After completing 47 iron-distance races, a few ultramarathons, and Ultraman, on Saturday I completed the second-longest single-day event of my life: the Leadman Epic 250 Triathlon. It was truly an epic 11 hours and 41 minutes, which made it longer than all of my ironmans except for my first–even a day´s stage of Ultraman is only about 8 hours. The extended duration was one of many reasons that I fell in love with this event.
Leadman started with a 3.1-mile (5km) swim in Lake Mead at Boulder Beach. The water was beautiful at sunrise and the temperature was perfect; had I brought mine, I could have gone with a sleeveless wetsuit. The “mass start“ was relatively calm, as even with relay teams and half-distance competitors, our group only totaled about 50.
I refrained from sprinting hard to start because the last thing I wanted or needed to start this long day with was one of my weirdo panic attacks. My start then left me a couple of minutes into the swim with about a 15-meter gap to close to hook onto the group of Jordan Rapp and Matt Lieto. I was able to get there before the mid-way point of the first of the two loops and that is where I stayed. Matt did all the work on the front, and although it wasn´t too hard to sit behind, I also could not go around the boys; I thought it would be nice to do some work at some point, but I couldn´t better Matty´s pace.
I came out of the water behind Matty, in 1:10, with one pro guy ahead of us, and knew that the relaxing swim could hardly be considered a warm up for what was ahead. It was going to be a long and lonely day on the bike; Ultraman wasn´t so far away that I had forgotten how mental a day like this would be.
The difference here was that I would really be on my own: this was a race the size of Ultraman (34 starters in the full Leadman race), but with no support crew this time. Oh how I missed them. I spent much of my ride obsessing over water—dreaming of it, even hallcinating about it. You see, as with every first-year event, the aid stations weren´t quite precisely dialed. They were comprised of two small tables, every 15-20 miles, usually with one guy handing out a bottle of water at table #1, and another handing out gatorade at table #2. Hence there was no option for two waters, but if you were far more quick and handy than I, you might have snagged both water and gatorade. I realized after aid station #1, when my water was gone in 5 miles, that my best bet was going to be to stop, unclip, and load up at each aid station. It was going to be an 11-12 hour day and a few extra minutes to stay on top of hydration would probably be worth it.
The climate out on the course was, luckily for me, very similar to Tucson. According to reports, the temperature at the bike turnaround in the Valley of Fire reached 102F. It was dry, hot and windy—nothing too abnormal for me, which was why I found it so odd that this was the most parched and hot I have ever felt on a bike in a race. Never while riding have I been so consumed by dreams of jumping into a cold body of water—while running, certainly, but this was a new experience on the bike.
I spent about the first half of the day on Saturday in a fog, cruising along; I had not slept a single minute the night before and it was as if I was only half awake. I knew, strategically, that I needed to ride conservatively for the first half of the bike, but with the state I was in, I am not sure I had any other gear at the time.
The ride was basically 140+ miles (yes, despite the advertised 138 miles, my odometer registered over 140) of continuous intervals. There was essentially no flat part on this entire bike course; my trusty CycleOps Joule 2.0 counted over 10, 000 vertical feet of climbing, but there were also really no big climbs. The up and down just never stopped. What I find on courses like this—long, and hilly ones—is that they become manageable because I simply get into a different mindset than I would on a faster, iron-distance course. I just never hope for a reprieve from climbing, and I think about cycling as something I am just doing. All. Day.
This way, at our turnaround at about mile 73, instead of thinking, “Oh my goodness I still have about 70 more miles,“ I am thinking, “Home stretch!!“ and, “How cool is it that we get to do a race out here in some of the most beautiful mountain roads I have ever seen?!“ Okay, part of this outlook was aided by the fact that I took 400mg of caffeine at mile 60 and had finally woken up.
Little did I know that at the halfway mile-marker I was not halfway time-wise; we would spend the last 50 miles or so riding into a gnarly headwind of about 30 miles per hour in many spots. But convincing oneself of things that aren´t real is half the battle in events like this, in my opinion . . . And I have to say that being able to ride through the Valley of Fire during a race was one of the most awesome experiences I´ve had in awhile. I wish I had photos; the place is bright orange and just amazing.
But during the very slow final bike miles, when the time between aid stations multiplied with the wind resistance, I dreamed of the run, which I told myself was just going to be a series of 10-minute jogs in between water-fests. That sounded like heaven. Although I packed a whopping 3200-calorie combination of EFS gel and drink in two bottles, I got to a point where I just couldn´t get anymore of what had become a very warm mixture down. All I wanted was water, and I don´t think I consumed any calories in about the last 90 minutes or so of the ride.
Not surprisingly, then, I felt like death warmed up during the first couple of miles of the run. But after couple of miles of uphill pretend-jogging and pounding coke-gatorade-water at the first two aid stations, I came alive for my very favorite part of this run course: the old railroad trail. I had been dreaming of running on this trail, through these tunnels, for months. And then, in spite of the circumstances, I actually felt pretty good. I couldn´t stop smiling through this section.
Except for one steep downhill section of about 400 meters and the out-and-back on the railroad trail (about 3 miles), the 22-kilometer run was all uphill—about 1800 vertical feet of gain. Conveniently, by the time I was running, most of this climbing was also into a pretty substantial headwind. At times I wondered if I was running up and down on the spot. Still, all things considered, I felt pretty strong and steady for about the last 11 miles of the run; I just requested “Everything!!“ at every aid station. And besides a couple of lows when the aid stations stretched out further than a mile apart, the sugar bursts seemed to keep me rolling.
Again, I expected to run uphill all afternoon, and I embraced it. I knew where the run started—at Lake Mead—and finished—way up in Boulder City—and wasn´t entirely sure how the course would get us there, so I focused on enjoying discovering new roads and trails. I also reveled in the fact that this was indeed an epic final, huge training day that I was putting in the bank for Ironman Brasil in two weeks. As I was running, I reminded myself that in two weeks, I would be done by that time—in fact, I´d be done by about the time I was in T2 at Leadman.
It was a good day´s work—one of my most memorable days at the office, and I felt truly privileged to have been able to take part in this inaugural Leadman. This event was definitely one that I felt happy simply to complete; in fact only 14 of the 34 starters did so. It was a race against myself and my last big deposit in the Banco do Brasil.
I am happy to report that, even just 3 days later, my body seems none the worse for wear for this effort. I am guessing this is because there was minimal pounding happening on that uphill run, and furthermore, because this event was more about “survival“ than “racing,“ I couldn´t do too much damage. I am looking forward to the Leadman Series next year, and maybe, someday, learning how to “race“ an event like this. For now, I am proud just to be a Leadman finisher!
Thanks so much to all of my sponsors for their support and the gear and fuel that got me through this epic day: Trakkers-Rev3, Skirt Sports, TYR, Avia, First Endurance, Kestrel, Zipp, FSA, ISM, CycleOps, Recovery Pump, FuelBelt and Vega.