My Half-Ironman Training is Progressing Apace, Part 1

04.25.2013 | 8:01 am

Just under a month ago, I proposed a thought experiment which actually included very little thought at all: What if The Hammer and I duked it out in a Half-Ironman? With our respective strengths and weaknesses — although I think it would be folly to suggest that either of us has any weaknesses — will The Hammer win? Or will I?

I believe it is time for me to update you on our training progress, so you can update, recalibrate, ameliorate and otherwise tweak your expectations.

Kenny’s Prediction

A couple weekends ago, The Hammer and I visited St. George to scout out the Half-Ironman course. You know, swim where we’ll be swimming. Ride the ride. Run the run.

Wear the outfits.

As we often do, we stayed at Kenny’s and Heather’s house in St. George, which meant that we’d have good guides for our mountain bike rides (hey, we weren’t going to just be tri-dorks for the weekend), along with good company between rides, runs and swims. Oh, and we’d have a free place to stay, but that’s neither here nor there.

During dinner one of the evenings, the subject of whether The Hammer and I were really racing each other came up. “Sorta kinda but not really but also yes a little,” I replied, helpfully.

Then I added by way of clarification, “It’s not really that we’re racing against each other. During the race itself, I’m not going to be thinking about beating Lisa; I’m just going to be focusing on being as fast as I can.”

“That said,” I said, “this really is an interesting race for us. Lisa thinks I’ll win because I’m fast on the bike — faster than I’ve ever been, in fact. I on the other hand think she’ll win because she’s been training on the swim (while I have been swimming only a couple times since we signed up) and is fast on the run — faster than she’s ever been, in fact.”

“Here’s what I think,” Kenny mused. “The fact that Lisa starts the race six minutes before Elden should be thrown out. All that does is give Elden a carrot, plus the bike portion — Elden’s strong suit — of the event is longer than any other part. So the question shouldn’t be which of you has a faster chip time, but which of you will cross the finish line first in real time.”

“That’s a good point,” I agreed. And it’s really true. Having The Hammer six minutes ahead of me from the start of the race really will give me a psychological boost — the carrot effect will be in full force.

“So if you go by which of you crosses the finish line first, in real time, I’m going with Lisa, concluded Kenny. “Once she gets close to Elden on the run, he’ll sag and slow way down. She’ll pass him and finish a few minutes ahead.”

And I should point out that Kenny has a preternatural ability to look someone over and predict their finish time and place for a given race. 

Panic at the Reservoir

One of our objectives during the St. George trip was to familiarize ourselves with everything, including doing a swim at the reservoir. But as we paid our fee to get into the Sand Point Reservoir and saw “Water temp: 55″ written on a whiteboard, I had serious reservations. Because that’s cold water.

“We’ve got to be ready for it,” The Hammer said. “Get that uncertainty out of our systems.” 

So we pulled on our wetsuits and climbed — barefoot — down a slope of volcanic rock to the swimming area of the reservoir.

This is probably a good place to mention that I have unusually sensitive feet (or maybe I’m just a big baby) and so I never go anywhere barefoot. Even walking around my own house, I always wear shoes. As a cyclical result, I have very few calluses on my feet . . . which means that they remain unusually sensitive.

And in short, walking down a slope of sharp rocks was neither fun nor fast for me, and I was grateful to step into the water.

Until, that is, I actually stepped into the water. Because at that moment I discovered that 55 degrees is actually colder than freezing.

I gasped and began breathing shallowly. Rapidly. Unhappily.

Meanwhile, The Hammer had waded in up to her waist level. Slowly, steadily.

“Oh, let’s just get this over with,” I said, figuring it would be better to just dive in — kind of like it’s better to just rip a bandaid off.

Diving in was not better.

“Goarrgh!” I said as I came up, by which I meant, “COLD!

And then I commenced to panic. Not just feel anxiety and discomfort. Real, honest-to-goodness, out-of-control thrashing wide-eyed panic

I managed to half-swim, half-dog-paddle to an outcropping of rocks, then drag myself up onto it. I intended to never get back in the water.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I told The Hammer.

“You just need to work your way into the water slowly,” she replied. “It was a shock diving in and hitting that cold all at once.”

“I said I’m not going back in,” I screeched, shrilly. 

“Just wade in. S-l-o-w-l-y,” she said, slowly.

I AM NOT GOING BACK IN,” I reiterated, in the verbal equivalent of bold and caps and italics and with numerous exclamation points at the end.

But of course, I did go back in. Slowly, just as The Hammer suggested (of course). And I was fine (of course).

But still, it was . . . interesting . . . to have my first experience with true uncontrollable panic. And to know that within a few weeks, I’d be back in the same water, but starting with more nervousness because I’d be about to race. 

I should just poop in my wetsuit now and get it over with.

PS: In the next installment of my analysis of my training for the upcoming (May 4 for crying out loud!) St. George Half Ironman, I shall talk about the ride, the run, and a number of things that are making my training much better. I may also show a picture of me in a one-piece Tri suit. I apologize in advance. 


  1. Comment by Barton | 04.25.2013 | 8:30 am

    jumping/diving into cold water (though 55 degrees seems rather balmy at the present) is only for polar plunges and rescue situations. The Hammer (as per usual) is the voice of reason.

    But, you’ll be fine the day of, you know it! But let me suggest starting from the edge of the group, or lagging behind, b/c getting beat up/treated as chum on the swim portion of a tri is even less fun when your body is numb from the cold. The kick in the head will be infinitely worse in cold water. Experience talking.

    Good luck. GOOOO “The Hammer!”

  2. Comment by Lorraine | 04.25.2013 | 9:06 am

    I panic about half the time at triathlon swims, it’s nice to know I’m in good company :-) Sometimes it’s the cold and sometimes it’s the crowds…

  3. Comment by Bee T | 04.25.2013 | 9:14 am

    I definitely panicked at Leadman- having NEVER panicked in water in my entire life, it was a little eye opening! Just remember you can always do the backstroke until you feel better. It’ll be ok. (I did the entire Leadman swim in the backstroke!)

  4. Comment by bikemike | 04.25.2013 | 9:26 am

    I would like to see the Hammer challenge you to a deck hand competiton on Deadlisest Catch because i think that would be entertaining.

  5. Comment by Christina | 04.25.2013 | 9:33 am

    “He’d go faster is he wasn’t carrying those marbles in his wetsuit.”


    “Oh. Apologies.”

  6. Comment by PiinkBike | 04.25.2013 | 10:10 am

    The photo in the tri-suit? That’s real courage!

  7. Comment by Mellabella | 04.25.2013 | 10:24 am

    I swam at Sand Hollow a couple weeks ago and had a frighteningly similar experience only yours sounds so much funnier than I remember mine being…. I am going to follow your wife’s advice to the letter!! and hope it helps.

  8. Comment by centurion | 04.25.2013 | 11:05 am

    She is going to kick your ass by an epic amount.

  9. Comment by ClydeinKS | 04.25.2013 | 11:28 am

    surely you’re planning on some brick workouts to help that run portion, although surely the Hammer is doing the same. Just guessing but you may need to overcome 30 minutes from the swim and run portions and that is also one FAST carrot, will be very interesting.
    I’m glad to read that I am not the only backstroker, although may be the worst at maintaining my line in the open water while backstroking. For a mile swim distance, I swear I’ve swam 1.5 miles with all the zig-zagging :) Not good to extend the distance of your worst portion, although it makes it much easier to locate your bike and leaves MANY carrots on the course :) :)

  10. Comment by Clydesteve | 04.25.2013 | 12:23 pm

    Don’t you have wetsuit booties for the swim, Fatty?

  11. Comment by Jeff | 04.25.2013 | 12:41 pm

    Hope to see you in the starting corral at St George! I was dreading the winds kicking up during the swim (like they did in the 140.6 last year), but now am dreading the water temperature. Thanks for that!

    According to the race officials, it should be 10 degrees warmer on race day. Fingers crossed! – FC

  12. Comment by kyle. | 04.25.2013 | 1:10 pm

    55 degrees is only bad when you’re not used to it. i resumed surfing this winter for the first time in years and it didn’t take long for me to get back my comfort level in the cold water. now it’s up to about 60 and i’m getting ready to ditch my fullsuit.

  13. Comment by CHEESE BURGER | 04.25.2013 | 1:32 pm

    I am hungry

  14. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.25.2013 | 1:52 pm

    @FC and @Jeff

    The water can warm by 10 degrees by race day? Have they added some electric eels?

  15. Comment by T.J | 04.25.2013 | 2:17 pm

    Good to know what I’m in for. I have signed on to a triathlon (I was dared), so just went out and bought a wetsuit yesterday. Should be interesting. I’m not a very fast swimmer, which means I will be in the water for some time.. The race will be june 15th. The lake were we’ll be swimming is still frozen over. The locals say we can hope the ice has thawed by late May.. I’m shivering already…

  16. Comment by Brian in VA | 04.25.2013 | 2:25 pm

    Panic? Now you know my feeling whenever I get in the water. You see, I can’t swim due to a fear of the water. This is why I’ll never do a triathlon.

    Good luck to you both. 10 degrees by race day? Ahahahahahahaha!

  17. Comment by Al Pastor | 04.26.2013 | 7:35 am

    Does your wetsuit fit properly? I find 50s water temperatures fine (except for cold feet) in my wetsuit. Just a swimsuit, not so much.

  18. Comment by Rick | 04.26.2013 | 8:30 am

    As a suggestion – if you’re going in to really cold water, it sometimes helps to splash a bit on your face first. Lessens the shock to your system when you do start swimming, and helps calm you down a bit.

  19. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.26.2013 | 8:36 am

    Added thought to residents of Utah. Use caution when buying a ‘used’ wetsuit from Craigslist. Especially after May 5th.

  20. Comment by Wife#1 | 04.26.2013 | 11:02 am

    Team Fatty peeps…. If you were on the fence about joining us for the Livestrong Davis event June 23, they are offering a half off deal on registration through May 7, an athlete is matching half the fee during this period. You can use the link below. Hope you can join us! It will be the first time for me and our 2 kids (we are all signed up for the 100 miles) but I know lots of experienced Team Fatty members will be there and it’s quite the weekend fun fest! And yes, there will be LOTS of pie.

    Here is the link with the registration discount:

  21. Comment by Jenni | 04.26.2013 | 12:17 pm

    I’ve had that panic. /shudder

  22. Comment by Nic Grillo | 04.26.2013 | 2:08 pm

    Don’t poop in your wetsuit. It will turn out worse that you could imagine. Just ask my brother in law…

  23. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.27.2013 | 12:23 am

    After Mr. Grillo’s latest addition I’ve decided against buying ANY used wetsuits.

  24. Comment by Leroy | 04.27.2013 | 7:50 pm

    Only your first experience with uncontrollable panic?


    My dog has a name for my experiences of uncontrollable panic.

    He calls them “Monday.”

    On the other hand, no way am I stepping into 55 degree water voluntarily.

  25. Comment by Andyh | 04.28.2013 | 7:07 am

    I’ve been reading this blog for years but still have to pull up for half a second everytime someone uses “Eldon”. I’m like, who the hell is that? They’re not in this story..oh, right. That’s fatty.

  26. Comment by Marsupial MattC | 04.28.2013 | 9:46 am

    I’ve always thought of wetsuits as cheating…(but that’s mostly sour grapes talking…and also consider that all the distance swims I’ve done were in Hawaiian waters).

    If only there was some magic device to give me wings in the run, I’d call it even. Until that time, there will be no Tri future for my broken down volleyball knees. Swimming and biking will just have to do. But I’m ok wit that (to me, running is like hitting yourself with a hammer…it feels good when you stop). Good luck Fatty, but I’m thinking it’s gonna be the Hammer by about 3 minutes…all Tri’s are weighted towards the runners (when they make a tri where the run, swim and bike portions all take roughly the same amount of time for elite athletes, THEN it will be equal for all). But you’re gonna flat-out FLY on the bike portion…ride like the wind my friend!

  27. Comment by Marsupial MattC | 04.28.2013 | 9:50 am

    Oh…and as Wife#1 has mentioned…Davis is LESS THAN two months away! We’ve all got work to do (and uhm, we could use a larger team). JOIN US! It’s an absolute BLAST!!!!!!!! (I look forward to the LIVESTRONG weekend all year!)

    And make sure your travel plans bring you in on Friday afternoon so you can make the Cycling Hall of Fame on Friday evening! (all sweetly arranged every year by my Sista’ from anotha Mist’a AngieG!) June is coming FAST!

  28. Comment by Tammy | 04.28.2013 | 1:26 pm

    Great panic-prevention tip given to me by a race director: when you get into cold water, spend the first few minutes putting your face in the water and blowing bubbles. The cold makes you want to inhale but makes it difficult to exhale. If you’re not expecting it, you’ll hyperventilate and possibly panic. It takes me a solid five minutes to get my breathing under control, but now that I know what’s coming, at least I’m calm about it. It’s amazing how HARD it is to exhale at first!

  29. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 04.28.2013 | 10:26 pm

    @MattC@GreggC see this video link of motorcycle madness on Mulholland. Gregg may know the Fatty in the video, more than likely the injured cyclists and the backstory. I hope he can share.

    Shout out to Wife#1 and the kids 9 and 12. 50 miles today in prep for a metric next weekend and the Livestrong ride in June. Using this forum to say how blown away I am by her and the kids!

    Still not buying any used wetsuits.

  30. Comment by Bek | 04.28.2013 | 10:54 pm

    Nice to know I’m not the only one who panics in the swim! My first open water swim, and my third triathlon, I went into the ocean and was fine with the water temp (5mil wetsuits are amazing). But after a few minutes of feeling people grab my legs and not wanting to put my face in the water, I freaked out! There is no more scary feeling than having a full-blown panic attack in the midst of a hundred or so frenzied swimmers. I ended up on a surfboard and my hopes for an excellent time were doused. But after a few more times in the ocean, I got used to the feeling. We just gotta keep getting in that water! Thanks for the motivating story!

  31. Comment by Mike Roberts | 04.29.2013 | 7:59 am

    I feel your pain going in that cold water, I’ve done it before in my army training and it sucked!

  32. Comment by David-Burley | 05.1.2013 | 9:04 am

    Based on a couple of studies, DCRainmaker recommends getting into cold water and swimming for a couple of minutes before the gun to calm your breathing down, so you don’t panic and/or drowned.

    Good luck to both of you this weekend!

  33. Comment by panic exit devices | 06.2.2013 | 8:37 am

    Thank you. ? I’ve a glass company developing this week and an individual for your panic bar put up.


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