I set out to do the IM Wisconsin bike course on a hybrid not because I'm crazy but because that was the only bike I could ride.
Background: After 8 years of Olympic Distance I thought I could possibly do an Ironman. The opportunity seemed ripe when my daughter enrolled at University of Wisconsin in Madison but my training was limited due to work and family: So I trained mainly by riding 6 miles to work and swimming of a mile in the AM and then riding back in the evening. I rode one day on the weekend and kept increasing the distance.
Average total training for the year after I signed up:
4:45 per week with no weeks over 9 hours. My weekly averages were 45 miles bike, 5 miles run and 1500 yards swimming. My longest ride was 92 miles and my longest swim was 2 miles once in the pool. In addition, plantar fasciitis limited my running to 40 miles total in the last 4 months. Four weeks before the race I developed a pinched nerve in my neck with pain and numbness such that I couldn't' ride a road or tri bike so a hybrid was my only choice for the race.
I decided that I was going to do whatever I could. I figured based on my training I could do a 1:15 swim and a 15 minute transition. That would put me on the bike course by 8:30. Figuring 9 hours before the bike cutoff I had to maintain a 12.8 mph average pace. I knew I could do one loop to 56 miles and then after that I would have to see. I rented a hybrid for $15 at a LBS and gave them my pedals; a seat and a cyclometer.
The day was perfect, slightly cloudy but clear blue skies in-between with a temp in the low 70;s. I had a great swim at 1:15 and was 11th out of 65 in the 55-59 age group. After the swim I left transition on my hybrid at 8:25, still on schedule. Wisconsin has a reputation for one roller after another but I was ready with the hybrid's triple chain ring. My plan was to complete the first of two loops just so I would know the course. I would see how I was doing and decide whether to quit a the midpoint or go for a second loop.
I started out easy and didn't let the steady stream of expensive triathlon bikes moving past me influence my comfortable pace. I watched my average speed and was amazed to see 14 mph through the first set of hills. While I glanced at the speed from time to time, I mainly concentrated on the beautiful scenes that unfolded as the route wound through rolling farmland. The sun was out intermittently from behind clouds and it was just a beautiful day.
The first loop ends in a small town called Verona and my wife and daughter were there waiting. I stopped and chatted and felt fine so I started on the second loop. As I came up to mile 90, I did a quick calculation and realized I was on pace to make the bike cutoff and maybe I could even finish the race. With that in mind I was feeling relaxed as I approached the last major straight downhill before heading back to Madison. I may have been a little too relaxed because as I moved back on the seat to get more aero, my cycling shorts caught on the nose. For some reason I thought I could free them and I reached down with my right hand to pull the cloth free. At over 30 mph, even the slight turn of the front wheel was enough to crash the bike and throw me to the pavement. "Are you all right?" a rider behind me yelled. I got up quickly and realized there was no major pain, only scrapes. "I'm fine I said, I'm just worried about the bike."
I pushed the bike to the grass on the side and assessed the damage. The front wheel was misaligned so I put it between my knees to straighten the handlebars. I put the chain back on the chain rings and spun the pedals. Everything seemed OK so I went into the road to gather up my pump, my phone and my GU before pedaling off. I quickly realized I had bent the front wheel and the brake was rubbing so I had to reach down and release it to keep riding. Things were fine until I got to Verona and tried to upshift on the flat roads which immediately dropped the chain off the rear sprocket. I pulled over on the main street and positioned the chain back on the large chain ring before taking o ff again. But when I tried to change gears the rear derailleur did nothing so the chain stayed in the large chain ring. I could only manage 10 mph and I had 18 miles to go. I quickly calculated that I had two hours so that would still have me in Madison by 5:30 PM. I had two more dropped chains necessitating a stop before getting to the outskirts of Madison.
With four miles to go I became frustrated inching along. I found I could pedal like hell up to 13 mph and then coast. I did this a few times until I dropped the chain one last time between the chain ring and the wheel so the wheel seized and skidded to the left so the bike stopped suddenly. I could only clip out on the right so over I went again with my left foot clipped into the bike. I knew the chain was jammed in tight and would be tough to pull out so I was calculating whether I could make the last 4 miles on foot before the cut off. Suddenly two people were running over asking if I needed medical help. "No, I just need my bike fixed."
"We're tech support.' I couldn't believe my luck. A wonderful woman tech (my angel) came to the rescue. She quickly took the bike and pulled hard on the derailleur to fix it. I also broke two spokes, which she wrapped around their neighbor but the wheel still wobbled terribly. She released the back brake but then realized I needed something to stop. She quickly loosened the brake cable on the front calipers so they would be wide enough not to rub but would allow me to stop the bike. She reassured me that I would make it and she was right. I could now go 13 mph and I finished with 25 minutes to spare coming in second to last.
After a 19 minute transition getting the blood cleaned off my elbow and both knees, I started out on the walk. I timed my second mile at 13 minutes and I realized I could possibly finish. As I approached mile 12 I took stock. I would get to mile 13 by 8:30 (3 hours) and would have 3 hours to do the second 13. I knew it was doable but would take a lot of effort. My plantar fasciitis was stable as was my Achilles tendonitis but I wondered what a second 13 would do. This might be my best chance to finish an Ironman; maybe I should keep going. Injury had marred this race, who knew what might happen next year. I reached a decision after reviewing my goals and race plan:
Goal 1 - Swim in 1:15 - done
Goal 2 - Finish one loop of the bike course - done
Goal 3 - Have fun - done
Goal 4 - Be minimally sore the next day- so far still possible.
Thinking about it - finishing was never in my race plans. Though at this point in the race it was definitely a possibility I thought about what would be involved. I realized that I might not accomplish #3 and #4 in my goals if I went for it. It wasn't worth it.
The volunteer at the end directed me around the finish line through where the children were waiting for parents to cross the line and told me to return my chip. As I went in the exit to the finish line I had to wait as an athlete younger than me was literally dragged out by volunteers supporting him on both sides. His knees were bent and his legs were limp. He had a medal around his neck with a 13 hour finish but at what price? He felt terrible while I felt fine as I helped myself to bananas and Gatorade. I ate a good dinner that my wife had prepared as we drove back to the hotel and when we got there I was able to walk to the fourth floor carrying my bike. The next day I was able to easily walk down the stairs to breakfast where I saw other athletes limping.
The way I look at it, I don't have a finishers medal for the 140.6 but I'm the winner of the hybrid bike division of Ironman Wisconsin 127.5. I couldn't' be happier and I'll be back next year. I'm tempted to spring for the hybrid again but I'm already paid up for TriBike Tranport so I'll see what I can do on my Quintana Roo.