The other day I registered for the Leadman Epic 250K Tri in Vegas in mid-May. Here's the link for any of you fellow type 'A's out there who wish to give it a shot, http://www.leadmantri.com/
As some of you know, I have worked for Life Time Fitness, a large publicly traded health club company (NYSE: LTM, www.lifetimefitness.com) going on 2.5-years now in the capacity of head triathlon coach. Life Time is run by a true visionary who seems to have a crystal ball when it comes to forecasting trends in the health and fitness industry. The LeadmanTri Life Time Epic 250 is his brainchild and promises to give long course endurance athletes an alternative to the very popular Ironman distance. We'll see over the next few years if the athletes 'vote with their feet' and give this new concept a shot. I feel that this new distance and the Ironman distance can compliment one another and together, bring even more athletes into the world of ultra distance triathlon racing.
What makes it unique compared to the ironman distance? The distance of this event includes a 5K Swim, 223K bike and a 22K run. For those of you rushing to the google metric conversion calculator (I did!), that's a 3.1 mile swim, 138.56 mile bike and a 13.67 mile run.
Let's analyze the potential race times for the pro Ironman distance athlete should they attempt to race the Leadman. By going through this drill, you'll start to see STRIKING similarities in the energy (and time) needed to complete both distances.
First, a 'good' pro (let's call him Racer X) can race an Ironman in just under 9 hours. We'll say 8:50ish, for the sake of this article (all values are approximate). This could translate roughly to a 54:54 swim (~1:18/100 yd pace) - 4:52:10 bike (~23 mph pace) and a 2:59:00 run (~6:50 min/mile pace). Include two 2-min. transitions and you've got ~8:50:07 at the finish line. Now, let's extrapolate those same paces (this is questionable however as the athlete would like modify pace in each leg, but serves to illustrate a point) to the LeadmanTri 250K under similar conditions.
3.1 mile swim in 1:10:55 (~1:18/100 yd pace) - 138.56 mile bike in 6:01:27 (~23 mph pace) and 13.67 mile run in 1:33:24 (~6:50 min/mile pace) for a total time of ~8:49:48. WOW!!!
Ironman Time: 8:50:07
LeadmanTri Time: 8:49:48
Of course, the strategy in racing a Leadman might be somewhat different than racing an Ironman in that the savvy Ironman athlete knows that one must be more conservative on the bike if they wish to hold pace through the last 6-10 miles on the run. Many Ironman races have been won or lost in that last 5K when the wheels are falling off and the stronger runners take the top podium. My guess is that the competitive long course triathlete will need to push the pace on the bike and risk 'blowing up' in that last hour in order to hit the run in contention for the win. Also, the run, given it's shorter distance, will likely be taken out much faster and at a higher percentage of lactate threshold then when running the marathon in an Ironman, but this all remains to be seen as race strategies for this new distance will evolve over time.
For the age group athlete, since so many overall finish times are slowed by the 'ironman shuffle' in the second half of the marathon, I would anticipate overall finish times at Leadman to be perhaps a little faster given the longer bike and shorter run (i.e. not enough run left to 'bonk' and on)... but all of this is speculation at the moment. Apparently, the Leadman course and conditions in Vegas will make it very challenging.
The interesting and appealing thing about this new Leadman distance, as compared perhaps to the Iron distance, is how much less it'll (potentially) contribute to the wear and tear of the athlete, due mainly to the shorter run distance. As anyone who does Ironman distance races knows first hand, the training for the marathon and then the actual race day itself can take an incredible toll on the body in terms of the pounding, sometimes lending to overuse injuries and overtraining. From a recovery standpoint, the IM distance race itself can take literally weeks (months?) to recover from when you've 'gone to the well' in those last 8 miles of the marathon. Resuming steady training takes at least a couple of weeks post IM and racing again with any good form (at least for the Age Grouper) might take as long as a few months. Add to that the focused preparation for the Ironman distance and the long(er) miles of run training involved (and the related pounding), age group athletes doing IM tend to race less often in the course of a season and just train, train and train.
I see the new Leadman distance as a way to test your long distance tri racing prowess and even use it as a training race for a key Ironman distance race without 'beating yourself up' with excessive run mileage. Even though the swim and the bike are considerably longer compared to the IM distance, the potential negative implications on the body (from the running leg) are lower. And from a competition standpoint, while it's true that the strong swimmer/cyclist will have an advantage perhaps over the strong runner (due to the shorter run, relatively speaking), all athletes still need to race smart by managing their nutrition and pacing or the extra miles will turn the run into a 'walk', regardless of one's fitness and experience. After all... ultra distance endurance events always reward the 'smarter' and more patient athletes, not necessarily the stronger ones, right?
So, I'm doing this inaugural Leadman Tri for a few reasons as listed below:
1. It's a great challenge and a unique format.
2. Life Time puts on a great triathlon experience for the racers and their families / supporters.
3. I get to crank up my cycling miles without worrying about doing over-distance or higher volume running, thus avoiding potential run related injury early in the competitive season.
4. I anticipate being able to recover in only a few weeks after the event (due to less run recovery) and be 'race ready' again quickly thereafter.
5. It fits well into my schedule this season in preparing for Ironman Hawaii in October, giving me a 'dose' of ultra-distance racing without the recovery time required after running a marathon.
6. It's 'cool' to be involved in a first-ever event.
7. I broke my collarbone and a couple ribs last year at the Leadville 100 Mtn bike race, a close cousin of Leadman Tri... so I need to conquer at least one of these darn 'Lead' races!
If you're interested in taking on a new and unique challenge this May, join me and a hand full of other pioneers in racing the Leadman Tri Epic 250. It might be one of the coolest and toughest things you'll ever do.
And if you're interested, in a future blog report I'll let you know more about my Leadman training experience and how it might compare to preparing for an Ironman. Check back soon.
- Coach Troy