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Leadman Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Leadman TriathlonWhen I mapped out my 2013 race calendar in December of 2012, the Leadman Triathlon was never included.  Frankly, it didn’t even make the round of possible races.  I didn’t want to swim in Tempe Town Lake.  I didn’t want to race in the burgeoning Arizona summer heat.  I only wanted to focus on training and long course events.  But sometimes, you just have to seek redemption.  After Ironman California two weeks ago, I needed to do something.  That race was just so bitterly disappointing to me and I wanted that memory replaced immediately.  With that, the Leadman Triathlon Sprint became a target.

While I know it violates both the advice I give to my friends and athletes and the lessons I try to impart via my race reports, I had one singular goal for the Leadman Triathlon: be on the podium for my age group.  First would be great, but I just needed a podium to refresh my racing spirits and give me some good feelings.  I know, I know… you can’t control who shows up.  You can’t control the weather.  You can’t control external circumstances.  Whatever, it was podium or nothing for me.  Period.  I was prepared to suffer as much as possible to get some crappy little trinket.  With that attitude, I registered and prepared…

Pre-Race

The Leadman Triathlon is an odd event.  The long course version is 125 kilometers, a completely random and arbitrary distance.  Not a half-Ironman or even an olympic.  Because of this, the sprint distance featured a 14-mile bike, rather than the standard 12.4-mile bike.  The run course looked pretty sweet though.  Not the standard, “Run around Tempe Town Lake” that’s frequently offered.  I was actually pretty stoked about that.  Beyond studying the route, there wasn’t much to do as sprints are short, painful, and sweet.

Two cool things though.  One, I was being able to ride my new Reynolds Element Disc wheel.  Having never ridden a disc before, I did a prep ride the day before and felt comfortable.  But, racing is different.  Questions like, How would I feel at effort after swimming and How would it handle on corners and accelerating can only be answered in a race.  But, I figured, it is a random sprint, added at the very last minute.  If all hell breaks lose and I don’t even finish, no big deal.  (Of course, it wouldn’t have been no big deal; I badly wanted a podium finish!)  Two, this would be one of my few hometown events in 2013 and I was stoked to be wearing my new Wattie Ink kit.  Being a member of the 2013 Elite Team has been absolutely awesome and I feel extremely lucky to have made the Team.

Race day morning was a breeze.  The race actually started at 7am but the sprint distance didn’t begin until 9am; quite different from the typical pre-dawn arrival.  With bike check all done on Saturday, I felt oddly light, like I was forgetting something critical, when heading to transition.  I will admit to being a bit apprehensive that there weren’t many disc wheels.  Was I one of very few?  Would I regret using it?  Only time would tell.  Prepping was simple.  One PowerBar Gel on my bike, my new Wattie Ink bottle on my bike, my new K-Swiss Kwicky Blade Light shoes on my towel, and my sleeveless Blue Seventy Reaction and I was ready.  I did a quick 15-minute warm-up jog and felt great.  Seemingly in no time, the sprinters were queueing up and getting ready.  I donned my Reaction, goggles, and cap and headed over to the start line.

Swim

The gun sounded and we were off.  The swim start is always entertaining.  Being a stronger swimmer, I marvel at some of the decisions people make.  There’s always a pack of guys who surge forward, like there’s a school of piranha closing fast.  Why does this always happen?  Ever seen a Kenyan sprint the first 5k of a marathon?  Of course not.  Because it is a bad idea.  Don’t be like these guys.  As usual, a small group shot out.  I ignored them, kept my head down, and tried to find some feet follow.

Pretty quickly, the wave thinned and I was swimming with just three other guys.  I had one stuck to my right hip; I think trying to draft but failing miserably at that.  Plus, two others just off to my right.  We all seemed to stay together until the first (of three) turn buoy.  Once I hit the first turn, I began increasing my effort.  Three things happened around this time.  One, the gentleman struggling to stay on my hip blew up.  He was gone for good.  Two, the other two dudes also were gone.  But, I wasn’t sure where they went.  I don’t recall seeing them surge forward but I also stopped paying them much attention.  And, three, I began passing loads of swimmers from the wave prior to mine (they started three minutes prior to my wave).

I quickly reached the second turn buoy and, again, increased my effort.  In addition to wanting a great swim time, I had two other goals in the water.  One, I wanted to put as much distance between myself and any other age group athletes as possible.  Seconds matter in a sprint and I wanted those seconds.  Two, for anyone that tried to stay with me, I wanted them to suffer.  Look, I don’t sound conceded but I can swim.  Plain and simple, I am good in the water.  So, if someone wanted to stay on my feet, I was fine with that.  Provided they were hurting when we reached our bikes.  Free ride?  Sure, but be ready to suffer with me.

The only other noteworthy thing about the rest of the swim was the total absence of red-capped swimmers (people in my wave).  Normally, I can see a few people from my wave all the time.  In this race though, the second half of the swim, I literally only saw white-cap swimmers.  I do love my Blue Seventy Reaction and don’t understand why people are so afraid to go sleeveless.  That wetsuit is flat-out amazing.  Excellent buoyancy through the legs and torso but total freedom of movement for the shoulders and arms.  In my Reaction, I was flying through the water.

Nearing the exit, I red-lined for the first time and flew to the end.  Grabbing the hands of two volunteers, I was out of the water and ready to kill the bike!

My swim time was 13:05, good enough for second in my age group (of 26), 6th fastest male (out of 162), and 13th fastest overall (out of 269).  The one guy who beat me in my age group was almost certainly one of the two dudes to my right at the start because he also was faster than me in T1 by twenty two seconds.  I am certain because one of those dudes wasn’t wearing a wetsuit and I am convinced that’s the only way someone could have been that much faster than me in T1.  Regardless, I was extremely happy with my swim and felt like I had accomplished all my swim-related goals and set the stage for a great day.

Transition 1

I used the wetsuit strippers and sprinted like my feet were on fire.  In a sprit distance race, every second counts and I wanted to motor.  My bike was ready for a flying mount and I executed that with no issues.  My time was 1:20.  The non-wetsuit guy beat me and one other dude had a 1:19.  I was in T1 and gone in a flash!

Leadman Triathlon Bike

A smile??? Clearly I am not working hard enough…

Bike

I think I gave myself about ten seconds to get ready.  The swim, even at effort, doesn’t tax that much.  Yes, I was working hard, but I didn’t feel destroyed.  The bike, on the other hand, would hurt me.  So, once my feet were in my shoes, I just started pushing harder and harder on the pedals at every possible moment.  In moments, my legs were burning and I was panting.  But, I was also flying past other cyclists (people doing either the Olympic or Leadman distances) and besides, a sprint is supposed to hurt.

There’s no “pacing” or “strategy” in a sprint; it is just one hour of pain.  Get aero, get small, and go fast.  If you can do those things and deal with pain, you can do well.  Getting aero and staying small was no issue with my ISM Adamo.  That saddle is extremely comfortable in the aero position and I had no issues staying there.  Plus, given the number of other riders, I did my “Nascar drafting” where I will go from cyclist to cyclist.  No rule breaking, just taking advantage of the “20 seconds to pass rule”.  I was blowing past most of the riders so staying under that 20-second threshold was easy.

Now, for the new wheel, you may be wondering how she felt.  Only one word comes to mind: phenomenal.  As I said, I was a little nervous about riding the Reynolds disc.  The specs were great but one never knows how a wheel will truly feel until one races on it.  I can unequivocally say that I will always race on that disc again, except for races that are hilly enough to make a disc insane (like Wildflower, for instance).  But, Ironman Arizona, Ironman Boise, Mountain Man, and possibly Donner Lake will all be seeing my Reynolds Element in all its glory!

At the end of the bike, I did a flying dismount and sprinted into T2.  My time was 36:56, an average speed of 22.74mph, and good enough for 4th in my age group, 12th overall male, and 13th overall.

Transition 2

After the flying mount, I hit the ground at a full sprint and took off into the transition chute.  Now, here’s my one real beef with this race: an extremely narrow chute into T2 with a sharp 90-degree left-hand turn.  Given the start times, faster sprint athletes would be entering T2 with slower Olympic athletes and that’s exactly what happened to me.  Not that big of a deal as I just said “On your left, On your left” and they moved.  Worked great until the turn, when I got pushed into the barricades and tore my brand new Wattie Ink kit.  That pissed me off.  Better planning and organization were needed for sure.  Regardless, I was raced as fast as I could and was done in 1:18, 4th fastest in my age group and 18 seconds behind the fastest.  With shoes and visor on, it was time for the real pain to start!

Run

3.1 miles or 5 kilometers.  No big deal right?  I mean, I have run a 50-miler this year along with a three-person Ragnar team, covering 67 miles.  3.1 miles should be a piece of cake.  Ummm, not at the speed I wanted.  Normally, when leaving T2, my legs are spinning wildly from the bike and, if I am not careful, I will cover the first mile of the run in six minutes or less, a certain recipe for disaster on most days.  A sprint race, though, is not most days.  Speed is all that matters, so I just let my legs go and go they did.

Leadman Triathlon Run

Easy to flash the W in the first mile of a sprint triathlon!

The run is not overly challenging, at least on paper.  The first 2.25 miles are flat to very slightly uphill.  In between Mile 2 and 2.5, there’s a hill to climb that’s a quarter-mile long and it hurts.  Otherwise, its mostly flat-ish but on concrete nearly the whole time.  Due to that, I opted to wear the K-Swiss Kwicky Blades as they are very light but offer more support than a traditional racing flat.  This kept my feet from just being destroyed but didn’t force to carry more shoe-weight than necessary.  They were awesome.

The first mile flew by in 6:37.  Given the terrain, I wasn’t overly surprised to see that.  The last two miles have more undulations, turns, and the like, which just ruin any running rhythm you can build.

In no time, I was working and working hard.  My heart rate started at 168 and jumped to 178 by the end of the first mile.  My heart rate and perceived exertion were right on line: I am working!  My pace, though, was slower than I wanted.  I attribute that solely to the heat.  There’s no shade in that concrete jungle and the day was totally cloudless.  At the first aid station, I threw water on my head and face and was stunned at how cool it felt.  I knew then that it was hotter than I thought.  The second mile was 6:42, which was def slower than I wanted but I was running with all I had at the time.  Could I have gone faster?  Well, it is very easy to say yes while I sit here on a leather chair in my family room.  While running though, I sure felt like I was giving it my all and I am happy with my effort.

Reaching the top of the little climb, I knew it I was on the home stretch.  I hate to admit, but two age group runners had passed me on the run by this point.  One, I kept in my sights with the hope of passing him in the last half-mile.  The other though, he had passed me in my first mile and I assumed he was long gone.  When I saw him, I was stunned and excited as I could see by his form he was failing.  Knowing those two were right there, I began to up my effort even more.

Given where I was on the course, I figured I had three to four minutes of running left and, if they were going to beat me, I was going to make them earn it.  I slowly began increasing my pace generally holding 5:30-5:45 min/mile on any straight sections and dropping below 5:30 for the last minute.  My fastest pace on the day was 4:58, which occurred right in the finishing chute.  Try as I did, I failed to catch either and am convinced I just ran out of real estate.  But, without knowing any times or places, I was extremely pleased with my effort and performance.  I raced as hard as I could as felt like I had done enough to earn a podium spot.

My run time was 20:36, an average pace of 6:37 min/mile.  That was good enough for 11th overall male and in the whole field.  I had wanted a sub-20 but that just wasn’t happening on that day.

Post-Race

After recovering and saying hi to my awesome family, I headed over to the results computers.  To say I was crushed would be an understatement: I finished 4th in my age group.  All my effort and energy were for naught.  My one real goal for the day (remember that podium?) was gone.  And, not only was it gone, but the two guys that passed me, remember them too?  The one I kept focused on beat me by 14 seconds and the one who was failing beat me by 23 seconds.  I wanted to cry.

Utterly deflated, I wandered over to get my gear and talk with my coaches and friends.  Everyone was very nice and congratulatory, which I appreciated.  I mean, I did just finish 10th male and 11th overall but I was a miserable 4th in my age group.  Struggling to accept this, I remembered that should the winner of my age group happen to be in the top three, he would be removed from the age group results.  I knew it was a sliver of hope, but at that point, it was all I had.  Gathering my gear, I headed back to the computers.  Watching the numbers scroll mercilessly slowly, I waited.  And waited.  Until finally, the screen reset and started at the top.  First place was some 22 year-old kid, that didn’t help me.  Second place was a 39 year-old.  Close but no dice.  Third place was a 40 year-old speedster!  I must have stared holes into the screen I was reading so intently!  I even waited until the system started again, just to be sure.  Through some bit of luck, I had done it.  Those 14 and 23 second differences just became significantly less meaningful as a podium spot was mine to have.  Joy.  Elation.  Happiness.  Yep, they all are mine!

Leadman Triathlon

The Pain, the Podium, and the Medal. A GREAT day!

Lastly, I don’t say it enough but I want to thank Triple Sports for their valued support.  I feel very, very fortunate to be a Triple Sports athlete and am always thankful for the assistance they give me.

Thanks for reading!

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