"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." - Lance Armstrong
Most of us spend the majority of our day on the bike during Ironman. Even with cycling ranking as my favorite of the three sports, the bike is daunting. It's not necessarily the distance or time, but rather the nagging fear that mistakes or bad luck on the bike can lead to a miserable run or DNF. I truly enjoy the hours and hours spent biking in an Ironman, but breathe a huge sigh of relief when I reach a point I know I could walk if my bike were to absolutely fail me.
The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is one of my favorite rides. It's technical and hilly, isolated at times and packed with crowds at other times. The rolling hills and multiple turns keep your mind sharp and make the time go by more quickly. But they also sap your energy so you're likely to hit a lull at some point during the 112 miles.
I started out feeling great and the weather was nearly perfect. There was a change near the beginning of the course that added another small climb and what would end up being an extra mile... as if 112 weren't enough. But it wasn't that bad. The "stick" portion of the course leading out to the loop always feels like a long set-up to me, which makes that section fly by in what seems like minutes. I saw a few friends along the way which always helps. Even just minutes of chatting can be a boost. I reached the start of the loop in Verona in just under an hour, which was pretty fast for me. I wasn't trying to push, but was averaging around 18mph comfortably.
I don't approach the IMWI ride with a "first loop really easy" mentality. Instead I have an HR guideline and try stick to it. Since I know the course well, I know how to prepare for surprises, like a steep climb immediately after a turn. I use descents to my advantage when possible, but even with as much climbing as there is on this course the long, relaxing downhills are few and far between.
People always say you'll hate yourself at Mile 90 but my hate miles usually come sooner and have passed by Mile 90. Overall I was feeling pretty amazing and was pleasantly surprised. My long bike training was not what it should have been and I didn't have near the cycling fitness I had last season. But all was going well. The only time I stop during the bike is for a minute or so at special needs to reapply sunscreen and chamois cream and grab another gel flask. I made the quick stop and started the second loop, and that's when I began fading a bit. I also started to feel incredibly bloated and was worried about GI issues. In addition to the bloating I was nauseated so nothing sat well in my stomach. Several times after a sip of sports drink or a mouthful of gel, it came right back up after swallowing. Great. I tried not to let it get to me and powered through, forcing the nutrition down. I knew if I didn't I'd pay for it later with a miserable run. I rode nearly 30 miles like this and around the time I hit the 3 big hills on the second loop, right around Mile 90, I finally started to feel better. After that it was fantastic, thankfully.
My second loop was only slightly slower than the first and my ride back on the stick felt great. I wasn't going to meet my goal time of 7 hours and I was ok with that. I did the bike in just over 6:30 last year, but my bike training was beyond consistent then. I thought of all the training challenges and missed rides and just felt thankful to be there, finishing the bike feeling strong. I tried to file away all the experiences and moments I didn't want to forget, like the funny signs on one of the climbs - "Worst Parade Ever," and "Never Trust a Fart." The guys in speedos and ridiculous costumes who ran up the hills alongside us. Seeing my family and managing to get in a quick high five with my dad. I realized at one point early on the course that my face hurt from smiling. Even when no one was around I'd find myself smiling. I really loved this ride.