Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ironman Texas 2015 Race Report: The Bike

I am a fan of the Ironman Texas bike course. I like that it is one 112-mile loop. I like the course profile, which is described as "flat" but actually has enough rollers that you gain 3300+ feet of elevation throughout the course (but never feel like you're "climbing"). And I love the scenery. I've heard some call it boring, but I think it's beautiful. The babies and I drove the course with Matt before his race last year, and seeing it then helped convince me to sign up for IMTX 2015. Sometimes when I was on the trainer, I'd picture riding through that forest... It was as lovely as I'd remembered.

After you leave the town and the neighborhoods, you enter the countryside with vast green rolling hills, farmland and ranches. There's a tailwind leading you out and it'd be awfully hard to not have a whole lot of fun flying. My favorite part is the Sam Houston National Forest, when you get to ride through narrow roads with endless rows of towering trees on either side. It is dreamy. Then there's the cute old-fashioned town of Richards, and suddenly you're halfway done. After the turn at mile 65, things get a bit more rough because the winds pick up in a big way. Now you're facing some crazy crosswinds and a major headwind heading back into town -- and the slower you are, the worse it gets, because the wind picks up as the day goes on.

Miles 65-85 are considered the toughest on the course and I'd have to concur. There are some decent rollers, the wind is awful, and you're over the excitement of being halfway done but you're still so far away. On the bright side, if you look to the right or left, you're treated to more rolling green scenery and beautiful tall trees -- along with a few cows and pretty horses. It's a departure from the gorgeous-yet-barren mountain scenery I'm used to in Utah, and I thought it was lovely. Matt and I made sure to both ride on that part of the course a few days before the race, and I really think it helped us be mentally prepared for that spot on race day. It's great to hit a rough patch and be able to tell yourself: "I've done this before! And it was fun! This is no big deal."

Once you get to mile 90ish, you're back in civilization and the miles just tick away. Some people get discouraged at the rollers along Flintridge (miles 105-110ish), but they're really not bad at all. We made sure to ride that stretch before the race as well, which made it seem to fly by during the race. 

So! Now that you know the lay of the land... My 112-mile bike ride. After a much-longer-than-necessary transition, I trudged through the muddy transition area with my bike and hit the road. It was crowded and I was flying down the left side! I must've passed 100 cyclists in the first couple miles alone. Driving the course beforehand made me really comfortable in that I knew where I was, where I was going, and what to expect the entire time. I was excited to get out of the town and get to the pretty parts!

I was also horrifically nauseous and was fighting the strong urge to throw up. I'm all too familiar with that feeling thanks to two pregnancies -- the first of which was spent as a sports reporter, watching games next to a trash can and trying to hold it in until time out or halftime, and the second of which I threw up clear through 38.5 weeks when I puked all over a church member's husbands' freshly detailed work car. Good times. I was not about to spend the day stopping on the side of the road, so the few times it came up, I swallowed it back down. Gross. I knew I needed to get calories in me, though, so after about an hour I forced myself to choke down half of a Honey Stinger Waffle. The nausea got a little better as I went along, thankfully, so I eventually managed to slowly eat a Clif bar and a package of shot bloks as well. Other than that, I relied on Gatorade to fuel those six-and-a-quarter hours.

Once we were out of town, we got a bit of a tailwind to help push us along. I was averaging 20mph and it felt super easy! That pretty little rental bike of mine was flying. The bike course was still fairly crowded so I kept passing people, trying to say hi to as many as possible along the way. I was thrilled when I hit the narrow road in the forest, because my goodness, it was beautiful! I'd been waiting to ride through those trees for a long time.

The day before, when we went on an easy ride with our buddy Sam, he and Matt were riding up ahead and the song from Robin Hood came to mind: Robin Hood and Little John riding through the forest, ooh da lally, ooh da lally, golly what a day... Haha. I'd told Matt that afterward and he laughed. Naturally, as I was riding through the forest during the race, good ol' ooh da lally popped back into my head and I laughed. After the race I asked Matt if he was singing it too and he was like... "No...?" Haha! He then surmised: "I think you had more fun on that bike course than anyone else today." Success.

There was one nice young Texan who good-naturedly said "I can't get passed by a girl!" as I came up on his left around mile 35. I smiled and explained that my kids were just 5 miles ahead so I was anxious to get there! And I was. My family was going to be waiting at a certain turn in the forest, and I couldn't wait to see them for those few seconds! It made my day on the bike.

The best sights all day are all of the spectators. One might think you'd be fairly alone on a long countryside course like this, but the Texans really come out for the race. I was pleasantly surprised by how often we passed spectators cheering us on in the middle of nowhere. I tried to wave at and thank every single one. It really makes a difference! And seeing your own people? Especially your own babies? The BEST.

Eventually, the crowds of cyclists settled down and I seemed to leap frog with a few of the same people. I'd pass the boys on the way up the hill, and they'd pass me on the way down. Simple laws of physics at play. After seeing my babies, I started looking forward to "Miss Hope's place" in Richards. The nicest lady -- introduced to me as Miss Hope -- had let me use the bathroom in her under-construction business when we were driving the course a few days before, and our whole exchange that day had been full of Southern charm. I smiled as I rode past, and celebrated hitting the halfway point at about the same time. 

Special needs bags are at the aid station at mile 60, and although I didn't have one, I pulled over to refill my bottles (I'd gone through all 3 at that point) and use the restroom. There was a decent little line for the porta potties, which is sort of unfortunate when you're in a race, but I'd choose a porta potty line over what the more hard core triathletes do any day haha. After about a 5-minute pit stop, I was headed out again -- into the winds, and that rough 65-85 stretch.

The winds were relentless. I strongly preferred the headwind over the crosswinds, which wanted to blow me around like a leaf. I had to stay up on my hoods for most of that stretch to feel like I had more control. (Side note: I forgot body glide and was chafing fairly decently, too, and was therefore only in aero for maybe 60% of the time. Lesson learned.) And have you ever watched Zoolander? You know how he can't turn left? Well, I can't turn right on the bike. It's just far more comfortable and fluid for me to turn left, and any time I turn right, I take the turn much more slow and rigid than necessary. So, naturally, I was in the middle of a tight right-hand turn when a huge gust of wind came up toward the right and nearly knocked me over. 

After that near-miss, the winds just continued and I thought to myself: "It's okay, Ashley, you're fine. You just need to get through the bike and then you can run. Just get through the bike..." About a minute later, I looked down at the picture I'd taped to my handlebars of my cute babies laughing and running... And I thought, "No. You are not here to just 'get through the bike.' Have some freaking fun!!"

I snapped out of the hard and back into the happy. I'd had a blast on that first half, and I made a conscious choice to have fun through the rough parts of the back half. I started looking to my left and right, enjoying the scenery. I tried to talk to more people whenever we crossed paths. I waved at a horse when there hadn't been spectators for awhile. (It was looking at me.) I thought of what a great time I'd had riding that same stretch just days before in the rain. I kept glancing at the pictures of my babies and heard my 3-year-old's voice asking, "Mommy, are you having fun?" And the answer was yes! The winds were blowing and I was nauseous and the miles were passing by both fast and slow -- and I was having FUN!

Before long, I was at mile 90, starting to head back toward the town, and just 10 miles away from the century mark. It started to sprinkle a bit, but it seemed clear that the giant thunderstorm that had been forecasted wasn't going to happen. Hooray! And that little bit of rain felt great on a hot day.

Prior to the race, I'd told Matt I was a little worried I might get bored during that long, long ride. The thought occurred to me as I hit that century mark that I hadn't been bored once! I smiled, and I cruised through Flintridge and back toward transition. My family was there waiting for me, and I beamed back at them. The bike ride was done! Now I was just a marathon away from becoming an Ironman. It's hard to contain that kind of excitement!

Bike split: 6:12:17.  Average speed: 18.05 mph.  Moved from 2144th overall to 1309th overall, 516th female to 245th female, and 45th in age group to 21st in age group. 

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