The Bike



Coming out of transition.  My mom and Martha are cheering on the right.


With bike coming out of T1I figure that the route to my best race is take it easy on the bike, where I am relatively slow anyway (at least in comparison to other triathletes) and save some strength for the marathon, where I am relatively stronger.  But it’s hard to keep yourself from being swept up in the race excitement, and for the first half hour or so, before the long downhill, my heart rate is higher than I want it to be, though not so high as to be a real problem.


The first 7 miles of the bike loop are slightly uphill on the whole, but then there’s 6 miles or so of big, open downhill, and I hit 40 mph at one point.  Then the middle part of the loop is fairly flat, so it passes quickly.


My plan is to take in some kind of food every 20 minutes, and an electrolyte tablet every 30 minutes.  This plan also keeps me drinking frequently (water or Gatorade.) My primary calorie source on the bike is Sustained Energy, but I also mix in the occasional piece of Clif bar, or PB & J sandwich, because I like occasionally chewing on some (semi-) real food.  The goal is to take in around 300 calories an hour… I’m burning much more than that, but that’s about what you can absorb during activity.  Some teammates have trouble keeping up their intake, but will stay pretty much on schedule, at least through the bike.  There are aid stations about every six miles, and volunteers pass out water, Gatorade, Gu, food.

Through the magic of digital photography

I am my own pace line!

Somewhere in the 30-35 mile range begins an out-and-back section of the bike course, which is fun because you see other racers, including most of my teammates (some of them are already more than 10 miles ahead of me, but no one is nearly that far behind me… not surprising)  It feels like an advantage to have so many teammates as we all shout out encouragement as we zip by.  There’s also the occasional athlete wearing a Team in Training jersey from another part of the country (we have the only official ‘ironteam’, but others are clearly proud to wear the colors as alumni.  And at least one guy, who we met in the Chicago airport, is doing this as a fundraising event himself).  Any TNT jersey is good for at least a hearty “go team!” as we pass. 


The turn around of the bike loop is the most people we’ve seen in awhile.  We’ve gone past some small towns (Keene, Upper Jay), and there have been people scattered here and there, but apparently a radio station has helped set up a cheering area at Black Brook with a PA system blasting music and encouragement, dozens of folks out to cheer.  It’s a good lift.


At about mile 40, I feel my first rain drop.   I’m actually so well prepared from the visualization, and the rain is gentle (at first) and not particularly cold, that I think “This is fine!  At least I don’t have to worry about sunburn!”  That is an artful silver lining, I think.



Riding in the rain

When we turn back from the out-and-back to the final part of the loop, most of the last 10 miles will be uphill.  Nothing too steep.  What we’ve been told is that we’ll hardly notice it the first time, but we’ll be surprised to find the hills much steeper the second time around.  And this is pretty much what I experience.  The last couple of miles before getting back to town where crowds will lift our spirits seem very long.  The part of the course where we cross through town is the only part we didn’t preview in the car.  Right before the halfway point, we pick up our “special needs” bag.  You’re permitted to pack a bag to pick up near the midpoint of the bike and run.  Mine has another bottle of sustained energy, some assorted food, and an extra tube and CO2 cartridge in the event I’ve had to use the ones I was carrying.  No flats yet, so I just grab some of the food and keep going.  I see my cheering section and pick up energy from the roar of the crowd.  I check my watch, about 3:35 for the first 56 miles.  Pretty much on schedule, but it feels unlikely that I’ll be faster the second time through, especially as the rain has picked up.


My family and friends surprise me by being there to cheer both as I come into town, and then being able to reposition to see me right after I cross the 56 mile mark just moments later!


As the rain gets harder, my ability to remain positive wavers.  I briefly curse my teammate Kamal (a little team humor:  Kamal is doing his 3rd ironman and had had bad weather for the two previous races, so we have decided that the “The K factor” is at work with any bad weather.  All in all, I’m actually happy that Kamal is here, we have raced together in 4 of my previous marathons, all 3 of my prior triathlons, and now my first ironman.  One of these days, I swear I will actually beat him!  But not today… he’ll run an outstanding marathon and finish well ahead of me.)  It’s cold enough that I consider stopping to dig out the arm warmers stuffed in my jersey pocket, but we never quite get to this point.  I do talk to a guy later (there’s time for chit chat as riders pass each other) whose day has clearly been thrown off by getting cold in the rain… and the pads on his aero bars have fallen off and he can’t get in the aero position.  I feel bad, but also move quickly away as I don’t want to hear much negative talk.  Eventually the rain stops, and the sun will actually be out again by the end of the ride.


I have a picture of Louie taped to the stem of my handlebars, but now the rain water is making the colors run.  Even looking a little weird and purple, it’s good to have him here as a reminder.  I also have, in my jersey pocket, a picture of Nana and a list of 27 honorees (many I have known, but also many who are friends-of-friends), and over 130 donors.  I have this to help me in times like this when the race is getting tough, to remind me why I’m here and how much support I have in this event.


The long downhill isn’t as fast, or as fun with the road all wet.  Two of my teammates will actually crash on this section.  Kristin and Patty are both ok, but they have to get medical attention and sadly will not be able to finish the race.  I make it safely down the slick hill, exhale, and grind out all the middle miles.  The rain slows and stops.  Riders are more spread out now, and it takes some focus to keep my speed up.


Retro Man 

I see fewer teammates on the out-and-back portion, many more of them are too far ahead.  At about mile 90, I catch up to “Retro Man”.  This guy did the swim in no wetsuit and jeans shorts, and is pedaling a one speed cruiser with a banana seat, wearing a cotton tank top, the cutoff shorts, and Converse sneakers… not even in toe clips.  And yet it’s taken me about 8 hours to catch him!!  He tells one person that he was just looking for a new kind of fun, and then also says that he has other friends in the race, and this was his excuse so that he didn’t have to race them.  Whatever!  It’s going to take everything I’ve got to finish this race with the best equipment I could afford, and this guy is going to ride in on a bike that looks like the one I had when I was 9 years old!


The best news at this point is that with the rain stopped, I enjoy the scenery of the last 15 mile of the loop more than I did the first time.  It is an amazingly gorgeous course.  But quite cruel.  None of the hills individually is very hard to climb, but to spend most of the miles from 100 on, when I’ve already been on the bike for nearly 7 hours, it feels like we’re crawling.  I wish now that I had someone around me to push the pace just a bit, most of the people around me are suffering more than I am.  But that’s good in a way, I feel relatively strong as I am passing more people than I am being passed for the first time.


The sun is out, the smile is back

As we get close to town, I catch up to Kristi Dowler, a friend who was part of last year’s ironteam but this year, she’s trained on her own.  A good person to come across at this point because she’s always enthusiastic and positive.  So she’s enjoying herself.  I actually feel pretty good too, but I am more than ready to be off the bike (this ride will actually be a shade longer than any of my training rides).  “Oh, me too,” she says, “I will be sooo happy to get off this bike”, and then we get a good laugh at ourselves for thinking “I can’t wait to get started on that marathon!”  She stays with me as we head into town.  I don’t realize she’s right there until a spectator yells “Nice smile #530.  Whoa! even better smile #1784   Even before she laughs and says “Sorry Neal, I’m cuter!”, I know who it must be.  (Kristi will also get complimented by Ironman champions Peter Reid and Lori Bowden, here today as spectators,  for looking strong when everyone else around her was struggling up the hill on the run.)


At last we roll back into Lake Placid and the crowds.  I charge past my cheering section and into the transition area.  It’s another long transition for me, someday I’ll have to work on this, but it feels good to sit for a minute, take time to get my gear together, more sunblock.  Everyone in the tent is talking about how tough the bike was, how relieved we are to be done.  There are only a couple volunteers in the tent now… while it’s nowhere close to the cutoff time, people are only trickling in and out now, most are already on the run course.



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