Yesterday over lunch, a friend and a natural runner, asked if I had a mantra during the marathon to help carry me through. I did not. Upon reflection, there were a couple of things that came to mind during the bike ride and one of them was the simple observation, admonition even, to “love the work.”
To love the work is not the same as to have fun, to enjoy oneself, or even to be happy. These things are derivative and therefore inferior to love — even love for the work. Poets and philosophers have tackled love, and you won’t find the answers here, but I can tell you that love is bigger, more grand and comprehensive, and beautiful than a hard bike ride. This is no small achievement; a hard bike ride is a lovely thing.
Love is not consuming, it fulfills. Love is not for thought and analysis; it is lived. Love is not measured in watts, calories, cadence, miles, or elevation; it touches and forever changes hearts.
As I rode on the first serious rolling hills of the Ironman Lake Placid bike course and approached Wilmington, I heard my inner voice: “Love the Work.” It may have been the ethereal beauty of a bagpiper’s music from earlier in the ride echoing through my mind. I’ll come back to her in a bit.
The Course, Nutrition & Splits
The 56 mile looped course offers a bit of everything. Out of transition, there are a handful of technical, 90 degree turns that are taken with speed because the Olympic Oval sits on a hill. Out of town, there are about ten miles of rolling hills that lead to a screaming descent to Keene. There are gentle inclines and false flats for an hour of riding through Jay, Upper Jay and out and back to the village of Ausable Forks. Real rolling hills begin within meters of making the turn toward Wilmington and if you are not in the small chain ring with all of your food put away, it is important to get that way in a hurry. After another short, flat, fast and noisy out and back on Haselton Road outside of Wilmington, the climbing begins. I’m told there are five named hills back to Lake Placid: Little Cherry, Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear. I’m told they stair-step and there is either a flat or a slight decline before each of the next hills. My experience was of a 12 mile climb into the wind. It was not too hard, but it was relentless and required focus to anticipate the correct gearing.
My nutrition plan was to take something every 30 minutes. On the bottom of the hour, half a Powerbar. On the top of the hour, a Gu gel. Every hour take one bottle of Perform except the first hour where I drank 20 ounces of liquid Powerbar. At the top of every hour, alternate one Enduralyte salt tablet and one Advil or chew one GasX tablet to prevent bloating on the run from all the gels. I also took water as needed to drink and to douse my head and back.
My heart rate on the bike course averaged 135 and 136. I rode the first 56 mile loop in 2:58:41 with the first 30 miles covered at 22.76 mph (1:19:06) and the latter 26 miles at 15.67 mph (1:39:35). The second loop took 3:02:29 and had better climbing but slower flats with 30 miles at 21.1 mph (1:25:18) and the last 26 miles at 16.05 mph (1:37:11).
What I Won’t Soon Forget
The bike portion of the race was more than half of my day. It also was the driving factor for how well my legs were going to respond for the run. Taken together, I don’t think it is likely that any amateur will overtrain for the bike. When in doubt during training, go for a ride. How fast you can ride in an easy aerobic, aerodynamic position is the determinant of how much pain you’ll have on the day and how fast you will finish.
Fortunately, the bike portion gave me a lot to think about. There were sights to see — like an elderly couple in lawn chairs roadside sitting with a pair of huge goats — and good experiences. Around mile 95 I heard the distinct repeating thwack of a broken spoke. I was approaching and passing the guy and so I told him what the sound meant. He was horrified. I told him not to worry and to look for the motorcycle with neutral race support. They had wheels. Less that two minutes later I flagged the motorcycle down and pointed the crew to the guy behind me who was riding on borrowed time.
The rest of what I hope not to forget anytime soon:
- The first time down the Keene descent I had stuffed half a Powerbar in my mouth. About two minutes later, while still chewing, I was dumbstruck to see that I was going 48.5 mph and my heart rate was 220 and apparently climbing. It took me a minute to figure out I wasn’t working but the bit of food was too much. I wasn’t breathing enough. The added adrenaline of the descent was a combination for a heart rate spike all the way up to 233. On the second descent, I also ate but with smaller pieces. My heart rate was all the way down at 103 at speeds approaching 60 mph.
- Speaking of that second descent, I had the skyrocketed heart rate in mind. Once I started the descent in earnest, I tried to listen for my heart before peeking over at my watch. I guessed that it was well under 120. I could feel everything calming and easing — I was relaxing on the saddle and on the aero bars. It was nice to see that it was even lower than I had thought. Even though it only lasted a few minutes, the second descent was serene. I heard my own heart more than the wind.
- Leading up to the descent, I was so excited to see two goofballs dressed up as Gumby and Pokey that I rode over onto the shoulder to high-five Gumby.
- I didn’t know my bike splits while on the course. If it had an effect, I’m sure it was positive. Thinking about times and splits would have taken away from the beauty of the course.
- On beauty, WHOA! There were high mountain lakes, marshes, rivers, brooks, waterfalls, a huge valley and mountains. Lake Placid has a lot of mountains. Next trip: More cowbell and more pictures.
- Peeing on your bike is not difficult. Getting everything started can be a challenge. I was a three time winner on this front. What is difficult is to drink through a bottle that has a foil safety seal underneath the cap. This happened to me after the bottle station at mile 90. After a minute of fiddling around, I stopped and had the foil off in less than 20 seconds.
- Climbing out of town on the second loop, there was a guy leaning on his bike all by himself at the side of the road. As I passed, he quietly commented that I should relax and drop my shoulders. It was like a personal coach, right when I needed it. Without thinking, I took the advice and instantly noticed that it was easier to get up and over the hill. Wherever you are, thank you solitary mountain climbing coach man.
- There were a lot of motorcycles on the course and penalties were assessed for blocking and drafting.
- I nearly even split the course. Next year, I want to negative split and to gently increase the pressure throughout the ride. It is a big ride and should not be underestimated, but it can be raced as well as ridden. I rode cadence and heart rate all day and throwing in some benchmarks for time wouldn’t hurt me next time around.
- Coming up the last hill — a steep hill — into Lake Placid was surreal. There were crowds on the road — the metal barriers were used closer to city center. There were police and ambulance lights flashing. People in costume, with drums and horns and bells, and there were people riding backward in the line and suffering on their pedals 110 miles into the day as I pedaled up, over and past them. Note to the reader, I rarely if ever ride past anyone on an uphill. At the top of the hill there is a 90 degree right hand turn and for another 20 meters the rode pitches up again. At the top of the final rise there was music blaring and it was an outrageous, cheering, crazy party. I felt strong. It was an echo of how I came out of the water and it was stunning.
The bagpiper was playing from up in the air, to the right. She was perched with sheer drop of some 20 feet below her, in the greenery where trees improbably clung to the mountainside. To the left, there was a lazy river making its way from Jay to Keene. The road ahead was gently sloping upward. She wore, I think, a bike kit and a kilt. As I approached, I couldn’t figure out what was happening. What was that sound and where did it come from. When I saw her, I rose up off my bars in an overhead salute and clapped my hands as loudly as I could. I was nearly crying behind the fancy glasses for no apparent reason. This woman played for the joy. She created beauty and shared it with all who would pass. No doubt, there was a personal message in her act for a loved one who was riding that day.
It was a moving message for me. And then she was gone. I was up the road. It was like a dream and the sweat trickled down my nose and I went back to the work at hand. I loved the work.