This story first ran in The Cedar Rapids Gazette on June 6, 2017, and can be found here.
PALO, IOWA — Stepping out of the water onto the beach at the Prairie Creek State Recreation Center, Alex Libin made his way over to the transitioning area.
Libin had just completed the half-kilometer swim at the annual Pigman Triathlon, and was getting ready to trek off on the 25-kilometer bike ride.
But as he began to put his bike jersey on over his head, it got stuck. Panic ensued as claustrophobia struck the high school junior. It was his very first triathlon, after all. And as he finally got his head through the jersey, Libin couldn’t hold it in any more. He threw up, spewing vomit all around him.
That was in 2007. Now, nearly a decade later, Libin returned to the course where his racing career began. The 26-year-old took second place in Sunday’s Pigman Sprint Triathlon, completing the half-kilometer swim, 25-kilometer bike ride and five-kilometer run with a record-setting time of 1:00:06.
“We had beautiful conditions today,” Libin said. “No wind, it’s a little warm, but we started early enough … We had a good day. We were pushing each other really well.”
The West Des Moines native almost didn’t make it to Sunday’s race, though. On Saturday, Libin ran in a super-sprint relay triathlon in Atlantic City, N.J., where his team took third place.
Immediately following the awards ceremony, Libin took off for the airport.
“I landed at like 10:30,” Libin said. “My mom picked me up (from the airport). Then I built my bike, went to bed around midnight and then woke up at 3:30 to drive over here.”
But it wasn’t Libin or Jake Rhyner — who won the race with a record time of 59:29 — leading the way heading into the final leg of the race.
Heather Lendway, a former collegiate swimmer out of St. Paul, Minn., held a commanding lead going into the run. And while she was the first female competitor to finish the race, ending with a time of 1:08:32, she said she just couldn’t fend off Libin nor Rhyner on the backstretch.
“The roads were awesome,” Lendway said. “The bike was pretty fast. It was good. I had a solid swim and a solid bike, but I just couldn’t hold the guys off on that run. They were too fast.”
And when it got down to just Libin and Rhyner in the last kilometer of the race, Libin said he just didn’t have it in him. Rhyner was too fast.
“I was hoping to have a better day, but it was what it was,” Libin said. “I’ve raced Jake for years and years. We both raced as amateurs, and we’ve been racing pro for about four years now. He just had a better day than I did, and that was that.”
And while Libin said it would have been nice to win the whole thing, that’s not the point of races like the Pigman.
It’s a completely different environment than races on the competitive circuit. More than 440 people competed in Sunday’s race, all hailing from different corners of the state — and even the country.
The ages of the competitors varied tremendously, too. The youngest were Cassidy Hartman and Daniel McCaffrey, two 13-year-olds out of North Liberty and Cedar Rapids, respectively. The oldest was 86-year-old Lyle Roberts from Burlington.
It’s that diversity, he said, that truly makes this race special.
“I love being able to come back and do some of these grass roots, small races — especially when they offer some cash. That’s always a bonus,” Libin said. “It’s super enjoyable. It’s really nice coming to something laid back where most people here just do it because they want the challenge. For a lot of people, this is their first triathlon ever. It’s a cool atmosphere.”