IMLT – Race Report Part 3 – Bike

I HAD a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I RACED in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Thanks to you, we’ve reached both of those goals. I am now officially an Ironman, and we raised $11,052! The winners of our last fundraising activity will be notified soon.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be giving the race report for the inaugural edition of Ironman Lake Tahoe. I started with the Prologue and Swim,  today is the Bike, and I’ll follow up with the Run and Epilogue posts over the next couple of days. Patience, grasshopper.

Ironman Lake Tahoe 2013 – Race Report Part 3 – Bike

A rough start to the swim became a fantastic experience in the blink of an eye – in case you missed it, go back to Part 2 of the race report to read about the swim that started out badly… got worse… and then got really, really good. The mood quickly turned, however. Here is where we left off in the last post:

I ran into the transition area, a volunteer told me to sit down as I was taking off the wetsuit – she meant business, so I followed her direction. I sat on the cold asphalt, and she ripped that suit off me in 2 seconds flat. I jumped up, she handed me my suit, and I was off and running. I snagged my bike gear bag, flung the wetsuit over my shoulder, and headed for the changing tent…

And then the race took an unexpected twist. Something insane that I had never expected to encounter…

I stepped into the changing tent expecting to find a spot with a chair to dry off, change into dry clothes, and prepare for the long bike journey. What I found instead was a tent filled wall-to-wall with a mass of naked and semi-naked guys trying their best to strip off wet clothes and put on cycling gear with about 1 square foot of ground per person.

Absolute chaos.

Yep. The cold weather turned the usually benign T1 experience into an absolute nightmare as everybody was taking lots of extra time to dry off and put on extra layers of clothing. This caused a traffic jam of nightmarish proportions. I fought through the crowds of athletes, found a single square foot of floorspace to drop my bag, and began the process of changing into my cycling gear. Gear that was no longer dry – in the three hours since I’d dropped off the bag, the cold, damp air had permeated the bag. Normally I wear my triathlon suit under the wetsuit during the swim, but for this race almost all of us opted to wear a normal swimsuit under the wetsuit and keep the racing kit dry. After a quick attempt to dry off and taking off the swimsuit, on went the triathlon suit, socks (I usually go sockless in races), toe warmers (first time with those!), two sets of arm sleeves, calf sleeves, cycling gloves (I usually race gloveless), winter gloves (from my it’s really f-ing cold outside non-athletic gear collection), and another cycling jersey… and finally the shoes and helmet. Another handful of seconds to jam my towel, wetsuit, and swimsuit back into my gear bag, knot the ties, fight my way through the masses of people, and toss the bag into the pile of other bags.

What should have taken no more than 5 minutes took 20 minutes. Under normal racing circumstances this would have taken 2 minutes – I had planned on this part taking 8 minutes given the need to dry off and perform a complete wardrobe change. This process took over 40 minutes for some athletes, and would eat into valuable time relative to their race cutoff times. (I’ll describe more about this in the epilogue – the DNF rates for this race were astounding)

After FINALLY exiting the ‘did I just walk out of an ancient Roman bathhouse’ changing tent fiasco I ran toward the bikes, grabbed mine, and headed out onto the course.

I reached the bike mount line, jumped on, clipped in, and headed out. Normally I would run through transition barefooted with my shoes already clipped in to the pedals, do a flying leap onto the bike, and slip my feet into the shoes as I was speeding down the course; only the pros were allowed to do that for this race (understandably for safety reasons – after swimming 2.4 miles, even seasoned age groupers aren’t fully coherent and the chance for crashes increases tremendously with this style of flying bike mounting).

I had done several rides and runs along this stretch of the course during our week at Lake Tahoe, so I knew the terrain well. This stretch of road was FAST! I started gunning down cyclists by the dozen. Adrenaline coursing through the veins. That fracking song pulsing through my ears:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The beginning of the bike ride. Laser focus. Fully loaded with fuel and hydration. Ready to pass 'em all!

The beginning of the bike ride. Laser focus. Fully loaded with fuel and hydration. Ready to pass ’em all! Not even the double layers of jerseys, arm sleeves, and gloves (look at those gloves) could fend off the bitter cold.

The only problem: even with the extra cycling jersey, second set of arm sleeves, toe warmers in the shoes, and the freaking winter gloves, blasting down the road at over 25mph into 30-ish degree temperatures is FREAKING COLD! Though the sun was coming up, much of the first several several dozen miles of the course was in the shade. Plus, the warm beverage I had poured into my water bottle had turned freezing cold during the swim. Drat! So much for that bright idea!

The bike course - start at Kings Beach, ride clockwise. Two and a half laps! Kings Beach to Truckee: downhill and fast! Truckee to Kings Beach: straight up, straight down, then straight up again followed by another straight downhill.

The bike course – start at Kings Beach, ride clockwise. Two and a half laps! Kings Beach to Truckee: downhill and fast! Truckee to Kings Beach: straight up, straight down, then straight up again followed by another straight downhill.

In fact, the first two dozen miles of the bike course were mostly downhill, with a just few uphill sections and one solid climb up Dollar Hill at mile 8. For the first time EVER in a race, I welcomed and gladly anticipated the uphill stretches. A chance to enjoy the lack of a cold breeze blowing on me, and to warm up a bit as I climbed. Unfortunately, for every blessed uphill stretch, there must be a downhill blast to follow. And each of these was met with bitter, teeth chattering coldness. As I passed Squaw Village and headed north toward Truckee there was an extended stretch of road where I had to back off the gas pedal as I was just too cold – the temperature was dropping toward 30F, long downhill sections were encountered where speeds easily exceeded 40mph, in the shade away from the comforting warmth of the sun, with the chattering of my teeth echoing through the forest. I couldn’t feel my toes, fingers… well, pretty much anything. But I could still hear it:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

Nothing was going to stop me.

The bike elevation profile as downloaded from my GPS. Brutally cold downhills early. Vicious uphills later with steep, technical descents. Rinse. Repeat. Wow, what a tough, fantastic, beautiful ride!

The bike elevation profile as downloaded from my GPS. Brutally cold downhills early. Vicious uphills later climbing up to 7,200 feet high with steep, technical descents. Rinse. Repeat. Wow, what a tough, fantastic, beautiful ride!

After what felt like an eternity in an icy cold hell, I finally reached Truckee. Bless this town! They had shut down the city center and were holding a big festival in honor of the race. Bands were playing and they were trying to entice people to hang out in city center, visit the local establishments, and cheer on the cyclists as they zoomed by – we would pass through here on the second loop, too, so there would be a constant stream of cyclists all day long. There was a fairly decent turnout of folks there clapping, hollering, ringing cowbells and encouraging us to continue along at breakneck speeds. The best part of this segment, though, was the short climb out of town – yet another chance to warm up a bit! After the welcome relief of that short climb it was just another quick downhill blast and a hard right turn before the start of the first series of climbs. Perhaps CLIMBS might be a more appropriate way of writing that. They were significant… ominous… and looming.

Climbing. Find the right gear and tempo. Churn the legs. Keep the butt on the saddle. And don't stop until you get to the top. 'Eye of the Tiger' straight up that hill!

Climbing. Find the right gear and tempo. Churn the legs. Keep the butt on the saddle. And don’t stop until you get to the top. ‘Eye of the Tiger’ straight up that hill!

The first major climb took us through the gated community that we had only been able to tour the day before the race. The road twisted and turned through the hillside. It went up, a little down, then up a bunch more. It wasn’t too bad, though. It was actually quite manageable and fun… until we reached the part of the course that we couldn’t preview at all. The day before the race they said, “Oh, it’s only about 3/4 of  a mile at about the same grade as the stuff you already came up to get here.”

Ummm… wrong. It was much longer than 3/4 mile. And there was a good 1/2 mile stretch in there that was easily the steepest grade we would face all day. Yeah, they fed us some wrong information. Anyway, that climb proved to be a warming, welcome relief and got the blood flowing. I could finally feel my fingers a bit, and was holding out hope that my toes would follow suit soon thereafter. Gear down… keep the pedals turning over at a constant rhythm… just. keep. moving. up. up. UP! Whenever things started to hurt a bit, turn up the volume in my head:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR

The Ritz Carlton signaled the top of the climb, and the beginning of the first long, technical descent. I took some chances, pedaled through some dicey turns at full speed in an aero position, and passed a ton more cyclists on the downhill. I usually make up most of my ground in races on the uphill stretches (and I was doing exactly that today), but the downhills were proving equally fruitful. Indeed… I ROARED! Heck, there is a really good chance I may have actually let out a barbaric yawp of a roar during that wicked fast descent.

After a few minutes of blasting down the road the main highway was reached, and the climb up Brockway Pass began. I knew what I was in for, having driven over it twice in the past few days, and just started patiently and consistently churning my way up the road. The elevation kept on ticking upward. The legs kept on spinning. I kept on passing other cyclists. As the summit neared, the crowds began to thicken, almost like something out of a Tour de France race. No need for the song now… the crowd was giving us all we needed to launch forward up the hill. We got that extra kick of adrenaline we all needed to power on through the summit and on down into the long, sweeping descent. I instantly kicked it into high gear and started cranking – reaching speeds upward of 55mph. Wow! Quite the rush! And, finally, it was beginning to warm up a bit so that rush of wind didn’t completely chill me to my core. Before I knew it I had reached Kings Beach. Lap 1 was complete!

Lap 2 was a completely different experience from the first. The first part of the course was still fast, but there were far fewer people for me to pick through. And, most imp0rtantly, the air wasn’t quite so bitter cold. The focus was squarely on keeping up with the fuel and hydration intake on a regular basis, gunning down the occasional salt tablet to prevent muscle cramping, and just keep moving forward at a steady – but not t00 fast – pace. I gunned down a bunch of cyclists as I raced along the lake for the second time, and jockeyed back and forth with a couple of racers… until the second turn up the quick out-and-back spur up Carnelian Woods Ave started again and I dropped them quickly, never to see them again. This was right near the condo, and I could hear the familiar ringing of the cowbell and cheering from Lauren, Papa Jeff, and Suzanne (with a disinterested Theo in tow). They made it around the course and were cheering us along – right at about the halfway point of the race. An incredibly welcome sight, indeed. Halfway done – and that wasn’t so bad.

The descent into Truckee was much faster this time thanks to the warming of the air. I got into a little back-and-forth with a group of cyclists between Squaw Valley and Truckee – they would accelerate and pass me… I would have a burst a mile later and accelerate to pass them. Now I really began to understand the concept of cycling packs in the pro race: though you can’t draft, having other cyclists around you, taking turns surging forward, can really provide motivation and accelerate the pace of the race. And, yes, every time I made the surge forward, there it was:

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

As we passed through Truckee the second time, racing through the cheering crowds lining the streets, and began the quick climb out of town, I lost contact with the pack – they couldn’t hang on the punchy little climb. I was a little sad to see them go, as it was a ton of fun blasting the downhill and flats with them. Oh, well. I still had plenty of cyclists in front of me to target and run down.

Before long I returned to the entrance of the gated community and what was certain to be the most difficult 15 mile section of the race: the twin climbs. The ascents the second time around were a bit more difficult as the legs were starting to get a little fatigued, and recovery took a bit longer thanks to the altitude. Plus, it was starting to get warm. The climb up to the Ritz took a little longer than the first time, but I got there without pushing myself too hard, and was still passing others the entire way. The chorus was stuck on repeat the entire climb.

Eye of the tiger… fighter… I am a champion… you’re gonna hear me ROAR…

The technical descent from the Ritz this time was even more fun, as I remembered the parts of the hill where I could be even MORE aggressive this time, and I took full advantage of that – I was quite literally FLYING down that section of the course, passing other cyclists almost as though they were standing still. More than once I heard the exclamation, “Holy, —-!!!” as I raced past. I didn’t have the entire chorus in my head now… too many words to process as everything was happening so fast… it was simply screaming constantly in my head:

Eye of the tiger! ROAR! ROAR! ROAR!!!!!

Brockway Pass was also a little more difficult, partially because the field had thinned out considerably, but mostly due to fatigue. Halfway up the pass I heard a whole bunch of hooting, hollering, honking, and cowbells. Yep, Lauren, Papa Jeff, and Suzanne were stuck in the long line of cars making their way the other direction coming over the pass as they were headed to the finish line and T2 area at Squaw Valley. That was a welcome adrenaline kick.

Finally, I got over the pass, assisted by the crowds of rowdy spectators, blasted the descent, and finished off lap 2. Only the stretch between Kings Beach and Squaw Valley – the 1/2 lap in the 2 1/2 lap course – remained. I was going to do this thing!

Eye of the tiger…

Third and last detour up Carnelian Woods Avenue, and the 100 mile marker! Only 12 miles left! Just keep the legs churning!

fighter…

Third and last climb and descent of Dollar Hill.

I am a champion…

Third and last blast through Tahoe City. Put on the jet packs out of town… churn, churn, churn… 104 miles. Just a few miles left. Follow the white line, catch that next guy…

you’re gonna hear me…

BOX!!!!????????

Asphalt. Sky. Trees. More asphalt. More skies. More trees. Crunching. Blood. Scraping. Grinding. Panicked screaming (not me). Pain. Lots of pain.

The story continues, and the mystery of the box revealed, in the next blog post: IMLT – Race Report Part 4 – Run

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