With a 7:55:48 Ironman debut under his belt, the Canadian’s sights are set on turning in a top performance on the Big Island.
Canada’s Brent McMahon has been on fire since he decided to jump up to long-course racing after competing in the 2012 London Olympic Games. With several 70.3 wins to his name, McMahon took on Ironman for the first time last November at Ironman Arizona, shattering the course record and posting the fastest Ironman debut time ever in 7:55:48. Fresh off of a second-place finish at the Ironman 70.3 North American Championships in St. George and the announcement of his inclusion on the star-studded Bahrain Endurance 13 Team, we chat with McMahon about his new team, the St. George race and his preparations for October’s Ironman World Championship.
Triathlete.com: What has the experience with the Bahrain Endurance 13 Team been like so far?
McMahon: It’s been very cool and interesting to see it develop. Anytime you start a new concept out of a foreign country there are some tough logistics, but it’s been neat to be a part of the experience and watch it develop. It really is a new cutting-edge idea. The team idea has been done before, but the way we’re doing it and it’s being approached is different from anything in the past.
Triathlete.com: From your perspective, what is the most unique part of being a part of the team?
McMahon: There’s much more than having a unified sponsor to it. We’re all racing under the same color and designed uniforms and eventually we’ll all have similar sponsors, but initially while we’re developing the team so there’s flexibility and we’ll keep our individual sponsors. Secondly, we all share in each other’s performances. We share bonuses. So I can be racing on one continent and Terenzo [Bozzone] on another. I want him to do well because we’re all contributing to a bonus pool that we’re sharing. That really helps us to want each other to do well. Every race is unique and dynamics change. This past weekend in St. George, Ben Hoffman and I were in the same race and we both want to win, but sometimes your day doesn’t go well. Ben was back a little bit out of the water and he wasn’t where he wanted to be, and he wasn’t having a shot at potentially winning, but he knew I did and so he’s excited for me to be having a go at representing the team. He’s still working hard, but you have that aspect of camaraderie and group dynamic of wanting everyone to do well.
Triathlete.com: Speaking of St. George, were you happy with the podium result?
McMahon: Yeah, definitely. I think anytime you can go to a championship event and consider yourself a threat for the win and end up on the podium, as an athlete you have to be happy with that. Obviously, my goal was to win. That’s how I approached the race. I worked really hard on the bike to try to separate the groups and try and get as few guys hitting that run together as possible. I executed the race as close to how I wanted to as possible. I went for it on the run. I went out for the win and then toward the end started to struggle a bit and Tim [Don] was able to put the hammer down and reel in some time over those final miles. I’d definitely love to do it again and see if I could change a few things at the end of the run, but at the end of the day I put it all out there and I did everything I could to get that win. I’ve got a first and two seconds in St. George, so I’m pretty happy with that and next year I’ll have more motivation to go back and get that top spot.
Triathlete.com: Can you talk a little bit more about your decision to be the aggressor on the bike?
McMachon: I love that course. For the last three years I’ve gone down early to get used to the area and to remind myself of the details of the course because it is so challenging. That’s how I approach all of my races, but especially the big ones. I really wanted to be aggressive this race and push the hills and force guys to either commit to hurting their legs and riding hard the entire time on the bike, or fall back and ride at a slower pace. When we initially got the climb that’s within 2 miles of the start of the bike I was like, ‘OK this is my chance to see who wants to play up front.’ I attacked that first hill and we broke it up into a group of five guys initially. Ben Collins was pushing the pace even harder. He would try to break away. I committed to being in the front, so I wasn’t going to let him go. He’s a strong powerhouse guy. He’s really solid on the flats and I’m a little lighter, so I would take my opportunity to really push on the climbs. Between the two of us, not attacking each other but having a go out there, we forced the group to the three of us that came off close. I think as an athlete you want to be aggressive in a race and you want to make things and happen. That’s what I was able to do and Ben was a big part of that too.
Triathlete.com: Now that you’ve had time to process your debut at Ironman, what are some of the lessons that you took away from Arizona?
McMahon: One of the biggest things I liked about Arizona was just learning about the process of getting ready for an Ironman and then going through and executing it. I’ve had lots of friends win Ironmans, and then my coach Lance Watson has coached a lot of athletes to wins. Arizona was really my opportunity to take those experiences I’ve witnessed and personally put them out there on the course. For me, I didn’t have a lot of expectations, but I had goals set. I didn’t really plan on going sub-eight hours, but I had a goal and when I added those goals together it turned out to be a sub-eight-hour race.
Triathlete.com: You mentioned Lance Watson. You’ve had a long coach-athlete relationship, which is fairly rare in triathlon. Tell me about the role he’s played in the progression of your career.
McMahon: This year Lance and I are essentially celebrating 20 years of working together. It has been a long time. I think obviously our relationship is far more than coach/athlete. It’s not like father/son; it’s more like we’re older brother/younger brother. We’re both willing to be flexible and learn from each other and work through the ups and downs of being an athlete, having good races and bad races, and injuries. If you have a bad patch, it’s about deciding not to start from scratch and move to a new coach. We sit down and we say, “OK that plan didn’t work. What can we do?” We proactively talk about “what did you do that didn’t work?” and “what did I do that didn’t work?” And we both take responsibility for the program. Did I execute it right? Did he prescribe too much training? There are always things that can be improved. That’s why we’ve worked together for 20 years. We’ve evolved. I went from a junior doing sprint distance to now doing Ironmans. Lance has obviously had to learn and grow as a coach to become expert at all of these different distances, and as an athlete I’ve had to do the same. It’s been a very cool growth experience that we’ve shared together.
Triathlete.com: What are the rest of your racing plans for 2015?
McMahon: Kona is now my focus for the next year. That was part of the decision to retire from Olympic racing after London. I’m 35 this year and I’ve only got X amount of years left in my career and I decided that I didn’t want to spend those chasing Olympics points anymore, I wanted to spend my years chasing a win in Kona. So now my focus every year is how to best perform in Kona and what races and what calendar is going to allow me to do that. That said, this is my first time getting ready for Kona so there’s going to be a learning process. This year after doing Arizona—it went very well and I learned a lot from it—but I still feel like I want to do another Ironman and go through all of that again and see if I can be consistent and hit goals again. I’m going to be doing Ironman Brazil and that’s the main focus of this first part of the season. With that, I’ll have time to recover and gain that experience and then go into the build toward the end of the season toward Kona. I’ll still do 70.3 worlds; it’s a week earlier from Kona now, so I think it will fit in really well.
Triathlete.com: Kona has a reputation of beating up rookies. Have you gotten any advice from anyone on how to tackle that race?
McMahon: That’s been one of my strengths as an athlete all throughout my career. I don’t take anything for granted. I take every course for what it delivers. I respect it. I think Kona is one of those races that needs to be respected. It’s not like any other. Going into any race I always do my research. I always look at course maps. I always look at temperatures, the elevation and all of that stuff. In the championship events, if I know someone who has competed on that course in that event, I want to have a personal conversation with them and learn as much as I can. I’ve had multiple conversations about Kona. I sat down with Chris Lieto when I was in Kona training this past March and we chatted for an hour about his knowledge and experience on the course and how he attacked it. I was a sponge and I tried to learn as much as I could. I talked to Lisa Bentley, who is my manager, so I have the opportunity to talk to her anytime I want and ask her question about the numerous times she’s raced there. Anyone I come in contact with that has competed in Kona, I always have question ready to go. Even if I’ve only got five or 10 minutes with them I always try to gain a little bit of knowledge.