Aussie Chris Legh won 2 IRONMAN titles but is likely best remembered for his scary collapse 50 meters before the finish during the 1997 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. He almost lost his life that day and many lessons were learned from that scary situation. Lessons that we all benefit from today. But this retired professional will soon be known as race director Chris Legh. He is currently spending time in Australia but will bring his experience and passion back to Lyons, Colorado where he will run Powerman Colorado. I chatted with him about the new adventure, the state of triathlon and endurance sport, doping, and much more.
Slowtwitch: How are you my friend?
Chris Legh: Things are going great. I’m home back in Australia down at the beach with the family and enjoying some time away from winter.
ST: When did you leave Colorado to go to Australia?
Chris: We left halfway through December, just as the kids’ school finished up.
ST: And how long are you staying?
Chris: Can’t believe the return trip is just around the corner. My daughter Jamieson and Sarah are heading back in a couple of days for a Colorado All-Stars swim meet and I’m here for another week with Camryn, my youngest. Life is now dictated by school and kids sports. They have destroyed my endless summers of years gone by!
ST: Is that an annual pilgrimage or do you sometimes stay to play in the snow and have a white Christmas?
Chris: We have always returned to Australia for some of their summer. In the early years we spent about seven months in the northern hemisphere and five months back in Australia. As the kids have got older, our time back in Australia has definitely shrunk. This time around we are only down south for 5 weeks. We love the beach, but have always enjoyed the snow, so it’s not all bad heading back early as far as we are concerned.
ST: Word has it that you are going to run a race and it is not a triathlon.
Chris: Yes, I have been able to bring some great partners together and will be hosting a Powerman Duathlon event in my hometown of Lyons, Colorado.
ST: How did that come about?
Chris: In recent years I have raced a number of Powerman events and also raced the Powerman World Championships in Zofingen, Switzerland. For those new to the multisport community Zofingen isn’t well known, but it has been an iconic event for decades and something I wanted to do for years. Powerman currently has 22 events around the world and is trying to reestablish itself back in the US, now with events in Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Michigan. I thought an event in Colorado would be a great addition to the US series.
ST: Why Lyons?
Chris: I have lived in Lyons for 13 years and have always wanted to host an event in town. I have a true passion for Lyons and its people and businesses and wanted to combine my love of the sport with that passion for our little town. Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, I knew we could create a challenging course and a fantastic experience for the athletes. Without a swim option in town, Powerman Duathlon was one of the only multisport options available, so it all just seemed to make sense. Having raced 3 disciplines for a number of years, I also had confidence in the quality of race they can produce. With such an active community in the Denver region I also thought it would be great to provide another race option for the athletes. Lyons has been very receptive to the idea, so now it is my goal to build an event that will be a fantastic addition to the Lyons calendar and to produce a unique race and adventure getaway for the multisport community.
ST: One would think with so many folks seemingly loathing swimming there would be a rush on duathlon, but that is not the case. Why do you think that is, or do you disagree?
Chris: This is a very interesting topic. For years, Duathlon was both a healthy sport in it’s own right while also providing another race option for triathletes. The likes of Greg Welch, Paula Newby Fraser, Heather Fuhr, Lori Bowden, and Mark Allen all toed the start lines in duathlon and Powerman, and at one point Zofingen paid more prize money than the Hawaii Ironman. Powerman and Duathlon were integral components of the multisport community for many reasons. Today triathletes consider themselves as triathletes only and are fixated on only a few events a year.
I think if you were to chat to past athletes, duathlon was a goal in itself but it also complemented their triathlon race seasons. Personally, I don’t think todays athletes race enough and are focused on only one or two goals a year. As a result, we have seen a dramatic decline in unique local events, whether they be duathlons or shorter triathlon events. It is a shame we have seen this decline in terms of the broader health of the sport, but it’s also a shame because we have limited opportunities to introduce new and young athletes to multisport and also less opportunities to expose ourselves to race stresses and to develop our race skills.
Since starting triathlon I have enjoyed seeing the growth of our sport. I obviously want to see that growth continue, but hope we can reverse the current trend and get athletes back to more racing at the local level. I think this will aid the health of multisport as a whole and will help athletes reach their potential for longer races such as Ironman. I strongly believe every component of our multisport community would benefit.
ST: What do you have in mind to change that mindset?
Chris: It is a very difficult trend to reverse, but I see this as an opportunity to add another voice for the support of local races. We are fortunate in Colorado to have the likes of Without Limits and Racing Underground producing fantastic local events, so hopefully we can be another great addition to this local scene.
I obviously want to grow the Powerman Duathlon brand within the US and believe to achieve this I have to openly and honestly promote it for what it is, plain and simple!
Powerman/Duathlon is an ideal way to introduce young children to multisport, it is a perfect feeder program for all other races. Based on this fact, I am reaching out to schools, youth coaches, clubs and programs and have supplemented the majority of the entry fees to make the event accessible to more kids and families. We are also providing five race distance options to cover all the bases.
In the same way that Powerman is great for children, it is also a non-intimidating option for adults who wish to get a feel for multisport. With this in mind, I am reaching out to retailers, health clubs and personal trainers who will hopefully see this as a perfect goal for their clients and customers.
For those that have a fear of swimming, duathlon can also be their race, their time to shine. For these aqua-challenged athletes the Lyons Powerman event is a qualifying race for the World Championships in Switzerland. It’s a fantastic opportunity to fight for the right to represent your country in the mountains of iconic Zofingen.
Last but not least, I am reaching out to clubs and coaches and preaching the benefit of more racing. Building speed, dealing with race day pressure, developing race skills and strategy. Modern-day triathletes are more training-oriented and I think they are falling short of their potential because of lack of racing.
In saying all of this, I am just another person who has reached out to USAT and discussed the benefit of supporting smaller local races. It is a simple solution to sustaining the health of our sport at so many levels.
At the end of the day we still have to produce a quality event and experience for the athletes, so I’m excited that I can share my Lyons backyard with the rest of the world, with this Front Range backdrop we have a great opportunity to produce a unique and fun weekend of racing.
ST: Many smaller races are dying as folks are seemingly so focused on M Dot races and other long distance events that they forget or overlook smaller local events. I think you have always advocated for racing more often in order to stay sharp.
Chris: As I said before, it is always great to see a sport grow, and Ironman has been a huge reason for this. Ironman was always one of my main focuses, but I honestly hope this growth doesn’t cannibalize our sport. I grew up racing regional events in Victoria, Australia and looked for every opportunity to refine my race skills.
I raced in adventure racing, sprint triathlon, duathlon, aquathons, XTERRA, mountain bike events, and stand alone swim, bike and run races. I like to think of myself as an endurance athlete and truly think I benefited from this all-round exposure. I would love to see a renewed passion for all styles of racing. Cyclists, runners and swimmers all race a great deal, there is nothing quite like the race day intensity. There is no argument that long training weekends are beneficial in achieving a long term goal, but we are tending to totally miss those opportunities to race and test ourselves along the way.
ST: Do you sometimes miss racing as a professional or are you content where you are?
Chris: For sure. I loved the training, the competition and the lifestyle. But in saying this, the sport has changed dramatically. Watching from the sidelines and chatting with athletes it definitely seems less enjoyable. I feel like we old dudes definitely had more fun out there racing and on the training track. I’m not sure if it is a change in camaraderie, the introduction of gadgets and training tools, less sponsorship opportunities, or tough qualification protocols... the list of changes goes on and on.
I may as well just say what all the old athletes say, “It was definitely better in my era!” I’m probably lucky that I ache and limp around all day and have no reason to even consider racing anymore. The memories seem much better than today’s reality!
ST: What do you see is the biggest change to the sport, compared to when you were racing?
Chris: The changes are endless and we could talk about equipment, sponsorship, social media, recovery options, race options, etc. all day.
In terms of performance I think we have seen the greatest improvements on the bike in recent time. For years it was always 4:30 on the bike for the men and now the big guns are eyeing 4:00. A combination of equipment, position, nutrition, and training have all got us to this point. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.
I have also enjoyed the evolution of women’s racing. The introduction of an independent swim start has really cleaned up the racing and made it much more competitive and enthralling. We now see more examples of head to head racing and strategy. This was definitely a positive step forward.
ST: What about gear and gadgets?
Chris: Gadgets are hard to argue with. For years performances progressed very slowly, but as coaches and athletes learned to apply these gadgets we have seen some massive jumps in performance, particularly bike splits. I would like to see a healthier use of gadgets, I don’t think they should be used for every session. I think the feedback and constant analysis can be too draining at times and can easily take away the joy of a simple swim, bike or run.
Just recently I trained for a marathon, and all I focused on was feel and rhythm, rhythm and a little more rhythm. For the majority of my runs I actually didn’t want to know how slow I was, my confidence would have been shattered by the end of day one! I never wear HR monitors, I just go on my breathing and let the efficiency come to me.
I base my training on time and not distance, it’s something I have always done from a young age because we simply didn’t have access to GPS. I still enjoy this basic approach for the majority of my sessions and believe that this is a reason I still love running after forty years.
I can’t argue against a place for gadgets, but I will argue that there is nothing better than an unencumbered jog through the mountains.
ST: When you hear folks now murmuring about mechanical doping in cycling and triathlon, do you see hidden motors as an actual concern?
Chris: Who knows anymore!? There is always going to be a percentage of the population that is desperate for fame, money and success and will do absolutely anything to get it. I don’t see it as a massive issue as of now, but I’m sure the technology will evolve.
ST: What about drugs and blood doping?
Chris: Don’t get me started. This obviously isn’t new to the endurance world and will always be an issue moving forward. We all have our opinions and presumptions, but I will say we still need to be careful scrutinizing every great performance. We all hope that our sport will be clean but at the end of the day human nature will always ensure desperate athletes make those choices at both the amateur and professional level.
Having been a victim of, and having many good friends who are victims of doping, I would personally like to see it as a jailable offence. In any other industry or situation, whether it be white collar or blue collar, crimes such fraud and theft are not tolerated. So many athletes have been robbed of opportunities and financial security over the years, I can’t comprehend why we are so soft on the issue.
That’s all I’ve got to say about that!
ST: When you heard the Chris Froome news, what came to your mind?
Chris: As mentioned before, we need to be careful doubting all great performances, but this didn’t come as a surprise. I hate seeing athletes robbed of opportunities, but it’s also a shame that he has once again damaged the reputation of the sport. This result isn’t positive for anyone moving forward.
Every negative story just chips away at the integrity of cycling and the shame of it is that triathlon/duathlon will be collateral damage.
ST: What is next?
Chris: I’m just looking forward to a productive 2018. Chasing my kids around, trying to not get my butt kicked by them too much, coaching with the Lyons Middle/High school track and XC program, working with Gatorade Endurance, Nofel Merchandise and Verge Apparel, and building the Powerman event in Lyons. I also have a real estate building project that I am working on.
That should hopefully keep me busy enough.
ST: Anything else we should know?
Chris: I think that’s enough, I have probably bored everyone enough for today! Thanks for your time!
The 2018 Powerman Colorado takes place on October 6, 2018.