The Calm before the storm

What a weekend!  Some people refer to the days leading up to a big race as the “calm before the storm” and enjoy tapering workouts, spending time relaxing, checking over equipment, and going over race strategy.  From the moment I stepped into the airport in Philadelphia, however, the winds of my storm began to pick up.

I normally wouldn’t say anything about “pre-race jitters;” however, the series of events leading up to Sunday morning are definitely worth mentioning.  After paying an extra $200 baggage fee in Philly for the bike, I was led into a back hallway and down a staircase where I was told to wait with a group of people to board a bus that would take us to our terminal (the regular one was under renovation).  The flight itself was relatively unremarkable, and after landing in Greenville, SC, I made my way over to the baggage claim where I was hoping my bike would be waiting for me…  I grabbed my duffel quickly, but waited with anticipation for the Thule box to come rolling in.  Once the luggage carousel stopped, my heart started pounding in my chest.  Where was my bike?

As I turned to walk to the USAir counter, I saw a guy wheeling the box over to the baggage claim and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I grabbed my bags and headed over to where my parents would be landing…I mean…SHOULD have been landing.  I found out that my parents’ flight from Ft. Lauderdale had to turn around due to some technical issues on the plane, so they were just becoming airborne (again) as I landed.  Finally, over an hour later, my parents greeted me in the airport and we headed over to get the rental car.

When my dad was making the reservation a few months back, he asked me how big of a car we would need in order to transport the bike.  I told him that a small SUV should do the trick… so I wasn’t surprised when there was a Toyota Corolla reserved under the name “Goldstein!”  After I vetoed the suggestion that we strap the bike to the hood of the car, we upgraded to a Kia Sorrento and headed out towards Anderson.  The 30-minute drive from Grenville to Anderson was nice and we were pleasantly surprised to see that the hotel room was clean and ready when we arrived.  After grabbing a bite to eat at FATZ café across from the hotel, I decided to tackle my workout. 

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I took the frame and parts out of the box and began the task of “un-bubblewrapping” and building up the bike. To my surprise, almost everything went smoothly.  The pedals and aerobars were easy to put on and after getting the wheels on the bike, I grabbed the saddle and seat post and attempted to slide them into place.  After fiddling around with it for a few minutes, I decided to just bring the bike to the expo and have the mechanics there slide the seat post in place and make sure I put everything together correctly.  This is where the story gets interesting…

I took my bike over to the mechanic tent following packet pickup.  After a few minutes of messing with the wedge, the mechanic (Gary) called over 2 other guys to look at the seat tube and wedge to see if they could figure out how to fix it.  The problem was this: The wedge bolt was screwed into the bottom part of the wedge but the part of the wedge with no threading was missing.  After flipping the frame we were able to recover the wedge piece but were unable to ascertain how it separated from the bolt without breaking in the first place.  Either way, the big problem was that the bolt was stripped into the lower threaded wedge part and no matter what we did, we could not re-engage the bolt in order to remove it.

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Gary called over to his shop (3 CROSS TRI) and told another mechanic (Mike) that I would be stopping in to see if the bolt could be removed.  It was about 6 pm when I got to the shop and it only took a few minutes for Mike to figure out that removing the bolt was not going to be a simple or swift procedure.  Following a short conversation with Richie (my mechanic in Philly) it was clear that I had only 1 choice if I was planning to race on Sunday: the bolt would have to be carefully cut out and a makeshift wedge would have to be installed that could keep the seat post in place until after the race.  I left the bike at the shop overnight and had to wait until the expo opened the next morning to find out if I would be able to ride.

After a great open water swim practice in the morning, my parents and I headed over to the expo to check on the bike.  After nearly 3 hours of drilling and building, Mike and Gary were able to come up with a wedge system that worked like a charm!  Yes!  We loaded the bike into the car and headed out to rack it at T1. Finally, I could relax and check up on the Kona festivities!

The storm

Race morning is always an adventure.  To my surprise, my parents were excited to be awake at 4 am and helped me get everything packed into the car.  As we drove over to T2, I explained to them what was going to happen over the next few hours and where they would be able to see the most action.  They stood outside transition, watched as I set up my area, and walked me over to the shuttle that ran back and forth between T1 and T2.

When I got to T1 it was still dark outside. The race director was getting us psyched up and sending out words of wisdom as we set up our areas.  I had looked over the bike map a number of times and knew it was going to be a very challenging course for me.  Just as I was making sure my bike was in the right gear to tackle the impending 6 mile-long climb out of transition, the director belted out, “For all of you self-proclaimed cyclists out there, I don’t care if you were named King of the Mountains in the Tour de France this year, make sure you are in the small ring when you come out of transition!”  As I grabbed my wetsuit, I heard my dad calling my name.  They had survived the shuttle ride and were excited to head over to the water with me for swim start!  The water temperature was a perfect 76oF and for the first time (to my surprise) I wasn’t nervous!  I was in wave #3 and before I knew it the race director was calling us over to the beach.  “One minute!” I turned to my parents (who were waiting with the other spectators on the shore) and waved one last time.  And then the horn went off!  I took a deep breath, blew a kiss to the sky, and ran into the water.

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As I jumped into the water, it started to happen.  It has happened in every race I’ve ever done and I have no idea how to prevent it.  All of the sudden my throat started to close and I couldn’t breathe.  I turned on my back for a few seconds to catch my breath and then started to sidestroke for about 200m until I could gain my composure.  Finally, about 250m into the swim, I started to freestyle.  After I rounded the second buoy, I started to feel really comfortable. I tried to concentrate on what I learned in FINS (correct head position, kick beat patterns, gliding, pulling) and, for the first time in a race, I started to alternate side breathe!  There were no guide buoys and when I finally picked my head up to sight, I realized that I was about 50m away from everyone and had to swim back into the pack.  After a few minutes though, I noticed that I was passing a few yellow caps!  I felt great and as I rounded the last turn buoy, I could see the beach and the spectators.  I started to kick a bit harder, and before I knew it I was running out of the water. My parents were right there cheering me on and followed me all the way to T1!

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Swim Highlights:

  • First time alternate side breathing during a race
  • NOT the last person out of the water in my wave (YES!)
  • 9 minutes faster than my swim at Eagleman

Transition was quick!  I got the wetsuit off, stuffed it into the “Swim to Bike” bag, grabbed my bike, and ran to the mount line.  I told my parents it should take me around 3½ hours to complete the course…as long as my saddle stayed up!

The initial climb out of transition was no joke.  I started out in the small ring and stayed there for the first few miles.  The course was quite congested in the beginning because the Olympic and Half athletes shared the road for the first 12 miles, but once we were through the 1st aid station at mile 15, it was a beautiful ride!  The course weaved through the South Carolina back country and the scenery was absolutely beautiful.  There were cows mooing, horses grazing, and dogs barking!  Most of the roads were traffic-free; however, they were not closed to traffic and when cars did drive by, they were going incredibly fast.  There were (unfortunately) many dead skunks and raccoons lining the sides of the road and if you started to doze off in aero for too long, you’d probably hit one!  There were also a ton of pine needles scattered across the course and a good amount of cyclists ended up with flats!  I had to pull over at about mile 30 because I was starting to get a migraine from the rattling of the Tourhans bottle.  I will remember to really tighten that thing down during my next race!  The only disaster I came across over the 56-mile ride was at mile 40.  Everyone had to slow down because there were 2 ambulances blocking the road.  A cyclist had hit a deep pothole and was thrown from his bike.  He looked pretty bad and a bunch of us stopped and offered to help.  At this point I was pretty exhausted so I was more than happy to lend a hand!  The last few miles of the ride were really tough.  The map showed that there was going to be a steep climb at mile 54, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still a challenge.  There were a few athletes climbing the last hill together and we all laughed and chimed in when one of the guys yelled out, “F-U South Carolina and your F-ing hills!!!”  It really was one hell of a ride.  Finally, I pulled up to the dismount line and headed into transition.  The best part about this race was definitely the finish.  After racking my bike, I put my sneakers and race belt on and headed out to run through the chute!  I ran across the finish line and heard my name called out!

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Bike Highlights:

  • This was the hardest course I’ve ever ridden.  It was also the first “hilly” course I’ve raced and it was definitely a challenge.  My goal was to complete it in under 3½ hours and my official time (with stopping for the ambulance) was 3:28:32.
  • At Eagleman (flat course) I used my inhaler 3 times.  During this race, I only used it once!  I am definitely a stronger rider than I was in June and my hemoglobin is happier!

Although my splits weren’t fantastic, I was excited and proud that I had finished the race. I placed 2nd in my age group, which earned me a spot on the podium!  My first full year of racing was complete.  Now, all I need is a TriBy3 kit that fits!