All photos courtesy of James Mitchell
While the Ironman World Championships have come and gone for 2018, athletes and their sponsors are already back to the drawing board looking at ways to get faster, fitter and better for 2019. It seems as though the bar keeps rising every year — this year, a new course record was set for both the pro men and pro women — despite a new, arguably harder run course and the strongest levels of competition in the field to date.
So what can we point to as the explanation for this year’s fast times? The conditions were no doubt remarkable, as mentioned by every pro athlete in the press conference after the race. Minimal winds, not the highest temperatures and a slight breeze on the Queen K highway for the second half of the run certainly helped athletes fly over the course. Improvements in technology is a sure bet, too. For those at the top end of the pro field specifically, there are constantly new products coming their way that are in some cases created with athlete input, but almost always backed up by remarkable breakthroughs in tech and world-class scientific knowledge. You can also argue that the sport of Ironman, now 40 years old, is entering a phase of maturity. In this sense, it’s no longer a mystery for athletes wondering how to win this race. The finest example of this perhaps lies with none other than two-time Ironman World Champion Patrick Lange, who doesn’t dominate every race all year the way some champions do, but clearly has the Kona magic formula nailed down and delivers magic on race day.
Given the eventful race that unfolded in Kona this year, it’s been interesting for our team to look at some of the top finishers and try and glean a lesson or two on how to gain that winning edge at the Ironman World Championship.
The aforementioned German athlete has never showed up to Kona without making a major statement. In his rookie year he broke the long-standing marathon course record set by the great Mark Allen. The year after, he overcame an unremarkable swim and bike to crush the marathon again, and win the title. This year, he absolutely stunned the field as the first man to go under eight hours on the course, demolish the standing CR and win for the second straight year.
Patrick didn’t have an outstanding year. He took some podium finishes but only one win, and many doubted he would retain his title this year. But he understands the dynamics of Kona. He worked tirelessly on his swim to get in a lead pack, worked smartly with teammate Andi Dreitzto get himself into a good position off the bike (8th) and then laid down another ~2:40 marathon to win with a massive margin of nearly eight minutes.
Takeaway: Keep one goal in mind, and work smartly and efficiently to achieve it without getting distracted. The race isn’t won in the year leading up to it, it’s won on the day.
The four-time world champion, Daniela Ryf is now being called the best of our generation. But Daniela’s day didn’t start well this year. In fact, she was stung by jellyfish on each side of her armpits before the race even started, which was so painful she even contemplated pulling out after the swim. But when she changed her mindset, Daniela was able to find strength in herself, overcome the 4-minute deficit she had to the leader after the swim and end up riding a new bike course record, including a final 70km faster than the majority of the pro men’s field. She set a new overall course record and won her fourth consecutive Ironman world title.
Takeway: It’s not over til it’s over, and changing your mindset can be all you need to completely transform a situation.
Unit Nutrition’s own David McNamee had a similar story to Patrick’s. He didn’t have a storybook year, suffering from illness and setbacks all season. David’s day didn’t start as well as he would have liked, but he focused all day on the small details that mattered and chipped away through the field with confidence in himself.
David told us, “Starting the run I was very much trying to remind myself that the race wasn't over yet.
My experience in Kona has taught me that its better to lose some seconds taking your time at aid stations to make sure you get what you need. Especially in Kona making sure you get enough fluids to keep your core temperature down as much as possible.“
Takeaway: Patience wins. The Ironman World Championship is not just about leading the swim, or producing your best bike split…the race must be viewed in its entirety and pacing it smartly is key to reaching the podium.
What did you learn from watching this year’s race? We’d love to know, drop us a line or comment on social media!