That was my grim realization when I started riding after my second flat tire at Ironman. I mentioned in Part One how quickly the complexion of the day changes. This is not to say I was suddenly feeling awful about life, it was just that stark, cold slap in the face by reality saying "wake-up".
What was worse, I had not even ridden out of town to the hills yet. Gulp.
I must say, here, that there is a very important distinction regarding the hill climbing in 2007 and in 2009. See, a few weeks ago, I finally got smart. If you go back and read about the bike ride in 2007 you will notice my comments about the gearing on my tri bike being poorly suited to hill climbing. It is a big gear time trial bike.
A few weeks before Ironman, after doing a 110 mile ride in the heat with over 4000 feet of vertical climbing, I decided enough was enough. I bought a new Shimano Dura Ace cassette. My old cassette was an 11-22 (I know, and I waited 9 years to change that???) and the new one is an 11-25. I swear that I have never felt such love for 3 gear teeth in my life. It is WONDERFUL--compared to what it was like. It still is not a granny climbing gear, but let's be honest--it is nice to climb a hill in the saddle without fear of falling over backwards because you can't actually keep the pedals turning over.
So there I was riding north, feeling ok, the wind at my back, occasionally looking at the watch. It was cloudy; the wind was gusting now to the point that I was fearful of being shoved off of the road at times when I was crouched in my aero bars. My legs felt very heavy. The burning was not my issue, it was that heaviness. Out at Hayden Lake the hills started, and the heaviness was a big problem.
I had been playing the passing game with a big 43 year old kahuna named Tom who was riding a beautiful black Cervelo P2C with deep dish Carbon Zipps and a "who's who" of finer carbon components scattered about his ride. Essentially, his bike was worth more than my car(s). It made the sound of an F-18 when it passed me, roaring down the hills. (As happened with so many people, he would pass me on the downhills and I would inevitably lurch by him on the hills. The old game of Gravity vs. Efficiency.)
One hill in particular is up above the lake after you have been swerving around, just before you head away into the country. Its a very steep, sustained climb that is really punishing. Here is the difference between the first lap and second lap--I didn't even remember climbing it the first lap!! I turned to Tom, looking deep in personal anguish and disbelief (as was I) and snorted "Tom, why does it have to be like this?"
He gave a sort of grunt and replied very plainly as he glanced back at me briefly, "We paid a lot of money for this pain."
That was it in a nutshell. We volunteered and the course delivered.
I trudged past him, up to the top, which actually turns out is a false top, and littered the countryside with expletives inappropriate for this forum.
Behold! Vanilla Thunder hath Vanish-ed!!
When I made the FINAL turn around on the bike and was heading back around the long swooping, gradual uphill turns, I fully expected to see Brian RIGHT there, still, clinging about 10 minutes behind me.
But I didn't.
It is selfish, I suppose, to say/feel this, but I was happy I didn't see him. First I was happy because it meant I had not fallen off my pace too much. Second I was happy I did not see him because it may have meant he got smart and held off the pace a little, given the crazy gusting winds out there. I didn't yet consider the third possibility, that he was having problems. Later, when I was riding into town, that thought occurred to me. I think I had had enough problems for us both, and maintained that he had just slowed down for his own benefit.
I saw the sign for 100 miles. 12 miles left. I mean... 12 MILES LEFT!!!! How awesome is that?? I swear, no matter how hard you train for this bike ride, and how well or poorly it goes, there is no better feeling than getting finished with the Ironman bike leg. You can not help but instantly feel better.
Of course I still had 12 very windy miles left. And it was DI-RECTLY into the southwest wind. Of course. How else would it be today?
I decided to go for it back in to town. I knew I couldn't hold the fastest tempo I wanted to, but I could push a little, spin faster... do something to feel energy in my legs which at this point were not energetic. I increased the tempo just a touch and started passing some of the people who had been with me. When we rode back on to the last long straightaway towards the "roundabout of tire-death" I really pushed it, getting up "on the rivet" and feeling my quads burn a little.
Soon there was a large opening in front of me. It was odd. I looked behind me and there, to my surprise, was a string of about 8 cyclists drafting off of me. They were not wheel to wheel, but they were definitely not legal, either. But this is Ironman and you have to be pretty damned blatant to get a card. So there they were. I chuckled--this is not how I saw myself from the inside, but apparently I was worth drafting off of. Or maybe I just smelled pretty.
I couldn't hold the pace all the way in. Some of the little ups and downs were too much and I backed off--unleashing the flood of fast 40 and 50 year olds behind me. It was amazing the whooshing sound it made as they all glided past, legs enormous and chiseled, bikes at least 3 times as expensive as mine. What a fashion show.
I just held on enough into the last small out to really stomp on it before rolling into transition -- where I was just disoriented enough that, when I got off my bike, I started running it back to its rack. DOH! In Ironman you just hand the sucker to the volunteers and they usher you directly into the tent.
The volunteers quickly corrected me, I felt stupid, and then happily scurried in moderate amounts of discomfort to what feels like heaven to me: the transition tent.
The GOOD part of my race was about to begin. Finally.