February 24th, 2017
Boston Marathon training season is upon us. Every year, headlining sponsor Manulife has a kickoff run and Q&A with some of their Toronto staff, and Canadian elite athletes heading to Boston in the spring ahead. This year, I had the good fortune of sitting in on this Q&A session to hear what these athletes had to say about the marathon, past competitions, and the road to Boston ahead. The panel featured Greg Meyer – 1983 Boston Marathon Champion; Rachel Hannah – 2015 Pan American Games Bronze Medalist; Reid Coolsaet – 2012 London Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics; Eric Gillis – 2008 Beijing, 2012 London, 2016 Rio Olympics.
For many runners, Boston is THE race, but further to that, the marathon is THE distance – it’s what runners aspire to; it’s the holy grail. But none of the runners on the panel today started off their running careers with great distances in mind. In fact, most of them started off in the same way that I did, by running at practice for other sports. This became track or cross country in high school, but didn’t translate into marathon distance until later in life.
Each runner shared some of their favourite moments, including the feeling of standing on the starting line in Rio, and unexpectedly coming in 10th place, belatedly receiving the bronze at PanAm, and winning Boston. They also shared some words of wisdom on running in general – it’s important to visualize the race ahead of time; be consistent in your pre-race diet (if something works, stick with it); don’t run too hot out of the gates at the starting line.
Meyer was the only panelist who has run Boston before, and in terms of advice specific the golden child of marathons, this is what he had to say for those running in April:
- The spirit in Boston for the marathon is unlike other races. And while it’s easy in all races to get swept up at the start line, this is particularly true of Boston. It’s important to take a deep breath and remember yourself, and remember your plan. Boston is a tough course, and you don’t want to burn yourself out in the first 10km.
- Likewise, it’s important to remember that the uphill in Boston doesn’t start until 30km, which is already the point where the marathon starts to break most runners. Don’t forget to save something for those hills.
The other thing that Meyer had to say that had nothing to do with actually running Boston, but everything to do with the spirit of the race is that in Boston, the marathon is not just a run, it’s a holiday. And like any other holiday, the people of Boston have created their own sets of rituals and traditions around race day. They make themselves and their families the same breakfast pre-race, they stand in the same spot to cheer every year, they don their lucky scarf, they take the day off work and plan their day around the marathon. And this spirit spills over into the rest of the year. It’s no coincidence that Boston is consistently ranked one of the most fit cities in America. When you live in a city where the marathon constitutes a civic holiday, it’s hard not to get swept up in the mantra of Everybody Run.
For those of you still considering whether the marathon is for you, consider that like the Boston Marathon in Massachusetts, the impact of the marathon will spill over into the rest of your life in the best way. When asked what effect running has had on his life outside of running, Meyer said this, “One of the things that I’ve seen in marathoning in particular – if you accomplish this, especially for those people who never thought they would run a marathon, you gain a certain amount of self confidence that translates to other parts of your life. It gives you the freedom to think that you can do almost anything in life. There’s not a challenge that you’re going to be afraid of, because you know you can do the work. I can’t tell you how many people have done the marathon and told me two months later about how they accomplished something else in their life. No matter if you’re still running marathons or not, you can remember that experience, and know that you can do the work.”
As someone who’s run my own marathon, and has spoken to countless other marathon runners, I can definitely attest to this being true. Running a race of that distance changes you. The marathon is hard, and horrible, and exhilarating, and empowering. You will experience every emotion during the marathon, and you will want to quit so many times, and you will question your own sanity, because why are you doing this thing that seems so trivial while you are running it. But when you cross that finish line, you will cry, and you will laugh, and you will forever have this new quiet strength inside of yourself telling you, “You can do this; you’ve done hard things before.”
February 22nd, 2017
Over the next few months, we’re interested in telling the stories of those who came to running after the age of 40 and what they’ve learned and accomplished in the process. If you’re interested in participating, tweet Ravi and introduce yourself.
You can ask any runner which distance they love racing most and, if you ask enough, you’ll hear a case for nearly every one. Some will love the all out intensity of a 5K. Some will express their love for the half, the most increasingly popular distance, and the fact that it allows a runner to safely push their speed while also presenting an endurance challenge. Some may even sing the praises of the self punishment that is the full marathon.
It’s perhaps unlikely that if you survey 100 runners that any would proclaim their favourite distance to be the 50K. If we’re going based on the typical ultra runner prototype of the rail thin, six foot plus man with a surprisingly well maintained beard, we probably wouldn’t expect anyone in love with the 50K to describe themselves as, “a 47 year old wife, mother of two, and teacher.”
That, however, is how Ottawa resident Kristi Raz (@AverageRunnerK) introduces herself. Taking up running in 2012 at the age of 42, Kristi says, in what seems to be a common refrain for late in life runners, “I’d never been a runner and certainly did not see myself as an athlete,” though she does claim a lifelong love of the outdoors.
Kristi is likely one of few runners who would describe the 50K as her favourite distance.
The outdoors are still Kristi’s first love and a shared passion among her family, all of whom join her at road races, snowshoe races, trail races and events with Orienteering Ottawa.
In May, Kristi will chase her fourth 50K race in Utah, but her early ambitions in running were quite modest. “I took up Nordic Walking about a year after my second son was born, honestly as a way to get out of the house on a Saturday morning,” Kristi recalls. Finding out that races allowed for walkers, she walked the 10K at the Ottawa Race Weekend.
“Somewhere along the line, I decided to see if I could run,” and thus Kristi decided to set a once more modest goal of running 3K without stopping. That took Kristi to her biggest running achievement yet, which was completing her first 5K running, “desperately trying not to lose my breakfast on the lovely finish line volunteers!”
“If I could run 5K, why not 10?” Kristi figured. When she managed to run 12K consecutively, she then figured why not go for her first half.The step toward the full marathon came with a bit more hesitation when Kristi struggled through her first 25K run. “It was like entering a different world of running for me,” she recalls, realizing that the transition to a full marathon is so much more than just an increase in distance. It’s practically a different sport with wholly unique effects on your body and mind. Nonetheless, Kristi, “struggled through, did as much training as I could fit into my schedule, and completed my first marathon.”
The stubbornness has now led to six marathons and a stint as a pace bunny at the Ottawa Marathon – Kristi will be the five hour bunny at this year’s race.As of last year, Kristi completed three 50K races. Whereas shorter distances require you to be in control the whole way through, Kristi relishes that the ultra long distances require you to submit yourself to the course and let your body give what it can and your mind go where it wants to go.
Not one to confine herself to roads, Kristi is also an avid snowshoe racer.
According to Kristi, on the trails, “I barely look at my watch. I am at the mercy of the trail and I simply do what I can in the moment. Somehow, the hours slip by and yet I have little sense of time.” With four 50K races soon to be under her belt, Kristi admits that the temptation to add distance is still strong.
There’s a lot that Kristi has learned and gained from running, foremost a desire, “to challenge myself to try something new even if I might finish at the back of the pack.”
If she could start at age 42 with no running experience, then maybe, “you can start something at any age.” And in her view, she’s really only getting started. Kristi remembers one particular incident during her second ultra when, “a fellow runner asked my age and then proceeded to tell me as a distance runner I was only approaching my prime. Who would have thought?”
February 21st, 2017
Beau’s, like iRun, is a sponsor of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and when we heard that, we challenged Beau’s CEO Steve Beauchesne to run his first half marathon. At first, he wasn’t too sure. But he’s since come on board, brought his friends and will be reporting back on his training and experiences and offering the occasional free beer incentive prize for anyone else following our program. Here’s a little more about Steve and his brew crew!
Role at Beau’s: Co-Founder and CEO
Number of years running: New to running!
Longest distance to date: 5K
Running super-power: Sister, Jen B
Achilles heel: Beer
Goal for Ottawa Half-Marathon: Ummm … to complete it?
Why I run: To allow myself to drink beer guilt-free!
Role at Beau’s: Toronto Sales
Number of years running: 17-ish years. My on-again, off-again relationship with running started with high school cross country – we’re currently on a break
Longest distance to date: 30km, ran Around the Bay waaay back in 2010
Running super-power: Mid-run pick-ups caused by inspiring signs, high fives and cowbells
Achilles heel: These darn knees and hips
Goal for Ottawa Half-Marathon: Finish without injury and with a smile on my face!
Why I run: To clear my head and feel alive in my body
Role at Beau’s: Brewer
Number of years running: 7
Longest distance to date: 10K
Running super-power: Getting red in the face
Achilles heel: Shin splints
Goal for Ottawa Half-Marathon: Under 2 hours
Why I run: Mind and body health
Role at Beau’s: Events and Sponsorships
Number of years running: I’ve never been a constant ‘runner’ unless it was for a specific sport but doesn’t everyone run as soon as they can walk?
Longest distance to date: 12km unless you count Tough Mudder which was about 16 km, but you half walk, half run the course. Both of these were years ago!
Running super-power: Will power
Achilles heel: My right ankle; it’s been injured uncountable times
Goal for Ottawa Half-Marathon: Finish the race with no injuries
Why I run: Free exercise
Role at Beau’s: Wordsmith and Media Relationships (and big sister!)
Number of years running: 1.75
Longest distance to date: 21.1 km
Running super-power: Very patient bladder
Achilles heel: Wimpy hips, miniature lungs
Goal for Ottawa Half-Marathon: Under 2 hours (or at least a PR I am proud of)
Why I run: To get outside, beer tax, and to chase the crazy away
February 21st, 2017
First run in 1894, the history of Hamilton’s Around the Bay Race runs deep. As the oldest race on the continent (three years older than the Boston Marathon) over the years this race has attracted a roster of athletes from Boston Marathon winners to Olympians. Become a part to the history by running this challenging course this year!
February 21st, 2017
I enjoy reading about the elites of our sport as much as the next runner. Any time I get to interview one for iRun, I take a few minutes beforehand to remind myself not to fangirl on the phone or beg for a photo if I meet them in person.
Be cool, Karen. Be cool.
Not surprisingly, it only takes talking for a few minutes before you realize that your hero is just a person – and most of the elites I have spoken to will tell you that our experiences as runners aren’t that different. Sure, they are way faster than I am, but there are so many similarities – the elation of achieving a goal and the heartbreak of missing one; the burning in your legs and your lungs and the desire to eat everything in sight – it’s quite similar.
I remember when three-time Olympian Eric Gillis came to speak to a running clinic I was leading about “fitting it all in.” I think that was just the topic we gave him as an excuse to have an Olympian talk to the group, because as he pointed out, running is…well, his job. He gave us a quick rundown of his routine before saying something to the effect of, “But really, you are the experts on this. You fit running in around full-time jobs, childcare issues, and whatever other commitments you have – I fit my other commitments around running.”
And he’s right. Most of us pay our bills using some other qualifications – and yet we find time to run.
In addition, many people have everyday family life as well as the extremes, like sick kids or ailing family members – and yet we run. A lot of us have made commitments to communities, charities, boards, or other groups of people to whom we give our time – and still, we run. Some of us use all of our energy to face down mental illness, cancer, divorce, stress, and countless other personal tragedies. But still, we run.
We are the running community – the heart and soul of our sport. We deserve to have our photos and our stories in iRun!
So let’s do it – let’s put our stories and photos in iRun. And since it’s Canada’s 150th birthday, let’s try for 150 stories. All ages, all speeds, from coast to coast to coast.
What’s your story?
Tell your story in under 200 words, and send it, along with a photo (that you own the rights to, please – no professional race photos) to me at 150runners@iRun.ca, and you could see it in the next issue!
February 20th, 2017
Can fitness gear that makes you sweat help you detox your body? People are always clamouring for ways to detox their bodies—look at the popularity of juice cleanses, hot yoga, saunas, etc. But a new line of fitness wear is aiming to be a more budget-friendly way to rid your body of toxins.
By: Karen Kwan
Pommello Sweats is a line of apparel designed to maximize how much you sweat, so as to rid your body of toxin, while also improving your performance as an athlete through hyperthermic conditioning. It’s made of a patent-pending neoprene fabric they say will promote perspiring while also enhancing athletic benefits of heat acclimation, increasing fat-burning efficiency and detoxing the body of chemicals that lead to weight gain.
I was sent an outfit from Pomello to try out: a pair of capris and a workout tank with built-in sports bra. To the touch, it feels like other neoprene fabric I’ve seen before. I tested it out on a quick run on the treadmill. I should note that I do not enjoy sweating (I think I quite dislike it because I sweat a lot), and I also do not enjoy treadmill running (but I opted for the treadmill given the capri length pants). Putting on the outfit, the bottoms slid on easily but the top is very snug fitting with little stretch so I think it took a good five minutes to get on (and after my run, I thought I was going to have to cut it off of me). Once on, the top fit fine, but the lack of stretch makes it a wrestling match to get on.
The gym’s blinds were open so that room was already quite warm. And since I already tend to be a heavy sweater, I couldn’t tell if it was the outfit making me sweat more, but it did feel warm, so I will attribute the extra perspiration to the Pommello outfit. And once I pulled it off of me, the inside of the fabric felt soaked in sweat. The actual outfit while it felt fine when I got it on, when I started running, the bottom the shirt would pull up, so I think it needs to be redesigned with a longer fit.
Will this fitness gear help detox and improve athletic performance? I can’t speak to the latter and haven’t tested it out personally to see if I experience an uptick in that, but as for detoxing, everything I’ve ever researched on this topic says that there’s no proof that we detox when we sweat. It’s a myth that’s perpetuated daily but while exercise benefits our health, there’s nothing definitive about the act of sweating ridding our body on toxins. I’ll try the outfit again but probably for a yoga class versus running. What are your thoughts on the Pommello concept?
Karen Kwan is a regular iRun fashion and travel contributor, and you’ll find her running fashion posts every Friday on Instagram. She contributes to a number of publications and you can also follow her travel and running adventures at Health & Swellness.
February 20th, 2017
With black beans, egg whites and salsa, these quick and easy breakfast quesadillas offer a quick protein fix for your morning meal. Plus this recipe can easily be doubled and work as your go-to quick and easy evening meal on #TacoTuesday or any night of week!
By: Julie Miguel
Healthy Egg White Quesadillas
½ cup salsa
½ cup black beans
2 large egg whites
Freshly grated cheese
Freshly chopped herbs, like cilantro
ONE: In a small pot, warm the beans and salsa together.
TWO: In a non-stick skillet heated to medium heat, warm the tortilla wraps, flipping once to make sure they are warmed through (about 1 minute). Place one tortilla wrap on each plate.
THREE: Add the egg whites to the skillet and cook through (about 4 minutes).
FOUR: Divide the cooked egg whites amongst the two tortilla wraps. Top with the warmed beans and salsa mixture. Shred some cheese on top and some freshly chopped herbs. Enjoy!
Julie Miguel is an iRun food contributor, where you’ll find a selection of weekly recipes and food ideas. She is a home cook, and food influencer and has worked with a national television, print and online media outlets. You can also follow her food discoveries and travel adventures at Daily Tiramisu.
February 20th, 2017
With the days slowly getting longer and the warmer weather just around the corner, now is the time to come out of outdoor running hibernation. But dusting off the cobwebs and finding the motivation to get outside on these dull dark days can be tricky. Here are five ways to find the inspiration you need to lace up your shoes this spring.
By Pamela Mazzuca HBSc. Kin, Athletic Therapist
Start Off Slow
It’s been a long winter and you have lost some of your conditioning so don’t expect to start off where you left off. Don’t push too hard at first otherwise you will suffer excessive muscle soreness, increase your risk of injury and you will be left feeling completely overwhelmed. So start off slow – decrease your mileage, speed, time and intensity. And most importantly always listen to your body; it will tell you if it’s too much, too soon.
Build a Foundation
Hold off on speed and interval training for now and instead focus on improving your cardiovascular endurance. Your training should consist of easy aerobic runs for the first 4-6 weeks, depending on how long your running hiatus was. Progress the intensity of your runs (speed OR duration) by no more than 10% per week to minimize the risk of injury.
Schedule Your Runs
Getting back into the habit of running can be difficult. Make a commitment to yourself and schedule your runs into your day like any other important meeting. Running first thing in the morning tends to work best as less things come up (work, traffic, family commitments) to distract you from your run. And remember it takes 21 consecutive days of doing something to make it a habit. So be patient and consistent.
Find things to keep you motivated. New gear, a massage or a new smart watch can sometimes be just the motivation you need to get started and to keep going. Don’t let your training become a chore, keep it fun and remember to reward yourself for your hard work.
Setting realistic goal gives your training purpose and helps keep you motivated even when you would rather skip a run. A goal needs to be measurable and have a deadline. Maybe you want to try a new distance, or aim for a new PB, whatever your goals are write them down and post them where you can see them for a daily dose of inspiration.
February 14th, 2017
When you think big race weekend in Canada, Dunnville perhaps doesn’t immediately come to mind, but Sheryl Sawyer is dreaming big as the Whole Health Mudcat Marathon Weekend (WHMMW) brings seven races to the town of 6,000 over May 12-13th.
It’s a lofty goal for a little town and relatively new race director Sawyer, who previously spent years as a fundraising professional before returning to school to complete a BA and MA in Linguistics. Currently, she’s on leave from a PhD program in the Cognitive Science of Linguistics but has no immediate plans to return, proclaiming that, “Race directing is a lot more fun than writing my dissertation.”
Festivities kick off Friday with the 1K Family Fun Run – there’s also the Mudkitten 1K on Saturday – and the Fishy 5K, the latter of which is part of the Mighty Mudcat Challenge, which offers participants who complete a Saturday race in addition to the Fishy 5K an additional medal on top of their two finishers medals, which Sheryl describes as, “a stylized anchor, meant to reflect the maritime history of Dunnville’s Grand River and Lake Erie.”
Saturday features the full and half marathon which Sheryl promises to be very scenic, taking runners “along a stretch of Lake Erie coastline before turning inland and running through some farmland on their way to the Grand River,” before they eventually hug the river shoreline all the way into Dunnville to be greeted at a shared finish line with “food, fun and beer for those of legal age.”
Sheryl’s math professor husband Eric measures the BQ certified course for the Whole Health Mudcat Marathon.
Saturday will also include the running of the Riverfront 5K and 10K. According to Sheryl, all routes are “pancake flat” and she’s expecting fast times. Considering that the full marathon race is a Boston Qualifier and both the full and half are qualifiers supporting entry to the New York City Marathon, this is good news for runners.
Previously, the town was home to the now defunct Dunnville 5K, for which Sheryl was the volunteer race director before the event outgrew itself.
It was Sheryl’s personal goal to “bring big city race amenities to small town Ontario” along with a challenge from local Chamber of Commerce President Don Zynomirski to bring a full marathon to Dunnville that planted the seeds of the WHMMW.
To make the leap from a single 5K to a full blown race weekend, Sheryl reached out to several race directors, including Michelle Kempton of the Maritime Race Weekend, who invited Sheryl to shadow her last September.
There’s also Esther and Gord Pauls, directors of the Road2Hope Marathon in Hamilton. Sheryl says she “probably annoys Esther with another question every week and she’s always gracious in helping me through the knots involved in putting this thing on.”
The Road Runners Club of America also offers a Race Director Certification Program through a series of online learning modules and tests. It just so happened that Sheryl was the 200th person to complete the program and only the second in Canada.
Sheryl’s team is small, but she’s “humbled to see how many people are coming together to wish every success upon the Whole Health Mudcat Marathon Weekend.”
She mentions her main sponsor Whole Health Pharmaceutical Partners donating their resident graphic designer and marketer Kaitlin Johnson to build the branding of the race. The race’s main charitable partner, the Dunnville Youth Impact Centre, also allowed Sheryl to enlist their Executive Director Bonnie Laman, whose attention to detail complements Sheryl’s focus on the big picture, as her Assistant Race Director.
Sheryl promises a scenic race on a pancake flat course for all participants. Photo Credit: Edison Yao
Finally, it didn’t hurt that Sheryl’s husband Eric happens to be a math professor who “painstakingly measured every millimetre of the course for submission for certification by Athletics Canada.”
It doesn’t mean that Sheryl isn’t nervous about the big day(s). There are the usual concerns about forecasting numbers, especially for a first time event, as well as the challenge of accommodations in little Dunnville. Thankfully, neighbouring Hamilton, Welland, St. Catherine’s and Simcoe are all only a short drive away from the start on race day.
Her most important concern is that everyone participating has a safe and successful race day and she and her team have put several contingency plans into place to ensure that happens. There’s also the matter of the weather, which has affected this year’s Vancouver First Half Marathon and last year’s Ottawa Race Weekend, but again the best Sheryl or any race director can do is prepare through contingency plans.
That nervousness is ultimately outweighed by the excitement and Sheryl’s drive to build something that will have a lasting impact on her beloved Dunnville and all who take part in the WHMMW. “I do see Dunnville as a hidden gem, which some have referred to as ‘Muskoka South,’ with so much natural beauty and outdoor recreation,” Sheryl says, adding, “I hope visitors will see why we like it so much here and come back and visit long after race day.”
Summing up her responsibilities, Sheryl says, “I see my main role as race director as providing a safe and enjoyable runner experience.” In accordance with that philosophy, Sheryl’s biggest reward will be seeing everyone finish their race. “There are so many beautiful stories of people running for various reasons,” she says. “I think I’m going to be ridiculously proud of and happy for every single runner that chooses to face their own reasons to run and does so under the big fishy banner!”
– Ravi Singh (@ravimatsingh)
February 14th, 2017
The life and death struggle of LIONEL SANDERS, the world’s realest triathlete
By Ben Kaplan
The walls in the room where Lionel Sanders trains are painted yellow to replicate the sun. Sanders, the 28-year-old from Windsor, Ontario, spends three hours-a-day here running on a half-broken treadmill, yelling at himself, cursing, and trying hard to appreciate every ounce of strain. In November, Sanders set the new Ironman World Record in Arizona, completing the 3.9 kilometre swim, 180 kilometre bike and 42.195 kilometre run in 7:44:29, 90 seconds faster than it’s ever been done before.
The accomplishment is extraordinary, given any circumstances. But Sanders, who is self-coached, trains alone and wears two-year-old bike shoes despite the fact that his sponsors give him thousands a year in specialty clothing, crafted his starting line out of desperate necessity. Ravaged by years of drinking and drugs, Sanders hit rock bottom in 2009, alone in his garage, contemplating suicide.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with myself unless I was on some sort of drug or drinking and I went into a real dark place,” says Sanders, who is friendly and smiles easily but contains a certain coiled energy that makes a strange explosiveness appear buried just beneath his tattooed skin. “In my family, there’s a history of mental illness, specifically induced by drug use and amphetamine-induced psychosis and, eventually, I was having trouble differentiating reality from what was in my mind.”
As a kid, Sanders ran track and played sports in high school—his mom ran and his dad lifted weights—and he says his addiction didn’t come from any deeply-held emotional abuse. Rather, he fell in with a crowd of dangerous party animals and found himself enjoying the good times until they became something else: you’re no longer partying when you don’t have a choice. He dropped out of school; became addicted to coke and one day walked alone into his garage, preparing to bring on his death.
It was a vision of his mom reacting to his suicide that drove Sanders back in the house.
“My mom always blamed herself for my condition, as if she did something wrong, but the reality is that I had a great upbringing, she didn’t do anything,” says Sanders in his tidy living room, balloons from his mother congratulating him on his world record above his head. “Even sitting there at my lowest moment—and I was definitely thinking about suicide, I did go into the garage with that intention—I knew that if I ended my life I’d be ending her life and I just said: ‘That’s not the answer. That’s not the way out.’ And I walked out of the garage, enrolled in some local running races and all of the sudden, there was this whole new community.”
The running community, where his mom is a member, welcomed him with open arms. “Running helps you realize what you’ve got,” says Becky Sanders, a triathlete, 4-time Boston-finisher and nurse. “Running helps you express gratefulness and today Lionel lives his life that way; running reminds you to hang on, to not lose faith and it nurtures hope.”
With the encouragement of his mom, Sanders entered his first triathlon in 2010. He had a breakthrough performance in 2014. And perhaps more important than his finishing times was that, despite one relapse on New Year’s Eve, 2011, he never returned to drinking or drugs.
“It would take one hit and I’d be back so fast and I hated that life and I hated myself and I don’t hate myself now, that’s my motivation,” he says. “That’s why I don’t go back there and that’s part of what helps me train—getting through the rough patches is part of the game. If you experience adversity, you become stronger.”
There’s no doubt that Sanders is among the strongest athletes in Canadian sport, relying on his natural gifts and ability to work hard in lieu of scientifically-honed technique. He’s an excellent cyclist, though he has an unorthodox style that he’s constantly refining. Teaching himself about torque and aerodynamics, he figures he can get more power into each pedal rotation given his physique. The running portion of his triathlon is his competitive advantage and when he broke the record in Arizona, he ran the marathon in a fierce positive split, hitting the halfway mark in 1:18:15. (This year in Boston, he aims to pace his mom to a 3:30). Swimming is where Sanders needs the most improvement and to put power to action, he’s now training with the Windsor Aquatic Club five times-a-week. He thinks he hasn’t gone as fast as he can yet and he points to his Arizona experience as proof. During his run, which is the Ironman’s last portion, he hit the wall around 35 kilometres and mentally had given up. It wasn’t until he saw his fiance, Erin MacDonald, who urged him forward, that he picked up his pace and become the fastest Ironman of all-time.
“The thing Lionel has more than anyone else is a relentless desire to push himself,” says MacDonald, herself a weightlifter and Ironman. “When it comes down to a race it’s about who can suffer the most. If you can’t suffer, you’re not going to win and Lionel—maybe it’s a bi-product of his past—what he has is intense and something that you can’t teach.”
This hunger to improve his times, to get the most out of his body, to push himself to the very limit of what he can endure is what he says he loves most about sport. He relays an anecdote that any runner can appreciate: how a peer of his has said that during competition he had secretly hoped to be hit by a car just to end the agony of the race. What drives Lionel Sanders is pushing himself to that very moment, then deciding to fight on.
“That’s the moment I live for—when the voices are screaming to crash into the wall, get injured for the rest of the season, just so we don’t have to do it—you’re never more alive and aware of your existence than at that time,” Sanders says. “Whatever’s behind that, your soul or whatever it is driving you, to get in touch with that, that’s what I love about sport. Nowhere else in my life do I get that sensation I want.”
Balloons still waft around the ceiling of Lionel and Erin’s tidy house in Windsor and there’s a wedding to plan, a dog to look after and more races to run. Both Erin and Lionel’s parents travel with them to races when possible, his mom Becky competing with him when she can, and the future looks bright for Canada’s Ironman champion.
He’s not completely straight-edge—he’ll have the odd glass of wine or pint following a big race—and he’s not part of any recovery program. He calls himself a lone wolf. What he does do is walk into his little room with its yellow walls and peels of his shirt and turns on his music and trains, sometimes as much as three times-a-day. It’s a quest to find the sensation he needs. A way to focus his gift.
“I’m a true believer that when you decide to walk in a direction so many stars align—the universe conspires to get you towards where you want to go, but only if you give yourself to it 100 percent,” Sanders says. “There was no doubt that I was going there with the triathlon and I went there and I’m going there—very fast.”
Ben Kaplan is the General Manager of iRun magazine.