More than once ‘No Limits’ was forced to put the desire to compete to the back of his mind, and just execute his own gameplan.
Sanders has walked the marathon of an Ironman more than once – most recently in Coeur d’Alene last year. Above everything else, it was an experience he wanted to avoid this time.
In the end the discipline the 34-year-old Canadian showed paid off as he ran through the field late on to claim a terrific second place behind winner Kristian Blummenfelt. It was not until very late in the day that he passed Kiwi Braden Currie to grab the silver medal.
In some ways it was a similar performance to last month at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside – again he was off the pace early, but finished like a train to take second.
An individual time trial
Afterwards he admitted: “That was the most insane race I’ve ever participated in – it was just like a giant individual time trial.
“And everyone played their strengths to the best of their ability. Huge hats off to Braden, that was an amazing battle and something I’ll never forget.
“This race my only goal was to execute my absolute best performance on the swim, bike and run. I just had to execute my own race and sometimes let others go but they started to blow up and come back to me.”
Sanders re-iterated that the one thing he was desperate to avoid on Saturday – one which played into his entire race strategy – was walking that final marathon.
“I walked Coeur d’Alene and I think I’m five in a row no walking. It’s a win, big-time. All that walking paid dividends today.
“Immediately out of the water I knew that it was too much to go with Wurf and Sam Long for me, to have a good day. Basically the mantra was: ‘is this helping or hindering hour seven of this race?’ That’s all I stuck by.
“So pretty well immediately I knew I was going to be doing an individual time trial for the entire day. And that, I believed, if I executed that to the best of my ability and stayed within myself, I would take solace with whatever position that resulted in because I believed that was the best tactical way to race.”
Absolute second best
While a strong finish saw Lionel surge through the field to grab second, he admitted afterwards that going one better – and derailing that ‘Norwegian Hype Train’ – was never ever a realistic possibility.
“Second was truly the absolute best I could have finished today. I was right where I needed to be, I came off the bike with Kristian and he outran me by four-and-a-half minutes. There was no way I was going to be contending, so second was the best.”
The tunnel vision Lionel deployed was total – he claims he never thought about finishing positions or the competition. Just on executing his own strategy.
“I pretty well didn’t have any thoughts the entire race to be honest with you. I was very clear the entire race, it was quite nice – it was eight straight hours of meditation for the most part.
“I just don’t care. Once you’ve walked – horrible horrible experiences – I refuse to do that to myself. Tactically on this course, for me, the right decision was an individual time trial and so I just didn’t care where I finished.
“I wanted to execute and I wanted to show I’ve mastered Ironman racing – like I understand how to race a good Ironman, and I think I did that to the best of my ability.”