In this four-part series I recap one of the biggest days of my life, my first full IRONMAN! In this entry I cover the bike and transition 2.
Cyclists tend to refer to the IRONMAN Wisconsin bike course as “the lollipop.” If you look at the course on a map, it consists of a straight route out, two 40-mile loops, and then riding the straight route back. Simply put, it looks like a lollipop, and I would be one of many suckers riding it.
On the way out I was struck by how many ambulances were active on the course, tending to injured riders, even though it was still early morning. That and seeing riders alongside the road repairing flat tires, fixing chains, and addressing other problems within the first 15 miles served as a good reminder to be cautious. I rode for around 30 minutes, keeping a brisk pace and feeling strong overall until my knee reminded me of the one very important thing I had forgotten to do when I woke up.
For about three weeks before the race my knee had been giving me problems, flaring up with minimal exertion and making running and sometimes even cycling painful. A week before the race a doctor had prescribed me some anti-inflammatories, and though they didn’t cure the problem, they lessened the pain. I forgot to take my pill when I woke up. Dang it.
I continued along the course, knowing that I had stowed an extra pill in my special-needs bag (Bags containing items specific to and chosen by each athlete. For example, my bike special needs bag, kept in a specific area of the course manned by volunteers, contained cookies, a bonk breaker bar, CO2 cartridge, bike tube, and my pill. Most of this is only intended for dire circumstances). I opted to go onto the first loop of the lollipop and not get the pill unless my knee became really painful.
The loop was great. A lot of spectators were in costumes of all sorts. Music played in different areas, people were dancing, eating, holding up signs, and having a great time while cheering on the racers. Aside from the knee everything went well. I was able to go through aid stations and pick up Gatorade, Gu Roctane gels, and Bonk Breaker bars without getting off of my bike. I stuck to a very specific nutrition plan my coach, Laura Wheatley, worked on for me. After a while I came to the three signature hills of the loop: the three bitches—a series of long hills that can be exhausting.
Fortunately, crowds line every inch along these half- and full-mile hills. I saw friends cheering me on and was able to use the sound of bells and drums to keep me spinning up the hill with no issues. Actually it was a lot of fun.
Once I finished my first loop, I decided to stop at the special needs area to get my pill and hopefully give my knee a little peace (I also really had to go to the bathroom). I zoomed into the area and a volunteer had my bag ready almost instantly. I furtively rummaged through it only to discover that I put my pill in the wrong special needs bag, and that it was waiting for me in my run transition bag. Dang it. Dang it.
Oh well. I grabbed the Bonk Breaker bar and the gel, used the bathroom, and headed back out on the course. My knee would just have to take some more punishment. I did another loop around the course and was pleased that more than five hours in I was still holding to my target speed of 17 mph. I didn’t celebrate long though as the return trip on the stick saw headwinds slowing me and the other cyclists, bringing our speeds to a crawl. Being tired from swimming 2.4 mile and 100 miles of cycling didn’t help either. It didn’t matter much though. I had been training for everything, the wind, the hills, the exhaustion…I kept hammering the pedals and eventually made it back to the terrace. Final bike time: 6:29. A little faster than I had expected, and to top it off, I was still feeling good.
I gave my bike to a volunteer and ran back into the transition room. I changed into running shoes, ditched my helmet, put on my favorite visor, and took off running. Oh! I did finally take my pill. After all of that cycling I was hungry for some running. Out of the three sports, running is the one I enjoy the most, injured knee or not, I was looking forward to pounding some pavement.
Part 4: Cruelty and ecstasy