I rode out on the roads with Buttercup, heading out of the town of Cambridge, Maryland. It felt good to be in motion and getting dry.
This was familiar territory to us both: The exit from the transition area was just the same as Eagleman Half Ironman. We zoomed around the few corners in town monitored by policemen as if we'd been doing it every day. Then it was out onto the open highway, with nice wide shoulders and plenty of room.
Then about Mile 4 or 5 it went past a turnoff that the Eagleman course takes, and we had a 20-mile out-and-back. This was still very familiar to me, since I knew the turnaround was the very same as the little practice triathlon the good folks in Cambridge set up for us last May.
Temperatures were comfortable, I was pedaling well, keeping my heart rate way down in the "easy" zone. I felt very good about completing that swim, and though I knew it was a long day, I was feeling happy and optimistic about finishing.
Ellie zoomed past me at about 10K into the bike leg, as I expected. She's got iron legs from all those mountains she rides! Go, granny, go! I knew that aside from seeing her on the return leg of the out-and-back, I probably wouldn't see her again until after the finish line.
This was just about the time that I made my Big Tactical Error of the Day. This was yet another example of Nancy Has To Learn Things The Hard Way. All the pro triathletes and coaches say not to eat anything solid for the first 20-40 minutes of the bike leg. Stick to water and liquid nutrition. I knew that. I had read it in twenty different places, probably. But hey! I was feeling good, my legs felt great, the bike was sailing along, the sun was shining - why don't we just start our nutrition plan NOW!?
I was drinking some water from the aerobottle, of course. I recalled that 2 glasses of water that I had drunk with a gel in transition. I thought, hey, I'd better balance that out and not get short on sodium! So I took a salt capsule and kept riding.
I had eaten a lot before the race in the morning. It felt like a ton of food. A couple of hard-boiled eggs, a bagel, some peanut butter cookies, a lot of whole milk and coffee. I chugged a bottle of Ensure before the swim start to top everything off and give me some last-minute calories.
The only problem was that was over two hours in the past now. Somehow I had forgotten about all that time that passed. My stomach was completely, totally empty now except for some water. And a whole lot of salt. Which is sometimes the approach people use to induce vomiting.
Which I did.
I had that yucky watering-mouth feeling and stopped the bike just in time. I leaned over the aerobars and spewed on the edge of the pavement. I don't think it was more than a couple of minutes, but it felt like I was standing there heaving forever. Some race officials pulled up alongside in a truck and asked me if I'm okay. "Um, yeah, I'm, uh, fine, I'm just throwing up."
Funny, I haven't barfed in years. Yeah, that'll larn me. Fortunately, after I got all that salt out of my stomach, and finished kicking myself for being dumb, I felt fine and was able to start up again and keep riding. I never quite regained that happy-go-lucky confidence I felt at the start of the ride, however.
After the out-and-back the course headed out into isolated country backroads with very little traffic. Again, most of the course was familiar from Eagleman. We had a little 4-mile connector road, and then two enormous 45-mile loops to complete.
The loops were like a huge triangle - the first leg roughly southwest, the next leg roughly southeast, and then the longest leg more or less straight north, with the Cambridge-Dorchester high school and transition area at the northernmost corner.
The first two legs of the triangle headed into the wind, which was coming mostly from the south. They were slow, and fairly uneventful. I could usually keep one or two riders in sight in front of me, but that was all. The aid stations came regularly every ten miles. I usually picked up a water bottle from a volunteer at each stop (thanking them, of course!), took a big swig, squirted the rest into the aerobottle to fill it up, then squirted some on my head and tossed out the rest of the water.
I had made up a super-concentrated bottle of Gatorade and Carbo-pro to mix with water on the fly, but that didn't work so well. Mainly I ended up getting sick of the sickly-sour taste of Gatorade and ended up jettisoning most of it before the end of the day. I think I can do something similar in a smaller gel flask without the Gatorade next time.
I also carried along apricots, cashews, and Craisins in sort of my own trail mix, and ate a bit of that every 10 minutes, or else had a 1-inch piece of a Nature Valley nut bar. Sometimes I took a swig of homemade gel. I had also brought some Powerbars cut in half in ziplocks, but I only managed to get one of them down on the bike. They're just too gritty and dry.
The last leg of the triangle was awesome. It was a road I hadn't ridden before, and the first 5 miles or so were completely washboard, just as Ellie described. Something went badly wrong in that batch of asphalt, and I thought my fillings were going to come loose from my teeth. At the same time, with a strong tailwind, I was able to pick up the speed quite a bit and did most of this road in the big chainring. I wasn't using my speedometer at all during the ride, only looking at my cadence and heart rate readings to keep myself in a comfortable zone on the first bike loop.
I hit my watch timer at the end of 56 miles, or halfway. 3:36. Hmm, that's a little too slow. Maybe I've been taking it TOO easy. That's only 15.6 mph. I can do better. Keep cranking on that big old chainring like Jan Ullrich, and take it home to the transition area. And this was not feeling like very much fun. My back hurt, my crotch hurt a LOT, my shorts were chafing, I was tired and cranky. One fast rider with a noisy disc wheel in the front of the pack lapped me toward the end of the ride and was on his way to starting his run.
We then passed through a lovely desolate section of swampy wildlife refuge (although the only wildlife that I remember were some egrets and ospreys and one live snake that I did NOT run over, thankfully) and then past a "city limits" sign. Immediately I found myself at the back of the high school. Here we are, Special Needs! Yeah, I was needy.
I stopped and rifled through the huge amount of stuff that I had packed in the bag, dropping things that the volunteer kindly picked up for me. I never dismounted from the bike once during the whole 112 miles, by the way. No flats! So thankfully I didn't need the spare inner tube and cartridge. Some of the other food I'd packed looked yucky. I took off my armwarmers and put them in the bag I would retrieve later. I pulled out a bag of Goldfish crackers and some more trail mix and an Uncrustable PB&J and headed on my way.
Out past the finish line and back on the roads with the other back-of-the pack cyclists, away from the music and excitement and back to the solitude of riding my bike as fast as I could down isolated country roads. I ate some Goldfish just because I thought they would settle my stomach, and because they remind me of my daughter Elisabeth who loves them. That made me smile. But after a while I ended up sprinkling the roadside with little Goldfish for the birds, they were just too dry to eat more than a handful.
The BEST thing by far on the bike was the Uncrustable PB&J. Soft and moist and easy to eat and it even tasted okay. I think that's going to be my mainstay for these long distance rides. They're only 75 cents apiece, with 210 calories and 6 grams of protein. Go nuts.
I had really been dreading the second loop. I expected it to be awful. But it really, truly wasn't! The little break at the special needs perked me up and got me going again. I was ready to go harder on the second lap, and I did. While it's true, every time I looked at my odometer and did the math to calculate the miles to the finish line, it seemed like an impossible number. Nobody could actually ride that far, especially not after the long day I'd had already. But I could keep going to the next aid station, so I did.
I worked hard to pass one woman with a 49 written on her calf, same as me, but she was actually in a different event. I continued to work to pick off other riders. I don't think anyone passed me on the second loop, and I passed perhaps 10 people. So I was pleased with that!
The final home stretch with the tailwind was great, despite the washboard road. I was cranking and knew I'd finish the day. I wasn't exactly looking forward to the same exertion on Ironman Florida day, but I knew that the distances were now within the realm of reality and weren't totally ludicrous.
Finally, after many, many miles, the high school came back within view. I rode around the last few corners and headed toward the finish line. I dimly heard Ellie cheering me on. I had to stop my bike and hold onto the shoulders of a volunteer as I dismounted, because my legs were not at all steady, but I ran a couple steps to make it over the timing mats as fast as I could.
I finished an iron-distance swim and bike. In one day. I can do this. Who would have thought it?
Total bike leg time: 6:58:50. 16.0 mph average. 112 miles on a bicycle, without dismounting once. After a 2.4-mile swim. And I rode strong negative splits on the bike leg. My dream goal for the bike leg was under 7 hours. I DID IT!! I DID IT!! I DID IT!!
My total time in the Aqua Velo event was 9:02:51, including the swim and transition. I think in 5 weeks at Ironman Florida (as long as I don't have any crashes or flats) I can do about the same with a similar or faster swim and transition, and about the same or slower bike leg. That will allow me a nice long 7:57 to finish the marathon! That would be 40 minutes longer than even my slowest and hottest of nine standalone marathons (in Maui, 2001). It's great to know that I should have time to walk it to the finish line if I have to! If it comes to that, I will!