My first Ironman 70.3 – the bike (miles 11 – 56) (6)
I still have the sheets of paper where my husband calculated how fast I needed to ride and where I needed be at a certain time. We used the entire Moody Gardens Hotel Spa & Convention Center Galveston Island notepad to build our strategy. I remembered my Tough Cookie coach having a handy-dandy little TriCalc app on her phone and downloaded it to check my husband’s work. He was very proud of the results. Initially, he was against the app, now he likes it. We knew I had to be at mile 48 by 1:18 pm and T2 (bike to run transition) by 1:51 pm because it was listed in the Athletes Guide. We also knew that I lost 19 minutes because of these new numbers. John gave me the cold hard truth: Maintain 14.2 mph for 56 miles. No stopping. No water breaks. No potty breaks. No flats. No problem. ***Sigh***
Unfortunately, I was desperately trying to maintain 11.99 mph! I bargained with myself not to drop below the average speed displayed on my speedometer. That was the best I could do. For the life of me, I couldn’t do any better. I look like someone who should be able to ride faster. My quads have their own zip code for goodness sakes. My hammies are like…well, hams! Listen, I don’t expect to be any faster in the water, well, maybe a little bit and quite frankly, I’ve made a great deal of progress with my running and don’t expect to get much faster. However, not being able to maintain 14 mph, headwind or not, was beyond disappointing. I watched tiny people pass me and thought, “I’d be faster if I were smaller!” I watched bigger people pass me and thought, “I’d be faster if I had bigger thighs!” “I’d be faster if I were younger!” ”I’d be faster if I’d been riding since I was in my 20s like that grandma!” But I knew the truth, “I’d be faster if I had trained longer!”
I was in a desperate way for a very long time. I saw my Tough Cookie team members headed back to T2 and they waved or acknowledged me in some way. I tried to stay positive but I wasn’t feeling good at all. I knew my ride would be a lonely one and that I’d have to battle some demons. Most of the field was already headed back. I was bringing up the rear with the stragglers. No one cared that I started in the last wave or that I had only done a hand full of training rides! I was at the back of the pack and had to make the best of it.
I tried not to look down at my speedometer. It was way too early to start counting miles. I focused on my average miles per hour and was shocked at the effort it took to raise the number! The longer I pedaled, it’s true, the faster I got, but I knew it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit. I thought about everyone. I knew John would be devastated when he saw my numbers on Athlete Tracker. I thought about how rotten all the Tough Cookies would feel when I didn’t make it. I thought about ways to add levity to the situation on facebook. I thought about my mother and how she’d applaud and praise me no matter what. I asked myself what the hell I was doing out on this road by myself in the first place. Then, someone would pass me! “Hang in there!” ”You can do it!” I couldn’t believe it. I wondered what could have happened on their swim that they were just passing me. I was a little ticked off they’d gotten all day to finish the swim. Yes, shame on me. I sang, prayed, wondered, and repeated, “Hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer…” A Tough Cookie told me to hammer it on my ride. I tried.
I prayed not to get a flat. I begged all forces of the Universe to cut me some generous slack. I simply could not afford to flat and I saw people all over the place dealing with flats! I passed a few on the way out and could see them across the highway, headed back in, changing them! Some people on really expensive bikes were sidelined by flat tires. I felt bad for them but counted my lucky stars…so far. “God, please don’t let that be my fate!” I practiced tire changing in the weeks leading up to the race but it didn’t work out. I never successfully changed it. Even my attempt to use the CO2 cartridges failed miserably. I needed my bike to be perfect. I needed perfection.
I remember cycling over the bridge. It was a bumpy mess! Oh, Lord. I held my breath. The seagulls were flying really low and I thought they would attack me! They barely moved out of the way when I passed. It was a mess and the entire bridge was strewn with CO2 cartridges and I even saw a few tubes. It was some kind of cycling wasteland. I prayed and cycled. Then the road became smooth like glass. But don’t say glass! Don’t even think glass. I was finally able to maintain 14 mph and sometimes more but the wind was still slowing me down. I held 14 mph and watched my average miles per hour creep up.
In my heart, I didn’t believe they would stop me if I didn’t make it to mile 48 by 1:18 pm but my mind, my logical brain, told me otherwise. So, all I could do was keep trying. My speedometer clearly showed me not making it on time but how could I give up?! It went on this way for over two hours. I chomped on my Hammer bars, tried to eat my stale pretzels, sucked down Ironman PowerBar electrolyte water, grabbed water on the go (Thank you, volunteers!) and ignored my full bladder. AND…tried to ignore my new tri shorts cutting into me like nobody’s business. They were excruciating. I had to stop tugging because my miles per hour dropped each time I pulled at them. I had to go faster. Suddenly, a couple of cyclists yelled out, “You’re almost there!” They were talking about the turnaround. I wouldn’t allow myself to get excited. Would heading back be any different? Would I be able to go any faster? Someone yelled out, “You’ll have the wind at your back!” Don’t lie to me. Don’t tease me!
The turnaround was like meeting The Wizard of Oz. There weren’t much too it. It was a tight turn with about 3 orange cones and two people instructing me to TURN HERE. That’s it? I’ve gone through hell and high water and that’s it?! No courage, no heart, no brain for me? I desperately needed all three! And how will I get home? I made the turn and started to pedal–without courage, without heart, and out of my mind.
The thought of pedaling nearly thirty more miles would have cracked a lesser woman, it simply made me delirious and scarred me for life. But I had a spiritual awakening on the final half of the bike. I made a lot of promises that’ll take a lifetime to keep and was visited by my Guardian Angel. In short, my prayer was: If you guys (and gals) help me, I’ll be a Change Agent of the highest order. It worked. I pedaled nonstop at 14, 15, 15.5, 16, 17, 17.5 and even 18 mph! Now, let’s be clear, anything above 16 mph is really too fast for me, so those higher speeds were short lived but it happened. I settled in around 15.5 to 16 mph. I watched my average miles per hour steadily increase. I was so overjoyed and grateful. I passed several people and wanted to say, “Come with me!” but not to be a smart ass but because I knew that if they were too far behind me, they wouldn’t make the cut off time! When I passed mile 48 before 1:18 pm, I knew I had bagged myself a half Ironman. I didn’t celebrate because a flat could still ruin my day. I was cautiously optimistic.
I can’t describe the elation I felt riding those final miles. I was a new woman. I was a new person. I had tapped into some new mojo. I set a huge goal and I was going to achieve it. Sure, I still had a half marathon to complete but we (well, he) calculated that I’d have to run 15 minute miles and I knew I would do that. Thankfully, John was there right before I entered the transition area. He was elated and relieved. “You did it, baby! You did it!” (Don’t tell him I told you he said that. He’s pretty cool.) I’ve never seen him so happy. Later, he told me just how concerned he’d been. He sent a text to family preparing them for disappointment. He said when he looked at Athlete Tracker and saw that my pace was way off–he was broken-hearted for me. Yep, he told me that over shrimp po’ boys! But there would be no disappointment. Nope. Not for this girl, not for her husband, her family, or her friends. Not today.
This was a difficult post to write! I knew I couldn’t convey it properly. What happened to me on this 56 mile bike ride was/is so personal. I have only been able to share it with my mother and not quite fully with her. It feels like something I should only speak of in French, if my French were that good, or another sacred language. It feels like something that should be whispered in a candlelit room with giant goblets of deeply red wine. Sacred. Secret. Holy. I don’t have the writing chops to bring you where I want but some day! In short, I fell in love with triathlon on this terrible ride.
Yes, it feels like it’s over but I’ve got a run and final thoughts. Please come back! We’re almost done.