From crack to Kona. This man swapped an addiction to drugs for an obsession with triathlon.

Christian Sanderson's journey to Kona is a little bit different to many people's. After a troubled childhood, Muz, as he's known to friends, found himself living a little bit too hard in Bali. Alcohol lead to ecstasy and LSD and before long he was into cocaine, crack, and finally heroin. His life spiralled further and further out of control during his twenties. He ran from police in Madrid, blacked out in Ecuador, got arrested in Paris and woke up in a park in Singapore at dawn.

After numerous attempts to get clean he finally left his old life behind in his early thirties, getting through a 10 week rehab programme. He gradually rebuilt his life, meeting the woman of his dreams and starting a family. He hadn't done any sport for over twenty years, but found regular gym sessions to be a great stress reliever whenever he was struggling with temptation. 

Then, he decided to enter Bali triathlon on a whim. It didn't go well, his wife nearly sent out a search party after he failed to show at the finish line well after his expected time. But, he had caught 'the bug' that so many of us talk about. He had a new addiction.

Seven years later and Muz has achieved something he could only have dreamt of all those years a go in Bali, he's qualified for the Kona. It's an incredible story and we wanted to find out more about Muz' journey when we chatted to him after he qualified...

 

MUZ Christian Sanderson triathlon 

 

Muz, congrats on qualifying for the big dance in Kona later this year. Can you talk us through your race at Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou?

Thank you Dave. Back in November I set myself the target of qualifying for Kona at Ironman 70.3 Liuzhou. I had never made a serious effort to qualify but this time I decided to go all in. I chose Liuzhou because it was a cooler race; and also it was a 70.3 offering Kona slots – one slot for my age group. It would be hard because I knew there would be seriously good athletes flying in from all over Asia, Australia and the US to grab one of these slots.

I am from the UK but have lived in Bali, Indonesia for 26 years. However, despite a few decent races in the heat I have always thought I could perform at my best in a cooler race. I had raced about ten 70.3s and one Ironman prior to Liuzhou and they have all been in temperatures above 80F! So this would be my first cool race. It was a river swim – point to point. The water temperature was 60F. This was only my second ever wetsuit swim – the previous one being at the World 70.3 Championships in Zell Am See, Austria, but the water temperature that day was 70F – and the race temperature was above 80’F. So the icy waters of the Liuzhou river were a new experience!

 

MUZ triathlon

 

It was a rolling start and we were asked to self seed ourselves on time. The fastest group was for those with an expected swim time of 23mins-30mins, so I chose this group. I started next to my friend and team mate from Bali Andy Wibowo. He swam at the Athens Olympics in 2004, and had already booked his Kona ticket. So I had all the inspiration I needed. I dived into the river and the freezing water totally took my breath away. It took me a couple of hundred meters to catch my breath – but once I did I had a decent swim. The current helped bring me to the swim finish in 25 mins 50 secs.

The bike leg is my strongest discipline and training had been going well. I settled into my rhythm – I train with a Power Meter (PowerTap P1 pedals) but decided to race by feel. I just had speed and average speed on my Garmin – though my power data was being recorded for review after the race. I was targeting a 2 hr 22 min bike split for the 90km.

The bike course was rolling hills, a great surface and lined with 5000 Chinese police! There was a policeman about every 20 meters! So very safe. I felt great on the bike and managed to come in below my target in 2 hr 20 mins. The weather was still cool, I believe about 68F, so I really did not sweat too much and only consumed two and a half bottles of liquid.

On my bike I had a TorHans Aero 30 with water mixed with one and a half tablets of Precision Hydration 1500. Behind the seat I had a 750ml bottle also with one and a half tablets of 1500. I took another bottle of water from an aid station and dropped another 1500 tablet into it. That was it for hydration. As it was cold I knew my body would need more fuel so I consumed five gels on the bike.

 

Triathlon bali asia

 

Off the bike I felt good. I knew I had to be up near the top of my age group. But in the past I have had issues running due to severe sweat loss in races and as I had not raced in a cold race like this before, I was apprehensive about how I would feel. I wanted to run at 4 min 30 sec per kilometre. In fact I had to keep pulling myself back from running too fast because I was scared I would blow up. Every time my pace crept up to 4.10 or 4.20 pace I consciously slowed down.

I took 3 gels on the run and 3 SweatSalt capsules. At 10km of the run my friends watching shouted that I was in 3rd position in my Age Group. This surprised me because it meant two guys were going seriously fast, as I had not been overtaken on the bike. Later I found out that they only told me this so that I would keep pushing. What are friends for eh?! I was actually in first position! I kept a consistent pace throughout and finished the run in 1 hr 33 mins. For a final time of 4 hr 28 min 16secs. When I crossed the line my friends shouted congratulations so it was then I knew I had secured my Kona slot.


Amazing. What were your best results before this one?

I have qualified twice for the Ironman 70.3 Championships – in Zell Am See 2015 and Mooloolaba 2016. In Zell Am See I suffered horribly in the heat, felt feint on the run and ended up walking a lot of it. I never made it to the start line of Mooloolaba as I broke my collar bone in a training accident 4 weeks out. I have won my age group a few times in Asia at various races.

 

Triathlon bike MUZ

 


You live in Bali so you don't need to acclimate for hot races, do you think that helps?

To be honest I do not think it helps me too much in hot races. I have an extremely high sweat rate – at threshold and in 85F heat I sweat more than 2.5 litres per hour! Any performance gains from acclimatisation is lost through my sweat rate. So I have never really felt the benefits of acclimatisation. Though I am sure all the heat training over the years helped with my heart rate in the cold in Liuzhou and that this will have helped my performance.

There are studies showing that training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume and various other benefits so I am certain I have benefitted in the long run from living and training in Bali.


What does a typical training week look like for you mid season (when you're not tapering)? How has your training plan changed as you've got a bit older?

I have only been doing triathlon for six/seven years and my training has not changed too much over this time really. I have just become smarter with my choices. I was forty five years old when I started and I am in my fifties now, so I have been old since the beginning!

I have a coach, Elliot Lipski from Train Sharp , I started working with him in November. He developed my plan for Liuzhou and like all excellent coaches knew immediately the weaknesses I need to work on. Train Sharp are based in England and I am in Bali so all is done by Skype or through the internet. Elliot uploads my sets to an online training portal called Today’s Plan. Here's some insight into what I do...


BIKE

All my cycle training is using power and heart rate. I do 99% of my cycle training on the turbo. This is for two reasons: firstly, in the last 4 years I have broken two collar bones, broken a shoulder blade and a finger being hit by a car, or hitting a dog on the road. So I decided to play it safe and train indoors.

Secondly, I believe that indoor training is better training anyway. More focused, no breaks…if you can handle it mentally it has great benefits. Just look at Lionel Sanders: one of the best if not the best 70.3 cyclist in the sport today and he does 100% of his cycling on the turbo! I do 4-5 turbo sets a week. The sets are one hour to two and a half hours each – all based one power intervals.


SWIM

I swim with a local squad 4 times a week. It's a swim squad with a mix of very fast teenage swimmers and a few slow triathletes like me – it's coached by my ex-Olympian triathlete friend Andy. We swim between 3km and 6km a day. Each week there will be a day of sprints, a day with strength work (pulling), some longer race pace sets, and a long recovery swim.


RUN

My run training is polarised. So about 80% of my running is at an easy pace, but after each easy run I will do strides. I will do one track workout a week of intervals faster than race pace. Also one tempo run a week at race pace. I started the block with four runs a week but peaked at seven runs a week.

I probably do 15-20 hours a week of training. I wake at 4.30-5am to bike or run before the kids go to school. Then I will swim late afternoon / early evening. I try to get most of my training done while the family are doing other things like sleeping, at school or doing homework.

Christian Sanderson triathlon ironman


That's hardcore! What's your bike setup?

I have a Boardman AiR TT 9.8; 3T Brezza Aero Bars; Swiss Side Hadron 800 wheels; ISM Adamo saddle.


Nice. What are your favourite races and why?

I love the local races in Indonesia. Bali Triathlon and a small race called the Sungailiat Triathlon are awesome. They are Olympic Distance races – I actually prefer the shorter races!

You had your fair share of hydration issues in the past, tell us a bit about those...

Since I started triathlon I have only raced in the heat and I have always suffered on the run. I was never able to run in races like I could in training. During the run my heart rate would be way too high from the beginning, I would be incapable of running fast, in fact I would end up walking a lot. I would finish the races dizzy and feint with an unquenchable first. Up until Zell am See I just thought I was a crap runner….

 

MUZ triathlon indonesia


What made you seek help from Precision Hydration? What difference did a personalised hydration strategy make for you?

After Zell Am See I contacted a nutrition company in Australia to see if they could figure out what my problem was. The company gave me a Sweat Test and this is when I realised my sweat was what was causing the problems. My sodium loss rate per litre is not so high but when combined with my sweat rate it means I am losing about 1.3g of sodium an hour! They suggested I use their product but it did not help. I still experienced the same symptoms.

I heard Andy of PH being interviewed on a podcast. So I sent him an email and he replied immediately. I gave him the results of my Sweat Test and he gave me advice regarding liquid intake and the amount of sodium I should take in per hour. I first used the plan Andy gave me at Ironman Taiwan in October last year, it was the hottest race I have ever experienced. I had a two flat tyres on the bike so my race was a mess – but I ran the marathon in the ridiculous heat without experiencing dizziness or a crazy thirst. It was a definite breakthrough. I used the 1500 tablets on the bike and the SweatSalt capsules on the run. Andy told me specifically how much electrolyte I needed to preload on in the days before the race, and also how much I need to take during the race.


He knows his stuff does our Andy. What's your hydration strategy now then after a bit of refinement in the field?

I prehydrate with PH 1500 the night before (500ml) and morning of (again 500ml) my races. Then I will put 1 ½ tablets of 1500 in each 750ml bottle I carry on the bike or in my TorHans 30 aero bottle. In a hot race I will generally try to consume 1.5l if not more an hour (I have trained my stomach to be able to withstand a lot of fluid! I have been lucky and have never experienced GI issues so far. SO basically I try and drink as much as possible of the bike...).

I carry extra 1500 tablets on the bike to drop in to the water bottles given at aid stations. On the run, if it's hot, I will run out of transition with a 500ml bottle with water and one PH 1500. When that's finished I will take fluid from the aid stations and take a SweatSalt capsule every 20min-30mins or so.


How will you approach Kona? What's your target there? What races are you doing between now and then?

I have had a month off of structured training and I'm just getting back into it now. I will be in Bali until June 10th then will be in the UK for a month with the family. I plan to train while I am there and then really step it up when I get back to Bali on July 11th.

I will still be working with Train Sharp. Kona is a hot race so I will really need to nail my hydration strategy – it will be a huge challenge but with Precision Hydration’s advice I hope to be able to run a decent marathon. I have no time targets, though if I race to my potential I should have a decent result. I will do one hot race at the end of August – Ironman 70.3 Bintan in Indonesia. Kind of a perfect race to test out my Kona race and hydration strategy...

 

Muz, thanks again for sharing your story, really inspiring stuff and it's also enabled me to come up with my favourite blog headline of the year so far...

Haha, no worries, catch you guys soon...

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