough to secure a Kona slot.

Diana then started a number of Ironman races that she wasn’t able to finish. At Ironman Frankfurt she wasn’t even able to finish the swim: Warm water temperatures lead to a non-wetsuit swim, but when the air temperature dropped on race morning a lot of athletes suffered from hypothermia during the swim. Diana even had to be rescued by the lifeguards and was rushed to a hospital when the thermometer used to measure her body temperature did not go low enough for a decent read. Thankfully she did not suffer lasting damage, but it took her a while to recover. Her next try to get the points for Kona was at IM Vichy. It was much warmer than in Frankfurt and she was able to complete the swim. But there was a lot of confusion about the local French rules for a non-wetsuit swim, and Diana was DQ’d in T1 although she was wearing the same race kit and swim skin that wasn’t a problem in Frankfurt and that most people thought was allowed. The long discussion in T1 before the DQ was finally confirmed also contributed to her sinusitis flaring up. Even after a two week break and antibiotics she didn’t get better, and her doctor was ready to put her on the surgery table. By then she had cancelled all race plans for the remainder of the year.

As a final try before surgery she put a spoke by her sponsor DT Swiss to an alternate use (I don’t want to get more graphical than that), and slowly her sinuses started to clear and she started to feel better. As a friend had given her a ticket to Wales, she decided to fly there. She felt much better in the week before the race, and as she was still on the official start list, she decided to start the race as a long training session to assess where her fitness was. Wednesday before the race was the first time back in the pool after Vichy, and she was joking she’d take a break after the first half of the swim. On race day she doubled the training amount of the last four weeks and was in second place for most of the bike and run. But in the end it was all a bit too much for her, and she had to abandon the race just 4k from the finish line.

But that DNF felt a lot better than the races in Frankfurt and Vichy and Diana was in a great state of mind to get back into training and try to defend her title in Malaysia. After recovering in the Mallorca sun she went to Thailand for a “heat camp”. Towards the end of her five-week stay in Thanyapura she was getting a bit homesick but in a great form. She was second out of the water, quickly took the lead on the bike, and with the fastest bike split built a lead of more than five minutes in T2. She was able to extend her lead with a solid 3:21 marathon in the Malaysia heat and humidity and won with a margin of almost ten minutes. This was the third time in a row she has won IM Malaysia and is one of only two athletes with an active three-peat. (The other athlete is Meredith Kessler with an active three-peat in Arizona and a five-peat in New Zealand.)

Di Bahrain Smile

It’s been a year with a lot of downs and setbacks for Diana, but she persisted and had a great end to 2016. Hopefully she’ll have more luck in 2017!

(Photo: Diana on the run at 70.3 Bahrain. Credit: Darren Wheeler, ThatCameraMan)

Bookend Award: Meredith Kessler

The following profile is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details in this post or get your own free copy here.

Meredith Kessler had an interesting year framed by two impressive Ironman wins in March and November with sub-9 finishes, but injury worries and sub-standard performances over the summer and in Kona. 2016 started well for Meredith at IM New Zealand. She continued her winning streak that started in 2012 when bad weather shortened the race to a half distance. Also, with 8:56 she posted the first ever sub-9 in Taupo (of course a new course record) and also a new personal best marathon time (3:06).

Having secured her Kona slot, she seemed to be on a good track for a fast time in her planned summer race at Challenge Roth. But three sub-standard (for her level!) runs at the 70.3s in St. George, Raleigh and Mont Tremblant were indicators that something wasn’t quite right and she had to cancel her start at Roth. She had been dealing with a high hamstring/glute issue for some time, but her body didn’t respond to extensive rehab. In early July she decided that “it’s time to put this engine in the body shop for some serious work to get this injury sorted. I cannot come close to full speed on the run (or bike) and I am limping around the course – and I feel like I’m now just racing to fulfill contracts and appease sponsors as I never want to let anyone down. This also pains me because Roth is a bucket list race and it was the marquee event on my calendar and we were so looking forward to it! But sometimes we have to take some steps backwards in order to come back stronger and better.”

Meredith would need some time to recover after the procedure and racing 70.3 Worlds wasn’t going to happen. So her ‘comeback race’ from the injury was Kona. Race day started well for her: She worked hard to be the first out of the water, leading a large group into T1. Then she was also riding well, finishing the bike in 5th place and within a minute of the podium spots. She took this as an indication that her ‘Kona ailment’ (not having any power on the bike in the Kona heat, possibly because kidney issues kept her from processing fluids and calories) is under control. But once on the run, she quickly fell back, eventually walking to a 4:19 marathon: “Rehab is rehab … what I mean by this is that you never know how your injury is going to react until you get into a race which is tough to simulate in training. The high hamstring wasn’t quite ready in Kona and drastic pain was felt on the run. I decided to again respect the finish line and put a smile on my face and embrace the opportunity to even get to be there.”

Similar to the 2015 season Meredith decided to race IM Arizona just six weeks later. She was trying to recover quickly from the long day in Kona, but in typical Meredith fashion also dealing with any weak points the Kona race had uncovered: “We can go into this race knowing that we have done everything to get this high hamstring ready to go since it obviously was not quite ready in Kona. Hopefully the new treatments and the new bike fit will stick, and it will stay strong out there. Injuries can just be pesky – and this one sure has been! Yet I’m hoping that I have served my time in the injury department.”

Her last Ironman of the season turned out to be as much a success as the first one in New Zealand: Another win, another sub-9 finish and her second ‘active three-peat’! “Ironman Arizona was a question mark yet the body can be resilient and thankfully it held. I use racing to see where I’m at with injury. I am so grateful that my injury didn’t get worse after IMAZ, if anything it got a wee bit better … all the rehab was finally starting to come together.”

MeredithAZ

Winning Taupo 70.3 in December was another milestone for her: “I had not raced at half Ironman speed for a long, long time – not once in 2016 since St. George, Raleigh and Mont Tremblant 70.3s were a nightmare of pain.”

Clearly, Meredith is taking a lot of positive signs from the ups and downs of the 2016 season – and she is already looking ahead to 2017 racing: “I’m just so grateful to finally get back to myself and now have this winter to really, properly prepare for Ironman New Zealand. We will continue to rehab and work on things to get better until the first race of the year at Ironman New Zealand – I am thankful for the chance to race for a six-peat … we love Taupo!”

(Photo: Meredith running down the finish chute at IM Arizona. Credit: Paul Phillips – Competitive Image)

Male Rookie of the Year 2016: Patrick Lange

The following profile is an excerpt from my “TriRating Report 2016”. You can find more details in this post or get your own free copy here.

There can’t be any doubt about this year’s male Rookie of the Year: Patrick Lange’s win at IM Texas and his third place in Kona with a new run course record were big surprises, and his “can’t believe it myself” finish in Kona was one of the emotional highlights of this season.

Patrick’s background is in mountain bike racing. Injuries after a “stupid crash while warming up” forced him to take a break from MTB racing and he started cross training and triathlon. He’s had some success in short distance racing and was part of the German national youth squad. But he was always a couple of seconds too slow in the swim, and missing the front group kept him from being competitive on the international level.

He moved up to middle distance racing in 2012 (7th at 70.3 Wiesbaden) and got his first Pro podium at 70.3 Luxembourg in 2013. He enjoyed the freedom of setting his own schedule and planning his training. He was racing the “big races” with deep, strong field such as St. George or the 70.3 Champs, and while he was picking up paychecks he didn’t have any breakthrough podium results.

After the end of his 2015 season he started to work with Faris Al-Sultan. “Faris and I had met a couple of times in training camps in Lanzarote, rode together a few times and much enjoyed chatting with each other. We were joking that he’d be coaching me once his career was over, not expecting that he’d be ending his Pro career after Texas 2015.” Faris adds that “I was hopeless trying to coach my now-wife Ina, but as I was always self-coached and put a lot of thought into training– still making a ton of mistakes.” It seems that Faris is not making too many mistakes with Patrick: When Patrick moved to long-distance racing for the 2016 season, he immediately found great success.

Patrick didn’t really know what to expect going into the Regional Championships in Texas. A big field of more than 50 male Pros offered strong competition. Faris was hoping for a 2:48 marathon which could result in finishing between third and sixth. Patrick was able to swim and ride with a larger group, being in 5th place in T2 but there were about 15 athletes within a minute of him. It was quickly apparent that he was the best runner of that big group: “My legs felt really good and even holding back I ran 20 seconds per k faster than planned.” When Andy Starykowicz was forced to DNF after having built a big lead on the bike, Patrick stormed to the win with a 2:40 marathon, earning an automatic Kona qualifier slot.

IM Texas 2016 suffered from finding a decent bike course after construction made the old course unusable, issues with getting permits for a new bike course and then some more changes after flooding. In the end the bike course that was used measured roughly 94 miles (instead of 112 or 150k instead of 180k) and it made assessing his performance tricky. For other athletes I didn’t use the Texas results as a basis for predicting Kona, but as Patrick’s only long distance race was Texas, I had to do some number juggling. In my “Kona Rating Report”, I seeded Patrick in seventh place – pretty similar to Faris’ expectations (“2:48 marathon resulting in a finish between 5th and 15th”). His home stay in Texas (where he prepared for Kona) gave him another boost: “I was thrilled with TriRating’s 7th place seeding, but my host father said he thinks that I’ll do even better than that.”

Patrick

In Kona Patrick swam well (less than a minute off the top swimmers) and had closed the gap to the front when he received a penalty. “I was overtaking a number of athletes and probably took too long to overtake when the group was speeding up again.” According to the rules it was drafting, but to me it sounds more like he was not yet experienced enough to properly deal with the larger groups and the hectic pace at the start of the Kona bike. Andi Raelert was in the penalty tent with him and encouraged him to stay relaxed even after dropping back into 42nd place. Patrick decided to “do my own race” and did not try to chase the front group. Even though he lost another five minutes on the bike to the leaders, he slowly started to move up in the field – at the start of the run he was ten minutes back in 22nd place. He was about as fast as Frodo and Sebi for the first 10 miles of the run and by the time he climbed Palani Road he had moved into the Top 10. By the time he hit the Energy Lab, he had run up to his friend and training partner Boris Stein, moving into 6th place. Each athlete he passed gave him more and more energy. At the end of the Energy Lab he was able to see third to fifth place in front of him on the Queen K, and he picked off Tim O’Donnell, Andi Böcherer and Ben Hoffman to move into third. By then he was flying and when he crossed the finish line he was clearly on an adrenaline high. His run split was 2:39:45, beating Mark Allen’s 1989 run course record. “While running I was just checking the splits on my GPS. Faris and I were hoping for about a 4-minute pace [per k, about 6:24 per mile, equal to a 2:48 marathon] and I was just happy to build a cushion to that pace. I had no idea of my overall time.” In his Slowtwitch interview he says “When Mike Reilly announced that I broke the course record, I looked at Mark and said I’m sorry. I really look up to that man.” Mark appreciates the gesture: “Patrick was great. He apologized for breaking my record! Super nice guy.”

There was a bit of a controversy in the days after the race whether Patrick’s run was the fastest marathon in Kona after all. For example, here’s what Dave Scott said in his interview on ‘Breakfast with Bob – Championship Edition‘: “When Mark Allen and I raced in 1989, our time in T2 – off our bikes, changing into shorts – was folded into our run time. My friend Pat Feeney had Mark run the marathon in 2:38:53. Patrick Lange had a phenomenal run and in the record books it’s going to go down as the fastest run ever – Mark Allen holds it though.” Similar data was mentioned in a 2013 article by Triathlete magazine (“Chasing the 2:40 Hawaii Ironman Marathon“).

To me, it’s pretty much impossible to compare Mark’s time from 1989 and Patrick’s time from 2016 – 27 years apart. First of all, not only the time spent in T2 is a difference between these two runs, they were also done on different courses (even if similar). The last major change to the run course was in 2003 when the pier in Kona became T1 and T2. Before that there were separate transition zones, and the run course included a section called ‘the pit’, a hot and steep section that probably made the old run course harder than what it is today. That’s also the way I understand Dave Scott’s comments: Not as a dig against Patrick’s performance, but as an acknowledgment of how awesome Mark’s 1989 run was and of the breakthrough that duel meant for the sport of Triathlon. Mark simply says “Patrick broke my record. I’ll let others debate the finer points of that.”

Almost everyone I spoke to agrees that it’s quite unlikely that we’ll see an explosion of sub-2:40s in Kona. Mark says “Patrick’s time could reinvigorate the guys and get their minds working on having that be the new standard they need to be able to hit to win in Hawaii. It’s very possible to break 2:40 in Kona, not even a question, even sub-2:35 is doable. But I don’t think that you’ll see everyone suddenly running at that level. The main reason is that Ironman Hawaii is a closed energy equation. You just can’t go super-fast in one place unless you go slower somewhere else. And the guys who win have pretty much fine-tuned that equation and so far no one has gone under 2:40 and won the race, which ultimately is the goal of most of the top people racing … to win.”

After Patrick flew back home after the race, he received a lot of media attention in Germany. When he landed in Frankfurt there were a couple of friends and members of his local Tri and swim teams to welcome him – in addition to at least three local TV and radio crews. Then he just quickly went to his apartment for a change of clothes and flew on to Berlin where he appeared in ‘Morgenmagazin’, Germany’s main ‘breakfast TV show’. Over the next days there were some more TV appearances and a lot of interview demands.

What can we expect from Patrick in the next years? Faris is trying to set the expectations not too high: “Patrick is still ramping up his training, the main goal will be to stabilize his performance.” In the long term, Patrick could be an athlete to put some pressure on Frodo – Patrick is a potential front-bike-group athlete with the ability to maybe run faster than Frodo. Therefore, Frodo might feel he needs to be more active on the bike and put a buffer between him and Patrick in T2. That’s maybe a bit too much to expect from Patrick in the next season or two, but at 30 years of age he still has a lot of Ironman racing ahead of him!

(Photo: Patrick running in the Energy Lab. Credit: Jay Prasuhn)

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