The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DONNA SPENCER

Two Cana­di­ans re­turn to the world Iron­man cham­pi­onship seek­ing to crack Kona’s code.

The Hawai­ian birth­place of Iron­man rac­ing — a 3.86-kilo­me­tre ocean swim fol­lowed by an 180K bike ride and a 42K marathon — con­tin­ues to be the Su­per Bowl of the sport al­most 40 years af­ter the first race in 1978.

Vic­to­ria’s Brent McMa­hon and Lionel San­ders of Har­row, Ont., will com­pete in the world cham­pi­onship a third straight year Satur­day.

The Cana­di­ans own half a dozen Iron­man vic­to­ries between them. They’ve also raced un­der the ex­alted eight-hour bar­rier dur­ing their ca­reers.

Each man hopes his race plan is the right one to fi­nally con­quer the vari­able heat and fickle cross­winds of Kona.

“You have to fig­ure out how you work in that race,” McMa­hon said. “Once you do, it’s much eas­ier to re­peat.”

He points to defending cham­pion Jan Fro­deno of Ger­many, who fin­ished third in 2015 and won the next two world ti­tles, as an ex­am­ple of a triath­lete who solved the phys­i­cal and men­tal puz­zle that is Kona.

McMa­hon won Iron­man Lake Placid in July and set a new course record of eight hours 14 min­utes four sec­onds.

San­ders claimed the ITU world long-dis­tance ti­tle in Au­gust in a race shorter than an Iron­man — a 3k swim, 120k bike and 30k run.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing ninth in 2015, McMa­hon ranked third in the world head­ing to Kona in 2016.

He took a five-minute penalty for draft­ing on the bike and, while at­tempt­ing to run his way back into the lead group, his stom­ach re­belled and he lost min­utes and en­ergy vom­it­ing at the side of the road.

“The last two years I’ve had what it takes to be on the podium and I just haven’t been able to ex­press my run on that course. I’ve just got to get this marathon out of my legs.”

San­ders fin­ished a re­spectable 14th in his Kona de­but in 2015, but he was ham­pered by a weak swim a year later.

San­ders wasn’t go­ing to race Kona this year un­less he made sig­nif­i­cant gains in his swim­ming.

When he came out of the water with 2016 world sil­ver medal­list Se­bas­tian Kienle of Ger­many at a half Iron­man race in June, Kona was back on San­der’s radar.

“This is the first year where I’ve even re­motely got a sense of how to work in good qual­ity swims into the mas­sive amount of fa­tigue you will amass from all the bike and the run train­ing,” the 29-year-old said.

“Some peo­ple never fig­ure it out and th­ese guys ob­vi­ously have fig­ured it out and that’s why they’ve done well in Kona.”


Canada’s Brent McMa­hon runs from the tran­si­tion zone as he races in the men’s triathlon at Hyde Park in Lon­don dur­ing the Sum­mer Olympics in 2012.

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