Moving On Up: The Grizzly Race Report

Well, Van Fans, the temps are staying above 40, it’s only snowing in half of the state, and my legs are as hairy as a baby’s butt. That must mean one thing: its race time in Montana! So grab a beer with me for it’s time for the first race report of 2011: The Grizzly Triathlon.


Good old Missoula, Montana is the arena for Montana’s largest triathlon. This classic race is ultra popular; it sold out in less than an hour. For me, who registered a day late, I got #144 on the WAITING LIST. Through some praying and sacrificing of small mammals, I was still able to get into the race after some 150 people dropped out. I guess all the rumors I spread about finding a “Baby Ruth” in the pool last year worked after all.

The luckiest thing though was the weather. Just days before the race, we were under a winter weather watch and, depending on where you were standing, you got a couple of inches to a couple of feet of snow. Then out of the blue, Mother Nature blessed us with a beautiful sunny day that broke 50 degrees.

Pre-Race Prep:

As you all know, I’ve been fighting a cold I picked up in Walt Disney’s Magic Melting Pot of Viruses and Bacteria Kingdom last week. Gives a new meaning to “It’s a Small World” doesn’t it. Anyhow, I took three days off before the race to get over this thing and I woke up rested and without symptoms on race morning.

As for nutrition, I have always had tough experiences when it comes to sprints. During my last sprint, I greatly overestimated how much I should eat before and during the race and ended up running with a brick in my stomach. So this time, I decided to just keep it normal. I ate a breakfast of a black coffee with 2 shots of espresso, a turkey sausage muffin, and a scone from Starbucks about three hours pre race. Then, I sipped some HEED until race time and went at it on an empty stomach.

This strategy has not worked in the past...

Swim: 16:50, 131/348 OA,  32 second PR

Indoor swim for this one, something I try to avoid as much as possible these days. I’m just not a fan of lanes and flip turns. My heat time was set to start at 11:30. After I got set up in transition and did my checks, I wandered on in to the pool. I noticed everyone was wearing swim caps except for me, so I figured I might as well go get mine from the car. A look at the official clock said 11:16ish. Plenty of time I figured. So I calmly wandered out to my car in the parking lot, got my cap, and then wandered back to the pool. Along the way, stopped to pee briefly and put my keys away in my bag. As I exited the locker room and came out onto the deck, I was shocked to see everyone from my heat in the pool already. I glanced up, and to my horror, the clock read 11:29. In the span of 60 seconds, I quickly spit in my goggles, gave them a drag through the water, donned them, slipped on my cap, and jumped in my lane. I had just enough time to say hi and take a few strokes before off my heat went.

I was number 4/4 in the heat, with each swimmer separated by five seconds. At the last moment, I realized my wedding band was still on. As it has a habit of trying to fall of my finger when I swim, and I didn’t have time to put it around my watch like usual, I quickly took it off and shoved it onto my middle finger. Then off I went. Too bad I forgot to start my watch. FACEPALM.

My focus for the swim was to keep form. Smooth and steady. Last year I had swum 17:22, and was the last guy out of the entire heat. It was a very demoralizing experience. To be safe, I listed my time as 19:00 way back in the winter when I wasn’t sure how swimming was going. This may have been a little too generous. By the time I finished the first length, I was already almost on top of the swimmer before me. After the flip, I was drafting her for the entire 25 back. Rules stated that if you are touched on the heel, you need to let the person pass you at the next flip turn. I gave the swimmer a nice tap on the heel and waited for the flip to make the move up. Unfortunately, she must have missed my tap as she flipped and kept on trucking. It happens. I was right behind her again after the turn. A quick look forward showed that I was now on top of two swimmers. At this point, we were moving slower than I wanted, so I figured the easiest thing was to go for it. Mid lane, went around them both and after the flip, I was on top of the first swimmer of the heat. My heel tap with her registered, and after the flip, I was in the clear. For the rest of the swim, I settled into my pace and form. Unfortunately, my form kept getting thrown off by the fact that I wasn’t sure how far along I was in the swim and my race bib kept becoming untucked from my shorts. I usually use a race belt, but alas, my memory forgot it this day, and I was forced to pin on my bib and shove it in my pants for the swim.

Towards what I thought was the end of the swim, I heard some cheering during the flip turn and I knew that someone must be getting out of the pool. I just kept looking for the red kickboard that would signal 50 yards left. After two more laps, there it was. As I started the last lap, I focused on relaxing and planning for the transition. Smooth is slow. Slow is fast.

Time was 16:50, 32 seconds faster than my swim last year. Not my fastest swim ever, but I’m pleased with some of the hold ups at the beginning.


As I reach the end of the lane, two hands find the edge. Out I jump. Small, fast steps to counter the slick floor and the redistribution in blood that happens from going from horizontal to vertical. By this time last year, I was already demoralized and wishing the race would end. This time, I felt exactly like I hoped I would. As I made my way to the door, the announcer was saying “ and now our number three swimmer is coming out. Number 240. Greg…..” I smiled as I listened for him to butcher my last name as always. He did. To make things even better, he followed it up with a comment about how smooth my transition looked. Thanks for that Endurance Nation. Unfortunately, the announcer couldn’t figure out where my uniform was; can’t win them all I guess. I must, say, this transition did seem very fast. Only hold up was a little 5-6 second delay while trying to get my left shoe on. Glasses and helmet went on in one motion, to the line, and off I went.

Bike: 38.18, 83/343 OA, 2:12 PR

Quickly got my feet in and off I went. Despite it barely being 50, I didn’t feel bad in my tri suit. However, as I moved onward, I realized that I wasn’t feeling anything at all in my hands and toes as they were numb from the wind. First part of the bike route involved snaking over a pedestrian bridge, a 180 turn, and navigating the backside of a strip mall. While this isn’t the first time I have had to make a break for it behind a small shady business, this was still a bit nerve racking. After the dumpster slalom, I was finally out on the open road. The course is a typical out and back. On the way out, the wind was with me, and a quick check of the speed put me around 24mph. With this being my first ride out on the open road in eight months, to say things were a little shaky would be a major understatement. It felt more like I was a Jello mold on a vibrator…in a porn movie. Nevertheless, I stayed in aero. Unfortunately, as I was concentrating more than normal on not eating a face full of asphalt, I wasn’t able to push it quite as hard as I wanted to. Looking at the power graph, you can see my effort is nowhere as smooth as I need it to be.

The Cosby says eat your Jello or else...

I also have to mention that this was the first time I have tried out my new bike positioning. I have dropped my front stem significantly. I’m happy to say, other than a little tendency to slide forward some on the seat, things felt good.

Made it to the flip at around 17:30 and things were feeling good. It had taken a bit longer to catch my breath than usual; I chalk that up to nerves. The wind on the way back sucked as much as it rocked on the way out. With the cross/head wind, my unsteadiness issues doubled and more than once did I almost end up taken a second job as a human speed bump.

Normally, during the bike, I am able to catch a few folks. Unfortunately, during my heat, I hadn’t seen anyone. The only person I passed was someone going very slow from a prior heat. At least I didn’t get passed either. There is one main hill on the way back, and I happy to say that went very well. No problem with keeping an even pace on the way up and over into the flat.

I returned to the land of dumpster diving about at about 34:00 minutes. Luckily, managed to make it through again without harpooning a pedestrian or flatting. Into transition I went in. Still haven’t mastered the art of arriving into transition out of my shoes. One day, after I grow an extra testicle.

Watts came in lower than I wanted at only 193w. Still, I was 2:12 faster than last year on the same course. When I’m faster on even not the best day, I can smile.

Power data

The bike route.


No problems again. Shoes on without socks, hat on as I left. I would guess less than 30 seconds.

Run: 25:37, 106/341, 1:38 PR

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. I suck at running. Sure, I stink at swimming, but I suck more at running. I always lose time and places during the run. So, my goal for this year and the upcoming winter is to get better at running. Last year when I did this, I felt like an alien was going to burst from my chest during the run. Moreover my calves were cramping at the start last year. This winter, I’ve been doing more brick workouts to counter this. Fortunately, it seems to have paid off as I hit the ground running without a hiccup.

As I left transition, I didn’t see anyone coming behind me and I felt confident as I set out. For the first part of the race, I had to get out of the transition area and its associated parking lot. Of course, anytime there are cars, there are distracted drivers. As I made my way to a crossing, a driver looking the other way almost ended my career as a living human. I actually had to stop for a few seconds to make sure he wasn’t going to make me do the “jump on the hood and slide across” maneuver. Fortunately, I made it pass without disaster or an increase in health insurance rates. Down a small hill and onto the trail I went.

Now, remember, this is a blog about a beginner triathlete. So please forgive me if this sounds weird. I find it weird and difficult to run on trails. It just feels like every time I take a step, I lose way too much traction and stability. I will have to do some more research. In the meantime, let’s just say that it wasn’t my preferred path. Kind of like Mel Gibson and sobriety.  My plan was to set a moderate pace for the first mile until the huge killer hill. So I set in at 7:55ish per the Garmin. First mile came through at 7:59.

Shortly after the first click, it was down through a gully and up the hill. Now we have talked about this thing before; this is no regular hill. It’s an off road trail and right out of a scene from Cliffhanger. Last year, I pretty much walked up the last half of the ascent, using O2 and an ice pick. My goal this time was to keep running on the way up no matter what, and recover on the way down.

We have to run up that?!?!

Accomplishing this was…well..difficult. I’m going to have to throw more hills in my training to tackle this thing right next year. I ended up walking about five seconds at the steepest section before retaking my stride and topping the hill off.

The way down was what I would call a controlled fall. Unfortunately, it was not a very fast controlled fall as I soon heard footsteps behind me. As I reached the bottom and returned to familiar terrain, ie less than 10 degrees incline, a pair of strong legs went by me. We made a quick turn around, but what was done was done. All the proof that I needed to work on my run took off ahead.

Back on the flat, I picked up the pace as much as I could and settled around 7:40. A quick check behind me showed another male in the distance..maybe making headway. I kept going smooth, using the motivation that he was gaining on me to keep me moving. As I made my way up a small final bump, I heard footsteps behind me again.

The run data.

Love the peak.

Suddenly, only about .125 miles from the finish, another male, who looked that special age of 30-34, went by me. Now, some may say this is pointless. Heck, even I thought for a second about just forgetting it. But, then I remembered all those late nights running, all those missed lunches to exercise, and all those missing nails. I wanted every second and place I could get. I quieted my breathing and settled in right behind the guy. As we came into the last straight, I let it fly and sped by. In to the finish line I went, with enough time to turn around and have a sincere handshake waiting. I’m grateful he gave me the motivation to give it more at the end. He took it.


Conclusion: 1:20:30, 4/14 Age Group, 74/170 Male Overall, 4:14 PR

Like any sport, success takes dedication and perseverance. It’s been a long road since I first started back in 2007, and I’m happy that it looks like things are still moving forward. To boot, the guy who won my age group also won the entire race, so I’m happy with 4th in my age group. There is still plenty left to be learned and earned, and it’s always nice to know that your efforts are getting you somewhere other than the land of missing nails.

Things I Learned:

I suck, but I suck less.
Sprints on a relatively empty stomach.
Hills, I must LOVE them.

Things I Will Do:

Become a runner.
Become a hill runner.
Keeping drilling that swim.
Tilt my seat a little.

About Ironvan

From couch potato to Ironman triathlete in 2 years.

Posted on April 24, 2011, in Race Reports and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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