It’s no secret that I’m a big fan and supporter of Rockwell Relay: Moab to St. George. It’s just got everything I love about a race, all rolled up into one crazy event [Full Disclosure: Rockwell Relay waives my team's entry fee]. You’re racing. You’re spectating. You’re supporting. You’re strategizing. You’re seeing a big ol’ chunk of beautiful country.
Which is why I’ve written big ol’ sloppy-kiss race reports after both of the years I’ve participated (click here for the 2011 report, click here for the 2012 report).
Today at noon MT (2pm ET / 11am PT), I’ll be doing a live chat with some of the organizers and participants for this event. If you’ve ever wondered about this event, why someone might do it, what it’s like from the front or the back, or just want to see a bunch of guys who all love this really strange race talk for half an hour or so, please join us.
You can watch it below on this site, or you can go over to Spreecast itself to watch it, to make it easier for you to ask questions, participate in the viewer chat, and so forth (click here to go to the Spreecast page for this show).
See you at noon!
I knew the moment would come, eventually. The moment when I would have to get off my bike and go run a half marathon.
No, wait. I meant to put run in sarcasm quotes in that last sentence.
By the time I finished walking (as everyone around me ran) to where my stuff was in the transition area, my back felt OK again. I sucked down my seventh Gu Roctane gel of the day (one every half hour for the whole race — I never felt empty or sick the whole day) as I put on my fancy new 3-Sum Altras, but with socks. because I like to live dangerously . . . but not too dangerously.
And then I began to “run” (There, I got the air quotes right that time). Which means that I moved at what was essentially a walking pace, but swinging my arms as if I were running. Allow me to show you what I mean:
Please do not mistake my facial expression for a smile. Thank you.
This Course Is Just Mean
The thing is, I was as prepared for this run as I have ever been for any run. Running this season in Altras certainly was part of it — the zero-drop thing has really worked for me. Being lighter has helped, too. And starting with low mileage and working s-l-o-w-ly up has made a difference.
But none of that mattered, because the running course for the St. George Half-Ironman is just brutal. This is the run profile, according to the race website:
But my Strava of the run — which, by the way, did not capture the first 0.8 miles of the run because my stupid Garmin 10 wouldn’t acquire a signal — tells a different story: 1241 feet of climbing.
Yeah, 1241 feet of climbing in a half marathon. At the end of a half Ironman.
And I’m inclined to believe the Strava record of the event. See, the out-and-back course was always either going up or down. I don’t believe there was a single piece of the run that was level.
Looking For The Hammer
But I made it a point of pride to never stop and walk. Even if I was going nearly as slow as if I were walking, I was going to keep “running.”
Because I suspected that if I slowed to a walk, The Hammer would smack me on the butt as she ran by.
I made it to the six-point-something mile turnaround, and began keeping a sharp eye out for The Hammer. I knew I’d see her soon; the only question was when. I figured if I got to mile seven — which would be her mile 5 — I’d have a good chance of holding her off ’til the end.
I reached mile seven. No sign of The Hammer yet.
A chunk of mile seven (also mile 5) is in a little detour the half-marathon takes your through the hilly (because the course isn’t already difficult enough, apparently) Pioneer Park. Before the race, this is where The Hammer said we’d see each other.
She was right.
“Lisa!” I yelled, and held out a hand for her to give me five as we crossed paths.
Instead, she laughed and threw a piece of ice at me. I didn’t mind. I had two miles on her, and fewer than six left to go before I reached the finish line.
Slowdown + Gratitude + Pain
Encouraged, I kept running. But — even more than before, somehow — my running felt less like running. It was a trudging jog, at best. And — except for steep downhills, which weren’t super-pleasant either — it was always uphill.
People passed me in droves. “It isn’t the course that’s the problem,” I realized. “It’s me.” I began to suspect that my lead over The Hammer was far from safe.
I told my legs to go faster. My legs failed to comply.
I made it to the bottom of the last big descent — just a couple miles to go. Then I got diverted (along with everyone else) onto a little side street, where we had a short run up (and I mean “up” in the most vertical sense of the word) to the local Elks lodge and then back.
I knew that if I saw The Hammer coming into this out-and-back section while I was still on it, she’d catch me. If I didn’t see her, I was — more than likely — safe.
As I ran I watched every runner, knowing that long before I could recognize any features I’d recognize her smooth running style.
I made it onto Bluff Street without seeing her. I knew I’d finish first. And with this knowledge came a sudden lack of urgency, and I slowed down further, so that my forward progress could be measured only by sophisticated scientific instruments.
I turned onto Diagonal Street: a — finally! — gently downhill grade leading to the final turn and the home stretch. There, a large man was standing in the street, holding out popsicles for anyone who wanted them.
I took one, briefly considering that in this era, taking food from a stranger in an event like this might not be wise. “I’m not going to live like that,” I thought to myself, “and besides, a popsicle sounds great right now.”
And it was great. Truly cold and sweet and wet and delicious. Just what I needed and wanted right then.
And then I got a monster of a brain freeze. Which at least kept me occupied for a minute or so and distracted me from the fact that everyone in the world was passing me at the moment.
I made the final turn. Now all I had to do was make it down the big downhill stretch to the finish. I heard someone call my name out, and turned around — it was Kenny and Heather. “Hey,” I said, happy to see they had come to see me.
The finishing line crowd was huge, and cheering for everyone. Dozens of people put out their hands for runners to give them five. I complied as best as I could:
Hey, let’s get a closeup of my legs in that shot:
I confess to having mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think my legs are looking pretty darned good. On the other hand, there’s some very clear old-man-legs wrinkleage going on up there on my left quad. Ew.
As I approached the finish line, I thought to myself, “I need a finish line celebration.” Raised arms wouldn’t be appropriate — I knew I for sure hadn’t won anything.
But how about a heel-click? Yes, a heel click would be perfect. Which just goes to show exactly how addled my mind was at the time. Still, here’s the launch:
And here I am on my way toward the click:
And for those of you who — like me — have been waiting your whole life for a good shot of me doing a heel-click while wearing a super-form-fitting outfit as I cross the finish line of a half-Ironman, here’s the zoomed-in version of the shot:
Unfortunately, I haven’t been exactly training to do heel clicks when I’m completely and utterly exhausted, and I very nearly went down when I landed:
But I pulled it out and recovered my balance.
Meeting The Hammer
Now all I needed to do was wait for The Hammer to cross. And I didn’t have to wait long. In fact, I only needed to wait six minutes, during which I drank three bottles of water (no exaggeration). Kenny caught a photo of us moments after she crossed the line:
Yes, I was as salt-encrusted as I appear in that photo.
We sat down and recovered.
Yes, I really was that salt-encrusted.
Heather wanted a photo of The Hammer and me together, but neither of us was willing to get out of our seats. This was our compromise:
We were not actually anywhere near as sunburned as the above photo would suggest.
The Hammer Hammered
After a few minutes or possibly half an hour, we went to check and see what our various splits and times and whatnot were. You can look us up at the results page for the race (I’m racer 2261, The Hammer is 2076) but I’ll be more than glad to give you a quick snapshot for your consideration.
And here’s The Hammer:
You see what’s important there? Yep, The Hammer podiumed.
That’s right, The Hammer took fourth in her age group. And in fact had the fastest bike time in her age group.
So here she is on stage, getting her trophy:
And here’s the trophy itself:
I’m so proud of her.
And also, I’m so happy that I don’t have to run again for a long, long time.
A Note from Fatty: If you’ve ever wanted to race the Rockwell Relay: Moab to Saint George — or you are racing it and want to know what it’s going to be like . . . or if you have no intention of racing it but are curious what kind of idiots would race it, join me this Thursday at 12:00 (noon) Mountain Time (2pm ET / 11am PT) for a live Spreecast chat with the organizers and participants for the race. You’ll be able to find the event on my homepage, as well as on Spreecast itself.
We’ll be talking about what the race is like, strategy for who should ride which kinds of stages, what it’s like to share a van with three other stinky, sleepy racers for a full day (and longer) and more.
Join us. It should be great fun.
Half of an IronFatty is Still Fat: St. George Half Ironman Race Report Part the Second
When last I wrote, I had finished the swim part of the St. George Half Ironman, had successfully extricated myself from the wetsuit, had seen that The Hammer was minutes ahead of me, and had made it through transition, all apparently without incident.
And by apparently, I really mean apparently.
I jumped on my bike, clipped in, spun up to a good cadence, and then pressed the shifter button on my Ultegra Di2 to shift from the easyish gear I had selected before the race to a bigger gear, so I could begin ramping up the speed.
I pressed the button again.
Some more nothing.
I considered the strange possibility that the button itself wasn’t working and pressed the shifter button on the aero bar instead.
Yet even more nothing.
I wondered if perhaps my battery was dead, in spite of the fact that I had charged it less than a day earlier. I pressed the button to make my front derailleur shift.
That worked fine.
I pressed all kinds of buttons to shift my rear derailleur again.
Lots and lots of nothing.
Great, I thought. “The rear derailleur has gotten unplugged. I pulled over out of traffic (though I had not yet pulled out of the Sand Hollow Reservoir parking area) and checked where the wire plugs into the derailleur.
It was in place.
So I climbed back onto my bike and began pedaling again, considering my new reality: I was riding a two-speed bike. With the derailleur where it was — in about the third-easiest gear — I wouldn’t be in a good place for flying on the flats, nor for climbing the steep stuff.
I began trying to adapt to my new riding situation. “I am not going to be fast,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to be very spun out on flats and downhills, and I’m going to be overgeared on the climbs.”
The blinking red light on the Di2 junction box — mounted on the stem — caught my eye.
I pressed and held the button on the junction box, hoping that maybe — just maybe — it would reset the brains of the setup and I’d be able to shift again.
The light continued to blink.
“Forget it,” I thought, and began to pedal the fastest cadence I could. I began passing people. “This’ll be OK,” I thought. “I’ll have a story to tell. Not the story I wanted, but still: a story.”
Then, a minute or so later, I looked down. The LED was no longer blinking red. It was no longer blinking at all.
Without any real hope or expectation, I pressed the button to shift my rear derailleur.
I was back in business.
A surge of adrenaline hit me, I laughed out loud, shifted into a big gear, and dropped twenty people during the next minute. And by the minute after that, I had dropped so many people I decided I wasn’t going to bother counting any longer.
So, why had I not been able to shift at the beginning of the race, when during the past five years of use Di2 had never failed me, and had in fact been by far and away the most reliable drivetrain I have ever owned?
I have a theory.
When a Di2 rear derailleur gets whacked good and hard, it automatically disengages, so the motor doesn’t get busted. Kinda like the way if you drop your computer, your hard drive parks itself right away to avoid damage (this simile probably made more sense to some of my readers than to others).
I suspect that whoever had their bike next to mine in the bike rack before the race smacked my rear derailleur as he got his own bike off the rack. My derailleur protected itself. But I — having never bothered to read the manual — didn’t realize that’s what had happened. So all my button pressing did no good…until I stumbled on the idea of pressing the junction box button. That reset and re-engaged the derailleur and I was good to go. In fact, I could have shifted probably a couple minutes sooner than I did if I’d have just tried.
Full Speed Ahead
I had been looking forward to this moment — this 56 miles — for months. Quite literally. I had lost a bunch of weight. Gotten my legs as fit and fast as they’ve ever been. Learned to get good and low on a bike while still putting as much power as I possibly could into the pedals.
And with everything working right, I went out. Hard.
“On your left!” I called, loud. Over and over. Yelling it loudly to be heard, but meaning it politely so nobody would accidentally start drifting left as I passed them.
I passed people by the dozens. For reals.
I hit the first big hill and just stayed left because I was passing so often that there was never any time to get back on the right side of the road.
I’m tempted to make some kind of self-deprecating comment here. Deflate what’s obviously a pretty hefty string of boasts, but the truth is, I was a force of nature.
As I crested the first hill, I had caught and passed The Hammer. “Hey baby,” I said as I went by.
“Love you!” she yelled.
“You too!” I shouted over my shoulder.
And then I was gone.
After that, the stats for the bike leg tell the story pretty well.
As I rode, I truly never was not passing people. I went from 1248th place, overall, at the end of the swim, to 208th place by the end of the ride. Which means I passed right around 1040 people on the bike.
With 3400 feet of climbing in the 56 miles, I still averaged 22.45 miles per hour.
And since I’m boasting and getting all anal about stats, how about these:
- Out of all finishers (around 2000 of us, I’m guessing), I was the 77th fastest cyclist.
- Out of all non-pro men (which I think is the most reasonable way to measure myself), I was the 33rd fastest cyclist.
So, do I love my Specialized Shiv? You bet I do. Do I love my Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting? Oh yeah. More than ever.
I loved being one of the fast guys.
And for that very reason, I was seriously disappointed as I rolled up to the transition area; it was immediately obvious that my moment in the sun was at an end.
I stepped off my pedals and walked painfully into the transition area, my back aching, as it often does after a long ride — having stiffened during the effort. I watched as others ran to where they’d dump their helmets and swap their shoes.
I, on the other hand, shuffled.
“This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber,” I muttered to myself, repeating a little joke The Hammer and I have between ourselves (she’s not one for stopping and chatting during bike rides). I pulled my shoes on and stutter-stumble-stepped into a phony jog.
I had been fast on the bike, but The Hammer had had a banner season so far, too. Would I be able to hold her off for the next thirteen miles in what is undisputably my absolute worst event?
That’s the question I had on my mind, and the question I’ll answer in the next post.
PS: For those of you who like Strava, here’s what it has to say about my ride.
I could start this story by talking about everything that comes before doing a half-Ironman. The fact that you have to go register in one place, then drop off your bike and riding gear in another place, then go drop your running stuff in yet another place, and then go put all your morning-of gear together for the start of the race.
But I’m pretty sure I already went over all that. So let’s start with the single most-important thing in the world of racing:
This is the most common sight in all the world of bike, running, and triathlon: standing in line to use the bathroom.
And, if you’re like me, your nerves act up before the race so much that, immediately upon finishing using the toilet, you just go get back in line to use it again. Because you know that by the time you get to the front of the line, you’re going to need it.
Well, I’m happy to report that — for the first time ever in my whole history of racing — I was the first person to use one of those port-potties. Which is to say, it was clean, there was no stench, and the packaging was still on both of the toilet paper rolls.
Until that moment, it had never occurred to me that for every race port-potty, there’s someone who uses it first.
It was a grand moment, let me tell you. An auspicious portent that things were going to go well for me.
Lest you think I lead a purely charmed life, however, please note that for my next trip to a porta-potty, the seat and front of the toilet were entirely covered with diarrhea.
And with that image seared into your mind, let’s talk about the race, shall we?
Isolation and Ennui, Punctuated by a Vicious Stabbing
Standing on the beach, waiting for my turn to get in the water, I watched The Hammer’s wave begin. She was starting six minutes before me; I had no idea whether I’d catch her during the swim or drop further behind.
I reflected on the fact that I had been to the bathroom six times since I had arrived at the starting line more than three hours ago. And that, given the time and opportunity, I wouldn’t mind going one more time.
But there was no more time. My race — nearly an hour after the first wave of pros had gone (and half an hour since I had seen some of them take off on their bikes) — it was my turn to swim out and begin my 1.2-mile swim.
I waded into the water, gingerly. I splashed water onto my face, hoping to get a sense of how cold it was. Would I panic, like the last time I had been swimming here?
Not bad. Not too cold.
I swam out to the starting line, the horn blew, and I was off.
I did not hurry.
As a terrible swimmer, I understand one very important thing: any extra effort I put into swimming results not in more speed, but merely more splashing and thrashing. So I swam at the pace I always swim.
The swim course was a two-turn affair. Here’s a Very Helpful Map to show you what it looked like:
Swim out to the first red buoy, turn left, swim to the second red buoy, turn left, and swim for the shore. No problem, right?
Well, actually there were two problems.
First, this map lies in the most horrible way possible. Looking at it, you would think that the longest straight line is the first one.
The first section went quickly. I swam straight, rarely bumping into anyone, never losing sight of my targets: the red “turn here” buoy and the intermediate yellow waypoint buoys.
Then I turned left and was required to swim around the world, thrice.
I don’t know how many yellow buoys there were, but I am quite certain that this number kept getting larger, for at one point I counted four . . . then after passing a buoy I looked up and counted five. Perhaps this was due to the difficulty of viewing buoys that were hidden by the curve of the earth.
I began to veer left as my swimming form degrades from “horrible” to “an insult to the term ’swimming form.’” A nice man in a kayak yelled at me to get my attention; I waved and veered back toward where I was supposed to go.
Eventually — oh so very eventually — I made the final turn. I could see the dock. I knew I had fallen very far behind my wave; nobody near me had the same color swim cap as mine. I didn’t care. I kept swimming. I’d be done with this miserable exercise in repetition, isolation, and sensory deprivation soon.
And then someone stabbed me.
OK, it just felt like someone stabbed me. In reality, my right calf cramped up. Bad. I had the charlie horse to end all charlie horses.
I flexed my foot. That helped for a second, but as soon as I started kicking the cramp returned.
I pointed my foot. No better. So for the last five minutes of the swim, I just hobbled in, kicking my left foot and dragging my right.
Then — to my relief — I was on the dock. As I put weight on my foot my calf stretched out; the cramp went away. I laughed with the pleasure one only experiences at the sudden absence of pain.
I managed to unzip my wetsuit, then laid down on my back as a couple of women pulled my wetsuit off me — the effort almost causing them to tumble to the ground, as if they had just suddenly won a tug-of-war.
I stumble-ran toward my bike, keeping an eye out for The Hammer — or at least her space — to see whether she was ahead of or behind me at this point.
There she was: helmet and glasses on, and putting on her shoes. Moments away from leaving. So I had neither gained nor lost much time. I yelled, “You’re doing great, Honey!” and kept running toward my own bike, which — to my delight — I found without difficulty.
I pulled on my socks and shoes, put on my glasses and helmet, stuffed a gel under each short leg, and two gels each in each pocket (so a total of six gels). I grabbed my bike and — guiding it by holding onto the stem — guided it toward the end of the transition area.
I ran across the timing mat, swung a leg over, and began the part of the half-Ironman I was actually looking forward to.
What I didn’t realize was that I was ten seconds away from being simultaneously horrified and dejected at my prospects for the rest of the race.
Which seems like a good place to begin Part 2 of this story.
A Note from Fatty: It has been far, far too long since I have posted an installment of Free Verse Friday. I am pleased — oh, so very, pleased — to rectify that now.
Here I stand
In front of a mirror
Who is this person?
How did he get here?
Am I wearing this ridiculous outfit?
Some things are better
Was I not born for greatness?
No, I suppose I was not.
Surely I was not born to fret
Over such trivialities
As the time it takes
To put on socks
When one has just
Exited the water
I am at it
Would someone please
I am getting in such frigid water
How can it be
That I am losing sleep
Over whether I should carry
Four gels or five
While I ride 56 miles
Should I not rather
The nature of the picnic lunch
I am packing?
Tomorrow I will arise
And board a bus
And stand around for three hours
And be unable
To talk or listen
Or anything really
Because my anxiety
To unheard-of heights
(Shall I poop once more
Before the race begins?)
I shall swim
And be kicked in the face
In frigid waters
I will ride my bike
which has been specially designed
To force me to look
Straight down at the road
And not at
The grand splendor
Which is all around me
I will run
And betimes walk
In this pair of shoes
And no socks
Or the other pair of shoes
Such are the worries
That confound me
I must confess
I am excited
And completely cool
With the fact
That stares me
In the face:
I have become
That which I mock.
PS: My race number is 2261. The Hammer’s is 2076. If you’d like to track our progress tomorrow, I suspect (but do not know for sure) that the Ironman Live Coverage site would be a good place to do it. The Hammer’s wave starts at 7:48am MT; my wave starts at 7:54 MT. The very soonest either of us will cross the finish line will be five hours later, and may more like six.
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