Leon Griffin: A Wrinkle To Wildflower

The 2013 Wildflower runner-up Leon Griffin thinks the unique format this year may play to his strengths.

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This year’s race is the 32nd running of the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon, but it also will be the first of its kind. An extreme drought has left California scrambling for water, and Lake San Antonio, the site of the swim course, was drained completely. Athletes will swim in Harris Creek, a smaller body of water, then run just over two miles to their bikes. The ride will follow the usual course and the run after the bike will be shortened. When combined with the long jaunt from the swim to the bikes, the running distance will total 13.1 miles. Last year’s runner up Leon Griffin (AUS) is hoping the unusual scenario will benefit him and help the Aussie move up to the top spot. We chatted with him ahead of the iconic race.

Triathlete.com: How will the modified course impact the race?

Griffin: I think it’s going to be drastically different. I don’t know whether people have thought about it or not, but the dynamics of the race [are going to change]. In the past guys had a 30-second lead out the swim and went straight onto the bike and were up the road and gone. It’s going to give you so much time if you’re a poor swimmer to even pull back 20 seconds before you get to the bike. And big guys, I’m not saying Starky (Andrew Starykowicz) is going to go poorly or anything, but I just can’t see that a hilly-crazy course like this would be suited to someone like that. Where as in the past, if he’s out on the swim, he’s on the bike and he’s gone. I think it’ll be a real rabbit’s race, the guys who are usually chasing. I honestly think it’s a better duathlete’s course and I hope that’s going to play into my hands.

Triathlete.com: Are you going to do anything unusual because of the abnormally hot weather?

Griffin: Just take three drinks on the bike that I do in really extreme races instead of two. I’ve got the Shotz nutrition, a brand from Australia, that’s really loaded up on the sodium, so I’ll be playing particular attention to make sure I go through those three bottles by the end of the bike. This race always comes down to survival at the end, getting as much water over you and ice down your top in the back half. I don’t think there’s anything out of the ordinary that I’ll do.

Triathlete.com: It came down to the last couple miles last year (between Griffin and champion Jesse Thomas). What did you learn?

Griffin: I learned that Jesse had longer legs than me and on those crazy down hills he really overstretched me. You know when you’re running sometimes and you’re really hurting, but you can’t stop because you want to keep pace. I think this year I might be a little smarter and run the hills a little harder and back off on those down hills. With the run only being 15Ks, 11 miles, it’s cutting out probably the hardest part of the course, they call it the pit. That’s where Jesse got me last year on the really long downhill and I just had nothing coming up. I learned to keep a little in reserve from last year because I didn’t have it. Even two percent in reserve will see me better off and closer to the win than last year. Even though I was close [in 2013], he still had a minute on me. I would love to be in a sprint finish coming down that finish chute for the win at Wildflower.

Triathlete.com: You’ve been back in the sport for a couple years after taking a hiatus. How has your fitness changed from this year compared to last?

Griffin: This has been a different one for me. This off-season instead of going home to Australia and keeping on racing, I took the time to stay in Colorado this year and had a good three months away from racing. When I hit racing this year, I was more underdone that I had been in the past. My training has changed a lot in the off-season to be a lot more intense. I’m doing a lot more intervals rather than volume and have picked back up on the speed because I’ve taken Ironman off the calendar. Guys are getting faster and faster in 70.3. I made a real effort to get back doing speed and dial back on the volume. I think it’ll pay off in the later half of the season. In the past I’ve been pretty tired come September. I’ve had a couple hiccups as well. I’ve only finished one race this year and we’re five months into it. I’m hitting about 85 percent fitness right now and I’m ready for a good showing.

Triathlete.com: Why race Wildflower rather than the U.S. Championships at Ironman 70.3 St. George?

Griffin: A lot of people have asked me that. I like racing the best guys but don’t want to do it week in, week out and end up fatigued in July because you’ve had to be 100 percent on your game to beat these good guys. The depth is getting out of control in these races. It goes way past what it pays in prize money. Most pay to sixth or eighth and 12th to 15th are still usually super talented guys. A couple reasons why Wildflower. First, the history and tradition of this race. I’ve raced it five times and love coming out here. The organizer Terry (Davis) and family and crew take great pleasure in providing to the pros. They’ve got us in accommodations and supply us with three meals a day. It’s just a good feeling to come and race here. It’s a hard race, good prize money—to me, the total package.

Triathlete.com: Along the lines of support for the professionals, what are your thoughts on the announcement that Rev3 isn’t going to offer prize money anymore?

Griffin: I’m disappointed, went through all the reactions I suppose. From disappointed to being thankful for Charlie (Patten) and his group for being in the sport for five years and providing all that prize money to pros. Any time there’s less money in the sport it’s a bad thing I think. It’s just going to make other races deeper and deeper. Like I said, I have no problems being confident that I can race the best guys, you just don’t want to have to feel 100% at every single race to win some prize money. Now that one of the options is off the table, I think it’s going to get harder and harder. I really think it’s a bad thing for the sport. Charlie put on a great event—valued the pros, looked after the pros—we appreciate that. And when someone takes that away I think it’s a detriment to the sport and they will be missed, for sure.

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