Dave Scott and Mark Allen, Paula Newby-Fraser and Natascha Badmann, Chrissie Wellington and Mirinda Carfrae; Patrick Lange and…
There have been plenty of triathletes who have forged their reputation in the black lava of Hawaii’s Big Island, focusing their whole year – at times obsessively – to performing on one hot, humid, and even pernicious day in October.
But there are very few who transform so completely when they set foot on Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona—particularly when it’s out of T2 for the Ironman marathon.
Outside of Hawaii, Patrick Lange is one of many top-level German triathletes. On the Pacific island, he’s in the pantheon as one of the most feared racers in M-Dot history. Nobody wants to be running alongside Lange during that 26.2. And as we saw for three years from 2016 to 2018, very few, if any, are capable of doing that anyway.
Of course, there’s more to the ever polite, articulate, 36-year-old from Bad Wildungen in central Germany than being able to run quickly, though it’s what he’s defined by in the sport of triathlon.
Patrick Lange: The Accomplishments
Lange has three of the 10 fastest marathons ever set in the race; his 2:39:45 when he finished third in 2016 after alighting from the bike in 22nd place is the fastest, although it might have been beaten the following year had he not slowed to take the tape in his victory.
The sight of the powder blue Erdinger-sponsored trisuit stuffed with cooling sponges and unzipped to the naval, cap turned backwards, running just over 6-minute miles is otherworldly for those of us who have trudged through Ironman marathons in far less oppressive climes. The 2017 triumph was marked by his overtaking of a helpless Lionel Sanders for the win and a new course record. The following year, it was eviscerated by a further nine minutes as he stopped the clock in 7:52:39 – although even that time was overshadowed by what happened next.
Plenty of people have dropped to their knees at the Ironman finish line, but with the Voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly holding the microphone, Lange knelt, and with hands clasped, asked his girlfriend Julia Hofmann to marry him.
“The average person in the supermarket doesn’t know anything about triathlon, but [they] knew that there was some guy proposing after winning a world championship,” Lange explained. “It was so public in Germany, it raised the recognition of Ironman to a new level. I received a lot of positive feedback.” And, thankfully, a positive response from Julia too.
Back to the racing and there have been memorable triumphs elsewhere too. Last year’s win in the inaugural Ironman Tulsa was one to be savoured – 7:45:21 after a brisk 2:36:45 marathon. After a couple of tough years that started with quitting on the bike in Hawaii in 2019 and then racing infrequently during the pandemic, the outpouring of emotion that followed was understandable.
An 11-minute win three months later at Challenge Roth confirmed Lange was back among the best at the long distance, although with an adapted course and a bike leg that was eight-and-a-half miles short—the arbitrary 7:19:19 finish belied the strength of performance.
Patrick Lange: Beginnings
Rolling back further, a win in Texas in 2016 – his first M-Dot victory – really set up Lange for the Hawaii performances that followed. It was his lowest-profile success, but arguably most important because it justified his decision not to quit the sport.
Approaching 30 years of age in 2015, Lange had no sponsors and a series of middle-distance results that weren’t boosting the retirement fund. He’d shown little sporting inclination for ball sports at school, but did seem to have endless stamina – a 120-mile mountain bike marathon as a 15-year-old proved that. Two years of military service was followed by studying to become a physiotherapist and some lower-tier ITU (now World Triathlon) short-course racing.
It was the coaching of compatriot Faris Al-Sultan, the 2006 Ironman world champion, that turned things around. Al-Sultan, who’d run his first marathon at age 16, was likened by Lange as the guru on the sidelines who could instill the confidence he required. Al-Sultan shunned many technical advances—encouraging his charge to train by feel, and it began to bring devastatingly effective results.
Lange cites his own example when explaining how German athletes benefit from the knowledge of past champions: Ten men’s Kona titles have gone to Germany, including the last six in Hawaii. Only the U.S. has more.
In a way, the U.S.—specifically Texas—has been further instrumental in Lange’s success via the heavily-forested Woodlands area, around 30 miles north of Houston in Montgomery County, offering ideal conditions as a pre-Hawaii training base.
The Next Chapter
In 2019, Lange split with Al-Sultan, as his mentor took on the role of head coach of the elite team for the German Triathlon Federation. Lange, a vegetarian, who believes being plant-based aids his recovery from training, turned instead to Hamburg-based sports scientist Bjorn Geesmann for what he termed “the start of a new part of my career.”
Diving into the data might seem the polar opposite to Al-Sultan’s “go by feel” approach, but the results in Tulsa and Roth backed up the decision—although the softly-spoken Lange isn’t one to brag. “I like to be in the background and just race as hard as I can against the best – and win against the best,” he said.
“The best”’ seem to be becoming ever younger and more precocious. Over the past six years, the challenge has often arisen from the experienced Sebastian Kienle, Ben Hoffman, Timothy O’Donnell, or Jan Frodeno. Now it is the Norwegians and Danes, among them the 24-year-old six-foot-five Magnus Ditlev, who biked 15 minutes into Lange in Roth this year, who seem the biggest threat. The German did manage to grab five of those minutes back with a 2:35:10 marathon though. When it comes to putting one foot in front of the other, he’s still the best in the business.
Patrick Lange Stats
|Challenge Roth||2nd place||7:44:52|
|Challenge Roth||1st place||7:19:19*|
|Ironman Tulsa||1st place||7:45:21|
|Ironman World Championship||1st place||7:52:39|
|Ironman World Championship||1st place||8:01:40|
|Ironman World Championship||3rd place||8:11:14|
|Ironman Texas||1st place||7:13:13*|
*Shortened bike course
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