Final Thoughts on IMFL

Here we go. It’s about twelve hours before I start my second Ironman and my first one at the professional level. To be honest, I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I am. I’ve done quite a few 70.3s now, but the thought of doing two of them back to back is a lot more intimidating. But I think from a physical and mental strength standpoint, I am adequately prepared for the task.

This journey really started nearly five years ago now. I resumed running after a several year hiatus on November 5th 2009. After about a month of running something was still missing from my life. That is when the thought of doing Ironman Louisville popped into my head. Around December 20th 2009 I signed up for the race and started an eight month transformative journey. I thought the journey culminated when I crossed the line in Louisville and officially became an Ironman, but that really was just the beginning.

After a large pizza with triple cheese at the hotel I began reflecting on the race. The thoughts of it being the “stupidest thing I have ever done” were beginning to dissipate. The seeds that I could do anything had been planted and they were beginning to grow. It is right around this time I decided that racing long distance triathlon is what I wanted to do with my life. But, I knew I had a long journey ahead to get myself up to a point where this could truly be a reality.

Over the next 3 years I systematically went about improving myself physically and mentally. The first thing that needed to be done was improve my swim to a point where I at least wasn’t losing the race in this discipline. I was fortunate to come in contact with many coaches who helped me to improve from 2:36/100m for 500 meters in my first triathlon, to averaging around 1:25/100m for 2 kilometers; still not great, but enough that I was at least a factor in the race.

Alongside swimming I was also learning from many friends the scientific basis of training. Once I began applying these ideas to my bike and run training I began to improve more significantly, and my performances became more consistent. It was right around this time that I made the decision to race my first triathlon as a professional. This took place at Muskoka 70.3 on September 8th 2013.

Muskoka was a huge step for me. I was fortunate enough to win the race. This gave me the confidence I needed to know that I had what it took to compete on the professional stage. At this time, many new sponsors came on board. Cycle Culture, Richard Kniaziew, Louis Garneau, ELoad, Saucony and CompuTrainer all offered their help, alongside the many great sponsors I already had. This truly gave me all of the tools I needed to achieve my best in the sport.

My motivation over the winter of 2013 was through the roof. I trained very hard in all three disciplines. I had the privilege of starting 2014 off with a 2 month training camp in Tucson Arizona. During this time I began to see firsthand that professional level long distance triathlon truly is a full time job. Doing the volume of training I was doing required much rest at night and in between training sessions. It began taking 6-8 hours per day to accomplish everything that needed to be accomplished.

Three quarters of the way through my Arizona training camp I went to race my first 70.3 of the season in Galveston Texas. It was there that I realized how lucky I had got in Muskoka. On the bike, I got two flat tires. This rendered me a non-factor in the race. I was bitter for weeks after the race. I thought it was so unfair that I could be in such good shape and then not get to show that to the world because of something out of my control. Eventually I got over it and grew mentally stronger because of it.

I took the lessons learned in Galveston to St. George 70.3. This was to be my first time ever going up against the best long distance triathletes in the world. To make a very long story short, the day went nothing like I had imagined it. I was devastated. All the confidence I had gained in Muskoka was completely gone. I was seriously questioning whether I had what it took to race as a professional. But as they say, time heals all wounds. One month later I went to Raleigh 70.3 and finished second. It was there that I began to realize that St. George 70.3 was probably the most important race of my life. The lessons I learned there from both a physical and mental perspective would pay dividends for many races to come.

For the rest of the summer I raced as often as I could and tried to learn as many lessons as I could. The summer of racing concluded at the 70.3 World Championship. There I utilized everything I had learned over the last year and finished 4th against what many say is the strongest 70.3 field ever assembled. It was a very surreal experience to cross the finish line and shake the hands of people whom I’ve had posters up on the wall of in the past. This race sealed the deal for me. Long distance triathlon IS what I am going to do with my life.

That brings me to the race tomorrow; Ironman Florida. Ironman is what got me into triathlon, and for me, it is the pinnacle of triathlon. I have great respect for short distance racers and racing, but long course is what I love most and what I want to do with my life. For me, tomorrow marks the beginning of my career as a professional long distance triathlete. Like the 70.3, I am sure there are hundreds of lessons I have yet to learn about the distance. I do not expect tomorrow to be the greatest race of my career. It is what I am sure will be the first in many races of my career.

The only thing I can say for certain about tomorrow is that I will give it everything I’ve got, from start to finish. It doesn’t matter what happens. If I get a flat, I will change it and continue with my race plan, unperturbed. The ONLY goal for tomorrow is to execute my race plan from start to finish. Even if I am racing in last place, the lessons I will learn from this race will pay massive dividends in the future. I am certain that if I do this, I will cross the finish line with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

On a slightly different level, tomorrow will be a spiritual journey for me. I will spend the entire day reflecting on where this whole journey started. I was in a terrible headspace back in November of 2009. When I reflect back on myself then, now, it is difficult to believe that was even me. I feel like a completely different person. I owe a great deal of that growth to long distance triathlon, so tomorrow I will pay homage to the distance and show it how grateful I am for what it has done for my life.

On a related note, my mom is also doing the race with me tomorrow. It will be her first Ironman. She has worked very hard and I know she is ready for the task ahead. I also know that it will be a spiritual journey for her as well. And will only be the beginning of something that she can’t possibly fathom at this moment. I am very excited and humbled that we will both traverse the same water and roads together on our journey. She is the one who fronted me the money to sign up for Ironman Louisville, as well as gave me a ride to the race and put me up in a hotel for a few days around the race, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

In closing, I want to send a sincere thanks out to my friends, family and sponsors. Tomorrow I begin my long distance triathlon career, and without you, this would not be possible. You guys are the best, and I will be racing with you in my heart all day. I’ll see you on the other side. Thanks for reading and following along!

23 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on IMFL

  1. give’er tomorrow!! can’t wait to see how you do & read about it post-race. you’ll make your family, friends, & fans proud no matter the outcome, i’m sure. enjoy & cheers!

  2. it’s people like you that inspire people like me. everyday. define yourself out there tomorrow! We already know your gonna race hard!

  3. Can’t wait for the race report! Soon you’ll be racing against young guys who have your poster on the wall!

  4. I have been catching up on your blog while watching the Live IMFL feed. Just saw you come off your bike. You really are such an inspiration. Talented, determined, and it seems like you are genuinely nice person too! We are a triathlon family and I am so glad there are role models for my little ones to look up to. I might just have to get my son a Lionel Sanders poster for his wall.

  5. Amazing job Lionel. I love that you share your thoughts, training, and emotions with your fans. I started following you this year and I have become a big fan. I was super excited following the updates for Worlds 70.3 and see you tearing up the bike and run course into an amazing 4th place finish. Just out of curiosity, do you still plan to race that distance and race for that championship? I really look forward to following your progress in 2015 and I hope to meet you some day in the future.

    Congrats on the win today and I wish you a very successful 2015 and beyond.

    – Greg (one of your many American fans)

    • Thanks Greg. And thanks for the question. To be honest with you, I don’t plan on racing that distance nearly as much. I do plan on continuing to push my Vo2Max and Lactate Threshold, and I will test myself in these areas in the sprint and olympic distance. Otherwise I will be doing mainly Ironmans. From KPR perspective I will likely still race a couple of 70.3s per year, but I don’t think I will race 70.3 Worlds, unless it comes back to USA or Canada. Thanks for the comment, and I look forward to meeting you as well. Best of luck.

  6. I really enjoyed watching you race on Saturday. My friends and I work security on Friday and came out to ride the run course Saturday to see what it was like and we were truly in awe. Great job and congrats to you and your mother. This my first spectator experience at an Ironman event and now can’t wait to compete next year and earn that title of Ironman. While I will next compete at the elite level I have a great time training and competing. I look forward to seeing you race again. Congrats again.

    • Thanks Troy. Great to hear you’re going to do one. You will not regret it. It really is a spiritual journey. Best of luck in your training and build up to the race.

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