Well, before I start I have to go back to a conversation that I had with Coach Jen a few weeks ago. We were taking about how important a light bike is, then we load it up with four heavy water bottles, and a huge bike kit “just in case”. I had NEVER had a flat during a race, but I carry two tubes, two CO2 cartridges, levers, patches, and a multitool. I decided that that all was good on a training ride, but on race day I would be “riding light & lean”. So before the Marble Falls Half, I took my big bike bag off my bike and replaced it with a little bike bag with just the minimum stuff I might need if I were to flat on a ride.
So 6 days before this half iron distance race, I participated in the 180 mile MS150 bike ride, so I was still recovering from that, and really needed to take it easy on this triathlon- which is very difficult for me.
I got out to Marble Falls on Friday afternoon: got checked in to my hotel, did packet pick-up and racked my bike, then I went out to drive the bike course with a friend of mine, Julian, who was doing the full iron distance race. Yeah, it was hilly, but no super steep hills just long gentle rollers. It would be challenging, but doable.
I went to dinner (chicken parm and pasta) with some buddies, Jill, Tiny, Kristen and Julian, at a place right next door to my hotel. After dinner I laid out my clothes and immediately went to bed and slept like a rock. So Saturday morning I was feeling pretty good. I had packed everything the day before, so all I had to do was put on my race clothes and eat a PB&J (all of which went off without a hitch. So far, so good).
Got to the race site and got decent parking, walked to transition which was a very nice uncrowded set up, and stood in line for the rest room for 10 minutes. When that line didn’t move, I spied a port-o-john (difficulty- I had already set up my shoes and socks and once again forgot my Crocs so I was barefoot). I decided to take a chance and got in the port-o-john line. That line of only two people was also not moving. Then a very nice British lady walked by and said (you’ll have to do you own accent for this one) “There are bathrooms inside. They are perfectly lovely and there is no line!” So I headed inside figuring a “perfectly lovely” bathroom would be much less likely to give me a dreaded foot disease. The bathrooms were very nice and there was no line. Score!
And extra bonus was that I was inside (as it had started a hard drizzle outside). So I was able to sit in a chair, in the dry, and get my wetsuit on. Very nice.
I was a little nervous about the swim, as I had only swam 4 times since my big race in early November and three of those times was in a pool, and the one open water swim was (a) without a wetsuit (b) during Splash & Dash and (c) a disaster.
The water was reportedly 65 degrees, which is pretty cold for you non-swimmers. I don’t own a wetsuit with sleeves, I have a sleeveless wetsuit for warmer swims because I live in Texas where 90% of the time the water is over 85 degrees. So I was a bit anxious about that, but when I got in the water it was fine! (It was also very close to shore and deceptively warm). I waded in up to my waist, then dove under. Waah! Yeah. It was cold, but it was bearable and it was only 2 minutes to start.
All racers would start together in one big wave of about 500 people (100 iron, 400 half iron).
After the sounding horn went off to signify the start it became evident almost immediately that a lot of folks were not experienced open water swimmers. One guy was swimming perpendicular to everyone else and seemed oblivious as to why he was swimming into so many people. There was a lot of flailing, stopping, and upright heads bobbing around. I was able to get around a lot of the fracas, but also was taking it easy. I would draft off folks until I was close enough to pass, and eventually I found a guy with a great pace (I wasn’t killing myself to stay with him, but I wasn’t swimming up on him and he seemed to be swimming straight). I was still trying to work out my race strategy in my head so I had lots to think about which also made the swim go by fast.
As I ran out of the water, I said to myself “Just let it be under 45 minutes” and when I looked at my watch it was just over 36 minutes. Yay! I guess there is some benefit to drafting in a wetsuit!
I ran up the hill to the wetsuit stripper and a guy yelled “Get on your back if you want it!” (O_o ) I had my wetsuit pulled down to my hips and flopped down on my butt and he pulled it off the rest of the way.
I got into transition, where they actually had a little stool to sit on for each athlete, and I donned my socks and shoes, helmet and sunglasses, grabbed my bike and was off.
I will admit that my legs were very tired from the MS150 and I was actually having a hard time staying down in my aerobars because my quad would hurt, so I was trying to take it easy, but hating being passed. The course is challenging with a long hill right out of the shoot before you have time to warm your legs up. It was mostly uphill the way out, but that means mostly down hill on the way back, so it would be cool.
I did notice within the first few miles, a few cyclists with flat tires. I chalked it up to the wet roads from the earlier morning rain, which does make your tires tend to pick up more road crap.
I felt ok and was moving at what I assumed was a reasonable speed although my bike computer battery died during the MS150 and I opted not to replace it for Marble Falls figuring this would allow me to go easier without freaking out. I have no idea how fast I was going.
At about mile 10 or 12, I passed Kristen who was taking pictures, so I made sure to pose like I was going fast. 🙂 But there sure were a lot of riders getting flats. I wondered if someone hadn’t thrown tacks on the ground or something.
Then a few minutes later, my ride started to feel really rough. Oh no, do I have a flat? Well, yup. Why is it always the rear? I pulled over, got off, got my tube, levers and CO2 out, than spun my wheels into a lower gear to make the tire removal easier. I had drunk enough from my aerobottle so that I didn’t have to dump a bottle of Gatorade when I laid my bike down. I actually thought, “This is good. This will make me slow down and chill out since I’ll be losing a bunch of time anyway.”
I took the tire off the rim, pulled the tube, then removed my valve extenders (which are two inches long) because I have deep race wheels, deeper on the back then the front (a 404 in the front, 808 in the back, for those of you who know what that means). I inflated the new tube enough to hold its shape, screwed the extender on the valve and inserted it into the wheel, tucked the tube into the tire, then put the tire back on the rim.
I went to blow it up with the CO2, but wait, where is the valve? Did I not make sure it went in straight? Duh! I removed the tire from the rim, then went to reinsert the valve. Uh, it is inserted right. I could just barely make out the edge of the valve even with the rim of my wheel. Apparently, the valves were too short for my wheels even with the extenders. Oh, and I was racing lean, so that was the ONLY tube I had!
I remember that I saw Kristen taking pictures just a few miles back so I called her, but apparently she was, well, taking pictures. So I left a message: Kristen, it’s Red. I’m about 2-3 miles passed where I saw you and I have a flat but no tube. If you have a tube somewhere in your car, it will probably be illegal* but I would really appreciate it if you could bring it to me when you have a chance.
*it’s illegal to accept help from anyone in a tri but an official SAG (Support And Gear) vehicle or another athlete who is doing the tri. But for all the flats I saw, I never saw any SAG vehicles and I had heard they were short on volunteers and, well, I guess I’m a cheater**, too.
Then I took a few pictures of my flat because I really couldn’t do anything else.
About 10 minutes later, here comes Kristen to save my race. She tells me that she happens to have one tube in her car. As I change the tire again, Kristen sets up to take some pictures of other riders (and a few of me changing my tire).
I change my tire, air it up, thank Kristen, and I’m off! . . . Not so fast. What the hell, the tire is flat again!?! I checked the tire thoroughly to make sure whatever gave me the first flat was not still in there and found nothing, but here this tire is flat and I’m out of CO2 cartridges. Kristen mentions that she found some CO2 on the road, but not only did she find CO2, there was also a can of bicycle fix a flat. I commented that this is what the pros use to fix a puncture (no tire changing for the pros who have to time to lose) so I use that. Also between the two of us we have no more tubes and I “leaned” down my patch kit, so it was in my truck parked at the transition site.
** Ultimately, Kristen became a volunteer SAG vehicle after she helped me because so many athletes were having trouble with flats and she took 3 of them back in, so I technically didn’t cheat. Yay!
I was off again as the tire seemed to be holding. I got about three miles and to the bottom of a long hill before my tire went flat again. [Sad trombone]. I called Kristen to let her know I was stuck, but I knew the only help she could give me was a lift at this point. I took some pix of flat #2, updated my Facebook status, called my husband and another friend, read War & Peace, wrote a sequel… while waiting for a SAG vehicle.
After I had been stuck for over an hour between flat #1 and flat #2. a SAG vehicle pulled up, but he was not bike maintenance who would have the stuff to fix a flat. He could call for bike maintenance which would take even more time, but at this point, not 15 miles in to the bike ride, I was done. I asked him for a ride in. And that was the end of my race.
After cheering my buddies in, having a few beers, eating something, and watching the age group award ceremony (Julie and Jen won! Yay!), I packed it in and headed home. My first DNF (did not finish). But, I’m ok. It was a training race, I was still recovering, and I learned something about racing lean (that I will never do it again).
Post Script: When I got home and pulled the tube, ready to go over my tire with a magnifying glass, I did find a hole. But it was in the side of the tube right next to the valve – a place very unlikely to get a puncture, and there was nothing in my tire in that location (I still have yet to find anything in the tire) and Kristen said (and I believe) that it was a brand new tube. [shrugs]
You will notice the title indicates that he race was short, not the report because if you thought the report would be short, well, you shoulda known better 😉