The balancing act of Leon Griffin

Aussie Pro triathlete Leon Griffin had disappeared from the racing scene for a while to nurse injuries, get married and work as a financial markets dealer. But now he is back with good health and enthusiasm and ready to give it another good go. He is quite aware that it isn't going to be easy, but then again, not many things in life are.

Slowtwitch: First things first, Griffo, Mudguts or Leon?

Griffo: Haha. Mudguts gets a good run when enjoying some downtime or off-season. Griff or Griffo the rest of the time. I’ve noticed its usually only Aussie’s that throw the ‘o’ on the end as is common with most nicknames over here.

ST: I guess it is not too difficult to see where Griffo came from, but help us out on the Mudguts one.

Griffo: That one’s courtesy of my unrivaled ability to devour a mountain of food. Ok when I’m training hard, but if I’m not it goes straight onto the waist line. Good example is the 5kg’s I gained in 10 days while on honeymoon recently in Bali!

ST: When did you get married and can you tell us a bit about your wife?

Griffo: Merridee and I tied the knot back in late October. We set the date some 15 months out thinking I’d most likely race Kona, and that would then allow us to really relax and enjoy the day without me worried about training and races - funny how plans sometimes change tack on a dime. A few weeks later after getting engaged I got offered the job at the bank and with a wedding to pay for, our home under construction and being injured (achilles) at the time with no foreseeable immediate return to racing it was a no brainer. Merridee is a great girl, and keeps me in line, which is a job in itself. She’s a real hard worker with a great career of her own also, and meets one important trait that attracted me to her – she’s not a triathlete!

ST: Well we are glad you have time for us.

Griffo: Thanks Herbert. Likewise you.

ST: What are you up to right now?

Griffo: I’m flat out like a lizard drinking currently. Between wrapping up the final days of my current employment, I’m trying to squeeze in as much training as I can so I can hit the ground running when I go fulltime triathlete take II. On top of that, trying to organize all the logistics that go along with both new and current sponsors, race schedules, etc etc. Throw in some study, and this leaves very little time to do much else – just ask my wife, we’re like ships passing in the night.

ST: Regarding your employment, what are you doing and when is it coming to an end?

Griffo: For the past few years I’ve been working as a financial markets dealer with a bank here in my hometown of Bendigo in Australia. I work on their wholesale money market trading desk, which has been pretty interesting (if high level banking is what you’re into!). I also work alongside our currency trading desk, and while I could brag about the USD/AUD cross-rates at the moment, I’m secretly wondering why the hell I’m giving up my job next week to go back racing fulltime and earn the Greenback with the Aussie dollar near all-time highs! But as economic cycles go it’ll turn at some point in the next couple years and as soon as the cross hits 50cents again I’ll cash in all my US chips, double my money and hopefully pay off my mortgage back here.

Before hitting the tri circuit some years back, I knocked over a banking & finance degree at university and this has been the first time I’ve actually put it to good use.
The break has definitely helped me appreciate how much I miss the tri circuit though and I think if I can stay injury free and healthy there’s no reason I can’t see out the next 5-6 years minimum and maybe more racing before I jump back into my daily suit and tie routine.

ST: You should feel very lucky - because when you are finally done with competing as a Pro you have some real options to turn to unlike many other pros.

Griffo: I hope so. I can’t speak for any other Pro’s, but it’s been something I’ve always been very conscious about, and I love financial markets just as much as I do this sport. I don’t think ‘lucky’ is the right description. It’s been a lot of hard work and it’s also been a bit of a hindrance sometimes. I hit the ‘International’ circuit quite late in age at 25, and sometimes wonder if I’d had the confidence to just ‘go for it’ earlier in my life if I’d have a lot more results to add to the palmares. With that said, I do realize triathlon is a niche sport in the overall scheme of things so I’m very comfortable with the thought of my increased options for life after the curtain comes down on my athletic career once and for all.

ST: As for your schedule, are you going back to Abu Dhabi?

Griffo: Yes, Abu Dhabi is probably the most professionally organized triathlon I’ve ever been to (from a Pro’s point of view) so I was stoked to receive an invitation to return. Without writing myself off already, I’m a little underdone no doubt compared to most of the big dogs that will be racing so I’ll get in and give it a go, but not delusional about any miracle result. I’m not expecting much but like I said it’s an absolute pleasure to race this one, even with that crazy 200k bike leg! The organizers do an unbelievable job so I hope it’s around for a long time to come yet. It’s a race I recommend everyone to do at least once if the chance arises.

ST: For someone whose strength is running and cycling, these odder distances should be interesting.

Griffo: Absolutely. I think it gives the guys and girls that are really fit that ‘no fear’ kind of approach to the race. I’ve only completed a couple IM’s (and poorly at that I’ll admit) but there is a noticeable ‘pace yourself’ mentality. With only 20k to run off the bike in Abu Dhabi, guys are happy to go ‘balls out’ on the bike and not be afraid they’re going to completely pop on the run. I think only seconds separated the first 3 last year, so it won’t be long before sprint finishes are common place at this one and that’s great for the spectators, fans and athletes themselves because it brings some more excitement to the sport.

ST: What was your impression of Abu Dhabi itself?

Griffo: It was definitely an interesting place. I’m still pretty green when it comes to international travel, and this was my first trip to the Middle East. It seemed like a country on a fast track to explosion (not literally) with its rapid development and urbanization, yet remained very mysterious to a westerner like me with their strong religious and cultural differences.

ST: You closed out 2011 with a win at 70.3 Shepparton and a 12th place at Busso and we would think that the latter result didn't find you well. Could you elaborate and is there anything else we should know about that season?

Griffo: Agreed - Shepp 70.3 was some nice validation that my form hadn’t fallen away too much from when I used to be a fulltime athlete.
IM Busselton was terrible but I knew I was caught somewhere between good form for a half and a full IM. I was spot on because around 6 hours into the race the wheels fell off completely. I was so disappointed that I still hadn’t looked at the results so thanks for letting me know my placing! To be honest I just didn’t get the training in to punch out a good full IM and go toe to toe with other multiple IM winners. I ran very comfortably chatting away to Timo for the first 8k in the run, and then someone pulled my power plug out. Frustrating because speed is not my issue, just not enough training miles for an 8+ hour slog. I did plenty of running over the winter down here in Australia, enough for a good marathon, but got very few bike miles due to lack of available time. So I ended up robbing Peter to pay Paul - over extended on the bike, which left me empty for the back half of the run. In my eyes, it’s an easy fix so long as I get some consistent miles in when I return fulltime.

Apart from that my season started well, winning a state long course title way back in February at Australia’s only high altitude base in Falls Creek, before busting an ankle running in the forest near my home, which ruined the rest of that season. After 8 weeks on the sidelines, I was able to get back to race a few 70.3 events in May which were nothing to write home about, and a ‘fun’ win at the Challenge Cairns Half that kept me motivated not to fall into the nice comfortable trappings an office worker can over winter ie lunchtimes spent in the warm office instead of training, excuse to sleep in etc etc.

ST: So far you have not raced in Hawaii, but that race is on your bucket list we think. Will this year be the time to step it up?

Griffo: I hope so, but I’m not 100% sure. I think I’ll see how the next 3-4 months pan out before committing. I definitely want to, but it seems a pretty big financial sacrifice to lay it on the line for the ‘Big Dance’. My immediate priority will be to achieve some good race results and hopefully that will assist in signing up some more sponsors and supporters so I don’t have to retreat back to the 9-5’er. I’ve just signed up for a new team that you’ll hear more about in the coming month or so, but still have a few voids to fill. Understandably a few lost patience and jumped off board when I skipped the last year or so in the US. I hope to reward those that hung around, and those that are looking to come onboard, so if that means they feel they’ll get the most return on investment with me racing Kona, then that’s something I’ll consider sooner rather than later

ST: So what else is on that schedule to get to the "holy land?"

Griffo: I’ve completed my qualifier with Ironman Busselton, however didn’t earn too many points with such a poor result, so I’m now in a quandary and have to maybe find another. The obvious choice was Melbourne, just an easy 90 min drive from my home, but for various reasons I won’t be racing this one. I have a couple others I’m considering at current and hope to commit to one soon. On the flipside I’m just excited to be back racing, because I really, really love to race. That’s the type of athlete I - I hate super long training blocks because I start to get itchy feet if a month goes by and I don’t toe a start line somewhere. So I’m looking at a bunch of Challenge series events, Rev3Tri events and some 70.3’s also. I’ve felt like a caged lion these past 2 years while working so I’m hoping to knock out at least 10-12 events the remainder of this year.

ST: Anything else we should know:

Griffo: That’s about it I think Herbert, just looking forward to putting my head down - bum up and climbing back to the top ranks through nothing but hard work and a little luck. Just a quick shout out to the 2 people most instrumental in helping me back for one more shot – my wife Merridee for the green light in getting back out on the track and chasing the dream, and my good mate and agent there in the US - Lars Finanger, who I’ve been working to the bone to secure enough financial support to make it happen.