Mountain Man Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

The Mountain Man Triathlon in Flagstaff, Arizona bills itself as “The Toughest Race You’ll Ever Love.” Something about altitude. And a hill. I had done it last year, and was looking forward to testing my mettle on the course again. I was also faster, more experienced, and perhaps most importantly, I had better gear. After the tube and tire fiasco at the previous month’s triathlon, I had made sure to take care of everything bike-related well before the night of the race. The latex tubes were in my tires, and I was able to use both race wheels.

The night before the race, my husband and I headed to Picazzo’s. I had a delicious Greek salad and a whole-grain crust pizza. Several other triathletes were carbo-loading there as well. Afterwards, we headed to Target. I needed berries and granola for my breakfast yogurt, and if a few other things happened to find their way into my cart, well, far be it from me to throw them out. We had planned on walking around downtown, but decided to head back to our room and watch Trouble With The Curve (purchased at said Target) instead.

I woke up a little after four, ate my yogurt breakfast, sipped black tea, and let Ted sleep for another half hour. He got up without too much urging, and we quickly loaded the car and headed toward Lake Mary. The mountain air was delightfully cool, and I wore a sweatshirt and yoga pants over my tri clothes. We parked off the side of the road as instructed, and made our way toward the transition area.


Some races assign racks by number, but this isn’t one of them. Trying to find a spot to slip your bike in can be a little tricky, but I’ve never had a big problem. Sometimes, however, I do have a problem getting the number onto my bike using the twist ties provided. Aerodynamic frames have funny shapes. My friend Jeff says that he staples his number on, and I might just have to do that myself next time.


Hmm… Will this way work?

After everything was set up, I had plenty of time to eat some more, use the port-o-potties (the lines weren’t bad), and don my wetsuit. My wave was assigned golden caps, and I think they look as snazzy as latex head covers can possibly look. My time here last year was 2:44:57 and my goal for this race was to go under 2:40.


Swim (does not include time to reach timing mat)
00:30:20 | 1640.42 yards | 01m 50s / 100 yards
Age Group: 4/13
Overall: 85/278

The water was a bit chilly, as we stood half-submerged waiting for the start. I positioned myself about a third of the way back. Once we started, it was a mass of flailing limbs and brown, churning water. I knew from past experience that the first few minutes of the swim would feel awful thanks to the altitude, but knowing didn’t make it any easier. I felt like my lungs had shriveled up and I just had to keep telling myself that the feeling would pass and to keep going. My upper body felt powerless, and it was all I could do to weakly paddle forward. There had also been some turmoil in my personal life over the past month, and while I had gotten my workouts in, they certainly hadn’t been stellar. It would be interesting to see how this DSC03353race unfolded. I threw in a breaststroke every so often as I tried to sight, and I had to re-align myself more than once. The crowd had thinned by the time I reached the first buoy, so I was able to make a tight turn. I was also breathing much better by this time, but my stroke still felt weak.  

As I turned around the last buoy to head to the ramp, I was nearly blinded by the glare of the sun off the water. I could make out swimmers ahead of me, but not much else. I kept popping up to sight, but I couldn’t see the exit. It felt like I was never going to get out of this lake. I kept going, and swam right into a volunteer who was there to keep people from hitting a reef. At least the finish was in sight now. I was disappointed with my 30+ minute swim because it was slower than last year. I know I wasted a lot of time zigging and zagging. Still, there was a lot of race left, so I ran toward the transition, cursing the pebbles along way.

Transition 1

I scarfed a Z Bar and applied some sunscreen. In the process of unracking my bike, I knocked my aero bottle out of its cage, so I had to re-rack and put it back. I know my official transition time of 3:29 is slow, but since according to my Garmin I went all the way to Africa, I’d say that it was pretty fast. Seriously, check out the link. What up, Garmin? Atmospheric disturbance?

01:14:09 | 24.85 miles | 20.05 mile/hr
Age Group: 3/13
Overall: 85/278

Bike Course

The bike course is kind of an oxymoron: hilly, but fast. It’s an out-and-back, with most of the climbing taking place in the first half. Some people seriously fly on the way back, DSC03376hitting speeds of 50+ miles per hour. I had decided to leave my aero helmet at home because I didn’t know if I’d be riding mostly upright on the hilly parts. I knew the first part of the course was pretty flat, so I settled into my aero bars and rode at a controlled, fast-ish pace. My bike computer was showing cadence, but not speed. I am ashamed to say that the song going through my head at this point was Ke$sha’s “We Are Who We Are.” My only excuse is that it was in the RPM release that I was teaching that week. At least some of the lyrics were motivating.

Tonight we’re going har-har-h-h-h hard
Just like the world is our-our-ah-ah-ah ours!
We’re tearing it apar-par-par-pa-pa-pa part
You know we’re superstars
We R who we R

The lake and mountain scenery was gorgeous. It seemed like I wasn’t too far into the bike leg, when I saw the lead men coming back the other way. They had gotten an earlier start, but still. One of them was wearing nothing but a Speedo. Not so gorgeous.

I remember being challenged by the climbs last year, so when I hit the biggest hill of the day and it didn’t seem too hard, I wondered if it was the hill I remembered. I ended up passing my friend Shannon on this climb. His swim had been really rough as well. I was getting passed by people, but it seemed like a lot fewer than usual in my Olympic distance racing experience. I hadn’t heard any auto-lap beeps (I have it set for five mile increments on the bike), but I think that’s because the Garmin still had me in Africa. 

I finally reached the turn-around and knew that time-wise I was over halfway there. I back-and-forthed with a sixty-year old woman for a while. I eventually took the lead, but I was seriously impressed with her. I wanted to shout out the cheer from the audition scene from Bring It On: “Awesome! Oh wow! Like totally freak me out!” I decided to save my lungs, though. 

When I got to the long downhill, I remember thinking, This is what had me shaking in my spandex last year? It really didn’t seem scary at all, even though I reached 39.7 miles per hour. My hip flexors bothered me a bit, but I was mostly able to ignore it. I had decided get all of my bike-time calories in liquid form, and had Body Armor sports drink in my aero bottle. It tasted great. So much better than the mass-produced “ades”.

I was really pleased with my bike. I had taken over eight minutes off of last year’s time, but more importantly, I was happy that I was a much stronger and more confident rider. Improvements come slowly sometimes, but they do come. Next year, I’m bringing my aero helmet.

Transistion 2

I applied more sunscreen. 1:51, officially.

00:46:00 | 6.2 miles | 7:25 min/mile
Age Group: 3/13
Overall: 35/278



Taking a tight turn running downhill

I will spare you a thousand words describing the course, and let the picture above speak for me. It’s very flat – until it’s not. I felt confident that finishing under 2:40 was well within my reach. I tried flipping through my Garmin screens to get a sense of what my instantaneous pace was, but got nothing useful (it still had me in Africa). So, I just ran by feel, which is what I normally do anyway. Still, I like peek at my pace and check my splits. There was a pebble in my shoe, but I decided I to ignore it.

Hill time. Just focus on putting one foot in front of the other… There were kids with super soakers at the switchback, and I waved at them and hoped they’d let me have it. They obliged. I didn’t feel like I was running fast, but I kept passing people. I saw my friend Jeff, and we gave each other hollers. I was losing feeling in my left foot, and Linkin Park’s “Numb” started coursing through my head. At least I no longer felt the pebble.

After the hill, there’s a brief section on a dirt road, then it’s turn around and head on back. I was looking forward to screaming down that hill. I gave Shannon a wave as he made his way up. It was warming up, but at least I was in the home stretch now. Finally, it was back to the flats. When I hit the one mile mark, I knew that I would easily surpass my time goal. Feeling started to return to my foot.

I felt the cumulative physical effort of the race, but I was nowhere near as mentally exhausted as I had been in my previous Olympic triathlons. I saw two women ahead of me, and made it my goal to catch them. Concentrating on Linkin Park’s “Bleed It Out” had worked well for my last tri, so my mind went there again. I passed one woman. Digging deeper. The finish line was in sight, and I passed the second. I managed a little kick-lette, and I heard “Michael Kaseler from Tucson” over the loud speaker. Michael? Well, keep running, Michael. I crossed the line and the woman that I had passed was close behind. No one had passed me during the run.


Even though my swim wasn’t great, I was very pleased with this race. I had knocked over eight minutes off of last year’s time, and felt so much stronger and more confident in my abilities as a triathlete.

Final time: 2:36:31
Overall: 59 / 278
Age Group: 3 / 13

Mountain Man Triathlon (2012)

There are a lot of nice things about living in Tucson, but the weather in August isn’t one of them. So when I went searching for an Olympic distance triathlon to cut my teeth on, heading to north to Flagstaff in late summer sounded ideal. I plunked down some money, bought a wetsuit, and continued to swim, bike, and run.

A few months before the race, I started reading some race reports on Beginner Triathlete. I knew that there were hills involved and the climbs were challenging, but I had forgotten that what goes up must come down. And when you’re on a bike, that coming down can be very fast. Some people had reached speed of 50 miles per hour. My insides were turning to goo at the thought. Some might enjoy flying downhill protected by nothing more than plastic, styrofoam, and technical fabric, but I am not one of them. Fortunately, I hooked up with another triathlete named Tracy who was familiar with the course. We biked it together, and while I did freak out in some places, I made it down the hills.

On race morning, the alarm went off at 4. I ate some Icelandic yogurt, berries, and granola before leaving the motel. It was a bit chilly and I was glad that I had some yoga pants. I parked on the side of the road like we had been instructed to. When I took my bike off the rack, I noticed that my aero pads were moist with dew.

My warm-up consisted of, some trips to the car, a couple visits to the port-o-potty, and the wetsuit wrestle. This was my third time wearing the suit, and it must have stretched out slightly because it only took about 5 minutes to put on instead of 15. I had a 2nd Surge caffeinated gel and headed toward the lake.

Swim  (

00:27:38 | 1640.42 yards | 01m 41s / 100yards
Age Group: 6/19
Overall: 122/288

The water was cool, but I was comfortable in the wetsuit. With about 4 minutes to the start, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom again (not the type that is easily done in a wetsuit either), but told myself it was nerves. I positioned myself toward the top third of the group (all Olympic women and Olympic men 45+). I had been warned that the altitude would probably be a factor at the start of the swim, and it was. I felt out of breath and hemmed in by the other swimmers. The lake water was a muddy brown and there was no visibility. I told myself to relax, get lots, of air, and just keep going. Lifting my head up to sight was awkward and tiring. I altered my stroke to extend the time on my side and take in more air.

This was my first open water swim. I had heard my people say that nothing can prepare you for it, and they were right. There was contact, but at least the “washing machine” felt like it was set on the gentle cycle. Maybe it was due to this being a smaller event, but I was grateful. My hands slid off a few neoprene-clad bottoms and I wondered if that’s what petting a dolphin felt like. I felt a few hands slide off my bottom as well.

Sighting was tough. When I lifted my head up, half the time I didn’t see the buoys, only the bodies in front of me. I felt a tug at my ankle at one point, and a lady told me that I was swimming off course. This was a very polite group, and many sorries were exchanged as contact was made.

Once things thinned out, I was able to settle into a decent rhythm. I got some extra minerals as I swallowed lake water a few times. I had no idea if I was swimming well or  how long I had been in the water. I only knew that I was slowly headed somewhere. After rounding the buoy to head to the boat ramp, I was hit with the glare of the sun. At least I could make out people leaving the water up ahead, so I focused on them. I kept swimming until my hands made contact with the lake bottom.

Transition 1


Where is that darn zipper leash?

Pebbles, ouch!

Pebbles, ouch!

When I reached the shore, I wobbled upon standing. I would have flunked a field sobriety test. The rocks were sharp and I gingerly made my way out of the water. I tried to run to the transition area, but my legs weren’t very peppy. I really struggled getting the wetsuit off of my feet. I stood and tugged, then sat and tugged, then stood, then sat… Why don’t the wetsuit manufacturers take a cue from Guess jeans in the 80’s and put a zipper by the ankles? If anyone has tips, please share. I had half a Z bar and a drink of water before heading out.


01:21:19 | 24.85 miles | 18.34 mile/hr
Age Group: 11/19
Overall: 190/288

This is the part I was dreading. After my test ride with Tracy, I had ridden some semi-hilly courses near home the last few weeks and hoped that would help.

The first part of the course was fairly flat and fast. The road is smooth with a very wide shoulder. It wasn’t coned off, but traffic was light. It’s really beautiful. The lake and the pines were a nice change of scenery for this desert girl. I had decided ahead of time not to use my aero bars for this race. I am still getting used to them, and the course had enough up and downs that I didn’t feel super comfortable. About 7.5 miles in, there was a sizable climb. Knowing that I would be surrendering time as I braked and gave my legs a rest on the descents, I decided to push the hill. I teach indoor cycling and I am used to climbing intervals, so chug, chug, chug I went, passing several people. Maybe not the best strategy, but it was fun.

Finally, the moment of truth came: time to ride downhill. Part of the fear comes from the initial approach when you can’t see the bottom of the hill and it’s easy to imagine falling straight down. I had gotten to 29 MPH on my test ride. I feathered my brakes and started down. Soon, I was talking to myself. “Come on! You’ve got this!” Feather, feather, feather… It took about 3 minutes and I saw 32 MPH on my Cateye. I didn’t enjoy it, but was thrilled to be done.

Toward the end of the ride I started noticing some dull hip flexor pain. My hands were also starting to go numb. In hindsight, I probably should have ridden some of the course in the aero bars. I think I started to lose focus toward the end of the bike and let my pace slow. I had been intermittently drinking Body Armor sports drink and felt fueled and hydrated, but not overly so.


A flat part of the course.


Trying to smile for the camera.

Transition 2

I probably slowed down and jumped off my bike too soon. As I was switching shoes, I was trying to decide whether to take some Sport Beans with me, use the port-o-potty, and/or put some Body Glide on my feet (I had put some blister powder in my running shoes before the race, but had felt a little hot spot on my left foot during the bike). I did nothing. Thankfully, I remembered to take my helmet off. I applied some more sunscreen. I burn easily and wanted to be safe. The hip flexor pain was completely gone.


00:50:20 | 06.21 miles | 08m 07s  min/mile
Age Group: 2/19
Overall: 54/288

At the start of the run, I noticed that the rubber-leg feeling was much more pronounced than on the sprint triathlons I had done. I think it went away faster, though, probably because I wasn’t trying to book it out of transition. About half a mile in, I realized I had forgotten to put my race belt on. This was despite putting it under my running shoes so I would have to look at it in transition. I decided to keep going. Even if I got disqualified, I wanted to know what I time I was capable of on this course.

I settled in to a good pace, knowing that the hill was looming. I had heard from about it several people, including one who said “It goes straight up.” I had checked out the elevation charts online, and while it was steep, it looked less menacing than Saguaro Monument East in Tucson, which I have run dozens of times. I had also gotten a preview by truck a month ago, thanks to Tracy. I knew that there was a long stretch, and then more to climb after the switchback. Many people get discouraged here when they realize there’s a lot of hill left and start walking.


In the middle of the hill.

Once I got to it, I focused on a short, quick stride and tall posture. Several people were walking and I racked up some “kills”, to coin a Ragnar term. One was a woman in pink compression socks that had passed me on the bike. When I reached the end of the pavement, I was directed onto a dirt path. Tracy had pointed that out, but because we didn’t actually drive it, I had forgotten about it. The dirt wasn’t super-deep, but did slow me down a little.

When I hit the descents, I let go. I run down hills well, and stayed quick on my feet and let gravity do its job. When things flattened out again, I tried to keep my intensity, but ended up slowing down. I think physically and mentally, the race was beginning to wear on me. After the fact, I realized that other than the one marathon I had run up to this point, this was the longest race I had ever run. During the final mile, the pink-sock lady passed me. I thought about picking it up, but couldn’t or wouldn’t summon that little extra. I did manage a little kick toward the end, but she finished 3 seconds ahead of me. After we stopped, I noticed the faded 36 on her calf and realized that she was in my age group. We chatted for a while, and she told me that she had been chasing me ever since I passed her on the hill. She was using me as a rabbit and thanked me for pushing her on the run. When she told me her name, I recognized it from other race results and had expected her to beat me going in. Anyhow, I now have a new Facebook friend.


Beautiful scenery and a gasping runner.


I changed into some dry clothes, connected with some friends, had one of my Hammer protein bars and some cold watermelon (sweet nectar!) the event provided. It was pretty warm by then and the sun felt especially intense because of the altitude. As I drove away, I passed several of the Half Ironman competitors on their runs, and frankly, I was happy not to be one of them (this year anyway…).


Final time: 2:44:57
Overall: 110 / 228
Age Group: 5 / 19

There were a lot of firsts for me with this race (Olympic distance, altitude, wetsuit, open water, substantial hills), so I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself. I definitely have room to improve on my open water swimming, biking, and transition skills. I should weave the race belt through the shoes so I have to touch it to put the shoes on. I wish I had brought a visor to shield my face from the sun. My run time was pretty much what I was expecting and strong for this course, but I can’t help feel that I wimped out a little. Granted, I did push hard, but if I’m honest, I didn’t want to take the pain to the next level. Still, I am mostly happy with my performance.

The Mountain Man Triathlon is a great race. The course is pretty and challenging, and the event has a nice, laid-back vibe.