Saturday was one of the hardest rides I've ever done. It was 32-miles of leg-shredding hell. Why? Because I got a flat. Two miles in to the ride.
But let me back up a bit and set the scene for you. Saturday was a group ride with FTP Coaching up in hilly Sumner County. There were 10 of us, including Coach Andrew. On rides like this, we generally ride the first few miles together, and then just split up naturally as the ride progresses. It was supposed to be a "ride hard, but have fun" kind of day.
We start riding and BAM - two miles in and my front tire flats from a faulty valve. We were still together at this point, and Andrew told everyone to ride on while he stayed behind to help me fix my flat. Now let me say - I know how to fix a flat. It might take me a while, but I know how to do it. To any newbies out there - LEARN HOW TO FIX A FLAT. I can't tell you how many cyclists, both men and women, have told me they don't know how to do this.
Anyway, I remove my wheel and look in my flat kit for the tire lever that helps separate the tire from the rim and...no lever. What? How can this be? I usually have 2-3 levers in my kit! But no. Nothing. Fortunately, Andrew was there and while he didn't have a lever, he DID have a multi-tool that was a decent substitute. Since I probably would have sliced my fingers off while using the multi-tool, I let Andrew remove the old tube and replace it with the new one.
I then handed him my CO2 inflator, which is used to pump up the tire. And...there was a hole in the cartridge. Empty. Completely worthless. Unfortunately, that was my only cartridge. I knew this because not five minutes before we started riding, I removed my spare cartridge from my kit to make room for my keys. So of the three small things I needed to change a tire, I only had one - the tube. Which doesn't do anything for you if you can't put air in it. So for the second time, Andrew came to the rescue and gave me his CO2 cartridge. We got the tube inflated and got back on our bikes, and we were finally ready to ride.
And this is when the leg-shredding began. Andrew and I figured we had lost at least 10-15 minutes to the riders who went on ahead. He looked over at me and said "once we get over this hill, get on my wheel and we'll go catch them." I knew I was in trouble because to say that Andrew is significantly faster than I am is an understatement. And even though I'd be getting a break by drafting behind him, trying to hang onto his wheel was going to really hurt. But what are you going to do? He's my Coach. I can't exactly say "Nah - I'm good. You go on." Plus, I like having a challenge like this when I'm riding.
At first, it wasn't bad. The road was kind of downhill with some easy rollers. After a few miles, I actually said "I can do this all day." But then we turned and the road wasn't so easy. There were some false flats and definitely more inclines. I tried to stay just a few inches off of Andrew's wheel the entire time, and did a pretty decent job of it, for the most part. Every time we turned a corner, I expected to see part of our group, but no. Just empty road.
Finally, after about 15 miles, we caught up with two members of the group. HAZZAH! I said something in greeting as we flew by, but kept focused on Andrew's wheel, as we still had five more people to catch! Jessica (FTP Coach and Andrew's wife) was driving SAG for us and we knew from her that the other group was only a few minutes ahead. Surely, we could catch them! Every time I saw a rider up ahead, I thought it was them. Heck - half the time I saw a mailbox up ahead, I thought it was them. But no. Just wishful thinking, I guess.
At around mile 24, we turned on the road that would take us back to the cars. I KNEW Andrew had to be frustrated that we hadn't caught the other group, especially since he definitely would have if I wasn't holding him back. There was one last big climb on the route, and when we hit it, Andrew dropped me like an anchor. I don't think he meant to, but I just couldn't hang on any more. I had been averaging more than a mile-per-hour faster than I normally do this ride. I was spent.
Once I crested the hill, I was alone, but still determined to catch the group if possible. I made the last six miles my own individual time trial. With two miles to go, I passed Andrew on the side of the road talking on the phone. I figured he was checking in with Jessica, and when he didn't wave me over, I just kept motoring on - hoping I would catch SOMEONE in the next two miles.
I did not. I turned back into the parking lot and the remainder of the group was there. Apparently, they had split up into two groups, and the latter had just pulled up a minute before I did. While I was mad that I hadn't been able to catch them (because I'm kind of competitive like that), I felt a little redemption when I looked at my watch. I did the route 15 minutes faster than I ever had previously. Not bad.
While I was recovering, everyone was asking where Andrew was. I figured he'd be right behind me, but he wasn't. A few more minutes went by...no Andrew. Finally, after about 10-15 minutes, here he comes. Any guesses as to why he was late? Yep - he got a flat tire. Remember when I flew by him with two miles to go? He had flatted. And the reason he was on the phone was because he needed Jessica to bring him what? Another CO2 cartridge. Because I had used his.
And yes, I'm a horrible person. I didn't stop to help the person who is not only my Coach, but also the person who had saved my bacon earlier in the day. What makes this even more tragic is that the ONLY OTHER TIME I've ever flatted, Andrew was there and saved my butt then, as well. (That time was a true comedy of errors. I think we went through two tubes and three CO2 cartridges to get the flat changed. We ended up using an old GU wrapper to seal my tire.) In my defense though, I did say something to Andrew when I flew by him and he didn't wave me down. Of course, he knew I didn't have anything to change a tire with, so why call me over?
Let this story serve as a warning to any new cyclists/triathletes out there - or any seasoned vets who get lazy about checking what's in their flat kits (that would be me). Carry a flat kit and check it before every ride. This should include at minimum: an extra tube, a CO2 cartridge with inflator and a tire lever. If you have room, carrying an extra tube and CO2 cartridge never hurts. Some people would rather carry a mini-pump instead of a CO2 inflator, and that's fine.
And if you don't know how to change a tire - LEARN! Don't think that just because you have never flatted, that you never will (I have flatted twice in six months after NEVER flatting in my entire history of riding). And don't rely on someone always being able to help. The one time you ride solo is when you'll flat. And have no cell phone coverage. And you'll be 20 miles away from the car. Or worse - you'll flat on race day. Then what will you do?
Here is a brief run down on how to change a flat. Learn it. Sit in front of the TV and practice it. You'll most likely need it one day.