Who am I?

My name is Lionel Sanders. I grew up in Harrow Ontario Canada. I got into sports when I was in grade 4. The two I participated in most avidly were running and basketball. I continued to run throughout high school with my best performances being 10th at the Ontario Provincial Championship in Cross Country (Grade 9) and 10th at provincials in the steeple-chase (Grade 11).

Towards the end of high school I got sidetracked and tried to find myself in alcohol and drugs. I went down that path for a number of years, which eventually lead me to drop out of university. Over the next couple of years I went deep inside of myself, becoming severely social phobic, depressed and paranoid. I was also beginning to have auditory and visual hallucinations. After hitting what I perceived to be rock bottom on several occasions I finally saw the light. On November 5th 2009, after a several year hiatus from sports, I started running again.

After a month of running I still did not feel great. Out of nowhere, the idea to do an Ironman triathlon popped into my head. I signed up for Ironman Louisville, and over the next 10 months I devoted myself to training for that race. On August 29th 2010 I became an Ironman! During that race I was lapped on the two loop run course by the eventual winner Paul Ambrose. I thought he looked so cool, and was amazed that someone could still be running that fast, that late into a long distance event. I believe it was at that moment that the seed to become a professional triathlete was planted. I had a lot of work cut out for me though as Paul had beat me in that race by close to 2 hours.

Over the next three years I focused my energy on improving my swimming, biking and running. I reconnected with fellow Harrow native Barrie Shepley around this time, and over the next several years he would be instrumental in getting me the resources, equipment, facilities and training partners required to reach my full potential.

On September 8th 2013 I raced my first professional triathlon in Muskoka Ontario. Long story short, I ended up winning the race. It was a dream come true and I started to believe that I had what it takes to be a professional triathlete. Not long after, I raced my third professional triathlon in St. George Utah on May 3rd 2014 and had a serious wake up call. I finished 18th, nearly 10 minutes behind the winner. This was discouraging but I continued to work on my swim, bike and run, as well as more technical things like training philosophy and equipment choices.

My next big race was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on September 7th 2014. In that race I finished 4th, only a few minutes behind some of the best athletes to ever do the sport. It was there that the belief that I could be a professional triathlete was truly solidified.

My major motivation now is to push myself to the absolute limit. I am trying to “go through the door” but every time I think I am getting close to the door, it recedes. From my experience, it appears that there are no limits, other than the self-created and imposed ones that only exist in your mind. I plan on spending my entire triathlon career testing this hypothesis.

53 thoughts on “Who am I?

  1. That’s funny! I was leading the Bracebridge Tri but turned too early and got hosed. But that was 2013. Good luck this weekend!

  2. Hi Lionel,
    My name is Stuart Wadlow and I came across your website whilst looking at vo2 max training on the web so I decided to follow you. If your interested in another story of how someone turned their life around (after a near death please experience) feel free to Google me. One question; what hr % of max are you using for your vo2 max workouts whilst running?

    Cheers Stu

    • Thanks for reaching out Stu. Very inspiring story. Inspiring that you were able to turn things around.

      I used to use HR on the run, but I don’t anymore. I do tax the Vo2Max still though. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but there’s a book called Jack Daniels’ Running Formula. Basically he had a ton of people run on the treadmill and monitored what paces Vo2Max, Lactate Threshold, etc. were elicited. He found that people who have recently run 30:30 for 10 kilometers (for example) tended to elicit Vo2Max around 2:55/km. He was able to make a table that gives approximations for these values for practically everyone. These are what I follow with regards to trying to tax the Vo2Max. I totally recommend the book, and this website, which contains the data from within the book:


      By the way, I don’t use HR because I am often in a state of “over training” and to be quite frank, I don’t want to know about it! I go until my mind says, “this is way too much man.”

  3. Lionel,

    Although I am 20 years older than you, I am hoping you can provide some advice on excelling at an age group level. Like you, I started running in grade school and have ran for fitness since. However, it was about a year ago that I was introduced to sprint triathlons. I have raced in 3 sprints thus far and plan to do 4 more in 2015. I have been in the top 3 for the run, but can’t seem to break the middle of the pack on the bike or swim. I have about 15-18 hours per week that I can put in, at what % should I dedicate to each discipline? Thanks Lionel!

  4. 42km/h on a 30km bike split less than a month after buying your first TT bike? Yeah right… For a rehabing alcohol and drug abuser, that’s IN-credible.

  5. @Iggy Tillman yes you are right once an addict always an addict, but once you realize that your addiction and make positive changes to fight that addiction you can go on to do great things with you life like Lionel has, what have you done with your life?

      • …so nothing special then, like 1000s of other people that have completed Ironmans and have a law degree (think there’s probably thousands in my home city of NYC that have done this alone). LS has reached the pinnacle of his sport. Let me know when you become a Supreme Court justice.

  6. Lionel transformed his life for the better, we all agree on this. He now dedicates all his energy to a great sport and, boy, is he a great athlete and ambassador for Triathlon or not!!! This is the product of genetics AND very hard work.

    Congrats on Tremblant Lionel, you are a rising star (Tim Don agrees on this) and it is a pleasure to follow you. Keep pushing hard, the very best to you and all your family.

    BTW, I have one more reason to buy Garneau stuff now…!

  7. Great read in the Toronto Star today, Congrats Lionel…you are an inspiration to others who may be struggling in life with various challenges. You picked yourself off of the ground and are still running!! And Swimming and Biking!! 🙂 Best Wishes!!

  8. Hi Lionel
    I am a recovering addict myself. I find solitude in pushing myself to the limit in everything I do.
    Your story is an inspiration to us all.
    What that idiot above said has some truth to it. “Once an addict always an addict”
    We can be addicted to drugs or be addicted to living life to the fullest.
    It seems you and I have chose the latter.
    I wish you all the luck in your endeavor but know that win or lose you have already won mentally. Keep it up and you need to know you have already inspiring to believe there is still hope when you root rock bottom.
    Thank you!

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  10. We are from Toronto and on Kona right now. We have been watching all the ironman participants training as we go about our touristy activities. Good luck in the big race!

  11. My name is Kim I am hosting a Dinner. I am in the process of arranging a large dinner April 14,2016 in Windsor.
    The guest speakers will be disclosed during our discussions.
    I am interested in you being a part of the speakers. I believe based on your story this would be of interest to you.

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  14. Great background, I admire you for the change you have made, very motivational. My father had addiction problems and ended in a bad situation. As I said I deeply admire tou for turning your life around and being successful at what you do now.

  15. Hi Lionel, I didn’t know your back story I just knew you were Canadian and I was cheering for you because of that. I love watching whatever little coverage we get of Triathlon events and routinely look at Ironman Youtube videos when training in the Winter. I have recently started competing in triathlons and only found out after leaving the med tent at the 2016 Tremblant 70.3 that you were there and you had won. Congratulations! I don’t know what it is like to be an addict but I do know how addictive this sport can be. I am glad you have found this sport and that you are having success. I think sharing your story along with your blog posts about how your life as a Pro Triathlete is very helpful. I feel that it encompasses some of what I love about the sport, it is a communal affair and triathletes love helping other triathletes. This sport is different, not many sports let you race with the Pro’s. Your blog posts and stories help us realize that we are all human. I wish you continued success and look forward to seeing you crossing the line in Kona with a Canadian flag wrapped around your shoulders.

  16. I liked your past 2 articles. I agree with you 100%. I feel this is bound to come probably from Garmin but I think there needs to be a real demand for this. Garmin with their GPS, Lasers, and Videos Easily, EASILY could do this. Laser, loud annoying noise sensor.

  17. I just read your CBC interview about setting the new ironman record. You are truly a champion. I just want tot take a moment and let you know that your strength and courage are amazing. May God Bless you. -Paul Benoit, Nova Scotia

  18. Hi Lionel
    You represent the very best for every young Canadian to aspire to.The story of our lives is contributing chapters of loss ,determination, and continuing unrelenting effort.Canada is proud of your success and humility, while achieving your goals.On those hard training days, do not forget that you have a nation of support to get through those rough times.

  19. Hi Lionel,
    I’m 59 yrs old, have done 1 full and 6 half irons. It’s been a new awakening at this time in my life. Dropped 25lbs, outdoors all the time, heart rate dropped 8 beats per minute, and feeling very alert and alive. Truly a great feeling. You know my son Nate in Toronto who also lives the tri life. My wife Shirley is doing her first full on Couer D Alene in 2017. She’s done 9 half irons and wants the big enchilada off her bucket list. She’s had a back fusion and has rods and screws in her spine. Has had terrible nerve pain for years. But she decided to start telling a new story in her thought life. She believed she could be pain free by redirecting her attention towards wellness. I’m here to tell you, she’s been running for months now with no pain. She is a remarkable example of rising up over and over again from challenges and now training towards her dream. I’ll be her support crew on this one all along the way.
    You are truly an example of taking your life, as it is(was), and making something more of it. Keep it up. It matters to many others. Mark

  20. Dear Lionel, you are an inspiration to us all. You are all that lived, so it is so strong and intense. He entered the triathlon game on another road, he made his own way. Thank you for being such an example of attitude and determination.

  21. Hi Lionel,
    I am from the UK, representing the UK at AG level, your story and dedication is now my biggest inspiration to take it to the next level. Really enjoy listening to your thoughts and theories on how to improve, its inspiring to see you improve with so much thought and constant evolving training methods. Well done achieving so much and the fact you’ve done it your way through determination and adapting.

  22. René frío México. Yo inspire me I Been Also in drugs. I begin doing trí one year ago. Sunday Will be mi second 70.3. Thank you for de inspiration. Good luck un ocean side

  23. This is truly an inspiring story and congrats on your second place finish at Kona this year. I became an Ironman this year on August 21st in Mont Tremblant and my time was 13:26. I am planning to make it to Kona in the next 5 years… like you said, the only limitations are the ones we impose on ourselves. Thanks for sharing

  24. Congratulations Lionel!
    You believed in something and now you passed through the door of your “pushing the limits” hypotesis.
    Happy for you!
    Enjoy it!
    God bless you more!

  25. Lionel
    Great work to fracture the German stronghold. Been following your 2017 journey and it was thrilling to see you podium on the sports biggest stage.

  26. Lionel,
    I admire your grit, determination, confidence and humility. Your Kona run was awesome to watch. You gave it everything you had, and you raced smart. I’m looking forward to reading more about the race from your perspective. So honest, so raw, so rare. Congrats on an awesome performance.

  27. hola lionel me llamo kike alamilla ,tuve serios problemas con drogas y alcohol durante casi 10 años ,ahora tengo 35 y llevo casi 2 años en el triatlon es algo maravillo encontrar gente como tu q inspira a no abandonar sus sueños ya llevo 2 ..70.3 y este año primero dios are mi primer ironman en cozumel en ocaciones quisiera dejar todo pues trabajo de 7am. a 5pm. de cantinero espero me puedas dar algun consejo puesto que los entrenamientos son largo y me siento mal al no poder terminarlos por la falta de tiempo y cansancio en ocaciones ni yo se como e llegado hasta aqui ..saludos y espero puedas ayudarme .DIOS TE BENDIGA CAMPEON

  28. Hey Bob,
    We basically have the same story! I was a high school athlete in Mississippi and then I got way far gone into the cocaine scene went I went to college hahah. While I was in rehab, my counselor told me to go for a 30 minute run(because I was fat and lazy from drinking beer) and i felt terrible. Then I started doing it every day, then about a year ago I got in my head to do IM and now I’m going for it. Its crazy how similar our stories are dude! I can relate with all of that. I was pulling for you in Kona!! You’re an inspiration to me and the dudes I train with! I’ll never be on your level but I was wondering if I could pick your brain on a few things?

    (my name is Taylor also)

  29. Lionel, you are an animal in the best meaning! Your development has been so impressive. For the upcoming winter season I will take you as my inspiration for my boring roller sessions 😉 Once you have won Kona (which will be next year or 2019, latest) you will come to Challenge Roth to beat the record there. If you need a homestay then, let me know.

  30. Hey Lionel,
    Just a note to say thanks for the inspiration. Like in cycling; the road of recovery is, it doesn’t matter how far down the road one has come, it’s the same distance to the ditch. Vigilance and daily dedication to wellness, health, mental clarity and service to others. A great way to live. Keep moving ahead one pedal at a time. Best Mark
    1 Olympic, 8 Half & I Full Ironman, I Marathon. (all in last 7 yrs)
    Turning 60 and hoping to qualify for Boston for 2019

  31. Pingback: Train with Lionel Sanders on Zwift | Bike Training | Tri247.com

  32. I saw you running biking and swimming in pucon 70.3 and I I can say you’re awesome but also after reading your story it stirs my soul so realize the magnitude of your energy and how beautiful is the work you’ve done on yourself.
    Now I really dmire you.
    Congratulations for your new record and for being such a great, powerful but humble human being.
    You are an example to follow & to show to the world…
    The best vibes.

  33. Hi Lionel

    Im not sure if this message will get to you but i have to say you are an inspiration.
    Im 31 and from the uk , after serving in the british army and being deployed to iraq at 18 years old the first time i had to grow up fast.
    I was always a fit lad and loved to challenge my sellf physically to be honest i always looked for the next challenge or unfortunately in my case how far i could take anything…enter drugs.
    I spent many years on a similar path to yours and long story short when i hit rock bottom i had too decide is this me or do i still have some fight left in me.
    Discovered triathlon i wont go into my training and upcoming races blah blah blah 😉 but i once heard you say on a interview you (changed a bad addiction for a good one).
    Here i am today 11killos lighter and mentally stronger than i have ever been before.
    In short if you ever read this message i just want to say you are a inspiration and im very glad i found a like-minded person.
    Best of luck this year ( kona is yours)

  34. Lionel,

    I love watching your youtube videos. You are an inspiration. I am so impressed with your humility and dedication. There’s absolutely no quit in you. I wish you all the luck in the world. I am a 61 year old triathlete who will do my first 70.3 in Muskoka this year. Thanks again!

  35. I’m new to Triathlon after running consistently over the past 6-7 years. I’m discovering as i’m looking for who are the top athletes of the sport (male and female, of which you’re clearly my favorite (even though I also like Lucy Charles progression). I’m extremely impressed by your training regimen and dedication. I’ll be happy if I have half of it and i believe I train well (4-5 times a week). Now I have chosen a different path of life and have no regret but I still look at you as an inspiration and probably one of the fittest athlete on this planet. Keep up the good work. Please continue the YouTube training videos, it all give us a boost when we see what you’re able to accomplish and how cool you’re about it (today, easy swim 5700m….whaaatttt?? ;-)). Take care and I don’t see what will prevent you to win Kona in 2018. We’ll be rooting for you. From the French alps, best regards and take care!

  36. Very inspirational. I am also a hi-school runner and very athletic person who stopped sports for a while. Had some bad skiing accidents and thought I’d never do sports again. I found triathlon which is all straight forward which my knees can handle and I’ve always loved the mental grind of endurance sports. I’m doing my first IRONMAN 70.3 in Calgary this July and I’m training for 4 hr 30 ish time for maybe top 15+ of age group. I have a feeling going to get my butt kicked though with first time transitioning, nutrition and who knows what else. I really enjoyed your story of being lapped and what you thought about the winner. The triathlon store in Edmonton where I got my gear talked very highly of you and when I bought my trainer in Calgary and was concerned about pedaling too hard they cracked jokes about not even you could break their trainer so I* had nothing to worry about. We all had a good laugh. Best of luck, will be watching and maybe one day race alongside if I have what it takes!

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