Friday, December 24, 2010

IMWA: The First Transition, the Bike

Ripping my arms free of my wetsuit, I crested a slight rise and sprinted toward the changing area where I had checked my transition bags and bike the night before. Volunteers asked me for my bib number, frantically pulling my bag from the rack once they located it and running with me into the enclosed changing tent. I had them dump the contents on the ground while I removed the wetsuit from my legs. Still dripping wet and sputtering, I yanked on socks, shoved on bike shoes and jumped up and out of the tent to find my bike.

Running my bike to the mount line

Tossing my helmet on, I grabbed my bike from off the rack, brought it to the mount-line and was off. Two and a half frantic minutes led to the beginning of more than five hours' worth of quiet ones. The swim is a loud event  - the white noise of the ocean, of the splashing of your stroke and the water in your ears. The transition is louder - the cheers of the crowd, of the volunteers. Once you're on your bike, especially when you're one of just ten or fifteen others on-course, all sound melts away. Once you're on your bike and you're more than a mile from transition, there's nothing but you, your bike and the wind.

Tucked and aero

My plan on the bike was very similar to my plan on the swim: cruise. Ride at a steady rate that is sustainable for five and a half or six hours. I settled in to my aero position, began regularly sipping from my powder-mix-filled* drink tank, and began to turn the pedals over at a pace that kept my heart rate as close to 150 bpm (the upper threshold of zone 2?) as I could manage. From then on, it was just a matter of passing the time.

Speaking of passing, the bad thing about coming out of the water in front of the whole field is that you wind up being passed by every single cyclist who is faster than you. Guys were blazing by me at light speed, left and right. It would have been demoralizing had I let myself care. Some people just know how to ride a bike.

Approaching the end of a lap

My first and second lap felt nearly identical. The wind was fairly calm save for one section leading back into town, but otherwise, the flat course seemed to blend into one long, boring chunk of time. I started slipping a bit on the third lap - my back started to hurt and my heart rate kept dipping into the 140s. I didn't fight it much: I was already ahead of my projected pace and I still had a marathon to run. Conservation was still the name of the game. There was one little rise on the course and I'd use that as my excuse to get out of the saddle and "climb" - which felt great. I found myself wishing for hills; I think I'd place much higher (relative to others) on a course with some real elevation gain.

Rounding a roundabout on my way to another lap

The course itself, as mentioned before, was almost entirely flat. The pavement was decent, the route was okay, the scenery wasn't spectacular. For a few miles each lap, we rode along the shores of Geographe Bay. For another few miles, we rode through the karri-tree heart of Tuart forest. It was three laps of 60 kilometers, starting and ending just meters from the bike-to-run transition area.

The 180-degree turn-arounds were not fun; I don't like trying to turn my time-trial bike that sharply, especially on those wind-sail wheels. Aid stations were worse: because people in Australia ride (and drive) on the left-hand side of the road, I had to grab all of my water/gatorade bottles with my left hand -- not something I'd practiced! The result? A lot of very slow passes through aid stations. At least I didn't have to stop.

Nutrition on the bike was basically perfect, I think. I packed one bar and four gels and managed to spread them out well across the duration of the ride, consuming the bar around mile 30 and nothing but gel for the remainder of the day. I never ran out of fluid and managed to stay hydrated throughout.

It was a good ride. I wish I had something more interesting to say about it, but seriously, all I did was lay on my extensions and pedal evenly for five and a half hours, all while staring dully at my Garmin's heart rate and power readouts!

To the finish!

The end of the last lap felt pretty good - my back was screaming, but I knew I was coming in on a pace faster than I had hoped for. Cutting out of the final roundabout and down to the bike finish marquee (rather than pulling the full 180 and heading back out for another lap) was great - I was ready to be off that bike and see what my legs had left for the run: my first marathon.

My final time on the bike was 5:20'ish for an average of just under 21 miles per hour over the full 112-mile distance.