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UPDATED: May 30 – Alistair Brownlee has pulled out due to injury and will be replaced by Joe Skipper.
On June 5 (or 6), two men and two women will attempt to do what the Breaking2 marathon project did for running. In an organized, team-backed broadcasted effort on a speedtrack and full of spectacle, Kristian Blummenfelt and newly named Joe Skipper will try to break seven hours in the 140.6-mile iron-distance, while Nicola Spirig and Kat Matthews will try to break eight hours.
But this isn’t a regular race. There are pacers, a racetrack, custom-made equipment, and a schedule aimed at optimizing weather conditions. How will it all go down? And, wait, explain it again?
What is Sub7/Sub8?
Officially two projects called Phoenix Sub7 powered by Zwift and Phoenix Sub8 powered by Zwift, the race/exhibition/stunt is sponsored by the Pho3nix Foundation, a group founded by Polish businessman and triathlete Sebastian Kulczyk. The mission of the foundation is to inspire sport and activity in young people and be “a positive example of the health and happiness that sport brings.” This includes youth community programs, a team of top pros, and the Sub7/8 project—meant to inspire with the motto “defy the impossible.”
The Sub7/8 effort will cover the standard iron-distance of 140.6 miles: 2.4 miles of swimming (3.8km), 112 miles of biking (180km), and 26.2 miles of running (42km). It will be contested one of two days in Germany (June 5-6), in order to optimize weather. The course will feature a point-to-point swim that goes straight across a man-made lake and athletes will then bike down a large highway (utilizing wind conditions) to the famous and fast racetrack Dekra Lausitzring—where they will finish the ride and complete the full run. The men and women will go separately in two different head-to-head races.
On the men’s side double Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee was replaced at the last minute, on May 30, by Joe Skipper due to injury; he’ll join newly crowned Ironman world champ (and also an Olympic gold medalist) Kristian Blummenfelt. For the women, we’ve got another Olympic gold medalist in Nicola Spirig and Ironman world championship runner-up Kat Matthews, who replaced Lucy Charles-Barclay after Charles-Baclay pulled out with an injury.
The rules of Sub7/Sub8
There are no rules.
OK, kidding, there are rules; they’re just not the same rules you’re used to seeing in triathlon. Drafting is allowed with a team of pacers and non-traditional equipment is also permitted—and expect some cutting edge equipment never seen before. Athletes will be subject to World Anti-Doping Agency rules, as well as other standard triathlon rules like “no drafting off rival teams” and “no fins or paddles.” The full rules are available here. However, the effort is not officially sanctioned nor recognized by a governing body.
The four athletes will utilize teams of pacers on all three legs (and teams of gear experts, nutritionists, logistics managers, and scientists). How exactly they maximize their pacers will vary based on each athletes’ strategy. Each of the athletes announced their teams of cycling pacers last week—with more to come.
Can it be done?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? Triathlon records, especially long-course and Ironman records, can be complicated. There are no official record books and, because courses and conditions can vary so much, it’s also widely acknowledged that there is no equivalent to running’s sanctioned courses and certified records.
All that being said: The fastest current Ironman or Iron-distance times are 7:21:12 (set by Blummenfelt at Cozumel last year) and 8:18:13 (set by Chrissie Wellington at Challenge Roth in 2011).
In order to break seven hours would take approximately a: 40-minute swim, a 3:45 bike, and a 2:30 run (with 5 minutes for transitions). That breaks down to swimming 1:03/100m (or :57/100yds), an average speed on the bike of 30mph, and 5:43/mile on the run.
For eight hours: a 45-minute swim, a 4:15 bike, and a 2:55 run. That breaks down to 1:11/100m (1:04/100y), an average of 26.3mph on the bike, and running 6:40/mile.
How can you watch it?
The event will mostly likely take place June 5, with June 6 as a back-up in case of weather. The broadcast is scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m. CEST (local time) on the chosen day—which is 12:30 a.m. ET in the U.S. and 9:30 p.m. PT the night before on the West Coast. Women will go off at 7 a.m. CEST (1 a.m. ET) and men will follow an hour later.
The event will be streamed live on sub7sub8.com and on their Youtube and Pho3nix Foundation Facebook page. The broadcast will include commentary from Chris McCormack, Belinda Granger, Robbie McEwen, and Vicky Holland. A limited number of tickets are available to watch in-person. Or you can also participate in a series of 8-week Zwift events in the lead-up.