Tuesday, July 10, 2012
There is no feeling on earth like riding through downtown Coeur d'Alene, streets lined with screaming people, cowbells clanging and horns blowing. You feel like you're doing something totally epic (which, of course, you are), and the energy is mind-blowing. Then a few turns later, you're out on this beautiful road by the lake, and you can't help but feeling euphoric at this point. I especially loved the bagpipes at the top of the hill on the first part of the course, harkening back to my Scottish roots and raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Then you're at the turn-around and ready to zoom back into town and through the crazy mob again. Overall I felt okay through here, but for some strange reason my heart rate was really elevated - 30 beats higher than it should've been for this level of effort, according to my race rehearsals.
I knew Wayne and the kids would be on the overpass leading to highway 95, but just as I was blasting up the on-ramp, I dropped my chain, luckily managing to miss getting hit by the people behind me as I came to an abrupt stop. Then I saw my lovely cheerleading daughter screaming her lungs out and my hubby smiling, and their energy sent me out onto the harder part of the course. At this point, the adrenaline of the swim had worn off, and my heart rate was still really high. I had no idea what was going on with my body. My brain panicked and remembered my swim from Friday where I had to sleep for several hours afterwards. I was worried that my body was just not recovered enough from the food poisoning to hold out for this race.
Somewhere before mile 20, I broke out in a total body sweat, even though it was still really cold outside. Now I don't sweat much in the best of circumstances - a mild sheen is all you'll see on me on the hottest days of the summer. But sweat was pouring out of me, like I had just eaten a bowl of tabasco sauce or something. Then abruptly, it was over, replaced by a crushing fatigue that had me about ready to cry. Mind you, this is on a flat part of the course, before you face the hills and the wind.
At this point, I was filled with despair - this was it. I was going to DNF at mile 20 of the bike. All of my training, all the sacrifices from my family, all of the support from everyone, it was all going to end here. I wanted to throw my bike off the side of the road and just lay down and sleep. I was wrung out. But somehow I just kept cycling. Kept turning the pedals over. I didn't even know why I was doing it, I just did. One of my goals for the race was to just stay "in the box", per Endurance Nation's racing strategy: "the box" is what you can control this moment. At this point, that's all I had. I figured I would keep biking easy until I either felt better or simply had to stop. Eventually, I did just start feeling better. The sweat had dried and the fatigue lifted, I began to feel like I might actually make it.
So this is the point in the race where you look up and see the first of the big hills on the bike course. Damn! Psychologically, I was not so ready to face this. But I remembered what I set out to do when I pre-rode the course a month back, when I had mentally prepared myself for this moment. I looked around and found the peaceful green valley off to the side of the road, letting it fill my mind with a feeling of serenity. I vowed to look for it again from the top of the hill, because I knew I'd have a gorgeous view down into the valley from up there. That was it, time to grind upwards!
The nice thing about this course is that the hills really aren't hard. No terrible grades, and at this point in the day no searing heat. It was a pleasant temperature and I just put my head down and headed on up. At the top, I had some anxiety about the descent. As I mentioned in my pre-race write-up, my race wheels felt sketchy and developed a speed wobble when I pre-rode the course. I just took it easy on the downhill and yes, I rode the brakes. Yes, people passed me flying down the hill while I gave up my free speed and braked. But it's my race darnit, and I wanted to feel safe.
Of course, I regretted that the instant the hill ended and the winds began, because I had to work harder into the wind and up the next hill than I should've, but at least I didn't crash and burn and that was something! I did hear later in the race that a couple of people had bit it crashing on the hills, so I think for myself that decision to take it easy was a good one.
The rest of the first lap was a grind into the wind. Wind, hill, wind, hill, wind, hill. The turnaround seemed to be a distant possibility that came all too slowly. My time at the turnaround had me thinking I was in for a 7-hour bike ride. Ugh! I did NOT want that. But I had underestimated how much wind there had been, because once I turned back toward town, we were flying along with a good tailwind. Nice!
I figured that my family would've gone back to the hotel by now - I told them they didn't have to cheer me for the whole bike course. So imagine my surprise when I saw them there at the overpass. As soon as Asa saw me, she started yelling and cheering. I got lots of appreciative comments from riders around me about her enthusiasm. That was a great way to start my second loop.
I was looking forward to going through town and out along the lake again, and it didn't disappoint. Wow, this has to be one of the world's best Ironman courses for the crowds and the views. The bagpipers were still there as well, and I thanked them as I went past. The only moment of frustration in this section was a male cyclist in a bright green jersey who would not let me pass him. I had been coming up on him for awhile, but as soon as I passed him, he didn't even wait to drop back out of the draft zone but immediately re-passed me. Then he zoomed ahead, and after a few minutes he sat up, stretched, got some nutrition, slowed down again, and I had to over-take him again. This scenario repeated itself so many times I was getting mad. Ride your pace dude! I consoled myself with the thought that after his quads blew up, I would pass him on the run (I did). Other than that though, this part of the course was highly enjoyable.
Then all that was left was The Big Grind (or so I nicknamed the 2nd half of the course). This time I knew about the wind (although it had picked up some since the first loop), and was feeling better about my wheels and my ability to ride them on the course. So all that was left was just to go head-down and get 'er done. I had a little scare at the turn-around when I started heading back to town and had a headwind. WTH??? If I was going to have to battle the wind both ways, I would lay down and cry right there! Fortunately it was short-lived on a section that curved in the other direction. As soon as the road curved back, my friend the tail-wind re-appeared and ushered us back toward town.
This was the only sticky spot of the whole bike ride. My stomach was playing not-very-nice, which gave me a little frisson of fear for what was coming on the run. I felt slightly queasy on and off through most of the bike. I was very grateful that I had a solid and well-rehearsed nutrition plan. I had a 6-hour bottle of very concentrated Infinit in my Speedfil on the bike frame. It was like drinking sludge, but Infinit's ability to customize your drink formula let me dial the flavoring way way down, so it didn't taste bad at all. I had water in my Torhans 30 bottle on the front, and made use of the aid stations to grab a bottle and refill on the fly. I'd never done that before, and was happy with how easily it worked. I could grab one early, dump it in, and toss it to the side before leaving the aid station area. Slick! Other than that, I took a Bonk Breaker bar with me for 2 hours into the ride, and one more for 4 hours in. I had other fun stuff to eat like Sport Beans, but with my stomach acting up I decided to stick to a very simple plan and give it very little to have to work on digesting.
So far so good, everything I put in stayed down. I had to pee a few times so I knew my hydration was fine. I decided to stuff my arm-warmers in my back pocket and not stop for my special needs bag. That saved me a few moments of having to get off the bike.
The night before the race, I gave Wayne a piece of paper with my estimated split times - where I would come by his spot on the Hwy 95 overpass. I based this on a pretty conservative estimate, given what I was feeling like this week. I had hoped I could go faster than this, but 'twas not to be. On my sheet, I predicted that I would go past him for the last time at 7:50, and it was actually 7:49 and change. Pretty darned close. One thing I know is that I'm good at estimating what my body can do in any given circumstance. I played the bike pretty darn conservatively, but at this point I figured that was the best thing I could do to set myself up for being able to actually run the marathon. In retrospect, I'm happy with the way my bike went. I think if I'd pushed it harder, I could've looked at a DNF either on the bike, or later on the run. So although I'd like to see a faster split sometime in the future, this is what I could accomplish on this day.