IMOO 2007, Part III –
“It’s a great day to be an Ironman.”
That was my sole thought when I got up at 3AM and peeked out the window, ignoring the fact that it was still pitch black, and just looked at the hotel flagpole. Whereas yesterday the flags had been whipping wildly in the wind, today they were totally still. Thank you Stan.
I drink my Ensure, get ready, and go downstairs for coffee, since the hotel has graciously agreed to start breakfast at 4AM for us. Kyle is staying here too, so a little later Deanna drops us both off at Special Needs, where we somehow manage to meet up with the other CTCers. Game time. The Terrace is buzzing with nervous energy as everyone is getting body marked, checking their bikes, filling tires, etc. I take care of the most important thing first: putting Dino’s race bib on him, making sure it’s straight. I find Kyle to borrow his pump, and he’s tinkering with his cowbell. Clearly, us CTCers have our priorities in order.
Back in the building, I go to the bathroom about six thousand times, resist the urge to check my bike one more time, and hang out with Hayes and Melanie, though Hayes takes off early on to get down to the water. Melanie and I aren’t too much later – my tactic, such as it is, is to be in the water when the cannon goes off. I know, I shouldn’t reveal this closely-held secret strategy, but that’s just the kind of person I am. People are everywhere – family, friends, all up and down the Helix – and Melanie takes off to find Aaron. This sometimes makes me sad during races, this reminder that even though I have great friends who I love, I’m really kind of all alone in the world, without that one person ready to slay dragons for me and open pickle jars and whatnot. I don’t even have my chatty, needy, attached-to-my-hip Hudson anymore, and I still miss him every day. But I’m distracted from my melancholy by the fact that King Lear, with his very long non-aero white beard, is walking very slowly in front of me, and we need to get down to the water pretty fast at this point.
I work my way around him, and once in the water (after I slip and slide my way down and almost tumble into a pile of rocks), I decide I’m going far right, somewhat towards the front. As I’m waiting, I hear someone from shore yelling to me and others, and when I turn around, I see that I’m right in front of the cannon.I want to be out of the way, but not so far back that I have farther to swim; hey, I’m no dummy. Or rather, the lillupution, Shrinky-Dink version of a cannon: this thing is about 2 inches of the ground, about 1 foot long, if that. THIS is the much vaunted Ironman cannon?? I laugh, still, just thinking about it. Maybe the cannon is a symbol for all those Ironman fears, all.......nah, not really. It’s just small, and funny, and as I shake my head in laughing disbelief as I get ready, the cannon goes off (quite loudly, I might add), and we start to swim.
Now, I’m not sure if the hunting knife that I have strapped to my leg has anything to do with it, but for some reason everyone is giving me a wide berth. Every time I look up, there’s a veritable ocean of space in front of me. I’m not sure what to do with this, if I should concern myself with finding feet to draft off of, or if I should just be happy with the space. And while I do follow bubbles once in a while when it’s convenient, I decide to be happy with my space. Recalling more gems from Rich Strauss, who claims the swim should be the easiest part of your race, I don’t try to swim particularly hard. People who are behind me stay behind me, people to the side don’t affect me, I swim around people in front of me when this happens, and always, that space. Even going around the buoys is a breeze. Well, except for the time that I thought I was at a turn buoy but wasn’t, not quite yet. Oops. And there was that one short stretch where I forgot how to breathe out through my nose, and wound up sucking in some water. Oops again. Otherwise, I finish the first lap in 49:00, and as I’m getting out of the water at the end, someone nearby yells joyously “An hour 30, baby! Yeah!” I hear ya brother, amen and hallelujah.
With my own joyous smile etched on my face, I decide to forego my little ritual from the Alcatraz race, where I came out of the water and did my finest Nixon imitation, walking slowly, both hands overhead and giving the V for Victory sign. My brother and his now-wife were there to spectate, so I’m shaking hands, giving hugs, chatting with them....I think I might have even signed some autographs and kissed some babies. Until, that is, I realized I was still doing a race and had many miles yet to go. No dawdling this time, as I go through the wetsuit stripping in a haze, discovering that yes, it’s fast, but later finding out that my slightly overzealous guys also tore my T1 wetsuit across the back. Ouch. Clutching my stuff, I run up the helix, smiling, floating, and really really having to go to the bathroom.
I change into my bike shorts, put on my cow jersey, selected because I thought it would be a nice tribute to the fine people of Wisconsin, go to the bathroom, and head out. The volunteers in the changing room are offering to do everything for us except peel grapes – though they’d probably do that as well. As I’m running towards my bike, they’re calling out my number, so that by the time I get to my rack, Precious is ready to go. Of course, the first thing I see are the 2 Slim Jims sticking out of my Bento Box – thanks Angela! Ah, a girl after my own heart. Still happy after the swim, I start doing numbers in my head, because of course this is what one does all day, calculate and re-calculate, and I figure if I nail the bike, it’s Kona time, wheeee!! Okay, not really, but sub-14 seems doable. It’s been a great day so far (all of 2 hours into it, I might add), and nothing can go wrong, I can feel it. Whee!
Except that at about mile 5, after navigating the busy narrow bumpy paths to the country roads that take us out to the loop, I realize that my back is killing me. The kind of killing me that only ever happens after about 110 miles, not 5. Shit. This, my friends, was not in the game plan for today. I had had some back pain over the past months, but I pushed it aside due to more immediate worries like my shoulder, and oh, I almost forgot, the piriformis pain that cropped up about a month ago and still comes back regularly.
But, if I learned nothing else from the 20 races I did this summer and god knows how many organized rides and who knows how many of my own rides that took me to the middle of nowhere (aka southern Wisconsin, and here I mean “nowhere” in the good sense), I did learn this: drugs are good. Taking this to heart means that I’ve stashed baggies of pills everywhere – in my bento box, in bike special needs, in my T2 run bag. Now, we’re talking the grand trifecta of Tylenol, Immodium, and Pepto Bismol tablets here, not exactly hardcore, with some Tums and Endurolytes thrown in. Still, better than nothing. I can’t stop yet though – it’s bad enough that I’m already sitting up, trying to stretch my back, only about 15 miles in; this should still be a cakewalk at this point, and I’m already hurting. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I fretted a bit about what other cyclists must be thinking, i.e. “geez, 15 miles in and she’s having a hard time, good luck with that! Ride much?” Why should it even matter? But it’s soooo tiring sometimes to always be the slow sucky one. This was, as they say, like déjà vu all over again.
But, onward. At Mt. Horeb, I finally stopped to take a few Tylenol. Just that one brief stop, and I watch as all the people I had passed earlier go zooming by. My plan had been to stop on the bike only once, to remix some Infinit. So much for that. Since I know the course, I know exactly when I’ll be approaching Cross Plains, which I’m looking forward to. Then, off in the distance, I see something big and.....pink. With wings? Is that a flying pig? As in, pigs must be flying, since Tasha is doing an Ironman? I look around, expecting to see a freezedried snowball carefully ensconced in a diorama depicting a fiery hell. But no – Annette is standing beside this large pink apparition, and as she sees me, she yells “It’s Happy Bunny!”, and I start laughing. Then I see Karin, who is the only person I know who can wear a short black leather miniskirt, a leather vest, cowboy hat and boots, and not only look great, but also look more like a cowgirl than a hooker. A brief stop for water, and I’m off again, to the 3 hills. Somehow I didn’t think they were so bad when I first rode this course, but clearly I was on some heavy psychotropic medication at the time.
Hill 2, where my water hose friends live, is the “fun” one – using the definition of fun that means poking one’s eye with a dull spoon. Some people talk about this hill as having a true TdF feeling to it, and you know what? They’re right, assuming that the spectators at the TdF have been partying all day, are drunk as loons, and are wearing strange getups galore – all of which is exactly as it should be, here on this rather steep hill, on this gloriously sunny day. I see and hear Dan Lee at the top, I blow past another girl who’s slower than I am, and I zoom on by, ready to conquer the third hill. In the meantime, though, recall that I picked out my special cow jersey as my tribute to WI. A jersey that just happens to say “Pink Floyd” on the sides. So what do I hear as I’m going up hills and past spectators? Yes, you guessed it: ”Pink Floyd, rock on!” “Yeah, Floyd!” “All right, rock and roll!” Sigh. The cow? Hello?
We swoop down roads that have just been paved in the last day or two, and they’re like butter. Perfectly smooth, as fast as can be. I top out at 45 mph, then spin up the last crappy hill and head into Verona. Which is so nutty and surreal and there are so many people.........that I totally miss seeing the water stop there, until I’m already past it. Damn, that wasn’t good, as I can tell I’m getting behind nutrition-wise and I need water to go with my GU. Luckily though, my packrat tendencies will now come in handy, because I stashed a bottle of water in my bike special needs bag, which is coming up. Whew! But here I make Big Mistake #gazillion: I see the flask of Infinit gel that I carefully prepared last night, with what was supposed to be my supply of Infinit for the 2nd half of the bike.......and as my brain jumps out of my head and walks off into the cornfield, I actually leave the flask in the bag. Somehow thinking it’s “optional”, and that oh, I’m practically done with the bike anyway. Huh? So, note to self: in the future, leave brightly colored notes on anything I need to do or take with me, so that my brainless self doesn’t have to actually think about anything during the race. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland: “Eat Me!” “Take Me With!” “Drink This Now You Dumbass!” Yeah, that’ll work.
My back is still killing me, and now the wind has picked up, so my 7 hour bike time is looking iffy, though I was happy to see that I was on target for the first half, hitting mile 56 after about 3:25. I’m constantly reworking numbers, making sure I’m not getting complacent and thus risking running out of time. I think that’s one trap that people get into – they get lax, thinking that everything has gone well so far, assuming that’ll continue to be the case, not banking away every precious minute in case it might be needed later. That’s one mistake I refuse to make.
Wind is number one on my Hierarchy of Suckiness While Riding, with rain, steep hills, and false flats not nearly as bad, but I’m not going to complain, because it’s a beautiful day by IMOO standards; we’ve all seen it a hell of a lot worse. As I head into Cross Plains again, I still see Happy Bunny, but his sign has changed, from “Hi Tasha!” to “Tasha, will you be my BFF?,” which....oh, it’s a long story, but suffice to say that this keeps me giggling for many hours to come.
I stop at CP to pee, and to deal with my latest problem: my feet. The fire ants have finally attacked, because they’re now hot and numb and excruciatingly painful, all at the same time. Kind of like what happened at Steelhead on the run, and what sometimes happens on my very long bike rides. I take my shoes off, massage my feet, but it’s not helping. As I bid my CTC pals adieu and ride on, I’m now muttering “ow ow ow” under my breath, as pedaling becomes difficult. With VQ Dave Noda’s voice in my head (“BIG circles people, BIG circles!”), I try relieving pressure off my feet through pedaling, by scrunching up my toes, by pulling up and not putting any pressure on them, standing up on the pedals, even unclipping and shaking my feet out. Nothing. Shit. Still, the public awaits, and to get my mind off my damn feet, I continue chatting with spectators as we all go past – thanking them, appreciating the cowbell, and finally, after about the 30th “woah, Pink Floyd, rock on girl!”, yelling “The COW, people, what about the COW??” Which only gets me a “cow, Pink Floyd, sure....ROCK ON!” I gave up at that point, and just smiled and thanked the cute guy who I saw about 4 times on the bike course, as each time he greeted me as the “Pink Floyd Chick.” Sometimes, it’s easier to just....rock on.
The final 15 miles back into Madison are the slowest of my whole bike split, as I want to get back as fast as possible but can’t pedal, and the headwind is now brutal. I contemplate stopping to rub my feet again, but with no assurance that’ll work, I don’t want to do that and stiffen up. There’s a brief period where the feet don’t hurt and there’s a tailwind, so I put on some speed and as I fly past a couple of guys, one of them actually says “wow, nice job!”, which I guess cancels out some earlier suckiness – though I tell him “it’s a tailwind finally, let’s go!”, and he laughs. A lot of camaraderie amongst the slow, and that’s kind of cool. Not for the first time, I think: this is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and I knew it would be no walk in the park. And I see my little aerobar notes, meant to be encouraging, and I think, oh sure, YOU try some f*cking breathing when your feet are being held to burning coals, bub. Great, now I’m talking to strips of paper. Fantastic.
The Helix that we go up is clearly built on some Chernobyl-sized anti-magnets or the remnants of a black hole or both, because it takes no effort whatsoever to spin up it, and there are volunteers galore to take our bikes when we dismount. At which point, I realize....I can’t walk. To sympathetic looks, I hobble to T2, immediately take my shoes off, get my bag handed to me, and as I’m trying to walk to the changing room, I can’t do it. I sit down. A young boy working in T2 immediately tells me, with a look of concern, “no, you can’t change in here, you have to go to the other room!”, and I inform him I will, as soon as I can walk. The poor kid keeps darting glances at me, undoubtedly thinking that they didn’t tell him what to do about the crazy people, who just sit down willy-nilly, and how hard should he try to get me out of there? After a couple of minutes, taking pity on him, I hobble to the changing room, where I find a spot by a chair, lay down on the floor on my back, prop my feet up on the chair, and just look up at the ceiling. Having calculated that I’d give myself until 4:30 to try to do something about my feet and get going on the run, and it’s now about 4:15, I just relax. Zen. Breathe.
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