“Sue, I’ve got to tell you something,” I said in a serious voice. We were standing in waist-deep water on the Lake Erie shoreline, a quarter of the way through our one-mile swim. “My half Ironman is next weekend and for the first time ever, I’m not scared about the swim.”
“That’s great!” Sue responded enthuastically.
“But I’m terrified of the bike,” I said. “My world has gone completely upside-down!”
“You don’t have to be worried about any of it,” Sue said with a wave of her hand that was dismissive in an oddly supportive way. “Ready? Let’s go.”
We ticked off the mile swim — my first swim in open water since the Musselman triathlon weekend in Geneva in July. It amazed me how easily I picked up my breathing and sighting in the open water. And it amazed me that as I was going through the time cutoffs, I had no worries about the swim. But I’ve become deeply concerned about the bike.
For those who haven’t been with me for my entire endurance athlete experiment, a bit of background. I learned to swim in order to do my first triathlon. In that first triathlon, I spent most of my time floating around the buoys on my back and had the dubious distinction of being the last swimmer out of the water. My swimming has vastly improved. I’m more comfortable in the water. I can swim forever. But I still can’t swim very fast. I’m still one of the last swimmers out of the water. But I’ve always been able to catch back up to the pack on my bike.
I love my bike. I am not a material girl but there are two possessions for which you must have expressed written permission from Major League Baseball in order to touch — my laptop and my road bike. Neither are anything particularly special other than they fact they are extensions of my being. Without them, I struggle to exist and fall into a deep pit of Law and Order reruns.
My bike, a Specialized Allez, has taken me through every single triathlon — from my first summer of sprints to my half Ironmen distances and through my Ironman in Montreal two years ago. It’s been over the Ironman course at Lake Placid many, many times. It’s taken trips all over the East Coast and was packaged up and went with me to Italy where we rode together through Tuscany, learning how to properly gear while facing our fear of going down steep hills on narrow, winding-roads with two-way traffic. If I could climb those countryside hills in the rain and learn to corner where the Tour de France peleton trains, well then, I could do anything on my bike.
But then I rode the Pain in the Alleganies bike course. And it is a doozy. No part of the course is flat. Not one section. You are either climbing, very long, very gradual, very tiring hills, or you are descending quickly, sometimes blindly, and on not the best pavement in the free world. The training ride scared the crap out of me and I’ve spent the last two months training on hills as much as I possibly could. I’ve worked yoga poses to work on my leg and core strength and I’ve practiced my nutrition on the bike to the point where I can not wait until Strawberry Fig Newtons and Carbo Pro with NUUN tables are no longer part of my weekly diet.
I’ve put in the work, but when I break it down, I’m still nervous. The bike cutoff is tight, particularly if I have my normal, average, slow-paced but adequate swim. The course is hard. Then again, that’s one of the reasons I picked this race — because it was hard. Because I knew I’d have to up my game just a bit. Because I knew by this point, after two grueling races in the spring and summer, I would be at the end of my rope both physically and mentally. If I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, this was one certain way to do it.
I’m still nervous about the bike. But something tells me that being nervous might just be a good thing.