I have never been so glad to be on my bike. Just surviving the swim seemed like a journey worth the trip.
When I signed up for the race last year, I thought that the winds would be less of an issue in November than April on the bike and that was not exactly correct. It was obvious right away that the wind was going to be a factor all day, although not as bad as April 2007. Having dealt with it before, I felt prepared. It was going to make the ride challenging both physically and psychologically, because no matter what direction it took, it would be in my face for a long way. I'm a fan of getting punished on the way out and enjoying the tailwind on the way back, so that was my hope.
I got my wish. As we worked through the early set of turns that take you out to the reservation, it was clear the wind would be in my face on the way to the turn around.
Eric had said to give our stomach 15 minutes before starting to eat, so I sipped at my Gatorade and took some Endurolytes. My legs were basically stumps. I couldn't feel my feet, my achilles tendons had no flexion, and my calf was still pretty sore. Of course, the cure for the calf was drop my heel and extend my pedal stroke to stretch out the calf muscle, except that I couldn't drop my heel...
My race almost ended around the time I first went to eat. As I passed one athlete, he decided it was time for a bathroom break- on the other side of the road. He started cutting across the road as I was finishing my pass and he nearly t-boned my back wheel. I was not happy.
I was relying mostly on Clif Rocks for solid food. In hindsight, a 50/50 mix of Rocks and Blocks would have been a better choice. The second banana I'd eaten that morning was also waffling between the good idea and bad idea columns. I think it's safe to say that two bananas and a Red Bull are probably not a perfect choice.
Once we started heading out to the reservation my early speed started to bleed away. Turning the pedals is an amazingly mechanical process. I was sore and a little discouraged, but I'd still managed over 20 mph out to Beeline Highway. That average started to head south as we turned into the wind. I looked down and saw I was going 14-15 mph per hour at some points, but I wasn't worried. I knew that I had what I wanted. Into the wind on the false flat out- it's pretty much a steady slight uphill grade out to Shea Road (the turn around).
The drafting wasn't too bad on this first loop.
I had to pee for the first time on the way out, probably 15 miles into the bike. The last time I'd done the race I'd gotten severely dehydrated (my pee started burning during the bike and continues to feel like fire for three days after the race). I could tell I was much better hydrated. I took turns with gatorade and water bottles all through the bike. The funny thing about peeing on the bike this time was that it felt hot coming out and on my leg, then cold as it got down to my left foot- which didn't actually need any more wet and cold.
I saw Steve Surprise coming back from the turn around, and he had maybe seven minutes on me. He was berating a group of people I was passing from across the road for drafting. I laughed and tried my best to do some math. I didn't think I could make that up in a single loop, but it did invigorate me a little bit. I worked through the turn, starting now to dump water on my head and chest (but careful to keep it away from my feet) to keep my core body temperature from elevating.
I was eating every half an hour. My nose was also running and I was frequently blowing it- the sinus infection was making its presence felt.
As soon as we'd crested the hill at the turn around, the effect of the tailwind and the downhill combined. I hit 36 miles per hour- this is supposed to be a flat course, right ? Let me tell you I've never hit 36 mph in two races at Ironman Florida. This is not that flat a course.
The ride back was fast until we got off the reservation. Once you made the right at the gas station things slowed down a bit as you were riding into the cross-wind.
My feet were starting to wake up but my right side was sore because I was using my hip to do the work that my leg was supposed to be using. There was already salt on my legs- I was taking endurolytes every half an hour as well. I just kept grinding out the first lap and before I knew it, I was looping back out.
I saw Ian and Margit as I headed back out on the second loop. They were cheering me on, but I knew Margit could do the math and would know I was not in a great position at this point.
Eric really pushed the idea in the pre-race meeting of not pushing too hard on the bike. 'You should feel a little bit guilty', Eric said. 'Like it's a training ride.' I tried my best to stick within that, while also working on moving up.
That's the hardest part of the bike for me- moving up. I'm dead serious about not drafting. Because I come out of the water so far in arrears, I am faced with the frequent need to pass people. That requires a little more work in some cases than I'd like to do. Over 112 miles, there's a lot of situation where I have to get out of my rhythm to stay within the rules.
It was also clear on the second loop that continuing to eat was going to be a challenge. I had the bike computer as my only clock to keep track of the thirty minute intervals. I was basically keeping a package of something open at all times and eating one at a time (block or rock). That was helping quite a bit, but I realised I was drinking a lot of water- almost as much water as gatorade. You go with what you can stomach. I noticed my speed dropping to around 18 mph going out on that second loop- the wind was still in our face and I was trying to just stay aero. My feet and legs were warming up and I was getting some heel drop extension.
I knew my leg would hurt on the run...
The bike computer has some kind of issue with the right control button- likely gatorade has been spilled on it. The button sticks sometimes, including during the race. The computer started switching- at random intervals- from one function to the next. Sometimes it was cadence. Then trip distance. Then speed and average speed. Speed and max speed. Cadence usually came up when I was going uphill into the wind...
Steve maintained most of his lead over me during the second loop- he went by me going back from the out and back after losing only about a minute. I got to the turn, babied my way around the cone, and picked out 'tall guy' for my water. As in 'You, the tall guy' and a point. I like to identify the volunteer early- I've seen too many feed zone crashes...
I hauled some ass on the second loop back as the wind was at my back again. I missed one bottle exchange and I was still struggling to eat everything, but getting it down, along with endurolytes.
I was still sore. My hip was complaining about the extra work I was giving it because of my right calf and then my groin was starting to hurt as well.
I could tell on the ride back into Tempe though, that the wind was shifting. This was bad news. I had an idea that it would be at our back on the way out on the third loop, which was not a good thing. I'd done this last time in Arizona- fought the wind coming back on that third loop and gotten off the bike fried.
The ride back in was uneventful. I was still moving up but of course, not passing as many people and there was some jockeying- I'd pass someone who'd pass me back or visa versa, and I was starting to get close to some packs.
I went around the loop back in Tempe and was out for the third loop. I was almost glad I didn't see Ian and Margit again. It can be very emotional, seeing your family like that, especially when you're maybe letting them down. I needed to concentrate, find my centre and get something done out there.
I almost didn't finish the race and concentration was what saved me.
I was early on in the third loop when I took a right hand turn. I was aggressive in the turns all day because I was seeing a lot of grandma riding in the turns. I went wide, then settled in. The guy in front of me was going maybe two miles an hour slower and I was just thinking of starting my pass when-
He stopped. There were five porta-potties on the side of the road and the guy decided to just, well, stop. In the fraking road. Not pull off, not give a hand signal. Just stop.
You reaction time ? You've spent an hour and twenty minutes in 61 degree water. You've been riding about four hours and ten minutes. You were up with a fever the night before.
Somehow I made the move I needed to make.
Later, as I was peeing (#4), a guy came up to me and said 'That was a sweet move back at the bathroom. I closed my eyes.' He was sure we were abut to have a three bike (or more) pile-up.
The third loop was the one where I did have an issue with groups drafting. Once on the way out and twice more on the way back I would find myself dropping to let an entire drafting group go by and then accelerating to around 28 mph to pass the whole group. I never hit thirty on any of these accelerations- I didn't have that left in me.
I'd gone through the turn around far enough behind Steve that I knew I wasn't catching him. And as I'd expected, the wind was in my face on the way back- no 30 mph speeds, more like high 20s. After the second acceleration and before the third I caught the eye of one of the officials and he gave me a nod and a smile.
An idea formed.
The next time the pack attacked me, I went with a quick counter and went much harder than the other two. I splintered the group, drew a few people in and next thing I knew, the motorcycle pulled up and the guy behind me was headed for the penalty tent
Sweet justice !
I rode back into Tempe somewhat exhilarated, but my right calf was still sore and I knew one thing.
It was going to be a long run.