Totally pumped up from a personal record swim I bolted out of the transition area like a bat out of hell. With my compact crank and recently trued wheels I was eager to take on the bike course.
Just a couple of miles into the bike leg the course throws it's first challenge at the athletes. A three hundred foot increase in elevation, damn near vertical, twisting , turning climb provides a prelude to what's to come later. Once over the first hill I felt good and ready to race.
Around mile seven things began to come undone... literally. My front tire was going flat and beginning to roll off of the tubular rim. Fortunately, there was a wide shoulder on the road and plenty of room to change the tire. I found a half inch rusty, twisted piece of metal wedged in the tire. It didn't take long to make the change. Oh, less than 10 minutes probably but not before dozens of bikers whizzed past me.
Once back on the road the rolling hills began and I held my own with the pack of athletes around me. The winds were picking up but I kept with my plan to hang with a group of riders with similar abilities until the largest hill at mile 41, Nasty Grade.
Nasty Grade is a 900 foot gain in elevation, four mile long, twisting and turning road with no shade or shelter from the winds. It's a true sufferfest leaving the average rider, like me, wishing for smaller gears and larger legs. It look time to get to the top and it hurt.
When I finally did reach the top of Nasty Grade, my energy was pretty much zapped, and I still had sixteen miles of rolling hills and a half-marathon to run to go. For the first time in the race, my self-evaluation was turning negative. I was starting to make concessions. I had now covered more climbing in forty miles than I have in all of the past year's total training. The voice in my head was whisperings negative nothings: "You've already surpassed your best efforts. There's no disgrace in stopping. Look how many are walking their bikes, or are sitting on the side of the road! There is no way they can feel worse than you do."
This type of thinking is dangerous. Like a prisoner of war succumbing to torture, my mind was starting to betray the mission. My months of mental conditioning where being severely tested, and so my physical effort teetered on the cusp of failure. But my heart held strong and rebuked the overtures: "Who cares how far or how long you've gone, if you don't cover the entire distance?" So I continued on.
For the next mile and a half it's nothing but gravity and biking skills. The road descends over 700 feet in a white knuckled free fall. One wrong move by me or another rider or a sudden gust of cross wind and the race -- and maybe more -- comes to an ugly end.
Other than feeling a bit sunburned I felt good and was making decent time until it happened again near mile 47. My front tire, on the same wheel as previously, was slowly going flat. I felt the squishiness as I was approaching the last water station on the bike course. The good news is there was plenty to drink the bad news is I didn't have another tire.
Quickly I weighed my options. I could walk the bike for the remaining nine miles, wait for the SAG vehicle to come and end my day, or ask for help from another athlete. I decided to ask for help. Taking the flap from a cardboard box and a magic marker from the water station I made a sign,
As I stood on the side of the road with my sign hundreds of bikers passed by me. Almost everybody gave me a head nod and many people shouted "sorry, don't have one," or "good luck," as they rode past. Five minutes became ten minutes and ten minutes became twenty without any help. As the time passed my legs and stomach started to cramp. The sun beat down on me and it began to get very hot standing on the side of shadeless road. My head began to pound.
Finally a rider slowed as he went passed and yelled, "Hear ya go!" He tossed a tubular tire from the back pocket of his jersey. Unfortunately, I didn't get his athlete number.
It look me another ten long minutes to get the new tire on the wheel. There was no visible damage to the old tire and why it went flat is a mystery. Nonetheless, the new tire was on the bike and I headed up the road.
The waiting by the side of the road for the tire cooked me. My legs hurt like hell and my head pounded. The desire to race was nearly gone. It look me over four hours to complete the toughest bike course I had ever encountered and now I faced 13.1 miles of an unknown run course.
Equipment troubles may have smacked me around on the road but I still had some fight collateral and I intended on spending it on the run.