In the Water
6:00 am: It's time to swim. Ryan Robinson enters the water with Derek Wiley, John Irwin, and fellow Team NordicSkiRacer.com teammate Spencer Ruffner to begin a 2.4 mile swim, the first leg of today's Ironman-distance triathlon. Michelle Robinson slides into her kayak, to paddle the route beside her husband.
There's barely light in the sky. The swimmers hug the shoreline following the out-and-back course Ryan laid out over the winter. John leads the way, periodically standing up in the water (it's usually no more than 4 feet deep) so the other swimmers can take aim and stay on course.
Around 1:20, John arrives on the shore. By 1:29, Ryan and Derek arrive, with Spencer just a few strokes behind. Ryan sees new arrivals on shore. "Hey man! Glad you could make it!" The video camera rolls, as filmmakers from Channel 15 record the event for a documentary to appear in a couple weeks on the local cable channel.
There are no other competitors in this personal, 40th birthday celebratory triathlon. Ryan easily talks to family and friends as he dresses for the 112 mile bike ride.
Ryan and Derek finish the swim
On the Road
Ryan's pumped. He rolls out of the Orchard Lake Boat Launch south onto Orchard Lake Road, turns right on Pontiac Trail and right again on Old Orchard Trail with a small entourage of domestiques that include swimmer John plus NordicSkiRacer teammates Randy Kessler, Mike Muha (me), Aaron Tarnow and Steve Kuhl. Aaron and Steve had lagged behind to see if Spencer was ready to ride (he wasn't) and had to chase the rest of us. Steve later said, "Jeez, we had to ride 26-27 miles per hour to catch Ryan! My cold legs were groaning!"The loop took us right on Commerce Road back to Orchard Lake Road and past the Boat Launch entrance where we thought we'd pick up Spencer. Spencer never had a chance - we were moving so quickly he couldn't get up to speed fast enough to catch on. Spencer ended up doing a nice 71 mile ride alone, long enough on what was to become the hottest most humid day of the year so far.
The rest of us head back up Old Orchard Trail back to Commerce Road, but turned west on a route that would eventually take us through Brighton. Ryan kept up a hard pace until he gave us a break west of Wixom on Pontiac Trail for a quick pit stop behind some trees. After that, Ryan's initial adrenaline rush had warn off enough that we were back down to a sane pace.
Unlike the Tour de France, where the domestiques ride in front to break the wind for the leader, in this individual triathlon, Ryan lead the entire distance. We happily took advantage of the 20-30% reduction in air resistance, occasionally rotating who was directly behind Ryan.
As we turned off Pleasant Valley Road onto Spencer Road, Randy and John peeled off to head back. Further down Spencer Road, as we came up to a stop light on Old US 23, another NordicSkiRacer member - Bill Kaltz - joined us. He had just ridden 20 miles from his home in Pinckney in hopes of hookuping up with us.
Ryan puts on socks while John finishes a banana
We cruise through Brighton and head south on Rickett Road. As we get ready to cross Lee Road, we see teammate Yvon Dufor and his two kids cheering Ryan on. They're standing next to to a huge sign that says, "Happy 40th Ryan!"
Another couple miles on, teammate Hugh Pritchard is standing by the side of the road with jugs of water in case we need a refill. We pass by, knowing my wife Jill is just up the road with fresh bike water bottles.
For most of the ride, we've been blessed by overcast conditions. But the sun is starting to peek through; soon it'll be bright sunny skies, temperatures well into the 90's, high humidity - the warmest day of the year to date.
We've passed under US-23 and are heading east on Silver Lake Road toward the intersection of Rushton and 10 Mile, our arranged meeting point for water. Ryan has been smooth as silk on his bike, riding a straight line even with his limited experience with aero bars. Teammate Dan Motowski loaned Ryan a time trial bike - a Felt S22 - and Ryan's only had about three weeks to adapt. He feels the bike definitely gives him a 1-2 mile per hour advantage over his old bike.
Ryan leads Aaron and Steve near Wixom
Around mile 45, Ryan moves slightly over to the right to allow a truck to pass, and promptly rolls off the pavement onto the gravel shoulder. No problem. Unfortunately, he tries to roll back on to the pavement. His front wheel hits the lip of asphalt and stops moving left; Ryan's body continues.
Ryan crashes at around 20 mph. He hits the pavement hard and ends up near the centerline; his bike flips over his body and continues airborne partway into the opposite lane. Everyone else manages to avoid Ryan and his bike. The trailing truck also stops in time.
We're all thinking the same thing: "Broken collarbone" or "Where's the closest car to get him to a hospital."
Miraculously, as we scrape Ryan off the pavement and move his bike to the shoulder, we find he's only bruised and scraped. He doesn't even have a tear in his bike clothes. He takes a minute or two to pull himself together. You can tell he's a bit stunned, and a bit angry that something like this could happen. Once up, he's determined to continue.
Aaron fishes out an allen wrench so Ryan can adjust the aero bars - they moved a bit during the crash. A few minutes later, everything adjusted, we're on the road again.
Have a Banana or Some Crackers?
Three or four more miles later, we roll up to Jill's car in the parking lot of a South Lyon School get water. Jill is shocked when Ryan asks, "Do you have a banana or some crackers". Ryan's out of food and we haven't even covered half the bike distance! It turns out that somehow his water bottles and feeds got rearranged on his transition area table and he grabbed the wrong bottles for the bike.
This is not good.
I hand over a flask of Hammer Gel, about 3 hours worth. Ryan feeds. We all grab filled water bottles from the cooler in the back of Jill's CR-V. Jill volunteers to get more food and water, and to meet us in about 45 minutes at the corner of 7 mile and Pontiac Trail.
Back on the road. We head west on 9 Mile, turn south on East Shore Drive, then back east on 7 Mile. Ryan gets mostly back in the groove and we're at speed again.
This time, I'm having problems. For the past 30 miles, by left calf has been hurting, and the pain is increasing. Every once in a while, I get a shooting pain from hip to foot. I try to stretch it out, shake it out, pedal with my knee in, pedal with my knee out - to no avail. I must have unknowingly injured in while lifting weights last Wednesday.
On the aero bars, heading for the transition area
I can't really stop riding - I'm the navigator! I'm much more familiar with the roads than Ryan and he's depending on me to make sure he doesn't take on wrong turns. Salvation some comes from Bill Kaltz - he's memorized the map, knows the route, and can lead Ryan through the less familiar sections. When we get to 7 Mile and Pontiac trail, a few miles past the halfway point, I abandon.
Jill's on the opposite corner giving water and food to Aaron, Steve, and Bill ("Isn't Mike coming over here". "No, he's quitting." "Quit joking. Does he need water?" "No, he's quitting!")
I'm with Ryan. I pour my highly concentrated bottle of Sustained Energy into two water bottles, then fill each up with water and hand them to Ryan. I also give him a second flask of Hammer Gel. That should be easily enough calories to get him around the bike course.
A video crew from Channel 15 is here - I hitch a ride with them because I know they'll end up back at the start/finish area. We leap frog Ryan and crew down Pontiac Trail, periodically taking videos as they cycle past. The we turn around and head home - a second crew is now on the scene to get additional footage.
It's getting hot. Even though Ryan is doing all the pulling, even Aaron, Steve and Bill are getting hot. Ryan's pushing about 16 mph up the hills. On downhills, he hits 20 or faster, a pace he keeps on the following flats until the next uphill.
Bill guides the group through Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake back to the intersection of 7 Mile and Pontiac Trail (the route repeats the 7 Mile segment), bids ado, and heads home. The rest of the route is very familiar to Ryan.
The worst part of the bike route is on Pontiac Trail between 7 Mile and 9 Mile. Bumpy surface, heavy traffic - it's a scary part of the ride. During practice, Ryan had always done this section on Sunday. There's a lot less traffic on Sunday...
Ryan, Aaron, and Steve get through South Lyon, New Hudson, Wixom, and Commerce. Ryan's flying down Commerce Road, although all the stop lights interfere with the rhythm. The group rolls into the Orchard Lake Boat Launch with a 112 mile bike time of abut 6 hours. Elapsed time, including the nature call, crash, and two water stops? An additional 20 minutes. Planned time for the bike ride: 6 hours. Ryan's pretty much on schedule.
On the Trail
Ryan strips off his bike jersey, helmet and gloves and grabs some water. It's hot. Everyone's hot. Ryan's hot. After changing into running shoes, Ryans adds a couple extra bottles to the milk crate on the back of a mountain bike. Mike Camilari will pedal the mountain bike behind Ryan during the run - a portable feed station.
Ryan adds a couple extra water bottles to Mike's bike. Mike will shadow Ryan on the run, acting as a portable feed station. Notice the road rash on Ryan's waist from the bike crash...
Ryan walks the Boat Launch parking lot to shake his legs out, then starts running the quarter mile stretch of Orchard Lake Road to the West Bloomfield Rail Trail. Wife Michelle and friend Doug Chase run with Ryan.
Most of the trail is on a nice hard-pack gravel trail - a great running surface. Only 26 more miles to go.
Did I mention it was hot?
At the end of 8 miles, Michelle has to return home to start preparing for the post-triathlon party. She's a little worried that the heat and humidity might be getting to Ryan and calls Adam Wujcik, friend and local EMS man. Adam was to run with Ryan a little later in the marathon segment; Michelle asks if he could run a little sooner just to make sure everything is all right.
Over the next few miles, nephew Josh Robinson, Stephanie Irwin, Mark Rizik, Adam and Michelle Wujcik, Mike Katjarvi, and brother Rustyn Robinson pace Ryan. Ryan runs then walks, runs then walks. He's walking more and more.
At 15 miles, Ryan stops and leans against a pole to rest. He then sits down in the grass. Water and food are just not going down. He's dehydrated. He's hot. He's done. An awesome effort thwarted by the heat and humidity. He does the smart thing and abandons before he gets into serious trouble.
Derek returned and saw Ryan, and immediately went to get his truck and drive Ryan home. Adam then spends the next couple hours making sure Ryan stays out of the sun and slowly hydrates himself.
Michelle, Doug, and Ryan on the West Bloomfield Rail Trail. Mike follows on the bike.
Ryan recovers and has enough energy for the fourth leg of this triathlon: the post-race birthday party! Friends and family gather around his pond and swim, eat and drink. We sing Happy Birthday to him and eat cake. He enjoys the fellowship in his exhaustion.
Ryan's moving slowly but he'll recover. I'm sure he's already thinking about his next triathlon...