Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ironman: Part Two

"We have made it to the starting line. In this moment, the probability that we will do the event reaches 100 percent. The hundreds of things that can go wrong leading up to an Ironman have been cleverly averted, and the thousands of things required to get to the start are all now officially history."

~Mitch Thrower

You must UNLEARN what you have LEARNED...

We are taught early on that if something hurts--don't do it.

Somehow we forget these early, simple lessons during Ironman.

Leaving the water of Lake Coeur d' Alene was a moment of mixed emotions for me.

A) Ridiculously happy to be out of the water (what would ya do with a drunken sailor)
B) Terribly disappointed (and still am, I realize now) in myself for not slaying that swimming dragon.

Maybe the third time is a charm.

Based again on previous experience, I brought arm warmers and mittens for the start of the bike ride. The arm warmers did not slide easily onto rubbery wet post traumatic swim arms. Oh no. The first of many many wonderful volunteers to help me throughout the day managed to maneuver the appendages into the sleeves. It was remarkable.

And then the gloves. Oh, dear...

These are not aerodynamic, fancy-pants cycling gloves. Oh no, these are cotton knit gloves from some race back-east that appear from a certain distance like the gloves permanently adorning Mickey Mouse. I used to think they were silly, maybe Mickey is just a smart sonofabitch.

Anyway, I left transition on my wonderful old blue bike feeling much better than 2007-- albeit nervous, now, because this was the "meat" of the race for me. I can do well on the bike, but this year was a big test for me. I had trained very hard for the bike portion, working more hills, more centuries, and as a result I felt stronger than I ever had. I wanted to really hold 19 mph on this ride, really, really wanted to, so that I might have a shot at breaking 11 hours overall. I have huge faith in my running ability, but this year on the bike was new territory.

It was amazing as I rode away from town, finally able to see beyond the blinders of the swim trauma, the difference between the cyclists I was with in 2007 and this year. Much better cyclists this time around, men and women, and much nicer bikes. RIDICULOUSLY nice bikes. And leg muscles popping out all over the place.

I set off at my best warm-up pace, and wasn't shivering after 6 miles. That was definitely an improvement this time around. I settled into a group of very quick cyclists who were riding a pace that was on the verge of being fast enough for my race pace, but I knew I wasn't ready to push it yet this early on (about 12 miles) in the bike.

I forgot about that after my first flat tire. Yes, first. It was mile 15ish of the bike ride. There is a little traffic circle just north of town, and I was heading around the round-about when I felt my rear wheel go slushy around the corner. Oh no. I know that feeling. Please, not a flat. Please please please please please.

I looked at my rear wheel as I swung around and straightened out. Flat as a pancake.


Luckily for me there was an aid station right there, and I rolled up to it. I coasted to a halt and set about changing the tube. My land-legs had really just started to arrive after that horrid second lap of the swim, and I wasn't even close to warmed-up. I had been hovering around 18 mph, and felt ok with that, but the wind was starting to intensify from the southwest. Basically, my legs were not feeling great yet, and it was obvious that the weather wasn't going to be on my side today.

I checked the rim, rim tape, spoke nipples, and tire. I got the new tube in and was ready to inflate. I screwed the CO2 cartridge into the nozzle and put it onto the stem and PSSSSSSHHHH that sucker emptied without going into the tube. Don't even think about asking me HOW that happened! Oh crap--only one CO2 cartridge left. I decided that it was too risky to use it, since I would be without for the remainder of the lap, and went to walk to the other end of the aid station where they had a pump. Successfully inflated and ready to roll, I took off.

Total time lost: 5:25. Panic set in. It shouldn't have--5 minutes is NOTHING. Heck, 10 minutes. But this is where the bad things are going to happen, at the most insignificant times. I felt rushed for some reason after that flat, rushed and pressured, like I needed to push. I got back on my bike and hammered.

My legs were burning, burning more than they should have been. I cranked on, telling myself this was Ironman and I didn't train so hard to "just finish." I know, I know... but at the time, that kind of logic makes sense for some reason. Maybe its a blood flow to the brain issue.

My legs burned and I kept on, knowing full well I was going too hard. The wind kept getting harder. I couldn't eat yet, my tummy wasn't too happy with me. I was able to drink plenty, however, and at mile 35 sucked on a couple caffeinated Shotblocks which felt good, convincing me to just try eating. I did, eating half a Clif bar, and WOW did I feel better. It's amazing how we can trick ourselves so easily, right in our own brains.

The legs burned, and I ignored it. I was holding a pretty good pace, but I couldn't go as fast as I trained into the wind, which seemed to be coming from everywhere, but I maintained the fastest tempo I could hold. I was riding with a couple people who looked to me like as soon as they got off the bike, they were bound to walk a long way.

The hills were relentless, and occasionally we were even lucky enough to go downhill into the horrible wind, which resulted in having to pedal downhill more than usual to maintain speed. That is a wonderful way to suck extra energy! And it hurt. A lot. I went through town again and saw my cheer team, and smiled and waved to them. Jan and Shawna were screaming at me as I raced by, and I felt better. I didn't feel so alone at that moment. Out there on the bike, when everyone is hammering into a wind that is relentless, it feels a little lonely for some reason. Quiet and hard and alone all together. (Seems like an REM song.)

I went through the special needs pick up at Higgins point, just east of downtown, and grabbed my bag = two extra tubes and two extra CO2 cartridges. Just in case. At the time I did not even consider the possibility of getting another flat, but I was sure happy I had that extra bag out there.

I saw Brian Kirby a.k.a. Vanilla Thunder a bit behind me after I made the turn and I screamed at him and put my arms in the air. It makes me feel better when I cheer for people out there. He was hanging on to me pretty good, I hoped he wasn't going to hard but from the looks I guessed he was. That or I was going a lot slower than I thought. It didn't matter, really, because I sure couldn't go any faster!

I actually felt at that point like I was getting used to the hurt, the pushing. The wind was at my back heading north out of town, and I came to that roundabout where I got the flat tire. My stomach knotted up a little as I headed around it, even, remembering just a couple hours previous what I had spent my time doing.

And then it happened.


Oh dear lord. SERIOUSLY??

I felt the characteristic "bump bump, bump bump, bump bump" of a deflated front tire and I pulled over. Un-be-fucking-lievable. No way. I had to be dreaming.

I laughed--what else could I do? It was just going to be that way today. I looked at my watch and realized that I would have to finish the bike ride at 7 hours in order to be under 11 hours for my whole race. It was mile 50ish, and I was at 4 hrs. I tried to do math. Could I really average 22 mph the rest of the way? Nope. Not even close.

My heart sank a lot right then. I would be lying if I said I didn't shed some saline quietly to myself. But then something happened.

I sat up and got my shit together, breathed a few times, and remembered the training rides in the rain when Jan had her rash of flat tires.


I remembered the really long hard ride that wiped me out just a few weeks ago.


I remembered the swim, just a few hours ago, and how I thought the same thing then but overcame and finished still.

I thought about my Ironman 2007.


That made me smile. Here I was, sitting on the Ironman course, angry because I might not break 11 hours. When I thought about it that way, it seemed hilarious and stupid. I bet there were 2000 people out there who would give their left arm to finish around 11 hours!! It was a very important turning point, mood-wise. I felt better. I changed my tube. I chatted with some volunteers. I ate a banana. I got on my bike and started again with the leg-killing pace, into the wind, feeling like this is what I was supposed to be doing, regardless of the time I would achieve.

Sitting there I fully expected Brian to go whizzing merrily by me. Thankfully (for him) he did not.

1 comment:

mossygirl said...

More, more, more! I want to read more of the story!! I love hearing about what it was like for you out there, even if you've told me about it before. It is always different, deeper, hearing you write it.

You go, Ironboy!