“Oh yes, if you are any wizard at all you will be able to channel your magic through almost any instrument. The best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard learning from the wand.”
- Mr Ollivander, from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
Don’t worry, I’m still not giving away any Book 7 spoilers. But I’m mentioning it in this post, because the above quote came to mind during the bike segment at Vineman – which, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, shouldn’t surprise you one bit.
But first, let’s pick up the triathlon story where we left off, as I was exiting T1 to take on the 112-mile bike course.
The Bike: Wizard and Wand
Immediately upon leaving T1, I began the following routine that I intended to maintain for six hours:
* Drink Gatorade right now and repeat every 15 minutes
* Eat Clif Bar right now and repeat every 50 minutes, followed by one drink of water
* Drink small amount of water every 30 minutes starting at minute 20
* Take 2 Succeed caps every 60 minutes starting at minute 60
There aren’t many situations in life where OCD tendencies are actually beneficial – but the bike segment of an ironman triathlon is definitely one of them. While I couldn't adhere strictly to this schedule (as I’ll soon explain), the little routines helped the time tick by, and also helped equip me to deal with minor adversities that came along later in the day. So every fifteen minutes or so, I was like Rain Man waiting to watch Judge Wapner until I took in some calories.
The first 10 miles of the bike course are a gentle climb away from the Russian River towards the main double-loop route where we would spend the majority of our day. During this stretch, I was yo-yoing back and forth with Ultimate Fighter Nick Diaz, who followed me out of the water but left T1 ahead of me. We were both just spinning our wheels and getting warmed up, but I had the feeling I’d see this guy a few more times as we moved down the road.
After 10 miles, the course becomes a double loop through the sprawling pastures and vineyards of Sonoma County. It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful backdrop for a bike course, but the narrow country roads are winding and technical at times, requiring the use of brakes on tight curves - all of which have the unfortunate cumulative affect of dropping your average speed like a brick.
(photo from Vineman website)
It was at the intersection of River Road and the main loop that I heard the most meaningless stat of the day, offered by a race official on the corner as I rode past:
Official (checking his watch): You’re 12:20 behind the leader!
Me: (wild laughter)
Let’s just say I didn’t entertain any thoughts of reeling in the leaders right then - or any other time, for that matter. But I guess I appreciated the thought.
I also never entertained the thought of racing against Ultimate Fighter Nick Diaz, until he rolled past me at mile 20. Only this time, he wasn’t alone: a camera crew in an SUV was driving alongside, filming him as he was passing me on a long downhill stretch.
Filming him. While he was passing me.
It took every ounce of restraint I could muster to keep my ego in check and not try to keep pace with him right away. I reminded myself over and over to just maintain a steady effort, and sadly watched Ultimate Fighter Nick Diaz roll off into the distance. It felt like a decisive move, but I figured that in the grand scheme of things, there were greater indignities a guy could suffer than being knocked out by a UFC fighter.
**Is It Time to Panic? Part 2** Approximately 30 miles into the ride, a rogue bumblebee made its way into one of my helmet vents, and began buzzing furiously upon my scalp. I poked around with my fingers to dislodge it from the helmet, only to feel its sting on the back of my neck a few minutes later.
I haven’t been stung by a bee since I was a kid – but a couple of years ago, my mother in law was stung, and three hours later, she ended up in the emergency room. Last year, my wife got stung, and she was relatively unharmed. So by my (admittedly unscientific) calculations, I figured I had roughly a 50-50 chance of surviving the ride without paramedic support. Not exactly a comforting thought with 82 miles to go.
Another factor that became increasingly prevalent was the heat. Comfortable morning temperatures grew increasingly stifling by midday. Later on, I would learn that the air temperature had climbed into the 90s, and many cyclists were recording temps of greater than 100 degrees on their bike thermometers.
So in addition to the established hydration routine, I decided to pour water on my face and back every 30 minutes. At each aid station I picked up one bottle each of water and Gatorade, and figured my fluid management was dialed in pretty well. Pretty well, that is, until …
**Is It Time to Panic? Parts 3 and 4** The aid stations gave out Gatorade Endurance in the factory bottles, which are slightly taller and skinnier than standard cycling bottles. This proved problematic at mile 42: while going downhill at 35 mph and crossing a bridge with an uneven transition surface from asphalt to concrete, the Gatorade bottle launched out of my rear holster and spilled open on the ground. Before going down the same hill the second time around(mile 95), I contemplated holding the bottle in my hands, but didn’t want to give up any steering ability on the high speed descent – consequently, the EXACT SAME THING happened at mile 95. (Before you ask - yes, I felt like an idiot.)
So I was stuck without Gatorade for two stretches of about 45 minutes each – which was OK, since I was also carrying water, right? Except, um … each time, I had already dumped more than half of the water bottle on me when the Gatorade got launched. So I had to ration my fluids on two separate occasions when I wanted nothing more than to chug away.
It wasn’t an emergency situation, but I could feel some telltale effects of dehydration. The most obvious symptom was a chronically dry mouth, which made my every-50-minute Clif Bar strategy fairly challenging.
I trained with Clif Bars on every long ride, and figured I could use them to take in a ton of calories during the race. But as my mouth became more dry, each bar grew increasingly difficult to eat. The 4th one went down pretty slowly, and the 5th one required large gulps of fluid to help me swallow. The 6th one was only partially eaten, and the seventh one never made it out of my shirt pocket.
Remember the bird Iago - voiced by Gilbert Gottfried - from Disney’s movie Aladdin, whose cheeks bulged bigger and bigger while the Sultan kept stuffing crackers into his mouth? When the Sultan finally left, Iago spit out the crackers and said, “I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!! IF I HAVE TO CHOKE DOWN ONE MORE DISGUSTING CRACKER …” (Note: that line is about ten times funnier if you can imagine Gilbert Gottfried’s voice. I actually looked for a video clip to post here, but couldn’t find one. The best link I could find was this audio snippet [third item down]. Clearly, the technology age still has a lot of room for improvement.)
Well, somewhere around mile 80 of the bike course, I was Iago, and Clif Bars were my crackers. I simply couldn’t take them anymore. And I think it cost me a lot of time once I got off the bike.
Despite all of these issues, the bike segment ended up being the most memorable aspect of my race. I anticipated feeling all kinds of aches and pains from spending so much time in the saddle, but those hours on the bike were the most enjoyable of the entire day.
Have you ever had a ride where the bike responds perfectly to your every action, and does everything you want it to across all types of conditions? The Vineman ride was like that for me and my Cervelo.
That’s why I thought of the Harry Potter passage: because throughout the day, there was this strange chemistry between me and the bike that was almost magical. I was the wizard, the bike was the wand, and we were channeling our power through each other during this grand adventure. It was, as Mr Ollivander would say, a mutual quest for experience.
All of the training miles we had previously shared were in preparation for this day. This was the ride the bike was purchased for. This was the ride the bike and I had trained for. Along the way, my Cervelo and I developed an affinity for each other, and we now depended upon each other for success. And on some level, it felt like the bike knew all of this.
(Either that, or I was hallucinating from bee sting toxins. Looking back, both scenarios seem equally plausible.)
I guess what I’m saying is, all of the minor adversities and unexpected challenges I encountered were never enough to diminish the overall joy and satisfaction I had on the bike course. And before I knew it, I was rolling into T2.
Bike Stats: 5 hours, 45 minutes. Average speed 19.5 mph.
Click here to read Part 1
T2: Happiness is an Empty Bike Rack
I walked into the transition area to find row after row of empty bike racks: there were no bikes on my assigned rack, or on the two racks on either side of me, and only a handful within a 50-yard radius. In other words, it was one of the coolest sights I’ve ever seen.
T2 was in the Windsor High School parking lot, and my rack was next to a grassy island with three baby trees. Each tree projected a small imprint of shade, so I grabbed my transition bag, and sat in the shady grass to start my conversion from cycling wizard to marathon runner.
That cool patch of grass felt so good, it was almost intoxicating. I took my time as I did a complete wardrobe change, took a few long drinks of Gatorade, and packed my cycling gear back into the bag. Although I had no fear of the challenge ahead, I definitely wasn’t in any hurry to leave my shady spot.
However, I still had work to do. So nine minutes after I entered, I left the transition area and ventured back out onto the road in the heat of the afternoon. And that’s where we'll continue this story the next time.
Click here to read Part 3