World 70.3 Champs 2021: Sam Holness Q&A

'Super' Sam Holness battled thunder, lightning and sandstorms on his way to completing his first ever World 70.3 Championship. Here he talks exclusively to 220 about that momentous day… 

Sam Holness on the half-marathon leg of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship on September 18, 2021 in St George, Utah. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

Our current cover star ‘Super’ Sam Holness is on a mission to become the first triathlete with autism from the BAME community to complete Kona. As part of his journey to get a pro licence, Sam raced as an age-grouper at the 70.3 World Champs in Utah last weekend and finished in a time of 5:44:39. Here he talks us through that momentous event…

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How was your training build-up out in the Utah heat?

My training went well I arrived 10 days before the race to make sure that I could acclimatise. It was 104 degrees on the first day, so I hit the pool at midday and swam 3km, then sat in the hot tub.

I was lucky enough to train at the Dixie College High Performance Center [HPC] where I met [pro and Tokyo Paralympic guide] Nikki Bartlett. We swam a few lengths and got a few racing tips from Nikki. The best part was that Nikki gave me one of her swim caps from Tokyo. It was so kind.

The HPC also had a roof top running track, 50m pool and a hot tub!

What was the highlight of your race?

Cycling up Snow Canyon and crossing the finish line to be greeted by my mum and dad. I’m also glad that I didn’t give up despite the bad weather. This is one tough course.

What was the most challenging?

The change in weather and the sandstorm, also the last 10km was very fast downhill and required special skills that I can learn.

What will you do in training to improve in your next race?

I need to improve my cycling as this was a very technical and difficult course, and I also need to practise non-wetsuit racing – the water temperature was 78 degrees! I don’t think that I could have prepared for the lightning, thunder or sandstorm, though.

What three things did you learn from the race?

  1. That I can compete against some of the best age-groupers in the world.
  2. That I want to do this again.
  3. That I can break five hours for a 70.3 event on an easier course without the rain, thunder, lightning and the sandstorm.
ST GEORGE, UTAH - SEPTEMBER 18: Sam Holness of England hugs his parents after finishing the Men's running leg during the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship on September 18, 2021 in St George, Utah. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN)
Sam Holness hugs his dad Tony after finishing the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship on September 18, 2021 in St George, Utah. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

With Kona cancelled until February 2022, how has this altered your current US trip plans?

I’d planned to visit Kona to watch the race, but this was postponed, so I plan to come back to the UK early. I might go for one more ride up Snow Canyon before I leave, though.

What’s next on your race calendar?

I plan to do a virtual run of the London Marathon on 3 October for Mencap, and may race in the Cascais 70.3 event.

What else do you need to do in order to get your pro licence?

Train, train, train, and work hard. Improve my swim times, get faster on the bike, and run a 3hr marathon or faster. I’m targeting 2/3 years to get my pro licence, my dad says it’s possible. I’m only 28 years old and will be upping my training like a pro next year.

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Over the winter I’ll be doing trail running, MTB and gravel cycling to build up my strength and aerobic capacity. I do this full time: it’s my job and passion, and it’s great. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my sponsors Hoka One One, HUUB and Cervélo for helping me on my journey.