IronMan Bike

Sunday, October 7, 2007

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I left my IronMan swim with a completely false sense of security. It had just finished the swim of my life, managed to get to the transition zone without slipping or pulling a muscle or tearing anything pushing off the sand. I found my bike clothes, got ready, and headed out feeling pretty good about the day so far.

Going out of transition, I see everyone waiting for me at the side of the road. They cheer, I smile, I wave, and it is over. I’m past them in a flash, knowing I won’t see them for another 3 or more hours. All is well.

I’m headed down the first hill out of town just about to head around the corner and go up another. And like almost all of my training rides, I hit the same damn pothole at the bottom of the hill and my drink flies all over me, all over my bike. Gatorade everywhere. Crap. You know, you would think I’d have learned by now.

We’re on the first 5 mile climb and people start passing me. It doesn’t feel right. I’m going slower than I think I should be. My legs start to burn for the first time and I see William pass me on the uphill. Which means that I was out of the water before him. Which means I’m totally messed up and have no clue what is happening. I was supposed to be last out of the water.

IronMan Bike

Within an hour, my feet are completely numb. I can’t tell if it is because they’ve fallen asleep or if it is because they are cold. It doesn’t matter – same net effect. I’m pedaling and can’t feel my toes at all.

The bike course has an “out and back” – a 20km stretch of road, where you ride to a turn around point and then – wait for it – turn around. What this means in a practical sense is that you get to see who is ahead of you. I had no idea who was ahead of me and who was behind me. I figured that since William passed me on the first big climb (and I think Michelle did too) I’m bound to see them somewhere on the out and back.

I was right. I see them pass me in an instant (I’m on the out part, they are on the back and are miles ahead of me). I don’t see my brother though. And that, my friends, means that he was at least 20km (12 miles) ahead of me. The pace at which I was riding that day? Averaging somewhere around 23–24 km/hr. You do the math – I’m way behind.

I come back into town, and I make the turn near the lake where the day began. As I turn the corner, my eyes fill completely with tears as I see my family waiting for me, to cheer me on. Screaming at the top of their lungs, I can hear the kids: “go Daddy!!! you can do it…” I see my parents there, and it gets worse. Tears completely obscure my view. I can’t explain it – it was such an emotional rush. They weren’t tears of sadness, or joy, or anything. It was just a mass of emotion that started at my eyes and ears when I saw and heard them and penetrated all the way through to my feet.

I wish it was over already. I’ll just stop now and help them all cheer for everyone else.

I head out for the second loop of the bike and I’m even slower on the first climb than last time. I start to think that I’m not going to make it.

I manage to get to the top of the hill, and start the descent. I love this part – of the 180km ride, this 10km downhill portion is my strength. You see, gravity works in my favour for this part of the course, and against me the rest of the way. My bike ride consistes of 20km of heaven and 160km of hell. I’ve come to realize that cycling is my weakest link.

I start to let gravity take over and do its work and rest my legs for 10 minutes of downhill bliss. I come barreling around a corner and I look ahead of me. I see people stopped in the middle of the road and one guy walking around. I get ready to move to go around them and then I realize what was going on.

She looks like she is unconscious on the pavement. He looks like he’s been in some kind of ninja video game.

Two riders had collided, and it wasn’t pretty. I slow down, pull off to the side of the road and start to help. There are four of us there that stopped. The first two start to help the woman lying on the ground. I and another start looking at the guy that is walking around but was obviously involved in the accident.

We get him seated and then we start clearing debris and bike equipment and signaling to all the other oncoming riders to slow down and move over so that we don’t have any further accidents.

Another guy stops who has a medical background and he starts to take control of the woman lying down. Time slows to a crawl.

Once the medical staff has arrived and race support was on the scene to manage the accident and other traffic.
I head down the hill with Kelly (one of the others that was helping) and I settle into a downhill groove at what feels like half my usual speed. After being so close to the collision, I’ve all but lost my nerve. I can’t go fast. For the first time, I’m scared going down these hills.

I stop a few times on the way back into town. I’m cramping up and it feels like i have a knife in the bottom of my foot. I start to wonder if I’m going to make it. There are hardly any riders left out on the course (to put in perspective – I finished 2094th of 2208 competitors on the bike leg of the race).

When I wrote about looking for a piece of glass to run over or throw my body on, I wasn’t joking. I really was looking for a way out.

I was amazed on the way back into town. Every time I was feeling like it was over, or saw a way out, slowed down, or stopped someone would pass me and ask if I was ok, if I needed anything, or they would say “nice jersey!” I’d pedal a little harder, a little faster, and I’d start thinking I could do it again.

So I kept riding. Forever. I turn the corner at the lake and I start to cry again. I finish the bike in 8 hours 19 minutes and 4 seconds.

Derek Featherstone
Derek Featherstone
Web Designer/Developer, Speaker, Trainer, Author, IronMan Lake Placid 2007
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