This article originally appeared in the Lake Oswego Review May 26, 2016
Think back to an embarrassing moment in your life. Did it include wearing a skin- tight Spandex wetsuit — backwards? Or falling over, in front of other athletes, while trying to put that wetsuit on for the first time?
That’s what happened to Randy Leach as he prepared for a triathlon in 2010.
“It’s critical that you take note of the fact,” he says, “that I had NEVER worn a wetsuit in my life prior to this event.”
He’s worn one since, though, after finishing that race and competing in several others. And now, the Lake Oswego resident is training for one of the most difficult events in sports: the Ironman Coeur d’Alene, which will be held on Aug. 21 in Idaho.
To reach the finish line, Leach will have to swim 2.4 miles, ride a bike 112 miles and then complete a full 26.2-mile marathon. It’s a grueling event, one that only a small percentage of experienced triathletes would even attempt.
The Ironman was founded in 1978 by U.S. Navy Commander John Collins, who was living on Oahu when he came up with the idea for one of the most physically demanding athletic events in the world. Just 15 competitors participated in the first Ironman in 1978.
Since then, the sport has become very popular — in 2012, USA Triathlon had 510,859 members. But even today, only 17 percent of the group’s members choose to complete an Ironman. The rest opt instead for events of a shorter distance.
Recently, we sat down with Leach to talk about his path to the Ironman — what got him started, what continues to motivate him and how he balances long hours of training with being a husband to wife Tammi and a dad to son Brennan, who will be 2 years old in July. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: While you were growing up, did you ever imagine you would be a successful endurance athlete?
A: “I dabbled in sports throughout my formative years, with my only ‘real’ on field playing time coming during a stint out in Echo, Oregon. The high school was so small that in order to eld a football team, every guy who was old enough and physically capable had to play. The years of being too afraid to try out for a sport I really wanted to play ended up producing a strong drive to prove something to myself. That same drive continues to stand today, when my 39-year-old self senses a little fear.”
Q: You started on this path by competing in a half-Ironman in 2010, which included a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. What prompted you to try that?
A: “The idea was born during a business trip with a close friend of mine. It was an evening filled with false bravado and maybe a drink or two. The kind of evening that often results in either a life-altering change in trajectory or an injury or two!”
(Leach has also completed the 2008 Portland Marathon, the 2013 Eugene Half-Marathon and the 2013 Pacific Crest Long Distance Triathlon.)
Q: What was your most memorable moment in that first Half-Ironman?
A: “My friend and I were standing in the packet pick-up line the day before the race. We overheard some folks in line behind us talking about the type of wetsuits they had brought for the swim. After 20 uneasy minutes of listening and worrying that we had over- looked a key piece of equipment, I mustered the courage to turn around and confirm our fears. Yup, we indeed needed a wetsuit due to the temperature of the water! Luckily, there was a wetsuit rental booth in the convention center.
“As I approached the sales rep at the counter, she proceeded to ask me several technical questions about what kind of wetsuit I’d like to try on. I finally just told her I had absolutely no clue! She took a couple of quick measurements and promptly returned with a stock suit while simultaneously directing me to a changing room in the middle of the convention center’s vendor floor.
“The dressing room consisted of four cheaply made, lightweight poles and an even cheaper curtain strung along all four sides. I navigated my first foot into the left foot hole and struggled to get the wetsuit material up around the bottom part of my calf. As I lifted my right foot to repeat the process, I realized about halfway through that I completely miscalculated the required skill necessary to put on a wetsuit. Just about the time that my right foot became stuck at the point of no return, my balance gav way. On the way down, my instincts instructed my arms to reach out and grab the nearest support I could find. Turns out that support was the cheaply made plastic wrap that made up the walls of the changing room, and it gave way faster than my balance did. I ended up half-dressed, on the floor in the middle of the convention center, accentuated by the awkward thud that accompanied the makeshift dressing room that came crashing down around me."
“As a last insult, as we were organizing near the start of the race, my buddy pointed out to me that I had my wetsuit on backwards.”
Q: It’s just a few months before the race in Coeur D’Alene. What’s your training routine look like for this coming week?
A: “Monday: swim 2,300 meters (close to 1.6 miles) with a 40-minute recovery run that night. Tuesday: swim 2,000 meters. Wednesday: swim 2,700 meters with a 140-minute run in the evening. (In 140 minutes, he will go approximately 16 miles). Thursday: recovery ride for 90 minutes. Friday: rest day. Saturday: 330-minute ride, followed by a 30-minute transition run. Sunday: 120-minute recovery ride.”
(Leach’s training time will increase every week. At the end of his training and prior to tapering off before the big event, he will be spending approximately 20 hours a week in training.)
Q: How have you managed such an intense training schedule with a job and a family?
A: “This experience has been eye- opening. On paper, it appeared as a simple collection of weekly workouts that spanned the course of six months. In reality, it’s proven to be anything but simple.
It usually means getting up at 4:30 in the morning so I can sneak in my swim or run before Tammi and Brennan leave for the day. To be quite honest, this whole thing would literally be impossible to manage without such an amazingly patient and supportive wife. Tammi has blown me away with the way she has navigated this experience thus far. I can say with absolute confidence that I couldn’t do it without her. I’m humbled and so appreciative of her love and support.”
Q: You served in the U.S. Marines and were stationed first in El Toro and then in Miramar, Calif., before moving to Oregon and eventually settling in the Mountain Park neighborhood of Lake Oswego in August 2015. What is your current career?
A: “I work as a network engineer for a national consulting firm. I’m based out of my home office.”
Q: What are some of your favorite places in Lake Oswego?
A: Leach let wife Tammi answer this question. “We love Baird’s on B. Some weekends while Randy is training, I’ll take our son to our local Starbucks and then to the Forest Hills playground,” she said. And when asked what her husband would be doing in five years, she laughed.
“I think in five years, he will be coaching our son in whatever sport our son enjoys. Randy will continue to exercise, but not at the Ironman level! It’s more than enough to complete one Ironman in a lifetime, and Randy is going to enjoy the experience.”