Utah State Triathlon Race Report, Part 2: The Good Part

11.5.2014 | 12:14 pm

A Note from Fatty: this is Part 2 of my USTC Race Report. You’ll find Part 1 here.

I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. Just couldn’t believe it. There’s one single part of triathalong that I’m good at: the time trial. I can get low, spin up, and fly by practically everybody when I’m on my Specialized Shiv. 

I suck in the water; I suck in the run. But I am strong enough on my bike that I still wind up being one of the sorta-kinda fast guys overall.

Unless, of course, I can’t shift. Which I couldn’t.

My bad luck was driving me nuts. It’s not like the Shimano Di2 is flaky; it is absolutely positively the precise opposite of flaky. It’s more reliable than mechanical shifting, and has never failed me during training, and has given me trouble only twice, ever.

It’s just that both times, it was during a half iron-distance tri. 

The first time this happened, it just righted itself, and I held out hope that it would do the same thing this time.

But after five minutes of riding, as I dawdled along pressing buttons, re-seating the battery, and re-seating the cable that plugs into the rear derailleur, I lost hope in the possibility of a self-healing drivetrain.

I started passing people again. I got up to about 21mph. Not bad, but not what I wanted. “Lisa’s going to pass me soon, I’ll bet,” I thought to myself.

I tried to resolve myself to my fate. I tried to start rewriting this story in my mind (changing it from the “dominating on the bike” narrative to a “well, let’s try to have fun” narrative). I tried to focus on spinning fast instead of with a lot of power. I tried to be cheerful about my new reality for this day.

I tried to do all these things, and failed entirely.

I stopped and got off my bike. Pulled the cable that plugs into the rear derailleur out one more time (my third). Plugged it back in, putting a little bit of extra force. Twisted it a little bit. Felt a click I hadn’t felt the other two times. Like something had…connected.

I got back on my bike. Hopeful. Doubtful. I spun up to ten or fifteen miles per hour, and pressed the button to shift the rear derailleur.

Not expecting, but hoping.


That’s the sound a Di2 rear derailleur makes when it shifts.

When it SHIFTS!

I started laughing. With joy. With relief. With a sense of purpose, regained.

My bike was shifting perfectly again. Would have been shifting perfectly all along, if I were better at diagnosing problems. 

But I was in no mood to beat myself up. I was in the mood to absolutely positively gut myself on this ride. 

Plan Into Effect

Weeks before this race began, I had come up with a plan. A plan I intended to execute at every triathalong I was going to race this year. I had explained it to The Hammer like this:

I can’t swim, and I can barely run. So why should I save myself for those events? I’m going to go slow on the swim so I can survive it, then try to knock the bike portion out of the ballpark, without worrying at all whether I’ll have anything left in the tank for the run. If I have to walk it, I’ll walk it. If I have to stop, I’ll stop. But for me, these races are going to be all about the bike.”

And now I was putting that plan into effect. I immediately started passing the people who had gone by me as I was struggling with the mechanical earlier. 

Then I came to a T in the road—the left turn headed toward a monastery, the right turn headed out toward the rest of the loop. My understanding was that we’d be going to the monastery, turning around there, and continuing on the loop. I wasn’t sure, though, because that morning the race director had announced that there were changes to the course; we’d be going around the reservoir three times instead of two, with another part of the course eliminated.

But he hadn’t said anything about eliminating the monastery spur.

On the other hand, there were no course markings showing that we should go one way or the other. And no course marshal giving any indication of which way to go, either.

Then a teenage boy came running up to the intersection—a course marshal delinquent in his duties, I guessed—and pointed toward the monastery. “Go that way!” he shouted, and I did. 

I hammered up the road toward the monastery parking lot. As I got close, I saw another rider coming toward me, shaking his head. “Nice course markings,” he said.

At the moment, I assumed he meant the absence of any indication which way to go at the T intersection. 

I was wrong. 

As i got to the parking lot, I looked for a cone, a course marshal, or something indicating where the turnaround point is.

Nope. Nothing.

So I turned around at what I judged would be a good spot for turning around—the midpoint of the parking lot—and headed back.

Screenshot 2014 11 05 10 21 30
The course comes from the red line at the top of the image; we rode to the monastery parking lot in the bottom right of the image, and then back and out the top left.

Halfway there, I saw The Hammer; she was only a half mile behind me! 

“Whooo!” I shouted.

“Whooo!” she shouted back.

I thought about saying something about the weird lack of marking at the monastery parking lot, but what was there to say that she wouldn’t find out herself in two minutes anyway?

I put my head down and charged ahead. 

Go, Go, Go!

Apart from the confusing intersection at the monastery, the bike course for this half-iron distance is wonderful. It’s really rare for me to get a chance to get to ride so far without hills. There was only 1535 feet of climbing in the entire race, with an elevation profile that looks essentially flat:

Screenshot 2014 11 05 10 29 31

It was nice to focus on just going all-out fast

We were going around the Pineview reservoir a total of three times, with an extra little loop out toward the monastery twice (on the third time around, we’d skip the loop out to the monastery).

Screenshot 2014 11 05 10 28 47

I’m pretty sure I was never not passing people. At first I was passing just people doing the half-iron distance. Then I caught and passed people doing the Olympic distance. 

Weirdly, on the second lap, I would then pass many of the Olympic-distance racers a second time, because they didn’t do the little side loop out toward the monastery.

Which gave me the singlularly-satisfying opportunity to say, “On your left again,” from time to time.

I was going at my absolute limit, just racing with all my might. and I was incredibly happy.

No, happy isn’t quite the right word. I was focused. Purposeful. I was doing something I love doing, and I was doing it really well.

Drinking a little, eating a Gu Roctane every twenty minutes, on the dot. Never ever running out of power, never getting a sick stomach.

I have figured out how to race, eat, and not get sick. I have figured out how much effort I can maintain without blowing up.

It’s a fantastic feeling.

The Second Lap

As I got to the turn to the monastery on the second lap, I was looking forward to—this time—not having to slow and make the decision which way to go. This time I’d come into the left turn with speed, fly to the parking lot, turn around in some arbitrarily-chosen spot, and then head out.

I wondered how far ahead of The Hammer I was. Would I see her on this out-and-back spur again? I didn’t think so. She and I are very similar when there’s a course with climbing, but in a flat raw-power course like this, I figured I’d be putting time on her in a big way.

I got close to the intersection, veered right and then cut left, not wasting effort with braking. Feeling great.

And then:


 I braked hard. Who shouted that? I pivoted my head around, and there was a woman, running to the intersection, and waving me back.

“You’re not supposed to go that way!”

I turned around, confused. Wary.

“The race doesn’t go that way!” she shouted, again.

“OK,” I said. “Maybe you should stand where racers can see you, blocking the wrong way and waving people in the correct direction.” 

Later, when I talked with The Hammer about the race, she told me that when she got there, the woman was in fact doing that.

Check me out: making the world a better place, even as I race.


There isn’t much more to say about the bike portion of this tri. I kept my head down, hardly seeing anything more than my front tire and the road. I stayed focused and rode with all the power I could muster. 

And in the end—even with the problems I had with my bike at the beginning of the race, I did a time trial I’m incredibly proud of:

Screenshot 2014 11 05 11 03 10

Strava shows that I was stopped for about a minute during the race; I’d say that’s a conservative measurement of how much time I lost due to my early goofiness. Between going slow and getting off three times, I’d say I probably was about three or four minutes slower than I would otherwise have been.

Even so, that’s 23.1mph, on average, for 61.2 miles. 

Which isn’t half bad. Although it is about five miles too long for a half-iron distance race. I’m not complaining, though. The more biking, the merrier.

I racked my bike—one of very few that had arrived so far for the half-iron distance race.

The only problem was, now I had a half marathon to run. And I was completely smoked. 

I knew that my moments of glory were behind me for this race; now I just needed to struggle on as best as I could.

Meanwhile, the real race—complete with a twist ending you are just going to love—was about to begin.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the final installment of this race report.


  1. Comment by mukrider | 11.5.2014 | 12:29 pm

    Sounds all too familiar! Being a slow-swimming fast biking triathlete myself, I am almost never passed on the bike and spend the whole bike leg passing people. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the old guys often start in later waves, putting that many more people on the course in front of me!

    Now if only we could get the race organizers to mark the course a little better…

  2. Comment by MattC | 11.5.2014 | 1:20 pm

    There does seem to be a recurring theme here in Fatty’s Tri cycling events, with the course marshal’ing (or not) and or course marking (or NON-marking). Seems odd…what are the organizers THINKING? Oh…sure, they’ll know where to turn. No need for a sign or person.

    That’s a pretty fast ride Fatty…over 23mph avg including the early problems…and including over 1500′ of climbing. I’d say you are one Zippy TT’er. Have you recently entered an ITT race? (don’t recall you ever mentioning it). They do have them…Greg and I did one down here in So-Cal a few years back (before he got WAY stronger than me). I’d like to see what you can do on a shorter distance…I bet it would be pretty spectacular!

  3. Comment by Jeff Bike | 11.5.2014 | 2:19 pm

    @MattC…”Have you recently entered an ITT race?”
    I remember that I suggested a ITT, Try the Tour de Gurene in Gurene TX. It is a great little race, limited to 300. We get pros to come every few years we would love to have an award winning super blogger.

  4. Comment by Trey Jackson | 11.5.2014 | 3:30 pm

    Fatty – your shifters are trying to tell you something: Stop doing Tris. Running is for horses, greyhounds, cheetahs, and antelope. Swimming is for fish. Biking is the one thing that we do best – so stick to that.

    Whatever you do, keep the stories coming!

  5. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.5.2014 | 5:03 pm

    I used to do a duathlon – for the express purpose of skipping the swimming altogether. In those days, I could actually run… Unless I just got off a bike. My runs would better be called hobbles.

  6. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 11.5.2014 | 6:39 pm

    Had the Di2 problem at Rebecca’s Private Idaho, but it was the Big Ring. Can’t tell you how fun it was from station 5 (Wildhorse Creek) to top of Trai Creek into the wind, uphill, on a Tandem w/o being able to use a smaller ring…really I can’t. My knee still aches when I think about it.

    When we returned our mechanic reset the wiring at the levers, unwrapping the bar tape, and providing a little more slack.

    We also now pack a small tool used to set the wiring connection at the rear dérailleur. (Which has also failed us while riding)

    Waiting for the finish!

  7. Comment by Jacob | 11.6.2014 | 8:10 am

    I have a very similar experience in triathlon, except I’m a competent runner. I’m too big to be one of the elite runners, but I’ve never been passed by someone in my age-group on the run, either.

    I think that’s because the guys who are faster than me on the bike are usually faster on the swim too and I’m fast enough on the bike that any of the guys on the run who can keep a faster pace than me start too far behind to catch up.

  8. Comment by Paula | 11.6.2014 | 11:28 am

    I too, used to think I could be a triathlete. Now I am a cyclist who occasionally swims before and jogs after a cycling hammerfest. I’m OK with that. ;-)

  9. Comment by Paula | 11.6.2014 | 11:30 am

    Oh, and I love your blog! :-)

  10. Comment by Tom in Albany | 11.7.2014 | 2:07 pm

    Fatty, The world record for the 1-mile racewalk is 5:53.33. So, under six minute miles. The world record for the 20 km racewalk is 1:16:43. That’s like, 6:17 miles. So, do you still wanna have that discussion about whether 11:00 miles is running? ;-)
    Have a great weekend!


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