Monday, September 12, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Bike: race report

The first thing I did on the bike was start shoveling bars into my mouth.  I knew that the day was going to warm up & I wanted to get in as many calories as I could right off the bat (warning: be prepared to be grossed out by how much I ate on the bike).  I remember looking down at my Garmin to note that I had an entire Bobo's Bar finished by eight minutes into the ride.  Miniature fist pump inside my head: sometimes it's the little things.
My plan was simply to go by feel and glance at heart rate every now and then.  Nearly all of the riding I had done in the month before the race had been done by heart rate or even effort alone.  The very little work I had done while watching the power meter simply felt like dialing all my internal pacing thermometers back in.  I decided not to look at power at all because I couldn't think of any reason why it would be useful for this particular day.  I wasn't trying to race, I was trying to see how far I could get, and I know what my heart rate should look like when I am trying to go all day.  So I rode by feel.  The first short loop was cool and I got straight to work, knowing that the good weather was precious and would be in limited supply.  The few times I glanced at my heart rate on the small loop, it was lower than the window I was hoping for but I was afraid to push any harder, telling myself over and over just like in the swim, today is about managing all the way to the finish line and nothing more.

I saw both of my athletes on their way out as I came back through town so I was glad to know that they survived the swim (which wasn't at ALL in question but I am a worrier with a capital W) and were rolling just fine.  I did feel, even then, like I was blowing through my bottles quickly, and even being really on top of fluid and calories, the first twenty miles I just felt flat.  I can't actually remember the last time I felt so sluggish in ironman.  I had a couple of bottles with me that had caffeine in them so I started one a bit early and that helped.  My legs don't tend to feel warmed up until I get some work going into them, but I still took the first climb out into the second small loop very cautiously, repeating patience patience patience.
I had to pee pretty badly after about 25 miles so I pulled over at an aid station and emptied my bladder (I can pee buckets while swimming but nada on the bike), refilled a bottle and crammed down another bar.  It seemed like the aid stations were spread out pretty thin and even at that point in the race, athlete traffic seemed much lighter than I am accustomed to.  It turns out that almost 1000 less people started this year than in 2012, which explains that, but it was just a bit weird to be out there and feel alone instead of spending the entire first hour dodging super aggro ON YOUR LEFT accompanied by the sound of fancy wheels and the odor of testosterone.  The wind wasn't really noticeable on the first lap but it did feel like we were getting a very gentle assist back into town.  I saw both of my athletes again, I think I yelled at one to eat and one to get into aero, as you do, when they flashed by.  

When we turned off the bridge coming into town for the second time, that was when I noticed that the wind was blasting.  I pounded a bottle and threw it at a friend when I rolled by, grabbed another bottle of water and got more calories down.  Some of my former coaches should be so proud; if anything starts to go sideways on race day, my immediate instinct is to pile calories and electrolytes and caffeine on top of it.  (Good eaters go faster!)  I made a full stop at special needs to drink an entire bottle plus a can of coke plus a bar plus I managed to pee WHILE drinking another full bottle of water which made me feel pretty impressed with my bad self (throwing things picture).
The second longer loop was rough, which everyone knows by now because no one else is lazy enough to wait three weeks to write a race recap.  The headwind was terrible, it was hot and dry and at some point I thought I was hallucinating because it appeared to be snowing but it turned out that was just ash from a nearby forest fire falling on the course (it's fine).  I stopped again somewhere around mile 80 because I had gone through all of my bottles, I refilled and ate three stinger waffles and peed again but what I actually wanted to do was climb inside the giant trash can of melted ice cubes and live there forever.  I was counting down the miles and minutes until we turned around; I had set my Garmin to auto-lap every ten miles and I snorted at one point when I glanced down at the beep to see that it had taken me 51 minutes (including the potty stop but STILL) to ride ten miles.  I wasn't looking at data otherwise, I stayed in aero as much as I could and just held into the wind.  

It was interesting, when I finally did a teardown of my own after the race, that even though this was one of the harder rides in terms of conditions that I've done in an ironman, I never hit a dark spot, there was never a real low, or a fifteen minutes where my head was full of fuck this, this is fucking stupid ironman is fucking stupid where I cruised along at maybe as many as sixty watts while stamping my mental feet.  All I wanted to do was get as far as I could, there was no emotional energy or judgement tied to time or pace or speed, I never once looked at any of those things, and I believe that was the key to how well I rode.  Until I finally turned around at the far end of the big loop and headed back into town, it was the smoothest and strongest I've ever ridden in ironman.  And the more hilarious note is that - without looking at my power meter all day - I rode the same normalized power I rode in Cozumel last November.  On the button.  I could feel the lack of depth of my fitness, sure, and I could absolutely feel the extra 10-15 pounds that I'm carrying as I lugged myself up and down the hills of the second loop.  But I think that's less remarkable than the fat pink line that runs straight across the data of the day, accompanied by the steady red heart rate line that shows that, whatever else may be true, I rode solid and steady and maximized what I had to give. 
When I hit the turn-around, I realized that I hadn't put much in my mouth since my potty stop and I could tell that the wind and heat had me burning through fuel, so I spent the ride back to town opening and eating every single bar and chew I had in my pocket and getting down as much fluid as I could get my hands on.  I tried to use the downhills to do this and still ride strong on climbs back in, and I knew that whatever time I might lose by doing a bit of coasting would be worth it when I didn't try to run out of the tent and fall flat on my face.  Two weeks before the race, I did a long ride/brick with an extended stop to scrape someone else off the bonking pavement and force-feed him coke and snickers bars at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.  I ended up bonking to holy hell on my run off the bike that day because I hadn't accounted for that time in my calculations and I was extremely interested in not repeating that experience.  I also knew that it was more likely I would be facing a bonk thanks to the many many days that I trained for the race so while it's true that I am always good about eating and drinking, I am fairly confident that I set a PR in fueling on the bike & that it served me well in the final hours of the run.

I was thrilled to turn off the bridge and head back into town, I didn't feel great but nothing felt alarming or horrible or broken in any way other than still feeling a bit low on calories and for the very first time, I thought that maybe I might actually make it to the finish line.  My triathlon recovery brain kicked in and I got my feet out of my shoes in time to dismount, happily hand over my bike and jog with my hips still in the shape of a bicycle into T2.

Bike: 112 miles, 6:41:35, 24th AG
Nutrition: 5 Bobo's Bars, 3 Stinger Waffles & 2 packs of Skratch chews for a whopping 2700 calories or ~410 calories/hour.  8 bottles of NBS Hydration + about 10oz of coke + 4-5 bottles of water for 286oz of fluid or ~42oz/hour.

The first person I saw in the tent was a woman laying on the ground receiving medical attention, and that scared the crap out of me.  The second person I saw was cussing up a storm about the weather conditions on the bike which made me smile (you are my people!).  The volunteers were amazing as always, I got my bag emptied out and mine asked me if I needed anything and I said, snacks please, anything you've got, she brought me a cup of pretzels and a cup of chips and a banana and some orange drink and some water and I sat there, wind-blown, and ate and drank every single thing, along with a bag of chews and the whole 22oz bottle I had packed as a handheld.  I chased it all with some Pepto as a giant apology to my belly for the massive calorie dump and started to pull my running stuff together.  The run was the biggest mystery.  In the days leading up to the race, I had no idea how wrecked I would be after the bike, or how far I would make it, or if I would even start.  And I won't lie, for a second in the tent, I considered calling it.  Going and taking a shower and chasing my athletes around instead.  But I pulled my hat out of my bag, and one of the volunteer ladies asked about it, and I told her, It's my grandfather's hat.  And she asked if he was there, and I told her, No.  I was supposed to race here last year but he had a stroke so I went home instead.  He passed away and I came back to finish what I started, and two or three of them started crying and then I started crying and I knew I had to get the fuck out of there or I would sit there and cry all fucking day instead of try to finish what I had started.  I stopped and peed one more time and then headed out to run.  
I don't know where I read it so many years ago so I am very sorry to whoever said it first for stealing it and not recalling where, but: the bike is all brains.  It has to be.  And I felt like I rode as smart as I could with the body I had, with all the tools I had available to me.  But the run is all heart.  And I jogged out of transition ready to find out how much heart, exactly, I had left to give.  

T2: 8:19