Monday, September 21, 2009

Ironman: The Bike

Ah, the infamous Ironman Wisconsin bike course. For a year now, I have been warned over and over about the hills of Wisconsin. And I will say again that I never questioned the difficulty of the course- I simply questioned the motives of the people who felt compelled to bring up the hills every time I mentioned Wisconsin. To summarize the Ironman Wisconsin Bike Segment: there are NO difficult sections of the course whatsoever. Yet it is a difficult course. More on that later.

Since we had to run up one spiral parking garage ramp to get into transition, we had to ride down a spiral parking garage ramp to leave. It was more dizzying than exciting. And then the first few miles of the course are, for want of a better word, annoying. There's a section along a bike/running path where you have to ride single file around hairpin turns. We had to ride in and out of parking lots and along bumpy, poorly paved roads. There MUST have been a smoother, easier way to get out of town but we sure didn't take it.

Once we DID leave town however, things started getting nice. Every corner looked like a postcard of Heartland America. Farmhouses, corn fields, a few cows here and there... it really was rather nice. And Wisconsin has a somewhat unique course layout: rather than doing two loops that bring you back to the main starting area twice, you ride out 14 miles, THEN do two 42-mile loops, then head back to town. Emotionally, it's kind of a downer to get right back where you started only to have to do everything all over again. And since the looped section is only 42 miles (rather than 56), the ride is broken up better. I really like that aspect of the course.

What I didn't like was all the turning we had to do along the way. If you read the course description, there are nearly 40 turns per loop. That means that on average you have to turn on to a new road about once every mile. That's crazy. And if you're not turning, you're either starting to climb a small hill or coasting down the other side. But at no point during the course can you get into any sort of rhythm and just ride.

We had all been advised/warned/threatened to "take it easy on the first loop, then push it on the second loop." So I spent the first half of the ride worrying "am I going TOO easy? am I not going easy enough?" The reality of Wisconsin is that the course itself isn't very difficult. The biggest hills might be a little bigger than what we do every Wednesday night in Griffith Park; they're certainly easier than the hills in the Malibu Sprint triathlon. And when you get to the 3 "longest" hills of the course, the road is lined with people holding signs and dressed up in inappropriate costumes (several speedo guys) so it's actually kind of fun. If Wisconsin was part of the Ironman 70.3 series, and was a 56-mile ride with only one loop, it would be a SPECTACULAR course.

But a funny thing happens while you are rolling up and down all of those small hills. Your energy reserves are being sucked out of you without you realizing it. The 2nd loop felt VERY different than the 1st loop. Around mile 70, a few miles before the "big" hills, I got a bad cramp in my right leg. Not excruciating, but bad. And unfortunately I couldn't remember what you're supposed to do when you get a cramp. Do you clip out and stretch it? Do you go down to a low gear and use a high cadence to work it out? I wasn't sure what to do so I just did everything. I pedaled fast and I pedaled slow and I stretched it and I kept it still. I DID remember to pop a few salt tablets, so that may have helped. But then a few miles later I got a lesser cramp in my left leg. I was a little nervous about the hills the 2nd time around but they're so short that they really weren't a big deal.

Besides the cramps, I had another problem on the bike. Somehow, I was getting a blister on my foot from pedaling. This never happened to me before. And the funny thing is that when I went in for a bike fitting, the guy told me "if you start feeling pain on the bottom of your foot, then you know that ___________." For the life of me I couldn't remember what he told me. Were my shoes too tight? Was I pedaling too hard? It got to the point that the vibrations from riding over the seams in the road was actually painful for me.

Nutrition-wise, I stuck with my Carbo-Pro and Kool-Aid mixture with gels on the hour. That seemed to work pretty well. There really was no reason for me to stop at Special Needs, but I figured I deserved a treat. That morning I packed up a Mountain Dew in some ice and a thermal bag and hoped beyond hope that it would last until I made it to the Special Needs stop. Well, it it did. The ice cubes were still solid and the Dew was super cold and it was oh-so-very-yummy. Well worth the stop.

Probably the highlight of the bike ride came right as I was finishing my first loop. Some of the pros/age-group leaders lapped me (finishing their second loop) and we met up right at an aid station. So I was riding by screaming out "Gatorade!.... Water!" right in the middle of the pros, and they were grabbing bottles right along with me. For those 10-15 seconds or so, I really felt like I was in the middle of a race. I mean, I WAS in a race, but it just felt like I was a part of "them". It was very cool.

Of course, lest anyone think that I actually was a pro, I struggled for about 60 seconds trying to stuff the new water bottle into the back pocket of my bike jersey. And then it slipped out of my hand on to the road in the middle of a race chute with hundreds of people on either side cheering. Had a race official seen me, I guess it would have been a penalty for littering but I thing I would have caused a huge accident if I stopped to retrieve it. And who knows, maybe the water bottle DID create an accident behind me; I never looked back to check.

The last 10 miles or so heading back to town were a little rough. After I crested every hill, I thought "OK, NOW it's all downhill. But there seemed to always be one more little hill to deal with. And of course, we all had to deal with the narrow bike path with the hairpin turns and the parking lots at the very end. The very last thing you have to do is climb up the spiral parking garage ramp once again.

With the cramps and the blisters and the energy-sucking rolling hills, it seemed like a difficult course at the time, and it was. But when I think back on some of our training rides, we rode worse. I said that 6:30 would be a fantastic bike time for me and I did 6:37, so it was a pretty good ride.


Blogger Brent Buckner said...

Thanks for the write-up. Struck me as a good description of riding the course (lines up well with my impressions from 2007), so I forwarded the link to another 2010 IMMoo registrant.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Jenny Davidson said...

Very valuable description!

8:08 AM  

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