A word of caution, as I get further from the race date and continued analysis creeps into my thoughts: it’s easy to take an amazing performance and overanalyze the crap out of it until you’ve convinced yourself that you did awful.
Sure, some things can always be improved, that’s why you have to race the race! Race day will never be the same as training, something will always happen that you have to overcome and it’s highly likely that everyone racing will face their own version of that as well.
That said, here’s how my bike looked during Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells La Quinta on Sunday:
Not too shabby eh?! Twenty-third fastest and you’d never know half of what I’m about to type happened! You probably assume I’ve got calves like Peter Sagan and spend weekends hanging with a velo crew sipping espresso. The reality is that when I committed to this event I hadn’t been on the bike in four months, didn’t own a TT (time trial) setup and had never ridden more than 45 miles in one outing. This was still the case on race day, so YAY, auto-PR (personal record)!
Emerging from Lake Cahuilla like a swamp monster from the depths of a murky lagoon, I tore up the sand banks with the cheers of my wife and parents echoing in my waterlogged swim cap.
Due to the weather, we were required to make the T1 (transition 1) change in the change tent meaning I fished my helmet, glasses, cycling apparel and shoes out of a bag from the standing position while I wiggled out of my wetsuit into the 48º air. I practiced most of this but what I should’ve done was place my hands and feet in an ice bath for ten minutes and then tried doing it! Small things like zippers and velcro are challenging when you can’t quite feel the appropriate pressure in your fingers to grip them with.
I threw everything into the bag and raced onward to my bike, fussing with the zipper to my cycling vest as I ran. Shit, it’s jammed. Oh well, I’ll pull it on and then zip it back up. Damn, now it won’t zip up! Time to ditch it. All this time my wife was cheering from afar and wondering what the heck was I messing with on my vest. I raced out of transition and off on a 56-mile adventure through Indian Wells on my trusty two-wheeled steed.
Pre-race I had gone through this over and over: people will have nice bikes, don’t let it get to you. That’s easy to say in practice, but when one of these space-aged, feather weight rocket ships go motoring by you, it’s a lot harder to be zen. I successfully resisted the urge to do battle with *almost all of these racers. I say almost because as one came up next to me and slowed they hollered that for me to maintain pace is considered “blocking.” I hollered back, trying to mask my annoyance, “If you intend to pass me, then I suggest you get on with it.”
When out cycling, I try to resist the urge to look behind because it has a nasty effect on aerodynamics. My solution is to glance out of the side of my vision at the shadows the sun casts on the ground to get a sense of if someone’s with me. In the aforementioned case, I had noticed someone hanging in my draft for quite some time, so you can understand my frustration when this shadow decided they wanted to gingerly make their pass and force me to slow. A few miles later the situation resolved itself when they dropped me, no bother.
Draft or no draft, never follow another rider into a corner. I can’t tell you how many turns someone would race to duck in before me only to tippy-toe through the apex and then sprint out like a cyclist possessed. Had I been behind these riders it could’ve spelled disaster since I ride fast through corners, slicing these riders outside-inside-outside barely missing a beat. Even if I couldn’t hang once we got back tucked, my goal was to lose as little speed as possible in the corner and keep my pedaling consistent.
On mile 30, the craziest thing happened: a pack of three wild dogs emerged from a palm tree grove and bee-lined for me. I kid you not, three large dogs came bounding out into the street lips pulled back, teeth glaring and aimed directly for my bike. If you’ve ever been in aero-position you know how much this feels like balancing on a needle. Insert wild crazy dogs and it’s a surefire way to give your adrenal glands a squeeze. I did the only thing I could think to do and gave a furtive glance in their direction and let out my meanest, “RUUUUUUFFFFF!” I’m not sure they were convinced, but we didn’t collide so all is well that ends well.
On mile 45.1, I let out a small celebration as I’d logged my longest ever bike ride! It was a short-lived soiré as my legs were burning and a slight headwind meant I’d have to dig if I were to maintain my current velocity. Meanwhile, what felt like a train of TT bikes went whizzing by and to be honest, it felt kind of nice. I had made it that far into the race and by a combination of a strong swim and a respectable bike these chumps were just now catching me. Not too shabby!
As I made the final approach to T2 (transition area number 2, the switch from biking to running) I saw one of my local triathlon friends sitting on the sidewalk cheering from the shade! Anyone who’s been racing knows how much it means to see a familiar face in a time of intense competition. This was huge for me as I skidded to a stop just before the dismount line (a physical line before which you have to be off of your bicycle).
Time to run…