"The greatest failure is the failure to try."
- William Ward
(American Writer, 1921-1994)
|Inaugural Leadman Tri EPIC 250 Trophy|
I'm not 'green' when it comes to ultra-distance racing. I did my first Ironman-distance race in 1990, the brutally hilly Lake Sunapee Ultra Distance Triathlon in New Hampshire. So hilly was this race in fact that the run finished at a ski resort. My second Ironman - distance was Ironman Hawaii in 1991. The event lived up to it's reputation with the heat and the extreme winds providing the challenge, along with the long gradual 'false flats'. Baking under the sun on the lava fields of Kona in the Natural Energy Lab portion of the run will always give me nightmares. I've done Ironman Kona 7-times to this point.
In 2001, I did a short lived race called the Mohican Pineman, in Ohio. This small Ironman distance event included the most challenging bike leg I've ever experienced in an ultra-distance tri. The hills were steep and non-forgiving. It's no wonder this race disappeared... it was just too hard.
Overall, I've competed at a fairly high level in 15 Ironman-distance events in my 20+ yr. career and in over 25 "half distance" races. To date, I've never experienced an event as challenging as the Leadman Epic 250.
The concept is interesting, conceived by the Athletic Events Division at Life Time Fitness. That is, create a one-day event in which just making it to the finish line is the primary goal for most people, focusing on the swim and bike legs and without the demands placed on the body of running a marathon. It makes sense, because as anyone who trains for Ironman or marathons can attest to, your always walking that tight rope of injury. This is especially the case for the typical ultra-distance endurance sport athlete who tends to be a little more 'mature', in their late 30's, 40's and 50's. Now that you have some of the background, let's get into race specifics.
|Swim start area, Lake Mead.|
The race started at 6 am on Saturday morning at Boulder Beach in Lake Mead. With only 49 hardy souls competing in this first - ever event (Full, Half and Relay's combined), the atmosphere was very relaxed. The transition area included astro-turf and chairs in the changing tents for each athlete. The race announcer was Jerry McNeil, an encyclopedia of athlete information, and he did a great job of adding color to the race commentary. The pro list included Ironman Champion, Jordan Rapp, one of the top cyclists in the sport, as well as Matt Lieto. On the women's side, Hillary Biscay and Shanna Armstrong, both former Hawaii Ultraman competitors/winners, were there as well as upstart and top IM 70.3 racer, Angela Naeth and veteran Ironman distance pro, Tara Norton.
The swim began with a mass start of all athletes in both the half and full distance. The views of the mountains were breathtaking as the sun was slowing rising, and after the playing of the National Anthem, a calm filled the air as we all felt that we were about to do something special. The canon fired.
|Exiting the water.|
|T1. 138 miles to go!|
I started eating and drinking immediately on the bike because the energy required for a 5K tempo swim is considerable. Knowing that I've struggled with cramping in the past, I had over 30 MetaSalt capsules with me, as well as several bars and gels stuffed in my jersey pockets.
The bike course was beautiful with mostly smoothly paved roads and started off with a slight tailwind in the 'cool' morning as the temps hovered in the upper 70's. I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course, but I had heard rumors of the long flowing climbs and descents. I monitored my output during the gradual climbs using my perceived effort and my power meter... keeping it dialed back below 280 watts and with my cadence in the mid-80 range.
The bike course was very lonely and challenged your ability to stay focused on this long day. With so few competitors and with such a tough terrain, things spread out very quickly. Aid stations were a welcomed site every 15 miles or so, as were the USAT Race Officials on their scooters, as well as the race photogs and the few spectators who went out on the bike course to see their athletes race. Long descents at 35 mph flowed into equally long climbs at 15 mph. The day was heating up and the winds were starting to pick up as we headed north to the Valley of Fire.
At around mile 60 and now over 4.5 hours into the race, the layers start getting peeled off slowly and surely. What started out as having high energy and being in a good mood starts to nose dive slowly as the blood sugar destabilizes, the heat picks up and your body becomes generally uncomfortable at all levels. That, plus knowing that you're not even half way through the bike plays games with your mind. It's time to start digging into your 'suitcase of courage' at this point.
As I enter the Valley of Fire (A state park), I'm so impressed with the beauty of my surroundings but focused on my 'gauges' and keeping myself together. The first significant climb is about 1/4 mile long at around a 16% grade. I stood to climb as my worn down quads (and very sore knees) barked at me with huge loads of lactic acid burn. I was burning my matches, and still had many more miles to go in the Valley of Fire with these short but steep climbs before the turnaround. I saw Jordan Rapp in the lead heading back at this point and was extremely impressed with his riding abilities. Matt Lieto was not too far behind him at this point, but looked a little tweaked (he ended up dropping out due to 'exhaustion').
Once out of the Valley of Fire (thank you Lord!), it was back to the gradual false flats and extended climbs. Unfortunately, the course profile had us going uphill more on the way back... into a stiff headwind! You see, the slight tailwind in the morning had increased intensity as the day wore on and began blowing steadily stronger and gusting. I was grinding the uphills in my small ring / 25 going 12 mph and going downhill at times only slightly faster. Life was not good, especially with a disk wheel as the bike was all over the place.
Temperatures were riding into the mid-90's and I started feeling twinges of cramps starting to happen in my inner quads. I'd been following my electrolyte and nutrition regimen pretty close to plan, consuming my metasalt capsules like Pez and drinking as much as possible, and was frustrated by my body starting to let me down. I noticed that whenever my power crept over 270 watts on the climbs, I'd start to feel the 'twinge' of a cramp coming on... so I kept my climbing power in the 250 watt range to play it safe. Turned out to be a smart move.
As the winds picked up even more, I hit mile marker 100 on the bike. It was sort of a sinking feeling knowing that there was another 40 or so miles of suffering to endure before hitting the run. At mile marker 110, I thought that the Ironman bike would be over in a couple miles. I hit the 112 mile point in over 5 hours 30 min... my PR on the bike at Ironman Canada, a mountainous course, is 4hrs 45min. Ugh. The biggest fear I had was going into full-on cramp mode and once your in it, it's hard to escape. I was riding with that fear the rest of the way and slamming 3 metasalts at a time every 15-20 minutes, hoping to keep my shit together until the run.
|T2. Glad that's over with!|
I was stiff and my knees hurt so much. I felt my age and wondered how I was going to run 14 miles. I sat in the transition tent and the volunteer did a great job helping me get my run gear on. I shuffled out of the tent and my left knee forced me to limp/jog out of transition. I wasn't going to quit, so I wondered if this run would cause me long term damage to my knee. (My years of playing football and wrestling as a kid through college and then my years of triathlon racing/training have taken their toll on my joints). Who cares, I thought..."this is Leadman and it's about persevering and getting to the finish line at ALMOST any cost." The first part of the run out of transition was uphill and about 1/2 mile, similar to the old start out of T2 at the Kona Surf in Kona... for any of you who remember that. Not fun and I shuffled slowly.
|Limping out on the uphill shuffle to Boulder|
The run wound up to the Hoover Dam area as we ran through the tunnels on the rocky trail of the out and back portion. The views were spectacular, when I took a second to enjoy them periodically. After over 8 hours of racing in the heat and wind, I finally had to stop and pee. NOT GOOD! Despite my efforts to consume upwards of 50-60 fl oz / hr on the bike , I was sooo dehydrated. The dryness of the desert and the winds suck the moisture out of you like as vacuum. It's incredible.
Once back on the pavement and concrete, we continued to wind our way uphill to Boulder City. The uphill grade and the headwind was relentless and it was difficult to really stride out... I'll call it the Leadman shuffle, as it was more of that than a run. At mile 13, you could look up and start to see the area of the finish line. Unfortunately, it was up a hill that I thought was just a cruel joke placed there by the race directors and that someone would come up to me and say, "Just kidding! You don't have to run up there... run down this hill instead!". Nope, most of the final mile was uphill, damn them! I continued to shuffle. My run time, 1:52:31 (8:12 min./mile)
I crossed the finish line in 10 hrs 33 min 24 sec, good for 3rd overall. It was the hardest race I've done in my life in terms of course terrain and the elements.
|Stick a fork in me... I'm done!|
I'm so proud to be a LEADMAN now. It's a new badge of courage that everyone passionate and dedicated to the sport of triathlon must have on their list of accomplishments. I hope that you become one someday too.
|Dried salt on back and shorts at finish line.|