How to be a Bug, Part 1

10.27.2015 | 12:38 pm

As my good friend Mark Knopfler says, “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.” I like to write stories in this blog about races where I’m the windshield. 

But the fact is, in a couple recent races, I’ve definitely been the bug. And I’m glad. Being squashed during a race teaches you a lot more — about your technique and about yourself — than a good day on the course ever could.

So over the next few days, I’m going to tell the tale of how my 2015 Xterra Utah went, as well as my racing of the Snowbird Hillclimb Ultra.

Spoiler alert: I am not the metaphorical windshield in either of these.

Getting Ready

Let’s begin with a couple of axiomatic assertions, shall we?

  1. Things don’t have to start badly for them to end badly.
  2. The best way to exceed expectations is to start with very low expectations. 

The 2015 Xterra Utah Long Course race started out very weirdly for me, because The Hammer was not racing alongside me.

No, she didn’t have another race that day. No, she didn’t skip the race because her race plan prohibited it. She just…didn’t race. I had crewed for her at Lotoja, now she was going to crew for me when I did the Xterra.

Which means I started a little off-balance. I’m used to both of us being nervous. I’m used to taking care of both our bikes. I’m used to being the one with the camera, so I don’t have to be in the photos.

This time, though, she was relaxed, I had only my gear to concern myself with, and she had the camera.

Which means that we have photos of things we usually don’t have. Like me setting up my gear at transition 1:

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And we have photos of me in my brand-new BlueSeventy Reaction wetsuit:

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I anticipate you have questions about this photograph. Here are my answers:

  1. Yes, I am sucking in my gut.
  2. No, I didn’t know I was standing in front of a sign that says, “Wipe Down,” or I would have posed elsewhere.
  3. Yes, I am eating in this picture.

Here I am in a more heroic pose, though I still have a mouthful of food:

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I’ll get to my reaction to this wetsuit — this would be the first time I’d ever worn it while actually swimming — in just a moment, but first I want to show you one more photo, which The Hammer took right after I took a test swim, to warm up:

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I wanted to show you this partly because it may be the best, most expressive photo ever taken of me. But also, because I am wearing the Iolite Swim GPS on my goggles. The idea behind the Iolite is pretty amazing: a GPS strapped to your goggles on the back of your head hooks up to a little row of LEDs stuck to your goggles in your peripheral vision, and help you swim in a straight line without having to sight constantly.

I had never used this thing, either. So obviously, I was really well-prepared for a fantastic swim.

I Never Expected To Say This

The fact that I had never tried out any of my swimming gear before the Xterra should give you an idea of how serious I take swimming. 

But that’s only part of it, really. 

Also, I had prepared for this Xterra by literally not having swam even once in almost exactly a year. In fact, the last time I had been in the water to swim had been in this same reservoir (but for a different kind of tri), a year ago.

Here I am at the start of my wave of the race:

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I’m the one in the white swim cap. 

Now, as you know, I’m a rider, not a swimmer. Nor a runner for that matter. Doing a triathalong makes no sense at all for me.

So you’ll have to forgive my sense of astonishment that the swim went great

Really for reals, it did. The Reaction wetsuit was incredibly comfortable and buoyant and non-restrictive, instantly turning me into a much better swimmer than I have any right to expect.

And the Iolite…well, it is an absolute game-changer for me, long-distance open water swimwise. When the LED in my peripheral vision was green, I was doing good. When it showed yellow, I’d glance down to see which way the indicator showed, then course-correct. When it showed red (not often, because I’d usually take care of the course correction as soon as I saw yellow), I’d course-correct sharper.

So even though I was swimming directly into the sunlight, even though I had dozens of swimmers ahead of me, even though I generally can’t swim straight for three seconds, this time I swam more and sighted less, swimming with confidence for pretty much the first time ever.

And it’s so simple to use I was able to work with it easily and flawlessly the very first time I wore it.

I tell you, I love what the Iolite did for me. And believe me, the difference it made for me was huge. The last time I did this course, I very nearly quit during the swim due to confusion and exhaustion, veered all over the place, and took 41:59 to complete it (this is no exaggeration; read my report from the day).

This time — with no swim training whatsoever in a full year — I finished the swim in 36:57. More than five minutes faster, and coming out of the water in much better spirits. 

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I know, I don’t look like I’m happy, but I am. It’s just that I have my game face on.

I gingerly tiptoed the 100 feet or so to the swim-bike transition, which took me roughly five minutes. Probably thirty people passed me as I did this, and I wished I would have brought shoes or something for getting from the boat ramp to the bike corral. The fact is, I have the tenderest, most sensitive feet you could ever imagine; I never go anywhere (including inside my house) without shoes on.

Now I was ready to begin the only part of a triathalong I’m good at: the bike. And this should be an extra-good course for me, being almost entirely uphill.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone if I’d been told that I had just finished my best leg in this race. Wouldn’t have imagined it as a remote possibility.

But it was true. Things were about to get bad for me. Real bad.

Which seems like a good place to pick up in tomorrow’s post.


  1. Comment by One Eyed Jack | 10.27.2015 | 1:07 pm

    Yeah! Multi-part. A great way to get my eye and a half back in the game.

  2. Comment by walter | 10.27.2015 | 1:20 pm

    Aaarrrggghhh!!! Cliff hanger got me again.

  3. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.27.2015 | 2:34 pm

    I hope a rider behind doesn’t end up endoing over your dead body.

  4. Comment by FellowFattyChris | 10.27.2015 | 3:29 pm

    Your bike leg couldn’t have been that bad, you were still faster than me on the bike. It just took you a little longer to catch and pass me this year.

  5. Comment by walter | 10.27.2015 | 3:31 pm

    Perhaps we will find out the source of his story in Part II when he rides around a tight corner in the race and endos over a dead body.

  6. Comment by Rose | 10.27.2015 | 4:04 pm

    Jeff D – hysterical! Still giggling.

  7. Comment by Kristina | 10.27.2015 | 5:03 pm

    How is it that everyone has ignored One Eyed Jack’s comments?! I would really like some additional details there!

  8. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 10.27.2015 | 6:38 pm

    Alas, like many experiences in life, the tease is better than the reveal.

    I’m just slowly recovering from a partially detached retina and have been on a ‘commentary’ restriction more severe than my usual ‘three a day’.

    And, like @Rose I believe @JeffD nailed it today!

  9. Comment by Corrine | 10.27.2015 | 8:17 pm

    Wow! Can’t believe the swimming was the best part of the day. Can’t wait to hear why. And I agree with @Rose that @JeffD’s comment is perfect!!
    @davidh bummer about the detached retina. Hope you are doing better.

  10. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 10.27.2015 | 10:15 pm

    OK, checked the results to soften this cliffhanger. Can’t wait to see why you think you’re the bug, especially in the next leg.

    Good swim, though!

  11. Comment by leroy | 10.28.2015 | 4:00 am

    davidh — detached retina? You? My dog said he just can’t see it. Get well soon.

  12. Comment by MattC | 10.28.2015 | 7:43 am

    Great beginning Fatty…I am still flabbergasted that you can jump in and swim any distance with ZERO training. I’d think your arms would be like concrete after the first 100 yards and you’d be hoisting sail to continue…but I’ve never swam in a wetsuit before(except w/ full diving gear…making it just a teensy bit more cumbersome) so can’t say how much help that would be.

    @davidh…you need to get OUT of fight-club! Wasn’t it Sugar Ray Leonard (or was it Sweet Pea Whittaker) who had a detached retina and ended his boxing career? Actually I have to assume there is a ’story’ behind this…they don’t detach from pillow-fights, do they?

  13. Comment by Tom in Albany | 10.28.2015 | 8:00 am

    @MattC – definitely Sugar Ray…

  14. Comment by MattC | 10.28.2015 | 8:31 am

    @Tom in Albany…showing my age a bit here…but wasn’t Sugar Ray an Olympics Gold Medal winner in boxing way back when?? I recall he had quite an amateur career, and then went on and had an AMAZING career as a pro. And weren’t the Spinks bro’s on the same Olympic boxing team? Gosh…shredding my few remaining neurons remembering this stuff.

  15. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 10.28.2015 | 9:51 am

    Fatty, I don’t know how widely the term “Xterra” is know. Maybe you want to describe the horror of what you paid to do to yourself to those who don’t know…….


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