There are two pictures from Saturday’s Oceanside 70.3 men’s race that will be published over and over. One is of the sinew-straining lurch for the line between Lionel Sanders (who else) and Rudy von Berg that might lead to Ironman rethinking its photo-finish policy.
The other is of double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee glancing to his left as Canada’s Jackson Laundry passes him for the win in the final throes of the run. Whatever the Yorkshireman was thinking at that point, Laundry’s thoughts were clear. The eyes are shielded but you know the stare was dead front. This was his move, on his day—the biggest one to date in a triathlon career that’s starting to make others sit up and take notice.
“It hit me really hard in the last 200 meters,” the 28-year-old from Guelph, Ontario explains. You can see in the finish line videos: He scarcely believes it himself. “It’s over! You did it! It’s obviously the biggest win of my career. I’ve won a few 70.3s but nothing like that. It’s still hard to believe now, but will fuel me for everything to come.”
We’ll dig into the preparation, race tactics, and discipline that put him in contention for the victory in California, but it’s worth first revisiting that clutch point as he drew shoulder-to-shoulder with Brownlee with a little over a mile to go .
After the lead pack had entered T2 together, Brownlee made his move about five miles into the run. “I wasn’t convinced it was determining,” Laundry said. “But I decided that going with it wasn’t the right play for me at that time. My heart rate was already high, and it’s a dangerous point in the half-marathon. You’ve run long enough to think you’ll feel like this for the rest of the way, but as I’ve learned that the hard way a few times, there’s enough left for things to change. It could break my race, but wasn’t going to make it. I decided to hold pace and see what happened.”
The gap opened to around 15 seconds then held. “I was also focused on Rudy—as he was right there. He’s known for closing well and will often negative split, so I focused on trying to work together to gain momentum.
“When I saw the 10-mile mark I knew I had something left. I elevated the pace a little. I don’t wear a watch, so guessing 5 seconds/kilometer, and committed to that new effort. Rudy didn’t last long, and once I dropped him I really noticed the time coming back on Alistair.
“By mile 11, I was definitely going to catch. He knew I was coming, but was he saving something to run with me? I upped it just a little bit to the point where I thought he probably couldn’t hold it and he kind of gave up on it pretty quickly. I wasn’t surprised [he didn’t put up any resistance]. I figured if he was going to beat me it would have already been over. Alistair doesn’t wait around. If I’m catching him, it’s not that he’s letting me, it’s because there is nothing else he can do.”
An accurate assessment, it would seem.
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Return to Form
Despite the world-class field, perhaps Laundry’s win shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise. Having grown up competing in Canada at events such as the MultiSport Canada Series, where Cody Beals also learned the trade, his results have shown a steady improvement since a dedicated focus on middle distance racing five years ago.
A podium at Ironman 70.3 Raleigh in 2017 was followed by a return and top spot the following year, and further development in 2019, a highlight being home soil success at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant. (Having not had an edition since, it’s a title he hopes to defend in June.)
But then a major setback: a bike crash on the descent at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France that left him with multiple breaks of his scapula and collarbone. He’s grateful that the major force in swimming is a pulling action; “I can’t really do a throwing type motion with any force.” The crash also led to a loss of flexibility in the right shoulder, but still his swim has continued to improve. “In honesty, the experience and time I had to reflect and learn was probably more informative than destructive,” he said.
Despite recovery and the pandemic, Laundry was still able to win the Canadian championship at the standard distance in 2020, but it was last year that marked his best yet, with a win in Ecuador and justification for being a captain’s pick for Team Internationals at the Collins Cup by not only winning his three-way match-up but posting the sixth fastest time of the day.
Then there was a fifth place in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St George that matched his result at the same venue in May and—Oceanside success aside—gives further credence to any podium ambitions when the 70.3 world champs returns to Utah in late October.
“The Collins Cup was hugely beneficial for my confidence,” he said. “I was not one of the higher ranked athletes at that time, but it showed me I can compete at the highest level, and gave me a boost heading into the 70.3 Worlds, which was probably just as good a performance, or even a little better.
“It was definitely helpful [for later this year]. I know roughly how the race will play out and how I need to prepare. I’ve done it four times now and always had a good race in St. George.”
Coming to California
Heading into Oceanside at the weekend, Laundry was coming off a seventh-place finish in Clash Miami that belied the form he was building into. He crossed the line five minutes behind winner Sam Long on a Homestead-Miami Speedway course that didn’t suit his strengths, but preparation was also behind due to another “stupid bike crash” in January that meant a broken rib and thumb, and surgery .
“I was able to recover really well and knew my fitness was strong from my numbers in training. A combination of feeling really fit and not feeling tired is also the goal for a good race—and I had that combination [in Oceanside].”
Then there were the dynamics of the Oceanside course to embrace, a wetsuit ocean swim for 1.2 miles, followed by 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run legs that were far from flat. “I had a feeling I could have a very good day.”
A “career-best swim” in choppy surf, 25 seconds behind leader Ben Kanute, was critical. Laundry sped through transition, pushed to make the front pack and settled in from there. Having been the last triathlete to make the fastest group, he also dismounted with the day’s fastest bike split (2:07:52).
“Riding in a group like that takes a different skillset than holding consistent power,” he said. “I tend to be able to produce more power on average on a hilly course than a flat course. I’m not entirely sure why. I train with a fair bit of variability, but it mainly comes down to experience in races and courses like that.
“I also know my competition and am able to predict how the race will play out. I knew immediately that half of the front group was not going to survive the whole bike leg. I stayed aware of where gaps formed and was prepared to plug them if needed. By the time it had happened five to six times, I was fifth and everyone behind was dropped. After 20 miles we started getting to hilly sections and Alistair was pushing the hills, trying to test the group and seeing if anyone was going to fall off the pace.”
“I had to produce high power for a short period after anything that strings the group out—a sharp turn or rough patch of road. Quite a lot of the time I was 75-100 watts above my average.
(Laundry’s peak 2-hour power was 305 watts; variability score was 1.07.)
“I’m not the biggest guy, but I tend to go pretty fast on fewer watts. I think that’s down to my set-up, and I have fortunate body shape for aerodynamics with super narrow hips, so the air just blows around me. Take someone like Lionel, you’ll catch a lot of air on his quads. It’s just his anatomy. Although it probably helps him put out more watts than me, so it kind of balances out.
“Being able to get in an aero position and stay there is one of the most important things. I didn’t sit up at an aid station once; I have the nutrition built into the Ventum. But everyone else in the top five, other than maybe Rudy, slowed to grab a bottle.”
Replicating the performance [in Oceanside] is a goal, but looking at my training I know I have more to give and better performances in me—although my competition will all say the same.
Where does Laundry head from here? For starters, focusing on the middle distance, he doesn’t have the conundrum of many non-drafting triathletes in trying to squeeze in two Ironman World Championships and even full distance qualifying races into the schedule. There is no of repeating his full Ironman experiment in Mallorca in the fall of last year. “Why would I? I’ve only done one and it didn’t go that great. The cost is way too high when I have other opportunities. I’m having success and, until I don’t think I can improve any longer at the middle distance, I don’t think I’ll focus on Ironman.”
That means racing in St. Anthony and Chattanooga before taking an extended mid-season break before 70.3 Mont-Tremblant, and the big money PTO Tour events in Edmonton and Dallas, with hopefully (and likely without the need for a captain’s pick) a return to Slovakia and the Collins Cup sandwiched in between. Then, while others are heading to Kona, it’ll be full focus on prep for the Ironman 70.3 Worlds.
“Replicating the performance [in Oceanside] is a goal, but looking at my training I know I have more to give and better performances in me—although my competition will all say the same.”
As for training, not too much will change. James Loaring, a coach of almost a decade from his hometown, will continue to set the program. “The basics are all working,” he said. “But I’ve still learned things this year, nuances on the effort levels in training, when to do longer and harder intervals and what’s worth pushing through and what’s not.
“In the build to this race, I found racing on Zwift worked. My peak 2-minute power was 416 watts, which in itself would be a hard interval for me, but I had to do that multiple times and then sustain 300+ watts for the rest of the race.
“You can do that in a Zwift race, where you go way above threshold, come back down and recover quickly. It prepared me for the race dynamics because even though the bike is not where the race is won, it’s where it can be lost.”
Tuesday and Thursdays are typically Jackson’s biggest swim days, usually 5-6km in total. This is a session he did two weeks before the race.
Set 1: 12 x 150m, build each 50m from middle aerobic, upper aerobic, and anaerobic
Set 2: 20 x 50m with paddles; mostly above threshold pace
Set 3: 10 x 100m upper aerobic effort
Jackson said: “I enjoy a mix of everything, and these three main sets start with 150m reps, which we swim off 2:15. They are followed by hard 50s with paddles and the final set is off 1:20, being able to sustain the effort needed in a race despite the fatigue. It helps when you have good training buddies to swim with as well. The rest of the week’s swimming will be one or two swims mostly focusing on form and mileage.”
This run session was also completed two weeks out from Oceanside, with the goal of hitting the specificity of intensity Jackson was aiming for in the race.
Total: 12.5 miles; 1 hour, 35 minutes
Including main set: 15 x 2 minutes just above race effort with 1 minute jog recovery
Jackson said: “The run is pretty easy to train for. You hit your zones and paces and don’t do anything crazy and crush yourself. I don’t do any really epic run sessions and tend not to focus on the pace. How I feel and the conditions can affect pace a lot and I’ll end up training in a different zone from the one I’m supposed to be in. I averaged 5:15/mile—not wearing fast shoes—so consider that to be 5-10 seconds/mile above race pace. But it’s sustainable for a 2-minute effort. I like that it’s not super mentally draining, but you still get the purpose of it and get the job done.”
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