Then of course it’s time to change, and here’s where my propensity towards bundling up like a Russian babushka in Siberia whenever I go riding looks like sheer brilliance. Which it is, of course. In addition to cycling shorts, I put on a base layer, a long-sleeved jersey, a rain jacket, long-sleeved gloves, and I’m pretty much set. I briefly debate the toe covers, but decide to tough it out, because that’s just how I am, the very definition of hardcore. Thus outfitted in my 10 pounds of fresh clothing, I get my bike, turn on my bike computer.......I said TURN ON my bike computer......shit, it won’t turn on. I keep trying, then realize I need to get going regardless, so I set off. Right into the wind, which has been picking up hourly. So that means that my first sojourn down TFR (That Fucking Road) is, yes, right into the wind. As if I’m not slow enough as it is when I first start out on the bike.
So this first part of the course, on TFR, is all hills – long down, long up, long down, etc. Then you turn around at the bottom and reverse your route. Long, not extremely steep, but steep enough, and it looks to me like the cyclists on their way back are struggling a bit. However, I have to say that apparently the tailwind gods were smiling on me for the only time that day, since going back up was a breeze. And as I’m cruising, a car with lights flashing goes past me, and I think, FINALLY, they recognize they have a celebrity in their midst and they’re giving me the escort I deserve! It’s about time! And then I hear the disc wheel as the first pro goes flying past me. Oh. I’m THAT slow?? It takes me many hours until I remember that the pros actually started about 45 minutes before we did, and I had The Longest Swim Known to Man, so that makes a bit more sense.
Then through town, down the main commercial strip, and the start of the part of the loop that goes along Lake Hayden. Or, as the guy biking next to me briefly put it, “where the fun begins.” He said that just after we had scaled one very steep hill, so of course I asked him – “Wait, way more fun than that?” Him: “Oh yeah, there are a lot more, worse than that one.” Shit. I think I blocked the finer details of the bike course drive from my memory, other than remembering that it was a bitch of a course.
I’m not sure there’s a way to sum up the bike course at IMCDA other than to say that if you know the Madison course, and the 3 hills that everyone refers to as the Three Sisters, or somewhat less charitably, the 3 Bitches, then this is those hills, over and over and over again. There is exactly one true roller – and trust me, my non-sveltened self picks up enough speed on downhills such that if anyone could get up the subsequent uphill, it would be me. One. Roller.
And did I mention that my left knee, which has not bothered me AT ALL during training, decided that it was going to be extremely painful during my bike? Yes, the knee. At one point I felt a twanging kind of pain, as if something were ready to pop, but luckily that didn’t happen. But really, what the hell? Again, not once have I had any knee pain, not even on my longest rides, and here I am 12 miles in and it’s killing me.
I’ve finally gotten my bike computer to work, and as I go over the mat on the first turnaround, I have a profound revelation: holy shit, I need to pick it up, or I won’t make the bike cutoff. So whereas before I was cursing my knee pain, now my only thoughts are about the time, my speed, the speed I need to be going at, etc. I guess this is good, because during my ride instead of thinking about anything else – dark, weighty thoughts, for example – I’m just calculating, running the numbers. Over and over. And in the meantime, having points at which I wonder if I’m even on the course, since there are that few people about. Which, again, I see as a positive – at least I don’t have to worry about congestion on some of the narrow, curvy hills. I also start singing to myself – “The days are better, the night are still so lonely.......sometimes I think I’m the only cab on the road....” This is what happens when you train with an iPod – songs enter unbidden in your head, appropriate to every occasion.
The only thought that does pop up once, before I quash it down, is this: “Why exactly did I spend so much of my precious time training for this?” In retrospect, I think that was more a function of the early season training, crammed into an already hectic time where I was (and still am) trying to get my life back together, and the fact that the training seemed to culminate in this one day, this one race, whereas with a later-season Ironman, you have incremental steps along the way where you can see the benefit of your training. In any case, that thought was banished as I finished loop 1, started loop 2, and had a blast flying down Main St. that 2nd time, the only cyclist zipping through a street lined with people, the cops holding back traffic. Very rockstar-esque – which is only appropriate, of course, for someone of my stature.
The hills on loop 2 are, well, the same hills, but now I’ve caught up to more people so there’s a bit more traffic in both directions. I wind up doing a lot of yelling of “on your left” to the slower people who are weaving all over the road on the hills, and later “cheaters!” to the huge packs of guys clearly drafting as they’re going the other way down the main business stretch of road. And yes, they had a choice, since they had plenty of room to spread out. But there’s a decent amount of camaraderie here at the BOP – I ask people if they’re okay if I see them at the side of the road, we chat briefly when passing each other, a female pro (# 13 or 14) gives me a “good job” as she passes me – clearly on her second loop to my first.
Yes, this wasn’t exactly how I envisioned my second IM when I signed up for it, but considering the circumstances, I’m just happy to be out here, shit weather and all. And the thing is – I’m planning on finishing, I’m determined to finish, they’d have to drag me off the course for me to NOT finish, and this race is very important to me for a number of reasons.....but I’m also okay if I don’t, for some reason. If something happened and I couldn’t actually finish, I wouldn’t be crushed or feel like I had failed. For IMMOO, based on the comments I got when people found out I had signed up for it – “you do have to train for that, you know” – I knew they thought I couldn’t hack it, and I felt like I had something to prove. For IronSpud, I knew my friends cared only as much as I did. So if I felt I had to drop out for whatever reason, but had given it my all and was okay with that, that I could count on D! joking that at least I had gotten my Timbits out of it, and other friends guessing that I probably stopped at Starbucks for a latte and decided to stay there. I guess I realized at some point that if you have true friends around you, everything else fades away, and that while Ironman – and all these other huge goals we set for ourselves – is important, it isn’t everything.
One of my last stops is at an aid station to go to the bathroom, and as I emerge, the young girl holding my bike has an encouraging word, after I tell her they must be chilly standing out in the cold: “Well, at least it’s not raining!” I laugh and tell her she’s now jinxed us. Her: “I said the same thing to someone an hour ago and it didn’t start raining then.”
10 minutes later, it starts pouring.
It’s getting colder now too, somewhere in the 40s, and the wind is now at, what, 35 mph? Strong enough so that I actually have to work at not being blown off the road. So I yell up at the sky: “Oh, of course, RAIN! Thanks! Why don’t you send the locusts down now, huh?” Luckily there’s no response to that. Note to self: bike canopy next time?
* * * * * * *
I have to make a couple of points here – the first is that I’m not complaining about the crap weather per se. Yes, it sucked, but we all had to deal with it – at least those of us out there long enough, since it kept getting worse as the day went on. But it’s not as if I was racing in a bubble of crap weather all my own. And while I was used to training in cold, rain, wind, etc., I just didn’t want that on race day, since it detracts from the fun of the race, at least for me. And as far the aches and pains – again, not complaining. Par for the course. After your first IM, you fully realize that that’s why it’s so hard – because stuff like that crops up, for no apparent reason. My last one, I had a terrible backache from the beginning of the bike, which was equally inexplicable. Again, it’s the nature of Ironman, which is why it’s not as “easy” as some people claim it to be. “Oh, anyone can swim at a slow pace, bike at a slow average pace, walk the run, and finish an Ironman with no training. Big deal.” Yes, people do say things like this. If any of you ever meet the random person who can just go off and swim for 2+ hours, then bike for 8 hours, then walk/run for 6+, please let me know, as I’d like to meet this marvel.
Second, the reasons I picked this race to do were because I had heard that it was a beautiful course, had great crowd support, fantastic volunteers, etc. And all that is true, in spades. When I would poke my head up from dying over those hills or trying to stay on the road, the pine-tree forests and lake roads were indeed gorgeous and tranquil. The volunteers were amazing, staying out there all day in the cold and rain, giving us whatever we wanted, with a smile. And the spectators – well, they deserve all the praise one can heap on them. Even though they had to haul out their sleeping bags, blankets, stoves for hot beverages, etc., they were still out there, cheering even us laggards on. Saying thank you then and now just never seems like enough.
* * * * * *
As if sensing that I’m going to make the bike cutoff, the wind picks up even more. Every time I turn, there it is, even stronger. That soul-crushing wind. But hey, at least I’m still pretty toasty, thanks to my now 20 pounds of rain-soaked clothing. Okay, so my face is frozen and so are my ears, but for whatever reason I haven’t gotten a headache from the fierce crosswind whistling through my ears, as I usually do, so who can complain? Believe it or not, not even me.
I swoop to the Bike In, and the bike catchers take Salome efficiently from me, to my comment of “I never want to see that bike again, it’s all yours.” Blasphemy at any other time but then. I then head back to the changing tent clutching my T2 bag, feeling a bit shell-shocked and windblown, contemplating the thought of spending the next 6 hours on my feet. And not liking the idea – but who am I to argue with those older ladies in the changing tent? I have a feeling there are many people who want to quit after a long bike like that one.....but like me, they look at the volunteers who have enough determination for all of us, and not a peep emerges. You just let them get you dressed, and then send you off on your way.....