When one of the greatest athletes the sport of triathlon has ever seen says not only is breaking the 7-hour mark over the full distance possible but that the time will be “blown away” by the athletes attempting it, you pay attention and listen.
Six-time Ironman world champion and ITU world champion Mark Allen spoke about the Pho3nix Sub7 Project Powered by Zwift on his “Mondays with Mark Allen” Youtube series. In this week’s episode, he laid out how he believes Bahrain Endurance 13 teammates Alistair Brownlee and Kristian Blummenfelt can not only achieve a sub-seven hour time, but end up smashing it. His estimate? 6:33.
“Every sport has its Holy Grail – those barriers people think: ‘Is it possible? Is it even humanly in our capabilities genetically to do it?’” said Allen. “We have seen a lot of those barriers fall. [Eliud] Kipchoge’s sub-two hour marathon… of course there was a little bit of assistance in the sense that he had runners in front of him blocking the wind, but his time of just under two hours was only two minutes slower than his world record of 2:01:39. Triathlon has the same thing coming up this summer in the Sub7 and Sub8 Project.”
Allen has thought about how he would go about trying to break the 7-hour mark, concluding that he would try to swim 3.8 kilometers in 45 minutes, followed by riding 180 kilometers in 3:45. The elapsed time would then be 4:30, leaving two and a half hours to run a marathon.
Considering how Jan Frodeno achieved a time of 7:27 in the Tri Battle Royale event without pacers, Allen said the Sub7 Project’s use of 10 pacers per athlete would help bring times down even further. “I would have three people helping me on the swim, making a little triangle I could slide in right in there. I would have four others helping me on the bike and I’d probably have three more on the marathon.”
Allen broke this strategy down even further over each leg.
“If you just give a two- or three-second advantage [per 100m] to actually being able to draft looking at [Frodeno’s] swim time alone in Tri Battle Royale, that puts you at about 44 minutes in the swim.” Allen referred to Brownlee swimming at 1:08/100m pace in his 2012 Olympic win and extrapolated from it. “If you add, let’s say, three seconds per hundred onto that time and expand it out to an iron distance swim, that’s going to be about 45 minutes.”
On the bike leg, Allen said drafting would allow you to go a minimum of two miles an hour faster than Frodeno’s pace of 28.7 Mph. Riding just a bit harder than that, a bike split of 3:24 would provide a 20- to 21-minute buffer. Running a 2:49 marathon would still see you break seven hours.
MANA CEO and Pho3nix Foundation board member Chris McCormack has the inside track on how Allen can be so confident in his assertion. One of the driving forces behind the Pho3nix Sub7 Project, McCormack has seen what the athletes are doing in training as well as the science, technology, and strategies their teams are deploying to go faster than we once thought possible.
McCormack said in an interview with Tri247, “We are talking about a 30-minute improvement almost [from the current world record], and you don’t find that on the bike ride alone. Every single discipline needs to be maximised and the run speed needs to drop to sub-2:25 marathon pace. Their science and coaching teams will be with them literally all day monitoring their output to make the time.
“It is a huge record, but to be honest I think both Alistair and Kristian will get very close and their competitive nature will push them to one of the biggest spectacles in our sport’s history. It will be tight but I think they will scrape under it by a couple of minutes. This will hurt like hell.”
But Allen believes there’s potential to go even faster. “If you can actually hold let’s say a 5:30/mile pace the entire way through that marathon, which I think is possible, you’re going to run a 2:24.
“If you add it all up, that somebody could go 6:33 for an ironman distance race.
You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t. I think Alistair Brownlee, Kristian Blummenfelt – one of those guys has a chance of going that fast and blowing everybody away on what human beings can do for an ironman distance race.”