McMahon, Sanders ready to tackle Kona
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-kilometre bike ride and a 42kilometre 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 and four seconds.
Sanders claimed the ITU world long-distance title in August in a race shorter than an Ironman — a three-kilometre swim, 120-kilometre bike ride and 30-kilometre run.
The world championship prize purse is $650,000 US 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 in ninth place in 2015, McMahon ranked third in the world heading to Kona last year. 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-year-old 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 Sanders’ 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-yearold 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 2012 Summer Olympics. He will compete in the world Ironman championship Saturday.