ROTH, Germany -- Superwoman Chrissie Wellington didn’t just break it, she obliterated the one-year-old women's Iron-distance world record today with a, 8:31:29 finish. That winning time knocked off 13 minutes 49 seconds of the world-best mark Yvonne Van Vlerken set here last year.
On the same day, Germany's young Michael Goehner, whose two previous best finishes were second places at Frankfurt in 2007 and at Ironman South Africa this spring, a fourth at Ironman Louisville last year, and a fifth overall as an amateur at Roth in 2005, proved he now belongs among the Ironman elite. The 29-year-old did it by running down bike leader Normann Stadler 22km into the run and speeding away from Aussie Pete Jacobs and New Zealand adventure racing world champ Richard Ussher. Goehner's race-best 2:41:17 marathon gave him a 6:08 margin of victory over runner-up Jacobs and an impressive 7:55:53 finish.
Still, as impressive as Goehner's performance was, it was 5:26 behind Luc Van Lierde's still standing Ironman-distance world-best set 12 years ago in Roth, when Roth was the official Ironman race in Germany. On another order of magnitude was Wellington's performance, taking a quantum leap advancing the women's standard. Not just another chip at the record, it was by a margin as shockingly large as the day in 1968 when Bob Beamon cracked the 29-foot long jump barrier at the Mexico City Olympics -- when no other man had previously broken 28 feet. Thus Chrissie's July 12 performance anticipated Bastille Day two days later with a breakout moment for women in triathlon in Roth.
Wellington's shockingly fast world-best at the Iron-distance at Roth stands in an impressive roster of achievements for the 32-year-old in just her third professional year. Wellington, the two-time defending Ironman World Champion, is now undefeated at seven Iron-distance races and one ITU long distance World Championship, holds the Ironman Hawaii run record with a 2:57:44 , and now holds the women's all time Iron-distance bike split with her amazing on its own 4:40:28 mark at Roth. On this ride, Wellington smashed the 4:45:59 mark set by the USA's Krista Whelan in 1992 at Roth and also topped the 4:47:59 mark for official World Triathlon Corporation Ironman bike splits set by Tyler Stewart at Ironman Florida in 2007.
Almost as shocking was the second place performance by Australia's Rebekah Keat, who also trashed the old world best mark with an 8:39:24 time that included a marathon that took time away from Wellington - 2:55:26 to 2:57:32. Keat continued her hot 2009 which includes wins at the Challenge France half Ironman and the Challenge Kraichgau half. All of this was done under the guidance of Keat's new coach Brett Sutton, who guided Wellington to remarkable success in her first two years in the sport. This year Wellington switched coaches to 5-time ITU World Champion Simon Lessing.
Keat and Wellington emerged from the 2.4-mile swim in the Main-Donau Canal near Hipoltstein virtually tied in 50:21 and 50:28, 2:50 behind Leanda Cave, who held the bike lead for much of the first lap before fading. Keat stayed with Wellington until the first long climb, rising 450 feet in altitude from Greding to Osterberg about 35-40k into the ride.
"I tried to stay with her," said Keat. "I think I went through (passed Wellington) twice. We had a draft buster, so obviously we were legal. But on the first big hill 40k into the ride, she took off. She is unbelievable on the climbs - I was out of my league anyway. I had to admit to myself I wasn't ready to ride a 4:40 yet."
Whereupon Wellington attacked. On what she termed "a perfect day, perfect conditions," despite fighting shingles for two and a half weeks before her appointment at Roth, Wellington embraced the crowds and high '60s and low '70s windless weather.
"Once I got on the bike, I really felt strong and felt progressively stronger as the race went on."
Wellington, an emotional sort who also surfs on the positive energy from the crowds, got a super shot of adrenaline from Roth's police-estimated crowd of 150,000. "Riding up the hill at Solarerberg (a Tour de France style hill with even crazier fans) took my breath away," said Wellington. "It's just one of many aspects of Roth that just blows me away."
While Keat caught her breath on her way to a 4:50:10 bike, Scotland's three-time duathlon world champ Catriona Morrison and Australia's 11-time Iron-distance victor Belinda Granger, both riding at 4:48 pace, joined Keat coming into T2. Granger, bravely fighting the aftermath of getting hit by a car the Tuesday before the race, would fade to 5th on the run, but Morrison was ready to challenge Keat starting the run.
Morrison came into Roth red hot after wins at St. Croix 70.3m UK 70.3 and the European duathlon championship. Morrison started running along Roth's hard-packed dirt path canals in tandem with Keat, taking an early advantage before Keat reeled her back in. Finally, about 12km into the run, the string broke.
"I had never done the Ironman distance and I've never run a marathon," said Morrison. "I started out running well, but soon I was feeling bad and I just told myself this is the way it’s supposed to be. Finally the bottom fell out and I had to go to the Port-a-Let. When I came out she wax so far ahead."
"Catriona was scary coming into her first Ironman," said Keat. "That first 10k, I was watching the clock and knew we were running right at 4:00/kilometer pace for the first 10k. I felt really comfortable and was hoping she'd slow down a bit. Then she went to the toilet and luckily that gave me second place for good."
Morrison's struggles and tests were just starting. "About 15k, I looked at my husband and said (in a high-pitched voice soaked in self-pity) 'I don't think I can do this.' I was prepared for the physical, but not for the mental torture. I just kept telling myself that everybody was feeling this way."
During her dark patch from 12 to 25k of the run, Morrison threw up three times and went to the toilets four times. She got a big laugh at the press conference when she said "I fertilized a lot of Roth!"
By the end of the day, Morrison's third-best 3:03:57 marathon to third place, including multiple pit stops, was not that bad, trailing just Keat's 2:55:28 and Wellington's 2:57:32.
Meanwhile, Keat was just coming into her prime. "I had planned to run the first 21k in 1:24 and then hold on," said Keat, who hit her target. That early speed also did the once-unthinkable - Keat started eating away at Wellington's lead. "I tried to pull some time back from her on the run and I did for the first 12k," said Keat. But by the 25k mark, Keat was at the end of her aggression. "I tried to give her a scare, but I didn’t have any more after that."
"I heard she was making time," said Wellington. "The first 10k, I felt really good. But the second 10k, I felt a bit shabby and my leg started to seize up a little bit. So I had to switch the brain off and go on autopilot. Then for the last 15k, I felt much better."
Just 500 meters from the line, Keat was overcome with emotion, recalling the unwavering support of her twin sister through the dark days when she was fighting to clear her name of a 2004-2006 drug suspension due to supplements which were ruled by Triathlon Australia to be contaminated, and the loss of a parent. "I had a few tears thinking about my sister Simone and our dad we lost a few years ago," said Keat.
Not too darn long after Wellington grabbed the finish tape in an astounding 8:31:59 and held it aloft to the cheers of Roth's multitudes, Keat hit the stadium-style finish area high-fiving everyone in sight -- until she saw the clock. "Running so hard, you're brain dead," said Keat. "When I saw the time, I thought 'No chance! This can’t be right!' Then I thought I better run faster so I could get under 8:40."
When she crossed, the clock showed 8:39:34, 6 minutes 14 seconds faster than Van Vlerken's 2008 record and 11 minutes 19 seconds faster than Paula Newby-Fraser's 14-year mark. That leapfrogged Keat into history as the second fastest Iron-distance woman competitor in history.
Many would say that Keat was just getting karmic payback for her good deed last October when she stopped during the bike at Ironman Hawaii and lent Wellington two CO2 cartridges to fix a flat after Chrissie butchered her first try at a crucial triathlon pit stop. If not for Keat, Wellington very likely would have been a one-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion.
The other reason for her ascension was a switch to coach Brett Sutton, who guided Wellington from 2006 age group Olympic distance world champ to Ironman Triathlon elite World Champion in 2007 and to her repeat win at Kona last year. While Wellington left Sutton this year to train at the Boulder headquarters of five-time ITJU World Champion Simon Lessing, Keat welcomed the monastic focus training with Sutton and the Team TBB squad in remote locations.
"The biggest difference is I am training with more consistency and no distractions," said Keat. "I always trained hard, but Brett and the squad push me and give me a consistency I've never had. Finally, Brett knows me better than I know myself. He is unbelievable and track record (Olympic distance World Champions Loretta Harrop, Jackie Gallagher Joanne King, Siri Lindley and Emma Snowsill (2003 only), and Wellington.)
Standing over the world of Ironman-distance triathlon like a genial Colossus, Wellington found it hard to digest what she hath just wrought. "I feel incredibly overwhelmed," said Wellington. I came into this race really wanting the victory. The second thing I wanted was to enjoy every single minute of it. And the third was to try to break the world record. But I never imagined that I'd do so by such a margin."
Australian Pete Jacobs, who finished third here in 2007 to Chris McCormack and Eneko Llanos, and second last year to Patrick Vernay, was hoping for a 3-2-1 progression - if he could somehow topple heavy pre-race favorite Normann Stadler. In order to steal a jump on the Normannator, Jacobs aced the swim with a race-best 45:57, which gave him 2:59 edge on the 2004 and 2006 Ironman Hawaii champion, who also holds the Ironman Hawaii bike record with a 4:18:23 time, and 1:47 on defending champ Patrick Vernay of New Caledonia.
Comparative unknown Michael Goehner emerged from the swim in a virtual shadow in 50:30.
Jacobs kept his lead for much of the first lap of the bike before the Stadler Express rolled through. At which point Jacobs tried to hitch a ride on the comet of the Commerzbank team. "I rode by myself for most of the bike except for a 30k section where I decided to follow Normann and went a bit harder. But I decided the way to win was to have a really good run here, so I settled into my own pace and he took off."
Amidst the joyous tumult and shouting on Solarerberg, the man who holds the Roth bike record saw Stadler race by and was not hopeful his mark of 4:14:16, set in 1999, would withstand the onslaught. "Conditions are too good," said Jurgen Zack. "He will break it."
But then the visage of the four-time Roth champion, who still holds the second fastest Iron-distance time in the world with his 7:51:42 finish at Roth in 1997, turned sunny. "Katja Rabe, a girl from my hometown in Koblenz I help coach, is running top German now," said Zack. (Rabe indeed finished top German woman, taking 7th in 9:25:43)
Goehner, for his part, started the bike behind Stadler, so he had to push the whole way to stop the race from getting out of hand. "I knew if I wanted the chance of winning, I could not let Normann get more than 8 or 9 minutes on me," said Goehner. "Unfortunately, I was riding with a group which wasn't working well together. So I started to push ahead near the end of the bike."
Stadler hit T2 after an almost-record 4:14:42 bike split which left Zack's mark safe for now. This gave Stadler a 4:22 margin over Jacobs (4:23:47 bike) and 8:08 over Goehner (4:21:25 bike).
After 10km, Goehner joined Jacobs in the chase on the run. Jacobs, who envisioned a sub-2:40 split before the race, fell confidently in step with Goehner as they chased Stadler on the packed dirt path along the Main-Donau Canal, with Stadler's lead whittled down to 2 minutes.
"When I got off the bike, I was having such a strong race I thought I was on fire this day," said Jacobs. "But once I got well into the run, I realized it wasn't what I had imagined. I wasn't getting that second wind. I was feeling pretty ordinary. I just got slower and slower and felt I was having a very poor run."
By contrast, Goehner was feeling like an uberlaufer. "When I started, I didn’t think I could run 2:41, but I just felt stronger and stronger as the race went on."
For his part, Stadler was still making Kona-winning marathon time, but was resigned to the passes. "I liked how I raced, but this run is not Kona and the heat, so that was all I could do today. That's was fine with me."
Perhaps Jacobs was a little too hard on himself, as he ran an otherwise-fine 2:49:13. But by contrast Goehner's 2:41:17 stole the day, broke eight hours, and left Jacobs contemplating what might have been 6 minutes 8 seconds in arrears.
While Stadler was finishing up his 2:56:51 run, a New Zealand champion adventure racer who dabbles in Ironman was coming hard and passed the Ironman Hawaii champion for third with 6km to go.
As Jacobs was conserving his energy to ensure a finish, Kiwi adventure racer Richard Ussher, happily surprised to find the conscientiously thorough course markers, was on his way to a second-best 2:46:58 marathon. Apparently, Jacobs calculated his margin correctly, as his 8:02:01 second-place finish had a not-so-comfortable 14-second cushion over Ussher at the line.
The outer limits of Iron-distance performance
An important part of the Quelle Challenge entry list are the teams which make up a significant percentage of the 4,500 triathletes who flock to Roth. Women's winner and new record holder Chrissie Wellington said a few words about breaking through after the race which were answered by the results of the relay.
"What pushes me is a combination of factors, but it all starts with that little flame I have inside my heart that stirs me to push my limits and to be the very best athlete that I can be. I always feel that people should not settle for limits that other people put on them. Today I showed what women are really capable of. It was just a little tap on the shoulder of the guys. And hopefully, they will be running scared and go even faster."
In fact, Wellington's winning time was within 7.58 percent of Goehner's excellent finish and 8.82 percent behind Luc Van Lierde's men's world record. That's far ahead of the standard difference of 10 to 11 percent between men and women in the more established fields of running and swimming.
But if you want a glimpse into the future of human triathletic endeavor, look at the results of the Quelle Challenge Roth relay. On the day, Team Guttenberg took the win in an astonishing 7:04:56! Florian Stuebinger swam 45:55, Tobias Erier rode 3:59:11, and Amos Chage ran 2:17:11.
For a complete gallery of images of the 2009 Quelle Challenge Roth click here.
Quelle Challenge Roth
July 12, 2009
S 2.4 mi/ B 112 mi// R 26.2 mi.
1. Michael Goehner (GER) 7:55:53
2. Pete Jacobs (AUS) 8:02:01
3. Richard Ussher (NZL) 8:02:15
4. Normann Stadler (GER) 8:03:43
5. Patrick Vernay (FRA) 8L03:46
6. Olaf Sabatschus (GER) 8:06:01
7. Raynard Tissink (RSA) 8:07:18
8. Swen Sundberg (GER) 8:07:50
9. Luke Dragstra (CAN) 8:13:51
10. Petr Vasbrousek (CZE) 8:15:13
11. Chris McDonald (AUS) 8:17:39
27. Kai Hundertmarck (GER) 8:37:46
28. Jozsef Major (HUN) 8:38:37
1. Chrissie Wellington (GBR) 8:31:59
2. Rebekah Keat (AUS) 8:39:24
3. Catriona Morrison (SCO) 8:48:11
4. Erika Csomor (HUN)8:58:42
5. Belinda Granger (AUS) 9:12:12
6. Jessica Jacobs (USA) 9:25:24
7. Katja Rabe (GER) 9:25:43
8. Nicole Best (GER) 9:31:02
9. Anja Ippach (GER) 9:37:08
10. Christine Waitz (GER) 9:42:21
11. Leanda Cave (GBR) 9:46:49
14. Charlotte Paul (AUS) 9:53:04