On Saturday at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Omaha, Adrienne Leblanc won her third straight Masters Women’s Olympic Distance National Championship title by a 4:19 margin over 40-44 winner Ginger Reiner.
While she had a strong NCAA Division 1 swimming career – specializing in the 400 meter individual medley - at Arizona State University, Leblanc didn’t get her highly decorated age group triathlon exploits rolling until she was 40. This true Master's triathlete began her return to competitive athletics after establishing a practice as a physical therapist, marrying an Olympic swimmer and raising three children who carry on the family tradition as highly competitive swimmers.
Technically, Leblanc did give triathlon a try right after she graduated. “After college swimming, I felt a little bit lost and I decided to try triathlon, she told Boombaby.me magazine. "But the second time I tried to go out on my bike, I fell off and broke my elbow." So I just quit. Instead, I went off to graduate school and tried to keep in shape by running.”
From that point, LeBlanc pursued a graduate degree in Physical Therapy, married 1988 French Olympic swimmer David Leblanc, moved around the country so he could attend graduate school and focused on raising their children. When she hit 40, Leblanc decided to reignite her hunger for competition with triathlon. “I was very much competitive in swimming. But you are pretty much done after college. Unless you are an Olympian like Michael Phelps or Dara Torres, who was 41 when she competed in the 2008 Olympics. But I didn't have that. I had children and my career but I still liked to run and swim. At age 40 somebody introduced me to triathlon. I got good really quickly. I won a race and had not been really training much. I thought, ‘OK. Try a little harder at this.’ Then I got really good.”
Two years after she started swimming, biking and running with competitive focus, Leblanc entered the 2012 ITU Age Group World Championship in New Zealand and placed 10th in the women’s 40-44 division.
But the road ahead was not entirely smooth. In 2013, she was running third in her age group at the ITU Age Group World Championship in London when she went down with a torn hamstring. She struggled to recover through much of the 2014 season. By 2015, she struck gold in the ITU Age Group World Championship in the 45-49 sprint division. In 2016, the pendulum swing down again in her search for age group World Championship success. At the Grand Final in Cozumel, she led the Olympic distance women’s 45-49 division by six minutes when collapsed from heat stroke and spent a few days in hospital.
While her World Championships quest had up and down results, Leblanc found consistent success in USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. In 2013 at the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals, she got very close. “I finished first in 40-44 but had a 2 minute penalty for a position foul. I was new to the sport, it was crowded and after making a pass I could not get back to the right side fast enough and I received a 2 minute penalty. So the lady next to me [Susanne Davis] won by 42 seconds. I will never forget it.”
At the 2014 USAT Age Group Nationals, LeBlanc won the women’s 45-49 division in the sprint distance and took 3rd overall. In 2015, she won the women's 45-49 division in the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in in a time of 2:09:20, took 7th overall woman and also earned her the Female Masters overall title. In 2016, Leblanc repeated her women’s 45-49 and Masters woman crowns. And offering proof that age is only a number, she finished 3rd overall behind 30-34 winner Alissa Doehla and 35-39 champion Kirsten Sass.
“I grew up as a competitive swimmer, so I don’t necessarily put a lot of time into swimming now,” she said. “But I am not too far behind. And I have pretty good transitions. So I can make up there. My bike was pretty good. There were a lot of people on the course when I went because I was in one of the last waves. I had a lot of passing to do. So the second half of the bike was not as good as I hoped to be.”
In pursuit of a three-peat in the USA Triathlon Age Group Women’s Masters, Leblanc was very aware of the danger of a penalty posed by a large, crowded field – a penalty that cost her the 2014 title. “When I started it was very crowded. You are not going straight the whole time. The second half of my bike was a bit slower for me. Bur you know, it is what it is. I don’t want to get penalized as I had that happen before. This year I passed about 150 people. As soon you pass somebody you have to go right back to the right. Then you have to do it again. And do it again and again. So I am pretty careful.”
While she is happy and grateful to race and is reluctant to criticize the USA Triathlon officials who make the national championships possible, Leblanc can imagine a better race setup. “I have been racing many years. I don’t want to get in trouble. But I think that they could make it a bit more difficult to qualify for nationals. If you want to race nationals there should be a little bit more scrutiny on it. Because it is very crowded. Yes a large field makes more money. But I think if you want nationals you should make it a bit harder to qualify. And then have a bit fewer people based on times they have done. So you are racing people who are at the same speed as you, that would be the best scenario. But this is the way they have been doing it for years. So I still come to the races. I do enjoy it. But I would hope that maybe one day they would make that adjustment.”
Leblanc swam 24:47, which was 1:49 faster than the Female Masters runner-up and 40-44 winner Ginger Reiner of Lincoln, Massachusetts. Leblanc rode 1:03:38, which was 2:15 better than Reiner. And she ran 40:03, which was 15 second quicker than Reiner.
Leblanc finished 4th overall woman. While that was one place further back than her 2016 overall women’s finish, her 2:12:01 time this year was a source of pride. “While my overall placing was better last year, my performance was much better today.”
Next month, Leblanc will have an opportunity to make good on her quest to earn a women's 45-49 medal at the ITU Age Group World Championship in Rotterdam.