Ironman Countdown

Friday, January 23, 2015

I'm Not a Cyclist, but I Play One in Triathlon

Alright confession time:  I am not a cyclist.  Yes, I can ride a bike.  And yes, due to running and other athleticism, I can handle a bike fairly well.  But I really really really haven't a clue what I'm doing.  I am a little scared of my bike.  In fact, and to be totally honest, it is the bike portion of IMMD that makes my stomach tie in knots.

But I am looking to change this.  I need to become one with my bike.  I need to conquer my fear, bridge the gap, and embrace this leg (this super duper LONG leg) of my triathlon

Let's start at the beginning.  I did my first triathlon in 2001 on a hybrid bike.  I was not serious about the race, and really did not know much about triathlon at this point.  I was not interested in knowing more either.   In fact, at my very first triathlon, a race official was calling out, "Um, would Race # ___ please report back to transition?  You can't use a kickstand."  Yeaaaahhhhh.

Flash forward ten years, and I decided to get more involved with triathlon... and I still had only a hybrid bike.  I had done a few tri's at that point, seen what tri bikes and road bikes look like.  My sister had a gorgeous sleek road bike.   I was starting to realize I should get something, but had no idea where to start or what to do.

In 2012, I did the Dewey Beach Sprint Tri, in Delaware, with my sister.  I borrowed her husband's old road bike, thinking at least it was light and therefore faster.  And while it was easier and faster than my heavy hybrid, it was not fit for my size and I almost toppled over on the Indian Inlet Bridge with the cross winds and my lack of control.

A few short weeks after that, my sister called me out of the blue, saying she had found me a bike... it was on sale and the bike store was holding it.  We are the same height and roughly the same build, so she knew what size frame I needed.  I hightailed it down to the town where my parents are, and there she was: my first and only road bike.

Marianne, unbeknownst to me,  had consigned her old road bike as well as her husband's (the one I almost bit it on in the aforementioned tri), and put that towards the cost of my bike.  So between that and the sale, I got my very own Giant road bike.  So light, so faaaaast.  She isn't fancy, but she is all mine.  I named her Marney.  I bought my first pair of clip-in pedals and bike shoes.   I was starting to be "for real."

After I got Marney, I had decided to make the jump from Sprint distance tri to Olympic.  I registered for the Columbia Triathlon in May 2013. 

Marney, when I left her in transition overnight, so full of promise
I had a great swim, saw my sister cheering as I ran to transition, jumped on Marney and headed out.  At mile 5, I looked at my watch and saw I was going at a good clip. 

Somewhere between Mile 7 and 8, it happened.   I stood up to pedal, going up a hill and next thing I know, I was flailing, almost crashing into the bushes and trees on the side of the road.  I somehow by some unexplainable miracle, unclipped my one foot.  I landed on my right side, slamming onto the concrete and grass, but my foot was free.  I had minimal damage personally:  a nice ring scratch up the back of my calf, some road rash, and a sore shoulder from how I landed.  I looked at my bike, thinking maybe I had popped the chain.  And low and behold, an entire piece of my bike was dragging on the ground.  The rear derailleur snapped off.  A total fluke, nothing I could have prevented or even know about... but a race ender all the same.  My first Oly.  Over. 
if you look carefully, you can see my puddle of teardrops

Oh the tears.  I had to walk back two miles in the other direction, through tall grass and, I would later discover, poison ivy... all the while wiping my eyes and nose... and all the other bikers whizzing by would call out "you o.k.?"  I finally got to a place where the pick-up-crew could find me.  The poor guy gets out of the van and says "You o.k.?" And I start sobbing... SOBBING... in front of him.  He offered to take me to a liquor store, which was nice.  I had to ride around with him to pick up two others, then he brought me back to the start.  I was crushed. 

I passed by the local bike shop on my way home, so I dropped Marney off for repair, and cried all over again, explaining to the repair guy what happened. 
the race ender:  a dangling rear derailleur

And that's when my fear began.  Every time I change gears or hear a noise, I think something is wrong or my bike is broken again.  Or that I am going to crash. 

It didn't stop me from taking on other races.  I did a different Oly that summer, and I even did my Eagleman 70.3 in June 2014, with Marney.  But I hardly touch the gears... and I don't approach the bike leg like I do the run... I don't embrace it.  I don't really train for it like I should, because I had made up my mind that I was afraid.   If I rode a lot, the bike would break or I would get hurt.   I know... its totally irrational.

So once I decided to do IMMD, I knew I couldn't fake the bike leg any longer.  I had to really tackle it.  Spin class once a week on a "safe" bike with a few other trainer rides and a few long bike rides was not going to work.   Marney was sadly lurking the basement, with toys scattered around her, taking up space.  Time for action!
sad sad sad, lying on her side

My game plan?  Learn about biking.  I find bike shops intimidating because I don't know anything about bikes (which also feeds into my fear).  But I have lots of resources within my own circle of friends...

I met with my friend Michelle, who is also doing IMMD and has done IMLou and IMChoo.  She gave me a training plan book, which is amazing!  We talked about biking, how she approaches it, and how she handles nutrition, and so forth.  We talked interval training and hills... how biking on the Eastern Shore is so flat! She even fed me popcorn with chocolate, cheese and wine!  I left her house feeling excited, as we had made plans to do long rides together over the summer.

I met with my friend Jerry, who is a century (100 miles) rider and total bike guru.  He is self taught, and is so wonderful to go to for advice.  I sat in his bike studio (yes he has a bike studio in his home) and learned how to take the wheels off my bike, how to change a flat, what Zipp wheels are, what are the best "parts" to spend good money on, and so on.  He was so patient with me.  And I left his house feeling excited and soooo much calmer.  I felt a fear subsiding, because I knew how to do some simple repairs and basic care that I did not know before.

So, yesterday morning at 5:30, I had my Marney up on the trainer and rode for a little over an hour before the kids got up.    A once a week early morning trainer ride is part of my regiment to get more bike time in before Eagleman in June and IMMD in October.

early bird catches the worm!
 I am going to be getting aero-bars and a new seat.... and a "re-fit" (when the bike shop people take all your measurements and tinker with your bike til everything is at the right height and so on).  Those are my two major bike expenses for the coming year that I know I need. 

But I'm excited.  Marney and I are going to become one... so we can get through 112 miles together happily in October.


  1. That kickstand story is beautiful.
    Remember your TITS for riding -- TIME. IN. THE. SADDLE!

  2. Get some tri bars so you can get fit in that position for faster bike splits!