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iRun because I cannot say no to a second slice of chocolate cakeEmily Shandruk , Vancouver, BC

iRun to stay fit and release those running endorphinsLiliana Plava , Calgary, AB

iRun because I want to qualify for Boston and raise money for charities near and dear to my heartChristine Gracel , Calgary, AB

iRun because it makes me feel good, allows me to spend time with my friends and gives me a feeling of accomplishmentHelen Kolodziejzyk , Calgary, AB

iRun but not enoughMichael Shaw , New Westminister, BC

iRun because I never thought I would be able toGary Morris , Winnipeg, MB

iRun to challenge myself, physically and mentallyKathleen Keenan , Brampton, ON

iRun because people around me inspire mePina Bevilacqua , Caledon, ON

iRun therefore I amDuncan Walsh , Nottingham, UK

iRun because I liveGeorges Schneller , Laval, QC

iRun to be free and enjoy our beautiful countryCheryl Carter , Clearwater , BC

iRun for overall wellbeingTrish McCourt , Halifax, NS

iRun because it makes me a better person, a better wife, a better mother and a better friendNathalie Joncas-Caissie , St-Antoine, NB

iRun because it makes me feel powerfulCarlene Paquette , Carp, ON

iRun because pecan pie, french fries and beer are chasing meTeresa Sterling , Ottawa , ON

iRun because it’s in meMichael Foley , Stittsville, ON

iRun because it reminds me that I am capable of so much more than I have doneJames Sauve , Ottawa, ON

iRun for meKiza Francis , Ottawa,ON

iRun to prove to myself I canLesley McGougan , Brampton, ON

iRun because all the ladies are chasing my sexy runner’s bodyChris Baker , Etobicoke, ON

iRun because I can and I’m gratefulTerry SanCartier , Gatineau, QC

iRun because when I run I feel most aliveMeghan Lynch , Ottawa, ON

iRun to unleash my inner athleteAdelle Densham , Avonmore, ON

iRun because it cleans up my life, because I drink more water, sleep better and eat healthier foodsRobin McIntyre , Ottawa, ON

iRun because of the peace and strength it brings meMichelle Jordan , Ottawa, ON

iRun because I need it to soothe the soul, keep me in shape and for overall wellbeingBeth Neil , Lombardy, ON

iRun because it is my tonic and my salvation Georgia Ioannou , British Columbia

iRun for relaxation and to motivate my two sonsKeith Bradbury , Newfoundland

iRun because endorphins are freeCassandra Chouinard , Ontario

iRun because somebody once told me I couldn’t Heidi Abbey-Der , Saskatchewan

iRun because couch potatoes die young Cathy Andrew , Ontario

iRun because it’s cheaper than therapy Leah Boulter , Alberta

iRun because I like buying running clothes Pamela Blaikie , Ontario

iRun slowly!Jason Hoffman , Manitoba

iRun because it gives me freedom to relax my brainMarie-Claude Gregoire , Nova Scotia

iRun because I learn more about who I am with every kmSteph Mansell , Quebec

iRun because iEat Sherry Maligaspe , British Columbia

iRun and run, and run, and run, and nobody can stop me Andrei Lucaciu , Ontario

iRun because the wall is meant to be broken Jonathan Bird , Ontario

iRun because it has saved my life John Marshall , Alberta

iRun for the challenge to go faster and farther Steven Matejka , Alberta

iRun to my happy place and some days it’s very Doreen May , Alberta

iRun because food tastes better afterwards Patrick Houston , Alberta

iRun because I can’t dance Mario Javier , Ontario

iRun so I don’t say never ever again Linda Klaric , Manitoba

iRun because it makes me whole Denis Ladouceur , Quebec

iRun because it gets my husband out there Tricia LaLonde , Alberta

iRun away from the negative and towards the positive Teri Lepard , Alberta

iRun because running is like breathing to Stephanie McEvoy , Ontario

iRun because I love the solitude Janene Tailleur , British Columbia

iRun for the moment when both feet are off the ground Catherine Anderson , British Columbia

iRun to someday win the race Lindy Dunlop , Yukon

iRun to stay ahead of the weight gainMyra Abstreiter , Alberta

iRun because otherwise I’m grumpy Alexandre Charest , Quebec

iRun because I get foot rubs afterward Kate Howerton , British Columbia

iRun because iLoves my man Beverly Huang , Alberta

iRun because not everyone can Olivia Harvey , New Brunswick

iRun to get to know myself, my strength and my spirit Lisa Groulx , Ontario

iRun whenever I feel the need to escape Iona Hillis , Ontario

iRun because it’s like flying, only lower Glenn Johnson , Ontario

iRun because it makes me feel powerful Sarah Kallaghan , Alberta

iRun because I’ve lost 80 lbs and running has become fun Cheryl Kelly , Ontario

iRun because there is no finish line Claire Kilgour , Ontario

iRun so my daughters know that they can, too Shelley Kirkpatrick , New Brunswick

iRun because it reminds me of how strong I can be Monique Lavoie , Ontario

iRun because it’s a great way to see the world Sherry Mahoney , British Columbia

iRun because my heart tells me to William Martin , Manitoba

iRun to prove to them that iCan Catherine Smith , Manitoba

iRun because it’s fun when it’s done Sue Matte , Ontario

iRun because I am not as clumsy I thought I was Hanna Baer , Quebec

iRun see where my feet will take me todayMegan Dolinskas , New York

iRun for the cool t-shirts! Pina Bevilacqua , Ontario

iRun because I want to be a role model for our six kids Catherine Empey , British Columbia

iRun to inspire my kids to tryGlen Johnston , Nunavut

iRun so I can eat ice cream Sandy Bolan , Ontario

iRun because I want to live to be 100! Colette DeJean , Ontario

iRun for health, i Run for life Pat Cheung , British Columbia

iRun because it gives my day a boost of energy Sara Campbell , Nova Scotia

iRun because it’s better than almost everything else Nathan Carey , Ontario

iRun at 50 years old because at 43 I couldn’t Peter Cicalo , Ontario

iRun because it's better than almost everything else Nathan Carey , Ontario

iRun at 50 years old because at 43 I couldn't Peter Cicalo , Ontario

iRun because it is my tonic and my salvation Georgia Ioannou , British Columbia

iRun for relaxation and to motivate my two sons Keith Bradbury , Newfoundland

iRun because endorphins are free Cassandra Chouinard , Ontario

iRun because somebody once told me I couldn't Heidi Abbey-Der , Saskatchewan

iRun because couch potatoes die young Cathy Andrew , Ontario

iRun because it's cheaper than therapy Leah Boulter , Alberta

iRun because I like buying running clothes Pamela Blaikie , Ontario

iRun slowly! Jason Hoffman , Manitoba

iRun because it gives me freedom to relax my brain Marie-Claude Gregoire , Nova Scotia

iRun because I learn more about who I am with every km Steph Mansell , Quebec

iRun because iEat Sherry Maligaspe , British Columbia

iRun for my heart, so it runs for me! Cathy Brzoza , British Columbia

iRun to inspire my children! Wendy Bowen , Manitoba

iRun because it sure beats the bus Robin Robbins , Alberta

iRun for the challenge and to remember to fully live Pascale Synnott , Québec

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iRun for me! Judi Wearing , Saskatchewan

iRun because it's a great stress release Brooke McKenzie , Yukon

iRun because i love to Mirella Petriello , Ontario

iRun because it helps me see things more clearly Jennifer Pitts , Ontario

iRun to eat Maureen Tritscher , Alberta

iRun to correct years of sedentary living! Mike Scott , Ontario

iRun away from the abyss Charlene Thomas , Ontario

iRun all the livelong day Pierre Saint-Laurent , Québec

iRun to challenge my perceived limitations Cassandra Williams , Ontario

iRun to maintain a strong physical and mental state Tammy Rainville , Ontario

iRun so that I can live longer and stronger Derek MacPhail , Ontario

iRun to feel great Kathryn Rachar , Saskatchewan

iRun because I like to be healthy Melanie Oickle , New Brunswick

iRun to eat more, especially sweet potatoe fries Joanna Skomra , Ontario

iRun for the fresh air and adrenalin Charlyn McGregor , Saskatchewan

iRun for the individual pursuit Robert Pelletier , New Brunswick

iRun to satisfy the irresistible urge Tim Nixon , British Columbia

iRun because I love the sense of accomplishment Amber Moase , Nova Scotia

iRun to challenge my mind, body and soul Sonia Mendes , Ontario

iRun because walking is too slow Barry Knapp , Ontario

Motivation

King of Pain

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.

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February 14th, 2017

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