Mountain View Masters

2002 Ironman Utah

Provo, UT, June 9, 2002


Tragedy befalls Ironman

by John Kruempelstaedter

My Race report: (it'll be choppy like the water...)

For the 2 days before the race, the Provo/Orem Utah area was calm and sunny with temps in the 90s. Dave T and I arrived Thursday from California on a
12 hour suburban ride through the nothingness of eastern Nevada -- 500+ miles of absolutely nothing. We ended up at our race hotel (La Quinta in Orem) in the early evening. We had no problems and actually ended up in a very nice place at reasonable price. It turned out that Orem is literally next door to Provo, so we were much closer than we thought (blocks instead of miles). Sweet. Friday, registration was a breeze because most everyone had registered on Thurs (as they were told to :-) ). No lines... (I might do this next time). Next, we packed bags and touched up the bikes and went back to drop off the goods. A pretty smooth day all around.

Sat. was windy in the am. On the bus ride over we talked to a local guy that said the normal reaction of the locals was "you're swimming where?!". Not a
good sign (not to mention the very large dead fish we saw in the lake the day before). I was most concerned about a shuttle bus ride to the start but it actually was the smoothest "shuttle start" that I have experienced. We had plenty of time to prep and deal with the crowd dropping off the dry clothes bags at the trucks.

We got in the water at about 6:30. It was rough but not outrageous. I was thinking that this swim is going to be a pain in the butt. I was starting to get tired dealing with the waves to get to the start. As I reached about 15 meters from the start, I looked back and saw a crowd starting to swim. It's too early, I thought, but at the risk of getting clobbered, I started swimming in the direction of the buoys. Within minutes, the water turned really rough, make that really, really rough. The pictures and videos do not do justice to the waves (not swells) in the lake. This is a shallow lake (10ft at the deepest) so the waves were constant, never ending, and strong. Most estimates are 5-6ft. At times, in the trough, I swear I could see the bottom with only a foot or two of water over it. The whitecaps were breaking on my head, as I would bob on the waves to try to find my way. At one point, I saw a buoy... unfortunately it was with two others on the back of a boat and being towed out of the lake...oops. The common mode for just about all the swimmers was to take a few strokes if possible and then stop and do some breast stroke to see what was going on. People were all over the lake at this point. I was trying to swim when one of the pros came by and I followed him thinking he might know the way. We couldn’t see anything, nada, not even at the peaks of the waves. At about this time, I
switched from "this really sucks" to "oh, well, it looks like today is going to be an adventure." I actually started to have a little bit of fun after the attitude switch. However, I must remind you that this was the roughest swim I have ever done. It was worse then any ocean swim because the waves didn’t stop, there was no getting by the breakers to just swells, and the frequency of the waves was unbelievable. (You’ll see in the video). I looked to my right and I finally saw other swimmers, a ton of swimmers. I was actually on course (or so I thought). Then I saw the boat. A person is blowing a whistle and waving everyone back saying we’ve gone too far. I immediately turned a 180 and headed the direction of the waves. The wind direction was my only navigation clue. The angle of the wind was directly at the jetties where the finish was supposed to be. I could not see land. I could only sea :0 water. In no time, I covered some real distance. I started to see an antenna/marker on the end of a jetty and then finally saw some rocks. “Whooo Hooo!!…. I’m on my way into the finish!” I thought. Just as I made visual contact with land, I saw a surf board lifeguard. I verified the way to go and got confirmation (sort of…they were just trying
to stay afloat). I started to round the jetty and looked forward to the calm waters on the other side. I was actually not that tired and started to think that I was going to have a good race (also thinking that I was less off course then the rest of the people, ha ha..). There were a few people at the end of the rocks and I thought they were cheering us on. A closer look revealed that they were actually trying to get people out of the water. I thought, maybe a few people were having trouble. Soon, I realized the swim had been stopped and they wanted to get everyone out of the water. Bummer, I was feeling good. I headed over to the rocks and dizzily got out of the water. A bunch of us started piling into a Subaru to head back. At this point I realized I was on the WRONG jetty. We were about a ¼ mile past the actually finish. Whoa. As I hopped in the car, my friend Tomas appeared. A friendly face in such a mess was a good sight. We were both actually having a good time and joking around. It is now noted that “I FINALLY BEAT TOMAS OUT OF THE WATER IN A SWIM.” granted he usually beats me by about 10 mins, but I’ll take what I can get J. As we got shuttled back to the finish, we saw the disaster the had evolved. People in wetsuits were coming from all directions. Some walking, some in the backs of trucks, some getting off boats and surf boards, and people were getting out on the rocks everywhere. Colored caps were still scattered all over the lake. The experience became surreal. The weather was clear but it looked like a boat of 1500 people in wetsuits sunk in rough seas and everyone was trying to get back to shore in anyway possible. It seriously looked like a disaster recovery operation.

(Watch the video at http://www.leegruenfeld.com/cherie/utah.htm and pay special attention to the spot at 4:47. This is a good depiction to how large the waves really were. Most of the other shots do not do them justice. – note: I think the media player version is a little better.)

It is about this time that the rumors of the loss of John Boland began to surface. My jovial attitude about the event changed. A quietness passed through the masses as the rumor spread. You could see who had heard the news. We have lost part of the Ironman family. I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are with his family at this time. I did not know John but as a fellow athlete, we all knew him in some way. Emotions were hard to decipher. Not one person was sure how to feel.

What’s was going to happen now?

The wind was still blowing/gusting to 35-40mph. All of the athletes were sitting in the transition area trying to stay warm. It was sunny but not that warm. The foil blankets were out and distributed among the group. People were everywhere and the spectators and athletes were now co-mingling. The rules and fences were no longer holding back people wanting to be with their loved ones. After everyone was safe and accounted for, the race officials announced that the race would continue as a biathlon consisting of a 60-65 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run. Disappointment spread as fast as the wind was blowing. I felt for the first timers who trained and dedicated their time to this race. Personally, I was a bit relieved. I haven’t been able to run for 2 months due to an injury, and the marathon was going to be a more of a shuffle/walk anyway (and, my first run in 2 months). The ‘race’ was to begin at 10:00, three hours after the swim had started.

The time trial start of the bike ride actually went very smoothly and faster than expected. Lined up by race number, one by one, the racers headed out
on the bike course. My number was 948, which put me just past the middle. Once through town the course was open and flat. Oh did I say it was flat? I
meant to say, it was flat. However, the winds had not diminished. At times, I was thinking that the course could not have been designed any better to maximize the headwinds. Yuck. Still, I was hammering like there was no tomorrow. I figured a shorter bike would allow me to go faster and try to make up for the time I would lose on the run. I was honestly just flying by people and feeling pretty strong. I started to lose a bit of steam as the miles moved along. I tried to feed the engine but can’t seem to get it back up to full power. I started to settle in with a few racers at about the same pace. We seemed to each get away for a while but get passed again as each of us played with our own peaks and valleys. I was no longer passing people but still moving pretty good. With these windy conditions, I was amazed at how clean the race is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a race with such a little amount of drafting. Even with the few guys around me, everyone was staying apart and comfortably out of draft range. Amazing. Finally, with a loooong hill (with a head wind) we were back into BYU and to the bike finish. I was fried. The bike (now 70 miles) took about as much out of me as 100 because of the constant push into the headwinds (and my early hammering). My average was just under 22mph even with the winds.

A basic transition for me and I was out on the run. I was doing really well so far. The only numbers I saw around me were under 500 and an occasional 6 or 7 hundred. My number of almost 1000 stuck out. I actually feltl fine. My hip was not bothering me and my running was not too bad. Now, the run course started to display its “creative” design. Weaving through the BYU roads lead us right through the school’s stables. Ahhh.. the sweet smell of cow manure was all we got as we took a service road through the scenic portion of BYU. But wait, the run got even more scenic! A short stint on another road took us to a driveway to….. the service side of a strip mall. Yes, the backside of a strip mall. We passed the dumpsters and large trash compactors of the businesses, cut through an opening in a fence (I’m not kidding!!) and back on to a road to some neighborhood roads. After a couple miles we turned around and took the same scenic route back. A wave to the cows and sheep, and I was headed back toward campus. We went by the stadium at about the 8 mile mark, 5 miles to go. We headed to the other end of campus and start heading through what looks like the student rental house area. I was feeling the lack of miles in my legs and start to really slow down. It was getting really hot. I tried to get fluids and broke down and hit the coke, the last resort in a race. The concentration of sugar and caffeine can bring you back to life but once you start, you have a limited life before a full on crash. I couldn’t imagine doing a full marathon at this point, but I was still running (shuffling?). The final turn and the stadium was in view! I headed into the stadium for a lap around the track to the finish. Finally, I was done! It was shorter, but the common sentiment in the finish area is “geesh, I almost feel like I did the whole thing”. People were upset at the events but still in a relatively happy mood. Everyone was wondering what to do with the finisher’s medal and t-shirt. I’m the finisher of the first sort-of Ironman in Utah. Or was it a biathlon, or a half-ironman, or ……?????

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and the conversations were lively. There are discussions about the swim and what’s going to happen next. Other than that, people were just glad it’s over and sad about the loss of John Boland.

This inaugural eco-challenge of Utah was over. The IM gang of Chris Wiley (and Katie), Tomas Navarro, Dave Tarkington, and myself, all survived. With
the lowest count of IMs at 3 or 4 (I think), we were all veterans and can take it in stride. Now the goal is to see who can stop signing up for these insane things first.