Ironman 70.3 champion Sam Long has quickly become one of North America's most loved long distance pro triathletes. While he's not Canadian, he's a good friend of First Endurance Canada and loves training in B.C. with his girlfriend Amy. He's sponsored by First Endurance in the US, but we thought it was time to include a feature on him on our own site. Get to know the funny and fast 24-year-old in this piece where he talks all-day bike rides, McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, and the secret to his success at such a young age.
Fresh off a 39 th place finish at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France, Sam Long returned home to Boulder, Colo. feeling slightly under the weather. “Just a little cold from the travel and stuff like that,” he says over the phone.
It’s no surprise that the 23-year-old up-and-comer is feeling some aches and pains. His training and racing schedules have been relentless over the last three years. With two 70.3 titles under his belt and 12 Ironmen completed, Long is one of the youngest and most successful competitors on the Ironman circuit.
Born the oldest of three triplet boys, Long used athletics as a way to stand out. As a kid, he built his aerobic engine skiing seven-hour days with his mom in the Rocky Mountains. “I was a pretty big skier—well, actually, I still am, but especially in high school,” he says. In his final year of high school, however, Long tore his MCL skiing in early spring. The injury put him out for track and field season and forced him to find other ways to stay in shape.
“The first thing I could do was biking with the big knee brace,” he says, “so I just started doing that.” Soon after, he was able to diversify his training, jumping in the pool and swimming with a pull buoy. Eventually, he was able to once again introduce some slow running into his weekly schedule.
This was in 2014, the first year of Ironman Boulder, and as Long expanded his fitness in all three disciplines, he began fantasizing about competing. “I was like, ‘Oh man, the coolest thing to do would be to finish high school and go do an Ironman, especially coming off the injury.’”
Testing the waters, Long competed in an Olympic distance triathlon, winning his age group. The race reinforced his confidence, so he tackled a half Ironman next, finishing as the top overall amateur. Now, he was raring to go.
On the day of Ironman Boulder, it was a sweltering 40 degrees Celsius. It was also Long’s first Ironman and he was the youngest competitor entered—the odds were against him. But Long persevered, surprising everyone. Not only did he finish the race, but he won his age group by more than 50 minutes and was 12th overall, including the pros.
Long spent the next few years finishing up his college degree and tearing through the amateur sections of the Ironman circuit. “I was at the point where I was always winning my age group quite handily, and I was usually even winning the overall amateur field, so I was kind of just ready for another challenge,” he says. Halfway through 2016, after a four-month stint training in Australia, Long turned pro.
“At the time, I did it to actually just save money because I was racing a lot,” Long jokes. “Honest to god, I didn’t think I was going to make any prize money the first year I turned pro.”
Money aside, turning pro was the right move for Long. Ironmen have become his passion. “I love the actual act of being in an Ironman,” he says. “I love the focus and the way it’s eight hours just sort of devoted to one task.”
Unlike some triathletes, Long doesn’t allocate each week to a certain discipline. Instead, he stays consistent across all three disciplines each day of the week. “On average, I train anywhere from six to nine hours a day. I usually try to swim first so I can do it fresh. If it’s a run-focused day within the week then I’ll run first. So, that’ll be a big run and then an easier bike in the afternoon,” he says. “If it’s a bike day, then I’ll still swim, but I’ll get on the bike for four to six hours and then I’ll just run a few miles after. Anywhere from three to six miles off the bike.”
Long does take two easy days a week, but even on these days he’ll still practice all three disciplines. “It’s like an hour swim, an hour bike, and then a twenty-minute run or something.” His favourite of the three disciplines is cycling. “I just really love the long days on the bike in general. I like the freedom you get on the bike. You can go the farthest.”
To keep himself fuelled during training and races, Long uses First Endurance’s EFS (his favourite flavours are orange and grape). “Honestly, I can normally just go off of that for a long time. If it’s four hours or less, I just carry enough with me at the start and I’m good to go because I’ve got three bottles on my bike.” Long tries to sip at the bottle every few minutes, especially during races, but doesn’t have a prescribed amount. “I just take it by feel,” he says.
He does admit that to keep himself fueled on really long bike rides, he will indulge a bit. “I’ll actually stop at McDonalds and I get their Egg McMuffin and I get my Coke and then I’m back on my way.”
Looking to the future, Long has a number of races he’d like to tackle in the next one to three years, including Ironman Canada in Penticton, B.C. and Ironman Wisconsin. “I want to focus on winning races that I find important, in that I find iconic in my own mind.” When it comes to Ironman Canada and Ironman Wisconsin, it’s a combination of their courses and the races’ histories that have captured Long’s imagination—it also doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is from Penticton.
Long term, he’s targeting the sport’s most competitive races. “That would be like Kona and 70.3 Worlds. But that’s more of a five-year plan,” he says. In the meantime, Long’s goals involve getting over his cold and continuing to train hard. “I want to focus on winning races,” he says.