The IRONMAN World Championship is impartial. It’s a blank canvas placed in your hands on race day. You get to paint your personal athletic landscape, one step at a time.
IRONMAN doesn’t care about the content in your end picture. It’s going to judge your day’s value differently that you might think. The race, the Island will look deeply at it to see if you painted it with care, with heart and didn’t call it done until every single stroke needed to tell your story was laid on.
Most times it’s a scene where a great height was achieved. But as we’ve all witnessed, sometimes that equally impactful picture is going to show supreme struggle just to cross the finish line. Someone who’s experienced both extremes of this journey through the lava is Jan Frodeno.
There’s no better racer on the planet that this man.
In 2015 Jan Frodeno did what no one else has. He became the first person to with both a Gold Medal in the Olympics (Beijing 2008) and the IRONMAN World Championship. If he’s on the start line at a big race you know he’s going to be ready. He put it very simply in just a few words that need nothing else added:
“I know how to get ready for a big race.”
Yes, when he’s at the start in his skinsuit ready to take that first stroke, you know he’ll be a factor. IRONMAN 2017 looked to be no different. He was coming in as the two time defending champion. 2015 and 2016 saw Frodo at the top of the podium. And he seemed to be on an unstoppable trajectory. In 2015 his winning time was 8:14:40. The next year he crossed the line in 8:06:30. Both victories were clocked with about a 3-minute buffer between him and the next guy who came in second.
IRONMAN is impartial. It doesn’t care about a time or a place. It just serves up the ingredients needed to bring the most out of you possible.
Sometimes that comes with a bit of grace and you have your ultimate day. Other years it happens by taking you to places that require going to the deepest corners within yourself to find strength you never knew you had.
Frodo looked like he was ready to crunch another victory into his pocket at the end of the swim. He lead the main group with a scorching 48:02. He seemed to be coasting on the bike. Jan appeared content to be in the mix with most of the main rivals and wait for the marathon to put his stamp on the race. The run is where he won his two titles, so why mess with that strategy!
Jan Frodeno charged out of transition in his signature loping, long levered running style.
But before the first turn around at the south end of Ali’i Drive, things began to melt. Frodo was struggled, then stopped. He was clearly in pain. He tried to stretch his back that had seized up.
Jan’s forward progress had stopped. Following things on the IRONMAN athlete tracker told us nothing. All most of us knew was that suddenly he was off the radar tracking progress. Had he dropped out? What was going on?
Yes, IRONMAN is impartial. It doesn’t care what picture you paint. It just asks that you paint it with all you have.
And that is what got Jan Frodeno going after what seemed like an eternity stopped and sitting on an ice cooler at an aid station. He slowly pulled himself up to standing, then turned to his right and started to go forward once again.
“I was in incredible pain. But it’s IRONMAN and you can’t just quit. You have to keep going. Eventually I think I just got used to the pain like you always do.”
It would have been so easy for Jan to pull the plug and quit. He came to win. But he also came to finish. And that is the heart IRONMAN wants to be revealed and used to complete the picture. That can have even more value than a time or a place that met expectations. And this is what made Frodo’s race in 2017 a Top-40 Greatest Moment At IRONMAN.
“2017 was a tough year for me from the get go. My first real illness for years was followed by more little setbacks and a consequent struggle for motivation. My back finally seizing up in the race I believe was only a reflection of this.”
“Either way, at first I wasn’t sure what was wrong or rather how bad it was, but as we all know, it’s never certain that you get another chance at a title. So I figured if this is my last race, I want to finish with my head held high.
“In the end I think the harder you work for something, the harder it becomes to let go. Hawaii has taught a lesson in humility to many pros and age groupers and being a world champion is no reason to remove yourself from this lesson.”
A supreme effort has many faces. Jan Frodeno saw a new one in 2017. Some might have called it ugly. But Frodo wore this new face with beauty, with pride. No one but him will really know how difficult it was to continue, but he did.
He crossed the finish line in 9:15:44. His marathon took him 4:01:57. It was a supremely difficult effort, but it completely honored the race and the Island of Hawaii.
We haven’t seen the last of Jan Frodeno at IRONMAN. He will be back:
“This race just gave me more fuel to go back home and train even harder for the next one!”
To see what Jan is up to these days click HERE.
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I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.