The long 112 mile ride of an Ironman race holds so many possibilities. It's the hardest part of the race for me because I have 'anxiety' about getting a flat or having some other mechanical issue that can ruin the race. This happened to me in Texas.
On Sunday, I felt as ready as I ever have to ride a very strong 112 miles. I worked so hard this year on my bike and rode many many miles.
I felt strong and solid right out of the gate. The heavy, achey, tired feeling that sits with you during most of the training season, was gone. I was rested and ready. Game on!
The heat wasn't bad at all in the early hours. The roads on first leg weren't smooth, but they were decent and my bike seemed to be riding well. I pushed pretty hard to start and had to consciously back off a few times. Remember Ange, this is 112 Not 56 mi.....easy easy...many many miles and hours to go.... That's a big rule in Ironman racing-- do NOT ride too hard. It will bite you where it hurts on the run.
I cruised along and started drinking bottle after bottle. I was watching my clock and getting in the fluids perfectly. I ate every 40 min without a hitch. All was good....
However, only a short while into the ride and it became very clear that some racers were out for a fast split and not worried about a fair game. It was one big drafting game out there. I've seen it before but this time, it felt worse. And I'll get to that...
This course is a 3x Loop and the road is flat. That's the perfect recipe for a crowded course that supports those who Try to draft and causes drafting by accident even when you try to avoid it. ( Drafting is when you ride within 4 bike lengths of the person in front of you. If you get passed, you are supposed to drop back that far , you aren't supposed to ride next to anyone and so on... there are a handful of rules but those are key... )
It was absurd. Many packs with at least 15++ riders went by me. They were Absolutely intentional. There were even small groups of 3-6 riders who were taking turns leading with the others sitting on each other's wheels. It was blatant cheating.
Meanwhile, I worked very hard to stay out of draft zones. I would sit up, brake and ride a lot more slowly on and off throughout the whole race to avoid these packs and other riders. There were many many times I was face with either a) riding slowly or b) surging Hard for a while to get by 5-6 or possibly 10 people to find a clean zone again. You see, when it's that crowded, you may pass one person but then you're smack behind another one again and into that person's draft zone. In addition, So many athletes do NOT drop back when they are overtaken. Hey, it's a huge drag!!! But those are the rules. This went on and on all day....
And then, on loop 2 at about mile 50, I made a pass. No big deal. I think I did it just right. Once the pass was made, I was out front. There was nobody in front of me for a bit so that was nice. I heard someone behind me yell something though. I couldn't hear him. Then I saw the Marshall on the moped. No big deal, I was one of the ones playing fair. Go get 'em I thought. Go penalize all those cheaters. I was feeling crabby and angry at all I'd be watching around me. It ruins the sport for all of us I think.
Instead, the guy yelled at me. What?
"Pull over on the right!!!" He snapped.
What did I do????
I still don't know. I assume I somehow got into the draft zone of another. Maybe I didn't make my pass fast enough? Not sure. But after trying so hard to do it right, and watching others Purposely cheat, I was heartbroken. In fact, as I write this I almost feel like crying.
But at that time, I was FURIOUS! I rode like a crazy person for about 5 more miles until I came to the next Penalty Tent. I had to stop, sign a paper, get my bib # marked with a red check, and wait 4 minutes.
I avoided looking at the road. I didn't want to see the women who flew by me while I stood there. I thought to myself, "there goes my Kona spot."
"Ok, you can go... "
So off I went.... onto the windiest part of the course. I rode alone and fought the head and crosswinds. My speed was slow, it was very hot, and I was trying like hell not to lose my faith.
The day was getting hotter and the winds were stronger. The ocean was beautiful on the windy leg of the course but it was hard to enjoy when I was fighting the winds and heat. I felt good, but was growing concerned because while I had been drinking at least 1.5 bottles/ hour, I didn't have to go to the bathroom. In Ironman racing, this is not good. Not good at all. The calories and fluids were going in though. I stopped at special needs to get my 3 bottles of Perform. I threw the course gatorade out at that time and took off with my fresh cold bottles. Wait... 20 seconds down the road and I realize, they were STILL Frozen!!!???? This was not good. I decided to give it until the next aid station to warm up or else I'd have to throw at least one away and go back to gatorade. I had to drink!
It worked, they defrosted and with effort, I began to get enough to drink. geez... never guessed That would happen!
I started loop 3 even more hyper-vigilant about drafting. If you get 3 strikes, you're DQ'd. Ha.. imagine if that happened! So I slowed down what felt like 100 x to avoid getting stuck in a zone. I also started to have some issues with the fluids. My stomach felt full.... but it took my by surprise when without warning, I just threw up. Not a lot, but enough. In fact, it happened about 4 times. :( Ugh. I know, disgusting. I don't like talking about these things but honestly, this stuff is reality and important during endurance racing. Nutrition and hydration matter as much as your pacing during these races. I had to just hope I would be able to continue to eat & drink. I knew I had to modify something I was doing so I just committed to a ~30 min break. I'd ride and let myself settle and hope I'd feel better. I did. It wasn't long before I was taking the fluids in again without any issues. Phew.
The final 20 miles or so were very frustrating to me. The hot windy section along the coast was hard. My pace was so slow during that stretch and I saw my time goal slipping away. Meanwhile, more and more riders cruised through that tough section in draft packs or groups-- riding in aero like the wind was at their backs. I was sitting up, pedaling hard, trying to stay straight on the road while the wind pushed me. I was bitter about my penalty as I watched the marshal ride up near these groups, blow a whistle and move on....?? I have a hard time understanding that one. I have a hard time grasping how the marshals can let so many go and I have an even harder time understanding how athletes can hold their heads up at the end of the day knowing they didn't play fair.
On the final long road before hitting T2, my anger go the best of me and I had a few pushes on the pedals where I rode like I would in an Olympic distance race. I absolutely Had to get away from a long line of riders that were causing me to ride way below my race pace. The course was too crowded and congested and I wanted to get onto the run where it was every person for him/ herself no matter what.
I hit 112 miles and noted my time... below 5:30. Yes! I subtracted the 4 min penalty time just for kicks and felt even happier. I rode my fastest every 112 miles. I noted that in my head and smiled. But there was still >1 mile left of this course so I kept pushing to find that T2 tent.
Ahhhh.... there it is ... the dismount line. I love that moment....
113+ miles --- 5:32