Leanda Cave went into last year’s Ironman Arizona race looking for her first victory at the distance. Since posting a 2:58:52 marathon at that race to take the win, Cave has been on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. Her 2012 season kicked off with illness and injury before she found her stride and became the first female in the history of the sport to win both the 70.3 World Championship and the Ironman World Championship in the same year. She also went on to defend her 70.3 Miami title just two weeks after winning in Hawaii. Now, just over one month removed from her Kona win, Cave will take on Ironman Arizona again, this time with the goal of validating her spot for the 2013 Ironman World Championship.
Liz Hichens chatted with Cave ahead of Sunday’s race about how she’s feeling physically and emotionally after Kona, her plans for the future and her hopes of battling Chrissie Wellington again one day.
How do you feel your recovery from Ironman has gone?
I’m feeling rather fat and unfit right now. I think my fitness has gone south since racing Hawaii. I haven’t done much. I’ve been having fun and doing a little bit every now and then. I feel fitness-wise a lot different than Hawaii.
How has your life changed since winning Kona?
I guess because I’m still racing, I’m still not soaking it in as much as I would be if I wasn’t racing. I’ve been traveling a bit and catching up with my friends. Other than that I have a lot more media and interviews I have to do, but it’s not a huge change yet. Maybe next year or maybe when I finish racing I’ll finally get a chance to let it sink in.
Is there any one moment from Kona that you replay in your mind?
The last part of the race and coming down the finishing chute. I still regret that I didn’t know that I had a big enough lead to take that part in in a different way and really celebrate that last quarter of a mile. I was really just trying to get to that finish line. That I replay in my mind. And I keep looking at the photos from that part. I was confident that I had won the race, but at the same time I was still scared [thinking] that it’s not over until it’s over.
With so many races during this time in the season, how do you balance the need to recover and keep fresh enough for racing?
You know, it’s hard. I have to rest physically because my body is just tired. It’s not so much my muscles as much as it is my heart. I find it hard to get my heart rate up. I was doing easy stuff before Miami. The race in Miami went well, but since then it’s been the same thing. I’ve been really tired coming off of Miami. I feel like all I’ve been doing since then is sleeping. I’m trying to do what my body wants. I’m starting to feeling a little better training-wise, which is good with Ironman Arizona coming up this weekend. Since Miami I’ve been a little blah. My body’s telling me it’s ready to stop. I’m ready to do these last two races and then shut it down.
Why do you choose to live and train in Tucson?
If you could see what I’m looking at right now: Beautiful blue skies, sitting in a shirt and shorts, overlooking a golf course, having lunch. The weather is a huge factor. It’s a really good sporting community. You’ve got a lot of good athletes living here and doing the same thing. We don’t talk shop all of the time. We’re just hanging out as friends who have a common interest. Tucson is a pretty easy lifestyle to live well in also. It’s cheap and affordable, and yet it has really nice aspects to it and has a great culture. We’re located close to L.A. and San Diego and that really helps. You can drive to a lot of places and get to the coast without having to take a plane all of the time. It’s a really nice community.
Why do you choose to race Ironman Arizona?
I race it every year and this year is no different. I do it after Hawaii whether I have a good race or a bad race. I think it helps with the points system now to do a race at the end of the season so that you free the following year up just in case. This year I got injured early on in the season. I would have been struggling had I been forced to race an Ironman this year to qualify for Hawaii. Now I’m in a different boat where I just have to finish an Ironman. It’s just about getting that spot validated and racing what races I want to race instead of which ones I have to.
You’ve already validated your Vegas start and with a finish at Ironman Arizona on Sunday you’ll have validated your Kona start for 2013. Will it be weird going into a season with no points chasing to do?
For me it makes it a lot more fun. There’s nothing worse than going to a race where you have to race and the pressure is on to do well and really get points. I like the idea of having points and racing and qualifying, but for me it’s nice to get it out of the way so I can enjoy what I do for a living and that’s racing.
What is your favorite part of the Ironman Arizona course?
I always love how the run is on the looped course and you get to see people. The aid stations are great. The finish line is really fun. It’s right in downtown Tempe. Last year I was at a bar right after I finished my race and had a few drinks and then I went and saw other people finish in the evening. It’s a fun environment. It’s a beautiful place this time of the year.
With the looped course on the bike, you’re forced to share the course with age groupers for the majority of the race. How do you deal with that in a race?
In this race it definitely does happen. As long as you communicate with the age groupers that you’re coming by it’s usually OK, and they’ve been told in their briefing to stay to one side. You have to be cautious out there. Generally most age groupers are very respectful that there are pro athletes on the course and they really enjoy racing alongside the pros.
Last year you were looking for your first Ironman win in Arizona. Now you’re the Ironman world champion! Does it feel different going into this race?
It is weird. Last year my main goal was to run a sub-three hour marathon and I did. This year the goal post has definitely shifted. I just want to finish.
What do you think it is about long-course racing, and Ironman specifically, that it takes a lot of athletes awhile to rise to the top?
For me it’s a learning curve and making mistakes and using those mistakes to change things and get better. I think over time you build up a different endurance than racing Olympic distance. For that reason, it’s taken me awhile. I don’t think there’s any tricks. I think some people are naturally gifted at a certain distance. I wasn’t. I’ve had to work at it a little more. Whereas someone like Chrissie, and yes she’s worked very hard to get to where she is, but she came in at a different angle and was a lot more gifted at the distance than I was.
After winning the double, the two biggest achievements in our sport (outside of the Olympics), where do go from here? What else do you want to achieve in your career?
It’s certainly nice to try to win them again, but I bought a mountain bike this year. Who knows? I might try to go for Xterra.
Do you have any solid plans for next year?
At this stage I don’t have a lot. A lot like this year I’ll try to get my staple races in. With Alcatraz and Abu Dhabi on the same date for next year, I’m tossing between which one of those to do. I think I’ll race at the St. George 70.3 and then focus on races I really enjoy. I’ll probably do Vineman again and come back to Miami after Kona again. I haven’t really thought a lot about it yet to be honest.
I know Chrissie Wellington hasn’t commented on her plans for next year yet, but would you like to race her again in Kona?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I want a Chrissie showdown.