The night before the race my oldest daughter called me on my cell phone from Paris, France.
“Dad, do you really want to race? I’m worried about you.”
“Yes. But I’ll decide for sure in the morning.”
“You know, you don’t have to race. It will be OK if you don’t.”
“You know me better than that, Courtney.”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
We spoke a little more about her studies and her life in Paris. Thankfully, all was going well.
“I’ll be following you online tomorrow.”
“Cool. You’ll be up late if you wait for me to finish.”
“Dad, I love you.”
“I love you too, Courtney.”
I couldn’t get this conversation out of my head. It replayed like an audio tape on an endless loop while on the swim and it remained as I started the bike. It would be a long bike race and there was much to think about...
... Now, dear reader, assuming you've been following this blog for the last couple of weeks you know how this race report ultimately ends. You also know the distance of the bike portion is 112 miles and that I completed it within the time limits. And, you know it was cold and windy. Instead of giving you a report about the couse (flat), road conditions (good with a few rough stretches), the milage markers (the last ten took freaking forever), the food (plentiful), etc. I'd rather focus on how it feels, or more specifically, I felt during the race...
If there is a word to describe how I felt during the swim it is "fear." If there is a word to describe the bike it is "anger." Not the kind of anger that leads to retribution or hate but the kind of anger that spawns an in-your-face defiance. A snearing indignation. Think Rocky Balboa angry. Think Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith angry.
This was to be a day of joyful suffering and victory. The reward for countless hours of training. The fullfillment of a dream. But, instead of feeling the excitement of Ironman I felt sick in my stomach from an antibiotic and seawater cocktail. I couldn't breathe from my nose and it hurt to take a deep breath. My shivering from the cold had become Parkinsons-like tremors. No, no... this isn't how is was supposed to be and it made me angry. Whatever it was that brought this malaise on I thumbed my stuffed nose at the circumstance and unapologetically spat in its eye. Plus, I was pissed at myself. Dissapointed. The Me I left there on the beach before saying my prayers. How is that I ever considered betraying myself by even entertaining the idea of not starting this race? For that there was only one way to repent and that was to do as much of this race as I could possibly do. Did-Not-Start... awwwwww'hell no!
Exiting the swim and getting on the bike had me so hyped up I temporarily forgot the pain of the bronchitis. The spectators, the madness of the changing tent, and exhilleration of completing the longest ocean swim of my life had me on a high and masked what was happening in my body. Things were happening too fast and if I wanted to finish I had to slow down.
By the time I hit mile 12 and the bay bridge I began to warm and the shakes disapeared. Although I felt a little better than I did at the start of the bike something inside was still troubled. My heart rate was fluxuating fast between 135 and 150 beats per minute. Although I felt like I could go faster than the 17 mph I had been averaging my heart rate was reaching my upper zone. Dozens, and I mean dozens, of riders passed me. Men and women; young and old left me in the dust. The angry and competive side of me was itching to speed up and chase them all down but I held back. Sigh... this was going to be a long day.
Bolder passed me early and so did RoboStu. 'Stu and I chatted a while and wondered where The Kahuna and TriMama were on the bike. "Probably somewhere up there," he said pointing ahead. Shortly he sped ahead. I wouldn't see him again until many hours later.
The special needs bag station could be seen over the horizon around mile 48 and I used it as an oppourtunity to ignore the heart rate monitor and blow off some steam. I got out of the saddle and hammered the last couple of hundred meters to where a volunteer was holding my special needs bag.That was a mistake. I hopped off of bike and had a coughing fit. It hurt... maaaaaan, did it hurt! I ditched my windbreaker, stuck a can of Red Bull and an apple in my jersey. The Honor Roll became folded under the Red Bull and I took it out of my jersey. The first name to catch my eye was John Shelp. My scribbled letters remained unfaded and unsmeared from the swim and almost halfway through the bike. I thought of IronJenny, stuffed the names back in my shirt and got back on the road.
After three hours of pedaling my mind began to wander. The conversation with my daughter kep me company then like changing channels on a radio I switched to rock music, to old skool funk, to jazz, to hymns, and back to my talk with Courtney. I thought about my family, my office mates, the tri-geek aliance, and the stories of the people on the Honor Roll. I prayed. I bargained with God.
At mile 80 I lost my bike computer. It fell off my bike without warning. Crap! After a u-turn I stuffed it in the back of my shirt. No longer would I be able to monitor my speed but by that time I didn't care. All that mattered was that the numbers on the mile markers were getting larger. I knew soon the bike would be done and I was still in the race. Yeah, I was still angry, still coughing up gunk, had a nose bleed, and still determined to finish.
At mile 100 the course crosses over the bay bridge again. As I began to go over the bridge I raised myself off of the saddle and yelled to a biker ahead of me, "Let's get this done and put up these damn bikes!" He looked back at me and said, "I heard THAT!"
It took 6 hours and 53 minutes to complete the bike leg and that was 53 minutes slower than my goal. Even though I was now behind my planned pace I had an attitude change. By getting through 2/3 of an Ironman I felt less angry. Although my throat was burning and it hurt to swallow I felt relieved I was in the fight. Indignant anger was fading. It was replaced with resolve.
Fear had become anger and anger had become resolve. Resolutions are all fine and good but they are no more than hollow words if the actions don't follow. Would I have what it takes to complete my resolve?