June 7th, 2015, ushered in the inaugural Legends Free State Triathlon at Clinton Lake in Lawrence, KS. The event boasted a sprint distance, olympic distance, half distance and a 100 mile distance triathlon all on the same day at the same location. Historically, this date was reserved for the Ironman Kansas 70.3 race that had been held here for several years, however, that event was discontinued for 2015 and Legends event series stepped in to fill the void.
The past Ironman event has brought in from 2000 to 1200 athletes into Lawrence to spend their time, money and energy at the race. This year, across all event distances, 900 athletes toed the line for the first ever mixed distance triathlon. Also available was an aquabike option across multiple distances for those who aren't into the whole running deal.
This local event reviewer raced the 100 miles course on this hot and windy Sunday, and below is the event review from the everyday triathlete perspective.
Registration : A
Legends ran their event registration through Active.com, and by all accounts, was pretty seamless. Active is the standard go-to registration for large events, so it was no surprise Legends went with the standard. Was what also nice was the offering of substantial savings for early bird registration which was half off the fee the day of the race. Compare $150 for 100 miles of multisport fun to $750 for a branded Ironman event over 140.6 miles. Would savings of $600 make up for the loss of 40.6 miles and no Ironman brand name? Read on to find out.
Branding and Outreach : A
Once signed up for the events, participants received timely emails and the Facebook page was regularly updated with information and triathlon relevant material.
If a triathlete was not on Facebook, it would have been a little difficult to hear about the race, but pretty much any internet search engine would bring up the new Legends event, replacing the Kansas 70.3 event. Search Kansas, triathlon and June and you would have found the Legends Free State Triathlon.
With the new event (and Legends Endurance race series), they spent some time and effort to develop a branding strategy to make a name and an image that would resonate with athletes. Their lion logo and Legends mantra were a cohesive theme utilized throughout the social media, sign up and outreach campaign. It was appealing and relevant to the Wizard of Oz theme and lion that so many play on for Kansas.
Planning and Strategy Leading up to Race Day : A
As mentioned before, event organizers were timely and relevant with their social media postings and emails to prospective racers and signed up participants. It’s a fine line between too many emails with useless information and too little emails leaving too many questions unanswered.
Legends was fairly proactive in responding to Facebook questions and would frequently post Q&A messages for all to see answers. Some issues such as where to place triathlon tattoos and changing tent information got left out, but the overall necessities of the race appeared to be communicated efficiently and timely.
There was also a push to get more people signed up, but it was subtle and not in your face. Those following multiple local multisport Facebook pages or email lists received various discount offers and incentives throughout the time leading up to the race to sign up. It wasn’t overload with Facebook offers, ads and other garbage that clogs up email and wastes time.
Arrival to Event : B+ (would have been an A if not for the mile plus of walking to transition)
Participants were well warned by organizers to arrive with plenty of time to unload after parking and allow for the nearly one mile walk to transition. In the past, the Kansas 70.3 event was a two transition event, however, Legends went with one and racers needed to carry all gear and bikes to the boat dock transition, almost a mile from parking.
It was a chore to carry all that gear, but racers could not say they were not warned. With check-in the day before, athletes had plenty of opportunities to scope out the trek from parking to transition and plan accordingly.
Kansas has had the wettest May on record leading into the event, so parking on pavement was at a premium to avoid getting stuck after the race trying to exit. Those running behind were forced to park even further from transition, but most had a chance to park on paved surfaces to limit getting stuck in the mud.
Parking was directed by volunteers with flashlights and turn by turn instruction. Few could say they didn’t know where to go for parking, and since the park gates were open and entry was free, there were very few holdups getting in and parked.
The Course : A
Without a course, there would be no race. Seems straight forward. The course utilized much of the defunct Kansas 70.3 swim, bike and run course. Transition was in the same T1 area as the past race. If you like hills, this is the event for you. No elevation profiles were posted with the course maps (props to Legends for posting the course maps), but there were enough 70.3 racers to pass along elevation gain for information to new athletes to the course.
The swim course started out from the boat dock and was various rectangular laps according to which race distance you signed up for. The only real issue was the lack of an official starting indicator. The 100 mile athletes didn’t understand that when the director told them to head out, it was the race start and not just to swim to the start buoys and wait for the “go”. There was a little miscommunication, but swimmers caught on quick enough.
The bike course would be through picturesque farm and rural area around Lawrence, Kansas, but since it was windy and hot, the course was more like riding through the twister in the Wizard of Oz. Every hill climb with the 15 to 20 mph wind in your face seemed like a slap in the face since hills were on every mile of that course. The course takes you in every direction with a set of out and backs and loops. There’s no way to avoid the wind in your face if the weather picks up. Add wind and hills to climbing temperatures, and you have a recipe for a long and hard day on the bike. Many racers can attest to the bike course taking all they had, making the run and much bigger challenge than originally thought.
It was a bit commercial how race organizers framed the run as pancake flat with shade. Around 15% of the run was in shade, the rest was on a continuous loop through camp ground 3 in the sun with a fun climb mixed in after transition. Thankfully the course was lined with spectators and athletes done with their race that were more than willing to spray you with water guns and hoses from their camp site. It was a sufferfest on this particular Sunday on the run. For last year’s 70.3 race at the same time last year, it was much less windy and temperatures were drastically lower, making a tough course much more doable. The only real deterrent for the run was the fact for the 100 mile athletes, the run was the same loop for 3 laps. The scenery got a little stale after the first two laps, but it did help the logistics of keeping athletes from overheating with too few aid stations and support.
Make no mistake, the bike is full of hills and if Kansas has its way, you’ll get wind and heat. Train like you mean it. This course if for real.
Legends did a fantastic job with the aid stations. Around every 1.5 to 2 miles, runners got a break with water, ice, sports drinks, snacks and many more options that maybe even during the 70.3 days. That was probably the only reason as many people finished the race as they did. There was only one account I ran into on the last lap for the 100 with the aid station by transition running out of ice. Other than that, every station had ample supplies for the amount of people racing.
What’s an athlete want most after a long and hot triathlon? Would that be a long sleeved dark finisher’s shirt? Probably not, but that was one item they received at the finish line. I'm not sure how that relates to the race in the summer, but it will probably come in handy in the fall.
Athletes also received a unique finisher medal with the Legends lion head logo that was fairly appealing. Depending on the distance raced, the size of the medal got larger. The 100 athletes received a medal almost 8 inches long. One issue was the fact they were cut out of steel and if not handled with care, could cut the wearer. There were a few instances of cuts and torn clothing from the medals.
Aside from those issues, finishers received beer, water, sports drinks, pop and food after crossing the finish line. If not for the swamp that the finishers tent turned in to, it might have been enjoyable. For those on the tail end of the day, they once grassy field under the tent turned into a mud pit complete with flies and gnats. It was not the most comfortable area to rest after the race. There’s little to do about controlling the weather, but organizers could have opted for a flooring to cover the grass or perhaps moved the tent over pavement. Just a thought.
Overall : A
There was some anxiety after the Kansas 70.3 race opted to not return for 2015. Legends picked up the slack, realizing there was a demand for a long distance triathlon in Kansas. Overall 900 athletes came out for all of the distances and supported a fledgling event series. That’s almost 300 less than 2014 Kansas 70.3, but not bad for a non-IM branded event.
Organizers learned from their 70.3 days and put their knowledge to good use for setting up a successful triathlon in addition to handling a tough Kansas weather day. There were a few athletes loaded into the med tents or carts, but no one died on the day when it could have easily have happened without a proactive event staff. There were a few minor glitches leading up to race day and on the event day, but nothing out of the ordinary for an event like this on this large of a scale.
Overall I would label the event a success and should have a solid following for a return for 2016. It remains to be seen if the 100 mile option will survive, but over 100 signed up and over 100 finished, so there should be no real reason why it won’t all come back.
Ryan Falkenrath is devoted family man balancing faith, family, Triathlon Coaching and racing. He is a certified USAT Level 1 Triathlon coach (www.SetThePaceTriathlon.com) and has formally raced endurance events since 2001 from 5k’s to Ironman distance races. You can follow his adventure on Facebook at Tri for a Hand Up, give to his Fundrazr campaign (), read more of his writing at Endurance Sports Examiner follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan or email him at Ryan.Falkenrath@SetThePaceMedia.com.