Monday, January 6, 2014

IMAZ Part 4: The Bike

In case you missed Parts One, Two or Three or the Ironman Arizona Race Recap:

Click HERE for Part One: The Road to Temp
Click HERE for Part Two: Countdown to Race Day
Click HERE for Part Three: The Swim (and Race Morning)

When I first started the bike leg—out of Tempe Beach Park and through the urban areas of Tempe—my only thoughts were of how happy I was to be out of the frigid lake and how happy I was to have arm warmers. My teeth chattered for the first 15-20 minutes of the ride and the bite of LaraBar I’d taken as I exited transition sat like a wet lump in my mouth. I was unable to either chew or swallow it so I eventually spit it out. I focused on drinking Infinit instead as “calorie load, calorie load” was the next thought to enter my frozen brain once it began to thaw. (The bike leg is all about managing calorie intake to see you through not only the ride, but the long run ahead.)

Me in my arm warmers, heading out of town

Then, as we were finally hitting the outskirts of town, a horrible thing happened. A pack of us had just rounded a corner when some guy came flying up from behind and either lost control of his bike or clipped the tire of a rider in front of him. It was a devastating crash. The guy's water bottles were thrown to the left, the bike clattered to the ground, spun around or flipped a few times, and the cyclist was ejected to the right, bouncing cross the road like a stone skipped across the surface of the pond. He ended up just off the shoulder of the road, lying on his side, his arm—the one I could see in a brief backward glimpse--bloodied. I’m pretty sure that guy was done for the day, and I’d be surprised if he walked away without a broken bone or two.

Random bike crash pic
Unless you are actually involved in the crash, it is hard to stop and lend assistance as stopping or pulling across several lanes of cyclists, all going 20+ mph, can easily lead to a secondary crash. As it was, every triathlete in the vicinity was swerving to avoid running over the cyclist, his bike or the ejected water bottles rolling across the road. 

This all happened right in front of me--I believe my heart actually stopped for a beat, started only again by the surge of adrenaline and fear pumping through my body. I, too, swerved mightily to avoid being swept up in the wreckage. And once the pack of us moved on from the near miss and was able to breathe again, a guy in front of me but behind the cyclist that went down (perhaps even the guy who’s back tire had been clipped?), turned and said. “What the hell just happened?”

It was very scary. And it happens so fast—in the blink of an eye. I saw roaming medics headed toward the scene so I knew my fellow triathlete was being quickly tended to, but I thought of him often throughout the day. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be so aggressive. Early on in the ride, when the bikes are thick and cyclists are shaking off the swim and tending to nutritional needs, patience is the name of the game.

The IMAZ bike course was not nearly as scenic as I’d expected—or as the pictures of the race lead you to believe. The three loop course is 2/3 urban and 1/3 red rocks and cacti. So for each loop of approximately 37 miles, only 12 miles offered much to look at.

Arizona bike course as advertised: 

All red rock and cacti

Arizona bike course in reality: 

Cars. Lots of cars.

As advertised, the course was pretty flat, with a gradual uphill heading out of town and a gradual descent heading back. Of course, as luck would have it, winds were a bit higher than hoped for—creeping into the low teens—and were mostly in my face or off my left shoulder on the downhill. But the temperature was great: sunny, mid-70s, with low (but higher than average for Arizona) humidity. 

Cyclist heading into the uphill and downhill segments of the ride

I flew through the first loop, my pace ranging from a low of 17.1 on the outbound and a high of 23.6 (my highest of the entire ride at the 27.8 mile mark) on the return, for an average of 19.8 mph. The down side to this was the fact that my left IT Band began to give me trouble as early as the 20-mile mark and was stiff and painful off & on throughout the rest of the ride. When it initially flared, with still more than 90 miles to go, I fretted over whether I’d even be able to finish the ride. I did, but I knew this would mean bad things to come in the run.

Heading back into town, the crowds, music and announcers provided a welcome boost to lift the spirits and, knowing what was to expect of the course for the remainder of the ride, I began to settle in to an average pace of 18.24. I wasn't able to take advantage of the downhill segment on the 2nd & 3rd loops as well as I could on the first because I had to use the momentum to be able to “let if fly on the fly,” if you know what I mean. No way I was losing time waiting in line for the port-o-pot! I know this may gross some people out, but it truly is the nature of the beast in long-distance triathlon racing, especially if you are aiming to be competitive, set a PR, or meet a certain time goal.

The other thing, lack of scenery aside, that I did not care for on the IMAZ bike course was that it always felt crowded. At IM Cozumel—in addition to the gorgeous ocean views and phenomenal crowd support—the course was a loop instead of an out-and-back, so everyone was riding in the same direction at all times and there was always plenty of wide-open spaces.

Ironman Cozumel bike course
At IMAZ, we had one whole side of the divided highway to ourselves (cars traveled on the other side, for the most part), but there were bikes headed in two directions on the same stretch of pavement. So while you were always traveling with a pack going the same way, there was also always another pack of riders coming at you. It made passing more difficult and a little too close for comfort in some cases. I saw, more than once, some of the more aggressive riders nearly collide head on as both were attempting to pass to the left of slower riders on their sides of the road.

Crowded IMAZ bike course
I want to pause here to give a shout out to the volunteers at the Bike Special Needs stop. This is the point about half way through the ride when you ditch any used/unused or unwanted items on your bike and exchange them for all new items, such as full bottles of Infinit and a new stash of gels, power bars, dried fruit or whatever else you’re eating. Extra body lube & sunscreen can be obtained and extra layers, such as arm warmers, can be discarded. The two women who helped me were fab-u-lous—the kinds of volunteers who anticipate your needs before you even give voice to them. They had me out of there—restocked and ready to go—in record time. Bike Special Needs volunteers—You Rocked!!

My third loop, at an average pace of 18.0, was my slowest of all, but not by much. The worst of it was seeing two more cyclists go down, though in a much less spectacular fashion. From what I could tell, people were getting tired. It was the section with the greatest incline. A woman began to slow her pace or maybe weaved a little, and the older man behind her who wasn’t looking—he had his head down and also appeared to be struggling—ran into her back tire. He cursed and they both went down, (seemingly in slow motion--especially as compared to the other guy!), but still hard enough to leave them both bloodied and sporting a little road rash. Fortunately, unlike the first guy, they were both probably in good enough shape to carry on. 

I love my bike, but usually after 100+ miles, I’m more than ready to be finished. In Cozumel, I was actually looking forward to the marathon—I was happy to do anything as long as it meant getting off the bike!

Conversely, at IMAZ, I felt like a million bucks as I finished the ride—relieved as always that I’d made it through without mishap; no collisions, no flat tires—and happy to report that nothing hurt. Not my neck, shoulders, butt, legs or anything that is usually in agony by then. It's that moment when you feel certain that all the training, all the time in the saddle, paid off! I finished the ride in 6:02:37—a bike PR for me—with an average pace of 18.53 and in the top 31% of all women. 

Back at Tempe Beach Park, I handed off my bike to a waiting volunteer and made a dash for the changing tent, grabbing my Bike-to-Run bag along the way. Oh, and there was no line at the pots near the changing tents, so I was finally able to get some sweet relief while not on the fly!

Bike Stats:
Time: 6:02:37   Pace: 18.53
52nd/142 Division (Top 36%)
232/747 All women (Top 31%)
1331/2704 Overall (Top 49%)

PS--Here's two great pics of Tri Dad rockin' the bike ride

Tri Dad on the bike

Tri Dad on a scenic part of the ride

Up Next: IMAZ Part Five: The Run 

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