Cana­di­ans McMa­hon, San­ders fly Maple Leaf at Iron­man cham­pi­onship


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 180-km bike ride and a 42-km 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 2014 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 3-km swim, 120-km bike and 30-km run.

The world cham­pi­onship prize purse is US$650,000 split between the top 10 fin­ish­ers in the men’s and women’s races. No Cana­dian women are en­tered in the pro field Satur­day.

The last Cana­dian man and wo­man to world Iron­man cham­pi­onships were Peter Reid and Lori Bow­den in 2003.

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.

“Things turned pear-shaped real quick there,” the 37-yearold re­called. “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 and McMa­hon met up on the marathon run and com­mis­er­ated with each other en route to fin­ish­ing 29th and 30th re­spec­tively in 2016.

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, the world cham­pi­onship 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.”

San­ders says he dou­bled his kilo­me­tres in the pool in the five weeks lead­ing up to Kona this year.

“For me to con­tend for the over­all ti­tle, it’s re­ally go­ing to boil down to me keep­ing my elec­trolytes and my hy­dra­tion sta­tus in check,” he said. “If I can do that, I can com­pete for the over­all ti­tle.”

Nail­ing the nu­tri­tional de­mands of the world cham­pi­onship is the key McMa­hon says he’s been miss­ing in Hawaii.

The race re­quires dif­fer­ent food and drink at dif­fer­ent times and the abil­ity to rec­og­nize when.

“It’s hot, but it changes at times to hot and hu­mid to dry and windy,” McMa­hon ex­plained. “The last two years we’ve def­i­nitely fig­ured out the nu­tri­tion I need for Kona. “It’s not about how fit I’ve been go­ing in. It’s about how I get my fit­ness out onto the course.”


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

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