For as cocky and confident as I am in the water, I know that once we hit dry land, all of those hard core bikers who can barely swim go whizzing past me like I’m not even moving. It’s true. I’ve done studies. Lots of them.
Sometimes people tell me they are jealous of my mad swimming capabilities. And I just laugh because, well, I am crazy jealous of their mad biking abilities. It makes wayyyyy more sense to be badass at biking than swimming. It’s a much longer event in any triathlon and you can really make up a lot of time really quickly. Ironman is no different from any other triathlon I’ve done.
If I had a dollar for every time a biker passed me and said, “hey, nice swim,” I’d be able to buy a new tri bike to make me go faster. Seriously though, all I can hear in my head is “hey, nice swim… (too bad you’re not a faster biker!)! True story.
So. If there is one thing I have learned from triathlons, it is to swim like heck. And then, be humble (once out of the water…).
The bike is where I’ve struggled the most. And it is also where I have the least experience. I’ve been swimming my whole life and running pretty much since my high school volleyball coach made our whole team sign up for a 5K run (which was just about the longest 3 miles of my life). So whereas I’d swam 2.4 miles nearly a year ago and run 2 marathons previously (and countless half marathons), I only rode 112 miles once. Just a few weeks ago.
One of the issues is my lack of skill/ability/confidence on hills. I spent this year training to go UP but never would say I’m an amazing climber. Just ok. Let’s face it, I trained to go UP, which was hard enough. I didn’t train hard to go up FAST and there is a difference.
And going downhill, it takes me some time to build up the confidence on each and every different descent. I rarely descend in the aero bars – I like to have the brakes nearby. I’m terrified of crashing my bike. And those skinny road tires can be squirrely. So I’m a chickenshit compared to many others who will just tuck and go, screaming down the hill at 50+ mph.
Suffice it to say, I have a lot of room to grow as a biker.
Leading up to the big day, I fully anticipated a looooooooong day of biking. My reasonable guesstimate had me spending between 8 to 8 and a half hours on the bike to travel the 112 miles.
Now, before you go and do the math, you are correct… that is incredibly slow. In my defense, there are a few hills to conquer. Here’s the elevation profile from my test ride a few weeks before the race:
Getting out of the water, I felt good. Being out early always makes me feel a little urgent. Frantic. Quick, get out of transition, get out in front of people. Get riding. (So you can hurry up and be passed? I know, right? It has never made any sense to me either.)
The first leg of the bike course runs through town and out along the lake. It’s beautiful and mostly flat and fast and there are a lot of people around – spectators and other bikers. Then, all too soon, you leave town heading south on Highway 95 – away from all of the people and up into the hills.
I realized two things pretty quickly. First, I noticed that my aero bottle was no longer velcroed in at all and was jiggling out of its holder with every bump. I held it in, kept moving and tried to decide what to do. The obvious answer is STOP… but this was not necessarily the course of action I was going to pursue immediately until I realized that my Garmin was tracking speed and time, but not distance. That was what made me decide to pull over and stop.
I fixed my bottle (good news, now I didn’t have to hold it for the next 109 miles…like that was even a feasible option) and fiddled with my bike computer and the little piece that is on my bike spoke to no avail. I jumped back on, not wanting to waste too much more time (look at all of those people passing me! though right now I AM actually standing still) and chose instead to scroll through my Garmin options on the tiny little screen whilst 1) travelling 18-25+ mph, 2) avoiding near certain collisions with other bikers going 24-34+ mph 3) trying to avoid hitting any spectators foolishly trying to cross the street in front of bikes moving that fast, and 4) trying to remember which menu screen would take me to the place where I could check and reset my satellites, etc.
I know. It was a perfectly logical way to go. Multitasking on a bike. Probably as bad or worse than texting and driving. I know.
Fortunately, I avoided catastrophe. But unfortunately, my Garmin appeared to be having sympathy pains attached to my hubby’s watch, which, as you might recall, suffered a busted screen and come to find out later, made it through the swim only to die about 1:45 into the bike.
No major hurdle for me…my watch still told me how long I’d been out, what time of day it was and how fast I was travelling and there were aid stations every 10 miles. It was only an inconvenience – we’d been training on the course since April and I knew pretty much how long it would take me to get from point A to point B.
I had a quick and easy first 56 mile loop. Much faster than I had ever done it, which was both fantastic and troubling news. Everything I had read going into the race said to take it out easy on the bike. Everyone I talked to said that scorching your bike would never pay off and you would blow up on the run.
I was trying to stay positive and in fact, I was loving how quickly I was moving along the course – this was fun! But in the back of my mind, I had a more than slight concern that I was going to seriously blow up… maybe on that last 2 mile hill at mile 100. If not then I would definitely blow up on my run. Trouble.
As you might know, during an endurance event like Ironman, your body needs replenishing but can only digest between 200-300 calories an hour. Get behind and you pay for it when you run out of gas. And you can’t make up for it – take in more than you can digest and you’ll likely end up with GI issues that can haunt you. Nutrition and fueling can definitely make or break you on race day.
Aid stations were reliably every 10 miles and were fully stocked with wonderful, helpful, cheerful volunteers, water bottles, bottles of Ironman Perform (like Gatorade), Bonk Breakers, Chomps, Gus, bananas and of course, porta-potties. At each one, volunteers were stretched out in a line, yelling out what goodies they had. You slowed, pointed to the volunteer who had what you wanted and made eye contact, and snatched the goods on your way past. You could also ditch empty bottles and trash at any aid station (it was an automatic DQ if you purposefully ditched trash anywhere but an aid station).
I had 9 coworkers who had also signed up to do the race and my first pit stop was around mile 30, where I saw the friendly faces of some of my other nonracing coworkers who were volunteering. Looking back, I think this is where hubby first caught up and passed me.
The stretch along Hwy 95 is hilly with a 2 mile uphill as you leave town and then mostly rolling mostly uphill until the turnaround. I have done enough training rides along this stretch to know that along with the slightly rolling mostly uphill of this section, you often get some headwinds to go with it to make it a little extra miserable. But we were lucky and the winds were quiet.
Honestly, my first loop was uneventful. Each aid station had phenomenal energy and there was enough bike traffic and chatter to keep you distracted. Course officials were patrolling to make sure no one was illegally drafting or blocking but I think their primary concern was with the people vying for cash prizes (in other words, not me!).
Once you hit the turnaround point to head north back into town about 4o miles into the 1st loop, it’s a fast 16 miles back into town. All of those rolling uphills turn into mostly rolling downhills. And the good news is that even though I’m not the fastest, most confident downhiller, I’ve been riding those downhills for long enough to be confident enough to cruise down them. I think I hit 40 mph or pretty darn close on one of them. But there were bigger people cruising right past me. Gravity.
After you cruised through downtown, back on the flats again, you headed out to pick up your special needs bag, which held cheeseburger #2 for me. Mile 65 was a happy one – more than halfway AND time to restock with new and exciting foods. And I got to see some familiar faces. I’ve worked with the volunteer captain for the bike special needs bag, Mike, on other non-Ironman things and before the race he told me where he’d be and had offered to throw my cheeseburger on the grill and warm it up. I didn’t take him up on it as I didn’t want to get “cold” or maybe more importantly, decide to order out for some fries and a milkshake and never get back on the bike. But I did stop long enough to restock my Perpeteum powder and reapply sunscreen on my arms and shoulders and stretch my neck and back.
Leaving town again, you could feel the energy leaving the athletes. Everyone knew what was ahead. Hills. No fans. Just the quietness of our minds. It got quieter and quieter until about mile 80. You could literally feel the ginormous black hole that was swallowing entire athletes whole.
“I’m never going to make it back into town.”
“Holy geez, why would anyone sign up for this?”
“How am I going to make it another 42 miles AND back up that last big hill?”
Fortunately, I had friends and coworkers at the aid station at mile 90 and I knew that the turnaround was within reach. I stopped for a quick high-five and another porta-potty break. When I was racking my bike, I realized with excitement that my hubby’s bike was on the rack right where I had put mine! Hooray!
But that was quickly replaced with a sense of uneasiness as it sunk in that he is a faster biker than me and something must not be going well for me to have caught him. Uh-oh…no bueno.
I saw him coming out of the porta-potty and he waited for me as I just had a quick tinkle. We rode together-ish, back and forth for a few miles, but he put some distance between us as we hit the downhills.
Mile 100 hit and we all start climbing again. Of course by now, the sun is shining full bore. No breeze. Just bikers. Climbing.
Last hill before town so I’m feeling pretty good. Just 2 miles and then it’s all downhill. Training on the course was definitely an advantage and one of the major reasons hubby and I chose to do this course over, say, Ironman Canada, which is later in the year and would have given us much more time to train in the nice weather. I was probably the only person smiling on that hill and I’m only smiling because I had already ridden the entire 112 miles of the course this year and I knew, I just KNEW that if I had made it this far, I would make it up this one last stinkin’ hill for the last time.
That is, till I catch up to my hubby, a third of the way up the hill. He’s cramping and jumping off his bike to stretch his leg. Poop.
I can’t stop or else I will never get going again so I blow him a kiss, cross my fingers the cramp goes away and keep churning my legs. I counted to 100. Five times. One count every other leg. One count every third leg. Again, every leg. One. Two. Three. Four. Five… Ninety-nine. One-Hundred. One. Two. Three. Four.Thirty-seven. Thirty-eight. Seventy-one. Over and over and over again. Just to get my brain off the hill and off of worrying about hubby. At least until the top of the hill…
I make it and turn around to find that my hubby had jumped back on his bike again and had staved off the cramps at least long enough to make it up the hill. Talking with him for a few miles, I learn his nutrition had been a wreck since his watch died less than 2 hours into the bike. He had trained with the watch set to beep every 20 and 40 minutes, reminding him to eat and drink. Without a watch, he was floundering from the get-go, trying to gauge distance and time without a watch. He will tell you that he got some funny looks – in a world of Type A athletes who are trying to control every piece of the race day they can to have a successful finish, he was probably one of maybe 2 or 3 athletes who didn’t have a watch. I’m sure they were wondering what his deal was…
Anyway, we decide about 5 miles out to start the run together and go from there. It was no our initial plan to stay together but it seemed to make sense to keep each other company for a while. So down the hills into town.
As we come into transition, our family and friends are cheering for him – it’s like a homecoming parade. It was actually really comical. They weren’t expecting to see me right behind him so he’s soaking it all in and I’m like, “Hey guys, I’m here too!” Eventually they saw me…
I had anticipated finishing the bike in 8:00-8:30.
I finished the bike around 7:20, a full 40-1:10 faster than I ever thought I would. True it’s still nothing to write home about in the world of biking (I averaged about 15.3 mph over the entire course), but I was feeling darn pretty good about my day as I headed into my last transition.