Community Sports


APRIL 15, 2007

Saunders shows off max persistence to win race


Dale Benedict was a reluctant spectator at the Max Performance Triathlon Series race on Sunday as Sean Saunders ran, biked and swam through Clear Creek Park in Shelbyville.

Benedict, who is training Saunders for the inaugural Ford Ironman Louisville in August, doesn’t think the rewards of the Max Performance series are worth the risks for his hard-charging client.

“I’ve advised him not to do these races, from an injury standpoint,” said Benedict, who owns The Training Studio in St. Matthews.

Funny, then, that after running on a sprained ankle and flipping over his bicycle, Saunders not only won the race but also left the premises no worse for wear in Benedict’s eyes.

“I was lucky,” Saunders admitted.

But he also was dogged.

The 35-year-old Louisville resident had injured his ankle during a training run on Saturday, and it was uncomfortable enough that he wasn’t sure that he could compete as he warmed up in the 30-degree wind chill on Sunday morning. But he decided to endure the pain and hit the trail for the first leg, a three-kilometer run.

Then, as he tried to bike out of the transition area, one of his feet slid off its pedal, hit the ground, and sent his body flying. But he regrouped, and he maneuvered into third place along the six-mile bike course.

He was the second person to jump into the Family Activity Center pool for the 400-yard swim. He passed the leader in the water, and he put more and more distance between himself and the other 89 athletes before reaching the finish line in 37 minutes, 14 seconds.

William Siebenthaler, a 37-year-old Lexington, Ky., resident, was second in 38:08.5. Matt Harville, a 29-year-old Richmond, Ky., resident, was third in 38:17.5. (Click here for complete results.)

Among the women, Kara Burnell, a 26-year-old Prospect, Ky., resident, was first in 45:34.1; Susan Biasiolli, a 39-year-old Louisville resident, was second in 47:07.5; and Jill Hawse, a 38-year-old Georgetown, Ky., resident, was third in 47:34.5.

This was the third of four races in the second annual Max Performance series, which Headfirst Performance Services operates. The final race will be held on May 13.

Saunders leapt headfirst into the sport less than two years ago and already is “as avid as they come,” Train Smart owner Nancy McElwain said. So it’s not difficult to understand Benedict’s concern.

“He was training at such a high level already last year,” Benedict said. “I’ve had to get him to slow down and teach him to relax and recover.”

Benedict also has tried to hone Saunders’ raw talent.

“He needed someone to corral him in the right direction and get him to make better decisions,” Benedict said. “He has all the right tools, but he didn’t know how to use them right. The jury’s still out on that.”

But there is no doubt that Saunders has become a better triathlete since he stumbled into the sport while rehabbing from knee surgery. He made his competitive debut in the Tri-America Louisville sprint on July 31, 2005, and thought he was going to drown during the swim in the Ohio River.

He still finished second in his age group in that race, but he realized that his swimming techniques were lacking. So he turned to McElwain, who trains multi-sport athletes and also coaches the Milestone Masters Swim Team.

Saunders showed steady progress during the first Max Performance series last year, when he finished fifth in the first race, fourth in the second race, third in the third race, and second in the fourth race. He then won the first race in the 2007 series on Feb. 4, although he skipped the second race on March 4.

“I’m off to a pretty good start this year,” said Saunders, who also ranked 96th overall in the recently completed Louisville Triple Crown of Running.

Saunders is training with Benedict six days a week to prepare for the Fort Ironman Louisville, which will be held on Aug. 26. His long-term target is the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, for which the Louisville event will serve as a qualifier for the next five years.

“I don’t know if I’m good enough,” Saunders said. “If I keep improving the way that I am and I keep working with Nancy and Dale, I might have a shot someday. But I need to get a couple Ironmans under my belt this year.”