I caught up with Caroline a few minutes later. By this time I was soaked and I reminded her that this was HER crazy idea. She was pretty chipper, and it was nice to chat for a few minutes as we traded places (legally) back and forth. We were together until the top of the big descent, and then I took off. See, Sonja has been busting my balls all spring about being a chicken descender (rightfully so, it's true), and I've spent a lot of time working on it, listening to her voice in my ear telling me where to lean, where to put my weight, sit my butt down, stop touching the brakes, STOP TOUCHING THE BRAKES. There was a ride I did a few months back with my awesome cycling buddy, where we climbed up to Ward, and the last two miles of the climb were in the rain, and when we were in the store grabbing a snack, it turned to hail. I descended from Ward in hail, sleet, and pouring rain, all the way down to 36 where the sun suddenly came out to warm us. And I wasn't too thrilled about it that day but as we started down the descent in Lake Placid, I was grateful I had done it. I still descended slower on the first loop than on the second, and tapped my (useless in the rain on carbon wheels anyway) brakes more than a few times, but I wasn't afraid, and when we popped out in Keane into the sunshine, I exclaimed Good girl! out loud to myself, just like I do when Sofie poops in the backyard instead of in the dining room. And then I settled into the work.
From the bottom of Keane, there is a long stretch that's just a little bit rolling, and it was easy to stay in aero and work my calories, my drink, and keep an eye on my effort. After a while we were able to see everyone coming back from the turn-around, so I kept my eyes peeled for all my friends and got to wave and holler at a few both on the way out and on the way back. It's probably a waste of energy to talk about how much drafting I saw on this stretch, so I won't.
I was somewhere after mile 30 where I noticed I was feeling a bit low. The answer to just about anything in ironman is either to eat or to stop eating, so even though it wasn't on my plan, I ate something. Part of a bar, to be exact, followed pretty quickly on the heels of the planned bar I had eaten only 20-30 minutes earlier. I went right back to working my bottles after the bar, and made sure to leave some space before eating anything else to let the calories digest.
My effort felt pretty steady throughout the first loop, and when I turned left in Wilmington to head back into town, I felt okay. I made sure to back way off on my effort while climbing, and it wasn't too long before Caroline caught up with me. We climbed together for a while, and we were up and over two of the "bear" hills before I even realized we had hit them (I puzzled for a while about the MAMA BEAR painted on the ground. Dope.). Caroline and I were working our way up the papa bear hill when she realized she knew someone next to us and started chatting, and just like I've done on training rides galore, I yelled This isn't a cocktail party, Caroline, shut up and ride your bike!
We turned right at the top to head into town and Sarah was there, and it was perfect. These few miles that we rode together stand out as the single best part of my day. We were storm troopers swooping in, we were riding together again, we were all riding our own races but managed to come together for a few minutes, long enough to joke with each other, How long do YOU have to run off the bike today?
I stopped at special needs to swap out my bottles and pick up my second bag of snacks, and Caroline didn't stop and Sarah stopped behind me, so we lost each other for a while after that. I missed my family but saw the poet, who yelled something to me at the same time I yelled something to him so neither of us heard each other (sigh, marriage). I caught up with Caroline again on the way out of town, I think in the same place we had been chatting the first time through, and this time the descent was dry and I bombed down it, I didn't touch my brakes once, I stayed low and tucked and I felt no fear.
It started to get a little tougher to keep my effort up on the middle stretch and my soggy aerobar pads were chafing the shit out of my forearms. And while we're talking about chafing, there is no way to describe what riding in the rain had done to all of my carefully applied ride glide, but I passed another girl just as she lifted off the saddle and groaned, and I said over my shoulder to her, Me too, girl, what's going on in my shorts is an actual crime.
I was hanging in there, doing okay, there was a some more wind on the second lap and it was a bit quieter, but at some point after mile 80 I noticed that my stomach was aching. It was the "too much is in here" hurt, so I decided to wait 40 minutes and not put anything in. I spent a lot of time in CdA last year getting on and off the bike, and I didn't want to get off at all during LP, so I reminded myself how close I was to the end of the ride (30 miles to go seems awfully close) and tried to manage it. And just like last year, I heard the sound of the motorcycle and turned to see that my hilarious mother had yet again talked her way onto a course moto to take photographs. I managed a smile but then waved her away. It's really hard to be happy at mile 87 of an ironman.
I was just past the 90 tape on the ground when I took a sip of my bottles and got the warning shot, the rumble of distress. I managed to ride a few miles sitting up to the next aid station where I hopped off my bike and clacked straight into the porta potty. It wasn't pretty but I felt better after that and hoped that I could turn things around by the time I got off the bike.
I didn't put any more calories down for the rest of the bike - I took a few sips of water before leaving that aid station and a few more at the last station before town, but there was a lot of grumbling going on and I knew I was better off just leaving things alone for a while. So when I rode into town and back to the oval, I was feeling a low. I still had one full bottle of EFS on my bike and when I swung off my bike, I grabbed it and brought it with me into T2, knowing that I would need the electrolytes once I was able to take in calories again.
That morning when the poet and I were talking about his spectating plan, I said to him, There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to ride a 6:30 on this course. I lost a little more than a minute at special needs and about three minutes at my porta potty stop, putting ride time at roughly 6:25 (someone please remind me to turn off auto-pause for my next race) with a final bike time of 6:30:14. 26 minutes better than what I rode at Coeur d'Alene last year, true, but how I approached the ride was different. The first loop felt relatively easy, the second loop got hard near the end, especially on the last climbs into town, but I felt like I rode steady and that is exactly how I think it should go.
Sarah hopped off the bike right behind me and we joked about getting margaritas instead of running a marathon as trotted into the changing tent. I was a little worried that I rode too hard, but I've done a lot of training days this summer where I got off the bike feeling exactly the same way. So I loaded up my pockets, snapped on my visor, and jogged out of the oval and onto the street.
T2: 5:17. Only a marathon to go.