He clocked 3:43:34 to claim victory ahead of Canada’s Jackson Laundry (3:44:22), who he was with for much of the race, and Belgian Bart Aernouts (3:45:08).
Perfect finale to ‘great year’
But it was the “Big Unit” who came out on top at La Quinta, and the winner was quick to thank his fellow athletes for pushing him to perform.
“I can thank the other guys for that, they were pushing me the whole way,” he explained after the race.
“As always, thanks to them; they brought the best out of me and I hope I brought the best out of them as well.”
There was much talk about the biting cold nature of the water in the race’s opening swim, but Long felt it was perfect for a Colorado native like himself.
“On the swim, it was quite, quite cold so I knew the start was going to be rather difficult,” he explained. “I grew up in Colorado, swimming at 10,000 feet. So I loved that and I just thought, ‘oh I’m just swimming my laps at my favourite lake.’”
Riding on feel
He also revealed that he wanted to focus on ‘feelings’ throughout the race, rather than just the numbers.
“I opted to have no bike computer, no Wahoo there, so I couldn’t see my watts and I just was riding off emotion and feelings,” he said.
“I wanted to ride hard, ride solid and me and Jackson found ourselves in great positions, switching roles. It was fun.”
But reality soon came back, with Aernouts and Lionel Sanders, who had won every previous edition of 70.3 Indian Wells, pushing him and Laundry hard.
“I think we both were paying the price a little bit, that final 10 miles, but I didn’t want to give Bart and Lionel any hope to catch us so I really tried to nail it,” Long explained.
“Then onto the run, it was a hard run course here, that golf course really saps the legs, and again it was just a great battle.
“I really took everything I needed in the final 5K so thanks to the other guys, thanks IRONMAN. What a great year!”
Incredible double for Laundry
Long’s race was impressive, but perhaps more notable was the fact Laundry managed to keep up with the American to hold out for second.
Laundry had raced just 48 hours prior at CLASH Daytona where he had finished eighth, but he demonstrated his fitness to take a brilliant silver.
“I have no idea what just happened, honestly it’s been crazy,” Laundry said.
“I wanted to do both races because it’s at the end of the season and I might as well use up the last bit of the fitness.
“To be completely honest, I figured I probably wouldn’t race that well today, but I didn’t have any pressure on myself and I decided to just go for it.”
He worked with Long for most of the race, with the two driving each other on.
“I swam well and saw Sam had a great swim and I thought, he’s one of the best bikers in the sport, and if I’m feeling good and I can work with him we can make up a lot of time,” Laundry explained.
“We just went to work on the bike and really, really crushed it out there. Thanks to Sam for pushing the pace and keeping me working hard the whole bike.
“I can’t believe I hung on for second!”
‘It looks like I still have something in me’
Equally eye-catching was the performance from 38-year-old Belgian Bart Aernouts.
Along with Sanders, the veteran tried to chase down the front two, but whilst he was unable to reel them in, Aernouts still proved he had something to give.
“It was hard to work today, I was going use the excuse that I did an IRONMAN two weeks ago but Sam did the same and Jackson raced 48 hours ago!” Aernouts joked.
“It was a very hard race, I struggled a bit in the swim but that’s normal for me, but also it was really cold, the beginning of the bike as well.
“So, it took a bit of time to get a good feeling and then I just kept pushing. it was really nice to have Lionel with me at the end of the bike and for the run.
“He’s a tough guy so I really had to work for it; I think we were closing really good on the first two guys, but then I think they paced really well and I struggled a bit at the end.
“But I’m really happy to get a podium because I had a really bad season and at 38-years-old I thought maybe I’m getting too old. It looks like I still have something in me.”