Road To The Olympic Games

Canada's Sanders returns to world Ironman championship after close 2nd

Lionel Sanders didn't want to succumb to "second-place syndrome" after coming so close to winning a men's world Ironman title.

Harrow, Ont., native led last year's race but was surpassed with just 2 kilometres left

Canada's Lionel Sanders crosses the finish line in second place at the Ironman world championship triathlon last year in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. He's returning this year with high hopes. (Marco Garcia/The Associated Press)

Lionel Sanders didn't want to succumb to "second-place syndrome" after coming so close to winning a men's world Ironman title.

The triathlete from Harrow, Ont., was the leader with two kilometres to go last year in Kona, Hawaii, but Germany's Patrick Lange charged past him for the victory.

"When you nearly achieve what to me is a life goal, you have this tendency to want to change everything and tear everything apart and almost start from scratch from some odd reason," Sanders told The Canadian Press from Hawaii.

He resisted the temptation to gut his training regimen. Sanders tweaked certain elements to improve his chances for victory Saturday in Kona, but held back on wholesale changes.

"Last year, I lost by less than half a per cent," he said. "That means I got 99 per cent of it right."

Hawaii is the birthplace of Ironman racing, which is a 3.86-kilometre ocean swim followed by an 180K bike ride and a 42.2K marathon.

Kailua-Kona is considered the Super Bowl of the sport 40 years after the first race in 1978.

The prize purse is $650,000 US split between the top 10 finishers in the men's and women's races.

'There was never any disappointment'

Sanders will be joined in the men's pro field by Victoria's Brent McMahon, who dropped out during last year's race because of a jellyfish sting.

Vancouver's Rachel McBride and Kirsty Jahn, and Jen Annett of Penticton, B.C., are entered in the women's pro field.

The last Canadian man and woman to world Ironman titles were Peter Reid and Lori Bowden in 2003.

Kona's variable heat and humidity and fickle crosswinds have so far prevented a man from finishing under the vaunted eight-hour barrier there.

Lange came close in unusually ideal conditions in 2017 with a time of eight hours, one minute 40 seconds. Sanders crossed the line in 8:04:07.

The hitch in the Canadian's stride had become more pronounced during the run and the smooth-gaited Lange caught him at the final water station.

"There was never any disappointment actually," Sanders said. "I knew exactly what Lange was feeling at the finish line because I had given my absolute best.

"There was truly nothing left when he came by me. I tried to go with him. Everything in my being wanted to go with him, but it was physically impossible for me."

Among the changes Sanders adopted in 2018 was training with a partner.

The 30-year-old has been running and swimming with Corey Bellemore, a middle-distance track runner famously known as the world-record holder in the "beer mile."

Runners chug a beer then run a lap, for each of the four laps of a mile.

'I feel like I'm training hard'

"I feel like I'm training hard, but then when I go running with him and I'm hitting five to 10 seconds a kilometre faster pace," Sanders said. "As I'm getting older, I'm appreciating more sustainability.

"The lone-wolf style training is probably not a sustainable thing. I'd like to be doing this at this level six to eight years from now."

Germany's Jan Frodeno won men's world titles in Kona at age 34 and 35, so Sanders is still relatively young in the sport.

Proper nutrition and how to keep his heart rate from surging in the heat were among the lessons Sanders says he's learned for this year's race.

He's discovered if he gets too lean, he loses power on the bike, which is his best discipline.

Pushing hard up hills and surging down them while running in the heat of Kona will cause spikes in his heart rate that are difficult to control.

"You want to keep yourself in as steady a state as possible with as little matches burned as possible," Sanders explained.

Thinking Frodeno would be the man to beat in 2018, Sanders went to Kona early with Bellemore in tow. But Frodeno has dropped out of the race because of a stress fracture in his hip.

Sanders will have been training on the world championship course for almost a month by Saturday's race.

"With Jan out, there's no clear frontrunner," Sanders said. "It actually kind of makes the race a little more interesting.

"There's probably five guys who can contend for the win who all have different strengths and weaknesses."

The race will be live streamed on Ironman.com and NBCSports.com, as well as the Ironman Now site on Facebook.

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