MISSOULA — Erin Lyons hadn’t run 5 kilometers in over six months.
Dealing with a foot injury, the Bozeman resident and Australia native not only completed her 5K run Saturday, but she did so after she swam 1,000 yards and biked 20 kilometers.
The 31-year-old beat out the competition, too, finishing as the top female under mostly overcast skies at the 30th annual Grizzly Triathlon. She completed the race in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 14 seconds — the slowest winning time since 2008 — for her first victory after back-to-back second-place finishes.
“I honestly came in thinking if I started to hurt I might have to stop and walk,” Lyons said. “Everything felt really good. I think I was having fun. That always helps.”
Lyons has dealt with a string of injuries, most recently plantar fasciitis, and hasn’t been able to run as much as she would’ve liked in training.
She still has been able to work on the bike and swim portions, training with a group from Bozeman that includes professional triathlete Haley Chura and Grizzly Triathlon champion Dylan Gillespie, who won his second title Saturday.
A longtime swimmer, Lyons was the first female and third overall competitor out of the pool. She passed Missoula’s Darragh Mahns on the bike ride and held on during the run as she felt others catching up to her.
"The wind on the bike coming back into town was pretty miserable," Lyons said. "We had a big headwind right into our face. On the way out, you felt super-fast. On the way back in, it was really tiring.
"The run felt really long. It was mainly because I haven’t been running. I thought I might throw up during the run. Once I got over that feeling, I was pretty happy.”
A triathlon competitor on and off over the past 10 years, Lyons and her husband moved from Seattle to Bozeman 2½ years ago. She’s considering competing in the Bozeman triathlon, Coeur d’Alene Ironman 70.3 and Ironman Canada depending on her recovery and how she feels.
“I haven’t done that distance, so I’d like to try,” she said.
Gillespie wins again
Gillespie wasn’t able to defend his 2015 Grizzly Triathlon title the past two years.
First, it was a torn labrum and a stress fracture in his hip that sidelined the Bozeman resident and Minnesota native. The next year, it was pneumonia.
This year, he had a cold that gave him a stuffy nose, but that wasn’t going to stop him. The 25-year-old returned for the first time since 2015 and won in 57 minutes, 9 seconds for the second-best finish in race history, behind Benjamin Hoffman's 55:54 in 2014.
“The big thing that changed for me was I was a vegetarian for most of 2015 to the end of 2017. I started eating meat again, and I started to be able to train and race and I’m actually stronger now than I was back then,” Gillespie said, adding that bacon is his favorite.
“It’s been a long process, so it feels good to come back and put a win at the beginning of the year.”
A swimmer since high school, Gillespie got out of the pool seconds behind Mahns, passed him in the transition area to begin the bike portion and led the rest of the race.
The toughest part for him was the run, which has been his weakest of the three events since he started triathlons in 2009.
“My running always needs to be improved,” he said. “That hill was a little steep, and just running on the gravel in general was a challenge.”
Gillespie moved to Bozeman after he graduated from Forest Lake High School in Minnesota. He enrolled in an EMT class, became a volunteer firefighter and got married last year.
He’s considering making a career as a triathlete and has scheduled upcoming half Ironman races at St. George, Utah, in two weeks, at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in June and at Boulder, Colorado, in August.
“It feels good to win,” Gillespie said. “It’s a little confidence booster. Hopefully it carries over into the rest of the season.”
Norman an ironman
Dave Norman made it a quarter of a century Saturday.
The Missoula resident competed in his 25th Grizzly Triathlon and finished second in his age group.
“For me, it’s like the debutante ball for the endurance racers, and this is the earliest one,” Norman said of why he’s kept competing. “We see everybody come out, and there are some spectacular people you see every year.
“I always get a big charge out of helping these newbies. You see people with these petrified looks on their faces. I just tell them, ‘Take a deep breath. You’ll be fine. Let’s go check your transition. You got your body marked. Let’s get some sun block on you. Trust your training.’”
The 56-year-old began his path in endurance racing by first running, then biking and finally learning how to swim in 1991. He did his first Grizzly Triathlon in 1992, his first Ironman in 1997 and his most recent Ironman in 2007.
He had a heart attack during a race in 2012, and he returned the next year to win his age group, place 10th overall and finish as the oldest competitor in the top 20. Had the run been a few steps longer, he would’ve placed ninth, he said with a laugh.
“I started doing these because I was a cruddy football player and I wasn’t particularly good at anything,” Norman recalled. “I said, ‘I’m starting to get fat, so I should start running.’ I remember seeing Julie Moss do the crawl to the finish in the 1982 Ironman. I was like, ‘Wow, that looks gritty. I could do that.’”
Norman is only topped by 56-year-old Bill Allen, who has competed in 26 Grizzly Triathlon races. The two have a friendly competition on the course. Allen finished seventh on Saturday, five spots behind Norman in their age group.
“There’s nobody in my age group that I want to beat more but there’s nobody in my age group I want to see succeed more than Dave,” Allen said.
Norman added: “We pitch crap at each other. But shoot, if Bill would have had a blowout, I would have stopped and handed him my spare tube. That’s just how it works. Triathletes are a really supportive community.”