Lionel Wins Oceanside 703: First Race of 2024 IM Pro Series

Matt Ventura, Senior PM TriSports Analyst

“I’m in it to win it baby! Woo!”

Lionel said one of his latest videos, where he refers to going all in on Kona this year. He was referring to a conversation he had with the GOAT Jan Frodeno where he asked for Jans advice about which series to go about, PTO or Ironman. And Jan responded, alluding to asking if he had a picture in his head of what he wanted which would it be, and Lionel said he'd be lying if it wasn't him holding up the Kona banner.

Lionel’s training 

He had mentioned he took a proper offseason after racing Michigan 70.3 and was then going into base training, which he hadn’t done in a long time. Base training typically refers to a couple blocks of zone 2 work, tempo, and maybe some sweet spot. Building a foundation before any hard work is done later towards race specific prep. Lionel also made some changes in he stopped running in carbon plated shoes but more specifically a middling effort shoe like the Hoka Mach 5/6. Not much foam, no speed board, so you have to work for your effort. In a Bob Babbit interview, Matt Hanson mentioned that from some testing he found that carbon shoes not only make you run 4% faster, but also help you burn 16% less carbs. Not to mention, Lionel has said in his YouTube he has been swimming upwards of 40k per week 6-7 days a week, to build his swim to where he needs it to be to have the potential to win any race he would step on the start line to. 

In a Pro Tri News interview post Oceanside win, Lionel spoke about his big 13 week block of training that led him to his Oceanside victory. He also stated that on the last day of the block he finally cracked. He called his wife Erin and said he was throwing in the towel, he couldn’t do it anymore, he gave up, and his partner Erin calmed him down and brought him back down, but he didn’t do a 10k run he had planned for himself. Lionel also did some Aero testing with Mark Gravelin in Fall of 2023 and some velodrome testing with the canyon team, and you could see some visuals of his position changes very much in the Oceanside broadcasting. He was very stretched out, allowing him to have a lower center of mass and much lower Cda than in his previous races which definitely contributed to the factor of him bridging up in Oceanside to the front of the bike part in the race. 

Oceanside Win

Lionel had probably a career best swim coming out of the water about 90 seconds down from the front, which allowed him to not have to shave off minutes of bridging to the front of the race. It also helped that Sam Long, one of the best bikers in the sport, came out of the water a minute behind Lionel. He proceeded to have the fastest splits up to mile 25 of the bike and by then he bridged to the front group with Sam Long, Justin Reile, Jackson Laundry, and others. From there he held onto Sam’s wheel the best he could in the back half of the bike, following Sam’s surges, came into T2 and started off the first mile of the run blistering past the pack. You could tell from that first 2 kilometer Lionel was looking better and quicker than anyone in the field. Maybe not running in the carbons helped after all. Lionel remained at the front of the race slowly building a gap to Sam and Jackson to over a minute by the end to the finish line. When Lionel was crossing the finish line he was smacking peoples hands vigorously giving them high 5s and then proceeded to slow down towards the tape, looked at it for a second, clenched his fists, screamed in carnal joy, grabbed the tape and threw it on the floor in glorious anger. Erin put their son on the floor to walk over to dad and Lionel picked him up and gave his family a memorable group hug. In his post-win Instagram post, Lionel captioned “this one’s for my family.” And you can tell there was great joy when he crossed that finish line and saw them, this win meant a lot to their family. 

Kona Q 

Lionel mentioned that he will be heading to St George 70.3 for his next race, then doing a long block, which will last about 8 weeks to Ironman Lake Placid. The course has about 4,000ft of climbing and the run is decently punchy as well. Likes of Heather Jackson and Joe Skipper have won there before, suiting a strong man’s course. Lionel doing historically well in these types of courses shows this race could suit him well. Also I have heard the swim has a sight line in the water so that could add to the component as well. Start lists are not out yet for this race and exact qualifying slots are not announced but assuming Lionel can get his punch card to the big island in Placid, he will then have 3 months of building to the end of October to get ready for one of the most competitive fields Kona has witnessed in the men’s field. Likes of Kristian Blummenfelt, Gustav Iden, Max Neumann, Sam Laidlow, Daniel Backegarrd, Magnus Ditlev, Rudy Von Berg, and many others will be attending Kona and looking for Kona slots along the way. This year is set to go big in the big island. As a long time fan of LS, and as many would love to see, a victory over all these names in Kona would cement Lionel’s name in the books as it already has been to all the people he has inspired in the sport of triathlon. I am sure this year we will see one of the best versions of Lionel Sanders we have seen in years so keep an eye out for every time he hits a start line.