In 2011, Craig Alexander did what was considered unthinkable when he broke Luc Van Lierde’s 12-year-old Hawaii Ironman course record. Alexander only broke the old record by 12 seconds on a day that was admittedly hot and characteristically windy on the way out to the turnaround at Hawi. When Daniela Ryf took the course record in 2016, she went faster than Mirinda Carfrae’s 2013 record by 5:30—a huge leap from the 8:52 that broke the old record held by Chrissie Wellington’s 8:54 in 2009. Before that, Paula Newby-Fraser held the record for an incredible 17 years with an 8:55. Records have been broken, but not too often and usually only by a small amount.
But the 2018 Ironman World Championship was very different. When Patrick Lange crossed the finish line on Saturday afternoon in Kona, he did something unbelievable. People had dreamed of breaking eight hours in the same way that mid-century runners dreamed of breaking four minutes, or maybe in the same way that people today think of breaking two hours for the marathon: It might happen someday, but only way out in the future.
As Lange ran down Ali’i Drive and through the finish gantry, the time read 7:52:39. He not only broke his course record (which was already a big improvement from the old record), but he broke eight hours by nearly eight minutes.
Daniela Ryf, on the other hand, destroyed the previous Hawaii Ironman record (her own) by over 20 minutes. Since 1988 the women’s record has moved no more than six minutes. This comes off one of her worst swims ever—courtesy of a nasty pre-race jellyfish sting to her underarms that nearly caused her to DNS.
This could just prove that we’re in the presence of two of the best athletes the sport has ever seen (and we may be), but there’s more to it than that: In the men’s race, Lange broke last year’s record, and so did second-place finisher Bart Aernouts, and so did David McNamee. If Lange had never raced last year and skewed the record, fourth-place finisher Tim O’Donnell would have *also* broken Crowie’s old course record. The top seven people in Saturday’s race belong in the top 11 fastest times ever.
For the women, it’s almost exactly the same thing. As fast as Ryf’s time is, the three women behind her—Lucy Charles, Anne Haug, and Sarah True—would have also broken Ryf’s previous ridiculous record of 8:46 (which was roughly 5:30 faster than the one before). In a moment of perfect symmetry—which this year’s race uniquely provides—the top 11 women’s times ever recorded include the top seven finishers, just like the men.
The reasons for this year of speedy anomalies are mostly simple: near-universal agreement that the bike had zero wind, cloud cover, even a light sprinkle out near Hawi. (The recently lowered men’s bike course record? Smashed by five people.) The swim had record-setting times across the board (Lucy Charles broke the 19-year old women’s swim record; the 20-year-old men’s swim was broken by an age-group athlete); and the run—despite the claims by a few pro men—was cooler than ever. Combine those incredibly non-Kona conditions with a stellar, well-matched pro field, and you get what we got. Without getting into the absolute minutiae, this year set a lot of records and filled a lot of top 20 lists with times and names that will probably remain there for years to come.