Well, my first HIM is in the books and I hope to keep that book closed after I write this. It was a truly disappointing day. The last thing I thought about is what did me in. It wasn’t the sore tooth that bothered me until Friday morning, or the sore back I got from loading heavy suitcases in the van, it was wheel tape. Let me explain and it is long, but I need to vent/write this out.
Branson 70.3 was my A race. This was the race I planned for, trained and was looking forward to all year. I was confident. I was calm. I was taking it all in. The concert kickoff was great, packet pickup was great, getting everything to the right area the day before went great, and even waking up at 4AM went rather smoothly. I was expecting a great day.
I got to the race site before 6 AM on Sunday. I was a little concerned about my back, but a night of “the stick” and Icy Hot had me feeling OK about it. Once I got into transition and got my stuff spread out, I was talking to Chris B when for some reason I reached over and grabbed my back tire, only to find it was flat. PANIC!! Immediately I took my bike over to the bike support guys and they quickly changed out my tube, which was a huge relief. They did it much faster than I would have been able to, plus it was still dark and hard to see. Those guys were great and I really felt like I dodged a bullet. Everything was OK!
The announcer came over the intercom and said they would open the swim up for warm-up swims at 6:40, once the daylight broke. This was also a relief to hear because it gave me a chance to get in a swim and see how my back would feel. Once in the water (wetsuit legal) I was able to swim comfortably. Again, things were going well.
The waves started with the pros going first and then the AG started. My AG was scheduled to go off at 7:21 AM, and I was really at peace before the start. I was not nervous or anxious at all. As the horn sounded and all 200+ 35-39 males moved into the water, I waded in about thigh deep, found some empty space and started swimming. There were a few instances of pushing and shoving, but nothing out of the ordinary. I remember having all sorts of random thoughts while swimming, I had songs going through my head, and I wondered if my wife made it and what she was doing… I was basically having the best swim. I did not expect it to be short, I knew it was going to be long and I was OK with that, I just kept swimming. Before I knew it, we were turning to the right and I remember thinking, “Are we already at the turn?” That has never happened to me before. So I went with it. Kept my pace, avoided people as best I could and only stopped for a second to sight (it was tough to see that far out). Before I knew it, I was up out of the water running up the ramp. I heard my wife screaming for me before I saw her! She was excited, so I knew I had a good swim and looking at my watch, I was out of the water in 39:16!
T1 was a long ways away! We had to run up a steep hill and then around the back of the transition area to get to our bikes. I had a slow transition, but I wanted to make sure I got everything. I had gloves, socks, Garmin to put on and I had to stuff all my swim gear in a bag so they would bring it to T2 for me. It must have been over 5 minutes, but that didn’t matter much to me. As I was exiting T1, I again saw my family there cheering for me, which was awesome!
The first 6 or 7 miles of the bike were uphill, so immediately you start climbing slowly. The fog was also very thick which made it hard to see riders 50 feet ahead of you. This first part was something I was concerned about after driving it the day before with my Dad, but I finished that part in around 25 minutes and the best part was that my back gave me no trouble, so I was feeling confident. I hit speeds of 45 mph on the downhill and speeds of 7 mph on the uphill. Uphill it burned your quads and downhill you just had to pucker up and hold on. It was a beautiful ride once the fog broke. I was on pace to hit my goal time.
Mile 17 is when I heard it, that indescribable noise of a flat tire. The rear tire AGAIN. I pulled over and there was a volunteer working the area. He asked if I needed help. I said I was out of tubes (who carries more than one tube at a race?) He said he would call the pickup van for me. My heart sank, I asked him if it was over and he said he did not know what they could do. Luckily, when the van got there, they were able to provide me with a tube and get me going again, until mile 25 or so. Another rear flat tire. I was about to throw my bike into the woods when a guy named Steven stopped and asked if I needed help. I explained my situation and he graciously gave me a new tube and CO2 to help me get back riding. I got the tube changed, thanked Steven as he rode off and was about to hop back on my bike when I noticed my chain was off. I had a heck of a time getting it back on and doubt I would have if another racer named Mary stopped to hold my bike for me while I fixed it. Thank you Mary and Steven! So, then I was off and riding again.
Mile 32 or so, I had the same rear tire go flat, a 4th time. I had passed Steven prior to the flat and he stopped again as he passed me. I knew that there was something going on inside the rim/tire and that popping a tube in would only lead to the same result. I asked Steven if he would ask the volunteer ahead of us to call the support team for me, and I started walking. Numerous triathletes asked if I was OK and tried to encourage me, but it wasn’t an issue of fitness or any kind of physical ailment I was battling. That was frustrating as well. After about 30 minutes of walking, pushing my crippled bike, the support van finally pulled up to assist me.
What was the problem you ask? My wheel tape was not doing its job. It was not protecting my tubes from any sharp edges created by the spokes coming into the rim (sorry, best way I know to describe it). The guy changing my tire actually brought out a wheel from his van and gave me the wheel tape from his bike tire to get me going again. By this time, he said there were about 5 other road bikes and some mountain bikes still on the course besides me. I knew it was over after he said that, but I kept going. I had already been on the bike course over 4 hours and still had about 20 miles left to ride.
There is not a more lonely feeling than to be out on a closed race course with no other bikes or people around for miles, and there is nothing you can do about it. It sucked hard!
However, I was still determined, until mile 42.5 when the front tire went flat. I assume it was also the wheel tape, but I have not checked it out yet, nor will I for a few days. After another 25 minutes waiting for assistance, the sweeper got me. It was over. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to puke and I wanted to throw my bike off the nearest bridge.
It was a long ride back to T2 in the truck. I have never in my life felt more defeated than I was in that truck. I called my wife to tell her where to meet me, in a way, I am glad I was able to leave a message because I think I might have lost it if I spoke with her. I knew she would be just as disappointed for me as I was. I needed her hug as I arrived to T2.
The toughest part was throwing my timing chip on the table with the rest of DNF’s, the ultimate admission of it being over. It stung and I suppose it will for a few days.
Ironman Branson was a great race to do. A great venue for the swim, a challenging bike course and the run course looked flat. It was nothing that was too hard for me. I know I could have finished it. I can’t say the experience was all bad.
I have appreciated the support of my family and friends who know how much I was looking forward to this race. I am going to take a few weeks off from any kind of training and then see what is on the plate for next year. I am not sure about taking a second shot at Branson 70.3 yet, and I am not sure what to do with the shirt either!
To my friends Chris B, John H, and Ted H. all who finished it, congrats, you guys rock! Ted even won the M35-39 AG! He is a stud! You all should be proud!