Stuck in the 53/11
Shit happens, and if you race enough, even with the best planning, you will have to deal with unexpected challenges. When you do, I hope this story helps!
Next month is Duathlon Nationals, so I picked a few prep races to step up my game. One was the "Escape from Ft. Desoto Duathlon."
I left my house and 3AM to make the 2 hour drive to St. Petersburg. Pre-race it was hectic with 500+ athletes setting up their bikes in the transition in the dark. Riding to transition, when I pushed my Shimano Di2 shifter nothing happened! And to make matters worse, the bike was stuck in the hardest gear.
I jumped off the bike and checked the battery indicators, nothing, not even red. **My bike was fine the day before, but to be safe, I charged the battery until I saw a solid green LED indicator. This problem was totally unexpected.
At this point, I became acutely aware of the 15 mph steady wind. We were on a barrier island, so at least half the race would be riding into the wind. My mind started doing calculations. I wondered if I could even pedal my bike for 5 miles into a strong headwind with the hardest 53/11 gear? I optimally race at about 95 RPMs, and I calculated this would require grinding it out at 45 RPMs. Ouch!
*But then I thought of a great Tower of Power Song, "We Came to Play." I came to race, and I reframed the race with the new challenge of completing the bike leg in the hardest gear. I knew I had to be ALL IN to do this!
Besides the mechanical problem there was some excellent competition in the race to content with. Small world, another former National Champ in my age group, Marty Steigmann, was at the race. Marty used to live in the Carolina's and I in Connecticut. We got to know each other, racing at Worlds and Nationals. Now he lives in Sarasota, and we race together all the time.
Game on! I had a good first run and was in the lead but was passed in the last half mile. I elected to stick to my pace as I knew the worst was coming and entered transition about 5 seconds back. After a quick transition, I moved back into the lead. I was the first onto the bike course and even had a police escort!
The good news was that this was a tailwind section. My legs were fresh, and I was able to churn at 70 RPMs for 26.5 mph. I got to the first turnaround before getting caught. But turning 180 degrees put me head-on into the wind. I was having trouble keeping the cadence over 50. A few times I even had to stand just to keep the cranks turning. I imagined I was climbing a 12% grade in the French Alps (which would have been much more pleasurable)!
When I was grinding into the wind, two triathletes passed me like I was standing still. I must have looked like a novice muscling way too big a gear. The course was shaped like a v, and once I passed where the race started, we jogged to the right and picked up a slight tailwind. By this time, my legs were cooked, and I was having trouble staying on top of the gear.
Before the last turn around, I was passed by the Duathlete who had passed me on the first run, and Marty wasn't far behind. We had about 3 miles to go into the wind.
I settled into the same pace at draft legal distance behind the lead Duathlete. My mind screamed, pass him! I sprinted out of the saddle in the way too big gear. This was not only brutally hard; it is terrible for aerodynamics and requires even more energy! Well, I passed him only to slow down 2 minutes later, my legs flooded with lactic acid. He passed me back. I learned my lesson, not today with this gear.
I was happy to see the transition area and get off the bike! The only question was, what price did my legs pay from muscling too big of a gear?
Another challenge! As soon as the run started, we had to run up a zig-zagging sidewalk to the top of the ancient fort. At the top, I saw the leader about 200 yards in front. Next, we had to run down two big flights of metal stairs. My legs were tight.
The rest of the run was on a nice wide bike path that went along the sand dunes and beach. I found my legs and rhythm and reeled in the leader around mile one. I picked up my pace slightly and had a good gap by mile two, and went on to win the race. Marty, my Team USA teammate finished second.
Honestly, pre-race, I had no idea what would happen. I raced with the hand I was dealt, and it turned out great! Who knows, maybe the special big-gear training will give me a boost at Nationals!
Trust your training and believe!
*If you love music and never saw TOP Live, check this out. We Came to Play
**In troubleshooting the Di2 problem I ran across a thread on SlowTwitch where someone said that plugging the charger into a wall socket USB converted can cause a problem as the amperage is not all the same. This is exactly what I did at one of our stores and used the converted they had. The next day I had the problem. The day after the race I charged the system up plugged into my computer and it has been working fine for 3 days. So likely the wall charger was the source of the problem.