A Half-Iron Triathalong is Twice Too Long: Utah State Triathlon Race Report, Part 1

11.3.2014 | 12:58 pm

A Note from Fatty: I’ve still got several really great 100 Miles of Nowhere stories I want to post, but I’ve also been missing writing stories of my own. So, for this next couple of weeks, I’m going to alternate days between posts of my own, and 100MoN stories.

This will give me time to move forward with the project I’m working on, which I plan to unveil a week from today. 

I blame the wetsuit.

Someone or something has to take responsibility for the fact that between August and September, The Hammer and I did three triathalongs: an Olympic-distance, a half-iron distance, and an XTerra. And since The Hammer had signed us up for all three of these triathalongs due to the fact that BlueSeventy had generously given her a top-of-the-line Helix wetsuit as one of the perks of being a World Bicycle Relief Ambassador

So there we were, in Huntsvile, Utah (a scenic little town, close to Ogden), about to begin a half-iron distance triathalong (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Which I had not even come close to training for, at all. 

But we were there anyway, for The Hammer to crush the race, and for me to bluff my way through it. 

So here you go, BlueSeventy: a shot of The Hammer, in her wetsuit, right before the race. 

IMG 9920

Obviously, she’s in a good mood here: happy, having fun, looking forward to the events. 

I, on the other hand, was not happy, even before the race began.

And I was about to get a lot unhappier.

By way of explanation, I’m going to need to back up a little. Like, all the way to the beginning.

And, yes, I’m going to have to talk about toilets. Sorry, It’s unavoidable.


Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

Attending any triathalong is an intimidating experience. Signing up for one with as intimidating a name as “2014 Utah State Triathlon Championship” is flat-out terrifying. 

I had no business at such an official-sounding, championshipily-named race.

But then we got to the packet pickup, held at the Huntsville City Park (where the Bike to Run transition and Finish Line would also be), and my intimidation vanished. Because, in spite of the formidable-sounding name, there just weren’t a lot of us there. A few hundred, maybe. And of that few hundred, I’d say barely a hundred of us were doing the half-iron distance race (the rest were doing Olympic- and Sprint-distance races).

We went through the body-marking ritual, wherein we got our division and age Sharpied on our calves, then went to pick up our packets.

At which point, I asked where the porta-potties are. 

“Well, we don’t have any at this area,” the race director told me. “But the park has a restroom, over there.”

“Really?” I replied. “You have packet pickup, a transition, the finish, a post-race picnic, and awards here…but no porta-potties?”

“Yeah, but there are porta-potties at the starting line area.”

Having urgent business to conduct, The Hammer and I got in line at the park restroom—The Hammer’s was shorter, because there were fewer women racing—and waited for our turns. I brought several squares of paper towel with me, not trusting there would be toilet paper in this bathroom by the time I got there.

We waited for a long time. On the positive side, however, I did not have to wipe with paper towels.

Then, finally, business taken care of—for now—we got our stuff together and rode our bikes to the Swim-Bike transition. We racked our bikes, laid out our stuff, and then, while The Hammer started getting into her fancy new wetsuit, I went to one of the porta-potties.

I had more business to conduct.

Terror and Delight

“How odd,” I thought to myself, as I walked to the porta-potty. “There’s no line to any of the porta-potties.” I thought no more of this, however, as I had things to do.

Then, as I was doing the things I needed to do, I heard a voice from outside—or quite possibly, from inside a different porta-potty—call out, “Does anyone have some toilet paper they could lend me?

For the first time since sitting, I glanced to my left. 

Nothing. Not a spare to square.

“No, I’ve got nothing,” I called out…right about the same time a couple of other people called out the same thing from other porta-potties.

That’s right. This race had porta-potties…but no toilet paper.

My fury was matched only by my consternation and misery. What was I going to do?

And then, a moment of pure relief: I remembered that, stuffed into the zippered pocket of the hoodie I was wearing, were those several squares of paper towel I had earlier pocketed, just in case.

I laughed aloud. This kind of bathroom luck simply does not happen to me.

OK, maybe sometimes it does.

I finished what needed finishing, came out of the porta-potty, and then became the hero of the day to three or four people: I handed out my remaining paper towel squares.

A few minutes later, the fire department arrived (yes really, the fire department), bringing many rolls of Charmin. 

By then, however, I was suited up and taking photos of The Hammer on the beach. Like this one:

IMG 9920

I know, I’ve already shown you this photo. But this time, I want you to note that The Hammer is wearing a yellow swim cap. This meant that she—like I—would be starting in the second wave of swimmers, about five minutes after the younger wave (wearing white swim caps) left.

This fact will become significant, later.

With photos taken, we were ready to go.

Humming to Myself

The Hammer and I, along with the other hundred or so racers, waded into the water. It wasn’t cold, and there was no wind. I moved back to the very very back of the group of yellow caps. I had learned my lesson in the previous triathalong: I needed to start out very slow if I didn’t want to find myself panicked and out of breath.

“I’m not racing,” I told myself, repeatedly. “I’m doing this swim, and then my race begins. The race doesn’t include the swim. The swim is just the entry fee to the race.”

And it worked. Five or so minutes after the first wave of racers took off, we did too. I swam slow on purpose at first, humming the tune the soldiers sing in the wicked witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz: “Oh-EE-oh (breathe in) ee-OH-um,” and repeat.


Except it didn’t go so bad this time. I just crawled along for my 1.2 miles, not worrying about going fast.

I got out of the water, stripped the wetsuit off, put my shoes and helmet on as I ate a couple packets of Honey Stingers Energy Chews, then grabbed my Shiv off the rack and walked out of the transition area.

I would have run, but I’m always really unsteady on my feet after a long swim. Walking was the best I could do. 

Oh No, Not Again

I climbed onto my bike, then made the sharp right turn that put me on the road parallel to where the bikes were racked. I was looking for The Hammer as I went by where her bike should be racked, and—sure enough—there she was. Just a couple minutes behind me. She yelled for me, I yelled for her, and then I took off, hoping against hope that I would be able to use the bike portion of this race to increase the slim lead I had enough that she wouldn’t be able to catch me during the run.

Yeah, I’m a little bit competitive like that.

The road crested and turned slightly downhill, and my legs were feeling warmed up enough that I felt it was time to move to the big ring. 


I just love how responsive Shimano Ultegra Di2 is. “Electronic shifting is so wonderful,” I thought to myself.

I picked up speed and went to shift to a taller gear, to start really flying. This would be where I’d start passing people.

I tapped the button at the end of my aero bar to shift.

Nothing happened.

I pressed the button harder.


I tried the other direction.

Nothing nothing nothing.

I tried shifting my front derailleur back to the small ring.

It worked fine. So it wasn’t the battery. I shifted back to the big ring.

I couldn’t believe it. In the entire history of my Shiv, in the entire history of my using electronic shifting, I have had problems with Di2 exactly twice. And the other time was also when I was racing a half Ironman

“Last time it just eventually got better by itself,” I thought, so waited for a minute and then tried shifting. 


“Maybe the battery isn’t seated correctly,” I thought (foolishly, since I had just finished proving to myself that the battery was working fine). I climbed off my bike, removed the battery, put it back in, and took off again.

Nothing. Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I think I was definitely leaning more toward crying.

People passed me as I rode slowly, trying to figure what was going on. People passed me as I got off my bike, trying to reboot my bicycle.

“There was some combination of buttons I was supposed to press and hold down to reset this thing,” I thought. And I began pressing and holding and pressing and double-pressing every button in every possible way.

Nothing. Lots and lots of nothing.

People passed me.

A light went on in my head. “Maybe the cable that connects to the rear derailleur got unseated while we were driving here, or while the bike was racked.”

I pulled over again, climbed off, pulled the lead out, blew into it for luck, pushed it back in, and got in my bike.

Nothing. Still nothing.

I gave up. “So I guess I’m singlespeeding this race,” I thought, knowing that this easy gear wasn’t going to let me go any faster than 20mph for the entire course.

I exhaled, hard, as still more people passed me, and tried to get used to it.

But I couldn’t get used to it. I just couldn’t

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this story.


  1. Comment by MattC | 11.3.2014 | 1:12 pm

    If you were to set the way-back-machine to your childhood (back in the day when we had single-speed Schwinn stingrays), if your legs went round and round really REALLY FAST you could actually go pretty quick!

    Just a year or so ago one of my friends road bike front derailleur cable broke not even half way thru a fairly long ride (thus he lost use of the big ring)…we did some pretty fast pacelining on the return, and there he was staying in there w/ us, little legs whirring like Yoda w/ a lightsaber!

    But of course, being a rear derailleur prob, that might get only you up to 25 or so…

    My oh MY, what ever did you do Fatty?

  2. Comment by Fellowfattychris | 11.3.2014 | 1:36 pm

    Love the report, can’t wait for part 2!

    Why is it that I get the feeling you do not like triathlons?

    I was also surprised to find no pre-race line at the porta-potties that day. I heard yells for paper coming from the few poor souls who had ventured too far before realizing there wasn’t any paper. I ran back to transition and was lucky enough to find 1 paper towel in my race bag. I only had enough for myself, and I wasn’t willing to split it with anyone else. As soon as I finished my business the fire department showed up with the paper. They told me that the porta-potties were stocked with paper the night before, but someone had broken in and stolen all of it overnight.

  3. Comment by Justin L. | 11.3.2014 | 2:00 pm

    Thanks for reminding me why i just ride a bike. This year again, i started thinking i would do the lake tahoe half iron man, except i 100 percent hate running and swimming. I will stick to riding. Keep reminding me why!!!!

  4. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.3.2014 | 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the paper towel info, Fatty.

  5. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.3.2014 | 4:17 pm

    You pooped twice in this story (so far). Now Shimano is going to poop unless you can come up with a reason this failure to shift is your fault and not Shimano’s fault.

    Careful, Fatty.

  6. Comment by Brian in VA | 11.3.2014 | 4:33 pm

    What slime would steal someone’s toilet paper?! That takes a particular level of assholiness….literally.

    Can’t wait for part deux!

  7. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 11.3.2014 | 5:02 pm

    Well, they could have stolen the toilet paper AND tipped all the porta-potties over.

    I agree with @Justin L. I’ll stick to cycling. With good ‘ol manual shifters. Your stories of these things sure are entertaining, though!

  8. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 11.4.2014 | 6:10 am

    I will take my good old fashioned cable shifter any time. I mean it has never failed me in a race before……ummm…yeah OK never mind.

  9. Comment by Corrine | 11.4.2014 | 9:40 am

    Oh, goody, another multiday story!
    I knew I didn’t trust those electronic shifters. I agree with Doug (Way upstate NY) – give me my old fashioned cable shifters.

  10. Comment by BigRedClydesdale | 11.4.2014 | 2:34 pm

    re: manual vs electronic shifting.

    We tend to forget that manual shifting fails as well. I ended up getting a large cog-sized bite into my leg due to a failure of my manual shifting system. Was much more debilitating than running single speed.

    I like to think of the shifting systems in the same way I did for window access in a car. There was a time where everyone swore by the crank. Nowadays you almost never see cars with the window crank — even though people still mime “cranking the window” as a way of saying open the window.

  11. Comment by Kevin | 11.4.2014 | 11:38 pm

    Looking good :-)

  12. Comment by roulis | 11.5.2014 | 8:34 pm

    one word: Mechanical. :)


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