I Am (Half) IronFatty: 2013 St. George Half Ironman Race Report, Part 1

05.6.2013 | 12:04 pm

I could start this story by talking about everything that comes before doing a half-Ironman. The fact that you have to go register in one place, then drop off your bike and riding gear in another place, then go drop your running stuff in yet another place, and then go put all your morning-of gear together for the start of the race.

But I’m pretty sure I already went over all that. So let’s start with the single most-important thing in the world of racing:


IMG 6346

This is the most common sight in all the world of bike, running, and triathlon: standing in line to use the bathroom.

And, if you’re like me, your nerves act up before the race so much that, immediately upon finishing using the toilet, you just go get back in line to use it again. Because you know that by the time you get to the front of the line, you’re going to need it.

Well, I’m happy to report that — for the first time ever in my whole history of racing — I was the first person to use one of those port-potties. Which is to say, it was clean, there was no stench, and the packaging was still on both of the toilet paper rolls.

Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that for every race port-potty, there’s someone who uses it first. 

It was a grand moment, let me tell you. An auspicious portent that things were going to go well for me.

Lest you think I lead a purely charmed life, however, please note that for my next trip to a porta-potty, the seat and front of the toilet were entirely covered with diarrhea. 

And with that image seared into your mind, let’s talk about the race, shall we?

Isolation and Ennui, Punctuated by a Vicious Stabbing

Standing on the beach, waiting for my turn to get in the water, I watched The Hammer’s wave begin. She was starting six minutes before me; I had no idea whether I’d catch her during the swim or drop further behind.

I reflected on the fact that I had been to the bathroom six times since I had arrived at the starting line more than three hours ago. And that, given the time and opportunity, I wouldn’t mind going one more time.

But there was no more time. My race — nearly an hour after the first wave of pros had gone (and half an hour since I had seen some of them take off on their bikes) — it was my turn to swim out and begin my 1.2-mile swim.

I waded into the water, gingerly. I splashed water onto my face, hoping to get a sense of how cold it was. Would I panic, like the last time I had been swimming here?

Not bad. Not too cold. 

I swam out to the starting line, the horn blew, and I was off.

I did not hurry.

As a terrible swimmer, I understand one very important thing: any extra effort I put into swimming results not in more speed, but merely more splashing and thrashing. So I swam at the pace I always swim. 

The swim course was a two-turn affair. Here’s a Very Helpful Map to show you what it looked like:


Swim out to the first red buoy, turn left, swim to the second red buoy, turn left, and swim for the shore. No problem, right? 

Well, actually there were two problems. 

First, this map lies in the most horrible way possible. Looking at it, you would think that the longest straight line is the first one.


The first section went quickly. I swam straight, rarely bumping into anyone, never losing sight of my targets: the red “turn here” buoy and the intermediate yellow waypoint buoys.

Then I turned left and was required to swim around the world, thrice.

I don’t know how many yellow buoys there were, but I am quite certain that this number kept getting larger, for at one point I counted four . . . then after passing a buoy I looked up and counted five. Perhaps this was due to the difficulty of viewing buoys that were hidden by the curve of the earth.

I began to veer left as my swimming form degrades from “horrible” to “an insult to the term ’swimming form.’” A nice man in a kayak yelled at me to get my attention; I waved and veered back toward where I was supposed to go.

Eventually — oh so very eventually — I made the final turn. I could see the dock. I knew I had fallen very far behind my wave; nobody near me had the same color swim cap as mine. I didn’t care. I kept swimming. I’d be done with this miserable exercise in repetition, isolation, and sensory deprivation soon. 

And then someone stabbed me.

OK, it just felt like someone stabbed me. In reality, my right calf cramped up. Bad. I had the charlie horse to end all charlie horses. 

I flexed my foot. That helped for a second, but as soon as I started kicking the cramp returned. 

I pointed my foot. No better. So for the last five minutes of the swim, I just hobbled in, kicking my left foot and dragging my right. 

Then — to my relief — I was on the dock. As I put weight on my foot my calf stretched out; the cramp went away. I laughed with the pleasure one only experiences at the sudden absence of pain.

I managed to unzip my wetsuit, then laid down on my back as a couple of women pulled my wetsuit off me — the effort almost causing them to tumble to the ground, as if they had just suddenly won a tug-of-war.

I stumble-ran toward my bike, keeping an eye out for The Hammer — or at least her space — to see whether she was ahead of or behind me at this point.

There she was: helmet and glasses on, and putting on her shoes. Moments away from leaving. So I had neither gained nor lost much time. I yelled, “You’re doing great, Honey!” and  kept running toward my own bike, which — to my delight — I found without difficulty.

I pulled on my socks and shoes, put on my glasses and helmet, stuffed a gel under each short leg, and two gels each in each pocket (so a total of six gels). I grabbed my bike and — guiding it by holding onto the stem — guided it toward the end of the transition area.

I ran across the timing mat, swung a leg over, and began the part of the half-Ironman I was actually looking forward to.

What I didn’t realize was that I was ten seconds away from being simultaneously horrified and dejected at my prospects for the rest of the race.

Which seems like a good place to begin Part 2 of this story. 


  1. Comment by Maggi | 05.6.2013 | 12:11 pm

    You and your cliff-hangers, Fatty! Darnit, man!

  2. Comment by Jim Tolar | 05.6.2013 | 12:19 pm

    Fatman, if there is money to be made in mulit-part posts that leave your readers hanging EVERY SINGLE TIME, despite their advance knowledge (based on history) that you’re going to do it again, then you should be a rich guy.

    Centurion, 100MilesToNowhere (Dobson Ranch Edition)

  3. Comment by Davidh-Marin,ca | 05.6.2013 | 12:25 pm

    Yeah!!!! multi-part story.

    Fatty consider next time making this a fundraiser. The next chapter does not begin until we’ve collected $xxx.oo (s) for the charity du jour (that’s charity of the day’).

    You’ll have to come out to the coast for the Best Buddies Ride through Big Sur. the porta potties had little lights and a bouquet of flowers in them. But it is California after all.

    Looking forward to more….and have checkbook ready if required.

  4. Comment by blair | 05.6.2013 | 12:36 pm

    did you shout “FIRST POOP!”?

  5. Comment by ScottyCycles | 05.6.2013 | 12:51 pm

    Ah Fatty you are the master of the cliffhanger!

  6. Comment by Tim | 05.6.2013 | 12:56 pm

    Funny. The photo I uploaded from my race this weekend was the seemingly infinite line of port-o-johns (to which I was a first-comer).

  7. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 05.6.2013 | 1:02 pm

    Image seared. Thanks….

  8. Comment by zeeeter | 05.6.2013 | 1:06 pm

    Gosh-darned cliffhangers!

    I have a horrible mental image of the new “Portapotty Shotgun” shout . . .

  9. Comment by zeeeter | 05.6.2013 | 1:06 pm

    Out of interest, how much weight did you gain after the event?

  10. Comment by Christina | 05.6.2013 | 1:22 pm

    Um, is it bad triathlon etiquette to pee while swimming? I’m just thinking that in running and biking, you can just pee, but swimming in open water seems a little more forgiving. Of course, if EVERYONE nervous peed in their wetsuit, it would be gross.

  11. Comment by Clydesteve | 05.6.2013 | 2:05 pm

    Um Fatty, you said:”First, this map lies in the most horrible way possible. Looking at it, you would think that the longest straight line is the first one.

    No, no I wouldn’t, and neither would Pythagoras. Trust me on this.

    You also “stuffed a gel under each short leg” which either confuses me, while simultaneously filling me with awe and admiration, by one interpretation of “short leg”, or makes me think you have a heretofore unrevealed body image problem.

    Let me assure you, Fatty we all think the world of you even if your legs are short!

  12. Comment by Jeff | 05.6.2013 | 2:11 pm

    Glad to know I wasn’t the only one that suffered from calf cramps during the swim! This was the first race this has happened for me – first the right calf at the second red buoy, then the left calf a couple of minutes later. Ouch!

    It was great to see you before the start of the swim. You and The Hammer looked mighty fit!

  13. Comment by randy | 05.6.2013 | 2:14 pm

    As I’ve said before: For a surfer, my swimming is surprisingly bad; stone-like, in fact. And by “Stone-like,” I mean that in a Brian Jones kinda way.

  14. Comment by Kukui | 05.6.2013 | 2:26 pm

    Oh no, cliffhanger! I’m trying to resist going to the IronMan website and finding the results!

  15. Comment by Grego | 05.6.2013 | 2:53 pm

    Socks? No 3-Sums for you yet, Fatty? Maybe you’ll get lucky soon, nudge nudge wink wink.

  16. Comment by centurion | 05.6.2013 | 2:53 pm

    I’ll take a guess, since you say you guided your bike by the stem, and not by the seat like a real bike person would, you didn’t notice that your bike had no seat! Lets all hope it wasn’t a bare seat post. OUCH!

  17. Comment by Jonathan Cain | 05.6.2013 | 2:54 pm


    I read your post, and I liked it a lot! As you can probably tell by my email address, I work for a company called SwimLabs that specializes in helping people learn to swim fast, faster. We do a lot of work with people who are kind of “new” to the tri game and whom either don’t have a lot of experience swimming and are trying to “survive” their swim and also triathletes who are looking to start being more competitive in their swims.

    Would you be at all interested in learning more about what we do? I’d love to provide you with good technical swimming resources that might be of use to you in your swimming and blog

  18. Comment by UpTheGrade SR,CA | 05.6.2013 | 3:12 pm

    Forgot to fill your water bottle Fatty? Tires too soft? Wrong Bike? No padding in your shorts? Gels on legs worked their way loose and “interfered” with proper cycling function? An alien bursts out of your chest thus making it hard for you to read your HRM? The possibilities are endless!
    I’m on the edge of my seat just waiting for you to reveal the shocking truth!

  19. Comment by Wife#1 | 05.6.2013 | 5:04 pm

    Awesome cliffhanger and what a great first part of the report! *drumming fingers till the next one*

    They always say you should lead with your strengths, so going right to the potty tale was masterful ;-)

  20. Comment by Ian | 05.6.2013 | 6:12 pm

    You were overtaken by Taylor Swift?

  21. Comment by Felipe | 05.6.2013 | 7:12 pm

    “And, if you’re like me, your nerves act up before the race so much that, immediately upon finishing using the toilet, you just go get back in line to use it again. Because you know that by the time you get to the front of the line, you’re going to need it.”

    Good to know that I’m not alone :)

  22. Comment by Rach | 05.7.2013 | 4:46 am

    It’s ALL about the cliffhanger fatty haha :)

  23. Comment by Ellen | 05.7.2013 | 5:05 am

    *Sigh.* Waiting. Patiently. Or, not so much.

  24. Comment by Chris | 05.7.2013 | 5:49 am

    Just wondering….for this half ironman how many others were on tri-specific bikes and had time trial helmets?

    I’d guess about 60% had tri-specific bikes and 40% had TT helmets. – FC

  25. Comment by Jacob | 05.7.2013 | 6:49 am

    I went to watch the half Ironman in Augusta, GA last year to decide if it’s something I’d want to do. They actually have the transition area for both the bike and run in the same place. Registration was in a hotel at the start of the swim about a mile from the transition the finish line was 2 blocks away from the river/hotel. Apparently, that’s a really convenient route if it’s normal to have to make multiple drops.

    Makes sense, though. Half Ironman and Ironman courses are huge.

  26. Comment by Jacob | 05.7.2013 | 7:14 am

    Also, unless there’s a current in that lake, you’re fudging about how bad you are at swimming. Your per-mile pace was 34:36 per mile. I swim faster than that in quarter-mile swims on the Atlantic coast where the current assists most of the swim (it runs south-to-north here and all the beach triathlons swim north), but that’s actually a hair faster than my lake swims, even the one I do in the Okefenokee Swamp where I assume I’m being chased by alligators (and the water is so black you can’t tell that you aren’t).

    I would just assume that I’m ridiculously slow, but I’m usually in the top half of male swim times and have a small competitive swimming background (that ended in 7th grade when I realized I hated swimming.) Maybe the competition level at an Ironman is that much deeper? Would make sense given the price between a random sprint and a real Ironman event.

    I was 1248 overall in the swim, which puts me in the back third or so of the racers. I was 141st in the swim in my age group, which puts me in the back 25% of the men my age racing. So I’m not the last guy out of the water, but there was definitely way more than half the field gone by the time I got out of the water. – FC

  27. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Half of an IronFatty is Still Fat: St. George Half Ironman Race Report Part the Second | 05.7.2013 | 9:02 am

    [...] « I Am (Half) IronFatty: 2013 St. George Half Ironman Race Report, Part 1 [...]

  28. Comment by Jenni | 05.8.2013 | 11:29 am

    I have had that same experience with the porta potties. I remember getting the very first use of the “kybo” in RAGBRAI and it was magnificent. Getting up at 4:00 every day after that was totally worth it.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.