Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nutmegman Half-Ironman, Part II

Any questions about what this bike course would be like were answered in the first mile. The climb out of the park was just that. A climb. As Mandy had warned, there was a downhill and a sharp turn. Then you started climbing again.

Or rather, I started climbing again. Since this is my only actual skill on a bicycle, this is a good thing. The bad thing was that the cable for my rear derailleur is so badly stretched out that there's just no way that I can get into the low gear, or get into it without risking throwing the chain. So I put it in 21 and started climbing. I wanted to save big ring 23 for the really bad climbs and also while I've never snapped a chain- I'm no Eric Hodska- I have blown up more than one rear derailleur on a training ride.

I was breathing hard. While I'd had a great swim for me, I was still tired, and not only that, my left ear was plugged shut and no amount of banging on my helmet could fix it. It would stay plugged for about 25 miles, kind of affecting my balance.

Margit's lead was not insurmountable. I caught her about 7 or 8 miles in. On one hand it always makes me feel good to catch her because she's such an awesome swimmer and no slouch on the bike. But at the same time, I feel bad. That's probably not a big lift for her for me to pass her.

I ate some blocks, drank some Gatorade and worked my way by people, then got out to 188. I started what is really a kind of stair-step set of climbs, up, up, and up. This was some hard work, with no access to the small front ring. And I have an oversized big ring.

I saw the first cyclist, the race leader, headed downhill, in the aero blazing along as I climbed at 10 mph. Then I saw another. I started counting. At eight, I stopped counted and I made a decision. I decided that I really would be patient today, that I would keep it in my head that this bike loop would have to be ridden three times and I didn't need to get where I wanted to be- top 3- on the first lap. Or the second.

Still, I was moving up pretty well, and then I hit that damn hill Mandy said was a 2-6 minute climb. I went to big ring 23 and stood halfway up and stamped up the hill using my Thomas Voekler impression- yes, it's ugly. I passed a CT Heat athlete and he said 'That's not fair.' He caught me again on the next downhill and I let him get 5 bike lengths and then got back to work. He was a little heavier than me, so he had good momentum on the downhills but never really opened a gap. There were four or five people in a clump at the end of the 188 section and I set my sights on them.

We turned onto Hull Hill's road. He started making his passes as did I, but the gap between us vanished and I decided I was going to have to pick it up a notch and get out in front, which I did.

The first loop of a multi-loop course is the best one in some ways because you know what you are doing. Once you get on that second loop, things start to get a little confusing. After this group that I'd passed, the number of people in front of me was small enough that there was no regular pattern of catch and pass.

There was also no chance to establish a smooth rhythm on the course. It continued to either go uphill or downhill, and not little gradient changes either.

The second loop of the course cut out the climb out of the park, and actually basically began with some nice downhill, but twisty so you had to be reasonably careful- followed by a 90 degree left-hand turn and you guessed it, more climbing. This climbing was a fairly short section followed by one of the more twisty downhills. On this second loop, I noticed that when we descended, everyone was looking back a lot. Worried about the people coming up behind them ? I guess it might have been about safety...

Although there wasn't a ton of people in the race you never really felt alone and you never went that long without seeing your fellow athletes. I went by one who I'd been closing on- he'd parked the bike and ducked (just barely) off the road to urinate. I'd found a flat/downhill section on the first loop to do that while riding. I never saw him again.

Back out on 188, I was starting to tire of the big-ring climbs...

As I went up the last climb going out, I passed the one of the top two women. I needed a second to collect myself and she decided to pass me back, which really annoyed me. Mostly because I knew once we finished peaking, that I was going to be going by her again on the downhill in about ten seconds, and I would have to do it with auto traffic on my back- there were two cars halfway up the hill and closing fast. With cars and bikes on the other side of the road, there was a potential for the pass to be dicey, but at the speed I'd be going it would be pass or crash (or brake).

That's exactly what happened. I blew by her on the downhill just as a car went by, but oh well, that's what you get for trying to manage everything in your head instead of just going with the flow of the moment.

I hit the turn-around and had already dropped her. I got halfway up that big climb again and decided I had to try and get into the small ring. My legs weren't burning or anything. I just was not climbing efficiently. I eased the lever down, gave a gentle down stroke with my left foot and it went into the small ring.

I got to the top of the hill and considered just leaving it there in the small ring, but of course that was a ridiculous idea. I had to go back to the big ring, and then was able to get back to the small ring on the next hill. After that, I stayed in the big ring until the third loop.

I felt like I was starting to get some rhythm as I hit Hull's Hill road again. My speed was still averaging below 20 MPH I think, but then again, I'll never know....

I started the third loop chasing a guy that was about 200 yards ahead of me. I knew now anyone I caught I was going to have to put time into because I was starting to overtake people that might be competitive on the run. However, I was also lapping people (that had started late in the second lap) and that always makes for a confusing journey. I did get past him finally and we both passed a third person- I had to work on the downhills because he was definitely riding aggressively on Bower and Oneill. I turned back onto 188 and started climbing. When I got to the first real hill, I popped my chain into the small ring, excited about having the option.

It came off instead of shifting down. I tried reseating it by shifting up but it wasn't having it so I hoped off. I got passed by the guy I'd just passed. He asked if I needed help, I said no and grabbed the chain with my right hand and reseated it on the big ring. Normally I try to use a finger, but in a race- my whole hand was covered in grease, which I wiped on my shorts.

I passed the guy again on the next hill and built a small lead into the turn-around. Taller, leaner, he looked like he'd give me a run for my money on the downhills- I mean, he looked like a cyclist/triathlete after all. So I decided that I had to get into the small ring on the biggest hill- halfway up I did, and it was the last hill I climbed in the small ring in the race. Then I really absolutely bombed down all those hills on 188 like someone was chasing me to do violence.

After I turned onto Hull Hill that last time, I ate some food, drank some gatorade and what do you know ? I caught some people. I thought maybe they were second lap people, so after I got a small gap, I got up as much momentum as I could and peed. I immediately got passed back. One of the guys, in yellow, had a 41 on his calf. We started climbing the last hill before Maple Tree Round and something big and black went by me just as I was about to pass this guy.

I looked down. My brand new computer was gone. I looked at that 41 and decided to keep climbing. Turned out he was on his third lap.

I never really gapped the guy and as we got onto Georges he was pushing me. The road down was rough and there was that sharp turn, so I let him by and concentrated on staying back and giving him room.

He beat me into transition, and I beat him out.

Next: The run

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