…just not in the middle of a race.
That’s the key takeaway from yesterday’s Title 9 Women’s Only Sprint Triathlon, where for the first time in my so-called triathlon career I lost a race not on the swim, not on the run, but ON THE BIKE.
I know. This is totally-completely-wholly unexpected. Like as unexpected as finding great Belgian beer in Milwaukee of all places. Only not at all like that since finding Rochefort in Milwaukee was exhilarating and this is mortifying. I appreciate that you are likely having trouble processing this news so I’ll repeat it slowly, one word at a time, to allow this ridiculous revelation to sink in:
Hang on, it gets worse: Not only did I lose on the bike leg, but it was due to something that was completely under my control and should never have happened in the first place. This was 100 percent pure operator error, or, to put it in my coach’s words, “what a dumbass!”
Let’s back up a bit: as you may know, I’ve reserved a place in my heart as well as my race calendar for this annual all-girl sprint in Hopkinton State Park hosted by the good peeps at Max Performance. I just love it, and in my four seasons of racing I’ve only missed it once (that was in 2011, when Title 9 and Lobsterman collided and I for some strange reason chose the Oly over the sprint…bad idea since 10K runs, like, totally suck.). This was my third time doing Title 9 and I was giddy that I had been assigned bib #3 for it (since I placed 3rd overall here last year). I had big goals: I’m in pretty decent shape for a chick with a desk job and am currently obsessed with the national rankings, so I was aiming to score my first non-gender-adjusted “80” (a topic for another blog, some other day). I also thought I might place a couple notches higher than my bib number, if you know what I’m sayin’.
I felt pretty darned confident at the start, mostly because I had given myself space and time to do everything “right”: a light run with pick ups, 500 or so yards of breast and back (my fave) before encasing myself in neoprene, and a 20-minute easy spin at high cadence on Maverick the Third (my road bike) mounted to the Kinetic trainer whilst listening to AC DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” on repeat. (What can I say…the opening stanza, she was a fast machine/she kept her motor clean/she was the best damned woman that I’ve ever seen just speaks to me on race day.)
Of course, since I got the nifty-new Garmin Vector power pedals in Milwaukee, using Maverick the Third for my warm up meant some race-day-bike-wizardry. I brought my nifty-new 15 mm pedal wrench and felt all proficient swapping pedals off Maverick and onto Viper. I left the power pod off, since I planned a data-free “just race” kind of day. I double-triple-checked my pedal wrench work and was rather pleased with all my newly acquired gear and skills. (For a mechanically inept chick who has historically enlisted male help for any fix involving more than duct tape, this whole pedal-wrench-ownership thang is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.)
That “rather pleased” feeling lasted throughout a great-for me-swim (where I managed to keep up with a great swimmer/competitor for a full quarter of the swim) and a rather speedy T1. As I mounted my ready-to-rock steed, George assured me the fastest Wave 1 swimmers were easily within range. “You’ll get them all by Mile 4!” were the last words I heard as I pedaled away.
Of course, George was assuming I’d reach Mile 4 with both pedals in place. I did not. In fact, I hadn’t even made it to Mile 2 when my right foot felt wobbly. It was kinda like that weird feeling I get when I am not fully clipped in…only a little wobblier and a little weirder. So I stomped down and did the clip-in-side-to-side shimmy…but instead of hearing a solid “click,” my effort completely separated my foot from the crank, with my right pedal firmly fastened to the bottom of my right shoe.
Now, this was interesting.
My left foot kept going round and round, firmly affixed to its pedal, but my right leg hung straight down, throwing me off balance at, like, 23 mph. The right crank arm, with nothing to crank it, flew hopelessly round and round and round. OK!!!! PLAN B!!! Let’s just not crash!
I ever-so-carefully got out of my aero bars and used my core to keep myself upright. Should I unclip the left and land with that foot? Will the athlete behind me actually process the fact that I am trying to communicate with my left hand “HEY! HEAD’S UP I AM GOING TO COME TO AN ABRUPT AND COMPLETE STOP HOPEFULLY SOMETIME IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE!!!”? Will I figure out how to get off my freaking bike before I reach the freaking big downhill in front of Carbone’s Restaurant?
This was all pretty new territory.
As I mulled my options, I toggled over to single-leg drill mentality; for the non-cyclists amongst you, this is something one does to smooth one’s pedal stroke…but only on a stationary trainer. You can see it in action (not my video) here. I single-leggedly pedalled as I single-mindedly attempted to come up with a dismount plan. I kept this up for a good half mile or more.
I don’t exactly know how I dismounted, but dismount I did and I am pleased to report I left no skin on the pavement. I spent the next five-plus minutes not cheerfully barking “ON YOUR LEFT” at other athletes per usual, but instead grumpily growling “YES!” as athletes passed and nicely asked “ARE YOU OK???”
First, I tried in vain to get the shoe off the pedal…or should I say the pedal off the shoe. When that failed, I tried to thread the bolt into the hole in the crank arm with the shoe still affixed. When that failed, I thought of walking back to transition, getting my first DNF. (Non-athlete translation: Did Not Finish.) No way! The DNF thought helped me summon the super-human strength required to pull the damned shoe off the pedal (or pedal off the shoe). I got the damned bolt to thread a turn or two, no more.
Not wanting to have to figure out how to do that odd dismount again, I rode the rest of the race course rather gingerly. (An aside while we’re on the topic of ginger: Ginger Howell, who came in first overall last year and was therefore assigned bib #1 this year ended up being a DNS. Non-athlete translation: Did Not Start.) My goal was to put out as little power as possible on the right side, and use downhills as effectively as possible.
I eventually mercifully reached transition and racked a very confused Viper. Is that all we get to do today? The poor boy was crestfallen.
A silver lining type of girl, I sought out the optimistic viewpoint: At least I didn’t have the Vector power pod onboard, as it would likely have broken! Bonus ball: I’d get to run this hilly course with pretty fresh legs!
I had the day’s second fastest T2 and a good-for-me run and in the end placed 9th overall, out of 685 competitors.
For the visual thinkers amongst you, here is a properly threaded pedal:
…and here is what my right side looked like post-race:
Full results in all their awfulness are here.
That’s all for now. As usual, thanks for stopping by. Don’t be a dumbass and by that I mean don’t swap your pedals pre-race. Double-triple check all of your bolts the night before, and if for some reason one of your screws still comes unthreaded as you race, don’t you come unglued. After all, it’s only a race and there will be others… (Silver lining for me and Viper: there’s even one more race of the season so we can redeem ourselves. Yep, Buzzard’s Bay is in two weeks. and we are already ready already!)
For the triathletes: what’s the weirdest-most-heartbreaking-most-infuriating mechanical issue you’ve had on race day? Do share in the comments section below so we can commiserate!