Did you know Eric Kenney was a collegiate rower and coaches rowing as well as triathlon and cycling. He owns EK Endurance Coaching and runs the Boulder racing team made up of some of the top triathletes in the Boulder area. We met up with Eric just before Christmas in 2020 in his home in the foothills of Boulder. We learned about how he got into endurance sports and how being on the college crew team really changed the course of his collegiate experience and ultimately his career.
Eric has coached some well known Colorado athletes; notably pro cyclist Amy Charity and pro triathlete Sam Long. He is often seen with his athletes at the track in Boulder, riding the roads around Boulder county and at the pool at Rally Sport. Learn more about Eric, his philosophy and his thoughts on the sport of triathlon and some life in general!
When we first met, little did I know that I was talking to a legend. It was December of 2017 and we were at the IRONMAN World Championship NBC Broadcast Preview Party in New York City. I remember your big smile and infectious energy as you made your way around the room talking to various guests. When you told me who you were and your connection to IRONMAN, I was completely floored. Here I am, talking to the guy who finished 3rd at the 1st ever IRONMAN in 1978.
From that moment on, our paths crossed at various events and activities due to our invovlement with the IRONMAN Foundation. We dug up weeds to help restore sacred grounds on the Big Island, volunteered our time with Paradox Sports in Boulder with their adaptive climbing program, and so many other fun times. I’ll admit, up to that point I only knew you from your accomplishment as being the 3rd badass that ever finished an IRONMAN.
It was time to head back to Kona in October of 2018, and you reached out to me to see if I was also headed back to the Big Island. Somehow we connected the dots and realized we were both on the same flights from Denver to Honolulu, and then Kona. The travel angels were doing their magic, I got upgraded to a First Class seat, and there you were sitting in First Class as well. With a little bit of shuffling, our flight attendant made sure we got to seat next to each other.
It was during that flight that I had the privilege to really get to know you. That 9 hour flight flew right by in a blink of an eye. We talked about life, love, triathlon, and everything under the sun. You told me about your service in the Marines, leading to your post on the Island of Oahu where this crazy idea of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles was cooked up.
I’ll never forget learning about the nuances of your experience racing self-supported. The bike you rode was borrowed, you threw a $20 bill into the pocket of your jean shorts to buy food and drink along the way, one of your “aid stations” was a grocery store that you ran into quickly for fear that your bike would get stolen because you left it outside, and on the run your friends showed up with handups of beer.
You never hid how you felt about how the sport of triathlon has morphed from this grassroots bandit-like fun culture where finishing was a feat in itself to the now technology ridden profit-driven sport of the privileged few. Despite all these changes, your spirit and love of the sport never unwavered. You were extremely humble about all your accomplishments and had the upmost respect for the sport, how it made you a better person, and gave back to you personally in so many ways. Seeing the excitement in your eyes when the cannon went off on the Kailua Bay pier for the swim start even after 40 years since it all began gave me faith that maybe someday I would love racing long distance again.
I also remember you telling me about your battle with cancer and all the infusion treatments you had received. In fact, you missed going to Kona in 2017 because you were too ill and got stuck in Los Angeles to complete a round of infusions. No one would ever suspect that you were “sick” from interacting with you. Your spirit and energy definitely didn’t reflect that, which is something I really admired about you. You always rose to the occasion but took the time to yourself to recharge when needed. One thing that you did mention that I’ll never forget that even though the cancer suppressed your immune system, you were always willing to take that chance to be around people because you loved the energy of race week and race day on the Big Island. Nothing would make you miss being part of the fun!
You fought an amazing fight my friend. That battle is now over and you’ve cross the finish line of life. The way you lived is how we should all aspire to live. To the fullest. Dave Orlowski-style. Now you’ll live on forever in each and every one of us who’ve been blessed and lucky enough to have been part of your journey.
Daytona Beach–It’s easy to want to compare the Professional Triathlon Organisation’s Championship (PTO) at Challenge Daytona with IRONMAN’s Kona. You really can’t though. If this were boxing, it’s like watching light and middle weight boxers fight versus heavy weights. One is full of action, flurries, speed and rapid fire punches, the other, a war of strength and stamina and seeing who can withstand the most for the longest. There is room in this world for both. There will be fans of both. But for the pros’ yesterday may have been a game changer.
Kona is Kona. It’s a magical kind of place with known foes like heat, the Energy Lab, the winds on the Queen K and the hill on Palani. Daytona, like the backdrop for this race, was about speed and more speed. Like the NASCAR race that put Daytona on the map, these triathletes jockeyed for position all day long. They averaged up to 30 miles per hour on the bike! The road is flat, the only foe is the athlete in front, and the voices in their heads telling them when to make a move or not.
For the pros, with their race contained entirely inside the 2.5 mile oval that is one of the most famous racing venues in the world, it was all right in front of them. Lap after lap. 20 times on the bike, four times on the run, and even twice on the swim. Yes, there is a large lake inside the track along with an RV park, smaller tracks and plenty of open space. The whole thing was a made-for-television event. The race was about speed and making moves.
In the men’s race, Coloradans Matt Hanson, Rudy Von Berg and Sam Long finished 2nd, 5th and 9th respectively. Both Hanson and Long came from fairly far back after the swim to chase down the leaders and contend for the podium. Hanson had the fastest run of the day with a blistering 5:20/mile pace over the 18k run. While Long made up his deficit mostly on the bike with a fastest bike of the day riding the 80k course in 1:38:24 averaging 30.2 mph! He showed moments of speed on the run trying to catch up and at one point he held second place! Von Berg with a fast swim and bike, ran in contention all day. He and Long battled on the run for a couple of laps creating a buzz in the crowd watching on the jumbo tron—sort of a modern day “Iron War.” Von Berg pushed ahead of Long but slipped back on the last lap finishing just off the podium behind Britain’s George Goodwin, a middle distance specialist and long course veteran Lionel Sanders—who turned in the second fastest bike split and came from far back himself.
With early leader and favored Alistair Brownlee of Britain pulling out on the run due to injury, Gustov Iden of Norway moved into the lead about half way through the run and never relinquished it. Hanson’s run was one for the ages tracking down the fastest triathletes on the planet finishing 51 seconds back and in second place. With each lap he moved up the leader board and excitement built in the crowd, but Iden’s lead was just too much. Two and half minutes separated the top ten men creating a buzz at the finish line.
This race may change the sport of triathlon. With its contained venue, the distance and format offers triathletes specializing in all distances a chance to contend. It could be the answer to showcasing a sport to a wider audience and increasing exposure for the pros’ to make it a more viable career choice.
The exceptional performances and feel good stories at Kona also have their place and capture the hearts of people everywhere. The age group, midnight finish line in Kona (or any IRONMAN) is an amazing spectacle. But the race in Daytona was a far more exciting race to watch. Winning Kona for the pros is a big deal. And the winner gets $120,000 compared to $100,000 yesterday. But at Challenge Daytona the prize purse was much deeper and finishing in the top ten made for a nice paycheck. (click here for a breakdown https://challenge-daytona.com/race-information/prize-money/) The overall purse was almost twice as much as Kona. Every pro who finished was guaranteed at least $2,500.
But this race may resemble days gone by when entities like the NBA and NFL finally had to pay attention to other leagues gaining a foothold in their sport. Both the NBA and NFL adopted more open, crowd appealing initiatives found in the newer ABA and AFL. They brought fresh ideas to basketball and football and in particular shifted the attention to the stars not the sport—sort of like what the PTO is doing. From the three point line, the dunk contest, and run and gun mentality of the ABA to the throw happy style of the AFL (with its football designed to throw easier) and putting names on the jersey’s all made their way into the sports we know today. Back in the day Julius Irving (Dr. J) got a thousand bucks and a stereo for winning the dunk contest with his famous free throw dunk.
Every sport has defining moments that change it forever. Will Challenge Daytona be one of those moments? How will IRONMANj respond, or will it? Does it need to? Maybe, maybe not but with bigger purses and exciting venues like the Daytona Motor Speedway, hopefully a rising tide will elevate triathlon for all.
Welcome to the PTO 2020 Championship “10 Days to Daytona” Charity Prize Draw.
The Professional Triathletes Organisation and our partners, CHALLENGEDAYTONA®, USA Triathlon and British Triathlon, have launched a Charity Prize Draw in support of the Triathlon Covid-19 Relief Fund.
Much of our sport has been decimated by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – in working together we hope to provide some support to those in our triathlon community most in need. Alongside our fundraising partners, triathlon legends past and present have united to create a prize draw with once-in-a-lifetime experiences – all donated to Support the Sport.
Every day for 10 days leading up to the PTO 2020 Championship on Dec 6th, five unique prizes will be up for grabs with the five lucky winners of each day’s prize draw selected at random at the end of each day. That’s 50 amazing prizes in total!
Priced at $5 per entry with no limit on the number of entries, all proceeds will go into the Triathlon Covid-19 Relief Fund and be used to support triathlon-related causes around the world. Administered by our partners, the USA Triathlon Foundation, US based donations will support US causes, European funds will support Europeans and other International groups to their specific region of the world. Triathlon is a truly global sport, and this is an opportunity for us all to unite together for a common cause.
Colorado was well represented at IRONMAN Florida on Saturday. As the world was learning who our next President was going to be, quite a race in Panama City was unfolding. In the end, it was close, but Boulder’s Chris Leiferman out dueled Matt Hanson (who recently moved to Castle Rock) and Sam Long.
Long led about 2/3 of the way through but fell back and Leiferman came off the bike in the lead a minute ahead of Germany’s Andreas Dietz and six minutes ahead of Long and 10 minutes in front of Hanson.
Leiferman then led the rest of the race but both Hanson and Long significantly closed the gap on the run. Hanson cut nearly 8 minutes into the lead with Long just 29 seconds behind Hanson.
Said Leiferman, “yeah, they were catching up to me, but I’m glad it wasn’t a run race and I had the swim and bike to keep the lead. I have had the worse run build up this year, so knowing where I can go for future races.”
Leiferman finished in 7:52:44, Hanson in 7:55:02 and Long came in third with a 7:55:33. Long became the youngest American to ever finish under eight hours in an IRONMAN.
“It’s an amazing feeling to win any ironman, and it’s a bit more special to win this race after so many months of no racing. I know a few IM’s kicked off early in the year, but the gap in between had kept people hungry for race spectating and I feel that this one was a solid race for anyone to do well at,” said Leiferman.
When asked the key to his win, Leiferman said, “The key was coming out with the right group in the swim and a solid bike. I may have over biked a bit and that’s why my run was the way it was, but I can’t complain since I was able to hold on for the win. Also, the run aid stations were every 2 miles apart, so I had to really focus on taking care of myself on the run and if that meant walking through each aid station (which I did) then that’s what it took to not completely fall apart.”
Sam Long, on Facebook wrote; “Ouch. That hurt. But honestly the race I’m the most proud of ever. I had a massive “hiccup” the last 12 miles of the bike and hemorrhaged time to the leaders. Bonked as well as having some issues with tightness from the flats all day–even had to get off the bike and stretch. Literally limped into transition and thought there was no way I could run and told myself I had to start. Then went deep! And ended up running 2:45 and going 7:55! It was such a battle at the end and that’s what dreams are made out of. Good for 3rd.”
303’s Kenny Withrow was there taking pictures and had this to say, “it was an exciting race to watch as Sam made up a lot of time nearly catching Matt and Chris at the end. It was fun to see Colorado triathletes finish in the top three!” Even though the weather conditions were very favorable, Kenny added, “The aid stations were further apart than usual and not as well equipped with the proper “needs/hydration” (on the run) So it made fueling more difficult for the athletes.”
A few days before the race 303Endurance interviewed Chris and listen here to learn his thoughts before the race and his thoughts on the upcoming race in Daytona. Podcast link HERE
Boulder, October 23–Yesterday the Professional Triathlete Organisation (PTO) announced the final wildcard selection the PTO Championship in Daytona in December and Boulder’s Chris Leiferman was selected. Also selected was Lucy Hall, Chris Simone Mitchell and James Cunnama.
Earlier this week, in case you missed it, the PTO announced Sam Long, Danielle Dingman, Magnus Ditlev and Renee Kiley will be racing in Daytona.
Sam Long commented, “The PTO 2020 Championship is going to be epic, and I am thrilled to have been selected to be a part of it. It is fantastic professionals have all come together to form the PTO. This will be the greatest race EVER, and the best thing about it is that this is OUR race and the PTO is OUR organization. I am ready to give triathlon fans the race they have all been waiting for
Chris Leiferman, said, “I am excited about being awarded a wildcard slot at the PTO 2020 Championship. With the calibre of the field, it will be the event of a lifetime. As the first event that has been organized by PTO Professionals, it is a historical moment for our sport, and it is an absolute honor to be part of it.”
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of PTO, commented, “Our final wildcard selections could not have been more difficult. There were many talented and qualified athletes to choose from. We very much wish we could have selected them all. We are satisfied that the wildcard selections represent a good balance from our criteria of top ITU talent, professionals whose ranking does not accurately represent their historical performances, and the newer, up-and-coming professionals. These were not easy decisions to make, but we think the result clearly delivers the greatest field ever assembled for a triathlon event.”
All races have a history, but the Splashland Triathlon in Alamosa, Colorado wouldn’t even be around if not for a few interventions of fate. It also has a connection to aviation legend, Amelia Mary Earhart—not to be confused with 9news personality, also a pilot, Amelia Rose Earhart.
In 1932 Amelia landed in the meadow next to the bike course that eventually passes through the Jones farm. Lloyd Jones greeted Amelia when she landed unannounced and helped her with accommodations and “guarded” her plane while she re-supplied in Alamosa. Somewhere presumably at the bottom of the Pacific ocean, Amelia’s plane rests with Leroy’s name and “Alamosa Colorado” autographed on it. But the farm hardly acts as just a backdrop for the race.
The pool hosting the swim is filled by natural hot springs from a well on the farm. This farm has been in the same family for over a 100 years. It’s now divided among the grandchildren of the original owners. Decades ago, they were drilling for oil and at about 2,500 feet down, instead of oil, they hit hot water. Long story sort of short, they made a pool.
Fast forward a few decades and a few refurbishments later to about 10 years ago when the race director Mike Bush couldn’t walk. He was confined to a wheelchair by a mysterious virus that crippled him. Mike grew up in Grand Junction and coincidently was offered a running scholarship at Adams State University (located in Alamosa) but decided to go to college in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado. His wife is from Alamosa however, and they ended up moving there. Mike frequented the pool he now manages when he was unable to walk and found the warm water quite soothing from his ailment.
Over time he regained his mobility and through a series of coincidences became manager of the hot springs pool. He wanted to improve access for people with disabilities. When he lived in Greeley he became fond of triathlons. So he decided to start one in Alamosa to raise money for equipment to make the pool more accessible.
The Splashland Triathlon is part of the Southwestern Colorado Triathlon Series with races in Gunnison, Montrose and Los Alamos (NM). Because of COVID only the one in Alamosa happened this year.
This race is unique in many ways with its high elevation of 7,500 feet, adjacency to the Sand Dunes, having the bike and run cut through a historic farm and its finish with a 400 yard swim in a warm pool. With the race always in mid-october it’s often pretty chilly at the 9am start, so Mike decided to end the race with a swim in the 86 degree water.
Alamosa, in the heart of the San Luis Valley, is a great place to start many adventures with the Sangre Di Cristo Mountains to the East, the San Juan Mountains to the West, the Collegiate range to the North or as a getaway to the “Land of Enchantment,” a.k.a New Mexico, just to the South.
Normally 303Triathlon is in Kona during mid-October, so we had to visit the Sand Dunes to get some barefoot in the sand feeling!
Will Boulder’s Sam Long find the Golden ticket to race in Daytona? The “top” 80 triathletes were invited weeks ago and now 12 others have been invited via the Wildcard selection. Eight slots remain and will be awarded in the next week. It feels like the PTO is taking a page from Willy Wonka handing out Wildcards like a golden ticket making their way around the world. Who will be Charlie and get the last golden ticket to race the most lucrative triathlon on the planet? There is a million bucks on the line and no doubt the pro’s want a shot at the prize, especially in 2020.
The Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) is certainly doing its best to make the triathlon season competitive, fun and lucrative with the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA®
Today Angela Naeth received a golden ticket. We just interviewed Angela on the 303 Endurance Podcast being released tomorrow so check that out! She has had a very interesting career with some great accomplishments and has overcome a huge challenge with Lyme’s disease. Angela grew up in a small town in a very remote part of British Columbia so learning of her journey is fun and interesting.
It seems the PTO is stirring up the pro triathlon circuit and maybe some fun rivalries will come out of this recipe for wanting to make pro triathlon a better followed sport. The vision is to make the profession more lucrative and more on par with other sports. Having an event like Challenge Daytona will definitely create some buzz.
What’s interesting about Challenge Daytona is all types of triathletes are vying for the prizes; short course, ITU and long course champions will all be on the start line. No doubt winning Kona at the IRONMAN World Championships will not be replaced as coveted award, but with an event like Daytona, the monetary stakes are higher and it’s very hard to predict who will win. In Kona its a pretty small field of probable winners. But in Daytona it’s hard to know who the favorites are.
Today we are interviewing Norwegian Olympian Kristian Blummenfelt who holds the world record time for a IRONMAN 70.3 distance. Daytona will be the same distance, so he must be a favorite. But then factor in someone like Tim O’Donnell the fastest American in Kona last year. The list of other athletes with amazing accomplishments is staggering. So many could win.
And back to Sam Long, if he gets in; he has had an amazing year winning IRONMAN Cozumel 70.3 and the Bear Lake Triathlon earlier this summer with a solid list of pro’s. Check out this video from the Bear Lake Triathlon,
Let’s hope Sam gets the golden ticket—keep buying those chocolate bars Sam!!
Here is some commentary from the PTO and Executive Chairman Charles Adamo about the selection of the first 12 wildcards over the past couple of weeks.
The Professional Triathletes Organisation first selected Vincent Luis, Nicola Spirig, Kristian Blummenfelt and Georgia Taylor-Brown as wildcards for the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA®
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of PTO, commented, “It certainly was not a difficult decision for the non-athlete members of the PTO Board to select these four world-class athletes to join the already star-studded starting line at the PTO 2020 Championship. With Luis and Taylor-Brown being the reigning World Triathlon Champions, Blummenfelt holding the middle-distance world record, and the pure greatness of Spirig, there is little doubt they will challenge for the title. It will be an exciting prospect for triathlon fans around the world to see these athletes doing battle against the sport’s middle- and long-distance stars.”
The Professional Triathletes Organisation then announced that Tim Don, Flora Duffy, Gustav Iden and Jessica Learmonth have been selected as wildcards for the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA®.
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of PTO, commented, “The second round of wildcard selections were as easy to make as the first. With these four tremendous world-class athletes added to the mix, the PTO 2020 Championship will have an unprecedented field.”
Adamo added, “No one better than Tim Don exemplifies the resilience and integrity of our sport. His comeback from a horrific bike accident is an inspiration to us all. The first championship event run by PTO professionals would not be the same without this seasoned statesman on the start line. While Don brings the experience and breadth of a 20+ year career, Learmonth and Iden, with their recent stellar performances, bring the speed and power of youth, and what can’t you say about the versatile, multi-world champion Flora Duffy? There isn’t any format, distance or style of swim, bike and run she doesn’t excel at. We all look forward to seeing her whiz around the iconic race venue.”
Tim Don, commented, “I am grateful to have been awarded a wildcard spot. After over twenty-five years in the sport, it is great that professionals have their own organisation and now, a championship. It is an honour for me to be competing alongside my fellow professionals in the PTO 2020 Championship, and while the competition will be tough, the camaraderie will be even greater as professionals unite to make our sport better.”
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of PTO, commented “Our third round of wildcard selections is filled with Olympic medallists and a gritty Canadian. With Britain’s Jonny Brownlee and South Africa’s Henri Schoeman joining Jonny’s brother, Alistair, and Javier Gomez on the start line, the star-studded field will have every men’s Olympic medal winner from both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Sweden’s Lisa Norden, silver medal winner in the 2012 London Olympics, will join previously announced wildcard selection Nicola Spirig, who denied Norden gold by 9/1000th of a second. Canadian Angela Naeth just missed out on an automatic qualifying spot, but her stellar career and her remarkable comeback after being diagnosed with Lyme disease has earned her a wildcard place.”
In Daytona on December 5th and 6th there is a triathlon festival–the Challenge Daytona Triathlon. There are two days of racing finishing with the PTO Pro Championship. One million dollars will be awarded to top male and female finishers. Pros are invited based on qualifying points and below is a list of the top 40 male and female pros who have qualified. In addition, 10 men and 10 women will be awarded “wildcard” spots. If you are curious how that will work, here is a link to the process: https://protriathletes.org/pto-2020-championships-wildcard-selection-criteria/
The Wildcards will be chosen next week. It will be interesting to see if recent 70.3 IRONMAN Cozumel winner and Boulder native Sam Long gets an invite. On Sams YouTube page in his Cozumel race review he alludes to hopefully being invited to Daytona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7LaidPWcAs
Charles Adamo, Executive Chairman of the PTO, commented,“These will be very sought-after openings and the non-athlete members of the PTO Board will have some very difficult decisions to make, particularly as the ITU season is ended and many of the Olympic distance superstars, like Nicola Spirig and Kristian Blummenfelt, are relishing this unique opportunity to have a crack at the PTO 2020 Championship. In addition, the wildcard selection process will allow the PTO to invite some of the young and up-and-coming athletes, giving them a chance to cut their teeth in a championship field. With the top 40 PTO World ranked professionals and the wildcard selections, the field for the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA® will be one of the strongest fields ever assembled for our sport. It will be exciting to see the best athletes doing battle for the spoils.”
This race is lining up to be a very iconic event with the swim and shorter distance races held inside the track and a spectacular middle distance ride that hugs the coast for a bit. Imagine doing the 5k run of sprint or most of the bike on a race track?? Here is a link if you want to learn more or register. https://challenge-daytona.com
In the pro field there are notable Colorado ties: Tim O’Donnell, Miranda Carfrae, Lesly Smith, Ben Hoffman, Andy Potts, Rudy Von Berg, Sam Appleton, and many others seen training and racing in Colorado over the years.
This video shows the courses:
Watch this to see what Olympian Rowdy Gaines thinks of swimming INSIDE of the Speedway…
What happens in 2021 in regards to racing opportunities is probably a guess at best. This past season saw a few smaller triathlons happen in Colorado; and that may be the future of racing in the short term. But as athletes look ahead to 2021, participating in an active, fun, motivating triathlon club might be more important than ever. With group workouts, club challenges and social gatherings typically small enough meet local health mandates, important socializing and group motivation make being part of a club more advantageous than ever.
In Boulder, Matt Miller of BASE Performance has been building a national team over the years with more than a thousand members across the country with hundreds located in Colorado. A large number live in the Boulder/Longmont area and gather at the company headquarters in Gunbarrel for group rides, both inside and out, runs, parties and informative gatherings. There is an extensive indoor cycling studio where groups meet for training rides.
In 2021 BASE will have many more opportunities for locals to be involved in group workouts, social gatherings complete with substantial discounts and access to popular brands and products like Quintana Roo, Garmin and Normatec to name a few and of course BASE nutrition. BASE also has an extensive line of clothing that teammates proudly wear (it’s nearly impossible to go to triathlon anywhere and not see quite a few BASE kits.)
You will see information on their national camp, other teams within the team like their gravel bike team or adaptive team. There is something for everyone.
Says Matt Miller, “If you want to get to know some other amazing athletes who have the same interest as you, click on the link. Join the team. You will not be disappointed. Come to some of our camps. Attend the holiday party. Or just join the Facebook group for the chatter and fun. You will love it. You can email me directly if you have any questions. email@example.com“