‘The Big Unit’ advertised his claims to be a major IRONMAN World Championship contender in St George on May 7 by dominating the opposition both in Florida and South America.
Long has now provided a brief YouTube update on his whirlwind week – with a focus not just on the races themselves, but also everything that went on around the edges. From travel and hotels, to food and the local drink of choice.
Race great, hotel not so much
Sam’s journey started with a pretty late arrival into Miami – the early hours of Thursday ahead of a Friday race. It’s fair to say the preparation did not get any better from there.
“I was in basically the biggest dump of a hotel you could possibly ever imagine.
“The power went out for three hours the night before the race so could not Netflix and chill and instead me and Lara (Gruden, Sam’s girlfriend) had to sit on the bed and stare into each other’s eyes and have intimate conversations before a race. Which is not at all what you want to do before a race to be honest.”
If Sam thought a pre-race spin around the bike course would put him in the right frame of mind, he was wrong. Instead it left him fearful of what might happen.
“I actually got quite nervous about the race the day before, I pre-rode the couse and I was like ‘It’s gonna be impossible to make up any time on this bike. You gotta drill the swim and it’s gonna be a swimmer’s race and a runner’s race’.”
Long’s fears though proved unfounded as he romped to a superb win, including a swim that proved to him the improvement he was desperately seeking is gradually starting to show through.
“I actually was quite happy with my swim. I wanted to be under 90 seconds but I think it was more like 2:15. But Aaron Royle can absolutely swim and it was a super-technical course with an Aussie exit they added last-minute. Multiple turns, multiple laps, big packs.
“So I was actually very pleased with 2:12 and I felt I had big swim improvement. I came out with swimmers I’ve never come out with before.”
Wreaking destruction on the bike
Then to the bike, and the antithesis of what Sam had expected…
“My prediction on the bike ended up being completely opposite of what I thought and I was able to wreak destruction on the bike course. It was pretty fun having Magnus (Ditlev) with me – I’ve always wanted to bike together with him.
“And so yeah, we just wreaked absolute destruction on that bike course and I was able to catch Ben Kanute with three laps to go and we more or less came into transition together.”
The conditions on that Friday in Florida were brutal, as Sam was at pains to point out.
“It was a hot day – I’ve received some flak on Strava for not running that fast. It was 88 degrees and 95 percent humidity.”
If Miami had been a stressful experience off the course, what Sam was about to jet into would be entirely different – a trip down to Chile for Challenge Puerto Varas. Once he had negotiated a travel nightmare during a six-hour layover in Santiago.
Sam in Chile heaven
When Long arrived at his ultimate destination, he was immediately “in heaven” and went on to have what he describes as the best raceweek experience of his career to date.
“I was just over the top amazed. The people there took the absolute best care of me. They took me out to dinners, they showed me the food. It’s a big German town, settled by German people, so there’s German architecture.
“There’s tons of fresh seafood. I had king crab, lots of pizza. I’m the king of muffins and my breakfast had an unlimited buffet every day so I ate about eight blueberry muffins each day which kept me rolling.”
But the food played second fiddle to the drink – namely the local cocktail of choice. One which was even renamed in Sam’s honour.
“And the best thing is Chile has a drink called Pisco Sour – it’s kind of hard to explain but it’s like a mix between a margerita and champagne so it’s pretty good. So I was getting into those – they nicknamed the drink ‘Sam Sour’ while I was there because all the locals couldn’t believe I was drinking.”
When the race actually arrived Long was expected to win, but he says despite that the whole day still gave him vital clues about the way his skills are evolving.
All about the numbers
“People want to say ‘it’s a soft field and the race result doesn’t mean anything’ but the nice thing with data these days is that I can compare my races to my past races and I know definitively that I’ve improved.
“Once again I rode five-and-a-half minutes faster than The next person so the bike has completely elevated itself.
“My swim deficit was good – I came out with people yet again, There’s some other things on the swim that I want to hold to myself but it was a very useful experience, getting the wetsuit experience and I’ve got some tricks in my back pocket to improve.”
Long was clearly blown away by the whole experience of his trip to South America, and it was topped off by the closing run.
“A town of 40,000 people and there must have been 2,000 people out there cheering on the course. So the turnout rate for the town of how many people came out was the best of any town I’ve been in. I was loving it.
“I cruised to what technically was a 1:10:55 – the course was long so I ran 5:26 pace for the run, pretty unchallenged, so I’ve got some more in me.”
The hectic schedule of travel and racing left Long pretty exhausted when he returned to Arizona, and he admits it is now unlikely he will race against the likes of Alistair Brownlee and Lionel Sanders in that stellar field at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside early next month.
Instead all roads now lead to St George for that IRONMAN World Championship, where Long will dream of going one better than he did last year when finishing second to Gustav Iden over the 70.3 distance.