BIKE: AKA The Windy Ride From Hell
All that time I gained towards my best-case scenario goal of 11:30:00 quickly evaporated during a 10:22 T1. For context, I was hoping for between a 5:00-7:30 T1 total, and that's slow. Practically everything that could go wrong in a transition did. I never should have zipped up my cycling jersey the night prior with all my gear in it, as that left little room to unzip the shirt and drape it around me in the rush of the moment. Instead, I accidentally dumped all the contents out. Whoops!
However, I did make one very wise choice: wearing my Fortius racing windbreaker. Despite the gusty, rainy conditions the entire day, I was never truly cold or uncomfortable. What I may have lost in drag, I more than made up for in relaxed comfort, right until I crossed the finisher's line several hours later. That said, I'd like to find a windbreaker with cycling gear pockets. I struggled throughout the bike ride to access some extra gels because they were tucked inside my jersey pocket.
Onto the ride itself. No sooner had I finished basking in the glow of my swim than I realized I had a problem on my hands. I had to pee still. Badly. I waited until around mile 13 of the bike, which happened to be the second aid station. Here, I lost around two or three minutes, which I knew I could make up. But what I didn't anticipate was that I'd start having an upset stomach. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being excruciating, unbearable pain, my stomach issues were around a 3. Something I noticed, in other words. To this day, I'm not sure what caused the issue. My coach thinks it may have had something to do with taking Emergen-C packets daily going into the final week to avoid illness. He's had other teammates complain of reflux-related issues at past races when taking Emergen-C. I hadn't had stomach problems on a bike ride the entire year. The result was a peculiar one though. After eating a Clif Bar almost immediately into the first two miles of the bike, I couldn't fathom eating another one. I love Clif Bars! What was going on???
I put the discomfort out of my head the best I could. Due to a decent tail crosswind I was making what I'd call "acceptable" time, clocking in 19-22 mph miles according to my Garmin watch.
Then, the half-way point turnaround on the first loop.
I will NEVER forget being smacked in the face with the headwind that followed. It was the boxing equivalent of getting my bell rung. Right then and there, I knew it was going to be a long day on the bike, and I could probably kiss 11:30 goodbye. Maybe I could still break 12 though.
My Garmin watch data for the next 7 miles of the bike ride indicated I never could cross 19.6 mph. And then my stomach issues kicked in again. This time though, my race bib started to flap wildly at my back, causing several competitors to pause to tell me I should fix it before it blows away and I incur a potential penalty. So there I was, around mile 31 -- stomach aching, minor equipment issue, and yet again I have to get off the bike to use the restroom.
My dream day was quickly vanishing before me.
After a roughly five-minute pee, bib-adjustment break, I was back on the road. And for a while, my results picked up. I crossed the 56 mile mark (half way) a few minutes shy of three hours, meaning if I could hold that pace I would still be in position to break 12 hours with some room to spare. I was very pleased at this point despite the mounting winds, for I knew that if I could just stay on the bike, stay focused and pound when the wind was at my back I could make some time back off the clock.
That emotion was marked by how I greeted my Fortius teammates heading into the third loop of the bike, exuberantly shouting, "One more lap!" while pointing my finger to the sky. I was fired up and back to my old self.
Ultimately, it just wasn't meant to be though.
Though I came close to finishing the rest of the ride without breaks, I would need to briefly get off the bike at the 100th mile, where I accessed my special needs bag in what became the biggest calculated risk of the day. The day before the race, I convinced myself that I would ingest a 5 Hour Energy drink in an emergency situation. I had never taken such a thing before in my entire life. I've maybe had 1-2 Red Bull drinks without alcohol either. So, what kind of emergency would require me breaking the cardinal sin of triathlon (though shalt NOT try new things on race day!) would be open to interpretation. At mile 100, it meant I still had a delusional sense I could break 12 hours if I ran a solid marathon and could beat back the incessant howling winds on that final loop back to Tempe. (At this point though I was also riding anywhere from 13-17 mph miles due to what seemed to be the peak of the wind/rain/hail gusts.) But the real emergency was that I was starting to bonk physically and mentally. I remember around mile 94 being pounded into submission by the weather. The headwinds just became too much. I was being passed all over the place. The ride stopped being fun. My watch data was indicating three, four and even five-minute miles in the face of the headwinds. Wind has always been my weak point and it was being exposed in the biggest racing day of my life. That, combined with a continued inability to eat anything other than bananas, deflated my psyche. What was wrong with me? Why today? How could I possibly run a marathon next after the beating I was taking on the bike?
Enter 5 Hour Energy!
Yes, the berry flavor tasted foul, like acidic Robitussin. But within 20 minutes, my pace picked up by more than a full mile-per-hour, and even crept up close to a 2 mph bump. At one point I blasted through a group of bigger, stronger riders that included Bob amidst a massive 35-mph wind gust. This stuff really works, I thought! I was practically reborn, and though I took it easy on the final mile back to the bike transition, I was ready to attack the run.
When I finally entered the chute to T2, I have rarely been more relieved to get off a bike. Without question, that 112 mile Ironman bike was the toughest ride I've ever encountered. I'm comforted to know that several others, including pros, have commented about how tough the course was on Sunday. I wasn't the only one who had a rough day out there.
But, I got through it, crossing the finish marker in 6:16:11. Despite three stops, I still was only 16 minutes off my training goal and well within my third-place goal of breaking 6:20:00. Moreover, I could still break 12 hours if I hustled.
However, there was another factor at play. One that I thought I could ignore on the bike but was proven wrong. More on that next.