As Alex Libin dove into the cool waters of Pleasant Creek Lake, he never imagined that he was beginning a race that would continue far beyond the finish line of the small Pigman Sprint Triathlon. A race that would push him mentally and physically further than he ever thought possible; providing him with his highest highs and his lowest lows.
Seven years later, he can begin to see the finish line.
Libin is less than a week out from the biggest race of his young life, the ITU World Triathlon in Chicago, the only US stop on the eight-city World Triathlon circuit. “That is the end-all dream,” Libin said in a 2013 interview. “Do all the major races and train in Europe, it’s the center of the draft-legal world. That would be incredible.”
Libin began his racing career in 2007, doing mostly XTERRA offroad triathlons. In 2008, after graduating from Valley High School in West Des Moines, IA, he attended the University of Iowa, where his short-lived triathlon career seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. “I took a bit of a hiatus when I started college and steadily got back into the sport starting in 2010,” Libin said.
Libin spent the next two years training and racing with an amateur status; his goal of going professional always in the back of his mind. After two years of ups and downs, Libin earned his pro card after placing 3rd at the Dallas USAT Elite Development Race Triathlon and began his first professional season in March 2013.
Although he had a rocky first year that was “all about experience,” Libin has slowly begun to adapt to elite racing. In March he finished 5th at the La Paz PATCO Pan American Cup and just last month he recorded his best finish to date, 12th place at the Dallas PATCO Pan American Championships.
“When you race professionally, you are no longer competing with people whose main goal is to just get to the finish,” Libin said. “Everyone wants a piece of the podium, so it’s much more aggressive during the race.”
Last year, Libin moved to Colorado Springs to train and pursue a master’s degree in Sport Nutrition. “I wanted to put myself in an environment where I can be pushed to new heights,” he said.
Since turning pro, Libin has had to not only change his training, but also his way of life. “Even outside of racing, being a pro just puts more pressure on everything that you do,” Libin said. “The sport goes from being a cool hobby that you do, to your job.”
He has also had to learn to make sacrifices in the rest of his life. “It’s the little things that add up,” Libin said. “All the missed gatherings with friends, not being able to go on hikes with my girlfriend Kelli, constantly being concerned about how long I’ve been standing on my feet…” The list goes on.
Despite all of the setbacks and sacrifices that come with being a newly professional athlete, Libin can’t imagine his life any other way.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than completely emptying yourself out on a run,” Libin said. “You kind of get to this state of almost nirvana. You’re not thinking about breathing, you’re not thinking about leaning forward, you’re just trying to get past that finish line.”
Although the finish line to Libin’s racing story is many years down the road, the opportunity to be a part of a World Triathlon Series race offers a glimpse of what could be: a handful of sponsors, first-class training facilities and place among the elite triathletes of the world. It’s not here yet, but until that time, Libin will keep pushing towards the finish line. And one of these days, he might just reach it.
Check back tomorrow to hear more about Alex’s preparations for the ITU Triathlon in Chicago!