70.3 Worlds

Wow! What an experience! That certainly ranks up there as some of the most fun I have ever had! I’ll start right at the beginning.

We (Erin, myself and her parents) arrived in Tremblant late Friday morning. It took us about 7 hours total to make the trip from Hamilton. We went straight to the race site as the mandatory pro-meeting was at 12:45. Fortunately, we arrived about 15 minutes before the pro-panel was to start, so I stuck around the stage to watch and see if I could learn something useful. Afterwards I went to the pro-meeting. In St. George I was very nervous at the pro-meeting. I did not feel like I belonged. This time round I felt like I deserved to be there, so the experience was much more enjoyable. Afterwards, I was randomly selected for blood and urine testing. I hadn’t eaten or done any of my training for the day yet, so this was unfortunate news. But, there was insufficient staff to conduct the tests in a reasonable amount of time, so long story short, they cancelled the tests. I was then able to eat lunch and get all of my planned training sessions in for the day.

Saturday was pretty relaxed. We drove both the bike and run course. I was excited for the bike because it looked very untechnical. My most ideal bike course would be a straight out and back with no turns, mainly because the biggest factor here would be absolute power output. I do most of my riding on the CompuTrainer, so my technical skills are lacking a bit. This bike course had a few turns and technical elements, but for the most part, was pretty easy. The run looked to be very challenging. I had run well at Syracuse 70.3 earlier in the year, which was a modestly challenging course, so I welcomed the challenge. That night we had my coach as well as a few members of my training squad over for dinner. The food was fabulous and everyone left in a good head space. I hit the sac at a decent time, and had a decent sleep.

I was very relaxed in the morning. I didn’t have any expectations for myself. As I spoke about in my last post, my only goal was to enjoy the race. This meant giving it my all, as well as finishing with joy in my heart. These goals are completely independent of anyone but myself, so I sort of felt like I wasn’t even competing against anyone but myself.

I went down to the swim start and was fortunate enough to start right next to the reigning world champion Sebastien Kienle. In the last two years he has proven that he can out-bike the entire field. I figured he was my best chance at connecting with the lead group, so my goal was to try and hold onto his feet and come out of the water as close as possible to him. It was a running start. This was only my second running start of my life. I threw caution to the wind though, and when the gun went off, I went full tilt into the water. I was able to get in about two or three strides, when my foot got caught on the water and I face planted. A gap had immediately opened up. I tried my best to refocus and go after Kienle’s feet, but I was dropped already. This didn’t bother me. I was completely prepared for this reality. I had said to my girlfriend a few days before the race: It is completely possible that I come out of the water in last place…that is how strong this field is (or how bad of a swimmer I am!?).

I swam as hard as I could, which with hindsight, may not have been a good choice. I realized about halfway through the swim that I was not holding onto the water very well. I was trying to turn my arms over as fast as they would go, and likely was not finishing the stroke, or executing a very good catch. About halfway through the swim I began to focus on these elements. As I neared the end and began to dolphin dive I could see the clock said about 26:20. I was pretty happy with this actually. It was very close to my best swim time, which was accomplished while drafting. My actual time across the mat was 26:42, which is about 25s slower than my best.

I was a bit humbled to come into the transition area and see that I was the only male bike left. It’s one thing to think about this experience, it’s another thing to experience it. This meant I would be doing plan B. Plan B was to hold the maximal wattage on the bike that I thought I could maintain and still run well. I had been pushing 345w in practice, so I figured my safe upper limit was about 360w. This is what I intended on holding the entire way. I had a 55 tooth chainring put on a few days before the race. I was unable to make it home to my bike shop so I had to go to a local one that I had no experience with. I paid for a derailleur adjustment, but when I got the bike back the chain was rubbing on the derailleur and the derailleur was rubbing on the big chainring. I didn’t have time to take it back so I tried to fix it myself. Unfortunately when I got onto the bike and turned the pedals a few times, I realized I had not fixed it. The sound was very annoying, but I just tried to block it out and focus on pushing 360w.

I passed a few guys immediately. It appeared that there was someone not too far up the road. I was trying to catch them but they were not coming back to me. At this point I was averaging about 370w. I pushed this for the first 40 minutes. The dude was still not coming back to me! I wondered who it was, and couldn’t help but think that it was Sebastien Kienle. At the first turnaround I finally caught the person, and to my surprise, it was him! I would say the three top triathletes who inspire me are: Craig Alexander, Dave Scott and Sebastien Kienle. Sebastien has proven time and again that just because you are not a strong swimmer, you can still win the biggest races in the world. I also think he has been instrumental in pushing the bike portion of triathlon to new heights, while still running well despite the hard effort. It was a very surreal experience to actually be riding with him. It seemed though that his efforts were beginning to wane. With hindsight, I now know that he was having an off-day.

At this point I was in a small group, but a strong group of bikers. I definitely considered staying with them and seeing if we could work together and try and pull back the leaders. I learned a valuable lesson at Raleigh 70.3 though that every second counts. I was no longer pushing my desired wattage while with the group, so I had to make the pass. I put my head down and did not look back for a good 5 minutes. At this time I could see the main pack up ahead. They looked to be about 20 strong. They were all very tightly bunched. I caught them on an uphill and wondered how the heck I was going to pass them. If everyone is properly spaced, if you go for the pass, you have to pass the entire group. I was feeling good, but I knew this would require a 500w surge for probably 1.5-2 minutes in order to pass everyone…I wasn’t feeling that good! Finally, a gap opened up about four guys ahead. I went after it and then tucked back in. A few more minutes went by, and another gap opened up. I was now about halfway through the group. At this point we entered the downtown of a small village. I was unsure but I thought I recalled from the pro-meeting that this was a no passing zone. The pace had really slowed at this point, to the point where I was up out of the aero-bars. This lasted several minutes, when someone then passed me. I still was unsure if this was a legal pass, so I didn’t dare do it myself. Once we were out of the village, I knew I had lost a lot of time, so I decided to pass the remaining athletes in one go.

I was then on my own for quite a while longer. I passed a few more people on the mountain section, but the passes were happening less frequently. I knew I was nearing the lead group. Then, I saw them come past me. I counted and discovered I was in 14th place. I was pretty stoked about this; I knew this had meant I had ridden well. I continued to push my wattage on the downhill section and then rode into transition. The screams were deafening. I immediately had a surge of adrenaline and a shiver down my spine. I wasn’t sure how far back I was. I knew I had no shot at catching the guys in the very front, but I thought with a good run I would be able to go top 10. I had just pushed 20w more than I had ever pushed in a 70.3, so I was unsure how my legs were going to react.

It took me a lot longer than usual to get in a rhythm. It wasn’t until kilometer four or so that I started to feel comfortable. Around the first turnaround I could see that Gomez and Frodeno were having a good battle. I saw that the race behind them was pretty strung out. My only intention was to cross the finish line having run hard start to finish, so this is what I was trying to do. By the halfway point I had entered 8th place. At this time the course was starting to get quite congested, so I had no idea where the other competitors were. I figured this would be the position I would finish. I was totally cool with that. Very proud actually.

But then, a fellow Ontario triathlete Derek Lantz yelled “you can run yourself into fifth” as I approached the last turnaround. And then I saw that there were three guys not too far ahead. I stayed focused and as I passed each one, I became progressively more motivated. With about one kilometer to go, my coach yelled at me “that’s 4th place right there, you’re going to catch him!” I did not need to think. I immediately surged until I had reached his side. I caught my breath a bit and then surged once more on the final climb up the cobblestones through the centre of the village. It was an amazing experience. I couldn’t even hear myself think it was so loud. I recognized many familiar faces, and they were all screaming at the top of their lungs. I stole a quick glance back and could see that the elastic had snapped. I was going to finish 4th.

The final 400m went by too quick. I was trying to soak it in to the best of my ability. I saw many people I knew and tried to slap five with them. I was so fricken’ pumped! I wanted to scream and yell at the top of my lungs. When I crossed the finish line I saw some of the greatest triathletes to ever do the sport. It was an honour to shake all three of their hands. I felt no disappointment whatsoever losing to these individuals. I did not deserve to beat any of them. They have been doing the sport far longer than I have and have paid far more dues than I have. I think I was the happiest 4th place finisher ever.

I then went over to where my family was standing. We were all full of emotion. All I could do was hug each one of them as hard as I could. That was the only way I could get out the emotion. We were all full of tears. Afterwards I went to doping control. I learned a valuable lesson in Muncie in this regard. If you have to pee on the later stages of the run, hold it in! It will make this process much quicker! I was in and out of there in under half an hour, and then my family and I went and had the biggest poutine we could find.

All in all it was an amazing experience. I wish I had the words to describe it better, but I don’t. I believe that my ability to rise to the occasion here was a direct by product of the attitude I had going into the race, which I describe in my last blog post. I truly don’t think this blog post would read much differently, even if I had finished in last. The feeling I felt at the end of the race, was what I intended on feeling regardless of positioning. I had the opportunity to compete in arguably the deepest, most competitive 70.3 ever. That’s a pretty damn good reason to run down the finishing chute feeling “pretty fricken’ pumped!”

Of course, I must address the elephant in the room. I came out of the water in last place! One thing I found interesting was that Gomez (who lead out of the water) out swam me by 4 minutes and 33 seconds. He also beat me by EXACTLY 4 minutes and 33 seconds! If that doesn’t motivate you to improve your swimming, I don’t know what will! That being said, my coach and I are currently working out a solution in this regard. I can’t say anything yet, but I will say that there are some big life changes in the works, that I am confident will lead to improvements in the water for next year. I will update on this in a later post.

I want to thank everyone for reading, cheering, following along, etc. I could feel all the love on race day, and that allowed me to push myself as far as I could go. I must thank all of my sponsors for believing in me before I had posted any results of this caliber. It is through your support that I have been able to get here. As well, I must give a big thanks to my mom, dad and sister, as well as Erin and her parents. Having all you guys there meant the world to me. And without Erin’s parents driving me, and carting me around, I wouldn’t have been able to get there!! Everything you guys do is much appreciated!

Thanks for reading! I will do a post in a few days on the beginning of my transition to Ironman training.

 

20 thoughts on “70.3 Worlds

  1. congrats. I read your story in Canadian Triathlete that I picked up when I was in Canada in July. Was pulling for you and think you did a great job. All the best.

  2. You have totally help me change the attitude I take into races! Congratulations on an amazing day. I look forward to seeing you race at the Florida IM.

  3. Awesome read and great job, I look forward to your blog posts! Super inspiring for us non fish!

    Do you envision yourself trying to keep this mindset for each race you do from now on or do you think the expectations will creep up?

    Again, awesome job and cant wait to see more updates!

    • Thanks man. I definitely will keep this mindset for every race. I think the key is not to lose sight that this is just a sport. Sports are meant to be enjoyable pastimes. If it becomes something other than this, than I think this is when you begin to encounter burnout, injury, etc. I believe most injuries start in the mind. As for expectations, everyone has off days- even the best. I think the only thing anyone can truly expect from themselves, every time, is to give everything they have on the day. Of course, there are instances, when you don’t want to give everything you have e.g. with a bigger race one week later. But, in big, A-race type events, I think that is the healthiest mindset to cultivate. I probably have a bit of different perspective though, as I got into triathlon as a rehabilitative endeavour…and I would like to keep it that way.

  4. Wishing you had the words to describe the experience better is entirely unnecessary – you nailed it – again. Thanks for allowing us these amazing windows into your world, and for filling them so generously with vivid images and emotions. Thrilled that you were able to combine a joy-filled experience with a stellar result on Sunday, and wishing you a long and fruitful ride fuelled by that winning formula.

  5. Super inspiring to watch you run that last few hundred metres in 4th. We drove up 8hours to see that, and you delivered!! Hope you heard us yelling our lungs out for ya!

  6. Lionel, I am very happy to be witnessing your greatness unfold. I know what it is like to be in your position my friend (to some extent.) I too came 4th in Cancun’s WC, only I was 4th in the world in a very competitive age group instead. Still, my experiences with WC races, where thousands of fans were lined up while helicopters filming from above, gives me a basic idea of the elation that you must be feeling. It is for this reason that I am elated to be one of your many fans. We are all proud of you, your accomplishments, and your attitude towards bettering yourself and towards major events. I am glad that you are enjoying the ride (no pun intended regarding your new beautiful LG bike.) Keep training and your swim will make bounding leaps (I can guarantee you that much Lionel.) Best wishes always.

  7. Incdredible job at world’s!!! We were watching you all day and so happy to see your success in the end!! I’ll be racing down in Florida and can’t wait to see you dominate the full distance!!!

  8. Congrats on the race and thanks for the insight with this blog. Been following your results this summer through Barrie Shepley’s tweets and ended up sitting beside your dad at the Athlete’s banquet. He was obviously very proud/stoked with your results.

  9. Congrats on the race! I was fortunate enough to be at Tremblant (volunteering at one of the run stations during the AG run). This meant I could see you first hand coming in T2, then see you at the top of the mountain and finally see you coming down to the finish line. Hope my “Goooooo Lionel” helped you in some ways!

    I came to the race as a big fan of Jesse Thomas (gotta respect the shades) and a modest fan of Lionel Sanders. I left still a big fan of Jesse, but man, am I a bigger fan of Lionel Sanders now!!!

    As a fellow triathlete whose weakness is the swim, I hear you! Keep up the good work and your awesome attitude and you can only improve.

  10. Great Race and a Great Recap!
    Thanks for giving your fans so much insight into everything.

    My swim is also my biggest weakness – so i’m really looking forward to seeing how you improve that next season. Everyone who follows Triathlon in Canada is rooting for you.

  11. From the time I witnessed you fly by me at MSC Gravenhurst (I was doing the Duathlon and on my last 5 km run), I’ve been following your story. You’re a great inspiration, Lionel. This blog is a refreshing perspective…keep staying true to yourself!

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