Can Ryf Break Wellington’s Iron-Distance World Record?

Daniela Ryf will race Challenge Roth with the intention of breaking the record for fastest iron-distance race.

Photo: Getty Images for Challenge Triathlon

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In early May, Challenge Roth revealed its professional fields for the 2017 edition—set for July 9—and in conjunction with that, two-time defending Ironman world champion Daniela Ryf announced that she would be competing with the intention of breaking the record for fastest iron-distance race. The record is currently held by four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington at 8:18:13, set in 2011 at the same Challenge Roth race. Can Ryf do it? Here, triathlon data geek and creator of multisport analysis website, Thorsten Radde, looks at what will be working for and against Ryf in her pursuit of the record.

Advantage No. 1: Ryf was close in 2016

No one had come close to the record time until 2016 when Ryf made a last-minute decision to race Challenge Roth after a DNF at the Ironman European Championships the week prior. The focus of the race was Jan Frodeno’s record-setting time on the men’s side, but Ryf also went extremely fast: Her 8:22:04 was the third-fastest time by a female ever (Wellington owns the top two) at just four minutes behind Wellington’s record.

Table: Comparison of Chrissie’s and Daniela’s Fastest Times in Roth and Kona

Athlete Race Swim Bike Run Total
Wellington Kona 2009 00:54:31 04:52:07 03:03:06 08:54:02
Wellington Roth 2011 00:49:49 04:40:39 02:44:35 08:18:13
Ryf Roth 2016 00:49:10 04:31:29 02:57:40 08:22:04
Ryf Kona 2016 00:52:50 04:52:26 02:56:51 08:46:46

Hurdle No. 1: Wellington’s record is one for the ages

Wellington arrived at that 8:18:13 record after previously breaking it also in 2009 (8:31:59) and 2010 (8:19:13). At that time, the second-fastest athlete to complete the distance was Australia’s Rebekah Keat who finished with an 8:39 at Roth in 2009. Outside of Ryf’s 2016 Roth performance, no one else has gotten closer to Wellington’s record than 16 minutes (Caroline Steffen went 8:34 at Ironman Melbourne in 2012).

Advantage No. 2: Ryf is the stronger bike rider

While Ryf was just a few seconds quicker than Wellington on the swim, she was faster on the bike by nine minutes—her 4:31:29 is the fastest bike split by a woman on the full iron-distance. Before that, the fastest female time on the bike was Steffen’s 4:35 from Melbourne in 2012.Wellington’s fastest bike split was 4:36 from Roth 2010. Ryf has always been the dominant bike rider in all her Ironman races—she has been leading all of her Ironman races into T2 and only finished second in her first Kona race when Mirinda Carfrae used a 2:50 marathon to run her down for her third Ironman world title.

Hurdle No. 2: Ryf is not yet running at Wellington’s level

At Challenge Roth in 2016, Ryf’s strong swim and run legs put her ahead of Wellington’s record into T2. Even though Ryf was able to run her first sub-3 marathon time, she still lost more than 13 minutes to Wellington’s 2:44 marathon. Clearly, Ryf is not yet running at the level of Wellington.

Advantage No. 3: Ryf already beat Wellington’s prior Kona record

Ryf has been working hard to improve her running and has continued to post marathon PRs—in the Kona heat she was another minute quicker than in Roth. She also improved on Wellington’s best time in Kona: Ryf’s 8:46:46 was more than seven minutes quicker than Wellington’s 2009 Kona winning time of 8:54:02 (and also significantly quicker than Carfrae’s old course record of 8:52:14 from 2013). So at least in Kona, Ryf has already been faster than Wellington ever has.

Hurdle No. 3: Injuries impacted Ryf’s early 2017 season

The first part of 2017 has been up and down for Ryf. While she has won 70.3s in Dubai and in Switzerland, she was beaten by Emma Pallant and Lucy Charles at the half-distance Challenge Gran Canaria in April. And while she won her Kona validation race at the Ironman African Championships in South Africa with a sub-nine hour finish, she admitted after the race that back issues nearly prevented her from racing and she was in pain for the first half of the race.

Hurdle No. 4: Ryf’s coach is not a fan of chasing records

Ryf’s coach, Brett Sutton, has always been open about his opinion that chasing records is “negligence.” He also said that Wellington’s record races in Roth made it difficult for her to race well in Kona and ultimately shortened her career. He’s probably not a big fan of Ryf chasing a fast time in Roth over focusing on a three-peat in Kona and has already stated that with Ryf’s problems in the first half of the year the chances for the record have disappeared.

Advantage No. 4: Ryf is fascinated by the record

Even if Sutton might have preferred a different season focus, he also knows that it’s best to choose goals that athletes are interested in—and Ryf is obviously fascinated by Wellington’s record. While it was a last-minute decision to race Roth 2016 after her DNF in Frankfurt, this year she’ll have given it some more thought and will have done her best (while coping with injury issues) to prepare for a fast race in Roth.

Unknown No. 1: New Run Course

The Roth course is known to be very fast, and most of the fastest times at the iron-distance have been set there, including the current records for both the men and women. But while last year’s improvement by Frodeno on the old record by Andreas Raelert was on exactly the same course, Ryf will be racing on a completely revamped run course. The old run course with long sections on crushed surface along the canal has been replaced with two figure-eight loops frequently passing through the Roth city center.

It’s not clear if this course is going to be quicker than the old one—running on the road and better atmosphere has to be balanced with the more forgiving nature of the crushed surface and potentially busier course on the second run loop.

Unknown No. 2: Weather

A successful record attempt also requires one factor that is impossible to predict or influence: the right weather. The swim should be a fast, wetsuit-legal swim, but rain on the bike or extremely hot and humid conditions can make breaking the record very hard. Last year’s record by Frodeno saw warm and sunny conditions, and typical summer weather in Roth usually provides an excellent environment for a fast time.

So, will she do it?

Based on her results in 2016, Ryf is clearly able to race very fast, possibly even faster than Wellington. But there are a lot of things that have to go right for a world record—it’ll be a very interesting day of racing on July 9. Challenge Roth will provide extensive live coverage, so you’ll be able to follow the race as it unfolds!

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