Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
For the world’s top Ironman athletes, last weekend marked one of the final chances to eke out a win or move themselves up the rankings before the season officially comes to a close. For the reigning men’s Olympic champion, it was an opportunity to see how his body could hold up for 140.6 miles. (Spoiler: Pretty well!)
Here’s how the pro races shook out at Ironman Cozumel and the Ironman African Championship in South Africa.
Really fast racing in Cozumel—but is it a world record?
Kristian Blummenfelt has earned himself an off-season. He followed up his Olympic gold medal with his first world championship, and then set his sights on becoming the first person to win the Olympics and Kona in the same season. Unfortunately, Hawaii can’t have nice things right now, so he found his way to the Mexican Riviera for his Ironman debut. Having only raced four 70.3 races over the past three years, Blummenfelt was a true iron virgin, and he finished even earlier than expected.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the term “world record.” Yes, in a sport like Ironman, where every venue is unique, it’s completely meaningless. Does Blummenfelt’s 7:21:11 time represent the best Ironman performance in history? Maybe, but probably not. Whether you want to call it a “world record,” “world best,” or just really damn fast, what we do know is that the 27-year-old Norwegian swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and ran 26.2 miles faster than anyone has ever done it before, and that’s worth celebrating. Although you’d never know it from following Ironman’s social media channels, which, at the time of this publication, have yet to mention anything about Blummenfelt or Cozumel.
But I digress. The course itself was the talk of Twitter as it became clear that Blummenfelt would become the first person to finish an Ironman under 7:30. The always-fast, down-current swim was particularly quick on Sunday, pushing athletes out of the water about seven minutes quicker than a normal swim. Thanks to Aarón Fernández Medina for sharing his Strava file, which shows the swim was almost 500 meters short. The bike is perhaps the flattest on the entire Ironman circuit, and the roads are as smooth and bike-friendly as you’ll find in Mexico. According to Blummenfelt’s Strava file and those of age-group athletes, both the bike and run were measured almost perfectly.
The conditions were very Kona-like, minus the wind common to Cozumel, with a nice shower to cool things off on the bike and some serious humidity on the run. It definitely wasn’t a good day to run fast, which makes his 2:35:24 marathon all the more impressive. It’s not like “Blu” is a small guy, either. But, as he demonstrated in Tokyo in August, he handles the heat extremely well for a bigger guy from basically the North Pole.
When you compare it to countryman Gustav Iden’s Ironman debut in Florida two weeks ago, it looks like Blummenfelt had the slightly better day, but it’s basically a wash. Iden’s 7:42:57 time might not make your eyes pop any more, but the rough currents in Florida likely added 10-11 minutes to that total. Still, it looks like Blummenfelt is the slightly stronger rider and Iden might be the better runner of the two—when it comes to this distance. The potential showdown between Blummenfelt, Iden, and Frodeno in St. George next May is becoming more intriguing each week. And it’s not like Alistair Brownlee, Lionel Sanders, and Sam Long are planning on retiring before then, although they may want to consider it.
There were other people racing, too. Swiss veteran Ruedi Wild finished in 7:36:35 and still managed to lose by 15 minutes. Nonetheless, his 2:41:50 marathon is impressive on its own, especially given that the guy is still getting faster at 39. Germany’s Paul Schuster finished third, more than 20 minutes behind Big Blu.
In the women’s race, Sweden’s Sara Svensk ran a 2:58:02 marathon en route to a finishing time of 8:22:41, clocking another unofficial, yet still really damn fast, record time at an Ironman-branded race (Chrissie Wellington’s 8:18:13 at Challenge Roth still holds as the fastest iron-distance time). There were also some very impressive bike times in Cozumel, with three women riding under 4:35. That included 51-year-old Dede Griesbauer, who led the way with a 4:30:22 split. She’d go on to fade to 10th. The biggest mover on the run was Spaniard Gurutz Frades, whose 2:56:03 marathon got her to the line second, but still more than eight minutes behind Svensk. Aussie Carrie Lester finished third.
Svensk entered the weekend #79 in the PTO world rankings, and while I can’t begin to explain how they work, I’m pretty sure her very fast finishing time of 8:22:40 should catapult her up the rankings and make her a few extra bucks.
A shortened swim (that probably shouldn’t have happened) in South Africa
Here is your female pro winner – Ruth Astle! Congrats! 🏊♂️🚴♂️🏃♂️🏆
Posted by IRONMAN on Sunday, November 21, 2021
I never really walk anything I say on Twitter back, but… I might’ve jumped the gun when I put the Ironman South Africa race officials on blast for cutting the swim in half due to rough surf. I hate seeing Ironman constantly cater to the weakest swimmers—particularly at the professional level—but I also should’ve praised the race officials for having a swim at all. They could’ve easily made the decision to have a duathlon, as we see happen nearly every month around the world. The only reason I’m backtracking a bit is because Lauren Brandon said she was shocked to have a swim, and she’s a better swimmer than everybody not named Lucy Charles-Barclay.
I thought they would have canceled it. So pretty surprised that we had a swim. I don’t have a ton of ocean swimming experience so I was definitely pretty nervous about it beforehand. And during 😆
— Lauren Brandon (@lb_brandon) November 21, 2021
With the conditions as rough as they were, the stronger swimmers still were able to utilize their strength over half the distance. Super-swimmer Immogen Simmonds exited the Indian Ocean just ahead of Brandon, who eventually DNF’d on the run, and with a three-minute lead over the rest of the field, which Britain’s Ruth Astle had no problem erasing on the bike. Her 4:55:49 ride was the best of the day by five minutes, and it allowed the third-year pro to cruise to her second Ironman win of her season and career.
South African Annah Watkinson ran more than 12 minutes faster than Astle but ran out of real estate, finishing two minutes back in second. Countrywoman Jade Nicole was another seven minutes back in third. Sitting at #33 in the world rankings, a second Ironman win should give Astle a nice boost, but it probably won’t break her into the top 20 and the next bonus level. Or maybe it will. I honestly have no idea.
The men’s race was a duel between a legend of German triathlon and one who hopes to be just that one day. In the end, the disciple got the better of the old hand, as Maurice Clavel ran down Sebastian Kienle to win his first Ironman title. The top three men were all within four minutes of each other at the finish, which was actually the most that they were separated by the entire day. Kienle ended the day two minutes behind Clavel, with Swedish super-cyclist Rasmus Svenningsson another two minutes behind in third.
Clavel entered the weekend #37 in the world and should soar up the rankings with the first win of his season. Or not. Who knows? Opportunities are dwindling to score points, with just Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells, Ironman Western Australia, and Challenge Daytona remaining on the professional racing calendar.