This story has its beginnings just over three weeks ago. The Swimmer — whom many of you will remember from The Turkey Tri and last year’s Utah Half Race Report – had accompanied a friend on a long training run. A thirteen mile training run. And in spite of the fact that she had not been doing anything longer than short runs up to that point, she had finished it just fine.
And so she had an idea.
The Swimmer called The Hammer and asked, in a concerned voice, “Do you think Elden will feel bad if, instead of doing the Utah Half as part of a relay, I do it on my own?”
I thought about it. Would I be intrigued at the thought of her doing an endurance race when she had essentially no training in the two longest parts of a three-part race? I sure would. Would I be amazed at her tenacity if she could pull it off? I sure would.
Would I feel bad? No way.
And as for The Hammer, she was overjoyed at not having to do the run. With all the emphasis she’s had to put on bike racing this summer, she hasn’t been running much at all, and was not looking forward to racing a half-marathon.
“But before we sign you up,” The Hammer said, “Let’s see how you feel after going on a 50-mile bike ride, followed by a six-mile run.”
You see, up to this point, The Swimmer had never been on a bike ride of longer than 20 miles. But she was happy to give it a try.
And she did awesome. By the time she finished the fifty miles she was pretty cooked, but she did it. And then she did a six mile run-walk with The Hammer.
“OK, it looks like this is for real,” we said, and we signed her up.
That, by the way, was pretty much the end of her training. She did another 30-mile ride, and a couple short runs, but three weeks doesn’t give you a ton of time to build up your endurance base.
The Dream Team
Meanwhile, I had an idea.
“You have a friend who’s a really fast swimmer,” I said, “and another who’s a wicked-fast runner. All of you are in your forties. Why don’t the three of you put together an all-women, 40+ relay team that will almost certainly take the overall relay division, including beating all the men’s teams?”
The Hammer liked that idea, but her friends had other stuff going on that weekend already. Plus she was really excited to support and watch The Swimmer in her race.
“OK,” I said. “Do you mind if I get together a couple of guys and field a relay team?”
Nope, she didn’t mind.
So I called my friend Bry — who has qualified for and raced the Kona Ironman — and asked him if he’d like to go for a little swim. He was in.
“And do you have any ideas for a fast guy for a run?” I asked.
“There’s a kid — Vic Johnson — who works for me. He can pull consistent six-minute miles for the whole run.”
I started laughing. And laughing. I couldn’t help it.
“Since two of us (Bry and me) average out to about 50 years old, and the other of us (Vic) is a college kid, let’s call ourselves ‘Two and a Half Grumpy Old Men,’” I said.
We had our team.
Left to right: Bry, Vic, Fatty, the morning before the race.
We got to the Utah Lake marina — from which all three legs of the race would start — at about 6:30. We formed a very carefully-thought-out team strategy: Everyone go at their absolute, utter limit. We knew that if we each had an incredible day, we had a shot at finishing in under four hours.
Meanwhile, The Hammer was having a blast, fussing over and prepping The Swimmer for her race.
Here, The Hammer is making sure every square inch of The Swimmer’s skin is covered in BodyGlide.
As you can see, The Swimmer was really enjoying herself.
Then she was ready to go:
The waves for the beginning of the swim started. Since The Swimmer was a woman under the age of 34, though, she had a twelve minute wait before she took off.
Then we had another four minute wait ’til Bry went — relays were the final wave to leave before the non-competitive wetsuit wave left.
Which meant that my team didn’t start until sixteen minutes after the pros and elites. Which suited me just fine, because that meant I was almost guaranteed to not run out of carrots.
After Bry’s wave started, I found an outhouse, pooped, and changed into my riding clothes, then hung around in the transition area near my seventeen year old boy, who had gotten up early to come to the race and provide moral support to both The Swimmer and me.
He loves being photographed. Obviously.
If there was ever any question about whether 2.5 Grumpy Old Men was taking this race seriously, it ended as Bry came charging out of the water at an absolute dead sprint.
Bry had just done the 1.4-mile swim (longer than the 1.2 it was supposed to be) in 34:24 — making him the fourth-fastest swimmer overall in the race; the only three people who were faster than Bry were all men in the Pro / Elite category.
Our secret plan — of winning not just the relay category, but of having the fastest overall time of the day — was looking downright possible.
Bry sprinted the entirety of the longish run back to the transition area, then stopped, doubled over, while Vic moved the timing chip from Bry’s ankle over to mine.
Looking at me — and I’m incredibly grateful there are no pictures of me here — you could see that I was absolutely happy to sacrifice personal dignity for speed. I had my Shiv set up with water in the in-frame fuelselage (no water bottles to give me increased drag), a skinsuit and time trial helmet on, and my legs and arms — yes, arms — freshly shaven.
But we’ll get back to me in a minute.
Just a few minutes after Bry came charging in, The Swimmer came running in, having just given a serious demonstration as to how she got her nickname: This seventeen-year-old girl had just clocked the fourth-fastest time in the swim of any woman in the race. Yes, including all women in the Pro / Elite category.
The Swimmer made a quick transition and headed out on what would be the longest ride of her life (remember, she had only ridden 50 miles once before, and this is a 56-mile course).
In 2012, I had done this ride in 2:19:47. This year, I hoped to do considerably better.
And so I kept in mind how hard Bry had gone, taking this race seriously. And I kept my effort right on the threshold of blowing up. I know where that point is; I can feel it happening when it starts. And I’ve learned how to back off just enough that I don’t crack, then hold that speed for a few seconds, and then start ramping up again.
And I started passing people.
I’d see someone, and I’d reel them in, and then I’d be past them. Sometimes I’d say, “Hey.” Mostly not though. I just wanted to attack, catch, and demolish anyone I could see.
I didn’t think in words very often. But I do remember thinking to myself, “This is what bloodlust must feel like.”
I was hurting so bad, but I wanted it to hurt even more. I hated it and loved it.
A full-on total-effort TT is a beautiful, purifying experience. (Or at least, that’s how I remember it now.)
Before I got even halfway to the turnaround of this out-and-back course, I had stopped seeing people in front of me very often.
Then I saw the first racer come by me in the opposite direction. I started counting as I got to the turnaround point.
I got to twelve, which dropped to ten within a minute of the turnaround.
And then nine, and then eight.
With twenty-two miles left to go, I was in a non-adjusted ninth place. And I knew that every single one of those eight people ahead of me had at least a ten-minute head start on me.
I looked up and saw The Swimmer. I got a huge smile, feeling so happy that she was doing so well. She was almost to the turnaround.
I caught one more. I had moved us to what was — worst-case scenario — eighth place.
I focused on the road, watching it carefully. The road was in terrible condition, with lots of gravel, serious cracks and potholes, and numerous tight corners, many of which were in bad condition.
“This road is going to end someone’s race in a really bad way,” I thought. And I could see I was at least partially right already — I lost count of how many people I had seen on the side of the road, working on flats.
Then I saw something I’m still trying to work out. I saw a racer coming in the opposite direction of me. Just before I got to him, he flipped a U-turn and continued in the direction I was riding. Was he giving up? Cutting off a third of the course and cheating? Not even in the race?
I had no idea. I passed him, failing to read his number, and kept going.
I didn’t see another rider in the final fifteen miles of the ride course. It was just me and the course marshals and the road markings.
I am very pleased to say, by the way, that I did not make a single wrong turn this year. So, yay me!
I rolled into the marina, where I was blocked by a car — stopped — in the middle of the race course. Luckily, there was another road lane open, so I managed to swerve around the car, heard — but didn’t see — The Hammer cheering for me, and then I was in the transition area.
Vic swapped the timing chip anklet onto his ankle, and was gone at what would be a sprint for me, but what for him was his normal running pace.
I had just done my ride in 2:07:28, which means I had averaged 25.1mph for 53.3 miles (which is a few miles too short to be an actual half-iron distance race, but whatever). Eventually, we’d find out that only one person had been faster on the bike that day: Rory Duckworth, with a blisteringly fast time of 2:03:14 — on average, a whole mile per hour faster than me.
Endings, Some Happier Than Others
As I walked my bike back to my truck, where I’d change and then go cheer on Vic as he ran by at impossible speeds, The Hammer had some bad news for me.
“The Swimmer just called,” she said. “She’s crashed.”
I immediately thought of all the gravel and potholes and bad road and corners and the fact that The Swimmer has ridden a road bike around five times in her life.
Evidently, The Swimmer had hit a pothole, lost control, and gone down hard on her left side.
“The handlebar is broken and I’m really scraped up,” she said (which makes two handlebars she’s broken in four months, versus the zero I’ve broken in twenty years).
Yup, that’s broken (but The Hammer didn’t realize it was this broken during the call).
“But I still want to finish the race,” The Swimmer said, and the conversation ended there. The Hammer went to wait for The Swimmer at the transition area, and I went to cheer for Vic.
Vic flew by in moments, overtaking people by the dozens.
“I’ll see you at the finish line!” I shouted, and then walked back to the transition area to hang around with The Hammer and wait for The Swimmer to get there and see if she was well enough to finish her race.
But she was already back. The policeman and medic who had been close by when The Swimmer crashed had agreed: her bike was not safe to ride (I agree completely). Also, judging from the state of her helmet, The Swimmer had taken a good hard hit on the head.
And so they had given her a ride back. It doesn’t matter how tough you are (and The Swimmer is clearly just like her mom, toughness-wise); if the officials say you’re out…well, you’re out.
So everyone headed home, leaving me to stick around to watch Vic come in.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Only three people had crossed the line when Vic came charging in, running what I would have called way too fast for him to have just done a marathon. I joined him, thinking we’d cross the line together.
But I couldn’t hang. Nope, not even for fifty feet. By the time he crossed the finish line, Vic was twenty feet ahead of me.
His split was 1:18:54, making him the second-fastest runner of the day. The only person to outrun Vic was BJ Christensen, the overall winner of the individual event. And that was only by 38 seconds.
More importantly, Team 2.5 Grumpy Old Men had just completed this race in 4:01, making us the fastest time not just of the relay division, but of the entire race. With six minutes to spare.
Here we are with the third-place team, Team Darkhorse. Bry had to get home to other stuff, and the second place team didn’t stick around for the awards ceremony.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
With the race and awards ceremony out of the way, I came home to see how bad The Swimmer looked.
Ow. That looks bad.
And she’s got road rash pretty much all up and down her left arm, hip, and leg, along with cuts and bruising on the inside of her right leg, from being still clipped in when she went down.
And a very sore neck.
And a concussion.
And so I asked her, not waiting for the memory of the fall to fade, because that’s not my way, “Are you going to try again next year?”
“Of course I am,” she replied.
Which is exactly what I hoped she’d say.