The Coeur d’Alene bike course is composed two loops that each consist of two different out-and-backs. Essentially, it’s a giant L that you ride twice. The short arm is relatively flat, and the long arm is quite hilly. I was thrilled to be on the bike. My adrenaline was pumping a bit again, and the crowd support boosted my spirits even more. I tried dial in on an easy pace as best as I could under the circumstances.
The first short out-and-back, I was passed a lot. I wasn’t surprised. As a decent swimmer who is limited on the bike, it’s quite common for slower swimmers to zoom by me during the first part of the bike. I just kept reminding myself to ride my race. There was one noticeable hill on the way out to the first turnaround, and as we were climbing up it, a woman rode by me and said, “I thought this part of the bike was supposed to be flat!”
I thought to myself, “Oh man… you’ve got some fun coming up later in the course!”
Before I knew it, I was riding back into town for the first time. I saw Rob and my parents and gave them an excited wave and a giant smile. I also passed the first aid station. I had to use the bathroom more than I had during transition, but I got caught up in the excitement and thought, “Oh, I can go a little further!” And then I made the turn to head south, towards those hills that had terrified me on the drive in.
As we crossed a causeway over the river that feeds Lake Coeur d’Alene, I realized that I really had to pee. Why didn’t I just go in transition?! Now I have to wait until the next aid station! I looked up and saw a guy in the distance stand up on his bike on the slight descent out of town. And then I saw a trail of droplets hit the ground behind him. He was peeing on his bike! I bet I could do that. I had never tried to pee on my bike before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I stood up, tried to relax, and successfully emptied my bladder. I was both extraordinarily proud of myself and painfully aware that my left shoe was now filled with urine. It was gross, but I reminded myself that this early in the race, it was likely almost all water anyway.
A few minutes later, I approached the first hill that winds through the forests surrounding the lake. (Did I mention that this entire course was absolutely beautiful?) I shifted down as appropriate based on the grade and just kept riding. Much to my surprise, I was actually underwhelmed. This grade really wasn’t any harder than climbing Emigration Canyon. In fact, I felt great. Before I knew it, I was at the top of that first major climb.
My mantra for the bike leg was supposed to be “You’ve done longer, you’ve done harder,” but instead, a different phrase kept playing on a loop in my head—easy peasy lemon breezy. (Post-race Googling has informed me that the proper phrase is actually “easy peasy lemon squeezy.”) The second major climb was not so extreme, and it had some short descents, but it was longer. I found myself passing a lot of people on the steeper grades. Whenever I passed a group of people or finished an uphill section, I would grin and mutter, “Easy peasy lemon breezy” to myself. (I would make sure to wait until nearby cyclists wouldn’t be able to hear me, though! The last thing I wanted to do was discourage other competitor’s with the positive thinking that was helping me.)
I worried some that I was riding this first loop too hard. After all, I was passing quite a few people on these climbs, and I’m not used to passing people on the bike. However, my rate of perceived exertion really was low, so I trusted my training and kept at it. I just focused on eating my waffles every thirty minutes, drinking to thirst, and riding at a comfortable level. It wasn’t long before I hit the turn-around point. I roughly calculated my average speed at this point and was shocked at how fast I was riding. Maybe I am overbiking after all, I worried. But now it was time to bomb down a few descents and ride back into town.
I stopped at one aid station on the way back for a quick bathroom break (peeing on the bike again didn’t seem worth it), but even with that, I averaged over 18mph on the way back. It was nice to give my legs a little chance to relax and recover after the long climb. I hit 56 miles right as I got back into town, and was again shocked at how fast I was going. I saw my parents and Rob again, and my dad yelled out, “Ride smart!” to encourage me (and remind me!). I gave them another big wave and grin to let them know I was feeling okay.
I eased up my speed a bit on that short out-and-back the second time. My shocking (to me) speed had me worried that I had overbiked. A few miles later, I was rolling up to special needs. I took my time, eating about half a piece of pizza and drinking about a third of the (still cold!) Mountain Dew I had waiting for me. After refilling my Honey Stinger waffles with the ones I had left in my special needs bag, I took a quick bathroom break. I had to wait in line for a minute or so, much to my annoyance, but overall, I lost less than five minutes at the stop. A few miles later as I riding back through town for the final time before the bike leg was over, my dad again reminded me to ride smart.
As I turned south onto the twenty mile stretch of Highway 95, I noticed a headwind. Just like I had expected, the drop in temperature forecast for Monday was being blown in by a strong wind. I felt my stomach sink a little. I really, really hate the wind. But it was there, and I tried to remind myself to be thankful it had been still during the swim and first lap of the bike. For the first major climb and descent, the wind wasn’t too debilitating. At this point, the road was still surrounded by trees on both sides and made several turns which allowed all those trees to block the headwind.
And then I emerged from the trees into a more open field.
There was no hiding from the wind now.
I’ve ridden in some windy weather here in Salt Lake City, and this wind was as bad as any I’d ever seen. And on top of the wind, I was climbing. I slowed to a crawl, but I could see around me that others were slowing too. Even the descents and flats during before the turnaround were slow. There is nothing worse in cycling than cresting a hill and then descending at under 16mph because the wind is just so strong. I resolved that I was going to remain mentally strong. I’ve been broken by the wind before, but I wasn’t going to let that happen on race day when attitude is so important.
So I kept climbing. And, like the first lap, I kept repeating, “Easy peasy lemon breezy” in my head as I rode, although this time, I was reminding myself that I could do it instead of describing what it actually felt like. Even on this lap, I was still passing far more people than I was being passed by on the climbs, and, if I’m being honest, that helped my morale more than actively keeping a positive attitude.
I never truly descended into a dark place during this 20 mile portion of the bike, but there were some rough moments. There was more than one time where I looked down at my Garmin, saw how much longer I had to go until the turn-around and how slowly I was going, and thought, “I’m never going to make it there.” But I just kept riding, ticking down the miles until I finally saw the turnaround in the distance.
Turning around granted me new life. The wind was no longer screaming in my ears, and I was now descending with a tailwind. The ride back to town was fast, and I was holding on for dear life. For most of the descents, I was riding around 35mph. It wasn’t quite fast enough that I was completely terrified, but I was never completely comfortable either, especially when I’d get hit with a bit of a cross-wind. Because of the speed, I was hyperfocused which made the already fast ride feel even faster. I felt like I blinked and was back in town.
Before I knew it, I was handing my bike off to a volunteer and running into T2.
The minute I started walking through transition, I realized my feet were killing me. In my training long rides, I had gotten off my bike several times to fill up water, buy additional nutrition, etc. During the race, I only got off my bike twice—to go to the bathroom around mile 45 and at special needs around mile 63. I figured that the pain was just the blood starting to flow to my feet again. I took off my shoes and started jogging. Ten or twenty painful steps later, my feet were feeling fine.
The run through transition was long. I picked up my run gear back, took a bathroom break, and then ran into the changing tent. I took some time in there instead of rushing. I knew I was in a good place in regards to my goal time, so I ate a little pizza and drank a little Mountain Dew while pinning on my race number and collecting myself after the bike. I left the changing tent feeling as ready as I could be for the marathon that awaited me.