June 16, 2024
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June 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ironman UK 2023: Part 17

13.9 % climb that was followed by 10 miles of 8% climb. Ugh! (Credit: David Roher)

7:41 a.m. (+1:38:13 since race start)

The 112-mile bike course looked like a maple leaf. We began the ride at the bottom of the stem and rode to the leaf where we 3 looped three times.

Last year I was averaging 18 mph when I reached the beginning of the “maple leaf” & I started the first loop. Today I was averaging 14 mph.

(That’s not good)

I knew that they made changes to the bike course, but I thought those changes were in the hills up ahead.

I suddenly heard Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character come into my head, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Yeah, I was not feeling very positive heading into the first loop. Everything was harder than I remember from riding this course last year. By the end of the first loop, my legs felt like they were on their third loop.

(But you trained so much more this past year…)

Last year the elevation was 8,000 feet.

We were told that the race people added 500 feet of climbing.

Truth was the bike course was over 10,000 feet of climbing.

I didn’t see the full depth of the struggle until the next morning when my bike data downloaded to my phone. I went up a road called “Saint Helen’s” at 13.9% grade for a third of a mile and continued on at an 8% grade for the next hour.

(How would that translate on a treadmill?)

Set your treadmill to 13.9% incline for a third of a mile & continue on at an 8% incline for the next hour.

112 miles of Ironman UK…with sharp turns. (Credit: David Roher)

11:00:41 a.m. (+4:57:55 since race start)

End of loop 1/Starting loop 2.

I reached the bottom of the mountain where the second loop started & I was feeling optimistic. I rode past the cheering crowds in town. My legs felt tired, but my pace was good. I turned left, into the first climb on the looped bike course, thinking,

“Maybe my legs will recover” …and then I got a leg cramp.

“You gotta be kidding me!” I called out.

Last year my quads cramped on the second loop & I thought that was because I had consumed coffee instead of electrolytes the days before. This year I drank electrolytes the day before. THIS SHOULD NOT BE HAPPENING!

(Maybe it was hill-induced muscle fatigue?)

Regardless, I was prepared. I reached into my back pocket & extracted my vial of Base Salt. Almost immediately the cramps went away…but the fatigue was sapping my strength.

“There’s no way. Just no way that I can do this in time.” I thought to myself. I was 50 miles into a 112-mile course. According to my math, I was not going to finish the bike course by the mandatory 4:30 pm cut-off.

I started to write down in my mind what I would say to my dad when the officials pulled me from the course for missing the time cut-offs. Naturally, Dad spoke to me.

I heard his voice there on the bike just as I had when I was a young teacher struggling to not get fired because I was having trouble gaining control of my classroom. Back then he told me,

I’m in so much pain there were no smiles left to give the photographer. (Credit: David Roher)

“You’ll sweat a little, but you’ll be alright.”

“Think!” I told myself. “Hmmm? If I can’t climb hills faster, I can descend down them faster to make up the time.”

I accelerated from 20 mph to 35 mph on those downhills.

(Why hadn’t you been doing that all along?)

Because many of those downhills had hairpin turns at the bottom that I needed to slow up for.

The headwinds were so bad and the only thing worse was the crosswinds. I was trying to go as fast as I could on the descent and my bike was swaying like a willow tree.

The wind was so strong that it blew over warning signs like “Sharp Turn Ahead.” It blew over the tables that were set up to give cyclists nutrition on the bike course.

12:30:00 p.m. (+6:27:13 since race start)

I had to bike the remaining 50 miles in the four hours I had left on the clock.

Normally, that would not be a problem, but after almost 60 miles worth of inclines, I was struggling just to pedal 8 mph on these climbs.

(Ok, if you can’t go faster on the climbs, maybe you can go faster on the descent.)

Now I pushed my speed up to 35 mph as I went downhill.

My logic was, 6 mph on the climb & 35 mph on the descent should average to…20 mph, but I’d settle for it averaging 15 mph so I could hold this 13.2 mph average.

(I don’t understand.)

112 miles of biking at an average of 13.2 mph would give me eight hours & 28 minutes or 4:28 pm.

The last 2.5 miles of the bike course was a sharp descent, followed by a nearly flat ride through town to the bike transition. I called it what the Apollo Astronauts called it when they let gravity pull their capsule back home to Earth, a “free return.” Except, I had no idea how long it actually took me to travel those last 2.5 miles.

Was it 5 minutes or 15 minutes?

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