At this point, I have finished the brutal swim, and am about to mount my bike and see what happens. My biggest worry going into the race was whether or not I would make the second bike cutoff at 5:30pm, so that was really the only thing running through my head at this point. Just get in by 5:30.
I crossed the mount line with a big pack of riders, clipped in, and headed down the first downhill of the bike course. We rode out of the Olympic oval and down the ramp that goes up to the high school. Then it was a few blocks of fairly steep downhill, until you turn onto the main road to begin the ride out of town. So far, I was hanging with the pack much better than I anticipated. My swim had been a bit slower than I had hoped for, but overall, it was still a fairly average time, so there were plenty of people around me.
I had turned my garmin on when I got my bike, but it took a while for it to find satellites (about 3.5 miles or so). The ride out of town and past the ski jumps was pretty uneventful – mostly just a chance to warm up and find my bike legs after swimming for a while. Right after I passed the ski jumps, I flew down a nice little hill, over the bridge, and began the climb up to the top of the Keene Descent.
The climb out of town is a bit rough, but I’ve found it’s been getting easier the more I ride the course. I put my bike in the easiest gear, and just chugged away, one hill at a time. Many people passed me like I was standing still, but I also passed a fair number of people too, so that was nice.
At the first aid station, I had nearly exhausted one of my water bottles, and decided to chuck it and get a new one. At B2B, I got off the bike at each aid station so I could fill my bottles, but this time I didn’t want to go racking up precious minutes that I might need later. So I went for it. Coming into the aid station, they had actual goals for us to throw bottles and trash into (some had giant bullseyes). I chucked my bottle (they’re cheap), made eye contact with a volunteer holding water, slowed a bit, and held out my hand. He jogged along with me for a second while we did the handoff, and then I was on my way. Beautiful!
Nearly to the top of the climb, I passed the house of one of my students. She wasn’t out yet (still asleep – college kids!), but her parents were. We said some quick hellos as I rode past, almost done with the first big climb.
It’s always a great feeling to get to the top of that climb, because you know the Keene Descent is next. I crested the top, switched to a higher gear, and began my first descent into Keene.
Another benefit I’ve gotten from riding the course often is that I feel very comfortable on this descent now. Because of that, I flew down the entire thing, passing tons of people (who – even as I was flying past them – I knew would be passing me again very, very soon). I hit 42 mph at one point – not my fastest ever (49 mph), but a good speed. And I’ll take all the speed I can get on this downhill. I need it to balance out my slowness on the uphills.
Coming off the descent and into the turn at Keene, there was a decent crowd cheering. I made the turn onto Route 9, and headed off to Upper Jay.
Around now, I was starting to get hungry. Following my century ride bonking debacle, I had decided to commit race sin #1. I changed my bike nutrition for race day. I stayed with the Clif Shot drink mix for the bulk of my calories – it seems to sit decently with my stomach. But I can’t eat Gu gels anymore, and Gu Chomps, while I love them, don’t seem to work for me on the bike like they do on a run. I decided I needed more “real” food – less straight up sugar. So I had stuffed a few peanut butter and honey Uncrustables in my jersey pocket. I was taking a gamble here, but I figured it couldn’t be worse than my horrific bonk on my “century” a couple weeks earlier.
On the flat to Upper Jay, I decided it was time to bust into my first Uncrustable. It was delicious. So far, I was happy with my decision to bring those along. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would remain happy with that decision as the day went on.
I stayed in aero most of the time I was on the flats, and it felt pretty good. I’ve gotten to the point that it’s actually fairly comfortable, and bothers me a lot less than it used to. Many of us were riding at similar paces through here, and we chatted back and forth for a while. We cruised through Upper Jay, and made the turn to follow the river out to Jay and Ausable Forks. This section of the bike course is a nice reprieve from the big climbs, but it can be deceiving. There are plenty of rollers and false flats along the way. I still seemed to be in with the pack – maybe towards the back of it, but I was holding on better than I expected.
I rode out to Ausable Forks, made the turnaround, and headed back to Jay.
The ride back to Jay wasn’t bad. One thing I always do when I’m coming back from a turnaround is scope out how many people are behind me. There still seemed to be quite a few. I was clearly not in the middle of the pack, but I was still doing alright.
By now I had gotten into a rhythm with the aid stations. I wasn’t going to stop and get off my bike until the second loop. So for now, my system was:
- See aid station coming up
- Chug as much of whatever is left in my throwaway water bottle as I can before hitting the aid station
- Bottle exchange at aid station and be on my way
Coming into Jay, you can’t help but think ahead to the huge climb ahead. The last 20 miles of the bike loop are mostly uphill, and it’s a long slog to get back to Lake Placid.
I rode into Jay, and made the turn onto Route 86 to start the long climb.
This was one of those points that I was so thankful I had been riding the course. I knew that I could do it. If I hadn’t had that experience, I honestly don’t know how I would have done on race day. But I just put my bike in the easiest gear, and plugged away at it a little at a time.
The best spectator in the climb from Jay to Wilmington was a guy sitting on a 4 wheeler at the end of his driveway. Next to him was a cooler and a sign that said ”free beer.” Spectators were pretty spaced out here, but the ones who were out there were very enthusiastic.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity of slogging away, I finished the final climb (of this section) and cruised down the small downhill into Wilmington. At the bottom of the hill, I made the hard right onto Haselton Road for the short out-and-back. The aid station here was hopping, with tons of volunteers, a loud DJ, and many spectators. Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround (it’s only one mile down the road), and heading back towards the aid station and Route 86.
At the end of Haselton, I turned right to get back onto 86 and finish the long climb from Wilmington to Lake Placid. A few hundred yards down the road, 86 hangs a left, and then you’re on your way to Whiteface, and beyond that, Lake Placid.
For me, the worst climb of the entire course is the one just past the driveway to Whiteface Ski Resort. It’s a category 5, and it’s just steep as hell. I feel like I’m dying. What made this hill bearable this time was the spectators at the top. There was a group of 20-somethings at the top with signs like “Honey badger don’t care.” and “Wheelies are aero” (also yelling for us to do wheelies – which some people did), and “We’re drunk.” One of them was also holding a sign in front of himself that said ”I’m not wearing pants.” They were great. I was looking forward to seeing them again on loop 2.
After several painful minutes, I made it to the top, and began the long section of rollers that goes past High Falls Gorge (beautiful!), and along the river. At this point, I really didn’t feel terrible. Heck, aside from the searing pain in my crotch from the stupid bike seat, I would go so far as to say I actually felt pretty good!
I finished the section of rollers, and passed River Road. For me, passing River Road is the sign that I’m pretty much done with the loop. All that’s left after that is a few climbs known as The Cherries and The Bears (Mama, Baby, and Papa), and you’re in town.
Climbing the Bears was pretty fun. Somebody had re-marked them, which was nice. When I got to the top of Mama/Baby (Baby is really just a tiny bump on the top of Mama), and looked ahead to Papa, the crowd looked awesome. I had heard that spectators lined Papa and made you feel like you were in the Tour de France, and I had been looking forward to it.
I got to the bottom of Papa, and was joined by a cheering spectator who ran alongside me with a big flag just like the nutters at the Tour de France. It was great. I loved that guy.
At the top of Papa, I made the right onto Northwoods Road, and the FINAL section of uphills. At the top of the second hill on Northwoods, I knew I had a nice ride into town, and I enjoyed every second of it. The crowds were thick and loud, and it was a great feeling to have the loop done.
Now I just had to go back out and do it all over again. And then run a marathon after.
I came into town and made a quick stop at the bike special needs station to get my bag. This was the first time my feet had hit the pavement since I started the bike course 4 hours ago, and it felt great. I decided there was nothing I needed from my bag, so I got back on my bike, got a push start from a volunteer (those guys are amazing), and rode through town.
I was feeling really great riding into the center of town and past the Olympic oval. Then it was time to ride back down the bus ramp, and out for loop #2. By now, it was a little after 12:00, and when I was riding out of town to start my second bike loop, I passed people already running. Granted, they were the pro men, but still! Gah! (Related to that – how cool is it that in this sport, I can be three feet from the pro men? Little nobody me. It’s awesome!)
Riding back out of town, I passed my support crew camped outside our hotel and cheering. I had an empty clif shot bottle that I didn’t want to lose, so I tossed it to them and took the other one out of my jersey pocket to use next.
The second loop went much like the first: Chug chug chug up the climb to the top of the Keene Descent, fly down the Keene Descent, try to hold my speed on the flats from Keene to Ausable Forks, and then start busting my butt on the climb back to Lake Placid.
At this point, my lady parts were on FIRE from the saddle. I started stopping every other aid station or so to re-lube, which provided some temporary relief. Other than that, I felt great. But no matter how I sat – aero or not – I was in pain. Oh well. It would be over soon.
The single biggest thought going through my head during the bike was that 5:30 cutoff. I really didn’t know if I would make it, and I was seriously worried. I kept trying to do race math (calculating paces, and what’s the slowest you can go to make it in time), but when I get that deep into a long course race, I don’t trust my math. It seemed like I could make it in time, as long as I kept going the way I was.
Eventually, I made it into Wilmington for the second time. I finished the out-and-back on Haselton Road and then turned back onto 86 to finish the long climb back to town. Just before making the left to start riding out to Whiteface, I heard a loud “pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff” coming from my front tire.
“Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!!!!!!!! NOT NOW!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
Yeah, I believe that’s verbatim.
I pulled over and inspected my front tire. Sure enough, there was a hole. I could see it. I had a flat. AGAIN. SHIT. By now, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and this just pushed me over the edge. I had already been worried about cutting it close with the cutoff, and now I had a FUCKING FLAT. I was sitting on the side of the road, pulling my front wheel off, swearing and muttering (not so quietly) to myself, and crying just a little.
As required by race karma, everybody that rode by checked on me and asked if I needed anything. I was just trying to change my flat as fast as I could.
A really sweet and well-intentioned volunteer came across the road to check on me. I didn’t need any help (changing a flat is kind of a one person job), but he stood there and kept me company for the few minutes I was working. I vented to him a bit about being worried about making the cutoff, especially now, and then he said the ONE thing no one in this situation wants to hear.
“Andy Potts finished about two minutes ago.”
I wanted to punch him.
“My son is racing today too. He’s out on the run course and he’s halfway done.”
SERIOUSLY???? Are you shitting me right now? ARE YOU REALLY TELLING ME ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SO GODDAMN FAR AHEAD OF ME WHILE I AM SITTING HERE FREAKING OUT ABOUT EVEN MAKING THE STUPID BIKE CUTOFF????
I know he was just being a proud dad and meant well, so I didn’t actually say anything except “Nice!” and “Mmmhmmmm.” but MAN, I wanted to throat punch that guy.
After a few minutes, I got my tire changed and back on my bike. The flat had taken quite an emotional toll though, and I was NOT HAPPY. I rode off toward Whiteface and started the long climb back into Lake Placid, all the while thinking “Screw this. What if I just give myself another flat on purpose and then I can be done?”
I busted my butt hard to get back to town in time, but I was also resigned to the fact that the flat may have ruined it. Once I passed River Road and only had the last bit of climb into town, I started to realize that not only was I going to make the bike cutoff, I was going to beat my anticipated bike time by quite a bit. Wouldn’t you know it, my mood started to improve. Go figure.
When I got to the bottom of Papa Bear, the crowds were still there, but had thinned – I was clearly slipping further towards the back of the pack. There were a couple young-ish guys at the bottom of the hill, who I pointed to and told them that I needed them to run to the top with me. And they did. They were awesome.
I hit the top of Papa, turned onto Northwoods, and felt like I was home free. I started cheering to myself, and telling spectators and volunteers that I loved them (I seem to do this at the end of long bike legs). I mashed my way up to the top of the very last uphill on Northwoods Road, fist pumped, and then started pedaling as hard as I could to get to the oval and T2.
Turning on to Mirror Lake Drive, I rode alongside part of the run course, which was already full of people on the run leg. The road was jam packed with spectators, and I positively flew through town and into T2. The bike cutoff was 5:30pm. It was around 4:30pm. I was so thrilled with making the bike cutoff that I felt like I could run to the moon if I needed to.
Bike time: 8:15:38 (Anticipated bike time: 8:45 – beat it by 30 minutes! AND I got a flat!)
T2 (Bike to Run)
I crossed the dismount line and handed my bike off to a volunteer. I was directed around the outside of the oval towards my gear bag. I popped off my shoes and tried to jog for a second, but that didn’t last long. Instead, I walked to my gear bag, grabbed it, and went into the changing tent. I was met by a fabulous volunteer, who opened my bag, organized all my clothes and gear, packed up everything I took off, and helped me change into my run clothes. She was awesome.
I took a few last swigs of leftover bike water, changed my garmin over to “run,” and headed out of the changing tent to start the run.
T2: 7:44 (slow, but hey, I made it!)
To be continued…