KAILUA-KONA, HAWAII – The Ironman World Championship is magical. This year, in both the men's and women's races, it was also record-setting.
Germany’s Patrick Lange finished the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon in eight hours, one minute, 40 seconds on Saturday. Not only did Lange become world champion, he now holds the reigns to the overall course record, previously set by Australia’s Craig Alexander (8:03:56) in 2011. Consider this victory an encore for Lange, who only last year finished third in his Ironman World Championship pro debut, beating the 27-year old marathon course record set by the U.S.’s Mark Allen in 1989 with his 2:39:45 run.
“I’m overwhelmed and this is my life dream coming true,” said Lange, 31. “[During] the swim there was a lot of fighting, but I executed the swim like I wanted to.”
At the 21.6-mile mark of the marathon, the Frankfurt native closed the gap on Canada’s Lionel Sanders to one minute and 37 seconds and continued to chug, whizzing past Sanders at 23.4 miles. Lange never looked back and absorbed the energy that surrounds the notorious Kailua-Kona community at the famous Ali’i Drive finish.
“The bike was an interesting race dynamic with a lot of on and off,” Lange said. “It was really hard to stay on the bike [because of] conditions with the crosswinds. Then, I started the run feeling a little bit weak—I felt like it was a really hot day. At the aid station my body was a little overheating. But I found a good rhythm.”
Sanders, who finished second in 8:04:07, began the marathon crushing sub-six-minute miles during the initial trio and held the lead for a majority of race. Well, that’s until the Lange hammer struck in a painful way.
“This guy’s a freaking animal,” Sanders said jokingly of Lange. “It was a very humbling experience when I tried to go with him for a second … and it lasted about a second. This was the best fight I’ve ever been involved in.”
Climbing to the podium alongside Lange and Sanders was Great Britain’s David McNamee, who finished in 8:07:11.
“I remember looking at Patrick [at the finish] and he had that sheer look of ‘what just happened,’” McNamee said. “Give me five or six weeks and I’ll wake up and scream something when it really sinks in. I still can’t believe it.”
Two-time defending champion Jan Frodeno was plagued with injury in mile three of the run, but fought through the ailment and finished in 9:15:44.
Also finishing in the top five were German and 2014 world champion Sebastian Kienle (8:09:59) and South Africa’s James Cunnama (8:11:24).
“It really hurts to talk about a fourth place finish,” Kienle said after the race. “But I gave myself the chance. Before the race, my goal was to empty the tank and I did. I finished with nothing left.”
In the women’s race, Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf completed the hat trick of world champions. The Swiss sensation captured her third connective victory on the Big Island with a stellar finish of 8:50:47. This victory comes just a year after she set a new women’s course record, crossing the finish in 8:46:46—a stat set in 2013 by three-time world champion, Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae.
“[Today] was the hottest I’ve ever felt,” said Ryf. “I got off on the run in a position I was totally surprised at. It was the most I had to fight with the wind. There were certainly times today I didn’t think it was possible.”
Interestingly, Ryf, who also is the gatekeeper of three Ironman 70.3 titles, was in third—behind Great Britain’s Lucy Charles and the U.S.’s Lauren Brandon—at the 100-mile mark of the bike, but zoomed to a first place 4:53:10 split.
“The whole bike was a rollercoaster of emotions,” said Ryf, who’s dubbed the Angry Bird. “I was struggling and trying to catch up but certainly didn’t think it would take me that long. Either I was going to lose this race or put the hammer down. I just went all in.”
Ryf, 30, became the first woman to three-peat since four-time world champion, Great Britain’s Chrissie Wellington, who did so in 2007-09. Following Ryf to the podium were Charles (8:59:38) and Australia’s Sarah Crowley (9:01:38).
“If anyone was going to tell me you’d finish second, I’d say, ‘I don’t think that’s possible,’” Charles said. “But everything all came together.”
The trio was followed at the finish by the U.S.’s Heather Jackson (9:02:29) and Finland’s Kaisa Sali (9:04:40). In 2015, the jackrabbit Jackson finished fifth, made her world championship pro debut and was the first U.S. woman to cross the finish. Last year, she encored in the spotlight by becoming the first stateswoman to podium at the world championship in 10 years—Desiree Ficker received the honor in 2006.
"Today, I improved my times in all three [areas], so I’m totally happy with that,” Jackson said with a confident smile. “It was a battle all day out there. That’s racing. It’s exciting.”
This year, more than 260,000 professional and age group athletes attempted to qualify for the Ironman World Championship either through worldwide Ironman (full-distance) or Ironman 70.3 (half-distance) races, or by legacy or lottery. There were more than 2,400 athletes, representing 66 countries, regions and territories, on six continents.
“It was a tough day,” Ryf said. “It was painful. There are days it’s not always coming for free—you have to fight through it.”
Dreams come true for 12-year-old aspiring Ironman
Earlier this September, 12-year-old Nicholas Purschke completed his first triathlon—a great accomplishment for any young athlete, but a particularly remarkable one for the St. Louis native.
Nicholas was diagnosed at birth with Cerebral Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) and completed a successful bone marrow transplant in August 2016. In less than a year from his transplant, Nicholas crushed the odds and returned to athletics, thanks to some inspiration from the world’s most elite triathletes.
“When I was in the hospital trying to keep my strength, working every day with PT, and not giving up—it’s kind of like what these athletes go through on their journey,” Nicholas says. “They inspired me to keep working, to not give up, to exercise every day … even if I wasn’t feeling well or in pain. Just like me, they keep going despite challenges.”
The Ironman Foundation teamed up with Make-A-Wish for the first time—not just at the world championship but at any of more than 200 Ironman events spread across 50 countries—to fulfill the dream of a Wish Kid. At this year’s race in Kona, Nicholas was able to see his heroes.
ALD, a deadly genetic disease that affects 1 in 18,000 people, triggers mostly preadolescent boys between the ages of four and 10, and isn’t specific to race, ethnicity or geographical location. The ailment destroys the protective sheath surrounding the brain’s neurons—known as myelin—and if left untreated can lead to blindness, seizures, loss of muscle control and dementia. Furthermore, generally within two to five years after its diagnosis, death or permanent disability will occur.
“Bone marrow transplant is the only treatment currently that stops the progression,” says Julie, Nicholas’ mom, who is a carrier of ALD. “At age 10, ALD had begun to creep into Nicholas’ ventricles in his brain, so he was recommended for transplant and typed for a match—a perfect match was found from an umbilical cord donor. Within one month of transplant, his disease was halted miraculously.”
The strong-willed Nicholas interacted with some of his favorite triathletes during race week, including Americans Ben Hoffman and Tim O’Donnell, and Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae. All four share a very familiar bond.
“I’m a big runner and really enjoy running—I’m trying to get up most mornings before school to run a couple of miles each day,” Nicholas says. “I just did my first triathlon and hope to do more—eventually do an Ironman, myself, and get to the championship someday.”
Only 12-years-old, Nicholas has proven that age holds no barrier on the strength of mental integrity and willingness to fight such a difficult battle. It takes a certain maturity to understand, accept and face the challenge with passion.
“He did not ask for this disease or this journey, but has tackled it with such determination, courage, strong and admirable faith, grace and positive attitude,” Julie says. “Nicholas was—and is—always looking for ways to improve himself, and become better and stronger at anything he does. That’s how he has faced this disease.”
To learn more and find out how you can get involved with Make-A-Wish in your local community, visit wish.org.