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Pro Perspective: Leon Griffin’s View of Ironman 70.3 Geelong

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He’s bagged a world title, Craig Alexander has said he’ll be an Ironman World Champion of the future, and he’s about as straight-talking as they come. We caught up with Ironman 70.3 Geelong runner-up, Leon Griffin, to get a pro perspective on last weekend’s race.

Photo: Delly Carr
Photo: Delly Carr

Triathlete: How did you go?
Griffin: Not good enough. One spot too short.

Triathlete: How did the race pan out?
Griffin: It was a real funny start on the swim. We got no warning we were about to start, so I was chatting away facing the wrong way when the gun went off.

It was a pretty pedestrian swim, I suppose. There were a few jellyfish out there. And then at the last turn with 500 meters to go I got dropped because a guy in front of me just let some feet go. So I had to really work hard in that last 500 meters. Clayton [Fettell] was out front with maybe three other guys and I was 15-seconds back so I had to have a really good transition.

We rolled out on the bike and unfortunately all of the packs came together. A couple of guys had a go at getting away, but like I said pre-race I was going to try and conserve a bit more energy and not do anything stupid like in the past when I’ve spent too much time on the front. So I was just watching the guys in the pack and doing the same thing – still going to the front at certain times – but the better runners certainly didn’t do the lion’s share of the work on the front. A couple of the younger guys wanted to get to the front.

It was obviously coming down to the run. It was a good transition and then a couple of guys went out way too hard and I just conserved as much energy as I could, knowing that those guys were really going to blow up. They did, and it panned out how I thought.

Obviously Craig [Alexander] was the smart guy to stick behind for as long as I could – he’s obviously the best at pacing himself. We gave Clayton four minutes which I thought was about as much as we’d want to. He blew up a bit quicker than I thought he would so I just kept telling myself ‘look, Craig is obviously the better runner and if I stick to my pace second is mine’.

Triathlete: Was anyone pushing you for second?
Griffin: Not really. Tim Berkel was behind. But I knew in the back of my mind that he’s doing a lot of training for his Ironman. That makes you a bit slower. I knew that if I could get a buffer on him then really if I kept the same pace it would be tough for Tim to catch me. All I had to do is stick to my pace and not slow down. I didn’t. I knew Tim was in third and a couple of guys were behind him and second is a good place to have in my first race of 2010.

Triathlete: We’ve heard other pros saythere was quite a bit of drafting going on out there…
Griffin: Yes, there was lots of drafting. Everyone jumps on the drafting bandwagon and bags it. And it frustrates me, but what frustrates me more is that the guys here in Australia cut-in. Overseas, if Aussie guys do that you’re going to get pinned every time. If you’re going to make a pass you should pass everyone and go to the front. Guys here pass one or two and then cut-in. So I’m already seven-meters behind a guy and then they cut me off. So all of a sudden I’m vulnerable to be getting caught because he’s two meters in front of me. That frustrates me more.

When packs come together like that it’s inevitable, and people are going to to-and-fro into that draft zone, in and out of that draft zone. It’s frustrating that the referee was giving a lot of warnings and not making calls. In the States if you cut people off you’re gone. The referee is right onto it.

Within the pro race, I think if you get better educated referees it will make it a lot fairer because those seven-meter gaps will stay seven, and if someone wants to make a pass they have to go to the front.

Triathlete: Do you think that will happen here with the WTC taking ownership of events?
Griffin: Do I think it will improve? Probably not. They’re coming at it from a different angle.

Look, I had a problem at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs when I got done in the last mile. I had a good chat with the head referee – the main guy in Hawaii – Jimmy Riccitello, and he’s frustrated by it as well. But he made a good point in that until ex-pros get in to be the draft busters then they are still going to be the guys who have never raced under those circumstances. It’s like any sport: the people who have played the sport have a better understanding of it. So they somehow need to attract those guys – and they aren’t going to do it for free.

There has to be incentive for ex-pros to hang around and try to help the WTC.

Triathlete: So what have you got lined up for the rest of the season?
Griffin: Next for me is Abu Dhabi.

Triathlete: Can you win it?
Griffin: Looking at the field I’d be stoked with a top-ten. I’ll be training to get a top-five. I still haven’t done a lot of big races or won big races but I’m knocking on the door and the next generation has to come through. So I hope that if I go away and have a good month of preparation then I could be a legitimate front-runner.

If I could walk away around the top five then for me that would be another step in the right direction and good preparation for getting wins in the 70.3 series in the States. I’ll be racing hard from May onwards and I really think I’ve got the hunger and if I can keep improving my running then I can be a contender at all those races.

Triathlete: Crowie has said you can win the Ironman World Championship…
Griffin: I’d love to get to Kona soon and have a go. I’d like to have half-a-dozen runs at Kona to see how I go. Also to improve my sponsorships and financial deals that I have. If I went there and lost a lot of money it would probably be the death-knell, you know? I’d have to take a few steps backwards.

But the aim is to get where Craig is, and why not? People have to have goals and have pedestals to aim for. So I’d like to model myself on Craig – he’s a smart guy. My running is better than what it was today when I get it going. So I just need luck with injuries. So if I can have six-months at any one time uninjured then I can be a contender at any race.

For a full race report from Ironman 70.3 Geelong click here