Lionel Sanders broke the Ironman World Record at Ironman Arizona in a time of 7:44:29, merely 5 weeks after his worst race of the year. His data from Stryd provides unique insights into his historic day.
Photo Credit: Philip Carnavale
(Phoenix, AZ) Lionel Sanders emerged from the water after 53+ minutes of swimming in 25th place. Next, after four hours and 112 miles in the saddle, Lionel entered the run in second place and within range of the Ironman World Record.
Lionel had been here before, however. Five weeks earlier, at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Lionel used a strong bike to put himself into 13th place at T2. This was close enough that, with a strong run, he could have been in postion to stand on the podium.
Unfortunately, the run did not go as planned. Lionel’s endurance was not where it needed to be. His power profile from Kona shows that he averaged 320 watts and 6:25 min/mile for the first 10 miles, but only 250 watts and 8:20 min/mile for the final 16.
Humbled by the experience, Sanders used the next five weeks to log his 10 longest runs of the year. More than half of them longer than 16 miles. Next time, he would handle the distance.
Lionel had already swum three minutes and ridden 22 minutes faster in Arizona than he had in Kona. Despite the aggressive pace, and the memory of his poor marathon only five weeks earlier, Lionel showed no signs of slowing down.
Lionel’s power profile shows the power recorded by his Stryd foot pod. We see that he produced a great deal of power for a marathon – an average of 326 watts. By comparison, elite marathoner Patrick Smyth averaged just over 300 watts for his 2:16 Marathon in New York City. It also shows that Lionel’s power output steadily declined throughout the race. However, this decline had little variability – there were none of the large bursts of effort up and down hills that can expedite fatigue.
Over the first 5k, he averaged 348 watts running 5:45 min/mile – on pace for a 2:30 marathon! In Lionel Sanders’ blog he provides some perspective on his aggressive pace early on.
(Leading into Arizona) I definitely improved my endurance significantly, but it was not going to be enough to run a steady pace from start to finish. I decided that I would try and build up some fat, so that when my endurance did start to wane, I might still have a shot at getting under the time.
As the race unfolded, the fatigue grew. Although Lionel had been focussing on building endurance and it had improved over the past month, the early effort was wearing on Sanders.
By 17 miles the wheels were starting to fall off. Another three miles passed and I was really starting to slow… I couldn’t imagine carrying on at the pace I was running for another 8 miles.
From miles 13-20, Lionel averaged 6:20 pace and 320 watts, a decline from the 5:50 pace and 343 watts he had averaged over the first 10k. The 20 mile mark is a significant one for a marathon, a barrier that is both physical and mental. The downward trend continued through mile 23 — he averaged 6:45 pace while holding 300 watts.
It was there, two miles from the finish, that he saw his fiancé Erin. She shouted some words of encouragement: “You’re still on pace! The record is yours if you want it!”
Erin’s words had penetrated my thick skull. I realized that if I did not pick up the pace, and give it everything I had for the final 3 miles, that I would regret it for the rest of my life… It hurt so much that I actually had to start yelling at myself out loud in order to keep the pace. “Come on! Come on!”
Over the final mile and half, Lionel screamed his way back to an average of 6:10 pace and 330 watts. He crossed the finish, tears in his eyes, in 2:42:31 as the new IRONMAN World Record holder.
In November, 2009, Sanders started training for his first Ironman — shortly after Craig (Crowie) Alexander won his second of three Ironman World Championships. Since then, a picture of Crowie crossing that line has been on Lionel’s wall — serving as inspiration. When Lionel crossed the line as the new world record holder for the Ironman – he did his best Crowie Alexander impersonation. Now he will surely serve as an inspiration to others as well.
Stryd is a wearable power meter that helps people run faster! It is available for $199 at stryd.com.
STRYD | Running with Power