At a rainy two-person iron-distance face-off in Germany on Sunday, Jan Frodeno established him as the greatest long-distance athlete of all time and set a new world record for 140.6 miles: 7:27:53.
Despite a fall on the slippery wet carpet at the end of his first lap on the run, Frodeno looked nearly flawless all day and was never seriously under pressure from the one other competitor in the two-person event, Lionel Sanders, who crossed the line in his own personal best time of 7:43:32.
Following some Instagram ribbing between Frodeno and Sanders earlier this summer, the Battle Royale was created as a showcase of the two athletes: a two-person race on empty roads in the Allgäu region of southern Germany, chosen specifically for its speed. While the race was drug-tested and carefully managed to ensure the world record, it was (of course) not an official Ironman event.
Although the coverage and even a boxer-style pre-race press conference the day before all played up the match-up between Sanders and Frodeno, the suspicion early on was that this would serve as a world record attempt for the world champion, with the Canadian there to push the pace, attempt his own record, and keep it honest. Everything appeared to be designed for speed. Bottles were handed to the athletes from a motorbike that rode up next to them as they pedaled and even the turnarounds on the bike course were built into mini-velodromes.
The only thing that didn’t cooperate was the weather, with cold rain and wet roads all day. But it didn’t appeared to slow either athlete down.
In front of a couple hundred spectators, Frodeno exited the water first in 45:58 and was out and onto the bike a little under five minutes ahead of Sanders. He then biked five minutes faster than the Canadian, covering the 112 miles in 3:55:22. The only mistake of the day appeared to come as he ran through the transition area at the end of the first lap and slipped on the wet carpet, hitting his hip hard on the ground and wincing as he got back up to start running—but, as he joked to a camera a few miles later, “better [the hip] than the legs.”
While tickets to the event were limited by lottery, due to COVID precautions, locals still came out to cheer on Frodeno as he neared the finish and then applaud Sanders’ world class effort as well. The two embraced and exchanged words before letting Sanders collect himself for the champagne ceremony. Sanders performance was a quick rebound after a disappointing race at Ironman Coeur d’Alene just three weeks ago. He had wanted to go sub-7:30 here; however, he noted afterwards he maybe went out too hard to try and hit that pace, but had no regrets. “A big hats off to him as well,” Frodeno said.
Thousands around the world also tuned into the live stream, which featured an announcing team and on screen stats. (The entire event can still be seen online.)
“That was so hard, that was so unbelievably hard,” Frodeno said at the finish, adding that he hadn’t done a full-distance in two years and that he kept trying to do math as he was racing to figure out if he was on pace.
When asked what was going through his mind at the finish, Sanders said: “Jan is an amazing athlete, that’s what’s going through my mind right now.”
“It was an honor to be invited to this event. We put it as a battle, but I always knew Jan was going for a world record,” he said, although you never know how the conditions will be. The conditions were actually pretty tough, said Sanders, which shows how great an athlete Frodeno is.
“That’s the opportunity of a lifetime to go up against literally your hero,” Sanders said. “This is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.”