Lionel Sanders Impresses at Ironman 70.3 Muskoka
Hamilton,Ont.’ s Lionel Sanders trailed by 3:14 after the swim, but managed the fastest 94 km ride (2: 20:54) and run (1:10:58) to win the 2013 edition of Ironman 70.3 Muskoka. The win was even more significant because the elite- duathlete-turned-triathlete beat Germany’s Andreas Raelert, who holds the fastest full- distance time in history ( 7: 41:33 set at Challenge Roth in 2011). Vancouver’s Rachel McBride had the top ride of 2:38:12 and left T2 with a 3:34 lead over Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae. However, the 2007 Ironman 70.3 world champion and 2010 Ironman world champion chased McBride down with the top women’s run of 1:18:09 to take the women’s title in 4: 29:34. McBride had to settle for second ( 4:31:30) and Lisa Mensink of Calgary finished third ( 4: 44: 16). We caught up with Lionel Sanders to get the scoop about his big win. Triathlon Magazine Canada: You targeted Ironman 70.3 Muskoka and came out on top in impressive fashion. First of all, how does it feel? Take us through the process on how you built up to that success on race day. Lionel Sanders: The whole experience was a bit surreal. I started dreaming of winning the race about four months ago and then, two weeks from the race I found out that Andreas Raelert would be in it. I started to question whether it was realistic to think that I could win. I figured I’d give it everything I had and, regardless of the outcome, I would come out more motivated either because I did poorly, or because I did well. Andreas is one of my triathlon heroes, so simply being in the same race as him was an honour. I biked at least 90 km four or five times per week. I also knew that if you are running 3: 20/ km off the bike, you’re one of the best in the world, so in run practice I was trying to get very comfortable at this pace for progressively longer and longer. My swim is still weak, so I was basically just putting in lots of time in the water.
TMC: Did you have to deviate from your race plan, or did everything go perfectly? LS: I stuck to my race plan 100 per cent. I knew if I could catch some feet and work really hard I could hold 1: 20s for the whole swim. Due to the wind, hills and the winding nature of the course, I was actually five watts shy of my intended bike wattage. But, I came off the bike feeling very fresh. My goal then was to hold 3: 20s on the run as long as I possibly could. I had done a brick workout in practice that included 2 x 10 km where I was coming in sub 33: 40, so I knew that this was realistic for at least 10 km. I made it through 12 km under 40 minutes, and fell off slightly from 3: 20 pace over the next 5 km. I stopped looking at the watch after 17 km. In a nutshell, everything went perfectly. TMC: You ran an incredible 1: 10 half marathon on a challenging course. Did having Andreas Raelert chasing from behind have anything to do with that? LS: I knew Andreas would be coming up from behind so I certainly didn’t want to give back any time. For the most part, I just wanted to execute what I had been doing in practice. I told myself I wouldn’t go through 10 km any faster than 33:00, and I think I was 33:10 or so. I saw Raelert a little while after, and so my motivation at that point became to have a faster run split than him. So Andreas was definitely pushing me during the late stages of the run. TMC: You are a full-time student at McMaster University. What are you studying and how do you balance your course workload and your training. LS: I am studying sociology. For the most part, all I do is train, race and study. I get my socialization in on rest periods in between intervals. I took summer school both this summer and last summer and it was a bit taxing. Next summer I am not going to school.
TMC. Why choose Ironman 70.3 Muskoka as your main race this year? LS: I chose Muskoka mostly because it was close. I was able to go up a month before and bike and run the course. I also stayed at a friend’s house for a week in the Bala area where I was able to train on very similar terrain. Once I saw how difficult the course was I knew the course suited me as I have always loved hills. TMC. Where does your triathlon career go from here? Will we see you in more higher profile events next year? LS: My swim is still very weak so I will go back to the grindstone hardcore for the next five to six months with that. If I can get my 1,500 m time under 20 minutes in the pool then I will likely make a go for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Ever since I started triathlon my passion has been long course racing, so everything I am doing now is in preparation to make a go for Kona in the coming years. School is definitely my priority, but I only have one year left, so I have decided to spread it over 1.5 years, that way I can focus a bit more on training. I’m not getting any younger.
TMC: You’ve clearly made some great strides in your swimming. What has brought about that improvement? LS: For the most part I am just getting more comfortable in the water. Unfortunately I can’t make up for the 15 to 20 years of water time I’ve missed that many of the athletes I’m competing against have logged. I’m just being patient and paying my dues. Additionally, many coaches have helped with the process, including Andrew Cole at McMaster University. As for biking, my position and technique are very bad. In my opinion these are basically free gains if corrected, so that will be my main focus on the bike over the winter. With running, I will continue to push myself against the pure runners while running cross- country at McMaster, and entering some running races in the late winter/early spring.
TMC: You are not shy about discussing your past drug struggles, but is that something you’d rather not have brought up again as you take your career to the next level? LS: It has made me who I am today, so it must be acknowledged. I feel like a different person now, in a good way, and I would like to share that. Much of my motivation now stems from the belief that not only can you change your life completely, but you can become something great in the process.
TMC: Any ideas of what your next big race might be? Or target races for next year? LS: My next big race will be cis cross- country. My next big triathlon will likely be an early season 70.3 maybe Florida or St. Croix. But I haven’t consulted with my coach Barrie Shepley on this, so nothing is set in stone.