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Has Mikal Iden cracked the Lionel Sanders code?

Canadian star is on a roll right now with some outstanding performances

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were reporting on Lionel Sanders’ tough day at Ironman Coeur d’Alene. The Canadian star looked to be on his way to taking the day, finally overcoming the tough stretch of full-distance races that had seen him struggle through the marathon. The wheels fell off early on in the run, and Sanders would end up walking.

Related: Lionel Sanders “OK, but frustrated” after nutrition issues at Ironman Coeur d’Alene

Sanders would bounce back to have a good day at the Tri Battle Royale, racing against Jan Frodeno, then took second at Ironman Copenhagen behind Cameron Wurf. It was at the Collins Cup where Sanders went on a ride with Ironman 70.3 world champion Gustav Iden and his brother, Mikal, who won Ironman Talinn in 2019. By then Mikal had been coaching for a few years – in addition to his own coaching that he does in Haugesund, he’s worked as the assistant coach to Arild Tveiten for the Norwegian national team.

Related: Lionel Sanders parts ways with coach David Tilbury-Davis

Around that time August Sanders reported that he would no longer be working with David Tulbury-Davis. The two had worked together leading into Sanders’ most successful Kona race – his runner-up finish in 2017. Shortly after that, though, Sanders parted ways with the British coach. The reconnected again for a few years, but then Sanders indicated he would be coaching himself.

Last fall, though, he announced that he had a “team” who would be making all his training decisions.

“I don’t write the training,” he said in a video posted on his YouTube channel. “I’m not in charge of most things. I’m just an athlete. It has taken me 10 years to get to this point where I trust other people to help, to provide their expertise, but I am just going to listen … it’s working, I believe in the process … It’s time to employ people who are the experts in the various fields who will allow me more time and energy to execute their expert thinking. So that’s what I intend to do and I intend to get to the St. George World Champs competitive with the best guys in the world.”

Sanders with his wife Erin.

Calm confidence

A few days before the Ironman World Championship in St. George, Sanders’ team hosted a media event where we got a chance to chat with the Windsor native.

Related: “There’s nothing to be nervous about” – Lionel Sanders is ready for the Ironman World Championship St. George

Sanders seemed to be in a great head space. When asked how much Iden’s coaching contributed to that, Sanders said:

“I connect really well with him. He’s observing Kristian (Blummenfelt) and Gustav every single day. They are the top contenders right now. He’s not babying me in any way. When he does tell me I’m doing well, it really means something. It’s also the accountability. If you want to be the best in the world you have to do some pretty amazing things. That takes time. I’ve kind of pissed around for a few years doing incorrect training methods for a few years. Then the other side of the puzzle is that scientific aspect … in that I was doing tons of anaerobic training. My logic there was that in order to go fast for long you have to go fast for short. It was a misunderstanding or ignorance. He enlightened me that there’s specificity involved, too. Your intervals should very much imitate the race, especially in terms of muscle fatigue. I would go into these races and do 400+ watt intervals for five minutes, maybe 10 times. And then you expect to exert 310 watts for four straight hours and you’ve literally spent no time pushing 310 watts. How is that logical?”

“What’s comical is that I was on the right training path early on,” Sanders continued. “The way these Norwegian guys are training, that’s the way I trained early on. I listened to everyone saying ‘you’re overtraining, too much volume, stop doing an Ironman every day’ – that’s what Kienle said to me – and what’s funny is I’m back almost identically to how I was training in 2015 and 2016.”

On a roll

The new training and attitude certainly seem to be working. A brilliant come-from-behind run earned him a runner-up finish at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, then Sanders took second to Blummenfelt in St. George. Last weekend Sanders put together an impressive performance at Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant, where he dominated on the bike despite reaching T1 to find he had a flat tire.

Related: Sanders knocks out tooth but still captures 70.3 Mont-Tremblant

Sanders pushed himself so hard during the bike to catch up to the men ahead of him that he knocked out one of his front teeth.

Sanders will have to take on Blummenfelt and (Gustav) Iden at the upcoming PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton. Based on the way he’s been racing of late, it certainly appears that he’ll be ready to take them on thanks to the help from another Norwegian.