How Taylor Knibb and Sam Long overcame pressure to dominate their fields
Racing at home is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s nice to see friends and family again. But performing in front of loved ones also creates pressure to impress them. No one wants to return to their hometown and disappoint.
But if Taylor Knibb and Sam Long had any anxiety, it didn’t show over the weekend. They both took on Ironman 70.3 Boulder, in their shared hometown, and dominated the women’s and men’s fields, respectively, for season-affirming wins. Both have their eyes on big prizes this year. With Boulder done and dusted, they can turn their eyes to a promising second half of the season.
Taylor Knibb wins wire to wire after overcoming health issues
Knibb was the first woman to exit the water on the swim. She took her time at the first transition, knowing she would need little time retake the lead on the bike. Roughly 17 miles into the 56-mile bike, she had built a three-minute lead.
She would go on the finish just over eight minutes ahead of second-place (and Trek Factory Racing teammate) Holly Lawrence, who had an impressive showing herself especially given that she didn’t taper. But perhaps no one in the world could have caught Knibb, who is the defending Ironman 70.3 World Champion.
“I was super grateful to be back racing an Ironman 70.3,” Knibb said after the race. “It was pretty special to get to do it at home on familiar roads and share it with so many people. I’m still learning the distance — this was only my fifth 70.3 — so it was an incredibly valuable opportunity.”
Knibb’s performance was particularly impressive coming off of difficult ailments. First, she underwent surgery in early January to repair a stress fracture in her foot. Then after her first race post recovery — a third-place finish at WTCS Yokohoma on May 13 — she promptly fell ill with Covid.
“This was also my first 70.3 since 70.3 Worlds and surgery. I actually wasn’t sure if I would be able to race,” Knibb said. “I caught Covid, and it hit me quite hard, so I was just grateful to be out there.”
Knibb appears to be back up to speed now (and if she isn’t yet, well, that’s a scary prospect for her competitors) and ready to take on all comers with her Speed Concept by her side.
“I was super grateful to have the Speed Concept,” Knibb said. “The last time I did this race in 2021, I did it on a road bike. The course was slightly different in 2021. But I was extremely grateful to have better equipment this time!”
Sam Long makes it three wins in a row
Sam Long pointed out on Instagram that his win Boulder helped him overcome a major hurdle: “I have won two races in a row a few times but then fallen off a cliff.” He officially achieved his elusive trio by going clear off the front around the midpoint of his bike leg and never looking back. Long won by nearly five minutes over Lionel Sanders to give himself consecutive wins at Ironman 70.3 Gulf Coast, Ironman 70.3 St. George and Boulder.
The win felt like a product of Long’s concerted training.
“Since Oceanside, I’ve really been working on surging,” Long said after the race. “I come out a little behind in the water, so I’ve worked on bridging up and being able to surge so that I don’t carry groups with me. What was really interesting at this race was that my surges seemed to be really strong, because it seemed to just come easily to get rid of everyone.”
Long had been eagerly anticipating his return to Boulder. He left home roughly two years ago as part of his commitment to pursuing a full-time professional triathlon career. The victory felt like validation for all the choices he has made that have led to his success.
“I told my girlfriend that I really wanted to do this race. And Laura was like, ‘Why? you’ve done it before. Don’t you want to do something different?'” Long said. “I just felt a calling this year, and I didn’t really know what that calling was, but then it came to me once I got here. I wanted to do the race because it sort of completes the full circle of leaving home, and then overcoming the challenges of leaving home.”
Returning to one’s hometown as an athlete isn’t as simple as it sounds. As Long was in the final days of prep for a key race on his calendar, he was also making the rounds with family and old friends. He even grabbed a few boxes he still had at his parents’ house. The experience was overwhelming at times.
But Long surpassed his ambitions, setting himself up well for the next phase of his season. In two weeks, he’ll take on a full Ironman in Coeur d’Alène, with one of his major targets being Ironman World Championships in Nice, France, in September.
“I’m trying to sort of wipe the slate clean, because I feel like if you just keep building the expectation of, ‘Oh, now I’m at three in a row, now I’m at four in a row,’ it starts to get to this point where it’s too much to handle,” Long said. “So now the 70.3 slate is done, I did everything I could, and now I’m off to a new frontier, a new battlefront. I’m going after the Ironman now.”