age group profile Jim Sunners
Anyonetrying to make a break for it if they saw Jim Sunners approaching in his Niagara Regional Police uniform might stay clear for, oh, maybe 200 m. After that they should just give up – they’re never going to outrun, swim or bike this guy. Despite his long days in uniform, Sunners manages to find the time to fit in the training to be one of the fastest 50-year- old triathletes in the world.
“The funny thing is, when I look back at my times over the years, I am faster now,” said Sunners who started racing triathlons in 1987 and regularly battles for the top-10 overall of any race he enters. “I completed my first full distance race in South Australia in 1989 on a steel frame road bike and finished in 10: 25. Last year I did a 9: 38 in Cozumel.”
That age- group-winning performance at Ironman Cozumel allowed Sunners to punch his ticket to the 2013 Ironman World Championship – his second appearance in as many years. However, in case he did not earn his slot in Cozumel, he entered Ironman Switzerland as a backup. Without any real motivation to race, he used Switzerland as a long training day, went in with a relaxed approach, didn’t bother tapering and enjoyed the sites, food and drink of Switzerland. That turned out to be a recipe for success.
“I came out of the water feeling good and planned to ride just a few per cent below what I knew I could hold. I rode exactly five hours and got off the bike feeling decent. I was surprised to see there were no bikes in the racks near me,” said Sunners, who ended up riding 20 minutes faster than the second place finisher in his age group. “I felt good on the run until the last 15 km, when I walked a few aid stations and really slowed down. I crossed the finish line in 10:12: 48. I was very surprised to see I won my age group.”
As a lifetime athlete who has played many team sports, done Surf Lifesaving in Australia and who always commutes to work on his bike, success for Sunners should be no surprise.
“My training is about consistency. I don’t think I train a lot. I try to get 300 km each week on the bike with at least one solid tempo ride of around 80 kilometres each week. I believe the consistent volume and years of training are the key combination to becoming a really good cyclist,” said Sunners, who loves the challenge of trying to beat the younger guys in the shorter races. “I cycle throughout the year, even in temperatures down to - 15 C. I keep these rides to around 25 km and, over the years, have learned the tricks to dress appropriately.”
“I don’t actually swim much, maybe twice a week. In reality I would be lucky if I got 4 km in each week,” confessed Sunners. “I run three times a week with a longer tempo run of about 15 km, nine km easy, and 6 to 8 km with some intervals or a fast second half.”
After a disappointing 3:52 marathon at the 2012 Ironman World Championship, where he finished in 10:13:59, Sunners has treated this entire 2013 race season as his Kona buildup. He increased his running mileage up to a 26 km long run. Racing shorter races beforehand was important, too, since it forced him to get in intensity.
“My goal in Kona is to hit the podium, which means running a solid marathon, around 3: 25. I have to delicately balance the amount of running I do with not getting injured,” said Sunners who has suffered Achilles issues in the past. “I try to have a purpose in every run and have been working a little more on speed. I’ve tackled the course twice before and I know I can run decently if I’m not injured.”
Sunners feels that being consistent in training and being prepared mentally are key to performing well in Kona. The mental edge for him comes from knowing he had great lead-up training sessions, visualizing the race over and over and having a plan to stick to on race day.
“I am hooked! It is a magical place. I want to get back there next year so I have entered Ironman Melbourne to qualify. It will give me a chance to catch up with family and also do a qualifying race.”