Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ironman Florida Race Report: Bike (part 4 - the flat)

I'm not really sure what I was expecting when I got off my bike to check my back tire, but I was definitely hoping for a fully inflated tired. *Squeeze* uh oh, I was able to smoosh the tire entirely flat. Let's double check that. *Squeeze* *sigh* yup, definitely flat. I just kind of stared at my bike for a moment and then though "Well, this will make for a more interesting race report!"  One thing I learned by living in the VI is that when things get crazy, it's best to just think about what a funny story it will make, instead of dwelling on the fact that you have no water for a shower because it hasn't rained in months, and so forth. 
This was my first flat tire ever! Luckily I'd practiced changing tires in the weeks before the race. The rear tire is a bit more challenging to change because of the chain and the gears. I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to get it back on correctly, but one step at a time. I forgot to shift the chain into the lowest gear, as usual, and just opened the quick release and pulled on the derailleur to remove the wheel. It took some careful coordination, as I didn't have a kitchen counter to lean my bike against while I did this. I didn't feel like turning my bike upside down either because then everything would spill out of my bottle and bento box. Once the wheel was out, I had to lay my bike down on the ground. I only realized later that I ended up placing my chain in sandy dirt. Oops. Then I decided to check my watch so I'd know how long my tire changing took. It'd been less than 10 minutes when I changed them at home. Just before the flat I'd seen the 100k mark and checked my watch and saw I'd been on the bike just over 4 hours, and that seemed acceptable though I couldn't recall how long my prior 100k training rides had taken me.
I'd practiced changing tires without using any tire levers, so that's how I changed my flat. Thankfully the tire was easy to remove, just a little bit of wiggling involved. I pulled out the flat tube and got my new tube out, being especially thankful that my husband had been willing to buy me the spare tubes that seemed excessive the day he dropped off my bike for transport. I used the CO2 air gun to squirt a bit of air into the new tube so that it'd have enough shape that it'd be easy to put on the wheel. I'd only practiced with the CO2 air gun once and just like last time I got a little too much air in the tube at first so I had to let a bit of it out. But I knew from my practice that I'd still have plenty of CO2 left to fully inflate the tube once the wheel was back on my bike. A few people who passed me asked if I needed help. One guy looked like he was about to stop but I told him I had it under control, feeling proud of myself for having the skills to change my tire.

It took some craftiness to squeeze the tube onto the wheel since I'd left the tire halfway on. I think when I practiced changing tires I had actually changed the tires so had only once or twice before done the halfway thing, but I knew it was supposed to be better and faster than fully removing the tire. The tube was about halfway in when I realized I'd forgotten the most important step - the one I always forgot in practice too! - taking the time to carefully rub my fingers over the inside of the tire to see if whatever caused the flat was still in the tire. If you don't get the thorn or glass, etc, out, then you're just going to get another flat in a moment. I pulled the tube back out and checked the tire but I couldn't find anything. I got the tube and tire all the way back on (without levers, yay!) and picked up the CO2 to inflate the tire again. This is when I ran into trouble.

When I put the CO2 air gun on my valve and turned on the air, the CO2 just sprayed all over. In case you haven't had the pleasure of using one of these things, the CO2 cartridge gets really, really cold (ice can form on it). So my fingers were cold and the tire didn't have any more air in it. I got out another CO2 cartridge and tried to pay close attention to what I was doing so I could make sure I was doing it properly. Turned the knob and a blast of CO2 sprayed outside of my tube again. I turned it off quickly and tried to place it on the valve again, but I had the same problem. After wasting two CO2 cartridges, I decided this was just a user error and I gave up. At this point when people asked me if I needed anything as they rode past, I started saying yes that my CO2 wouldn't work, and I was trying not to cry. One woman said she'd notify the next aid station so they could send a mechanic to help me. I decided it was time to use my backup manual pump since if I kept trying CO2s I'd just be wasting them (they're recyclable but not reusable :() and the CO2s clearly weren't the faster option anymore. Luckily that worked pretty well, but I could tell the PSI wasn't as high as the front tire. It was just a quick fix though.

All the aid stations, roughly 10 miles apart, were supposed to have floor pumps. I knew I had to be close to an aid station so I could just ride a few more miles and use the floor pump. I got the tire back on with the same balancing problems I'd had taking it off. I checked my watch to see how much time I'd lost. I couldn't remember what time it'd been when I stopped though. It seemed roughly that it'd been just over 10 minutes. (I can tell from my HRM data it was actually 14 minutes.) I put my old tube in jersey so I wouldn't be a litter bug. (I'd seen plenty of tubes scattered on this road!) Then I rode off to the next aid station hoping this awful road didn't give me another flat. I had one more spare tube and a patch kit, but I was really ready to be done.

The next aid station was only a mile or so away. I slowed down at the first tent to ask where the floor pump was as I dump my old tube. They told me it was at the last tent. I get there and yell out that I need the floor pump and some guy starts looking for it while I get off my bike to inspect the tire and wheel to make sure it looks okay. The guy radios someone else asking where the pump is. They call someone. Eventually they decide it's not here. "Some guy in a truck took it." I knew that other triathlete might have told these people that I needed help, so I'd kept an eye out for any vehicles that might have had a race volunteer or mechanic and I hadn't seen any. The aid station people tell me they can call a mechanic but they have no idea how long it will take. I decide to just pump up my tire some more with the manual pump. Pumped it until my arms hurt and then I kept riding. More wasted time here!

I was really frustrated with the lack of a floor pump at that aid station. I had no idea how much aid I'd been able to get into my rear tire. The flat itself left me wondering what had caused it. I'm sure it was the bumpy road, but I kept expecting it to flat again. The tube didn't seem settled exactly right, the valve didn't look the same as on my front tire, so that had my spooked. I wasn't sure if the lower PSI I was now likely riding on would lead to another flat either.

About six or seven miles later, while riding on the only stretch of road where cyclists are going both ways, I saw a volunteer truck on the side of the road. The volunteer was on the other side of the road assisting a cyclist. I asked if he had a floor pump and he said yes. I stopped and looked in the pickup bed but didn't see one. The volunteer ran over and opened the truck and handed me the pump. I glanced at the cyclist he'd been helping and the guy was bent over clutching his chest. Yikes. The volunteer ran back over to hang out with him. It seemed they were calling an ambulance. I was so happy to have a floor pump but I felt bad the volunteer had come over to help when this other guy might be having a heart attack. I put the pump on my valve and swoooosh all the air went out. Crap. I hate it when that happens. Now I have to pump it all the way up again. Pump, pump, pump. Uhhh no air is going in. I try again. I play around with it, check the valve, etc. I can't get the pump to work at all and now my tire is 100% flat all over again. Great. I can't very well ask the volunteer for help because then this other guy is going to die. So I just continue the futile pumping until the volunteer asks if I need a mechanic. YES! "there's one coming right now, just flag her down."

I look around and see one of the motorcycle mechanics coming my way. I'd seen her earlier - kind of hard to miss since they have two or three bike wheels on the back of their motorcycles. I flag her down and explain I just need my tire pumped up. She asks how high and I tell her 140. She asks me if I'm sure because that's really high. Then she asks if my tire had a split it in. No, I say, wondering if she thinks I'd be riding on a split tire or if she just assumed I'd carried a spare tire. She explains that a split would indicate that I'd overinflated my tire. Now I'm second guessing everything, worried about overinflation. I've always pumped them to 140, the max says 175 and the bike shop guys said 140 is good. But I wonder if maybe her pump is way better than the one I have at home (I've heard the gauges vary a lot) and maybe I really am only usually pumping it to 120. I have her pump it to 140 mostly because I am too paralyzed by indecision to come to any other conclusion and she'd already started on it.

Finally the tire is pumped up to 140, like it or not, and after thanking her I'm back on the road. Only a moment later do I realize that when she asked if I had a split tire that she meant was the tube split. UGH! I have no idea! I dumped the tube without inspecting it! So now I'm just filled with worry wondering what caused my flat and was it going to happen again. I'm just a few miles away from the turnaround on this little stretch. About 15 minutes later I get to the turnaround, there's a timing mat. Great. Everyone is going to wonder what the heck happened to me.

My total stopped time from the flat tire was just 22 minutes (14 min to change, 4 minutes looking for a floor pump that wasn't where it should've been, and 4 minutes when it actually got pumped up). In retrospect looking at the HRM/bike computer data, it doesn't seem like I was going any slower than average during that 7 mile stretch on the hand-pumped tire. But the mental anguish was awful! By the time I crossed that timing mat, it'd been almost an hour since my flat and I'd just traveled 10 miles. And I hadn't eaten anything!!!

FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 73 mi. (5:14:51) 13.91 mph


  1. Wow, what a saga. Thanks for posting. It's quite a tale. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. That was riveting. Seriously. What a saga.

    Congratulations again!!


  3. I knew there was a reason I only went to 110 that morning.....