Biking was the one area of the race where I felt some confidence. Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on biking with tired legs after drinking two liters of sea water. I was sick and tired and had eight hours to cover 112 miles (180km) of extremely hilly ground on a very windy day. Before I could even begin to worry about that, I had to get my bike from the transition area, which was about 1km away from the beach. The only problem was that I had no spare running shoes so I had to run barefoot. It could have been difficult, but I was far too excited to have finished the swim to notice. In fact, I felt exhilarated as the crowd continued to cheer as the commentator talked about me and my bare feet.
In the changing area a wonderful women who’d given me a ride in her caravan earlier in the week was there to help me with the transition. I truly felt surrounded by friends, old ones in my heart, new ones beside me and future ones among the crowds. I wrestled my way out of my wet suit and slipped into my casual bike shorts, the only ones I had. As I biked out, I could hear the commentator again, “He’s wearing baggies!” The crowd cheered, I waved and the crowd cheered some more. Then I was off.
If there is one advantage of being in dead last place out of 1,200 people, it’s that no one can pass you, but you can pass them. Still, I was far behind and passing anyone was going to take some time. Most people had beaten me out of the water by at least 30 minutes, which is quite a head start. It took me almost an hour to catch another racer, but as time went by I began to catch more. My stomach hurt and my mouth was dry from the sea water, but my spirits were high. I tried to conserve strength in my legs for the marathon, and focused on drinking fluids to flush out the salt. Hours came and went and one by one I continued to catch other racers. Even so, at the six hour mark in I realized I was barely on schedule to make the cut off. Even worse, I’d failed to take into account that the last part of the course was the hardest with numerous steep climbs. I needed to hurry.
With about an hour to go I knew it would come down to the wire. The rain had started falling and seven hours, even at a moderate pace, is tiring. I needed to go faster not slower or I wasn’t going to make it. As I pushed on, I tried to guess how many miles remained and what my speed was. Calculations and estimates were spinning in my head, but what I should have been thinking of was how wet the road had become. When I turned a sharp corner with 30 minutes to go I felt the tires slip out from underneath me. Gravity took it from there and I skipped across the wet road like a rock across still water.
Race marshals had been posted at all the corners. The two at this corner had taken shelter from the rain in a van, but came running out as soon as they saw me fall. Like someone who’s just woken from a bad dream, I was dazed and confused. They asked me if I needed an ambulance, there was only one thing I needed.
“How far to Tenby?”
“About five miles.”
Could I bike five miles hurt, tired and on a damaged bike in 30 minutes? The support and faith people had shown in me raced through my mind again, excuses didn’t matter. It wasn’t a matter of being able to, I had to. “I can make it. There’s time.” I got back on my bike. The front wheel was bent and I was bleeding, but those were concerns for another time. I had people counting on me.
I pedaled as hard as I could and soon found myself at the beginning of the hills. The crowds by the road, which had been amazing the whole day, had grown intense with the knowledge that the cutoff was approaching. At one point, a man yelled out encouragement and counted down the meters to the top of the hill. My legs were on fire, but his voice burned in my ears. I kept pushing. The crowds seemed uncertain about the time, but still I pushed. The town and finally the finish came into site, but the crowds had moved to the running course. Was I too late?
I don’t remember much from the last 500 meters, but as a I pulled into the transition area I must have looked like a lost lamb, because a race marshal read my race. “You made it,” he said. “Only four minutes to spare, but you made it!”