Near mile 40, at the bottom of the hill, and near a sharp right-hand turn stood the penalty tent.
I was required to stop.
Was I sore about getting a penalty for assisting another althete? Absolutely not. I'd do it again without question. The spirit of today's Ironman triathlon is a test of the individual and not a team race with handpicked support crews and teammates catering to a select few. Outside assistance that gives one athlete and advantage over another should be banned. However, all athletes on the course have a responsibility to maintain safety for themselves and the other athletes on the course and when another, who has none, asks me for food, water, electrolytes, or anything to help him avoid a nutritional or hydration health issue they can count on my help. Period.
I was nervous and antsy about sitting still. There had already been too much idling since getting out of the water and each non-moving minute fed my impatience. At the very moment I was about to loose my sense of humor she again worked her magic. Ever encouraging and wise she said, "You have plenty of time. Keep working and keep problem solving. You can do this, Brian."
Words are powerful things and when aimed with sincerity and just the right charge can find their target and change it from within. The unscheduled stop, as it turned out, was just the right respite for an emotional gas tank top-off.
With battles continuing to be fought beneath my belt I headed away from the penalty ten to face the toughest terrain of the course. A twisting, turning, undulating route to test both fitness and nerve. It was all as advertised. Taking my time in the easiest gear and keeping my heart rate in check was the plan. Tom-tom banging, cowbell ringing, and generally pumped up spectators pulled me over the top of the summits. Once over the back of the beast it was back to Verona for the second loop.
Spectators lined the main street of bucolic Verona. Cheering fans stood behind metal barricades giving up the the luv and a loudspeaker broadcast MY name. Cool, eh? Not long from the sound of the crowd I head a different sound, a disturbing sound. The unmistakable whining dull grind of a flat front tire.
"You have plenty of time...,"
... kept repeating in my head as I sat on the side of the neighborhood street peeling the glued tubular tire off of the rim. Both time and dozens of athletes passed me.
I could feel things beginning to slip away. My head was splitting, my stomach ached and legs cramped. With low blood sugar induced tremors in my hands I struggled to roll the new tire onto the wheel. Finally, after over 15 minutes of do-it-yourself repair I had the bike back together and rolling again.
It's at this point the circumstances began to weigh on me. So much time had been lost with the frequent stops for stomach relief and the flat, my competitive drive leaked away like the air in my old tire. Any plans of a 6 hour, 30 minute bike split were gone and I still had 50 miles to go back to Madison.
"You have plenty of time. Keep problem solving..."
... kept repeating in my ears. I reached into my back center pocket and touched the Honor Roll of names. It was still there, I was still there, time was still on my side. So, I pressed on.
The second loop was uneventful. The winds began to blow and at times my energy was low but my spirit remained high with my mantra pushing me like a giant hand over the final hills and back to the Monona Terrace.
7 hours; 16 minutes on the bike. Some 45 minutes behind schedule but not so far behind to let it get me down. Considering all that happened it was a good bike leg. After all, it could have been much worse. I consider it a small victory.
"There's plenty of time," is what I heard when I grabbed my Bike-to-Run transition bag. Just enough time to join the run.