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5 Takeaways from Ironman Florida

Gustav Iden sets new record for fastest full-distance debut

Photo by: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images for Ironman

It was a day full of surprises and one that totally lived up to expectations all at once. While Ironman Florida was missing one of the key players from the much-anticipated Ironman California race (Jan Frodeno didn’t make the trip to Panama City Beach after the race in Sacramento was cancelled), it more than lived up to fan’s expectations with exciting racing in both the men’s and women’s races. Here are a few takeaways:

So how tough was that swim?

When was the last time you saw the men’s swim leader come out of the water at an Ironman in just under 58 minutes? (Robert Kallin was first onto the beach in 57:58 – he would eventually finish third.) The women’s swim leader, Rachel Zilinskas, is a former collegiate swimmer, and it took her 59:37!

“I have NEVER wanted a race swim to be over so much in my life!” Canadian Jen Annett wrote on Instagram after the race (see below). “I honestly didn’t know whether to cry or laugh halfway through…. All was ok until the first turn buoy…. Then the current and the waves from the wind made it almost impossible to see the next buoy and many started swimming towards Mexico before realizing they were way off course! Once reaching the second turn, the back current was so strong I swear I was not even moving! And we had to do this twice!!! I feel for all the age groupers who are not strong swimmers…. This was hands down the craziest toughest swim I have ever endured!”

Annett was right to worry about the age group athletes in the race – look at the results and you’ll see lots of swim times well over the 2:20 cut off, and a few folks were in the water for over three hours trying to get through the current and waves.

Gustav Iden runs his way to the Ironman Florida win over Lionel Sanders

Gustav Iden is the real deal

Just ask Lionel Sanders! “Today I raced with no fear & that was my only goal for the day,” he wrote on Instagram after the race. “Got into a great battle with @gustav_iden and he cracked me at around 17 miles. Dude is legit and I truly believe will be the one to beat for many years to come. Big congrats to @robertkallin on an amazing debut.”


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To put Iden’s performance in perspective, Sanders “cracked” and still ran a 2:40:42 marathon … and wasn’t even close to Iden by the finish. Iden’s 7:42:56 is the fastest ever debut full-distance race, beating Florian Angert’s 7:45:05 from Ironman Barcelona by over 2:30. And that’s with a swim that was at least nine minutes slower than it usually would have been thanks to the tough swim conditions. Iden broke Joe Skipper’s course record by over four minutes and was over a minute faster than Ben Hoffman’s run course record.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 06: The top three finishers pose on the podium after completing the 2021 Ironman Florida on November 06, 2021 in Panama City Beach, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images for Ironman)

Lionel Sanders is figuring out this Ironman thing

While he hasn’t come away with an Ironman win this year, after a tough day at Ironman Coeur d’Alene to start his 2021 full-distance campaign, Sanders has steadily dialled in a bunch of impressive performances. He set a new PB at the Tri-Battle Royale against Jan Frodeno, took second to Cam Wurf at Ironman Copenhagen, second again at Ironman Chattanooga (behind a speedy Joe Skipper) and then took second again in Florida. What’s even more impressive is Sanders was only 10 seconds behind Iden out of the water in Panama City Beach. Now that he doesn’t have to do any full-distance races before either world championship next year, one imagines Sanders will arrive in St. George and Kona very much ready to contend. The only problem is the two guys who will arrive at those races as the favourites – Frodeno and Iden – will no-doubt be ready for outstanding performances, too.

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 06: Heather Jackson celebrates after winning the women’s are at Ironman Florida on November 06, 2021 in Panama City Beach, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images for Ironman)

Heather Jackson is back!

It’s not that she ever really went anywhere, but even she admitted that it had been a tough year with a finish just off the podium at Ironman Tulsa and a runner-up finish at Ironman Lake Placid after she was felled by cramps. All that is forgotten now, though, thanks to an excellent performance that saw her overcome a big deficit after the tough swim to post impressive bike (4:37:48) and run (2:59:27) splits. Jackson still needs to be better in the water if she is going to contend for a world title, but Saturday’s race should serve as a welcome confidence boost.

Jackson takes impressive come-from-behind win at Ironman Florida


Jen Annett needs a break (or maybe solid rubber tires)

Penticton’s Jen Annett took fifth at Ironman Chattanooga despite a flat tire and was on her way to a solid ride in Florida after “the craziest toughest swim” she has “ever endured” and got another flat. She switched the tube herself (thank you Jen for packing a spare and knowing how to use it!) and was able to finish the bike in a bit under five hours. Here’s hoping she can get through the race in  Cozumel in a few weeks without … OK, we won’t write it.


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