As may triathletes revel this week in finishing the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens, I am once again left on the sidelines by various excuses which preclude me from partaking in the grueling challenge trumped only by a full Ironman.
I had every intention to do this year’s race seeing as work has become more flexible and I had the opportunity to train during the day, leaving nights for my young son. Yet, a less than stellar swim earlier this year in a sprint triathlon, a bike that had various issues (more on that later) and life in general kept me from training like I wished.
For the second year in a row, I had ran the 13.1 Rock n Roll Half Marathon which is steadily becoming my new favorite run. It definitely beats the Seattle Half in November. This year I PR’d by running under 2 hours over the course of 13.1 miles. That’s unheard of since the best before this was last year’s 2:10 finish.
So, with that under my belt, I was primed to take on the hills of Lake Stevens. There was just one thing left to do. Hit the bike course.
This winter I flirted with getting a triathlon bike . As I contemplate retiring from the sport as much as Brett Favre flirted with the notion in the NFL, I have been iffy on making big purchases for my triathlons. Thus, the tri bike was nixed from my tri budget. Instead, I would tune up the old "reliable" Trek road bike for "one last season." I tuned up my bike the week before this training ride and I thought I was ready to tackle the 56 miles of Lake Stevens.
As I tackled this training task alone, I wanted to make sure I had all the necessities "just in case." Nutrition. Check. Water. Check. Cell Phone. Check. Bike Pump...uh, where did it go? As I headed out on the route I realized that I may have left it right by the door. Its where I left it the night before so I don’t forget to take it with me.
Oh well, what could happen? One hour into the ride of undulating hills and the backroads of Lake Stevens, it happened. You guessed it – a flat. And my back wheel. What a mess.
After pulling over and taking off the wheel, I was able to take off the tube and reinstall a new one. I took a deep breath because I realized that I had only one CO2 cartridge. As I inflated, my worst fear came true. The tube popped. Without a bike pump or another cartridge I was stuck. Panic attack begins.
Fortunately, about 10 minutes after I freaked, some bikers from TN Multisport were riding through. I realized that they were probably prepping for the race as well. Several riders helped me out and even offered up their own CO2 cartridges. As I discovered, no one carries a hand pump anymore. I guess its not in style. As one of the riders helped me put on the tire, the second try caused it to pop again. Ugh…
Not only was my tire not inflating, but I felt like a dope in front of these much-more experienced riders. It goes to show that despite my affinity for triathlons, I was totally inept when it came to bike maintenance. Fortunately, and to the surprise of the riders there, I had a third tube for inflation. This time around, the tire inflated…sort of.
I thanked the guy that helped me out. I totally felt bad considering I probably screwed up his ride. As he left, I realized that I had to put the wheel back on the bike. After a couple more minutes struggling with that I was back on my way.
Now, not only did I face the tougher part of the ride, but I was concerned that I had no more tubes, no more cartridges and no riders with me.
Fortunately, another group of TN Multisporters were pulling up the rear of their training group and I begged to latch on with those guys. It was a good thing because another hour into the ride my last tube popped. It was incredible. In all of my training rides, I never had this many flats. Fortunately, my newfound bike brethren assisted me again. The kindness of the riders was amazing. They gave me their last spare to inflate my tire and this time it felt solid.
But, hedging my bets, I took the shortcut back to civilization instead of trying the new, hillier route. I decided to take the older route as a way to get back to my car speedier.
Ironically, on the way back, at the top of Dubuque Hill, I ran into the guy that initially helped me out. He asked again about my bike and was off.
And that was it...I decided against doing the race because of this one training disaster. It was a lesson in preparation...or lack thereof. I did not have the time to go back and re-ride the route and the race was in my head in a bad way. I could not get over the hurdle of not completing the course before actually doing the triathlon.
I have to say that despite not completing the bike course I learned about the kindness of strangers as they helped a stranded rider without basic bike maintenance skills. I paid it forward the following week when I was back on my bike (with brand new tires) and saw a rider with a flat. I helped the much more skilled rider hold his flat in place while he used a hand pump to fill up the air.
There’s always next year's Lake Stevens. I’ll start training on my bike now.