HAMMOND | Defense wins championships.
But defensive running in a race can land second place.
Adam Zucco found that out the hard way while trying to win an elusive Leon's Triathlon overall title during a sun-baked Sunday morning at Wolf Lake Park.
The 39-year-old Geneva man had attained a good lead over an international field of nearly 450 through the swim and bike stages of the annual race.
"I trained well for this," said Zucco, who placed second overall at Leon's in 2011 and sixth last year, "but for the run, I played it too defensive, and when Ryan (Giuliano) caught me at the one-mile mark, I knew he was too fast for me to catch."
Giuliano, 30, of Oakwood Hills, built more than a minute advantage over Zucco with an overall champion time of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 4 seconds.
"My legs were a little sore coming out of the water and off the bike," said Giuliano, who participated in his first Leon's Triathlon, giving him his fourth triathlon win of the season. "I just had to stay positive."
Giuliano trains and competes in triathlons year-round. Several of his earlier wins this year were indoor races.
"They're getting more popular in the area, and they keep you motivated during the winter ... especially this last winter," said Giuliano, who completed his first Ironman full triathlon in Hawaii with his wife, Jacqui, during their first-year wedding anniversary.
"We often do these together, but she's trying to qualify for the Olympics in the marathon so she's concentrating on (road) races," Giuliano said.
Megan James, 43, of Kalamazoo, Mich., was the overall female champion in 2:16:03.
"The swim felt great ... it was biking against the wind that made things difficult," said James, who like Giuliano, also made her Leon's Triathlon debut.
"I've won triathlons before, but this is a big one," said James, who bested female runner-up Kristine Juno, of Highwood, but more than 100 seconds. "When I compete in races near my home, there's not much competition. There's a lot of competition here."
New this year, Leon's provided a sprint-distance course, roughly half of the traditional international.
Kai Karlstrom, 29, of Chicago, was the overall male winner with a time of 1:01:23.
"I was a mid-distance runner in college (Eastern Illinois), so this is more to my liking," Karlstrom said.
Aidan Farley, 15, of Orland Park, was second with a time of 1:03:57.
"I did the international distance last year here, and it's a little too far for me," said Farley, who is due to run another sprint triathlon in Seattle later this month as part of the Elite Junior Series.
Lauren Brey, of Lafayette, was the overall female winner (1:09:41), finishing ahead of Mary Ann Butzke (1:11:48), Eda Davidman (1:12:56), and fourth-place finisher Quincy Fleming (1:15:24), of Chicago, who started competing in triathlons four years ago at the age of 41.
"I was driving down Ohio Street (in Chicago), and I saw these excellent-bodied triathletes," said Fleming, who competed with her husband, Chris Walton. "I just had a baby, and I wanted to whip myself into being in that type of shape.
"So I started this out of pure vanity. I still do it because it's fun."