An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Interview: Leslie Collins Barber -- Northwest Triathlete, Cyclist, Wonder Woman

First of it's kind here on the blog. I've known Leslie for a few years. Always upbeat, always got something happening. Lots of irons in the fire, as the saying goes. We keep in touch through BeginnerTriathlete, and meet up at various events around the area. For a glimpse into her life, read on.
Brider's Place: First off, let's get an idea of your background. Were you a track star in high school?
Leslie Barber: Yes, I was a track star, basketball star and volleyball star.  All-league and varsity for 4 years.  My tagline "I am faster than I look" comes from way back then since I have always been big, strong AND fast!  I also ski raced, rowed, lifted a lot of weights and worked with my dad's triathlon company as a race director in my late teens.  I opted not to pursue my scholarship offers in my all-star sports, but instead chose to row crew at the UW.  Unfortunately I was injured my first season and that was that.
B P: How long have you been cycling? What was your initial draw?
L B: I commuted to work off and on over the years on a crappy mountain bike, but I always enjoyed riding.  I didn't get "serious" about biking until 2007 when I decided to try a tri.  I bought my first bike a couple of months before my first triathlon, and my first bike shoes with cleats, as well.  The draw to biking, hmmm....probably the freedom and the speed.  I like to go fast.
B P: We first met at the Tour de Pierce in 2008, I think it was. You were an active triathlete by then. How has your training and racing balance changed over the years between the three triathlon disciplines?  
L B: We actually met at the Mt Rainier Duathlon, when you gave me your entry and then drove me around the course to give me some tips.  
I used to follow a plan from BT [] pretty closely every season, selecting A, B and C races etc.  After a few years I got a little more lax in that and used the plans more as a general guideline.  I've realized that my first love is cycling and have done a lot of that over the years.  I upgraded my bike in 2011 and that was the impetus to add more long, challenging rides to my season.  I keep on running a lot, and I try to maintain a level of fitness that allows me to run a half marathon whenever I get the chance--I am working my way back to that right now.  I find that swimming is not a natural workout for me and I have to really force myself to get that done.  I do enjoy open water swimming, but I do not love going to the pool, therefore my swimming is a bit slow at the moment.  I will be getting in the pool starting in February, though.  
B P: You did the Stinky Spoke yesterday in Redmond, WA, a mixed-surface ride to benefit Little Bit. How did you hear about this event?
L B: I think I originally heard about it on the first year, 2008, through LUNA, but I didn't participate until 2009.  I have done it most years since unless I was injured.  I actually used to volunteer at Little Bit in the late 1980s!
B P: You pre-rode the course for this event, and found some challenges. How would you describe them? How did they change your outlook for the day of the event?
L B: There weren't too many major challengers--there were some trees down on the course which have since been removed, and some bumps and ruts that I tried to avoid this time--mostly successful on that.  I managed to ride a lot more during the event than I did on the pre-ride -- perhaps it was the adrenalin and the competition.
B P: Was the ride everything you expected? Did you make it up Heartbreak Hill?
L B: The ride was fantastic -- the weather was amazing this year (unlike 2012 when it snowed and froze and was sooooooo cold!).  No, I didn't make it up Heartbreak Hill.  I rode my cyclocross bike and just don't have the gears for that.  I did, however, make it up the rest of the hills, even though at times I didn't really feel like I was going to make it.  I am thankful for muscle memory!  I've only ridden outside twice this year, both this week....
B P: You also started some track racing. How different of a discipline did you find that relative to other riding, and especially triathlon?
L B: I actually started track in 2011, bought my first bike in 2012 and did a few races that year.  In the fall of 2012 I got in a really bad bike accident and didn't get back onto the track in 2013 due to multiple issues, fear being one of them.  I am working through it and hope to get back out there this season.  It is very different than endurance sports....the heart rate is in zone 5 from the get-go and it is about strength.  In triathlon or biking or running, my weight can be a factor, but on the track, I have an advantage by being very strong.  It has helped me learn to have a much smoother cycle stroke.
B P: From your Facebook posts, I see you've been doing a lot of hiking this fall and winter. Is that normal for you, or something new? A personal challenge?
L B: I started adding hiking as cross training a couple of years ago, as well as snowshoeing.  This past fall I had a breast reduction, so I had a lot of restrictions as far as exercise.  Once I was able to do some exercise I was out on the trails as much as I could be. I have found that I crave the challenge of hiking now and so I try to do it every week if possible.  I think it helps me stay healthy physically and mentally.

B P: I remember the first couple times I did RAMROD (back in the dark ages), and the first food stop was just inside Mt Rainier Park. Now it's at Wildwood, a rental cabin that your family owns. Can you tell me about the cabin, and how it became the food stop?
L B: Wildwood is the cabin.  It was the home where my mom was born and raised.  After her parents died, she and her sister fixed it up as a rental property.  The RAMROD people were seeking a better food stop and contacted her and the rest is history. I have worked at the food stop a few times over the years, and I think it is great, a perfect location.  It is also my favorite place in the world.

B P:  You started an event promotion company a couple years ago -- Northwest Sweat. How has that been going?
L B: I have actually put the business on hiatus for the time being.  Life has gotten extremely busy and my sister's involvement was not there, which was the main reason we started the company--to do this together. I hope that it will get re-energized in the future, as I think there is a lot of potential.
B P: So with all the riding and racing, along with event promotion, you are also a super-mom and wife. How do you balance it all?
L B: I am glad you think that I balance it all!  It's a matter or priorities, for sure.  Luckily my spouse supports my activities and doesn't begrudge me (too much) when I go on long runs, rides and races, plus I don't have a full time job, which is handy.  I am VP of fundraising for PTSA and have rejoined LUNA Chix, so this year is going to be a bit intense.  I do let some things go....I will be the first to tell you that I am not cut out for housework or laundry.  I somehow just get it all done, not really through much planning but more through luck and taking advantage of a big pool of training partners with lots of fun stuff always available to participate in.

B P: How did wearing the Wonder Woman costume start?
L B: Costumes are a hobby of mine--I own around 50 wigs, not to mention a ton of costumes and a lot of accessories, and have some experience in theatrical makeup.  Basically any time I get the chance, I dress up, and if it is a race, even better.  I have often been compared to WW so I finally added the costume to my collection and started making public appearances just for fun.  I haven't been out in it that many times, but the photos get a lot of traffic on Facebook.  
B P: What else do you have planned for 2014?
L B: I am still working on the plan for this year--I am nearly done with my post-surgical healing, so once that is completely done, the sky is the limit.  I am considering a 25 k trail run later in the year, as well as a lot of other running races, possibly a marathon if the legs hold up.  I want to get back to the velodrome.  I am contemplating STP in one day.  I have some tris I am thinking about doing and some more duathlons...maybe even one next weekend if the weather cooperates.  One thing I am doing is casually "competing" with my workout friends to conquer as many hills in the area as we can.  Tomorrow begins my attempt at the list, with Hollywood Hill and Norway Hill on the docket.  I have a few races listed on my BT page for now, although they are mostly tentative.  I like to do a lot of different things to keep it interesting, that is my happy space.
B P: Any parting comments for the readers?
L B: I hope you haven't become bored from this! 

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