I ran out of transition to Todd’s cheers of “Go, MINNOW!” and up the short little hill at the start. The clopping of my bike shoes sounded like a miniature pony. Someone had warned me that a lot of people wipe out here and it might be easier to mount the bike at the top of the hill. I was glad I did. The first few miles were pretty smooth and uneventful, except that my Garmin stopped working altogether. Would the gadget girl be lost without it? Perhaps it was better not to know all the numbers anyway.
As I made the sharp turn toward Sunset, under the bridge, I played it conservative again. There was a steep little incline from there. I watched a tall, skinny guy lose his chain right in front of me in dramatic fashion, practically did an endo with his sudden stop. For the next hour, I got passed a lot – seemed like every time I shifted gears with that stalling ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk sound, someone went by me. Yes, the views of the wine country were incredible. So were the number of asses I looked at along the way. Okay, I was humbled mile after mile, like the Lantern Rouge. Yet I still felt victorious to be out there. This was way better than rehab. This was what I waited for since I signed up in January. This was going to be one of the most memorable races of my life, even if it didn’t all go according to my a, b, or c plans. And when it came right down to it, I knew I was competing with myself anyway. Could I maintain a decent pace for hours and hours? Could I keep going and complete my goal?
The first 20 miles of the race, I was still cold from the swim. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. I felt pretty good about my first loop. I made it up Chalk Hill no problem. I was excited about seeing Todd at the turn for the connection of the second lap. I looked forward to seeing him, so I was very bummed when I didn’t see him. I asked a runner the time and discovered I was a half hour off my if-worse-comes-to-worse goal time. The first 56 miles took me 4 hours. What? How could that be? I felt pretty good.
My thoughts went to ‘Where’s Todd? Calling Missing Persons already. Was he worried or just stepped away for a minute and missed me?’ The next stop was the Special Needs Bag area. It was supposed to be a mile up the road. It was a couple of miles up the road. When I arrived, there was Todd flashing pictures like a proud little league parent. I was so happy to see him. He saw how helpful the volunteers were and the next thing I knew he had them all working to help me out. One girl patiently held my bike while I waited for a port-a-potty. Another guy fished out my bag and had it ready for me. Todd snuck in a couple of kisses, shoulder rubs, and pep talks like, “Don’t forget to pour water on yourself, if you need it. And don’t worry about the time. If it takes you 10 hours, that’s fine.” I was relieved to hear him say it. And I got plenty of “Does he have a brother?” looks from the other athletes and volunteers. I wasn’t going through my nutrition as much as I planned. I was starting to feel the effects of the heat. I took a fresh bottle and left him with some half empty ones.
During the course of the next 10 miles, I saw Todd off and on. He was on his mountain bike, snapping more pictures. He was careful not to ride next to me or interfere with anyone else. At this point in the race, there weren’t a lot of riders on our end of the course. When we reconnected with mile 9 of the first loop, Todd left me.
It was just too tempting to ride those roads with the police manning all the intersections. He needed to shake his legs out after all that driving and working extra long days before we left. It was sort of a spontaneous call on his part. He didn’t have much water in his Camelbak. Most of his rides haven’t been long lately. But he’s a super strong rider. The other day he sent me this from his Garmin. A fuzzy picture that shows his max speed of 50.1 mph on a mountain bike. See? Even on his knobby tires, he’s faster than a lot of people. Not just little ol’ me in the back of the pack. He tried to be discreet as he made his way through the course and passed the aid stations. But as the saying goes “He stuck out like a pearl onion on an ice cream sundae” as he went by, getting shocked looks from people on their tri bikes. At the 40-mile mark, he admits he bonked. He gratefully took some water from the aid station. At the 50-mile mark, he stopped in a fast food joint for a chicken sandwich. He sat there feeling uneasy for the first time about me finishing the race. He knew I’d probably finish, but also realized just how challenging the course was too. During the last loop, I stopped at every aid station. I don’t know if I really needed to stop, but I wanted a break. They weren’t long stops, but I was definitely playing it safe, knowing my nutrition didn’t go as planned that day. I had to walk the last quarter mile of Chalk Hill, which surprised me. I heard an official yell, “You have an hour to make the cut-off!” I was surrounded by people doing the full Ironman that afternoon. I asked the woman next to me if she was doing the full and she looked like she was ready to cry as she said, “Yes.” It was only 12 more miles to the transition, much of it downhill. In the back of my mind I wondered, ‘Do I have a cut-off too?’ I motored (for me), topping 25 mph in places. I knew I had time. I was so happy to see the banner for the transition and then cross the Aquabike finish line. A sweet volunteer gave me a hug after she placed the finisher’s medal around my neck. Todd beamed, cheered and asked me to stay where I was for pictures. And then had me pose for some more. I laughed at the complete role reversal. That’s exactly how I act at HIS races. Ha! He handed me a cup of cold root beer that he got at the fast food joint and it the spot. Then I realized why it was so important that he got those pictures. The race photographer had left that station only a few minutes earlier to get the runners out on the course. I was one of the back-of-the-pack stragglers who he couldn’t wait for any longer. It was my first multi-sport race in two years.I finished in 10 hours and 18 minutes. It didn’t matter. I still beamed with pride that I did it. And I was grateful for the best race support along the way – the lifeguards, race volunteers, and especially Todd.