I don’t know about you but I live in fear of getting a puncture during a race. It’s the reason I ride clinchers and have never dabbled with tubs, punctures with them just sound so complicated, glue and tape and the possible need for a knife.
I practice changing tyres and fitting tubes but still to get one in a race would be a nightmare. This past Sunday it was my ‘A’ race, a half Ironman, in the city of Ely. “The Monster” it was dubbed. How I would have loved a puncture to have been my main problem, unfortunately the monster ate me up and spat me out in a horror show called a ‘Nightmare on Ely Streets’. (Sorry for the bad joke – couldn’t resist)
The swim was fairly uneventful, the usual battle of arms and legs, in cold muddy water. Thankfully the plentiful geese and swans just looked at the strange creatures filing past in silver caps, not inclined to defend their river with beaks.
The 1.9km was tough for me as it was all upstream against the current, it wasn’t raging but it was significant enough to make me some 10 minutes slower than I was expecting. I was out of the water in 51 minutes and as I ran through transition, little did I know that I had approximately eight minutes until the best part of my day would be behind me.
Onto the bike and I was feeling really confident as I got up to 23mph on perhaps the flattest and therefore fastest 56 mile bike course in the world. My garmin file would show later that it had -8m of elevation average. I just passed my cheering family and gave them a huge big grin, I was buzzing and feeling like I was going to challenge my pb of 5.35. Two minutes later as I reached 1.8 miles that feeling was destroyed.
In an instant I was thrown forward, chest first onto my tri-bars. I was confused. I hadn’t hit anything. Something didn’t feel right as I sat up to correct myself. Where the hell was my saddle? Still in a fog of confusion I noticed it lying on the floor at the side of the road. Stopping, I figured it would just be a case of tightening the seatpost clamp, to my horror the clamp had gone. It was nowhere to be seen, there was no way to reattach my saddle. The bolt had sheared in two in a freak accident.
I surprised myself by not throwing the bike under the nearest passing truck. I actually laughed when I realised the hopeless situation I was in. There I was less than two miles into the race that I’d been preparing for all year, a race my whole family had travelled hours for to watch me, a race I was feeling good about. I had two choices, I could quit, I mean no one would blame me, my bike was broken. Or I could continue, after all it was only another 54 miles on the bike and a half marathon ahead of me. The sensible person would have quit.
I don’t do sensible. I got back on my bike and tried to just balance the saddle on my seatpost and grip it with my thighs. I realised instantly that that was impossible to do. The saddle went in my tri top pocket and I set off. It was hell. Think about it, you need to sit on your saddle to eat, drink, go round corners, use your tri bars, change gears on a tri bike, get a breather. All of those things were lost to me. If I wanted a gel I needed to stop at the side of the ride. Riding out of the saddle, I couldn’t maintain any speed. It was a war of attrition that I was slowly and painfully losing. The screw sticking out of the carbon seat post was sticking straight into my backside, I lost skin and feeling in places no man should ever experience. The frequency that people passed me slowed and I realised I was at the back of the field, my only hope was avoiding the cut off times. Several times I screamed out in frustration as I rode on the deserted country roads.
My dad passed me in the car at about 36 miles and I desperately flagged him down. As I stopped the bike I could hardly stand. My left knee and Achilles felt like hot pokers were being pressed into them. The unnatural riding postion had pulled my joints and muscles out of line with each pedal rotation. My dad ( a retired engineer ) agreed there was no way to reattach the saddle, however he had the ingenius idea of wrapping a tartan travel rug around the post to offer me some comfort. I’d later tell this to the race referee, who was very understanding and didn’t disqualify me for outside interference. The padding offered a little respite over the last 20 or so miles, but the damage was done.
As I neared transition I had two thoughts. The first being, “I can’t believe I still averaged 16.8mph, thank god it’s over.” The second was “How the hell am I going to run in this state?” Pride got me through the first and last miles of the run, I didn’t want to walk in front of my family and the crowds. However as soon as I was on the deserted river path I was reduced to a pained shuffle. I can run a half marathon in 1.39, it took me 2.50, that’s how bad it was. Skin had been lost before I started running, almost 3 hours of shuffling, each step felt like sandpaper between my legs. I nearly cried.
I eventually finished in 7 hours and 29 minutes, 249th out of 250 finishers. I ran the last 300m with my five year old niece, it was worth the suffering for that. She loved it. I learned a lot about myself, I’m tougher than I ever imagined, most people I’ve spoken to said they would have quit.
I’m also thinking it must be a world first, someone finishing a 70.3 race after losing a saddle less than 2 miles into the race. If anyone knows any different please let me know. Surely there can’t be anyone else as unlucky as me.
Andy Holgate is the bestselling author of “Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Run: From Common Man to Ironman.” He lives in England, competes in triathlon and enjoys life to the full with his family.
He has his own blog HERE and his book is available from all good bookshops including Amazon HERE .