I Am IronFatty, Part I: The Swim

05.3.2010 | 12:08 pm

I was absolutely, completely positive I would not be able to sleep the night before the Ironman. Why would I be able to? It’s a huge race, with a couple thousand people in it, many of which had pretty much obsessed over just completing the thing.

And besides, I’m never able to sleep before a big race. Ever.

But I slept fine, thanks to Ambien. Specifically, The Runner and I each took a quarter of a 10mg pill around 8pm, figuring (without any data to back us up, but that’s par for the course) it would wear off well before the 7am race start.

We woke up to the alarm at 3:15am. Since we had everything packed and ready to go so we could get to 4:30am shuttle in a matter of minutes, there was one — and only one — reason for getting up this early:

To poop.

It occurs to me that it may seem like I’m beginning to talk about pooping almost as much as Dug. But seriously, pooping before an all-day race is crucial. Vital. Essential.

I did not poop.

Eventually — and with many updates given to The Runner which I’m sure she was very, very happy to receive — I gave up and said, “Let’s get this over with.”

We parked the car, dropped off our “Special Needs” bags — each filled with a Mountain Dew, a Salted Nut Roll, and a Subway Club sandwich wrapped up with an ice pack — and found our shuttle to the reservoir.

A Quick Aside

This might be a good place for me to mention the way the St. George Ironman race was executed: I have never ever ever seen a race so beautifully and comprehensively directed, explained, or executed. It ran like clockwork — everything was where it was supposed to go, staff and volunteers were all over the place, ready to help, and the whole thing was generally organized to the nines. So well, in fact, that even a guy (um, me) who has no experience whatsoever in triathlons was able to understand what was happening and concentrate on racing, instead of on making sense of the race.

So, to both Ironman the company and the race director of Ironman St. George and to all the people who helped: Thank you. You were remarkable.

Seriously, I Will Eventually Stop Talking About Pre-Race Pooping

We got to the reservoir with about an hour to spare, which was good, because the shuttle ride combined with the rapidly-dawning realization that I was about to try to do an Ironman had shaken loose what the 3:15 alarm had not.

By the time my ten minute wait for a portapotty was over, I was able to successfully complete my business.

The Runner and I then went and found my bike transition bag, because I had forgotten to put a towel in it the day before.

Then we went back and got in line for the portapotty again. This time the line was 15 minutes long, but was well worth the wait.

Suit Up. Fast.

We then walked over to the bike area — as good a place as any — to strip out of our day clothes and put on our wetsuits. As we struggled into our suits — I believe I was working my right leg into it — the announcer said it was time to line up and get in the water.

So yes, after waiting around for an hour, suddenly we were late.


We rushed, hopping and pulling and yanking. We then helped each other with our zippers and started the walk to the water’s edge. As we walked to the line, I put my neoprene swim cap on…backwards.

Realizing my mistake, I fixed it, then put on the swim cap the Ironman organization had wanted everyone to wear over it. Most men’s caps were orange. Mine was purple. Whenever someone asked why mine was a different color, I said it was because they wanted to make it easier for the lifeguards to identify racers who were most likely to drown.

Last, I put on my goggles — a brand new set, nice and clear. I was amazed at how much the chlorine from the pool had fogged my old goggles.

On Your Mark…Get Wet…

Then the people in front of us stopped. Nobody, it seemed, was in a rush to step into the 59-degree water.

“Oh, stop being such babies,” The Runner said, and — taking me by the hand — led me through the mass of athletes. We walked into the water — very cold on the feet and hands at first, but thanks to the wetsuit, not bad at all on my legs, body, or arms — and then swam out to our pre-chosen spot: well back from the starting line, on the left side. We figured we would not get kicked and punched and crushed right from the start that way.

And luckily, there was a guy on a giant surfboard (a windsurf board maybe?) right where we wanted to be. We grabbed on, waiting for the race to begin.


We then looked back — and there were hundreds, or possibly even a thousand — of racers still on the boat ramp. Evidently, starting from the water was not a popular option.

The Runner and I talked to each other and other racers who had chosen this spot. Nervous chatter. Each of us saying over and over, “I can’t believe we’re doing this.” Reminding each other we would continue to stay put for a minute or two after the gun goes off. Let the people who are on a mission do their thing. We just wanted to make it around the loop.


The gun went off, and The Runner and I enjoyed the spectacle of an Ironman swimming mass start:


Then I looked at the boat ramp. It was still full of people standing there, now walking — reluctantly, I’d say — into the water.

“Look. IronLemmings,” I said.

“I guess we’d better start swimming,” The Runner replied, not hugely impressed with my hilarity (or it’s possible that she didn’t hear — a neoprene swim cap with another regular swim cap over it tends to mute most sounds).

And we went.

Counting Buoys

The swim course for the St. George Ironman was a rectangle. 1000 meters, left turn, 500 meters, left turn, 1600 meters, left turn, and then swim for the exit ramp.

So I guess it wasn’t a rectangle. It was a quadrilateral.


I hadn’t expected any real way — apart from the turn buoys — to mark my progress, but the race director explained that there would be buoys every 100 meters or so. Which is incredibly helpful to know.

I began swimming, initially sighting every ten or fifteen times I breathed. Then I realized I didn’t need to anywhere near that often. As I took each breath, I could easily see whether I was parallel to or starting to angle to –or away from — other swimmers. Trusting in the wisdom of crowds, I just swam with the group.

Every so often, I would run into someone’s feet. And every so often, someone would run into my feet. At first that freaked me out. Then I got used to it and stopped worrying about it at all.

Except for the one time someone clawed his or her way over the top of me. That was kind of freaky.

Within moments I lost The Runner — we knew we wouldn’t be able to hang together for this incredibly anonymous part of the race — and my only companions were the sound of my breathing and my mental tally of buoys.

I should point out, by the way, that I never even once got the buoy count right in my head before I came to the next turn.

Although I am quite pleased to say that I was swimming a straight enough line that I hit buoys three different times.

The Longest 100 Meters

I would never ever have expected to say this, but during the swim, I … I … I got into a swimming groove. At least three or four times I cocked my head up to take a breath and was surprised to see another buoy to my left.

But there was one stretch that I didn’t think would ever end. And I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I sighted the buoy too soon, when it was really far away. Maybe there was a current. Maybe I was starting to sag. Regardless, I found myself sighting for that buoy over and over and over, and it just never seemed to get any closer.

Finally, I started swimming harder, determined to get to that thing, no matter what. And of course, eventually I did.

And then the next one seemed to come about thirty seconds later.

Home Stretch

It seems perfectly obvious to me now, but I never considered it until it happened: after the last turn — so you have about 800 meters to go (guessing here) — you can see the boat ramp.

And that is probably the most encouraging thing I could ever have imagined.

The thing is, though, the distance to that boat ramp is deceptive. You see the shore, but you don’t really take into account that it’s a long way away still.

But still: it’s getting closer.

I chugged away, swimming toward the ramp, with no idea whatsoever how long it had taken me to swim that far. I wasn’t worried though; it seemed unlikely — with as many people surrounding me as there were — that I had missed the cutoff time.

I reached the ramp — wading the last 10 feet or so, thinking it might make it easier for me to get used to being upright again — and stumbled, giddily, up. Someone yanked my zipper down and I peeled down the top half of my suit.

I think there must have been a clock nearby, but I didn’t see it, so I asked the man next to me: “How’d we do?”

“1:20, I think,” said the man.

“No way!” I said. Here I am, saying “No way!”


Seriously, that was way beyond all my expectations and hopes. Looking at my stats for the race, I came out of the water in 979th place out of around 2000. About as mid-pack as you can be.


I walked to the men’s changing tent, which was stuffed to the gills. As I walked, I noticed a strange tingle in my feet, which I gradually became aware was the feel of rocks and asphalt as I casually walked on them.

It took a moment to find a chair, but then I matter-of-factly began to change into my bike clothes. Happy. Content. The part of the race I was most afraid of was behind me; the part I knew how to do was next.

And then I looked around.

People all around me were shaking, shivering, completely unable to use their hands. Some looked truly hypothermic.

“Strange,” I thought to myself, because I wasn’t cold at all. I finished changing, waving away help from volunteers.

Later that night, The Runner would describe a similar scene from when she was in the women’s change tent: people shivering, cold, and unable to function, while she felt great.

And that’s when we both realized we owed Aqua Sphere a huge “thank you.” Neither The Runner nor I really know anything about wetsuits, but the fact is, we both had great completion times considering our lack of Ironman experience. And more importantly, our suits kept us warm and comfortable in 58-degree water.

The day after the race, I found Justin — the guy from Aqua Sphere who had set The Runner and me up with wetsuits — and told him how great they had worked out. The Runner interrupted by just giving Justin a big hug.

Which I think got the point across nicely.

I found my bike and headed out. One event down, two to go. The day was sunny, the wind was mild, and I felt fine.

I could tell: this Ironman thing was going to be easy.

PS: Thanks to The Runner’s brother, Scott, for taking all the photos in this post.


  1. Comment by Lisa | 05.3.2010 | 12:19 pm

    EXCELLENT photos! Love the image of everyone swimming!

  2. Comment by nibbler | 05.3.2010 | 12:21 pm

    Well I think IronLemmings are funny.

  3. Comment by bikemike | 05.3.2010 | 12:21 pm

    not drowning during the swim is a huge bonus, i would think. excellent job, good sir.

  4. Comment by Steph | 05.3.2010 | 12:26 pm

    Awesome! Way to go. I love that Runner’s brother got a photo of you saying “No way!”. : )

  5. Comment by jodie_a | 05.3.2010 | 12:28 pm

    Great job, Iron Fatty and Iron Runner! No wonder your times were so good. Glad you didn’t drown despite the purple cap.

  6. Comment by ocary | 05.3.2010 | 12:28 pm

    Most excellent!

  7. Comment by Carl | 05.3.2010 | 12:36 pm

    Great!!! I guess all those people who said you couldn’t do it will need to send you an apology… lol

  8. Comment by Bruuks | 05.3.2010 | 12:40 pm

    Nice job Fatty. Excellent recap. Looking forward to the next couple of posts.

  9. Comment by Stacey | 05.3.2010 | 12:41 pm

    YAY IronFatty! YAY IronRunner!

  10. Comment by skippy | 05.3.2010 | 12:46 pm

    Well “Iron Couple”are a success but would love to see “Tandem blog entries” or a link to “Iron Runner Blog”!
    Congrats on succeeding & Exceeding!

  11. Comment by Ken | 05.3.2010 | 12:50 pm

    “Someone yanked my zipper down and I peeled down the top half of my suit.”

    Did you unzip the people in front of you? Did you know and expect this behavior? Did you feel a slight pressure?

    This must just be proper IronLemming etiquette that I don’t understand.

  12. Comment by Kathleen@ForgingAhead | 05.3.2010 | 12:52 pm

    I love this blow by blow recap – makes me feel like I’m there without waiting in long lines for the toilet or swimming 2 miles. Nice.

    EXCELLENT job Fatty! That’s such a strong swim.

  13. Comment by AngieG | 05.3.2010 | 12:53 pm

    “IronLemmings” classic!

    I am so happy you and The Runner had a great experience. Nice to have you back from the dark side.

  14. Comment by Chris | 05.3.2010 | 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve only completed Olympic distance triathlons, consider myself a strong swimmer, and I’m always relieved when the swim is behind me. I loved reading this as I continue to consider the possibility of an Ironman in my future. I might be good after reading your account. Anxiously awaiting more…

  15. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 05.3.2010 | 1:02 pm

    Ok, I’m done with part 1. You can go ahead and post part 2. Huh? Tomorrow? *sigh*

  16. Comment by M. Poopie, Esq. | 05.3.2010 | 1:02 pm

    Of course you lead with poop. In the end, what else is there? Keep on pushing out these blogs. Your writing is so well formed, by the way. What explosive text awaits us next I wonder? I for one look forward to seeing the end product of all your hard work. Well wort the wait, eh?

  17. Comment by Mandy | 05.3.2010 | 1:06 pm

    That is awesome, I totally know the feeling of siting and the buoy never seeming to get closer, then the next one just comes up quick. Laughed out loud at the IronLemmings.

  18. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 05.3.2010 | 1:14 pm

    Congrats! Your post gives me encouragement for my half mile tri swim in June. Except, I’m not using a wetsuit. But I know I’ll make it! Thanks!

  19. Comment by KanyonKris | 05.3.2010 | 1:28 pm

    Engaging tale, and only the first third.

    13:34, you crushed it!

  20. Comment by Hawkeye | 05.3.2010 | 1:53 pm

    Amazing time! Both in your actual time, and the time I had reading this. Odd to get so much enjoyment from reading about your adventures. Can’t wait for part 2.

  21. Comment by michwea | 05.3.2010 | 2:08 pm

    So darn impressive! Excellent swim! Can’t wait to see how the other two events go ;)

  22. Comment by Elizabeth | 05.3.2010 | 2:27 pm

    I was lucky to be a wetsuit stripper at the event and loved seeing the swimmers who emerged from the water in their right mind. Way to go! I was a little more freaked out by those who had no wits about them. Some had no clue what was going on, they were so hypothermic. We just had to force them to sit down so we could get them out of their wetsuits and wrap them in blankets. But congrats to all who made or even attempted the event. I am glad i got to participate in a little way and will attempt to compete in it one day.

  23. Comment by MattC | 05.3.2010 | 2:58 pm

    @ Elizabeth: “I was lucky to be a wetsuit stripper”…sorry, but that is pretty darn funny thing to say! But seriously Elizabeth, good on you for volunteering!

    Fatty…I can’t say enough how impressed I am…ESPECIALLY with the swim. You flat out blew me away with how well you did! I’m glad though that at least you did got the “someone clawed over me” experience…that is an integral part of any outdoor swim (only I was in Hawaii so was NOT wearing a wetsuit…I actually had claw marks on my back and sides afterwards). Can’t wait to read the next 2 installments…my hat is off to you both…Fatty, you are indeed an Ironman! (and Lisa…you are indeed an IronWOman!)

  24. Comment by MattC | 05.3.2010 | 3:09 pm

    “did got the”??? What the hay?? Editing…yikes!

  25. Comment by UACyclist | 05.3.2010 | 3:13 pm

    Yeah go IronCouple!! it’d be impressive if you just swam 2.1 miles and stopped, without a bike or run. Now that you completed the Ironman, I think logically next on the list is an ultramarathon?? Haha, maybe Leadville 100 foot race? Could be the “Enduro Fatty”

  26. Comment by GDubDub | 05.3.2010 | 3:16 pm

    Ok – so are TwinSix going to be making the “IronFatty” line of triathlon clothing ?

    I’d settle to buy a couple of tee shirts :))))

  27. Comment by Dan O | 05.3.2010 | 3:24 pm

    Fun post – looking forward to the rest of the story.

  28. Comment by Clydesteve | 05.3.2010 | 3:58 pm

    Great job IronFatty & IronRunner!

    Hats off. And, IronFatty, I certainly appreciated your profession, as listed on the stats sheet.

  29. Comment by MrDaveyGie | 05.3.2010 | 4:02 pm

    wow, impressive, job well done, now the rest of the story………….

  30. Comment by cyclingeurope | 05.3.2010 | 4:15 pm

    This is so friggin awesome! I get chills thinking about what you’ve done! Way to go. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  31. Comment by eclecticdeb | 05.3.2010 | 5:04 pm

    Amazing swim time…..REALLY amazing. I have a friend who trained for and IM a whole freaking YEAR, and missed the swim cutoff by 6 lousy minutes and was not allowed to continue. The thing is…she would have crushed the bike and the swim, and probably would have passed half the pack.

    That course was wicked — I know a few friends who were out there with you — one had to stop after 13 miles of the run — just too dehydrated to continue (and he’s done multiple triathlons, this just wasn’t his race).

    Seeing your pictures make me want to sign up for a race. I’ve been nursing a rotator cuff injury and missed “Wildflower” for the first time in 5 years. I’m having withdrawals.

  32. Comment by donbiker | 05.3.2010 | 5:08 pm

    Ironlemmings! I hurt my ribs laughing.Very impressive.

  33. Comment by stuckinmypedals | 05.3.2010 | 5:59 pm

    Good job, IronFatty and Lisa! Matt, such a graphic retelling of being “clawed over” in Hawaii. And I thought this was a family blog. ;)

  34. Comment by Charisa | 05.3.2010 | 6:08 pm

    Nice work on the swim! Can’t wait to read about your bike – where you SHINE!!!

  35. Comment by Zed | 05.3.2010 | 6:17 pm

    Do you know how encouraging that is for those of us who aren’t natural-born swimmers? Very cool, Fatty. Can’t wait to hear about the bike split.

  36. Comment by PLS | 05.3.2010 | 7:03 pm

    Very impressive indeed. The right gear can make all the difference, for sure. And then if you are still carrying a few extra pounds that probably helped too. Women dominate really cold water swimming because of their extra “insulation” which helps keep them warm and afloat.

    Probably the most amazing thing about this was that you even tried it, though!

    Hats off to you, I can’t imagine doing it, not with the running part.

  37. Comment by Noose and Goose | 05.3.2010 | 7:25 pm

    So very proud of both of you. WTG. You would make any cyclist proud (or any tri geek). Glad you survived and had fun (?)

  38. Comment by K_Deck | 05.3.2010 | 7:31 pm

    Congrats IronFatty and IronRunner! I’m so impressed with your time!

  39. Comment by kalli@fitandfortysomething | 05.3.2010 | 7:43 pm

    sounds like a great swim fatty!

  40. Comment by Jenni | 05.3.2010 | 7:47 pm

    My favorite part of that whole story was you saying someone unzipped you…I too would like to know if you expected this, if it’s customary, etc. Seems like such a kindness to extend to the “competition” in a race.

  41. Comment by Ian Thomson | 05.3.2010 | 7:51 pm

    I am impressed, after the work with Johan and now killing the swim. The pictures are amazing, and really captured that mass start. I think drafting really helped in the water.

    HOW COULD YOU SWIM SO STRAIGHT TO HIT A BUOY!!! You must have done lots of sighting drills in the pool!

  42. Comment by El_Animal | 05.3.2010 | 8:05 pm

    Shaving your legs is one thing but, did you shave your chest? Ugghh.

  43. Comment by Iron Oxide | 05.3.2010 | 8:08 pm

    This is confirmation for me that I’d never, ever do a triathalon (as if I needed any). :) But I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ll never understand why you did, but I’m glad for you nonetheless.

  44. Comment by Gomez | 05.3.2010 | 8:33 pm

    So, drafting behind someone isn’t okay, but clawing your way over their back is? IronPerson is a weird sport.

  45. Comment by bonbon | 05.3.2010 | 10:21 pm

    I remember when my daughter tried to teach her brother how to swim for his first triathalon…she came home and the first thing she said was “he’s going to drown!” Cudos to you for accomplishing this!!!

  46. Comment by Gary Webster | 05.3.2010 | 10:53 pm

    Fatty…I spoke with a race director from Ironman HQ Sunday in a post race wrap-up meeting. I asked how the St. George course rated with all other Ironman courses in the world. He said one race in Spain rivals St. George. On a scale of one to ten he rated St. George “a ten.” He also said some pros would use road bikes next year…because of the climbs. Congrats on the event!

  47. Comment by Betsy | 05.3.2010 | 11:57 pm

    Can hardly wait for part 2! Congrats again to the Iron couple! Awesome job.

  48. Comment by Cardiac Kid | 05.4.2010 | 6:08 am

    The Pre-race poop is no different than tossing your water bottles before the final sprint….just getting rid of the stuff you don’t need.

    Also, for those people that were hypothermic and barely able to function, did the volunteers try and warm them up or just put them on their bikes and point them in the proper direction?

  49. Comment by Niall@Brisvegas | 05.4.2010 | 7:10 am

    Another poop story? No sh!t…well at first! Sounds like you had a ball and you (we armchair Ironpeople) are only 1/3 of the way through. I find it difficult to swim to the end of the bathtub but am inspired by your journey. Might have to get some training…

  50. Comment by LesleyG | 05.4.2010 | 7:34 am

    Awesome! What a swim! Though I say I’ll never be able to do an Ironman, I just bookmarked the site for the wetsuits. Which is how it starts, I’m sure.

  51. Comment by Marla Gnarla | 05.4.2010 | 7:38 am

    IronLemmings….lol! Great job. I love to swim, but that type of swimming sounds terrifying! Wonder if all the participants had as insulating of a wetsuit as you two, what would the results look like? Looking forward to the next installment:)

  52. Comment by George Not Hincapie | 05.4.2010 | 9:03 am

    Excellent story! You had me hanging on every word! Bummed that we didn’t get the bike part of the story immediately following, but I’m sure it’s worth waiting for. And as a side note; you are a lot of work, what with the pooping and the forgetting, the runner must have patience!

  53. Comment by Shiny Flu | 05.4.2010 | 9:29 am

    Awesome poop! Oh I meant post!

  54. Comment by DC | 05.4.2010 | 9:36 am

    You did a great job making swimming sound interesting,. Well done!

  55. Comment by randy | 05.4.2010 | 9:51 am

    How does this course compare to the Silverman?

  56. Comment by Ironmanray | 05.9.2010 | 12:52 pm

    I was one of those who nearly froze to death during the swim. It took me 15 minutes in T1 to stop shivering. I need a warmer wetsuit. Maybe I will try the Aqua Sphere wetsuits next year. For those of us who took the 5 o’clock bus, the porta potty lines were an hour long which made me one of those who was still on the dry land ramp when the gun went off.

    Also the wind really picked up picked up for those that were behind you on the second loop.

  57. Comment by Nick Morgan | 05.17.2010 | 11:33 am

    I am laughing out loud. I am determined to do an IRONMAN one of these days. Thaks for sharing!

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