The Mountain Extreme Triathlon
By Scott Schumaker
July 11, 2003 (Park City, UT) – I’d been leading the Mountain Extreme Triathlon (MXT), the world’s first off-road Iron-distance race held in Park City, UT on July 11, for nearly seven hours when Evergreen’s Andrew Adamowski strided up next to me with less than three miles to go.
“Please tell me you’re in a relay,” I said, forcibly putting one foot in front of the other to “run” up the last big hill.
“No. Are you in the lead?” he said, looking as fresh as Carl Lewis at the beginning of a sprint.
“I was,” I said.
“C’mon,” Andrew said. “Let’s run in together and we’ll sprint for the finish line.”
Fifteen hours of racing had worn me out like an old pair of jeans, and Mr. Enthusiasm passing me so close to the end was ripping a hole in the remaining denim like a Ginsu steak knife. I was cranky.
“Dude, you’re going to have to wait awhile because I’m not sprinting anytime soon.”
“Um, Okay,” he said before trotting off like a jubilant jackrabbit. If I’d had a dart gun I would have shot him in the ass.
That’s an exaggeration, of course. He looked more like a newborn colt than a jackrabbit. But no, really, I would never wish any competitor harm, and at the awards ceremony I apologized to him for my rudeness. Andrew ran a great, well-paced race, and it would be a hell of a lot easier to diss him if he wasn’t such a nice guy – the jerk.
This long day’s journey had started at six AM. There was nothing too extreme about the two-lap swim, which thankfully lacked the winds and wakes that had plagued IRONMAN Utah on the other side of the Wasatch Mountain Range. It was, I thought, a bit warm for the neoprene we were wearing though, and the calf cramp that hit me at the end of the swim seemed to confirm this. For the rest of the day I’d be fighting leg spasms and trying to win the rehydration battle that I’d already lost. Still, I was the first guppy out of the water – a happy way to start the day.
The bike was where the real adventure started. A spat of pavement lead to the rolling dirt roads that lead to the singletrack…oh, the singletrack. After a big climb up the side of Deer Valley Ski Resort it was mostly singletrack that took me and the 110 other competitors across the face of Park City to The Canyons. Aspen groves, incredible vistas, whoop-de-doos, and only the occasional rock garden had me whooping and ye-hawing like a six-year-old on a rocking horse. I didn’t even care when Salt Lake City’s Anthony “Wild Man” Johnson rocketed by me about halfway to The Canyons. (Plus, I figured that at the pace he was going he either deserved to win or I’d be seeing him again later in the race.) I swear those first three-plus hours of riding went by faster than Eddie Murphy’s singing career because I was having so much fun.
By the time I dropped down off the mountain, rode through the valley, pedaled up and over another singletrack section and finished the first bike loop it was closing in on 11:30. The sun was zeroing in on its 98-degree high. The second, separate loop, which included forty miles of completely exposed rail trail, waited like a vulture to pick the remaining hydration from my marrow.
Idaho’s Dave Harrison passed me going out of the transition area and when I caught back up to him out on the rail trail I made a proposition.
“Dave, gentleman’s agreement. You don’t draft me. I don’t draft you. May the best man win.” (Race officials had decided to allow drafting because it was a non-factor on the trails and non-drafting would have been too hard to enforce on the rail trail.)
Despite knowing the aerobars I had gave me an advantage, he agreed. We rode together until about six miles from the turnaround where we caught Johnson, who was having stomach problems. I moved to the front while Harrison and Johnson, who was oblivious to the non-drafting pack, began working together. Twelve miles later, as Johnson’s stomach problems really began to hammer him, I began to pull away and put significant time on the duo. I was starting to have my own stomach dilemmas though, i.e.- “Damn, I think I’d feel better if I hurled” and “Damn, I need to force some calories down.” After nine hours of riding, T2 was an oasis and, again, I was psyched to be the first person to pull in.
“Honey, you’re doing great,” my wife, Tiffanie, yelled. “You’re in second place!”
“Second?! No I’m not. I’ve been in first for over an hour.”
“No. Dave Harrison came in forty minutes ago.”
That was a shocker, let me tell you. Before leaving the transition area I told a race official that I was certain Harrison didn’t ride part of the course. A check of bike splits and verification that he had missed one of the last bike checkpoints confirmed my suspicion. (The race director caught up with Harrison near the end of the run and offered him a DNF, which he took.)
The two-loop run was grueling. The height of its masochism being the ski slope we had to zig-zag up after coming out of the transition area. My tanks were on empty from step one and any food I could get down was heading straight out the other side. I was beginning to think that this wasn’t the healthiest thing I could be putting my body through, but I thought that if I could keep putting and trudging forward that I still might win.
It would be five hours until the slog was over, which, unfortunately for me, only took Andrew four hours. Yep, he’d made up an hour’s deficit when he caught me. Talk about blowing the big one! Honestly, it sucked to be that close to winning the world’s first off-road Iron-distance race. But my first goal had always been just to survive and finish that freakin’ thing. My second goal had been to finish while it was still light, which, with the last vestiges of light sneaking over the mountain, I did. To win would have been gravy, and as Meatloaf once sang, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” And I thank the millions of stars shining that night that I wasn’t Utah’s Clayton Olson, who finished just over eighteen minutes before the 24-hour cutoff. That guy is the real stud.