Lionel Sanders


As the biggest races of the year are appoaching and excitement is building we wanted to take the opportunity to talk to one of the sports up and coming stars. Lionel Sanders is probably generating a fair bit of publicity and a big following at his home in Hamilton, ON, and across Canada but is still a relative unknown on the international circuit. He emerged onto the scene from almost nowhere when he thumped German Superstar Andreas Raelert one year ago at IM 70.3 Muskoka, dropping him on the bike and then blazing a 1:11 or 1:12 half marathon and winning by like 7 minutes or something ridiculous. (Note: Lionel ran a 1:10:58, winning by 6:30. Th.)

Lionel started this season with some bad luck with punctures and mechanicals so we didn’t get to see his real potential at the big early season races agains some of the best guys in the world. He fared better moving into the mid season and absolutely devastated some some strong fields showing he had more than just a spectacular run leg but that he could reel guys in on the bike. Lionel’s swim is still his weak point but as we have seen from Sebastian Kienle, 3-4 minute deficits can be made up and if Lionel can find himself among the Leaders at the 70.3 World Champs in Mont Tremblant he could really take a lot of the big names by suprize.

Luke had the chance to chat with Lionel.

Q: Hey Lionel, you have really exploded onto the scene in the past year, diid you see yourself racing this level 2-3 years ago?

A: No, definitely not. At the beginning of 2013 I was having some moderate success doing pure-running races in Ontario, Canada. I told myself that I’d give triathlon two more years, and if I was unable to compete on the world stage by then, then I was going to switch over to duathlon and pure-running. Not longer after that, I was fortunate enough to come out of the water only 1 minute back in a sprint triathlon from a pro athlete who I admired very much. This gave me the boost and the confidence to continue to stay focused on improving my swimming, at least to the point where I was no longer losing the race on the swim. I think having toughed it out has made the races in the recent past a lot more meaningful for me. Now that I have tasted success, I am more motivated than ever to improve my swimming over the winter months.

Q: What are your thoughts on the World Championship race? How are you preparing for it mentally and physically?

A: I think it’s going to be the fastest and hardest fought 70.3 ever. There are so many guys who have the potential to win the race, that it will be difficult to determine who is going to win, until the final few minutes. Unlike the ITU format where the swim is really the beginning and end of the race for many, this race will have a lot of dynamics. With super swimmer-bikers pushing the pace up front, dudes who are good all-arounders who know they need a few minutes on Gomez and Frodeno to win, as well as weak swimmers but good biker-runners coming up from behind, I think this race really doesn’t start to unfold until the final few miles.

I know that if I am to have any shot in this race, I will need to have the swim and bike of my life. A great deal of my focus over the last month has been on swimming very hard, as well as preparing myself to redline on the bike from start to finish. As well, I have been doing a great deal of running on these sorts of legs, so that on the day, it won’t be as much of a shock. I have also been preparing myself for the possibility of swimming and biking solo, the whole time.

Q: Catching up with small groups of riders seems to be no problem for you. Do you anticipate catching up being more challenging with a whole fleet of ex ITU superstars and world champions in the field?

A: I’d like to believe that it’s a non-drafting race, and so it really doesn’t matter if there’s one guy up front or forty. If there is no drafting occurring, then it’s every man for himself. Of course, the quality of riders is going to be better, so it will require a monumental effort to take time back from them on the bike. But, I take solace in the fact that in the past two years not only has Kienle taken time back, but has been able to put time into the main pack. At least there is hope.

Q: Whew, I am starting to get nervous just asking these questions and I don’t even race anymore, time for another angle. What are your thought about Lionel? The idea is to promote pro racing and events, generating more interest from age-groupers and fans. Some don’t like the idea and compare it to betting on horses.

A: I think it’s a cool idea. Anything that draws more attention to the sport I think is good. I think we could even go one step further in this endeavor and have theme songs for the athletes, with fire works and light shows when they walk into transition. Turn it into something like the WWE. If what we’re trying to do is create interest, I think that would be pretty darn interesting.

Q: Tell us a little about the struggles working your way up in the sport. Most would think a ripper like you would be earning a nice living by now… living the high life … Let us know the reality of racing pro, the financial difficulties, even as a world class athlete.

A: It wasn’t until this year that I even considered the possibility of making a living doing triathlon. If money is what motivated me, I definitely wouldn’t be doing triathlon! As a first year pro (I raced pro once, at the very end of the season in 2013) I’ve just looked at the whole year as a fun and interesting learning experience. At the beginning of the season I had very little money, so my girlfriend and I basically drove to all the races. Driving 13 hours straight, is not the most conducive way to race well, but it’s better than not racing at all, and having no shot at making any money. Aside from living paycheck to paycheck, I can’t complain. It’s an honour to even have the chance to do this as a profession. The way I look at it, is that I don’t think I will look back when I’m fifty, and regret spending my 20s and 30s traveling around to races, trying to push the limits of my body.

Q: Who are your mentors, favourite people.

A: My dad has been my biggest mentor. He was really into lifting weights when I was younger. I can remember watching him squat to the point of nearly puking (and in a few instances when I was not there, actually puking). I put a lot of motivating quotes up on the wall. At one point I had nearly an entire wall full of quotes. I was staring at the wall one day and noticed a quote that I did not put up there. It was from my dad. It said: “Walk through the door and puke! I dare you.” It’s kind of twisted, but that’s really all I’m trying to do in triathlon, “walk through the door and puke.” I want to push myself to the absolute limit. Every time I get to what I think to be a limit (the door in my dad’s terms), the limit always recedes and suddenly a whole new level is opened up. This is what fires me up, this is why I do triathlon. And I attribute a great deal of that desire to my dad.