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Home » Endurance » Triathlons » Pigman Long

Pigman Long Triathlon — August 20, 2006


After completing my first sprint triathlon fairly successfully in the beginning of June, logically, the next race in which to compete would be a half-Ironman less than two months later. Choosing this triathlon had more to do with convenience though, rather than an unbiased look at what my body and a reasonable training schedule could accommodate. Since the course was less than thirty minutes from my house, why not go ahead and jump in the race? With no travel or lodging worries, everything should be a breeze. If the race happened to have been Olympic distance, that would have been my second attempt at triathlon. Not the best or recommended way to choose a race, but I have never claimed to be smart.

Race Morning

My alarm buzzed before sunrise to allow ample time to process my morning nutrition and arrive at the racecourse early. A little after 5 a.m. I had ¾ cup of oatmeal, a banana, and a bagel for breakfast before departing in the predawn darkness. The roads were empty at this hour, but as I approached Pleasant Creek State Park (the host site), more and more bike-topped cars started sharing the road. The last several miles were a sight to behold. The still low sun cast a warm auburn light across the fog covered farm fields enveloping the road. An endless stream of red taillights guided the way on this lonely country road which was normally deserted Sunday morning. The obvious reference to the overused cliché (especially in Iowa) from the last scene in Field of Dreams butchers the moment. The line resembled either a mass evacuation (ironically a nuclear power plant is along that road) or those eagerly waiting to gain entrance into the sold out event of the year. Would that day be for running away or towards something? Each person would have to discover that individually. My excitement continued to build as the landscape revealed itself.

After entering the park and driving across the dam, I could gaze over the lake and see the buoys marking the swim course. They seemed an awfully long way from the beach, and I had to question once again what I was doing. It was a little too late for worrying though, so I pushed the thoughts from my mind and headed towards registration. The friendly volunteers used dark permanent marker to scribble my number all over my body, after which I went to setup my transition area. The rack was already crowded with bicycles, but I managed to squeeze in all my gear. I did some short, light biking to make sure everything worked (at least it seemed to at the time) and a small jog. I then walked down to the beach and put on my borrowed wetsuit for the swim.

The Swim - One Out of Three Aint Bad

After the national anthem and the elite start, I waited the twenty or so minutes until my wave began. The water was warm, about 75°, and I played in it to become adjusted. The entire women’s field and the masters men launched into their 70.3 mile adventure before I finally took my place on the water’s edge. The actual starting line was just outside the normal swimming area, so the bottom was slimy and disgusting. Unfortunately, the start also faced directly into the rising sun. Since I do not wear contacts and had untinted, nonprescription goggles, I had a very difficult time seeing. I could not even definitively discern the first turn, which was shrouded by the glare. My best hope was to swim towards the big orange dot and follow the flailing limbs along a mostly correct route. I guess being a slow swimmer occasionally has advantages.

The last seconds finally ticked away until the announcer yelled go, and I dashed into the water with all my male friends under twenty-five. My first dolphin dive dislodged my goggles though, and they took on some water. Hoping not to repeat my goggle problems from my last triathlon, I quickly drained and adjusted them, after which they held their seal.

I started out well, trying to concentrate on my imperfect form and settle into this long race. My heat was one of the smallest, so the full contact nature of open water swimming did not manifest itself. The number of kicking bodies with which I had to content was limited. I continued along the first leg of the triangle feeling well, but I did veer a little off course. One of the patrol boats pulled along side me and pointed me back towards the correct buoys. I made the required a course correction and swam around the first turn.

I motored across the backstretch holding my own. It was hard to tell my position in the field, and several swimmers from heats after mine had already passed me. My non-existent swimming intuition told me I was around the middle of my age group though. Regardless of my position, I was feeling strong and kept stroking. Most of my time in the water was spent alone, but I still managed to swim over several people. Of course, my lonely swim was probably due to my poor sighting causing me to swim wide and curvy lines rather than actual gaps between the competitors. In any case, the hypotenuse of the triangular course seemed to drag on endlessly as I eagerly looked for the turn back to the beach. My arms started to tire from the extended swim, but they were not yet dying. A big reason for that was the wetsuit. I normally do not swim very balanced and have a tendency to drag my feet. Wetsuits do a nice job of mostly fixing those problems without the swimmer actually having to improve his technique.

I finally made it to the last turn and headed for the beach. Unfortunately, the sun was now on my right, and my great unilateral breathing caused me to gaze into a bright fireball every time I needed oxygen. I really should learn how to breathe properly on both sides on my body. Despite the blinding glare, the large banner indicating the swim’s end gradually became larger until my arms eventually encountered the sandy bottom of the swimming area.


I staggered from the water like Swamp Thing from a B-rated horror movie onto the beach. Although I did not think I was overexerting myself during the swim, my breathing was heavy and labored jogging to the transition area. I was not moving too fast in my oxygen-deprived state but found my bike, grabbed my stuff (socks, helmet, and glasses), and headed out. I had preclipped my shoes to my bike as I would be attempting flying mounts for the first time during a race.

The Bike - With Murphy Along for the Ride

I jumped into the saddle with my feet resting atop my shoes and after gaining a little momentum, attempted to slip them inside. My right foot settled in without incident, but my left one got jammed between the Velcro strap and tongue. I dug around and eventually got it on correctly. It is doubtful I actually saved any time overall, but flying mounts sure look cool and are very triathletesque. Plus as I continue to practice, I should be able to complete them quicker.

I transitioned onto the bike well and quickly started cruising along. As I turned out of the park and zoomed to the bottom of a large hill my bike suddenly became very stiff, and I felt every little bump in the road reverberate through my body. I tried to assure myself that this was just a bad stretch of road. Glancing back at my tire though, the suspected bad news was confirmed as it had gone flat. I was only about three miles into the bike.

Dealing With Problems

This triathlon bike was actually borrowed from a friend, and I had ridden it well over a month without any mechanical difficulties. This seemingly good fortune also meant I had never changed a tire on this bike (and had not replaced many on other bikes either). I was not the best flat changer even while at home with all the tools and time required. In fact, this attempt would be my first time changing a tire mid-ride and having to use a CO2 cartridge.

I stopped and laid the bike down to remove the rear wheel. To add insult to injury, my lidless water filled Profile Design Aero Bottle drained its entire contents onto the shoulder. I just sighed and remembered the bottle exchanges later in the race. I pulled off the wheel, and removed the ruined tube. As I went to insert the new one though, my lack of thorough preparation became evident. The spare tubes I carried were from my road bike, which had short valves, but this tri bike had long ones. I had suspected this, but brushed it off with my youthful nothing can happen to me attitude. Reality was now banging very loudly on the door though, and I tried to make due with the equipment present.

I attempted to fill the tire with a little pressure to make mounting it easier, but as I was fiddling with the CO2 cartridge all of the gas was suddenly discharged. The unconstrained tube inflated to monstrous proportions. I let out the excess air, but I did not then realize that the entire CO2 cartridge had been depleted in my failed attempt. So after getting the tire and tube situated properly, I had no pressure to inflate it. With my lack of experience though, I was unsure if I was just using the cartridge improperly or if it was dead. Added to the excitement was that the extremely small valve emerging from the wheel provided almost no area to make a seal. I even managed to bend it while fumbling around, making inflation even more difficult.

I flagged down one of the course marshals patrolling on a motorcycle as I was becoming ever more desperate for help. He had a pump with him, but he was unsure if he was allowed to provide mechanical assistance, at which my shoulders just dropped in frustration. At this point though, I would have taken the help, even if it meant I was DQed in the official results. He did not have an adapter for a Presta valve, so he could not help regardless. The marshal departed saying he would send someone back from the next aid station. I was unsure if this was to assist or for the Shag Wagon to drag a disgraced racer back to the park.

Time rapidly ticked along as I squabbled helplessly with my tire. A couple racers asked if I need anything, but were not carrying any requested pumps as I was fed up with CO2. I was quite literally a couple minutes from walking back and DNFing when a fellow racer (#254, Matthew Neal, all the way in from Kansas City), actually pulled over and stopped to help me. He carried a hand pump that he let me borrow. I started pumping, not sure if I had a solid seal between the pump and the slightly bent valve. Shortly after I started, some cyclists who were just riding around the action also stopped and skillfully used CO2 to inflate my tire quickly. I thanked them profusely, as I would have DNFed if not for their assistance. I think I technically should have been DQed or at least penalized for utilizing outside assistance, but I was far from the money or even age group awards, so oh well.

Finally on My Way…

I am truly amazed and humbled by the kindness shown by the other racers and cyclists. A guy interrupts his own race to assist a triathlete he has never met. How awesome and selfless is that? Overall, this probably added only a couple of minutes to his race, and if you are not racing for prizes, the few moments are not very significant. I still sheepishly admit though, that I would not have stopped even if I did possess tire changing talent. Especially since I am still more than a few steps from going pro, I need to sometimes step back and look at things besides the clock.

With their generous assistance, my tire was again in working order, and I restarted my ride. During this debacle though, I lost over half an hour messing with my bike. I believe I was quite literally the last rider on the course at that moment. I got up to speed but soon realized I could not clip in my left cleat. Something must have become lodged in it while I was changing my tire. I pulled over to clean it out, but did not see any foreign matter obstructing the clip. I started back up but was still unable to get the cleat and pedal to mate. My only choice was to push on with only one foot secured. Surprisingly, this did not significantly affect my pedal stroke. My shoe would slip occasionally, but I did not notice anything otherwise. Someone had also forgotten to close the rear break when I put on the tire, so that was not contributing much to stopping. But hey, you don’t need no stinking breaks in a time trial.

A short time later, I heard an ambulance approaching from behind. There was a good chance this bus was going to a fellow racers aid, and I was so far back at this point anyway I pulled over to the shoulder to provide it ample room to pass. As my luck continued though, I hit some ruff road while moving over, and my Gatorade-filled water bottle ejected from my bike, settling in the middle of the lane. The few second dramatically crawled by as I waited to see the bottle’s destiny and hoping for its survival. The ambulance straddled the container, and it continued to lie safely in the road. My luck could have been changing, but the volunteer EMT in the pickup truck following hit it dead on and Gatorade exploded all over the road. So now still less than ten miles in, I had already lost two of my three water bottles. Looks like I would be stocking up a lot at the bottle exchanges.

…For Real This Time

After all these starts, stops, and misfortunes, I finally managed to ride for more than three miles at a stretch. I actually settled into a good rhythm and cruised along at my goal speed. With the unexpected delay though, I was able to see the leaders pass on their way back through Shellsburg (hey, when everything was going bad, I had to look for consolation somewhere).

I continued out past Shellsburg and began to overtake some riders. Several recognized me from the side of the road and offered congratulations for getting back up. I cruised along the lonely country roads, and made it through Vinton. Several people were stopped along the course suffering from flats as well. I slowed to see if they needed anything, after experiencing the kindness shown to me. None took me up on the offer, but then again I probably could not have helped them much anyway. If I had actually been on pace though, I doubt if I would have even thought of slowing.

As the miles rolled by, the back of my legs directly behind my knees started to chafe. My wetsuit was a little big and without any lube during the long swim, it rubbed them raw. Something to fix after the race though, since no relief was to be found on the course. My legs carried me through Urbana and back to Shellsburg. Although while I was dilly-dallying on the side of the road quite literally every biker passed me, when I was actually in the saddle, no one overtook me. Since I was moving my way up from the rear of the field though, I would not expect anyone to unless they rode severely negative splits or I blew up on the bike.

The course was very well marked with volunteers at every intersection directing traffic and cyclists. It had a few rolling hills, but overall was not exceptionally difficult. The biggest climb I remember was just across the river heading back towards Shellsburg. Another random bit about the race was slightly past the third bottle exchange, I almost ran into a dog. I hit my breaks while yelling at the hound and maneuvered around it without incident. Even if we had collided, it would still not have been quite as extreme as actually hitting a bear.

I finally made it back to Palo, which signified the home stretch for the bike leg. The miles started to pile up though, and my speed dropped by a couple miles per hour. Although I think my rear tire had lost a large portion of its pressure by then too, which was not helping me maintain speed. But of course, fate (and my own stupidity) could not let me complete the bike course without more troubles. I reached over to record my fifty mile split on my watch, but lost my balance as I did. I wobbled along the edge of the road and attempted to keep my bike upright and off the gravel shoulder. I managed to do one of the two as my momentum carried me from the pavement but still vertical. The concrete was about an inch higher than the shoulder, and as I steered back on the road I nearly spilled going back over the bump. Somehow I managed to save it though and stayed on two wheels. Although assuming the bike and my tri suit would have survived unscathed, a nice scar dripping blood would have made for quite a (painful) souvenir.

I cranked up the last big hill into the park as the elite runners were finishing the last miles of their half marathon. With runners going in both directions, a couple of bikes straggling in, and cars sharing the road, a traffic jam ensued. I was actually going faster than the cars blocking my path and had to slow for them. Despite having no hope of a good finish time whatsoever, intentionally pedaling slowly behind a line of cars quickly became annoying, and I passed them. Whether that is entirely legit is an exercise left to the reader. In any case, after more problems than I would care to remember, I made the last turn towards the transition area as I still had that little matter of the run.


I had planned to do flying dismounts, but had to improvise since my left shoe was still unclipped. I slipped my right foot free and placed it on top of my shoe as normal. For my left though, I just removed the whole thing and held it in my hand as I swung my leg over the bike frame and jumped off just before the dismount line. As expected, a depressingly large number of bikes had already returned. I racked my bike, changed into my running shoes (utilizing nifty elastic laces), and headed out.

The Run - Not as Strong as I Thought

The run began well. I did not feel like I was moving very fast, but that was normal as my legs transition to running. I passed the first mile in a little under seven minutes, which was just about my goal pace. My second mile held constant, slipping only a couple seconds. Beyond that though, things quickly started deteriorating. I could feel my form disintegrating and my pace slow. I was grabbing water and Gatorade at every aid station, but it was too late. The bike had already zapped all the energy from my legs. My stomach was not in the mood to tolerate much either, so I refrained from consuming the GUs I carried. I managed to keep plodding along uninterrupted until mile four or five when I started walking through the aid stations. Although many people do this as part of their race strategy, I prefer not to since walking is one of the best ways to quickly add time, and it is usually terribly difficult to restart running. Although at this point calling my movement running would have been generous. I more slipped into the “(half) Ironman Shuffle” and plodded forward. The miles ticked by getting slower. Despite wanting to do contrary, I kept myself jogging except for the aid station every mile. I was still somehow passing people though, and only a couple runners passed me throughout the race.

The afternoon was partly cloudy, and it became very warm whenever the sun burned brightly. I could actually feel a little burst of energy whenever the clouds dominated the sky. Not until I was home did I notice how much the sun baked me. After washing off my body markings, you could actually see the tan line from the marker and read my number for the next week. I also had a nice big red spot on my normally pale chest from where I had unzipped my tri suit.

The run course was mostly flat with the only major hill being just outside Pleasant Creek State Park. A second lesser, but just as cruel hill was situated just before the turn around on the out and back course. It was relatively small, but the mental anguish of having to surmount it just to turn around at the top was excruciating.

I struggled through the second half of the race, posting mile times in the double digits. All I wanted to do was reach the finish line to get this race over. My legs felt horrible, and I really wanted to stop running. On top of that, my lower back started to hurt, which I had never experienced before. I surmised it was from the extended time spent earlier in the aero bars.

I walked up the big hill leading into the park. My jogging would not have been much faster and consumed even more energy that I did not have. I only had two miles left, but it seemed so incredibly far. The mental strain from the bad race started to erode my drive. A fellow competitor in my age group was near me for the last couple of miles, but I could not find any desire to try to stay in front of him. Even though we were pretty far back, it was still discouraging to give up like that. I did finish in front of him, but that was just because of how our individual races played out, not because I wanted to beat him. My normal competitive zeal was completely erased.

I did not have any spectacular kick as I finally crossed the line, but just kept my slow jog as I looked forward to being able to stop, six hours nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds after my day began.


Unfortunately, with me finishing farther back and having a tipsy stomach for a while, some of the better food was gone by the time I made it to the goody tent. The race still provided plenty to eat, but my consumption of pizza and spaghetti was limited. Additional pizza was ordered, but I was on the massage table when it arrived. By the time the masseuse finished trying to fix me, other races had already claimed it all. I think the deep massage outweighed any pizza though.

I barely found the energy to dismantle my transition area, and headed back for awards (aka grand prize drawings). At least with my slow finish, I did not have to wait very long for the ceremony to commence. As they were being distributed, several people were still finishing and each time the whole crowd let up a big cheer to bring them home. After all the awards were handed out, the awesome grand prizes provided by Gear West were raffled, from which I of course won nothing. As chance would have it though, one of the elite athletes won the wetsuit. I guess there was nothing in the rules against that, but it just seemed wrong that a pro who probably has a dozen wetsuits bought or donated by her sponsors won yet another one, when a field full of age groupers that spend an absurdly large portion of their disposable income on tri gear went home empty handed. Or I was just bitter that I did not win it.


Before the race I thought I might be under trained on the bike, and alas I was. I basically held my goal pace on the bike, but my legs were absolutely shot afterwards. I should have adjusted my race strategy for a slower bike (and overall faster time), but that would have been too intelligent. The race was definitely another learning experience. I plan to do a lot of boring spinning this winter to actually build a biking base. Despite this bad race, Ironman Wisconsin 2007 is still on my race list for next year. Of course, I did not even want to consider that as I crossed the finish line I would have only been half way done. Some serious training lay ahead.

Lessons Learned


Race Splits
SegmentLengthExpected TimeActual Time+/-Comment
Total70.3 M5:00:006:09:27+1:09:27
Swim1.2 M40:0038:17-1:43Did not swim very straight
Bike56 M2:45:003:21:05+36:05Flat tire and other mechanical problems cost well over 30 minutes
Run13.1 M1:30:002:06:19+36:19Goal time was aggressive, but legs were still dead

Detailed Race Splits
SegmentDistanceSplitElapsed TimeComment
Swim1.2 M38:1538:15
Bike10 mile1:06:341:47:22Flat tire fiasco
Bike20 mile28:282:15:50
Bike30 mile29:302:45:21
Bike40 mile31:253:16:56
Bike50 mile30:513:46:48
Bike56 mile15:044:01:52Split seems to be off
Run1 mile6:584:10:04
Run2 mile7:144:17:19Hit watch late
Run3 mile6:564:24:15
Run4 mile8:064:32:21
Run5 mile8:224:40:44
Run6 mile9:374:50:22
Run7 mile11:475:02:10
Run8 mile9:495:11:59
Run9 mile10:125:22:11
Run10 mile11:025:33:13
Run11 mile12:495:46:02Walked up hill
Run12 mile10:505:56:53
Run13.1 mile12:336:09:27

Event vs. Place graph

Event vs. Place