The Spudman Triathlon, or, "Why do people always punch me in my sleep?"

Patrick, me, Eric and Lynn, smiling like idiots after receiving potatoes in our race packets.

Patrick and I have always talked about the Spudman. Lynn has always talked about maybe/possibly/never doing a triathlon. So it seemed appropriate that the three of us traveled up to Burley, Idaho, together, to experience the Spudman.

We arrived in Burley and immediately, all of us (except for Patrick and me) began to panic.

To be fair, this was a more complicated triathlon. There were two transition areas (every triathlon that I’ve ever done has had both the bike and run transition in the same location. Usually it’s pretty brainless- just set out everything you need that’s not for the swim and you’re done. But here you had to remember to put everything you needed in the proper transition, or you might be out of luck when you get to the bike transition and figure out (like in my case) that you won’t have your inhaler until your last event- the 10k. Not a huge thing to set up, but you had to really plan more carefully.

Honestly, though, Lynn voiced what I already knew- that we needed to set up our stuff correctly, or things would go pretty darn wrong. Fortunately, we all nailed it and left the transition areas, knowing that in the morning, we still would need to revisit T1 to check tire pressure levels.

Sleeping accommodations were not horrible, but also not ideal. We never had nailed down a hotel or anything, so I had thrown my tent in the back of Lynn’s truck, just in case.     But when we were getting ready to sleep, I realized that if we had any major take-down issues in the morning, we’d be close on time. The race started at 7 AM, and we needed to sleep as many minutes as we could.

Lynn, selfishly, had paid for gas and done all of the driving and refused to share the bed of his truck. Sort of ridiculous if you think about it. So Patrick and I slept on the ground in borrowed sleeping bags (graciously supplied by Lynn’s other triathlon friend, Eric.)  At one point, Patrick was either pushing me or punching me in the face, he says. Claims of me snoring are getting old. I’m positive that I don’t snore (and who should know better?) But it’s gotten to the point where people will bring it up, just for the sake of changing a conversation’s direction. For instance:

Wendy’s salon client: “So Ted finally landed a new job and will be working for that toothpaste factory in Salem.”

Wendy: “That’s great! You know, Nathan’s snoring has gotten to the point that I think I’m having second thoughts about planting those petunias.”

So, as you can imagine, Patrick’s allegations of me snoring the night before the Spudman were a little annoying to me. But whatever. I pushed thoughts of angry friends aside and settled in for some quality sleep, which lasted about four hours.

My phone’s alarm, consideration aside, blasted through my brain at 5:30 AM, and I awoke with a start. I lied to myself and worked out a story about how excited I was to get into water and swim with strangers who would consider swimming over my corpose a”good start.”


The male, 35-39 age-groupers entered the water. Patrick and I started swimming around a bit, waiting for the race to start. As the countdown began, Patrick and I wished each other luck and then I started allowing myself to drift toward the back of the pack. I’ve never been a strong triathlon swimmer, so I don’t kid myself- starting at the front of the pack is a one-way ticket to being beaten up and spit out. It’s a horrible way to start a 3-5 hour race, where you can count on being beaten up by the elements, your bike, and your willpower, anyway.

But as the race started, I discovered something, sort of amazing. I was actually passing people- a lot of people. Somehow, all of the open water swimming in Utah Lake started paying off. For the first time in a triathlon, I had to actually spot to see open space that would allow me to pass other swimmers. It was weird. It felt like something was going horribly wrong, only because I was in uncharted territory. So this is what it’s like to enjoy the swim portion of a triathlon.

I should disclose, at this point in writing, that we were swimming in the Snake River. So there was already a little current to help us along (also another triathlon first for me.) As I swam, I noticed how fast the banks of the river moved along. It was a little deceiving, but a positive deceit, so I enjoyed it.

I could see the bridge where we’d be getting out, up ahead, so my confidence shot and I pushed myself harder than I have in the swim portion of a triathlon. Throwing caution to the wind, I pretended that there weren’t two more events and just gave it what I had (ok- I held back a litte.) As I made my way toward the bank to exit, I noticed how many people were still in the water behind me. I already knew that I’d done a good job on the swim.

But I also knew that Patrick was long gone. There is a tradition, in each triathlon that Patrick and I do together, that when I get to the first transition area, Patrick is long gone (usually by about 20 minutes in the Olympic distance.) So I almost fell over when I sawPatrick, just about to leave the transition. He congratulated me on a fast swim and took off.


In the transition area, I made an effort to push a little to get out and on the bike. Usually I allow myself a little breathing room to relax and put myself together. I still did this time, but I pushed a little harder. I ran my bike out to the mounting point and jumped on.

Two miles into the bike, I already started to pay the price for not biking (at all) this season. My bike had been hanging on the garage wall until Friday, when I placed waaaaay too much faith it it’s condition. No tuning, no tire check- nothing. Sort of stupid. But what’s a triathlon without a little drama?

My muscles were killing me and my butt was aching as I hit mile 3. “Thank goodness there’s only 21 more miles left”, I told myself, because I think sarcasm is my second wind. Sarcasm was not my second wind, it turned out. When my watch reported 10 miles left on the bike, I was already in pretty decent pain.

It should be noted that I’m pretty sure that all of the people that I’d passed on the swim took their revenge and passed me like a water station volunteer. It really took the pride out of me. It was just every triathlon from last year, in repeat. My legs are burning and people are just whizzing past me. Some of them seem to be having fun. And I don’t want to get into a “thing” here, but it really puts the hurt on, when all manner of people are passing you. People that look like they’d be better off in “before” pictures, are absolutely wiping the asphalt with me. I already knew that Patrick was putting miles on, in front of me. He’s got some good riding experience and doesn’t deal with a lot of my aforementioned issues.


So you can imagine my relief when I was finally able to drop my bike off at T2 and put on something a little more familiar to me- my sweatpants. No, just kidding. I laced up my running shoes, threw on a hat, and cursed my legs as they failed to make the change from “bike” to “run.” If you’ve never experienced a triathlon, try this, sometime- go ride your bike for miles and miles and then, suddenly, start running. The first time you do it, you feel, uh…weird- sometimes you cramp up. It’s interesting, to say the least.

In fact, it almost took me 1.5 miles before I really felt normal, again (whatever you consider that to be.) Every mile, I’d stop and drink some water, walk for about 30 seconds (I may have cheated on that time, for a couple of miles), then start running, again. I actually kept a decent 8:30 minutes per mile for a while, but that deteriorated to about 9:30 by the time I was a mile away from the finish line.

This is a paragraph that is meant to emphasize the amount of exhaustion that had encompassed my body at this point. There. That should do it.

And then it happened- about half a mile from the finish, I found Patrick. He told me that he’d “bonked” and it looked all-too familiar to me. I am a professional “bonker”, myself. It’s what I do best. I train as little as possible, under-nourish myself for weeks, then I compete. It usually ends with disappointment. Patrick told me to go ahead and so I took off to end the misery.

Only minutes later, I ran down the same embankment that killed all of us, when starting the run. This time, I had to be careful to not go too fast, because my legs were starting to give out. Crossing the finish line, a volunteer stripped my ankle timing chip, another handed me my finishing metal, and I stumbled around, as I waited for Patrick and Lynn.

Two minutes later, Patrick ran in and finished his race. About 15 minutes later, Lynn laid down his first triathlon finish. It should be noted that Lynn’s swim wave started 10 minutes after Patrick’s and mine. So it turned out that Lynn, Patrick and me all finished within five minutes of each other. Sort of amazing, considering that we were killing ourselves out there for just over three hours.

We gathered our things, packed into the truck, and headed back to Utah. That night, the three of us would sleep in our own beds. There would be no kicking, punching, or snoring (I still deny this), stressing out, no wet sleeping bags, or alarms to wake us at 5:30 AM. Thank goodness. Let’s not ever do that again…

Until next July.


Swimmers: The "pedestrians" of open water

Esther Fujimoto was killed at Pineview Reservoir, almost a year ago, when boaters ran over her and fled, even after realizing she was seriously hurt.  A good samaritan paddled his canoe over to Ester and held her head above water as she died.

I see a lot of ignorant comments under online news articles, such as the following:  “These guys have egg on their face, the state has a new law, and the smart lady with absolutely no common sense lost with no one to blame but her for pushing her luck.”  Was Esther was pushing her luck by swimming in a body of water where there were boats?

There is a serious misunderstanding of what our public water resources are for. There is a common theme in news comments that would tell those of us who swim, that open water is for fish and boats.  Those of us who swim in open water take a lot of flack for being “reckless” and “foolish.”

However, I think it’s instructive to compare open water swimmers to sidewalk or side-of-the-road pedestrians.  If a drunk or negligent driver runs up on the sidewalk and runs over someone who is walking, who is at fault?  Or, similarly, if a bicyclist is riding on the right hand side of the road, with traffic, and gets hit by a car that isn’t paying attention, do we blame the cyclist?  (Sadly, some people actually do blame the cyclist.)

The reason I use the previous examples, is because there is some doubt out there, as to the soberness of the driver of the boat, who ran over Esther.

But let’s give this driver the benefit of the doubt, for a minute.  Let’s say he wasn’t drunk or disabled, was paying reasonable attention, when he ran over Esther (this is a stretch, by the way.)  Let’s say Esther was wearing darker clothing (reports are that she was), that she wasn’t marked by any flag or bright-colored device (again, reports are that she wasn’t extremely visible), when she was run over.  At this point, Esther might share some blame here.  It’s incumbent upon us, as open water swimmers, to take reasonable precaution.  We should stick closer to shore, wear bright colors and be aware of our surroundings at all times.

But when I read online commenters say something like, “Why was she swimming in Lake with roaring motor boats flying by. Obviously a dangerous situation…”  The answer is simple:  For the same reason we walk down the road, facing traffic, when cars are flying by at 40 MPH.  She was swimming in open water with traffic in the lake, for the same reason that I jump on my bike and navigate traffic on State Street in Salt Lake City, while fools assume that they have the right of way and squeeze me closer and closer to the sidewalk.  It’s what we do for fun, for exercise, for transport.  We take a reasonable chances and pray that others will obey the law and pay attention.

However, the discussion has become diluted, because while open water swimming has it’s risks, we are talking about a couple of boaters, who, after realizing they’d hit Esther, took off and evaded authorities as she called for help.  This is the important point, here.  Not that her bathing suit was dark, not that it’s stupid to swim in open water (debatable), or that they were or weren’t drunk or high (although this is the next thing to discuss.)  We are talking about a hit and run.  If you run over someone while in your car, on a boat, or even if you tag a pedestrian while you’re flying down a mountain on a bike, it is your responsibility to help the person you’ve hit.  Period.  No snarky, anti-open-water-swimming comment can change that.

Once we have resolved the fact that you can’t just run over someone who is swimming, then take off, we can start to discuss boat laws (The operator of any vessel may not exceed a wakeless speed when within 150 feet of person in or floating on the water.)  Some swimmers and fishermen would like to see an addendum to the Utah Boating Code, stating that you have to be wakeless within 150 feet of any shore, but that’s for another post.

I don’t think that most swimmers would take advantage of this law.  We don’t feel too comfortable swimming “out to sea” without a boat or kayak escort, usually.  You can almost bet that if we’re heading toward the middle of a body of water, we’ll be escorted (hopefully.)  But we do swim along the shores of lakes and oceans- a lot.  It’s close enough for us to get to safety if the weather turns south, or if we cramp up, etc.

Open water swimming is becoming more popular in Utah with groups like Utah Open Water, Swim Without Walls, the London Olympics 10k open water event (which probably should have been listed first), so it’s important that the local boating/fishing/swimming communities have some mutual respect for each other.  When I swim along the shore, I try to swim wide of fisherman.  But, knowing that there are boats, I get back to within 5 meters of shore as soon as I can.

But all of this aside, Esther wasn’t at fault for being left behind when she was struck by a boat.  She might have had better options for clothing (perhaps a Swim Safety Device would have made her more visible), etc., but once she was run over, the three men (almost want to put that word in quotes) should have taken action to try to save her, whether they were drunk or not (and whether their lawyer thinks it would have made a difference.)

Keep on swimming, folks.

From the Utah Boating Code:

(10) The operator of any vessel may not exceed a wakeless speed when within 150 feet of:

(a) Another vessel
(b) A person in or floating on the water
(c) A water skier being towed by another boat
(d) A water skier that had been towed behind the operator’s vessel unless the skier is still
surfing or riding in an upright stance on the wake created by the vessel
(e) A water skier that had been towed behind another vessel and the skier is still surfing or
(f) A shore fisherman
(g) A launching ramp
(h) A dock
(i) A designated swimming area