Leanda Cave won the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon two years in a row, in 2008 and 2007. She won the ITU short course world championships in 2006, and the ITU long course world championships in 2007. Sponsored by K-Swiss, Above Category, Pinarello, and Reynolds, Leanda is now turning her attention to the Ironman distance. We caught up with her in Tucson, AZ, where she is busy preparing to win the Kona Ironman on October 11th.
Above Category: How many Ironman’s have you done?
Leanda Cave: Two.
What, that not enough for you?
Wow, how did you get so good?
On a long-term scale, I’ve just been better at the longer stuff. You know, I’ve been doing the sport now for 8 years professionally, so I’ve got a really good foundation that’s enabled me to go longer and longer. Since I started it’s the longer distances that I have really excelled at.
A typical pro-level Ironman takes about nine and a half hours. How do you manage to stay so focused for such a long race?
I’m good at occupying myself. I like my own company. I don’t get bored, I think it’s all fun.
So are you racing the other athletes or are you just racing yourself?
It’s about self-perfection... the best training you can do, the best race you can do. It all mixes in. It’s not about just winning the race, it’s about being the best you can be.
So do you ever get nervous before a race? How do you deal with that?
The longer the race, the less nervous I am. On an ironman scale I’m one of the best swimmers and it’s always best to start with something you’re confident about. At that distance too it’s a long race and the little things don’t matter as much. You don’t have to come out in the lead after the swim, for example. There are lots of opportunities to make up time.
And I embrace [nervousness] in a way, it’s a funny feeling, it makes you feel alive and it’s all part of racing. It’s not something you can help. If you’re nervous it must be something very important.
You had some bad luck just before your last Ironman, competing with a cut foot and broken ribs. How did that affect you?
I crashed on a training ride the week before [Roth Ironman]. Sometimes you kick yourself because it was something stupid that you did. You know, I grabbed the brakes a little too hard, but when it happens, you can’t know that you’re making a mistake, at that moment. I did manage to finish the competition with a broken rib. I had to be realistic, it was important for me to finish the race and get a different perspective of what ironman racing is without all the stress and hype like Ironman Kona, and also knowing that I wasn’t on top form.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
Two days before a race I have to have a massage. Pre race dinner is normally pizza. That’s my winning strategy.
You’re one of the favorites for Ironman Kona. Does being “marked” affect your strategy?
No, I kind of like that I’m a favorite, and that people are almost scared of me. If I’m gonna win this race, I expect to be a favorite. It’s fun, you can use it to your advantage. Getting to be a household name is really important because I have sponsors who I want to promote. I want people to know that the sponsors are helping me, and it’s important that my name is out there.
How is it different to be a sponsored, professional athlete, rather than just a self-supported amateur?
It’s the difference between being good and great. To be at the level where I’m winning major competitions I need to be a full-time athlete. I train about 30 hours a week and I need to have proper physical rest and recovery. It’s a shame that not everyone can just give up their work and train and be great.
You’ll be riding a custom Pinarello FT-3 Time Trial bike at Kona. How does it feel to have a bike company make you your very own bike for competition?
I just feel really important for a change. It makes me proud to be a part of their company, and I feel like they care about me personally. Pinarello has been incredible to work with because they make me feel like I’m part of their family. As an athlete, that’s a pretty unique situation, and I’m lucky to have it.
What’s the best part about being a professional athlete?
Being able to earn money from it, saying “this is what I do.” If I wasn’t professional there would be a lot less at stake, so I take it very seriously. People who do it for fun don’t understand that maybe I want to go out at night but I don’t drink alcohol, I watch my diet, I stay focused. You know, if you do a job, you do it seriously. As much as it’s sometimes fun, and it is fun to compete, you really must keep focused. When you take it seriously, you do better, and that also makes it fun. I’m always focused on winning because the two just go hand in hand.
When did you give your first autograph?
It was in Australia after my first half-ironman and I won it and this little girl came up with a t-shirt and she asked me to sign it. Then about four years later I was at the pool and the same girl comes up and says “hey Leanda, do you remember me?” and she’s got the shirt on. I’m now competing against this girl whose t-shirt I signed and I like it because I inspired this person. I’m a role model and I’ve encouraged young people to do their best. I think that’s a very important part of being a professional athlete.
Thanks Leanda, and good luck at Kona!