© Eric Wynn 2012
This is sort of my speech from the Leadman Epic 250 awards banquet. I say sort of because unlike most times, when I try to polish what I write and stick pretty much to the script (the day after a hard effort isn’t the time to improvise), I used this more of a template for what I wanted to say. The nice thing about Leadman is that the recovery is a lot easier than an Ironman, and thankfully it wasn’t only my legs that felt pretty good (I didn’t need stairs or a handrail to get to the podium). My brain actually seemed to be functioning as well. So if you were in Bend, you’ll probably recognize the general theme, and I hope that what I had to say was at least as good as what I wrote down. And if you weren’t in Bend, I’d say this captures the gist of what I had to offer.
Coming up with something appropriate to say about yesterday’s race presented a unique challenge, because there was not just one race; there were two races, and each of them was special and significant and worth talking about in it’s own way. And while there were some obvious differences in the two courses and in the two races, I think there were also some special similarities, and I thought I’d spend the time I’m lucky to have up here speaking about them.
Given the age groups that are typically the most full at races, I think most people here are old enough to remember Zima, the not very good “alternative to beer” (and an especially poor alternative to craft brew like the good stuff served by Deschutes at yesterday’s finish line) Coors introduced in the early 90’s. Marketed with the catchy phrase, “Zomething Different,” Zima died a slow and painful death that lasted, amazingly, until 2008, when it seems like it really should have been enjoying a revival with the advent of “malted” beverages. But it did not. Thankfully, it vanished, and may it rest in peace. It does, however, still live on – like many bizarro creations – in Japan. Go figure…
So what does Zima have to do with triathlon. Well, nothing really, except for a reminder to be thankful that the finish line was stocked with various delicious Dechutes microbrews. But it was the immensely cheesy tagline that got me thinking about what to say to you all. Of all the things that pop into my head during a really, really, really long bike ride. Yes, this was one of the many random thoughts that came into my head during the race. Don’t ask me why. I’ve long given up trying to figure out what I do – and don’t – think about during races. Leadman – both 125 and 250 – is “zomething different.” Or, since we aren’t pretending to be some sort of imported European alcopop, Leadman is “SOMETHING different.” There have been five total Leadman races – the inaugural 125 and 250 in Las Vegas in 2011, the second 125 in Las Vegas earlier this year, and now the first ever Bend 250 and 125. This course is drastically different than the Vegas course, which was itself quite different between the 125 and 250 versions. It was so much different that I don’t think it’s worth comparing them at all. And I think that’s also something special about the Leadman races. They stand alone. This race does not need to be compared to Vegas. It stands on it’s own with it’s own iconic memories – like frozen fingers after the swim in the crystal clear waters of remote Cultus Lake, and the seemingly endless Sparks Lake climb, and the bomber descent back into Bend – I hit 51mph at my fastest and I gather I wasn’t even close to the fastest person, and the fantastic run along the Deschutes River and through downtown Bend. This race truly showcased the best of Bend; and the best of Bend is pretty awesome.
But it wasn’t a race to come set a PB at, though by virtue of being the first race here, everyone set a PB for this particular race. And you almost certainly would have bested your time from Vegas if you did that either this year or last. But that was not why you all showed up. The distance is unique. The course is distinct. And the race is truly something different. For the 250ers, perhaps it was a dream of a belt buckle. Congrats to those of you who earned them – big or small. And for the 125ers, maybe you just wanted to race somewhere new, somewhere beautiful, or just do something a little bit special.
There’s a place for the established races. I’m glad we have them. And maybe some day Leadman will be like that. I hope so, but I also hope it doesn’t lose it’s spirit. I think the spirit of Leadman is not about times (except for sneaking in under belt buckle time) or some larger goal or anything like that. I think it taps into the roots of triathlon. It’s about seeing if you can do it. It’s about trying something crazy, and when I saw 28 Fahrenheit on the drive to Cultus Lake, I was certain it was indeed crazy. How fast will I go? I don’t know. Will I earn a buckle? I don’t know. I would say there was more that you didn’t know than you did when you walked down that carpet into the lake yesterday morning. And I think that hopefully means you all learned a little something about yourself yesterday. That you answered some of those questions, whatever they might have been. Leadman is different. And I think that’s probably the biggest challenge thing it has to overcome. But I also think it’s one of the best things it has going for it, along with truly spectacularly beautiful courses.
Leadman races, to me, are about embracing the landscape, the topography, the geography, the scenery, and the culture of the venue. Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch.com calls races like this “terroir” races, since like a wine, a race offers – or rather can offer when it’s done right – a taste of what the area has to offer. Terroir races aren’t common, because it’s hard to let the venue dictate the race rather than the other way around. Most of the time, it seems races are designed almost by saying, “we need somewhere to swim that meets these requirements, and the bike course needs to be basically like this, and then the run should be a bit like this.” And I get that, because deviating away from what is known to work is a risk. Split transitions are a nuisance for everyone, especially when they are 50ish miles apart. But look at what we got as a result. Wow. You can get something truly remarkable when you go in with the attitude of, “what sort of race course does this area want us to put on? What do the locals think the race should be? What showcases what makes this place special?” It’s the race course that makes the race special, rather than the race making the course special. That isn’t to say there will only ever be one or two Leadman races, but I think the races themselves are meant to share little more than a name and a general template of distance (long swim, long bike, relatively short run). Las Vegas is not Bend. And Bend will not be Tempe. But I hope that you all might find your way back to a Leadman starting line again, because while I think there’s room for the establishment, there’s also room for something different. That’s what put me on that starting line (and some belt buckle lust), and I enjoyed sharing the experience of something different with all of you. And I hope you enjoyed it as well.
And, of course, as far as something different goes, racing around Mt. Bachelor sure beats citrusy alcoholic soda…