Or alternately – “Understanding the true meaning of the phrase ‘blowing hot air’”
Catch up on the Pre-race and The Swim.
The bike course was what is called a lollipop, 11 miles out of town, two 47 mile loops, then the 11 miles back into town. Most of the bike was actually in Georgia, not TN, and oh yeah, this bike is 116 miles instead of the typical 112 miles of every single other Ironman triathlon. It was a little after 9am when I started on the bike. The ride out of town and into the first loop was not too bad, I kept up a decent pace and the temperature stayed down for the first hour or two although the sun was pretty strong (I was glad for that sunscreen.) I was almost to the town of Chickamauga when the top pro men lapped me. They were flying. I didn’t feel like I was doing that bad though, cruising up the hills fairly easily and keeping a good cadence in the aero position.
About 40 to 50 miles in I noticed that my big toes were feeling crammed and the bottoms of my feet were hurting a bit. I focused as much as I could away from that pain. I made sure to eat a piece of bar and a gummy or two every 30-45 minutes, plus tried to drink a bottle of water, Skratch, or Gatorade endurance every hour. This plan seemed to really work out for me and set me up for feeling pretty fueled to start the run. Really that first lap I was only worried about how my feet were holding up. After going through the town of Chickamauga and hearing tons of cowbells and cheering from spectators, I saw Mike and my parents pulled over on a random stretch of road. It turns out that they got lost, but ended up in a decent enough spot to cheer me on, and Julie before me. The energy I got from seeing them and all the cheers of Chickamauga carried me through the rest of the lap, 58 miles, halfway through the race, but then I hit lap two.
The second lap felt like a totally different course. The headwind made it feel like I wasn’t making any forward progress whatsoever. What were nice rolling hills on the first lap now felt like oppressive waves of asphalt controlled by some ancient Greek God who didn’t want us to make any forward progress. The headwind was warm, seriously, these ancient Greek Gods were blowing warm air at us and any puffs of clouds in the sky were no where near close enough to the sun to give us any relief. My pace slowed down by almost 3 miles per hour on this second loop. The only good part of this section was that it made me forget about the pain in my toes and feet. All I could do was focus on the miles ticking off of my bike computer’s odometer.
Actually they weren’t miles, they were kilometers because I have never figured out how to get my bike computer from km to miles, but I knew that 116 miles converted to 186.6 kilometers (having to do mental math helps me keep my mind occupied so sometimes I like that I have to do conversions in my head.) Speaking of my mental state, about this time I started thinking about that town that I would eventually get to (Chickamauga,) except that I couldn’t remember the name of it. This is when I really started to focus on my hydration and nutrition, knowing that cognition is the first thing to go when heat and de-hydration gets to me.
Being over 100km meant that I could mentally start to count down instead of up, which helped my mental state. Somewhere along the way I remembered the name of the town and got out of the hot-air headwind’s stream. I also noticed that while I was struggling with the heat, others appeared to be struggling more. A lot of bikes were crowded around the aid stations – to the point of danger – and I had to take a wide berth after exchanging bottles. I just pedaled left, right, left, right, and focused on nutrition and cadence, trying not to focus on my feet, toes, and now crotch hurting. I never got off my bike, fearing that if I did, I wouldn’t want to get back on it. I finally passed through Chickamauga again and my cheering squad was there! I assumed that they wouldn’t stick around but then I heard my dad ask “Is that Lizzie?” and I just automatically responded with a yell of “yeah!” I don’t think I even got out of my aero bars!
The last 11 miles back into Chattanooga were tough. The term “pain cave” aptly applied during these miles. My feet and crotch hurt so bad that every time I went over bumps like railroad tracks (which there were three of during this stretch) I literally cried out loud. I was coaxing my bike not to get a mechanical issue while at the same time cursing her. I willed her to get to the transition while vowing not to ride her again for months. It worked. I biked right up to the dismount line, happily got off of my bike, handed her to a volunteer and leaned over to undo my shoes and rip them from my feet. I had never biked for 116 miles before this moment, I had never biked more than 60 miles without getting off of my bike before. I had never wanted a crisp, cold beer in a frosty mug more than at that moment.
Gingerly, I walked to pick up my run transition bag. A volunteer asked it I wanted water poured over my head. I nodded yes vigorously and put my shoes in one hand and my helmet in another. He wrung out a towel over my head and cool salt water coated my head, face and neck. Wait, salt water? It took a moment before the realization hit that it was fresh water, I was tasting my body’s salt that was now streaming into my eyes and mouth.
Almost to the changing tent I heard my dad shout out and ask how I was feeling, I responded “You’re not allowed to ask me that!” In the changing tent I pulled out both pairs of running shoes and put one on each foot to test which one felt better. Neither felt good, but my old Inov8’s felt better so I went with those. I put on my race belt, my Tufts Marathon Team cap, and was able to run out of the changing tent, out of transition and onto the run course.
The story continues in part 3, The Run, or alternately – “Seeing all kinds of carnage and embracing the marathon shuffle”