Race Report from The Hammer: The 2015 St George Half Ironman, Part 1

05.26.2015 | 6:12 am

A Note from Fatty: While I was racing Boggs (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6), The Hammer was — as you might expect — also racing. But she was doing the St. George Half Ironman.

Does she have a story about her race? You bet she does. 

“Oh crap.”

It was April 15. I had just over two weeks before the St George Half Ironman…and I hadn’t even thought about swimming. At all. Even once.

And things weren’t looking good for finding time to swim between now and the race, either.

For example, I would be getting on a plane for Boston to run the marathon that week. So I wouldn’t be swimming then.

Then I was off to Moab to ride the White Rim the following weekend. And while I could theoretically have done a post-ride swim in the Colorado River…well, that just wasn’t going to happen.

So when was I ever going to find time to swim?

I figured that day was as good as any and — not very enthusiastically — headed to the rec center pool. I figured I would swim a mile and see how it went.

How’d it go? Well, let’s just say that when I got out of the pool, my neck was killing me from turning to breathe and I had a sharp pain in my right knee.

How does someone hurt their leg while swimming?

On the bright side, I had successfully completed the mile swim. So I figured I could probably — hopefully — drag my body another .2 miles on race day.


What had I gotten myself into?

Reality Sets In

The following weekend — the Boston Marathon — was a blast. My knee pain disappeared, and my friends and I had a fantastic weekend in Boston culminating in the iconic run on Monday (in the rain, of course, just to make it a fine adventure).

When I returned home, my attention turned again to the Half Ironman. I had a day off work and thought I would head to the pool and put one more effort toward the swim. This time I completed the whole 1.2 miles.

I felt pretty good, but was horrified to see that it had taken me over fifty five minutes to swim it!


How long would it take me to do this swim in a lake, when I would have to sight for the buoy every ten (or fewer, if I’m being honest) strokes?

The swim was looking more dismal by the moment.

A Possible Solution?

I got home and started whining to Elden. Elden always has helpful suggestions. The first one being that I would be fine…because I would be swimming in a wetsuit. For some reason, The wetsuit is the cure-all for Elden’s swim woes: it makes him buoyant and fast.

For me, the wetsuit just makes me feel like a suffocated sausage.

Then Elden came up with a brilliant suggestion. And this time, it really was brilliant. He had heard of a GPS device that connected to your swim goggles that was supposed to help you swim in a straight line…with minimal need of sighting!

I wanted to know more, because I had suffered from a terrible swim in the 2013 Half Ironman-I zigzagged all over that darn lake.


So Elden, being the well-connected man that he is, made a few phone calls and was soon talking to the creator of the “Iolite”-Steve H.


Steve said he would be happy to set me up with an Iolite to use in St George. He was even going to be at the Half Ironman Expo and said I could pick it up from him prior to the race!

Things were starting to look up….So I instantly forgot about the swim and went to Moab to ride the White Rim…which ended up getting rained out and Elden and I returned home and rode the trainer for 3 hours instead.


The following Tuesday as I was packing to leave for St George and the race, my thoughts turned toward the dreaded swim. I figured I should probably get online and find out some information about the Iolite. I went to the web site. It had a brief description about the lights that would attach to my goggles. It was pretty straightforward. The yellow light would come on when you were drifting “slightly” off course, a red light would illuminate if you were “way” off course. The green light would be lit if you were swimming straight toward your target.

It seemed easy enough, but the direction you were drifting off of center and the lights that illuminated seemed to me to be backwards — I was soo confused. Plus I was worried that all I would be seeing was a bunch of bright lights shining into my eyes! Ugh, that would only make me feel more confused and claustrophobic.

I thought again: what was I getting myself into? I definitely needed to use this in a lake on a trial swim before the race! I hoped I would be able to fit that in!

First Try

I was actually really looking forward to the up coming race weekend. Elden was going to California to race, the kids were safe at home under the watchful eye of Nigel, and I would be going down to St George with my really good friends, the Borups.

My work had given me an additional day off, so we were going down on Wednesday and would be staying until Sunday. I would have no one to have to take care of or entertain. The Borups are like family.

On the way down, we stopped at Sand Hollow reservoir for a swim. I hadn’t gotten my Iolite yet, so this would be a good chance to see how I’d do in the reservoir without it.

It…went as expected. I started out heading for the big rock island in the middle of the reservoir. I looked up after 10 strokes…and was no longer headed for the rock, but for open water.

How did I get so far off, so fast? I put my head down and started to swim. Ten strokes later…I was way off course again. The third time was the charm and I was finally swimming straight, more or less.

We ended up swimming for about half a mile. I felt fine. I didn’t panic, the water was a perfect temperature…I was just slow and zigzagged everywhere.

Prepping on the Bike

Thursday morning I got up and rode Snow Canyon (the biggest climb on the course) and the last twenty miles of the bike course. No one wanted to go with me. They said they needed to rest.

Rest? Pfff. What is that?

Later that afternoon we ended up at the Expo. I found Brad at the CarboRocket Booth. It’s always nice to see Brad.

IMG 2665

Although I am terrified of his mustache.

Next, I found Steve at the Iolite booth.

IMG 2664

What an awesome guy! He not only set me up with the Iolite, but he put it on a nice pair of goggles for me.


He then had me put the goggles on. We pretended that I was in the water and he walked me through using them. First off, you need to pinpoint your destination. Then you head straight for it. In the water, it would be the turn buoy (in the park it was a flag). You then must head directly for the target for about ten meters, so the GPS can lock onto it.

This was the part I was worried about. What if I couldn’t swim straight for ten meters? Would the Iolite would grab on to the wrong point and steer me off course? Steve suggested I swim with my head out of the water for a few strokes and that should solve my problem.

I then proceeded to walk around the park with my new goggles. I would purposely get off-course to see the lights come on. Steve explained that if I was drifting, I was to swim “toward the light.” That would be the direction that would correct my drifting. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the lights sat just below my level of vision, so as not to block it. I still had full vision and did not feel at all claustrophobic. Things were starting to look up; I was actually excited to go swimming!

Trying Out the Iolite

After taking Borups’ dog on a three-mile walk (that’s my idea of a rest), we headed out to Sand Hollow to drop off our bikes at Transition 1…and to try out my new gadget!

Mckenzie (the Borups’ daughter, who would also be racing) also had a new Iolite. Mckenzie and I share similar stories when it comes to Ironman competitions. We are both strong cyclists and runners, but suffer in the swim. Neither of us like to spend much time in the pool.

Our swim times are similar, and she was also hoping to improve her swim time with the Iolite. Much like me, Mckenzie had not been in the pool this year either. I think I actually had swam more than her (pathetic).

Needless to say, we were hoping for really BIG things with the Iolite!

As I emerged from the lake with my new Iolite I couldn’t help giggling. The Iolite had worked! I swam straight! The Iolite also kept my mind off the tedium of swimming. Instead, I was fixated on my light. I celebrated whenever the green light stayed on for ten seconds. I giggled because I wasn’t having to look up every third stroke to make sure I was headed in the right direction. I did “sight” a few times, just to make sure I wasn’t heading off in the wrong direction…but I never was!

As I came out of the reservoir, I couldn’t help but laugh; I’ve never had such an easy time swimming in a straight line. I looked at Mckenzie; she was beaming and laughing, too! She enthusiastically told me she had not sighted even once. Wow!

Thumb IMG 0081 1024 

I was so excited, I dove back in and swam another little loop. This was going to be awesome. I had no idea how fast or slow I was—but I was positive that my comfort level in the water had skyrocketed!

I didn’t know if I’d be fast in the water…but thanks to the Iolite, I definitely felt like I at least wouldn’t embarrass myself!

And in the next installment of my report…I’ll show you how I did!


  1. Comment by Corrine | 05.26.2015 | 6:37 pm

    Great start to a story. I want more now! Almost makes me want to try swimming. . . NOT!

  2. Comment by wharton_crew | 05.26.2015 | 6:38 pm

    Cool device! Seems like people can solve any first-world problem that sports throw at us! :-)

    Now, if they could just help me not have water flow into my mouth when I turn my head to breathe…

  3. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 05.26.2015 | 7:36 pm

    Interesting story so far. It would be great to cut the swim time in half due to swimming in a straight line half the distance of the meandering path.

  4. Comment by Tom in Albany | 05.27.2015 | 4:46 am

    I love guest-written race reports from The Hammer! Woo Hoo!

  5. Comment by Bee T | 05.27.2015 | 5:10 am

    I love Hammer race reports! Is the swimming device legal? (Did she wear it in the race itself?). I’m curious since it seems TRI has so many rules and most devices seem to be banned- no music players, no fins, limits on wetsuits…

    Great question, Bee T! Here’s what the Iolite site has to say about whether it’s race legal:

    Q. Is IOLITE Race Legal?

    A. During the design of IOLITE we were very careful to leave out any feature that may make the device illegal during racing. However there are many different types of open water swimming races. For Triathlon IOLITE is legal in all rules we have reviewed thus far. We have confirmation from USAT that it is legal for USAT sponsored events. For open water marathon swims it depends on the rules for that event. We suggest reading the rules for each event you compete in to verify IOLITE is legal before using it in a race.

  6. Comment by BostonCarlos (formerly NYC) | 05.27.2015 | 7:47 am

    I want an iolite and I don’t even swim. what a nifty little device!

  7. Comment by T | 05.27.2015 | 8:52 am

    uh, i need to look into this, because i am the worst at sighting.

  8. Comment by Frank | 05.27.2015 | 9:08 am

    “And this time, it really was brilliant”. Ouch…

    He’s trying…

  9. Comment by leroy | 05.27.2015 | 9:30 am

    Oh dear. I may owe my dog an apology.

    I tried to convince him to go on a three mile walk with me and he advised that I find a bright shiny light, feel the love around me, and go into the light.

    I thought he was telling me to get lost.

    Now I see it was just the opposite.

    Sometimes, he’s a little opaque.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.