Four athletes defy the impossible to break Sub7 & Sub8

Kat Matthews and Kristian Blummenfelt crowned Pho3nix Sub7 and Sub8 Champions. The first male and female to break the mythical 7 and 8 hour mark

Kat Matthews creates history as the first woman to break Sub8

Vice world champion Kat Matthews today became the first woman to finish a full distance triathlon in under eight hours, making history at the Pho3nix Sub8 Project, Powered by Zwift at the Dekra Lausitzring in Senftenberg, Germany.

Matthews stopped the clock in 7:31:54, racing the 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike, and 42-kilometre run at full tilt with a team of 10 pacemakers, top-of-the-line equipment, and plenty of heart.

Her head-to-head competition came in the form of Olympic gold and silver medalist Nicola Spirig, who herself made a valiant effort to finish also under eight hours in 7:34:19.

While not valid world records due to the event format, these times hew quite close to the men’s current world record. Only Kristian Blummenfelt and Jan Frodeno have gone faster.

Their Sub8 success shows that limits exist only in our minds, and the boundary of what is humanly possible continues to push outwards.

Swim

Spirig and Matthews set off at 7am from a deep water start. Immediately the difference in tactical choices were apparent. Team Nicola opted for a triangle formation with Angela Maurer on the front, Lucy Buckingham to one side, and Spirig bringing up the rear on Maurer’s feet. Team Kat opted for a simpler straight paceline with Sarah-Jane Walker up front and India Lee in second spot keeping Matthews in touch.

While Team Kat started off hot, Team Nicola took on the lead position midway through the 3.8-kilometre swim. However, their triangle formation soon began breaking up, with Maurer pulling ahead stretching Buckingham and Spirig out single file. Team Kat was metronomic and methodical with a steady pace, exiting the swim seven seconds ahead. However, average paces were slow due to a prevailing current against the swim direction; both swims were just under 55 minutes, five minutes behind target.

Bike

Matthews sped off with her bike pacemakers down the link road heading to the Dekra Lausitzring, but Spirig’s team seemed the more organised with smoother lines through turns. Once onto the race track, Team Kat maintained a high pace, with three riders up front maintaining pace and Matthews stuck in on the back behind one or two more riders tasked with keeping her in touch with the leaders. After a few laps, the lead riders peeled off into the pits and Matthews’ domestiques pulled her forward onto another group of three riders up the road.

Conversely, Spirig chose to keep all her riders with her throughout the 180-kilometre bike ride. With the rotation up front happening among her pacemakers, Spirig rode on second or third wheel from the rear of the train.

Matthews concluded the bike leg with an average speed of 46.9 kph in a time of 3:50:06. Spirig came in three minutes later having averaged 46.3 kph.

Run

Matthews set off with ultrarunner Nerys Jones on the first few laps of the marathon on the inner loop road of the Lausitzring. With temperatures rising on the unshaded oval, she set off with an initial 3:57 min/km pace.

Spirig followed soon after paced first by Maja Neuschwander, but going at a much faster clip. It still took a few laps to reel Matthews in. The pass came at the 18th kilometre – but not for long.

Three kilometres later, Matthews passed Spirig. Later timing analysis indicated it had been Matthews’ fastest lap, while Spirig was deep in the hurt locker logging her slowest at that point.

Matthews ended up running an evenly-paced marathon at 2:46:09 ranging between 3:55 to 4:03 minutes per kilometre.

Incredibly, this was not the day’s fastest; Spirig had actually run over a minute faster at 2:45:07. It was the three minutes lost on the bike that cost her the honor of crossing the finish first.

Matthews said post-race about the pass by Spirig and her counter-pass, “I definitely thought it was a pass for good. She’d been taking that gap up over every kilometer we’d done. As soon as she’d gone past, my husband said, ‘You can.’ And I was like ‘I can.’ So I just had that moment of realization that actually, I shouldn’t just give up and let her go.”

The vice world champion has definitely got momentum building after her second place finish at the Ironman World Championship last month. She added, “I feel like I’m not ready for a break. I’ll probably regret that in two weeks’ time, but I came off a bit of a low period before St. George. Now with this, I want a consistent training block and then obviously Collins Cup, and Kona.”

Spirig is set to retire from triathlon at the end of the year, and what a sendoff this has been! She said, “ I will finish this year. I will do some more racing; I haven’t planned yet what races, which will be just for fun. And then  I am looking forward to putting more time and more effort into my foundation work… And I’m talking to some sponsors to work with them afterwards. So a lot of exciting things, but most of all, I’m looking forward to time with my kids, doing sports with my own kids.”

In the years since the Pho3nix Sub7 and Sub8 Project, Powered by Zwift was initially announced, the men’s full distance world record fell twice and the long-untouchable women’s record was nearly broken with seconds to spare. The mere idea of Defying The Impossible birthed achievements once thought unimaginable, and now Impossible has been Defied.

These two amazing athletes achieving Sub8 is the dropped pebble setting off ripples, the effects of which will be felt inspiring new generations to go for their dreams.

Kristian Blummenfelt defies the impossible to break Sub7

Two-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Kristian Blummenfelt made history today, becoming the first man to complete a full distance triathlon under seven hours at the Pho3nix Sub7 Project, Powered by Zwift at the Dekra Lausitzring in Senftenberg, Germany.

Blummenfelt finished the 3.8-kilometre swim, 180-kilometre bike, and 42-kilometre run in an astounding 6:44:25 using cutting-edge applied science and technology and backed by a team of 10 pacemakers across the three disciplines.

His head-to-head competitor Joe Skipper also finished under seven hours, in 6:47:36. After taking on the challenge with only a weeks’ notice, it is an incredible achievement.

It was once accepted that running a four-minute mile was impossible, that climbing Everest was a dream, that no man would ever walk on the moon, and that a sub-two hour marathon was beyond the threshold of human performance. Then those who dared proved the doubters wrong.

Swim

Blummenfelt had opted to use only one swim pacemaker, but that was World Championship qualifier Lars Bottelier. Alistair Brownlee picked up swim pacemaker duties for Skipper, with FORM Goggles sending out Max Stapley to tail Skipper to track his swim pace live through their proprietary goggles.

The race kicked off from a deep water start, and almost from the gun Team Kristian gapped Team Joe with a much faster pace. Bottelier’s powerful strokes cleaved through clear water, with Blummenfelt sitting right on his feet. A few meters back and wide, Skipper sat on Brownlee’s hip, then slid back content to tap his feet as Brownlee sighted for shore.

Despite the high pace, Blummenfelt exited the 3.8-kilometre swim a little more than three minutes adrift of his target 45-minute swim time. Skipper, who had targeted a more modest 49 minutes, finished in 53:24.

It was a tougher swim than expected, with Bottelier later reporting a current had been running against them.

Bike

After Brownlee helped undo his wetsuit, Skipper ran into bike transition with Blummenfelt nearly five minutes up the road, but the Brit still took time to put bike aero shoes on, as opposed to triathlon shoes already clipped onto the bike. He then hopped onto the back of the Ribble Weldtite train to chase down Blummenfelt on their CADEX prototype bicycles.

Blummenfelt opted to use a smaller team of pacemakers on the open road linking the swim exit with the Lausitzring, merging with the rest of them once they entered the race track. Conversely, Skipper used his entire bike pacemaker team through the entire bike leg.

Skipper riding average paces above 55 kph began taking 20 seconds every lap out of Blummenfelt’s lead, with the pass finally being made at kilometre 153. Skipper let out his signature “Junkyard Dog” bark as he steamed through.

Blummenfelt also seemed to be having some issues with his bike pacemakers, narrowly missing a crash when his front wheel clipped the rear of Matt Bottrill as a rider up front nearly crashed. He was also seen falling off the paceline a few times while taking on nutrition.

Skipper concluded the bike leg in 03:16:42 with an average pace of 54.9 kph. Blummenfelt kept an average of 52.8 kph, coming into T2 in 03:24:22.

Run

Skipper pulled on his shoes, opting to go without socks on the marathon. Frank Schauer would pace him throughout and hand him his nutrition and hydration from the aid stations. Support crew on a bicycle followed close by, spraying Skipper with water every so often to keep temperatures down as the unshaded track reflected the midday heat up onto the athletes.

Blummenfelt seemed unruffled by being the last athlete out onto the run; though he was eight minutes adrift, he even took the time to put socks on before heading out with Barnaba Kipkoech. Bike support driven by his run reserve Lani Rutto served his nutrition needs, but Blummenfelt once again narrowly escaped disaster when Rutto crashed after Blummenfelt handed back a bottle.

With the Norwegian running around 3:33 min/km to the Brit’s 3:41 pace, he began chipping away at Skipper’s lead with every lap until finally the pass was made at the 18th kilometre. Blummenfelt barked out a soft “woof, woof” as he went by, which his competitor acknowledged.

By this point the two athletes were so well ahead of their targets that it became a question not of whether they would go Sub7, but of by how much. Blummenfelt was first across the line with a metronomic 2:30:50 marathon. Skipper brought the day’s racing to an end with his 2:36:43 marathon. 

Blummenfelt had given a conservative target of 7 hours and blew it out of the water by nearly 15 minutes. He said, “It was full gas from the gun and I almost went down there early on the bike. That got my heart rate up. And it was a tough day… It was brutal just to stay on the wheel to these guys. And also a massive thanks to Joe and his team for the tough battle. Luckily we managed to sneak just in front. Thank you all. Another thanks for the Pho3nix [Foundation] for organizing this. It’s been an amazing two years of building the team together and preparing for this event. It’s been an epic challenge.”

Incredibly, Skipper was just 36 seconds slower than his stated target time, which before the gun went off had seemed overly ambitious. “All week we were practicing race pace efforts, getting a feel for it,” he stated. “They couldn’t have done anymore; we did the best we could. And then in the race on the bike we took it to Christian as best we could. Iit was a shame I lost a bit more time in the swim than what I’d hope. But we did a really good bike, quicker than what we were hoping for. And then on the run, I was just hoping he was going to blow [up] to be honest, like after he caught me, but he didn’t.”

With the unprecedented times produced on what has been a historic day, Blummenfelt and Skipper have done what they set out to do: Defy The Impossible.

Photo Credits: sub7sub8.com

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend