Having spent 429 days travelling across 18 countries by land and sea, covering a distance equivalent to 120 individual Ironman races – each consisting of a solid 3.9km swim, 180km of cycling, with a marathon (42.2km) tagged on – globe-trotting athlete Jonas Deichmann crossed the finish line in his native Munich, becoming the first person to circumnavigate the world in a triathlon.
Deichmann began his world-first feat of endurance by cycling through Slovenia and swimming the length of the Croatian coastline. Back on the bike, he lapped Turkey, before heading northwards through Romania, the Ukraine, Russia and China. Crossing to Japan, Deichmann travelled over the North Pacific Ocean to Tijuana in the north of Mexico. From there, he ran south to the Yucatán state, before flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Lisbon, where he cycled the home stretch northwards.
"I wanted to do exactly the equivalent of 120 times the Ironman distance and split the segments accordingly," says Deichmann. "The most challenging part was finding a swimming route, as it is impossible to swim against strong currents and quite dangerous in a lot of places. In the end I found a route where I swam the entire 460 km in one go along the Croatian coast, and ran the 120 marathons across Mexico. The cycling leg was split into three parts but also sums up to over 21,600 km."
Already a multiple world record holder, having set blisteringly-quick cycling records on three key continental crossings – Eurasia from Portugal to Vladivostok in 64 days; Pan America from Alaska to Patagonia in 97 days; and Cape North in Norway to Cape Town in South Africa in 72 days – Deichmann was "ready for a new discipline that would push my boundaries further".
"As an adventurer, I always had the dream of going around the world," he explains, "so the first triathlon around the world seemed like the perfect challenge. However, the record is always a bonus for me – what really matters are the experiences and encounters along the journey. And in a challenging journey, they are more intense."
Like his previous expeditions, Deichmann chose to tackle the entire route without any assistance from a support vehicle. During the swimming leg, he attached a specifically-made raft and headed to the shoreline at night to camp. On both the biking and running segments, he pulled his equipment along in a trailer and camped along the route.
Typically, he'd swim "between 9 and 18 km per day, depending on weather and currents," says Deichmann. "But there were also a few days I could not swim at all due to weather. While cycling, I usually covered between 160 to 220 km per day. However, in Siberian winter I often struggled to keep to that daily mileage. The running leg was more predictable and I finished 120 marathons in 117 days, running up to 65 km per day."
Originally, Deichmann planned to cycle across Iran, Pakistan and India to South East Asia, and run across the US. "But borders were closed due to the pandemic, and I ended up cycling in winter through Russia and running in summer through Mexico," he says. "Perfect timing. In Siberia I had also massive mechanical problems on the bike due to the extreme cold, and more than once got a bit nervous about potential frostbite on my feet."
While running through Mexico, Deichmann made headlines in the national news, earning the nickname 'The German Forrest Gump'. Thanks to the press coverage, he was "constantly accompanied by hundreds of runners and police escorts," Deichmann continues. "While the excitement of Mexicans was, of course, an amazing experience, it was also very tough to deal with and continue to run my rhythm."
Of the 14 months Deichmann spent on the road less travelled, his aquatic stint was the toughest. "I constantly struggled with currents, waves, wind, jellyfish, and the salt water destroyed my skin," he says. "In the end I couldn't drink anything apart from water since my mouth was completely inflamed. But the mental challenge was even harder than the physical pain. On the bike or running there is always something to see. In the sea I just saw water most of the day and had to distract myself for hours."
While grappling with the unique demands of the challenge, the many meaningful moments Deichmann experienced along the route fuelled his resolve to push onwards towards the finish line. "When I reached Lake Baikal in Siberia, it was still winter," says Deichmann. "I made a hole in the ice and went swimming. Afterwards I camped on the ice in the middle of the lake. One of my most peaceful and incredible nights ever."
And in Mexico, specifically, "the excitement and kindness of locals surprised me every day. Even a street dog joined for 130 km and followed me everywhere," he adds. "Of course I couldn't keep her, and looked in a TV interview for someone to adopt her. Now she has a nice home, food and is still running regularly with the local runners in El Salto."
In battling the Adriatic's treacherous currents, cycling 20,000 kilometres from Dubrovnik to Vladivostok in sub-zero temperatures, and running 120 marathons near-enough back-to-back beneath the piercing rays of the Mexican sun, Deichmann tested the limits of human endurance. In doing so he made the seemingly impossible, possible.
You can read more about his adventure at JonasDeichmann.com.
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