Will Charles-Barclay & Brownlee’s record-breaking sub-8hr and sub-7hr Iron attempts be good for tri?

A triathlon experiment starring Ali Brownlee and Lucy Charles-Barclay promises some mind-boggling times, so hop on board for the ride, says Tim Heming

Will Charles-Barclay & Brownlee's record breaking sub-8hr and sub-7hr Iron attempts be good for tri?

When an electric bike first cruised past my weaving frame and heaving lungs on a slight incline, I still summoned the energy to call foul. When Zwift recruited an avatar army via computer simulation, I swore ‘not while there’s fresh air and sun on my back.’ And now? Well, e-bikes are a triumph of mobile inclusivity, and e-gaming on the indoor trainer is an escape hatch to a pandemic-free world. Perhaps change doesn’t suck so much after all.


Hearing of the Sub-7/Sub-8 iron-distance project, the latest tri concoction from two-time Ironman world champion and Super League Triathlon co-founder, Chris McCormack, and funded by billionaire Polish Sebastian Kulczyk through his Pho3nix Foundation, my gut reaction was to wince at another subversion of our sport.

German Lothar Leder was the first to go under 8hrs in 1996. A quarter-of-a-century on, how can they slash 19mins off the existing women’s record and an even more unconscionable 36mins off the men’s? What triathlon witchcraft is this?

But come next spring (a sizable momentum-builder), I, like all current naysayers, will doubtless be transfixed on whether Alistair Brownlee or Kristian Blummenfelt, Lucy Charles-Barclay or Nicola Spirig, can achieve the seemingly impossible. Rules are not yet decreed, the venue not yet determined, but it’s a welcome initiative to stir the tri pot during a pandemic where racing is rare.

This is triathlon’s gender-equal answer to the Breaking2-turned-INEOS 1:59 projects that eventually saw Eliud Kipchoge and his prototype footwear following a laser beam into sporting immortality, if not the official record books.

There were detractors to the Kenyan’s mark. With elite marathoners edging ever-closer to the magical 2hr mark anyway, the boffins got together and hacked it instead, ruining it for running puritans who believe fast times shouldn’t come with a carbon-plated price-tag. 

But in many ways, this contrived format is far better suited to multisport than marathon running. Technology has always played a leading role in tri. Wetsuits help almost every swimmer. Bikes and clothing are ever-more aero. Elastic laces expedite T2. Courses differ. Swims can be aided by tide or current. The proposed draft-legal bike pack for this experiment just moves it on again.

None of this makes the liberal comparisons to Chrissie Wellington’s 8:18:13 and Jan Frodeno’s 7:35:39 fair, but it’s also too good a marketing angle to miss. And it also creates an environment to bring the world’s best swimmers, cyclists and runners in support, a who’s who of endurance sport and wider appeal still.

Whether one of the four can get close to the marks can be discussed closer to the time. What is certain is that it’s a smart stunt to bring more eyeballs to the sport, so, as its peloton gathers pace, jump on board for an entertaining ride.


Top image by Getty Images