In idle conversation with my friend and fellow TRI101 attendee Alex, we started kicking around the idea of forming a relay team to do the Rocketman Olympic-distance triathlon. The Olympic distance is the next step up from sprints; it combines a 1500m swim, a 40Km bike ride, and a 10Km run. I figured I could do either the bike or run, but not both back-to-back, and I knew I didn’t want to attempt the swim… but Alex is a strong swimmer and he jumped at the chance. We recruited Ryan, another TRI101 member who runs ultradistance races, and we were all set.
In the weeks leading up to the Huntsville Sprint, I’d been thinking about buying a new bike. Instead of splurging I decided to rent one from Madison Cycles and give it a try for this race. I picked it up on Wednesday, but didn’t get to ride it until Friday, at which point it scared me badly! At nearly 10lbs lighter than my normal ride, and with much narrower tires, different geometry, and different gearing, it felt much less stable, and after my first ride my shoulders ached from gripping the handlebars so hard. On Saturday I rode it again and felt a lot better, though. I packed my stuff, attended the race brief with Alex and Ryan, and got to bed at a reasonable time. Sunday morning found me up at 0430 to finish my last-minute prep and drive out to the Arsenal’s recreation area, which abuts the Tennessee River. I’d signed up for a volunteer shift at the packet pickup booth, where I had a grand time visiting with friends and helping triathletes get their packets and swag for the race. The morning was cool and overcast, and as dawn broke I was excited about the race.
I met Alex and Ryan at the transition area, got everything set up, and headed over to the swim area. In a relay race, the swimmer starts with the timing chip and hands it to the cyclist in T1, then the cyclist hands off to the runner in T2. Rocketman has a separate transition area for teams, which is handy. Once Alex started the swim, Ryan and I hung out in the transition area until he came out, then I was out the chute and on the bike. By this time it had warmed up a bit, but it wasn’t too bad, and I felt great. Fresh breeze! Beautiful scenery! I’d violated my normal “nothing new on race day” rule and was sporting a Camelbak for hydration; I figured it, along with two water bottles on the bike, would keep me well hydrated.
The first mile of the course went by smoothly and quickly. I was keeping an eye on my pace because 40Km was about a third farther than my previous longest ride, and about half again as long as my previous longest race, but I was still feeling great as I rounded the turn near mile 2… and then suddenly it seemed like the bike was slowing down. I pedaled faster. This had no effect other than to rock me back and forth in the saddle. “Maybe I need to shift some more,” I thought. So I did, fiddling with the bike’s four shift levers in a fruitless effort to stop decelerating. Finally I had to unclip and pull over, where after some experimentation I found that the freewheel gear inside the rear hub had broken or something. Pedaling turned the crank, which moved the chain, which turned the rear cassette, which did nothing to the back wheel. I fiddled with it for another 10 minutes or so, to no avail; then I reluctantly turned the bike right side up and started the Walk of Shame back to the corral.
Along the way, I am happy to say, probably 4 out of 5 cyclists who passed by me asked me if I was OK. I appreciated their support a great deal, though they were moving too fast for me to do more than shout “THANKS!” at their rapidly receding backs. At one intersection, world-famous race photographer Gregg Gelmis was set up and captured the moment:
Me after my rental bike crapped out during Rocketman 2014
Thanks to my distinctive jersey (which I love, so shut up, haters), Alex and Ryan could see me before I made it back into the corral and they knew something was wrong. I am very grateful to them for how gracious they were; the mechanical failure of my bike meant that I officially did not finish (DNF’d) and so our team was marked as DNF’ing. Ryan ran the 10Km leg anyway and turned in an excellent time; while he was killing it in the 90-degree sun, Alex and I got to cheer a number of our TRI101 friends and coaches as they crossed the finish line. (Results are here if you want to see how fast everyone was.)
The Madison Cycles folks were very apologetic, and I’m sure they’ll settle up with me when I get back home. Mechanical issues happen. as anyone who’s owned any device more complex than a pencil knows well, so I don’t blame them, but it was still frustrated because I was excited to compete. I still had a great time; I especially enjoy the social aspect of triathlons because, while it’s a very competitive sport, the competitors tend to be very friendly and incredibly supportive. It’s a sport where you can take genuine pleasure in the successes of your friends, which suits me just fine.
The only thing to do: come back next year and DO THE WHOLE RACE. That will show ’em.