HURRICANE — Hurricane city engineer Arthur LeBaron is looking forward to competing in his eighth St. George 70.3 Ironman triathlon on Saturday.
“I’ve signed up every year since they’ve made it a 70.3 (mile) race,” LeBaron told St. George News. “Last year, I was hoping to do the full Ironman, but then they canceled it.”
Although last year’s events weren’t staged due to COVID-19, St. George will be hosting a 140.6 Ironman next May, race officials announced on Wednesday. St. George will also be hosting this year’s Ironman 70.3 world championship in September.
LeBaron says he’s anxious to get back out riding and running on the roads again.
“I did not do an Ironman event last year, nor did I do a marathon,” LeBaron said. “But I did hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim with my wife and a few of my kids. So, at least we did something.”
A 48-year-old father of seven, LeBaron is a lifelong resident of Hurricane, his family having moved there when he was 3 years old. He said his love for running began in early childhood.
“Ever since I was a little boy, walking was always too slow for me,” he said. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for people to see me running to school or getting there on a bike. I’ve always enjoyed getting places fast, when I’m transporting myself under my own power.”
Although he competed on Hurricane High’s cross-country team as a teenager, LeBaron said he “fell out of fitness” after high school, after he got busy with college and starting a family.
“It just wasn’t on my radar any more,” he said. “After college, I signed up for a few smaller races like the Hurricane 5K. I did a few of those, but it wasn’t a habit at that point.”
And then in 2007, he ended up with a severe back injury that caused him to have chronic pain.
“There was a four-year period where I became a victim to it,” he said. “I mean, I was really scared to do anything. I didn’t mow the lawn.”
However, LeBaron said he did continue to stay active in the Boy Scouting program as a scoutmaster. That led to an opportunity to take his Scout troop to do a fundraiser at the first Ironman event that St. George ever hosted, back in 2010.
“It was just so inspiring to see the athletes and to contemplate the journey that each one of them had made just to get to the start line,” LeBaron recalled. “It was just so exciting. I was jealous and inspired. I wanted to be one of those guys, but I felt like it was out of reach for me because of the health problems I was struggling with.”
In the meantime, LeBaron’s wife Andrea had signed up to run in the St. George Marathon in 2009.
“She’d never even signed up for a race before of any length,” he said. “It was a really great experience for our whole family. And I was just like, ‘Okay, if she can do it, then I can do it.’”
“There were a lot of things that I tried in order to overcome my chronic pain that I was having,” he said, “But ultimately, increasing my fitness led to better health for me. And so, when Ironman announced that they were not going to do the full Ironman any longer but rather a 70.3 race in St. George, I immediately signed up.”
“I didn’t really have any idea what that meant for me because I didn’t have any equipment,” he recalled. “But I just thought, you know what, a commoner like me should be able to do that.”
LeBaron has successfully finished all seven of his previous Ironman 70.3 St. George events since 2013, averaging around six hours each time. His personal best finish is 5 hours, 49 minutes, 55 seconds, which he achieved in 2019, his most recent race.
“I’ve signed up every year and showed up every time,” he said. “It’s just been so good for me. As long as I keep a goal in front of me, it keeps me motivated to exercise, stay healthy and eat well. And I set a better example for those around me, especially my family.”
LeBaron said he, his wife and children, who range in age from 24 to 5, are an active family that enjoys doing various outdoor activities together, including mountain biking, running, hiking, exploring and hunting.
“When people ask me why I do Ironman, my quick response is, ‘Well, because I can,’” he said. “I know what it’s like to not be able to do things or to think that I can’t do things. But now that I know I can do things, I sign up and do them.”
“Ironman and the St. George Marathon, those are two events where there’s just no question,” he said. ”They’re part of my routine every year, just like Christmas and Easter.”
LeBaron said it wasn’t easy getting himself into shape for his first Ironman, particularly as a cyclist.
“I first got a road bike in the summer of 2012,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I got this road bike, and I’m gonna go fast. I’m gonna go far.’ So I tried to ride from my house around Sand Hill Road and the back way to Hurricane. It’s about 25 miles. I got halfway through it and I was toast. The sheer gravity of what was in front of me just hit me like a freight train. I didn’t have enough water. And I just didn’t have it. I realized that in order to get it, I had a long way to go.”
“You just have to take baby steps,” he added. “You know, it’s easy to say, Oh, yeah, I can ride 56 miles. But talk is cheap. It’s a lot harder than you think it is. But then you take baby steps and you learn to wrap your mental arms around the task. And it becomes doable.”
One of LeBaron’s favorite highlights of training, he said, is that he often does it in the early morning hours while everyone else is asleep, giving him time to ponder during his training rides and runs.
“It’s usually in the five o’clock hour or the four o’clock hour,” he said. “It’s dark and you’re out there by yourself. And it’s so wonderful to be outside looking at the heavens, seeing the planets, the stars, the moon, and meteorites and the International Space Station flying by. It’s so good for the soul to go out in the nighttime and have time for yourself, just you and the pavement, breathing in the sky.”
LeBaron said each of the three stages of the 70.3 race – a 1.2-mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bike ride then a 13.1-mile half marathon run – presents its own set of challenges
During the swim portion, he said, contact with other competitors in the water is often inevitable.
“They can kick you in the face; it can hurt,” he said. “The water can be choppy or it can be so cold your hands and feet go numb. But it’s really a prelude to a great day.”
Next comes the 56-mile bicycle ride.
“You’re excited when you get on the bike,” he said. “You’re drying out. You’re still rather fresh, but it’s a really hilly course. It’s what they call an honest course among the triathlon crowd, because it keeps people honest.”
“One thing that people don’t realize when you cycle that far, is the fatigue that your neck and shoulders go through from holding your head down,” he said, adding that windy conditions can also add to the strain and cause havoc for riders.
LeBaron said nutrition plays a key role during the bike ride.
“You have to take care of yourself with hydration, calories and electrolytes, or you just won’t make it through. It takes quite a bit of discipline to keep yourself fed, because there are times when you just don’t feel like consuming anything. But you have to force yourself.”
“The climb through Snow Canyon is grueling, but it’s really beautiful,” he added. “People put signs up that are a lot of fun.”
“Then when you get to the run, there’s a lot of people along the entire run course. That’s just so important for the athletes. Everybody is cheering and yelling. I mean, it just gives you energy. And that’s when you really need it the most, because it’s so difficult to transition from cycling.”
“It’s like your legs don’t want to work,” he said. “It’s a feeling that if I had to describe to someone, so they could experience it for themselves, would be to go do 1,000 squats and then try to run three miles.”
LeBaron said he finished his first 70.3 race with a time of 6:47:21 in 2013.
“That first year I was just trying to finish and show. I could do it,” he recalled. “And then I was like, Wow, well I did that, and now I can do it faster.’”
He admits that he had his doubts after that first race, which he said left him feeling “horrible.”
“I was in a dark place, asking why in the world did I even sign up for this?” he recalled with a laugh. “Why do people do this? This is ridiculous.”
“Of course, that feeling was only temporary and the next year I cut almost a whole hour off my time,” he said, noting that he finished the 2014 race in 5:58:32.
Come Saturday morning, LeBaron’s months of preparation will come to an end as he, along with hundreds of other competitors, gingerly steps into the chilly waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir to embark on an epic 70.3-mile endurance test.
Wednesday, as his phone interview with St. George News came to a close, LeBaron added one more cryptic side note:
“If you really want to find out how good food can taste, just do an Ironman.”
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