Monday, May 02, 2011

MN Ironman 2011

Yesterday was the MN Ironman ride in Lakeville, MN. I mentioned earlier on the blog my intention of doing the event as a sort of bigger return from surgery; to feel I was “back” so to speak. And I said I’d coin it (personally) as the “Shrapnel Benjamin”. 100 miles of road riding to prove I could handle a something that I had grown to think of as not really being a big deal. Well, yesterday felt like a big deal. I did show up to see what I could do, and so did the weather. The Easter Bunny has come and gone, but apparently winter hasn’t quite done the same. Temps hung in the 30’s for most of the ride, and the wind absolutely howled from the west all day- a big steady howl like prairie country can give. I was glad I remembered to wear contact lenses and my semi wrap around Smiths because otherwise my eyes would have enjoyed the snow/sleet stings the rest of my face did. Really, I shouldn’t make the weather out to be such a villain, because I truthfully really do like riding in the foul stuff, but it did make the experience of taking on big miles with so little on the bike training and a year filled with mostly couch/healing time a brutal experience. I saw people literally blown off their bikes in crosswinds, grown men throwing up in the ditches due to exhaustion, and a couple riders getting medical attention for not dressing appropriately and simply getting dangerously chilled. So I was glad to have the knowledge of how to ride a bike in low temps/wind chills.

The route can be seen here. As you will see, with very strong west winds (steady in the mid 20’s with gusts into the high 30’s) the first 50 miles set the tone of everyone’s day. Many dropped out at the first rest stop at around 25 miles. I used the stop to fuel up, warm up, and move on before I let anything mental set in that would coerce me to stop. I was riding with a friend and former coworker who, check out his courage, was biting off his first century attempt in these conditions. We continued on.

The routes available had split at this first rest stop (68 or our 105 route), and due to that and all the people who took the sag busses, the field of riders went from a steady flow to having hardly anyone around us. So now we were suffering with more and more solitude. Oh well, it’s nice to be able to hang with a good group to share the burden, taking pulls for each other, but I’ve been completely alone in the funk before, so this would be fine too. My friend was great company.

He and I did hit some pretty low points during the second quarter of the route. The first had been really tough on us early in the event. Ouch. But I’d just gotten done telling him about the low points that come and go with these endurance pulls on the car ride down to the start line, so neither of us let it get us. It’s always important to know that you can push through it, even you if don’t believe it at the time. We hit some sort of second wind that got us to the halfway point and through the rest of the direct headwinds and worst (or best) riding of the day.

At the halfway rest stop, I think I let myself sit too long. So many people quit here, but I was determined to keep going and ride the tailwinds for a while and cash in on our effort. How could we not finish with those odds? But my body felt so drained, and I ran into a familiar distance event problem- I couldn’t get myself to eat much. I felt empty and worn out, but food just made my stomach unhappy. It’s a weird but common dilemma. You have to get something in your or there's only so far your body will go (it'll go pretty far though). Salty food worked better than sugary, so I went with a bit of that and got on the road before I totally shut down.

Man, the next 20 miles sucked. Just sucked. I didn’t really get to feel thankful for the tailwind, because I was too busy suffering from super low energy. Plus- and my partner noticed this too so I don’t think it was just my tired imagination, the weather seemed to be loosening on the winds, and we had less tailwind than the headwinds we fought all day so far in the event. Nice. Oh well, that’s big days in the saddle. Take what you get.

I was glad I was with at least one riding partner here though, because I had pretty much talked myself into quitting during this low, but pressed on because I really wanted him to experience success on his first century go. We hit the next rest stop and I was feeling a bit better. We noticed on the way there that we really weren't seeing any other riders, save a couple. Nowhere near the huge crowds we started the day with. The rest stop was pretty well closed down, due to most people quitting at that point (or just having been strong enough to have come and gone- there were a few true hardmen and women out). This was at mile 73. Well, let’s not think about it and just keep going. It was getting to feel like we were running out of day, because we were.

We pulled into the last rest stop at mile 84 at around 5pm. This was the original cutoff for the entire event to shutdown, but the support staff was still milling around due to everyone who was still at it being so late after the first half the ride crushed us with some of the slowest riding I can remember in quite a while (reminiscent of the Badlands on my ND tour). We stopped and had a bit of food (not much- my stomach was still not keen on anything entering had it was posing a big challenge to my energy level.)

I still haven’t commented on whether or not we made the full 105 miles of the route. Well, I entered the rest stop feeling like we were set- I was shutting down pretty bad, but it was only 21 more miles. Even if we totally dragged it would only be a couple hours at the very most to hit the finish line (which would have been taken down by then because everyone still on course quit.) I sat in front of my food, then threw it away. I used the porta-john outside. I walked outside, and thought about what I’d already accomplished. 10 months ago I had my chest literally torn open, my bones broken in surgery, and I still carry a temporary surgical bar and at least one loose rib that hasn’t healed correctly and will probably require more surgery to tie up. I just rode 84 miles in weather that was breaking most people. I felt pretty happy. And oddly enough, happy enough to do something I’ve done only a handful of times on really big rides. I quit. What? Yeah, I felt we could surely force a finish, but hopped on the last sag bus with my friend and five others. I’ve always thought of the sag rides home as a place I’d feel failure, but all I felt was accomplishment. After lying in a very painful heap last summer wondering how I’d ever be myself again, and after so many months of doubting the benefits of my procedure (and this is still going on), I simply felt glad to be able to have done what I just did. Those 84 miles were a bigger deal than any 100 I’d done in the past. I felt just fine on the sag ride to the car, and I still do. I know I can go out on a better weather day and knock out a full 100, and after some more rehab do it in the funk all the same. And have every confidence in my friend that he will complete his next century attempt. He went pretty big yesterday for not ever having ridden half of what he pulled off in much better weather. Kudos man.

The time spent in the saddle was longer than other century finish times I’ve logged on many occasions, and the effort during those hours was higher. This was a good ride.

The only picture I have to share is an exhausted face of mine on the sag ride. It was the only time I really thought to pull out my camera due to chilly fingers and focus. In the fatigue you can see contentment.