PumpkinMan Pt. II

Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.
William Ellery Channing

I sprinted into the lake and dove to start my race.

recap: I had been talking to my dad at the top of the boat ramp, 100 meters from the beach, when the gun went off.  I hadn't heard any warnings or count downs and thought I had more time.  As if being sick wasn't enough, I started my race late and in a panic.

I doubt you remember, but when I first started training for my first triathlon (a mere 6 weeks before PumpkinMan) I could barely swim 50 meters in the pool without wanting to die.  Then my first 1/2 mile open water swim was less than pleasant.  This would be my first full mile open water swim.

The cool lake water felt crisp and refreshing as I pulled and kicked my way around the course.  My delayed start was somewhat advantageous; I was able to bypass the white-water frenzy of legs and arms that usually signifies the start of a triathlon and go straight to open water swimming.  In retrospect, this delay actually allowed me to gain more speed, rhythm, and momentum than usual.  I quickly caught up to the pack and was actually making good time.  Once I got with the pack, I had to start dealing with being kicked.  I took one particularly harsh kick to the hand but thought nothing of it.

If you've never swam with a cough, let me tell you what it's like.  Generally, I had no real issues while swimming with my illness.  However, sometimes a coughing fit would come on and it would happen while my face was buried in the lake.  Honestly, I prefer lake-coughing.  It somehow felt easier on my throat. So if you have a cough and are afraid to go swimming, don't be.  Disclaimer: I'm not encouraging swimming while sick and do not claim any liability should the reader nearly drown after taking a dip during an asthma attack.

About halfway through the swim I started to notice a strange pain in my right ring finger.  Every stroke was pretty painful and I couldn't figure out why.  I sucked it up and kept swimming, eventually finishing the mile about 2 times faster than my first 1/2 mile swim! It's amazing what can change in just 6 weeks.

As my feet hit solid ground and I started removing my wetsuit, I looked down at my right ring finger and saw that it had swollen to about twice its normal size and was a beautiful purple color! I had broken my finger...swimming.


Then it was up the ramp, running on sharp gravel in bare feet, watching closely so I didn't pass my bike.  I got to my transition area and hurried as fast as I could to make the switch to bike.  My mangled finger wasn't making things easier, but I eventually grabbed my bike and ran it up the mounting area (in triathlon it is illegal to sit on your bike until you have completely exited the transition area, so you have to run it off the ramp).

I hopped on and it was time to ride!  Even though my arms had been covered by my wetsuit, I hadn't forgotten Judd's name written on them.  As I pedaled out onto the bike course I gathered a lot of strength by looking down at the inside of my forearms to see "JUDD KEMP" written in black ink.  

The course was a tough one.  It was very hilly and there were some crosswinds which are Satan's way of making triathlons even more miserable.  In most triathlon races, it is illegal to draft (ride close behind another rider so they block the wind for you) so you have to either be passing someone or letting someone pass you.  I was able to pass a large amount of racers on the bike and once I got up to some similar-skilled riders, we spent the majority of the course doing the dance of passing and being passed with each other.  This lasted for a large part of the rollercoasteresque portion of the ride. 

I eventually pulled ahead and was making decent time.  There were times on the bike that I felt like coughing my lungs out, but I'd look down at the name on my arms, audibly yell "come on!" or "let's do this Judd!" and push forward.  It sounds cheesy but I really felt like Judd was right there with me.  We were enjoyed this beautiful race day together and he was giving me strength.

Eventually the course broke off the main road and onto a kind of parkway trail that led through the desert and away from the lake.  It's during these moments that you look around you and see amazing views and think, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now."  A photographer caught me during that part of the race.

Another great feeling during this triathlon was when I'd pass guys on the bike who were riding $5,000 tri bikes with all the bells and whistles, aero helmet, and carbon wheel sets.  I bought my roadie on ksl.com for $400.  As I'd pass them on a hill or on the flats it would put a big smile on my face.  When it comes down to it, the most important machine is the human body.  It's the same with guitar, having a $3,000 Taylor doesn't make you a better guitarist.  Granted, those tri bikes are fast and definitely necessary if you really want to fly and win the race, but my humble Specialized Allez, dubbed Samson was doing great.

After about 26 miles in the saddle, I was rolling by the park where T2 was.  I jumped off my bike and ran to put on my running stuff.


It was here that I heard my dad's "go Ryyyyy!" that is my second wind.  I took off ton the 10k run, hoping to finish strong for Judd.  At about the 1/2 mile mark I already started to get shin splints.  I took a quick second and massaged my legs a little bit before starting to run again.  I thought, "come on Judd, we can do this."  One of my heroes, four-time Ironman World Champion Chris "MACCA" McCormack coined the motto, "embrace the suck."  I decided it was time to embrace the suck and push through my aching shins.  After another 1/2 mile or so the pain went away!  I was feeling good and picked up the pace.

One of my favorite things about triathlon is the general atmosphere among racers.  I've never competed in a sport where there is so much support and positive attitude towards your opponents.  Everyone's cheering each other on, shouting words of encouragement, giving high fives, it's just really positive.  I love it.  During the run I unintentionally gained a running buddy.  We ran shoulder to shoulder for about 3 or 4 miles.  I learned that he had competed in a few Ironman distance races and was about to do Ironman Tempe Arizona in a month.  It was great getting to know him while challenging each other with our pace. 

I try to make it a point at races to thank the volunteers along the way.  There are so many people who volunteer and pass out water, organize traffic cones, help with registration, etc.  It's important to keep thanking them for their hard work and willingness to be there.  It adds to the good vibes and that positive attitude helps immensely in your performance.  

One thing about competing in a three sport event is that the weather is gorgeous and perfect in the morning for the swim, and then gradually heats up as the day goes on.  By the time you're running, it can be pretty toasty.  Being in Vegas, the air jumped up to 88 degrees while I was on the run portion.  I could feel it.

I drenched my hat in cold water at the water stations and tried to keep a steady cadence.  Towards the turn around point it felt like we were running on Mars.  It was desert in every direction, the sun was merciless, and you could almost float on the heat rising off the asphalt.  For the last few miles I broke away from my new-found friend and worked my way back up the long hill we had come down on the first half.

After reaching the top of the hill I knew I was only about 2 miles away from the finish line.  I was exhausted but kept talking to myself and Judd.  Some of the team members from the University of Arizona's team were on the sidelines shouting their school's fight song and cheering on everyone that passed.  They made me feel like a rockstar when I ran by and it really helped me push harder for those last miles.  I finally came around the corner, with about 3/4 mile left, and decided to sprint.  

The sound of cowbells and crowds cheering never sounded so sweet.  I sprinted uphill to the finish area and gave my all to explode through the finish line.  I was greeted by some of my team members who had done the Sprint distance and we all enjoyed some bananas and gatorade together.

It was a hot but beautiful day.  I grabbed my free lunch and ate with my teammates on the  BYU team.  We all shared our war stories and enjoyed some shade and grass.  Another perk is the free massage.  When it was my turn, I was greeted by a tattooed man with a beard and red bandana around his head.  I was just grateful because I knew he wasn't going to be soft.  I wanted a recovery massage, not a swedish oil rub.  Needless to say, it felt great.  

I felt very accomplished after this race.  It wasn't my fastest time, but there was something special about it.  I had a lot of reasons to quit and not compete in this race, but I'm so glad I did it.  It just further confirms the fact that you never regret going the extra mile in something.  You never regret trying to do something despite the odds.  And most importantly, there was something about not racing for myself, but for someone else, that made this race possible for me.  I'm grateful I could dedicate this race to Judd Kemp, one of my heroes, and an amazing man.  Because of him, I felt great all day.  My sickness was not debilitating, and I was carried by his memory and inspiration.

Thank you Judd.

Take a second to answer this question! (For my class).



"You get credit for what you finish, not what you start."

- Unknown

As mentioned in the previous post, my body decided to stop working with only a week before my race.  Now, usually I'm not a fan of pills and other pharmaceutical drugs.  Some things have happened in my life that have given me somewhat of a phobia of those types of medicine; however, at this point I was desperate.  I gathered up anything I could find; every ounce of vitamins C and D, Zinc, plutonium, just anything that would get me back to 100% come race day.

I was juicing every day, loading up on spinach and soup, and praying I'd start to recover.  In triathlon training you generally want to "taper" your workouts a week or two before your race; you tone it down a little bit to let your body recover so you aren't burnt out for the event.  So technically I would be tapering anyway, but I still felt like a slug not being able to work out like I had been.  I felt like I had taken several steps backward.  

Twenty four hours before the gun and I wasn't feeling any better.  I was coughing every other minute and my whole body felt weak.  I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to do this race.  I kept reminding myself that I was doing it for Judd Kemp; if he could battle cancer for 18 months then I could suck it up for a couple hours and compete in an Olympic distance triathlon.

My dad agreed to drive down to Vegas with me.  Originally the whole family was going to come down, but things changed because of Judd's passing.  It was a very emotional week for our family.  For most people, driving 6-7 hours with their dad sounds like a form of torture.  I honestly love long drives with my dad.  I know that these moments with him are precious so I try to cherish them and make the most of the experience.  He is truly my hero and if I end up half as good as he is I will have succeeded at life.  I told myself I was going to take advantage of the long drive and sleep; that never happens.  My dad and I ended up talking and laughing non stop for the entire drive.  I don't mean to create this idealistic image of some perfect relationship with my father, I just want to express my gratitude that he and I can be friends and talk.
Vegas here we come!

We eventually arrived in Nevada and went to packet pickup.  I got all my race bibs and info, and started looking at the maps and details of the race course.  My dad started to worry.  He thought it wasn't smart of me to do the Olympic distance, being as sick as I was.  He agreed that I shouldn't quit, but maybe that I should switch to the Sprint.  He thought it might be dangerous to attempt the Oly.

I seriously considered his opinion and was getting a little anxious and unsure of what my body was capable of.  I decided I'd get a good night's rest and see how I felt in the morning.
I loved the race packet for this one.  The bibs were cool, and we got this awesome shirt!  It's great that such a competitive and challenging race can still be fun and creative.

That night we stayed in a small motel in Boulder City.  We went and set up T2 (bike to run transition) because it was a long distance from T1.  After that we stopped by a little restaurant and had dinner.  After that, we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some orange juice and other stuff.  My mom's brother and his family live in Henderson, NV and we were hoping to stop by and see them but ran out of time.  Well, as we were leaving the grocery store, we went to grab some cash from the ATM and found that someone had left their credit card.  It was late so there weren't many people in the store, so my dad and I took the card to the closest worker we could find.  The closer we got to this woman that was working, I recognized her as my aunt!  She didn't recognize us at first and then we all realized what was happening.  We ended up chatting for quite a while, it was so good to see her and catch up.  My mom's side of the family is small and her siblings both live far away from us so I'm always grateful when I see them.  I thought, "had we decided to just leave the card there and not do anything about it, we would never have seen my aunt and been able to catch up with her!"

That night as I was sleeping, I woke up in the middle of the night to my dad's laughter.  I looked over and saw him giggling as he watched YouTube videos on his iPad (that sentence would have been nonsense 10 years ago haha).   He was just watching old SNL videos and trying not to laugh too loud.  I love my dad haha.


Race Day
I woke up feeling really strong.  It was like my sickness was completely gone!  Okay, I'm lying.  To my dismay, I was still weak and sick and coughing.  I wanted to wait as long as I could before deciding whether I'd do Sprint or Olympic.  I ate a small breakfast as we drove to Lake Mead.  Once we got there I realized I had forgotten my bike tag (with the race number) back at the motel.  I started to panic a little, but my dad drove back as fast as he could to get it.
I checked in and started setting up T1.  This one was different.  The exit from the swim came up a steep, narrow ramp that stretched pretty far.  The transition area was unique in that the bikes lined the ramp on each side as you went up the hill.  It was a long run on gravel in my bare feet to my bike from the water.  As I was setting up, I started to see more and more of my BYU Tri Team buddies, one of which was set up right next to me.  I got everything ready to go, got inked up, put on a breathe-right to open up my nose as much as possible, and started suiting up in my wetsuit.  

The most popular place before a race.

Another gorgeous race morning!

I was getting more anxious every second my dad wasn't showing up with my race tag.  Time is basically gold when it comes to triathlon.  Every second -- before, during, or after the race -- is precious.  Finally my dad came running to give me the tag and I got everything ready. 

I took a Sharpie and wrote "JUDD KEMP" on my arms.  I decided I was going to do the Olympic, despite feeling 50% of my normal health.  I wrote his name on my arms so I could look down at any point in the race and remember why I was doing it, and who I was doing it for.  I had a feeling this was going to be a very challenging but important race for me.

Trying to breathe through my nose haha

I put on my wetsuit, stretched, and started walking down to the swim start.  I was talking to my dad at the top of the ramp.  The racers were gathering down to the right on the beach.  I looked at my watch and realized I had a good 5 minutes.  My wave was all yellow swim caps.  I hadn't even put my cap and goggles on when I heard the gun go off and saw hundreds of yellow heads running into the lake.  I heard no count down, and I was a good 100 meters from the beach.  There was the sudden bang and while saying some less-than-rated-G words under my breath, I started sprinting to the water.

to be continued...


For Judd.

“For neither birth, nor wealth, nor honors, can awaken in the minds of men the principles which should guide those who from their youth aspire to an honorable and excellent life, as Love awakens them”

- Plato

One of the many frustrating nuances of human nature is the habit of taking things for granted.  How many times have you realized the true value and importance of something only after it is out of your life?  I am going to take a leap here and say that probably one of the things we fail most to regularly appreciate is our health.  There are many different levels of fitness, but most of us are relatively healthy individuals. Thanks to the omnipresent influence of social media and TV, we tend to equate a perfect body with perfect health.  This is not necessarily the case; and far too many people lament not having a modelesque waist size while forgetting that they have a functioning heart, a powerful brain, and clear lungs.


When these things are suddenly taken away, what was used every day becomes precious.




After completing XTERRA, I went back to training with BYU's Triathlon Team.  There's something about training with a group of people that have the same goals that is extra motivating.  The guys on the team push me and help me stretch more than I could on my own.  Our focus now was the last race of the season: 




Pumpkinman is a big triathlon in Vegas.  It's actually in Boulder City, NV and begins at Lake Mead.  I was going to compete as a member of the BYU Tri Club, because Pumpkinman is a collegiate race.  We would be competing against other colleges such as Arizona, UC Boulder, Air Force, etc.  I was especially looking forward to this race because it would be my first Olympic distance race.  My first was a sprint and XTERRA was in between a sprint and Olympic. I began taking my training to a new level and was working harder and longer than I had previously experienced.  It felt good to see differences in my time, form, and endurance.  I was feeling confident about competing in Pumpkinman.


As they say, "when it rains it pours."  With only ONE week before the race, my body decided to shut down and I got terribly sick with walking pneumoniaI wanted to rest but had 3 difficult tests in the same week.  And worst of all, after an arduous 18-month battle against cancer, my sister's father-in-law passed away.


Now, I know what you might be thinking; "sister's father-in-law? That seems a little distant."  That couldn't be further from the truth.  My sister married her high school, and actually junior high sweetheart.  He grew up not far from our house and as long as I can remember Jaden has been a part of our family.  His father, Judd Kemp, was like an uncle to me.  I grew up knowing and admiring him.  Judd was a soft-spoken, humble man with an almost tangible dignity that he carried with him at all times.  His piercing eyes made it seem like he could see things invisible to others.  And when he smiled, it made you feel like you had done something that had impressed God.  He never said much, but what he said was always wise and calm.  Judd Kemp was an incredible and honorable man.


Race day was fast approaching and I wasn't feeling any better.  I wondered if I should even compete or if it would be dangerous to even try with my sickness.  I was exhausted from that week; physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I felt like all my hard work and training was wasted and I was back at square one.  I prayed hard for strength and the ability to complete the race.  During Judd's funeral I had an idea.  I decided I was going to compete in Pumpkinman no matter what, and that I was going 
 to dedicate my race to Judd.

 to be continued...





Using adrenaline as a weapon this time, I clawed my way through the pack of swimmers to the right side where I could indulge in some open water.  I hugged the inner line of the swim course, sometimes even being nudged by the volunteers on kayaks to not venture inside the triangle.  I used the kayaks as my guide to know how straight/crooked I was swimming.  Usually I try to spot the buoy or some other landmark, but for this race the sun was directly in my eyes as it peeked its head over the eastern horizon.  This made the kayaks a good alternative to know my lines.  

It wasn't long before I got into a rhythm, something that never took place in my Yuba swim.  It felt great to just swim and not be kicked in the face.  I got out to the first buoy, turned, and had a long stretch to the second one.  The water temperature was perfect, crisp and refreshing (I prefer swimming in lake water to pool water).  The sky was a gorgeous blue and it was a beautiful day for triathlon.  There are a lot of techniques and quirky tricks to remaining calm during the open water swim.  A lot of people suffer panic attacks and end up wasting a lot of energy, breath, and time trying to recover.  Not being able to see the bottom of the murky lake beneath you, swimming in chilly waters, not having anything to hold onto if you need to rest (except the kayaks for worst case scenarios); these factors all lead to a rather stressful situation if you don't know how to handle it.  I had researched some tips such as shaking your hands when they're in the air between strokes, smiling, telling yourself audibly that you can do it, etc.  I decided to implement a couple of these into my swim.  They really helped me keep my cool.  Sidenote: When I was born, my heart stopped for a while.  I was an emergency C-section and apparently it was a pretty stressful time for everyone in the room.  My mom tells me that while she was so patiently bringing me into this world the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" blared on the radio.  Despite wanting to reach through the loudspeakers and strangle the Rastafarian singing the tune because of his deliberate insensitivity to her current predicament, she took in the message.  

I thought of this as I pulled and kicked through the water; don't worry. Be happy. I reminded myself that I was accomplishing a goal, that I was doing something I loved, that I was doing something that was good for my soul.  I also remembered that I was swimming in the same race as incredible professional athletes! What a great opportunity! I made it around the third buoy and was on the homestretch.  I could see the beach to my side and knew I was approaching the boat ramp.  I started to swim faster.  I even was breathing every three strokes instead of every other stroke.  I finally felt my fingers scratch concrete and realized I was done with the swim...and I felt great!  I had plenty of energy and was making good time!  It's amazing what you can do even if you've failed at it your first try.

I took off running up the boat ramp, saw my dad, heard his "go Ryyyyy" that is like a shot of energy for me, and started transitioning to the bike. 

after the race, I randomly found this picture (taken by a stranger) and realized I was in it! Crazy haha

Mountain Bike
 Usually I feel very confident on the bike.  The best part of the race for me is realizing that I'm done swimming and it's time to cruise on my bicycle.  Now, make it a mountain bike and multiply that feeling by 1000.  I love mountain biking.  I've done a lot of racing, but have never swam right before, nor ran right after.  I hopped on my Specialized Epic and took off down the narrow track, winding around the different curves and eventually up to the canyon road.  I was familiar with the bike course, having watched the entire 2011 Championship race on youtube, so as I was trying to get some momentum and pass as many people as I could while on the road, I took a moment to think, "I'm racing on the exact same course Lance Armstrong raced last year!"  It was a fun thought and helped me appreciate what I was doing even more.  Cars were lined up across the dam, waiting for us to pass and head into the canyon trail.  I'm not going to lie, I kind of felt like a rock star as we flew past the cars and heard them cheering and honking. 

Off the road and onto the dirt.  Here we go, it's time to climb!  Like I said in the previous post, this race was unique in that it wasn't a loop.  You didn't ride up really high and then come back down to finish.  You rode up really high and then kept riding high to finish.  There was literally no downhill.  That wouldn't come until the second half of the run.

It began with a killer climb; it was long, crowded, and gradually steeper.  I had never experienced climbing in a race with such a dense group of racers.  I am used to fast single-track racing.  I tried to weave my way in and out of other bikers while keeping a steady and strong rhythm in my legs.  I don't have a lot of strengths but I do pride myself in being a strong climber on a mountain bike.  I might get passed on downhill switchbacks or in long stretches, but I usually am able to pass people on the uphills.  I took advantage of this during XTERRA. 

The course was arduous and required as much patience as it did leg strength.  I tried to stay consistent and never lose my pace.  I couldn't believe how gorgeous and stunning all the different colored leaves were as we tore through the woods of Snowbasin.  I had a couple bogies on my tail but was able to stay in front of them the whole time.  There is a fun sense of comradery in mountain biking.  We were all yee-haw-ing and cheering just because we were having so much fun.  Sounds cheesy, but it really is just an enlivening sport.  It wakes you up and opens your eyes to the joys of the mixture of nature and sport.  Of the people I passed on the bike were some that caught my eye and gained my endless respect.  A woman with only one leg, a blind man (he had a guide riding behind him, telling him when to turn), and 75 yr. old.  If these guys can compete in such a strenuous race, how lame are the excuses I make for myself?

I came out of the main section and was nearing the finish of the bike course.  I pushed hard up the last big incline and then flew down to the base of Snowbasin Resort.  I heard the cowbells and cheers and it gave me an added boost.  I had one more person in front of me so I dug deep and passed them right before the transition area.  I hadn't seen anyone from my category so at this point I was thinking, "I think I'm in 1st place in my age group!"  I kicked off the bike and transitioned to the run.

Trail Run
Oh the trail run.  Let me take a minute to rename this the Death March.  I was feeling fantastic off the bike...I had just ridden one of the fastest and most flawless races of my life (maybe I should swim right before every mountain bike race from now on).  I thought I'd tackle the trail run.

I had been running 10k trail runs up Provo canyon in my training and had become pretty confident in my endurance on uneven-terrain running.  I burst out of the transition area and made my first turn to start up the first hill.  I didn't realize the first hill was a 60 degree incline that stretched for a mile.  By now the sun was out and it was getting hot.  I started to huff and puff up the hill, trying to maintain a good pace, but it didn't last long.  I looked up ahead of me and saw scores of other runners wearily walking up the hill.  It reminded me of a scene you might see in a movie depicting slaves in ancient Egypt.  In these moments I think, "why the #(*$%_( are we doing this to ourselves?!" 

The run seemed to never go flat.  It was either steep uphill or steep downhill.  If you're a runner you know how awful that is.  Eventually I heard a guy behind me say, "hey you were really strong on the bike, I was trying to catch you the whole time but couldn't do it!"  I appreciated his compliment and graciously let him run past me...okay, so he ran past me because I was dying.  My legs felt like bricks and I thought the run would never end.  When I was about to the halfway mark the worst was about to begin; I got a nasty side-ache.  I'm going to spare details so as to not have to relive the last half of this run.  Let's just say it involved me clutching my side, trying to stretch and open up my lungs, grunting loudly, and saying a multitude of swears in my head.  Like I said, Death March.

I eventually heard the cowbells and started to pick up my pace.  It was the final push in this self-war.  I came over the hill and saw the finish arches.  I went into dead sprint and crossed the finish line.

I didn't see my parents, but that wasn't my concern.  I had one thing on my mind:
"lie down on the grass."

I grabbed a banana, orange, and water and collapsed on the fresh grass.  I overheard other racers singing the same sad song about the ridiculousness of the trail run.  I kind of never want to do that again haha.  Maybe I just wasn't as prepared as I thought I was.  Either way, I was thrilled to have finished.  One more goal accomplished.  I was officially an XTERRA finisher.  I had fought the mountain all day and came out on top (though it felt more like a tie).

My parents are so great to come out and support my races.  And of course I have to give a shout-out to my little brother Max! He's just always being the best dog/brother ever.  My dad even bought a shirt -- I told you he has just as much fun as I do!

Seriously folks -- Snowbasin in September.
It felt great running through that arch and on to the finish line.
Awesome finish line
After the race there was a really fun atmosphere.  I enjoyed a free lunch, and a free massage!

I checked out the scores and found out that I had gotten 4th place in my category!! I was pleased with this.  I just need to improve my running!




"Great things are done when men and mountains meet."
- William Blake

I used to have a recurring dream.  I would find myself slipping into it every now and then, and every time I experienced it, the details became clearer and clearer.  I've had few dreams that were more palpable and realistic than this one. Here is a brief description:

My eyes open.  I am in a dense forest.  I feel my bare toes grip the dark brown soil beneath me.  The cool earth feels wonderful to my soles.  I breath in the pure mountain air and at once feel full of life and vitality.  I begin to run, sprinting through the trees, enjoying perfect traction and control in my naked feet.  I run for a while, until a clearing opens up.  The once pine-filtered sun now explodes onto my skin as I approach a cliff, followed by a several-hundred-foot drop into the ocean below.  I begin to sprint faster until I reach the edge of the cliff...and jump.  
I feel weightless as I glide through the air.  I dive straight into the water and begin to swim, the water is fresh and clear.  I instantly feel at peace in the water and then dive down, void of any fear of drowning.  I then swim faster as I approach the surface and then launch upward like a dolphin.  Only, after I emerge from the water I keep going up and am flying.

Okay, that was a trippy dream right?  You might be thinking, "wow, I didn't know Ryan had completely lost his mind."  You're only half right.  Don't ask me why, but I continued to have this dream multiple times, and every time I had it, I longed for it to be my reality.  I felt perfect peace and a sense of unity with everything around me.  I wondered why it kept coming back...


During the years I've spent mountain bike racing I would often hear whispers of an event that was reserved for the most avid riders.  They spoke of tackling a mountain in three disciplines.  A mountain-lake swim, a grueling mountain bike race, followed by an excruciating trail run.
It was almost with reverence that they talked about "XTERRA."

I knew the first time I heard about it that it was something I wanted to do in my lifetime.  I considered it a very long-term goal.  I have always loved mountains.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the woods (and the reader's opinion of Ryan being a complete tree-hugging quack continues to progress...).
The mountains are sacred to me, as I have learned many lessons and gained valuable experience while visiting their splendor.  I have learned to enjoy them, but also to respect them.  Because of this, hearing about something like XTERRA triggered some curiosity.

Flash-forward a few years and we're back to 2012.  I had just finished my first triathlon at Yuba Lake (see previous posts).  I was immediately hooked on the sport and couldn't wait to do another one.  I thought about registering for one in Ogden the following week but for some reason felt a little unsure.  Then, as if some kind of heavenly omen, registration for the one and only XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon presented itself to me.  I don't even remember thinking about it; before I knew it, I had signed up to race in this challenging event.  

I got online and started doing some more research.  I found an awesome video that showed the entire race from last year.  The XTERRA Utah race at Pineview/Snowbasin just happens to be the National Championships for the sport of XTERRA.  I couldn't take my eyes off the screen as I watched stellar athletes (including Lance Armstrong himself...think what you will of him, he's still a beast) compete just an hour north of me in a battle of endurance, mental strength, and mountain toughness to become XTERRA Champion of the USA.  


I had since started training with BYU's triathlon team, but decided to take a break from their daily routines and break off into more mountain biking and trail running.  I had two weeks to train for XTERRA and wasn't going to waste a second of it, especially after my fiasco in the water back at Yuba.  I would ride pretty much everyday, up Provo Canyon to the Bonneville Shoreline trail, Sundance, Corner Canyon in Draper, Alpine Loop, American Fork Canyon, etc.  I love mountain biking.  It adds a finesse and technicality that you can't find in road biking.  It takes patience and maneuvering to climb up a 60-70 degree incline that's covered with huge, jagged rocks and boulders.  Being one with nature is also a plus :)
I wish these photographs did it justice.  The mountains in Utah provide an unexpected paradise, especially in the early fall months.

I've never felt more free and happy than when I'm running through the woods with nothing but shoes, shorts, and sunglasses. There are also lots of other benefits of training... 

You feel on top of the world riding 1000 + ft. above the canyon road.

Sometimes even gnats and flies want to join you so they take a ride on your face while you run.
Trail 157 up American Fork Canyon/Alpine Loop.  Probably one of my favorite trails to ride.


Before I knew it, two weeks had come and gone.  It was time for XTERRA!
I woke up long before the sun did, loaded my gear into my dad's car (he's a trooper for waking up with me and being such a huge support to my racing), and headed off to Pineview Reservoir.  I told myself I'd get some shuteye on the drive up, but that never happens.  I always end up having great discussions with my dad.  Those long drives together are some of my favorite memories.  Anyways, we finally arrived at Pineview and came around the corner to THIS view:

It was a gorgeous morning for a triathlon.  I started to feel it in my chest, that anxious/excited/nervous/scared/did I forget something?/the water looks cold/that guy has a nice bike/how much time do I have til the gun goes off?/how hydrated am I?/I need to find an outhouse feeling.  Pre-race atmosphere is always exciting. The speakers blare upbeat music and the announcers make regular reminders about packet pickup, start times, course descriptions, etc.  Everyone's anxious to get in the water and start the madness.

This race was different than Yuba.  At Yuba we set up our bike AND run stuff at one transition point.  Because XTERRA is a swim/mountain bike/trail run triathlon, we set up our bike gear just above the lake, but then set up the run gear up at Snowbasin, where the bike course ended.  Yes, that means the bike course was literally all uphill...You started at one elevation, and ended at a much higher elevation.  Reservoir to Ski Resort.  

I got inked (they tattoo your race number on your arms and sometimes hands, and then your age group on one calf and your distance on the other), and then started setting up T1.
After setting up T1 (bike), my dad and I drove up to Snowbasin to set up T2 (run).  I had to take a shuttle back down to the lake for the start, so my dad had to drop me off and go park somewhere to watch.  Turns out there was only one shuttle left going down and they were about to leave when I got there!  Add that to my already anxious/panicking heart.  I hurriedly set up my stuff, made sure I wasn't forgetting anything (you kind of become obsessive compulsive when it comes to these transition areas, seeing as how you can't waste any time between disciplines), and hopped onto the shuttle.  I enjoyed the shuttle ride down with other racers.  I love triathletes! Salt of the earth (literally because we sweat so much and when the sweat evaporates all that's left on your face is salt :)).

I made it down to T1, made last adjustments to my bike, took a second to gawk at the Pro's bikes, put on my wetsuit and cap, and started stretching.  Because of the whole parking situation, my dad and I agreed that he wouldn't be able to be at the start, but that he'd wait by T2 and see me come off the bike.  This was a bummer because having him at the start helps me stay motivated.  But it was okay.


It really was a perfect morning.

Getting inked before the race
Here we go!

Just as I was about to get in the water and start warming up, a hand touched my shoulder.  I turned around and it was my dad! He had figured out a way to make it down for the start.  He said, "there's no way I was gonna miss the start."  I was filled with gratitude for his support.  I love that man.

Let's pray this goes better than the swim at Yuba!
Me and Papa Russ
I positioned myself at the far right side of the pack this time.  I thought I'd stay as far to the inside of the swim course as possible so I could get some open water and establish a rhythm.  After some delays in the start and over a thousand antsy racers, that sound came almost out of nowhere; it was the sound that startled us all like horses, causing us to take off as fast as we could...


to be continued...