I had seen the bike course three times before the race, so the route would not be a surprise. We knew the forecast was not pleasant. 13 mph winds with gusts up to 30 mph! Ironman Arizona is known as a relatively straightforward course, with the wild card of brutal winds. The event can go from a great first Ironman to having the largest number of DNFs (Did Not Finish) entrants of any Ironman race when the wind comes up. I had done several 90 mile rides this year, one 100 mile ride, and one 105 mile ride. But I still had doubts about what 112 would feel like.
As I rode my bike out of transition, I saw Mo and several other folks from T3, all cheering loudly. I think I was the first person from T3 they had seen, and I knew Matt was right behind me. It brought a huge smile to my face, even though my mouth may have been too frozen to show it.
On the bike, I was still freezing. My teeth chattered as I rode out along the first few miles. I had a tri-top and arm warmers on (and bike shorts, just so you don’t get the wrong mental picture). I had selected not to wear my transparent shell, because it wasn’t raining and I was concerned I would quickly overheat and have to discard it. Matt passed me early on in the bike and said “Nice work, Rollins.” It’s the same thing Matt says to me on every bike, run, race, etc, which made me smile.
The course is a three lap course, out and back three times. Half way through my first “out”, the three pro triathletes were flying past us, exceeding 30 mph into the wind. Seeing Jordan Rapp, who won last year, but who was hit by a car in March, in the front three, was an awesome sight. He could have easily died in March of this year, but here he is, up at the front. Just incredible. There are amazing people in every age group and every division of this race.
Even before I had finished the first “out”, I knew something was not right in the “digestive area”. I wasn’t nauseous, but I just had “pressure”. Normally after 2.4 miles on the swim, I am dehydrated. I think because of the cold, I was not sweating, and all the liquid was just sitting in my stomach. I did not want to stop drinking for fear of dehydration. The tradeoff was made then – I’d rather have to stop than crash. On 90 mile rides I have not “broken the seal” and been fine. But those were hot, Texas summer rides where I sweat off 10 pounds of body weight in a weekend (no joke). Three times on the bike, I had to pull off to pee. Just ridiculous. I kept hearing Chrissie’s words that “I should learn to pee while on the bike.” I had told myself that I wasn’t worried about losing two minutes. But three times (and a wait for one) meant probably 10 minutes were lost on the bike just to “facilities.”
And They Called The Wind Mariah. Then They Called The Wind Much Worse Names.
As soon as I turned around and began the “back” portion of the course, the wind was in your face, though at this point not brutal. I tucked into aero and stayed aero. It’s probably the longest I’ve ever stayed aero in any ride, simply because it made such a huge difference in power output, speed, and momentum. Then the rain came – some people even reported getting hit by hailstones.
Finishing Lap 1: Boost
Near the end of the bike loop, you come back near the finish line, where tons of fans are cheering as you ride back through. I immediately spotted Dan, Lisa, and Vic, which gave me a ton of energy, and my smile got even bigger. I saw a ton of T3 teammates on the sidelines cheering – again, a huge boost of energy.
Lap 2: A Blur
Lap 2 featured a visit to my special needs bag to swap out bottles (to get more nutrition) and yet another visit to the wonderful port-o-potty. The wind picked up again, and the return trip towards the finish line was not fun at all. Cross wind gusts moved cyclists 2-3 feet at a time. I even saw a couple of small tumbleweeds fly across the road in front of me. My core was the one area that was sore – I thought possibly from the swim, but the next day Andrew pointed out that it was likely from holding the bike in a straight line against the brutal wind.
I kept telling myself, “Dude, one more time against this wind and you’re done. Once you finish this lap, the ride out is going to be easy with this wind, so you really just have 10 miles of hard riding left out of the 56 miles remaining.” My heart rate stayed below 80% the entire time, thanks to the cold weather. I still kept wondering when my legs would tire or my muscles would start to tweak out, but it simply didn’t happen. I was beginning to believe in the power of taper. Several people had told me to “try to soak in the day”, because it would go by so quickly. Most of the second lap where I wanted someone else to soak it in while I checked out and went somewhere else. I tried spinning at a lower cadence just for a chance with my legs, and I could hear Coach Charles in spin class saying “this is how its going to feel into a headwind, and you need to be able to push back.” My legs felt better, and I kept altering my cadence, which seemed to give my legs energy with the variety.
At the turnaround, I saw my Uncle Cy yelling and cheering, and so I knew Diane, my cousin and kidney donor, was somewhere. I had heard her voice but had not seen her. Once again a huge boost of adrenaline came from seeing them all there yelling loudly.
The Winds had increased even more, to the point that I was moving at 21-24 mph even when not riding in aero on the way out. This meant the ride back was going to be brutal. At the turnaround point, it was mile 94 – only two rides that I had done in training was longer, and I still had 18 miles to go. With a smirk on my face I thought “Hey, let’s see what happens.”
I switched to gels to stop having to pee, and I thought I had enough nutrition at that point given that my plan puts me above my goal, so I knew I could back off and just take e-Gels on my ride back. Eric and I were riding in the same general area for a while, as was Yvonne. Once again, just cool to see teammates. Hunkered down against the wind, a random cyclist tucked right behind Eric and drafted within 6 inches of his wheel, which is 100% illegal in an Ironman (and most triathlon). I eventually passed the drafted and gave him the frowning of a lifetime.
I kept waiting for my legs to hurt. But it simply didn’t happen. A smile broke out on my face, with an image of Coach Mo, Obi-Wan-esque, saying “Bryan, trust your training. Let go, Bryan. Trust me.” I could hear the team back at the T3 base saying “His Garmin bike computer is off! Bryan, you’ve turned off your Garmin. What’s wrong?” Nothing, I’m all right.
Coming in for the finish
I knew that I had been slower on the bike than I had hoped, though I had not obsessed about my time, my heart rate, and had really only made sure my cadence had not dropped too low at any point. Mostly I was thinking, “At most you probably have 10 hours of this left, because they shut down the course at midnight.”
Knowing I was finished with the bike, and seeing my family, friends and teammates, again brought a huge smile to my face.
The biggest shock I was not as tired as any other race this year. In the Galveston 70.3, my legs hurt. In the Austin Tri, my veins burned like they were filled with lye. Here, they were tired, but 112 miles had not wounded me in any way.
T2: Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present the Buttocks of BJR
I racked my bike and grabbed my run gear bag. (Side Note: My Kuota K-factor held up phenomenally well, and the race tune-up from James at Jack And Adams was locked in – I owe those guys a lot).
I grabbed a seat near the end of the tent and got out of my bike shorts, only to notice that the end of the tent was also the 10 foot wide exit door. Well, as long as you’re in the tent it’s not illegal, and I wasn’t about to get up and run around without pants. That kind of behavior I save for Thanksgiving. But, I managed to get my running shoes on and get out of the tent, and my legs actually responded. I was running.
Overall, my bike place was much slower than the 90 mile rides where I would average 18 to 19 mph, and with race wheels and are aero helmet, I thought there was an outside chance of 20. But, my four stops along with the wind changed all that, and I’m okay with it.
(Yesterday: The Swim)
(Tomorrow: The Run)