The biggest factor that convinced me that I could attempt an Ironman was my speed and consistency on the bike. By this, I don’t mean that I am fast on the bike. By any measure, I am not fast. To finish an Ironman in the allotted time, I need to be able to ride 112 miles in 8 hours which equates to a 14 mph average. Even though I’m not fast, I had progressed in my bike endurance enough that I thought I could average at least 15 mph on Florida’s flat course, completing it in good enough shape to finish the run before the midnight cut off. I know it doesn’t seem like a lofty goal, but the truth is that I set out on this IM journey with only finishing in mind. End of story. Based on my biking from last season, I did the math and decided that I had a shot at finishing.
I started biking on the trainer in January and moved most of my rides outside in May. Even though I knew it was early in the season, I was shocked by how slow I was. Not only was I riding markedly slower than last year, I was slow enough that I was concerned about hitting the 15 mph minimum. At the end of last season, most of my rides were easily 17-18 mph, so riding 15 for the race seemed reasonable. This year, almost all of my rides were at about 15 mph. Even with months of training left to go, riding at my normal “ride only” pace for 112 miles wasn’t going to leave me a lot for the run.
The second biggest factor in deciding to train for IMFL was that I enjoy the training. Swimming is relaxing, running makes me feel good about myself, and riding a bike is just plain fun. I accepted the fact that I was a slow runner many years ago when I first started racing. It was difficult to accept, but I decided that I enjoyed it enough that it didn’t matter. While I was never fast at biking, I was average. Being an average biker felt pretty good compared to being a sub-par runner. It was never something I would brag about, but at least it was something I didn’t need to feel bad about. With my bike speeds in dumps this season, I was not only a slow runner but now I was also a slow biker. Not only did it shake my confidence about the race, but it took some of the fun away from riding. Instead of patting myself on the back after a ride, I was giving myself a little kick in the pants. Adding to the frustration of being slow is the continuing pain in my tush. After riding for an hour, my hamstring gets so tight that it feels like I’m riding with a knife sticking out of my butt. Riding fast with a knife in the butt would be a lot easier to tolerate than riding slow with a knife in the butt.
With finishing the race in time in doubt and my enjoyment on the bike diminished, maybe I had made a mistake. What the heck was I thinking in signing up for this race?
During the bike leg of the Liberty Oly two weekends ago, once again my speed was slow. I was in the first wave with the younger men and relay teams, so it wouldn’t take long for the other waves to start passing me. I braced myself for it. Riding only 15 mph meant that the majority of the men in the wave that started 3 minutes behind me would pass me and that I would see plenty of women from the wave 3 minutes behind them. I waited. Thirty minutes into the ride, I had some people pass me, but not the hordes I was expecting. During the last miles of the ride, I started realizing that the course was going to be short. Really short. Then I started noticing mile markers. Only the mile markers didn’t seem right. They were way off of what my bike computer read. Hmmm… People are supposed to be passing me but they aren’t. The course is way short according to my computer. The mile markers are way off. Even my glucose deprived brain was able to figure out that something was wrong with my bike computer.
There have been other times this season that I questioned the mileage on my bike computer. I use a Garmin 705, so every time something didn’t make sense, I just figured I was confused as to how far the route really was. After all, how can satellites be wrong? How can my bike computer, which talks to the satellite every three seconds and knows my position within three feet, be wrong?
Apparently, if you tell your Garmin 705 that your bike tire is 20% smaller than it really is, then it will calculate your speed and distance with an error of 20%. And that is what I had done. If the computer is getting information from the speed and cadence sensor on the bike, then it doesn’t use the satellite for speed and distance. It only uses the satellite for mapping. If there is no speed and cadence sensor, then it will rely on the satellite. With the right tire size, the on-board sensor gives a more accurate reading. Of course, if you are an idiot and give it the wrong information, it will screw everything up and destroy your confidence and enjoyment of the sport. While I thought I was riding at 15.5 miles during the race, I was actually riding 20% faster at 18.6 mph. Granted, 18.6 mph during a shorter race isn’t anything to brag about, but it is certainly better than 15.5.
I am, no doubt, relieved that all of my bikes this season have been faster than I had originally thought. I’m excited that the prospect of riding 15 mph for 112 miles might actually be a reachable goal. But what I have taken away from this experience is that I need to get benchmarks and expectations out of my head. There are going to be 2,000 people in this race, and almost every single one will beat me. To be honest, if every single one beats me and I finish in 16:59:59, no other participant will be happier than me. I have no idea if I’m going to get through the training and be able to start the race. The knife in my butt is voting no, but the rest of my body is still game. I made the decision to train for this race, and that is what I’m going to do until the body says it can’t. No matter what the bike computer displays, no matter how fast everyone else is going, no matter what the little voices in my head are saying. If I don’t make the cut-off, it won’t be for lack of trying.