TriDot Check-In: B.J. Leeper

When did you begin triathlon?

Basically, I picked up triathlon about 8 years ago, and raced my first triathlon the end of the season in 2009. The most remarkable story I’ll share with you is that I got into triathlon actually on a whim. I had a friend who had done several triathlons, and he has the same body type as me (we’re both about 6’4”), so he talked me into borrowing his bike.

I’d never swum competitively before, and obviously didn’t even own my own bike then. I grew up playing collegiate basketball, and was a high jumper, so running was like a four-letter word—it was only used for conditioning and punishment! So this friend of mine talks me into competing in my first triathlon, a sprint short course. I had gone to the pool, and the first time I swam one length in the pool I found myself gasping! Still, I thought I could muster the strength to do this portion.

At the actual race, I panicked in the swim and ended up side-stroking the rest of the race with my head out of the water. I came out of the water almost dead last, and then made up some ground on the bike and more time on the run. As I was biking (on my friend’s bike), I thought to myself, “This is amazing!”

The different disciplines of the sport make it so much more a cerebral event; you have to think about what you’re doing and what you’re doing next, rather than a running race where you just go as fast as you can as hard as you can without much thought to it. I finished the race in the middle of the pack at best, but it totally got me hooked! What could have been a very negative experience with the swim being so bad really became a challenge for me to tackle.

Over the past eight years, I taught myself how to swim and took some lessons, bought a triathlon bike, and that’s when I got in touch with TriDot. For the last four years, I’ve been using TriDot for my training. In a short period of time, I went from not being able to swim swiftly—nearly dead last in the water and finishing middle of the pack in that first race—to finishing second overall in the same race this year! It’s been a lot of work and big transition, but TriDot has been a huge factor in this.

I have a young family—our children are eight, five, and three—so it’s a challenging family dynamic to find time to train. With TriDot, the huge advantage is that it focuses on maximizing your time efficiently in training. You’re not wasting efforts, not wasting time in your training doing things that aren’t intentional. That’s been huge for me, because with our family dynamic, I only have a certain number of hours to train. If I want to be effective, to compete at a higher level, or to better myself against my most recent effort (or just beat the guy next to me!), TriDot training has allowed me to be a more effective competitor than I would have been. I always tell people, “If I can do it, you can do it!”

 

How many triathlons have you competed in and what distance were they?

To date, I’ve probably done over 30 triathlons. The majority of them have been sprint or Olympic distance, but I did just my first half IRONMAN distance in 2015—the Kansas Legend 70.3.

In those 30+ races, there have been a lot of memorable races, but the most memorable was in 2012, when I did the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. It’s exactly what it sounds like. They ship you out on a ferry next to the island of Alcatraz, then you jump off the boat, swim across San Francisco Bay, and then ride and run through the hills of San Francisco. It’s a pretty intense event! I went from 2009, hardly being able to swim, to going to arguably the most difficult swim in the sport. It’s a cold swim in the Bay, and the mystique is that you’re swimming in shark-infested waters. If you had told me in 2009 I’d be doing this, I would have said you’re crazy—it’d be a death sentence!

I hope this gives hope to other athletes who are interested in getting into the sport. The human potential is so impressive to me in triathlon. As a physical therapist, we kind of pride ourselves in improving human performance. I get to live that out every day, seeing people reach their goals—from a high-level athlete or someone learning to walk again after surgery. I have a doctorate in physical therapy, specializing in orthopaedic and sports medicine, and I am also the clinic director in our area. Outside of my clinic director role, I basically wear three hats. I work with athletes in rehabilitation from injuries, building their strength and conditioning, and sport-specific performance. These all have different twists to them depending on the level and goals of the individual I am working with, but it has always been a passion of mine to help individuals reach goals that they may have never thought achievable.

When I met with Jeff (Booher, TriDot founder and CEO) about TriDot, I immediately saw the potential to not only maximize my own personal triathlon training time, but also the potential it posed to improve the triathlon world of injury prevention. TriDot’s way is to maximize efficiency in training, so one of the aspects that is looked at is the reduction of injury through more advantageous training. So if you were training 20 hours a week for a race, but you could train more efficiently for 15 hours a week, those extra 5 hours add up and could potentially prevent injury.

When Jeff and I started talking, I looked at TriDot through the lens of injury prevention. Endurance athletes are at times some of the most difficult to treat, because they are typically running their bodies into the ground. The goal is not the volume of movement but, more importantly, the quality of movement. To me, moving with better quality means that we are first setting a standard for good quality movement and then addressing anything that falls short with corrective intervention.

What we are after is how we can improve our athletes' ability to first move well and then load that quality movement with multi-sport disciplines. What that looks like in triathlon is that if you’re swimming, biking, and running and you have a dysfunction with your movement, you’re potentially putting fitness on dysfunction. Think about that. Instead of putting fitness on dysfunction, we want to improve our movement to then put fitness on function. Or another way to look at it is a foundation, where fitness is put on a functional platform, like building a house. If you’re going to build a house and the foundation has cracks all over it, it doesn’t matter how good the house you build looks, it’s going to falter. On the contrary, if you build on a solid foundation, you know that house is going to be solid.

That's my philosophy in bringing physical therapy and movement screening to the table with triathlon. If we can ensure an acceptable platform of movement "function" within our population of athletes, we have a chance to significantly decrease our injury risk.

We invest so much time and money in our bikes and our training for each discipline. If we invest some of that time into treating our bodies well and ensuring we are moving well, we don’t run as much risk of injury, “blowing up,” or not making to the starting line.

 

Why or what has kept you competing in triathlon?

I’m just too stinkin’ competitive! I think it’s that way a lot for those of us with the type A personalities! For me it’s two levels. One, I want to stay active and healthy and that’s important to me. Two, I’m always looking to challenge myself. A lot of times growing up as an athlete you’re always competing against something. In high jump, you’re competing against a height, and in basketball against other people, etc. In triathlon, you’re competing against your own personal best as well as the guy next to you. Some people do triathlon with one or the other, maybe just beat the other guy or just your own time, but I like both – I want to improve my personal best, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’d like to beat the guy next to me!

 

What brings you the greatest sense of satisfaction in triathlon training?

In the training itself, I would say the biggest change is the confidence I’ve built swimming. Being able to take myself in 2009 where I couldn’t complete a sprint without my head out of the water the whole time, to in three short years being able to swim Alcatraz. Obviously that involves the training being pulled through to fruition. Satisfaction is knowing the training paid off.

 

Who or what motivates you the most in your triathlon journey?

I definitely have had an important mentor who’s well-experienced in triathlon, Ken Bramble. Ken and I are neighbors and friends, and he has been an amazing mentor to me. He had been doing triathlons for over ten years, and I met him just after my first triathlon. We are both involved with Tri4Him, and Ken has definitely been a strong, motivating, inspirational force for me.

 

How do you mentally handle/address pain during a race?

I think for me what I focus on is visualizing the finish and then also visualizing who I’m going to see at that finish: my family and my kids. Those are motivating factors for me. I know they’re proud of me, so when I’m in a lot of pain, I focus on getting through that moment and focusing on them, on the joy at the end. Even in training, visualization has been a big thing for me, and then at the end of the training when I’m sore, I visualize myself crossing the finish line when I’m pulling into the driveway. When you practice those techniques in training as well, they help drive you.  

Another note would be that the confidence I have in my training drives me through those pain episodes. If I’ve done the work and put in the time training, I am confident I will pull through those hard times. If I haven’t done the work, I’m less confident to pull through, but that confidence in my training is definitely tied to getting through.

There’s also definitely a spiritual side to triathlon that you really can’t overlook. It often comes into focus when you’re enduring those most painful moments. When you’re training and things are tough and there are times out there on the course when you’re in pain, you gain spiritual perspective maybe you never would have gained before. Being a Christian, my faith in Christ is strengthened through the physical trials. We all go through trials emotionally, but often it is the physical trials that bring things into focus even more.

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