Events

We Raced It! Life Time Leadman Epic Tri Bend

Triathlete magazine editors deliver a first-person account from inside the field.

Triathlete magazine editors deliver a first-person account from inside the field.

After winning the 2012 Leadman Tri Epic 250 in Bend, Ore., pro Jordan Rapp spoke about how the inaugural event differs from “the establishment” that triathletes are used to. “I don’t mean that as a bad thing,” Rapp said. “I think it’s great that there are established races and established distances. But there’s room for something that’s different, and it gets to the root of what it means to be a triathlete and what triathlons stem from.”

Saturday’s event, which included a 125K and 250K distance, put an emphasis on the swim-bike portion with a shorter run. Because the distance and this course are new, there are only personal bests to be created, not measured against. “When you go to the start line of the race you have a lot of expectations on yourself, or other people put expectations on you,” Rapp said. “But when you come to a race like this, those expectations go out the window. And that’s something to be celebrated. I think it’s great to have those chances to race against your prior best performances but it’s also remarkable to have a chance to just do something that you didn’t know if you could do.”

Editor-in-Chief Julia Polloreno and Senior Editor Jené Shaw raced the 125K distance on Sunday. Below are their thoughts on the event.

Jené: At the awards ceremony, race announcer Jerry MacNeil asked for a show of hands, asking: After doing this race, who has entertained the idea of moving to Bend? My hand was definitely in the air. I had heard that Bend rivals Boulder, Colo., as an ideal training ground for triathletes, and it’s clear why. The seemingly endless forest, the snow-capped mountains, the waterfalls—it all makes a stunning background for long rides. And the countless craft breweries and local farm-to-table restaurants make recovery just as fun.

Julia: It’s true: This event is a big fat, beautiful advertisement for the Bend Visitor’s Bureau. I was so swept up in the scenery, at times I forgot I was actually in a race. As for pre- and post-race enjoyment of Bend and its bounty of local brews and off-the-charts eating establishments, we had the insightful guidance of pro and Bend native Linsey Corbin, who tipped us off to the must-eat/drink spots in town. They did not disappoint.

Jené: We’ll be the first to admit we did not come as prepared as we should have for this race, with house renovations and post-Ironman burnout giving us reasons for not taking training too seriously. Let’s just say we made a few mistakes…

How NOT to race:

• Arrive at 12:00 p.m. the day before—particularly coming straight from Interbike in Las Vegas

• Eat a late pre-race dinner with (two) dessert(s) and wine (weren’t we kind of on vacation?)

• Expect to find your go-to nutrition in town, and when you can’t, just wing it and use something new

• Buy race morning breakfast at 9:45 p.m. the night before

• Wait for the last shuttle to get to the swim start

• Forget a bike pump and stealthily borrow a neighbor’s

• Leave the bike prep stuff until the last minute, such as finding a bike computer battery or buying CO2

• Miss the swim schedule announcement so that you’re standing on the beach when your wave starts in the deep end

• Put sunglasses in T2 bag so that you ride 65 miles in the sun and wind without any eye protection. (That’s a lot of squinting)

Pre-Race Logistics

The host hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn (think upscale yet casual mountain lodge), was steps away from the Old Mill District, a cute area made up of outdoor shops and restaurants along the Deschutes River. Packet pickup (held in an old Ann Taylor store), T2 and the race finish were all right next to each other, making for a simple registration. An REI next door was convenient for last-minute nutrition needs.

Because the race is point-to-point, you have to drop your bike off at Cultus Lake (about a 45-minute drive from town) the day before. Allow time for this round-trip adventure, and bring your camera for epic sunset shots over the lake and mountain shots on the way home. Don’t forget your jacket—it’s cold up there at almost 5,000 feet.

The morning of the race, you take a school bus to the start. We recommend finding the shuttle pickup location the day before, because it’s hard to find in the morning dark. We thought we’d rely on signage and a stream of other racers heading to the shuttles, neither of which we actually saw. It was only a stroke of sheer luck that we spotted a local racer who literally lit the way with his headlamp (smart).

The Swim: 2.5K (1.5 miles)/5K (3.1 miles)

Jené: Most athletes, including me, were slightly nervous about how cold Cultus Lake was going to be, especially given that the air temperature in the morning was in the low 40s. Once I got in and got over the initial cold-face feeling, it was surprisingly tolerable—almost refreshing. The water was so crisp and clear that you can see the bottom of the lake the majority of the time. It does get fairly shallow in sections, to the point where you could walk if you had to. (Watch out for large rocks in those areas.)

The swim was an out-and-back, keeping the buoys to your right the whole time. If you’re a right-side breather, the way out can be a little blinding. On the way back, approaching the exit, the sun made it difficult to see the boat ramp, so I had to follow the kicking splashes in front of me to find my way out.

The only downside to the swim was that the wave start announcements could have been louder. It takes a few minutes to swim to the starting position by a boat, and by the time I realized it was my wave, I had to dive in and frantically swim behind the group. Also, based on talking to a few athletes, I think the course was a little short.

Julia: I also found myself on the beach trying to figure out the wave schedule as my wave countdown began. And it was a deep-water start that required an extra three to four minutes just to get to the start buoy. There was a single announcer (God bless him for fielding frantic athlete inquiries while trying to actually send off athletes) speaking over a way-too-quiet sound system, and there didn’t seem to be any race staff supporting him. None of the other racers waiting for the start seemed to know which waves had already been sent off, and I made a mad dash down the ramp once I realized my start was already underway.

After a few underwater curse words were uttered and I recalibrated my race approach (“You got this top-five swim!” to “You’re racing in Oregon!”) I settled into the swim and began appreciating the incredible Cultus Lake venue. The water, although chilly at first, was unbelievably pristine. Wetsuit or no wetsuit, I’ve never enjoyed a triathlon swim more.

PHOTOS: LeadmanTri Bend Life Time Epic 250

The Bike: 106K (65 miles)/223K (138 miles)

Jene: You’d be hard-pressed to find another bike course that offers the kind of unspoiled forest scenery that this one does. Around a lot of corners I found my jaw dropping in disbelief, thinking, “Am I seriously riding here right now?” You pass sparkling alpine lakes, log cabins and open fields, and there are barely any cars to speak of until the very end of the ride. The best part? The roads are smooth—the 15ish-mile descent (yes really) back into town was freshly paved before the event, which was a dream for downhill bombers.

Julia: Normally, I would have been lonely/bored/antsy during a long ride with such a small field, but I was honestly so absorbed in the scenery, I was one happy camper in the midst of such a stunning landscape. I thought the chip-seal roads were in really good shape, and then I got to the last segment of the bike leg, where you could barely feel the road beneath you. If you rely on crowd support to power your pedal strokes in a race, you won’t find many cowbell-yielding spectators on these remote roads. It’s all you. And here, it’s a beautiful thing.

There is some climbing, but nothing ridiculously steep or long. Mostly just rollers. Wheeee.

The Run: 16.5K (10 miles)/22K (13 miles)

Jené: The run started on a quiet trail alongside the Deschutes River. If it weren’t for the aid stations and mile markers every half-mile, I would’ve felt like I was out on a solo jog. It moves to the Tetherow Golf Course, which would be a tough place to run if you’re suffering. The hills are manageable, nothing major, but it’s quite exposed.

Julia: The run course was mostly well marked, though there were some sketchy crossings at traffic circles (why are there so many traffic circles in Bend?).  The highlight of the run course was the first two miles of trails hugging the Deschutes River. The aid stations were well organized, with a “spotter” calling out to you as you approached asking what you wanted so that a volunteer had it ready and waiting. The cold towels were a thoughtful touch on such a warm day.

Post-Race

Upon crossing the finish line, we were handed a heavy, rectangular-ish black medal. There were bagels, oranges, sandwiches, water, etc., but most importantly they had Deschutes beer on tap! Life Time has a rule against the “Dirty Seven” food additives, so none of their race food includes high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat, artificial preservatives, hormones/antibiotics, bleached flour, artificial colors or added/process sugars. (Was that Coke at the aid stations natural soda? Either way, we were glad to guzzle it.)

You could get immediate results on a handy touchscreen kiosk, and the overall finish line environment was energetic, thanks to local bands playing live music, and family (and dog) friendly.

Praise:

Sheer beauty of the course, the perfect small-town outdoorsy location of Bend

• Relaxed vibe of the entire event, from the easy check-in to the chill finish line

• Frequent buoys on the swim

• Heated changing tents in T1 (temps were in the low 40s out of the swim)

• Post-race craft microbrews, handed to you in a new yours-to-keep pint glass

• The shwag: long-sleeve tech t-shirt, visor, Leadman jersey, pint glass, awesome medal

• Results were quickly available at the finish line via an iPad kiosk (four sides!)

• The distance makes it ideal for late-season Ironman preparation

• Recovery time is faster than an Ironman—and maybe even a 70.3.

Critiques:

Every first-year event will have its kinks to work out, and thankfully it sounds like the Leadman crew is open to suggestions. This is what we’d change for next year.

• The lack of signage to Cultus Lake made bike drop-off a little difficult, and the bus drivers on race morning weren’t all too familiar with the exact location. Also, there could be more signs to registration and the shuttle stop in the morning, as well as on the bike course—a few top pro women made wrong turns and it ended their races.

Less than 500 people signed up for the first-year event, which had some positives (being the first to race it, less competition!), but it would have been nice to see more people out on the course. I’m sure word will get around after this year and the numbers will be higher in 2013!

All in all, it was a memorable and positive race experience. We’re putting this one on our 2013 race calendar.

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