Round Rock Rotary Reindeer Run – 5k race report

I signed up for the Round Rock Rotary Reindeer Run 5k (5R5K), since my mother in law is a member of the rotary and a big promoter of the Play for all Abilities park which was the benefiting charity of the run. The run is the only opportunity you have to see the Round Rock trail of lights by foot (otherwise you have to drive through it). They have a 5k timed run, then an untimed run or walk, so you can walk the trail with your kids once all the sweaty people are off the course.

At about 5:25, I lined up near the front of the pack, careful not to get trapped behind anyone who did not have “cut” calves or who was wearing an Santa costume or terry cloth running sweats.

The start gun went off and I turned on my iPod to a medium high tempo song for a warm-up start. I did that crowded bouncy jog until I got close to the start line, then started my Garmin (if you don’t have a record it didn’t happen).

I remind myself to start out slow. If you go out too fast you will blow up… just like that 9 year old who blew passed me. He is going to implode before the end of this race as it is clear he is trying too hard to go super fast. Inexplicably, I find myself speeding up to pass the 9 year old. Must. Not. Let. The. Nine-year-old. Win.

Then a fast song starts on my iPod, I speed up some more. Some random guy starts to pass me. Oh, hell, no.  (dang it, you were supposed to start slow!)

Mile 1: 7:32

Hmm, that may have been a bit fast. At this point lets just try to maintain a good solid pace. Maybe even look around at the Christmas Lights which I had not even noticed during the first mile of the race.

The race is an out and back with the first half pretty much uphill*, but a nice fast second half. OK, I figure it should take me one song to get to the turn around. And slow tempo song comes on. I fumble with the iPod to get to the next fast song.  OK, “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, not the sentiment I was looking for, but he pace is ok.

*my race file indicates that it only gains 28 feet on the uphill portion, which is crazy since you can clearly feel that you are running up hill.

Somewhere around mile 1.3 I start to lose steam. Dammit! Soon I will get to the turn around then be able to run downhill…

I turn around and continue to slow down until I get to the 2 mile mark.  Ok, drop your shoulders, fast turnover, hup, hup, hup, hup!

Mile 2: 7:45

OK, second wind, baby! Less than 8 minutes and we’re done.

Hey, where did this hill come from?
I get passed by a few folks who are certainly picking up speed for their big finish, as I continue to lose steam. THIS is what I was talking about when I questioned the wisdom of racing an inexperienced 9 year old out of the gate.

As I run the last mile I start thinking of excuses for what is looking like a fading finish (I ran 14 miles yesterday, I rode 46 miles on my bike this morning, I shouldn’t have had that taco a half hour before the race…).

There is a huge light tunnel that you run through that always makes me sick.  All the flashing lights and bouncing of the run.  I generally appreciate it for about 5 seconds, then look at my feet.  I can see the white lighted tree that signals the turn before the finish line.
Ok, you can do anything for 1/4 mile. I huff it across the finish line fairly certain I am going to puke.

Mile 3.1 – 8:00

So it took me 23:37 which is a perfectly respectable time, but if I had started at the 8:00 minute mile, then dropped to 7:45, it is very likely that I would have finished stronger than the 7:32.* So, first 5k of the season and I pretty much did it wrong. However, I have all season to get it right.

*Whereas folks think that if they start out really fast, they will be “making up time” they would lose when they get tired at the end of the race, this is completely not how it works. If you start off slower you will have more energy at the end to finish stronger. It’s a science thing called “negative splits

This is a really great, fun 5k with lots of Christmas lights to see and Christmas Carols being played if you are not listening to an iPod.  The untimed crwod is much bigger than the timed crowd but most of those folks have every intention of walking through the lights and not racing at all.  The timed crowd is small and a pretty good size run to get your feet wet if you are new to 5ks.

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2016 Ironman Los Cabos

palmilla

So, sometime in early 2016 I signed up for Ironman Los Cabos (San Jose Del Cabo/Cabo San Lucas. Mexico). I didn’t know much about the race, but my training buddy wanted to do it and the location seemed really nice from the pictures.Unfortunately, my training buddy never signed up for the race and/because she did not have time to train for it, so it was just me training for IMLC. When you are a social butterfly such as I am, training by yourself sucks.

Also, it dawned on me that perhaps I should have looked into the course a bit more before I signed up: A warm salt water 2.4 mile swim (so no wetsuit); a 112 mile bike ride with over 6000 ft of climbing*; a flat 26.2 mile three loop run course; average temperature = 89 degrees.

*the only ride I could find that had a similar elevation ratio is that disaster that was the bike of the 106 West Triathlon in Colorado, and we know how that turned out.

As I started my training, my run was not at all coming a long as I had hoped.  I had to bail on several long runs during the summer heat and humidity.  I was much slower than I had been in years past, and running felt like torture. I am not a very good swimmer but I am usually consistently slow. Now, however, even my swim time was off by about 10 seconds per 100 meters, which is a lot. While the bike is my strength, 6000 feet of climbing is a lot of climbing.  To do even moderately well, I would have to have a really strong bike ride. At past Ironmans I averaged between 5:45 and 6:15 hours on the bike.

As the days ticked passed and race day got closer, I determined that I really, really was not ready for this race.  Five weeks before the race, while I was out on a bike ride, I made the executive decision that I would change my race to the Half Iron.  Suddenly it was like a giant weight was lifted off my chest.  I was confident I could do well in a half iron.  As soon as I got home, I logged onto my computer only to find that I had missed the transfer cut off date by one week.  So I was “stuck.” At this point I reluctantly began to accept my fate (note: this is NOT a good way to go into a big race). I had two not-awful runs (which was a big improvement over my previous runs), and was able to finish the Kerrville Triathlon 70.3 in just under 6 hours -I determined that if I could not finish Kerrville in 6 hours I would drop out of he Ironman race since my PR for that race was a 5:33.

After updating my passport, I had lined up a nice condo just off the run course and across the street from the host hotel, a rental car at quite a good price, and the airline tickets were bought for both my husband and I.  Phil was prepared for a week of fishing off the coast.  After all this, I would not cancel the whole trip.

I began to accept my fate, much like a sacrificial virgin to a volcano.  Ok, not much like a sacrificial vir– ok, nothing like a sacrificial virgin. Hmm, a better analogy… like a prisoner of war– but maybe one who paid money to become a prisoner of war and could actually leave if they really wanted to?  Whatever. I was gonna do this thing and it was probably gonna hurt a lot.

On Tuesday morning we set off for Mexico, and arrived in town at noon.  We had to walk across the tarmac at the San Jose airport.  It felt like 115 degrees getting off that plane into the blazing sun.

I am going to die.

We got to the Enterprise rental car counter and while the car was quoted very, very very cheap at $25 for the entire week, I figured we would get hit with a bunch of add on costs, so I was prepared for paying a couple of hundred bucks.   What!?! Oh, hell no! I was not prepared for $700 ($12,500 pesos) for a car for the week.  My husband recommended that we take the car and see if we really needed it and if not, we could just return the next day (we ultimately did return the rental car).

We drove into town and got to the condo.  Upon entering, I looked for the thermostat since it was warm and no one had turned the A/C on.  Hmm.  I went upstairs and checked the walls.  Hmm.  Phil said, “I don’t see any vents. Seriously, I don’t think there is A/C.”

Aw, hell, no!  I am not staying in an un-air-conditioned condo in 93 degree heat for the week of my Ironman.  Since it was the day the rental was supposed to start, I knew I wasn’t getting my money back, but there was no freakin’ way this was going to work.  Phil went and rented a room in the hotel resort across the street. I sent a nice email to my Air BnB owner explaining my issue (“Why would you expect everywhere to have air-conditioning!? My ad says there are fans in every room!”  I dunno.  Because Mexico is hotter than hell and not a third world country? You also said there was bottled water, but I assumed there was also running water (I didn’t say this, but it is what I was thinking)). She agreed to give me a small portion of my money back.

Let mine be a cautionary tale:  If you rent off Air BnB or VRBO make sure it specifically says their is A/C, because apparently not everyone in has A/C.  Hell, might as well go ahead and check and make sure it has heat if you are traveling in the winter.

 

So the trip did not start off well for a race I really did not want to do.

On Wednesday, I went our for a bike ride on the Ironman course along the transpennisular highway.

I take back every bad thing I have ever said about Austin drivers.

Ho-ly crap!  These people drive like lunatics! I had box trucks passing me with 3 inches clearance. There were very few opportunities to turn around on this divided highway, so I was committed at least for a while, until I could take an exit ramp. I was extremely relieved to get back to my room alive and determined that I would not be riding my bike again until race day.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, I had a complete emotional break down.  It was hotter than hell and humid as fark, and I wasn’t trained and I didn’t want to do this race,  but I had flown to Mexico and spent a boatload of money, a lot more than I had even planned, so I couldn’t not do it. I just wanted to go home! I didn’t know what to do.

I phoned a friend who talked me off the ledge. Thereafter, I spent every free moment at the “Serenity Pool” listening to Yanni on a chaise lounge.  There wasn’t much else I could do, so I tried to stay in my happy place.

The Adults-only “Serenity Pool”

cabo-pool1

Everyday it just seemed to get hotter.  Where the weather was predicted to be a comfy 84 degrees a week before the race, that temperature just kept creeping up from 91 to 93 to 95…

RACE DAY

The night before the race, Mexico turned it’s clocks back an hour, so I got to sleep in a bit (Mexico was then 2 hours earlier than Austin).  I took a bus from the host hotel to the race start.  While there were only 360 folks signed up for the full Ironman race, there were close to 800 for the half Ironman 70.3 race and some folks doing the Relay and Aquabike.  The race was set up so that the Half Iron folks would start an hour early and be far off the swim course by the time the Full Iron folks headed out.  However, I still needed to get out to the race site (inexplicably transition never closed, so arguably I could have gotten out there 5 minuted before my race start).  Watching all the Half Distance racers just sent my anxiety through the roof. Breath, breath, breath… That was a very long hour.

Finally it was 7:30, time to start.

THE SWIM

As my swim training has not gone great my swim strategy was to get on the feet of someone a bit stronger than me and  draft* the whole way.

*Drafting involves  swimming closely behind someone slightly faster than you, allowing you to coast on their wake and go along for the ride. This does not cause any determinant to the lead swimmer.

 

I almost immediately found some feet and stayed on them the entire swim. The water was so clear that it was very easy to keep an eye on the person in front of you, which is not often the case.  There was a school of about 5-6 of us who swam the whole race together.  I could tell that the gal ahead of me was stronger than me since I could  not pass her – because drafting makes your swim easier, you will think that you can pass the person in front of you, but as soon as you come out of their wake and lose the drafting effect you’ll be unable to pass.  I stayed behind and just to the left, while someone else was immediately to my right.  Everyone was super cordial and no one was trying to steal anyone elses’ drafter (ok, there is always that one guy who thinks he faster, so he speeds up pushing me out of the way, but five minutes later he is back.  For some unknown reason he felt the need to do this about 10 times during the swim, where most of us learn by the second attempt that, no, we are not actually able to swim faster than the group).

The water was warm, like 84 degrees, and so clear.  You could see the bottom and the fishes, and the rocks… Really beautiful. And the surf was pretty calm.  The biggest waves were those of the jet skis who were keeping an eye on us.

I was surprised to see that it took me 1:33:43 to complete the swim while drafting.  I wonder if the current was strong, because I really felt like I was moving faster than that, but this was 15 minutes slower than I had predicted.

I ran up the sandy beach into transition and was able to change into my jersey, arm coolers (didn’t want to get a sun burn), shoes and socks (after removing as much sand as possible), then grabbed my bike and ran over the cobblestones to the bike mount line.  I wasn’t in a huge rush since I wanted to be as comfortable as possible since I knew I was going to be on the bike for a long time.

T1 – 6:14.

THE BIKE

Right out of the shoot, there was  nice “warm-up” 1/3 mile climb to the highway. The ride was two loops: a long stretch southbound on the Tranpennisular Highway, then up the toll road to the San Lucas airport, back northbound on the Tranpennisular Highway to the San Jose airport.  Then repeat.

imlc-bike-map

The airports were both located up long climbs: the San Jose climb shorter but more steep than the Los Cobos climb (the peaks in the elevation map below).

The ride was rumored to have about 6000 ft of climbing even though the Ironman website said it was less than half that (the Ironman website was wrong!).

Bike Elevation:bike-ele-imlc

Luckily it was not very windy, but being on a highway when the high temperature was 96-97 degrees it was unbearably hot with the heat hitting you from above and below.

Now, the bike is my strength, and hills do not scare me, but 112 miles is a long way and 6000 ft of climbing is a lot of climbing.

There were 7 water stops on the each loop of the bike route, so one every 9 miles.  I started with a 16 oz bottle of Gatorade, a 16 oz Bottle of water, and my Aerobottle with water (probably 10 oz).  Because we started so late (9:30am Austin time) and I was in the water for 1 1/2 hours, I was not out on the bike until 11:00am Austin time, so it was already in the mid-80’s and very humid.  I finished my first bottle of water before I hit the first water stop.  Not a big deal since I had water and Gatorade with me, but still, wow.  I took a bottle of water or Gatorade at each water stop, but after the first few water stops, I started taking 2 bottles at each stop.

But the time I got to the San Jose airport, I had to stop at the water stop to get ice and refill my bottles with ice and water/Gatorade (I usually ride through the water stop and grab bottles from the volunteers).  Holy crap it was hot. I made a note to make sure that I had plenty of cold water before I had to head back out to the San Jose airport.  At this point, the Half Iron was looking like a much better option than having to repeat the bike route.

My first 56 mile loop went ok.  While not fast, I didn’t feel bad.  I drank a lot more than I normally did on a ride, but never had to go to the bathroom.  Every race I’ve done, I always have to pee somewhere between mile 26-30.  But not this time.  In fact, I never had to pee during the whole bike ride. I also ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, salt tablets, and several gels trying to keep on my nutrition plan.

I headed back out for my second loop.  I felt alright, but was actually going much slower than my first loop, at least a mile per hour slower.  Luckily, I am far sighted so I cannot read my Garmin very easily, and it would not have mattered anyway since pushing myself harder at this point would have resulted in a me blowing up that much sooner.

I passed a water stop and grabbed a bottle of water and put it in my water bottle cage on my bike, then another bottle of water which I dumped into my aerobottle, then used the rest to wet down my arm coolers and jersey.  I quickly drank the water in my aerobottle.  I grabbed my second water bottle and promptly…dropped it.  SHIT!  Now all I had was a half bottle of really warm Gatorade.  I poured that into my aerobottle, and as nasty as it was I also drank that quickly.  Now, I had nothing and was wondering how far away I was from the next water stop.  I was even thinking of begging a water bottle off another athlete, before, finally, blessedly, I saw the next water stop.  Once again, I had to stop to fill up all of my water bottles.

I was doing ok, until I had about 20 miles to go.  At this point I started getting a headache, which for me means dehydration.  How could I possibly be dehydrated with all that I was drinking!?!  I tired to increase my intake, but that headache was here to stay.

I headed back toward the San Jose airport climb, but with the headache, I was really suffering.  There had been about four or five cyclists that had been playing leap frog (usually me passing them on the uphills, them passing me on the down hills), but now they all left me behind.  About half way to the top of the hill, I saw a fellow athlete walking with his bike. “Do you need anything?” I asked, since I was only moving at about 8 mph. “Yeah, if you’ve got a tube.” He replied.

Having had zero flats, I had two spare tubes.  Since I could use the break and I was not going to win this thing, I stopped and pulled out a tube.  He had shallow race wheels (looked like 45’s, for those in the know), but “Crap, the valve is too short.”  The valve on my tube was not quite long enough to clear the depth of his wheels.

zipp-303

His Wheel

zipp808

My Wheel

I have screw on valve extenders for my race wheels that just go over the original valves, as opposed to having to remove the core.  I unscrewed one and gave it to him.  If I got a flat during these last few miles of the ride  (maybe 6 miles), I still had one spare tube and could take the extender off my other wheel (if necessary).  So I was good.  The guy who needed a tube had already had two flats during his race, which totally sucks and why he had no spare tubes. Looked like he was having a  worse day than me.

The short break did me good and I rode up the rest of the hill, then got to coast down hill pretty much all the way to the bike finish, headache firmly in tact. On the way, I tried to stratagize my run.  Do I walk to try to recover and hydrate, or  slow run while I try to recover?

Bike: 7:06:58 at 15 mph (ouch!)

I got off the bike, grabbed my run gear bag, and pulled off my gloves and arm coolers as I headed into the transition tent. I sat down and the eager volunteers where trying to get me out of my bike gear and into my run gear, but I needed a minute.  I had to repeat several times, “Please, just give me a minute.” before the volunteers finally left me alone.  I used a bottle of water to wash my face, while sitting for a few minutes to catch my breath.  Finally I was able to get into my run gear and head out of the tent.

T2- 7:09 (5 of which were just me sitting)

The Run

I got out on the run course and immediately took in some Pepsi, and filed my hand held water bottle with cool water. There were water stops at  every kilometer (.6 miles).  I was trying to figure out how to best rehydrate and stay on my nutrition in order to have a not horrible run.

One of my buddies had cautioned me that day before that coming off the bike, the run would be really hot.  But ha-ha! I win! I learned that if you stay on the bike long enough, when you get to the run it it actually starting to cool off.

I walked about 1/4 mile then started a slow run, while taking in some coke and Gatorade at each water stop.  I actually didn’t feel terrible and the shadows were already getting long. I did alright on the first loop at about an 11 minute mile (not breaking any world records, but only 1 minute per mile slower than most of my long training runs and more than a walk). Phil joined me at the beginning of my second loop and ran about a 1/2 mile with me, which was really nice.

So in Mexico, the race phrase of encouragement is “Vamos! Vamos!”

OMG, are you folks kidding me?  Yes, I realize I am not moving very fast.  I much prefer the American lies of “You look good!” and “You’re doing great!”  Other than the unfortunate phrase of encouragement, the spectators were great, even the rowdy drinking Americans (eh-hem, Jamie, Michele, Sandy and Carolin).

Unfortunately, by the time I got to about a mile 12, my stomach was jacked.  My rehydration/nutrition plan was not working.  I had to start walking because every time I tried to run I would get super nauseated and feel like I was gonna start dry heaving.  Good times!  At this point I was aware that a LOT of folks had dropped out of the race.  I knew that if I walked the entire rest of the race, while I might hate my life, I would still finish in time.  For those of you who don’t know me well, I am not incline to quit, even when it may be in my best interest.

I hooked up with Luis.  A 130+ time Ironman, native Mexican and local celebrity.  He was encouraging, telling me that he was doing 5 IM’s in 5 weeks (Louisville, Kona, NC, Cabo, Florida then Cozemel), and that I had plenty of time and not to worry.  We stayed together for about 1 1/2 miles before he left me behind (later, when I was able to run again we would play leap frog throughout the course).

Periodically, I would try to run and almost immediately get that pre-dry-heave lump in my throat.

nope

Ok, so walk…

I met a guy who had done 27 IMs. We discussed how tough the race had been. He told me that he nearly bailed after the ride (so a 27 timer almost quit, but I was still out there). Twenty-seven, eh?  “So, what do you do when your stomach gets jacked up on the run and you feel like you are going to puke every time you run?”  He asked what I had been eating (bananas) and recommended sipping a little bit of Pepsi and water at each stop and not go too fast.  I pointed out that “too fast” was relative, but that any time I tried to run I got sick. Yeah, he agreed, generally any running was likely to make me sick and it was hard to recover, so “Just enjoy the rest of your race.” [sad trombone]

Yeah, pretty much walked the second loop (mile 12 -17.5).  I did have the privilege of walking through the Discovery park area, where there we’re friendly (I think) little Mexican cows, much smaller than our Texas cows. There we’re also some really cool sculptures that I had not even noticed on my first loop. So there was that.

At some point it dawned on me that if I could get my stomach straight, I was going to bonk since I hadn’t eaten anything or the past 9 miles.  I took out a gel and opened it, then sipped on it for about a 1/2 mile and still only got half of it down before I tossed the rest.

So, yeah, not eating a lot.

gu-gelgu2

But it was something, I figured it I kept sipping on gels as much as I could tolerate, I wouldn’t bonk.  Periodically, I would jog a bit and see what my stomach would do.

Finally at mile 18ish, when I started to jog I did NOT feel like I was going to yak!  mircle

I was so happy that I was not going to have to walk the final 8 miles!  At this point, if I was finished with the race, I would still have the worst time of all my Ironmans, but again, at least I wasn’t walking– not breaking any land-speed records, but not walking.  I hooked up with a gal who was doing her first IM  and ran with her for a while. She told me that she was “One and done.”  I told her that this was not a normal race and that she should try NC or Florida or Lake Placid before throwing in the towel.

I stopped at my special needs bag* (finally on my third loop) which contained just one can of HighBrew coffee, which I did not feel I could safely drink until now.  I drank the coffee with no ill effects!

*”special needs bags” are bags that athletes can put whatever they want in and that are available on the course -usually at the half way point, but since the run was three loops, three times on the run course.

 

I slowly ran most of the final loop and ran into another “one and done” gal with two miles left.  I told her that she might want to give it a few weeks, then consider a race not in Cabo, or not with 6000 feet of climbing, or not in 97 degrees.  We ran the last of the race together.  As we approached the finish shoot, I told her that I would hold back so she could get a good picture (that extra 10 seconds isn’t going to make any difference n my life).

Run: 6:03:21 (err…)

My finish time was 14:57:52, so a sub-15!  Yay! Only 2 1/2 hours longer than my last longest IM.  But…

I FINISHED!

Post Script: The Finish Line experience at Ironman is usually something to behold.  Throngs of people cheering until midnight.  Volunteers helping athletes through the finish area:medal -> picture -> food/drink -> finishers swag -> massage/ice bath and of course an available med tent.

Unfortunately, the finish line experience in Cabo was very disappointing.  I crossed the finish line, there were 6 people in the stands waiting for there athlete – that’s it. I crossed the finish line and was given my medal.  That’s it.  I had no one direct me where to go next. Phil has been down at the finish line for some time, but no one could tell him if I had finished.  After awhile, he headed back to the hotel to see if perhaps I had finished earlier and was there, so we ended up missing each other.

I wandered around until the photographer found me and took my finish picture. Then I wandered past the old pizza, bananas and oranges.  There were two vats of dirty water.  Perhaps formerly ice baths?  It was impossible to tell and there was no one there anyway.

I could see the massage tent, but couldn’t figure out how to get in.  I meandered around some landscaping planters and found the side of the tent where I could enter.  A nixe young man took me in, but when I asked him to not rub on my sunburn so hard, he told me he couldn’t massage me.  I was too tired and miserable to argue. I really, really needed to get into some dry shoes. I asked where the morning clothes bags* were.  Oh, they are 1/2 mile away at T2 with my bike. Argh!

*Morning clothes bags are bags that you can leave anything you wore to or needed at the race site (sneakers, flip flops, pants, sunscreen, et c…) or anything you may want to have immediately after a ace (clean T-shirt or sweatshirt, protein drink, dry socks).

I limped over to T2 on empty streets, where I was given my bike, and morning, T1 and T2 bags.  There was nowhere to change and nowhere to sit, so I sat in the street and changed my shoes.  I then rode (coasted) to the hotel on my bike.  Everything downtown was closed.

In an extreme rookie mistake, I did not have any real food at the hotel.  If we had stayed in a condo with a kitchen, I know I would have gone shopping and loaded the fridge with easy to prepare food, but without a oven/stove or microwave, I didn’t think to get real food.  I had used the last of a loaf of bread early that morning for my race PB&J sandwiches, so I didn’t even have bread (while I did have PB and J). Luckily (?), I had some graham crackers. :-(.  I have never so missed the Waffle House in my life.

casa-waffle

Not the same.

The lack of food is on me, but I really did expect a lot more from an Ironman finish line.

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Why are the Medics following me? – 106° West 70.3 Triathlon

Disclaimer:  This race was such a disaster that I was not even going to share my experience for my awful performance, but a good night’s sleep as a donning of my big girl panties convinced me to suck it up.

My husband and I go to Dillon, Colorado the first or second weekend in September every year.   This year, after making travel arrangements I discovered that there was a 70.3 triathlon in that very town on that same weekend (I think a friend may have clued me in to this).  At $100 for a 70.3, I signed up not at all sure I would even participate.  At between 9,100 and 10,291 feet elevation it is billed as the Highest Triathlon in the world (also cannabis is legal in Colorado, so ya know, “highest”).  The 106° West Tri tag line is “It won’t be pretty but it will be beautiful.”

Also, apparently, there is about 1/3 less oxygen available in this altitude range*:

10300

*It may have benefited me to do this calculation prior to the race.

But I usually ride and run when I am in Colorado, so this would only necessitate the additional packing of my wetsuit (and thermal cap, and booties). Apparently, this race is also wetsuit legal- on race day the water temperature was measured at 61 degrees. Good times!  Meh, I did the Devil’s Backbone Tri in March in Texas and they said the water was 60 degrees and it didn’t feel that cold (but oh, they lied!  that water was much much warmer than 60 degrees, as I was to discover).

I posted a few updates on Facebook, then got a PM from my age group arch-nemesis, Erin Truslow:  “I’m in Dillon!”

Stalker!  Actually, Erin was not racing, but was sherpaing for another Austin athlete.  Since I had done numerous 1/2 Iron distance triathlons I did not think I needed any support, but thank God for Erin!  I will be eternally grateful for her support.

I decided to take my road bike instead of my tri-bike since the road bike had better climbing gears.  Also, I decided not to grab my clip-on aerobars for no good reason at all. A(nother)  decision I would soon regret.  Got into town on Thursday, took a 40 mile ride on Friday to acclimate myself to the altitude (that 14.3 mph average should have been a red flag but for some reason my Garmin watch would not download my stats to my phone, so I didn’t know).  Then I picked up my packet, dropped off my bike, and listened to the “race talk” before heading to the condo for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

The strangest thing about this race was the start time. The race did not start until 9:15 am, but my swim wave did not go off until 9:45am.  My condo was 3 blocks away from the starting line, so I could sleep in until 8:30 and still set up my transition before it closed at 9:05am. Of course, I woke up at 5:30am anyway.  And it was 37 degrees!  I had a cup of tea and some oatmeal, then went out to the race area in jeans and a sweatshirt, set my stuff up, then went back to the condo to nap for a few hours.  So weird.

At 9:00 I headed back sown to the race start. The sun warmed things up nicely, but it was still in the 40’s. I put on my wetsuit, booties, earplugs and thermal cap, then hooked up with Erin and Mark at the swim start.  The water didn’t look that cold…

lake-dillon

THE SWIM

When it was time to get in the water for the deep water (swimming) start – HOLY SH!T that water is cold!  M***** F*****!  It think  the altitude raises the freezing temperature of water, because crap, that water was so cold I should have been able to walk on it.  Relax, relax, relax…It was too cold to even pee.

I counted to 3, then grabbed the neckline of the wetsuit and pulled it out to fill the suit with cold water.  As crazy as that sounds, that is how a wetsuit works.  It does not keep you dry, it keeps a layer of body temperature water between you and the lake.  We were in the water for about a minute before the starting gun went off, then we all started to swim.

Ha-ha-ha, I lie.

Then a bunch of folks started to swim, I on the other hand, took two strokes and stopped treading water and gasping for air.  I quickly realized that the chill of the water and the lack of air in the air rendered me unable to take to swim stokes without taking a breath.  Normally, I swim: breath (to the side), stroke right, stroke left, breath, stroke right, stroke left.  But here I was – breath, stroke right, stop gasp, gasp! stroke left with my head sticking out of the water.

Ok, this is not going to work.  I tried to breast stroke with my head out of the water, which made some progress, but very slowly.  Ok, I would try back-stroking. Have you ever seen me backstroke?  No, you have not.  Know how I know?  because I NEVER backstroke, ever.  I was able to make progress back stroking, but I had no idea where I was going.  Seriously, I was going to be DQ’d on the swim because at this rate I would never make the cut off time (1:10).  My only comfort was that I was not dead last (but why is that kayak following me?) and the folks behind me were not giving up.  In truth, several of the folks behind me were actually lapping me on their second lap of the course.

I determined that I need to keep my heart rate way down in order to breathe, stroke right, stroke left without hyperventilating.  Finally, about 750 meters in to the race, I was able to actually swim, albeit very slowly, and I started making real forward progress.

Moment of truth. As I rounded the last buoy of my first lap I had to make a decision: Quit, or go again.

F*ck it.  Let’s see if I can make the swim cut off.

Surprisingly, if you are actually swimming, even really slowly, you can make pretty good time.  Holy crap, I’m gonna finish this swim!  I crawled out of the lake and into the arms of, like, 6 volunteers who were trying to get me out of my wetsuit while calling for medical – so you know I looked good!  Once I was freed from the wetsuit, I refused medical assistance and headed into transition to get my head together and get out on my bike.

So, I would love to tell you what the times were of my first and second swim lap, but I was swimming so slowly and poorly that my Garmin registered only 40 meters of my entire swim:

dilloon-swim

My official swim race results indicated that I completed the swim in 55:14. so, better than I thought.

I ran into T1 and grabbed a bath towel to dry off.  I could not stop shaking and I needed to be dry, so I finally just sat down.  I dried off as best I could, put on my wool socks and cycling shoes, windbreaker and cycling gloves and headed out of transition praying that a hill would be the first thing I would encounter on the bike since I always warm up on a hill.

T1- 11:00 (Shut up.  At least I stayed out of the med tent!)

THE BIKE

I hopped on my bike heading out to the main street, when I hit a slight bump.  My brand new $45 frame pump flew off.  Hell, no, I ain’t leaving that (and let’s be honest, I was not winning this race anyhow)!  I turned around (at this point there were very few late swimmers coming out onto the bike course) and a spectator handed the pump to me.  But I was still so cold that I could not get my hands to stop shaking to reattach it to the bike frame which lead to frustration which lead to a further inability to make my hands work.  Luckily, here comes Erin, who must have been watching from transition.  She took the pump, gave me a very warm and welcome hug, and sent me on my way.

By this time it was probably close to 60 degrees with full sun, so the bike was not nearly as cold as the swim.  Once I got my legs under me I ate a gel and drank some Gatorade (remember this, because it does not happen very often).  Another situation that occurs when you start a race at almost 10:00am and take another hour in the water, is that the wind kicks up in the afternoon, so there was a nice tailwind on the way out, but a stiff headwind on the way back in (and me, with no aerobars).

I was out there almost entirely by myself (and not because I was in the lead).  While I did pass a few people, this was not at all the way my bike segment usually goes in a race.  I felt strong but I was not passing many people at all. The first 6ish miles were fairly flat, but the next 10 miles were uphill:

bike-elevation

My uphill sections were slow, then my downhill segments were faster but not even that fast.  And when I turned around at Montezuma it became readily apparent how far behind I was.  I passed several athletes who were already 1/2 way through there second bike loop.

At mile 30ish I took my second gel.  I was trying to drink as much as I could, but without an aerobottle on my handlebars to drink from without using my hands, it was hard to grab a bottle and drink with one hand when I as only moving at 10 mph uphill or flying downhill into a stiff headwind.

I can say that at the turn around for the second bike loop I was not even tempted to quit, so there is that.  Starting up Montezuma Road the second time I grabbed my third gel.  At this point the cyclists I was passing were walking their bikes, so at least I was still in the saddle.

I flew back down the hill, then had only 6 miles until I could start the run, but the last 6 miles were straight into the wind.  Good times.  I was really regretting not grabbing those aerobars for these last miles.

Bike Time: 3:58:28 at 13.9 mph (wow, really!? eek.)

As slow and difficult as the ride was, I actually felt pretty good.  I mean, even on a bad day there are always worst places you can be then on the bike, like…

THE RUN

I took my shoes off on the bike since I knew the run into transition was long and down hill and I didn’t want to do that in cycling shoes. I hopped off the bike in my socks and ran to my rack, racked the bike,  grabbed my running shoes, race belt, water bottle, and hey, where the hell is my visor?  Apparently my visor blew away from my transition area.  Dammit!

T2 – 2:42 (not so bad.  Probably my best performance of the day!)

I ran out of transition, up the hill to the run course and …

gasping-runner

Yep, and asthma attack.  I have very mild exercise induced asthma that only ever occurs occasionally and then only when I am going hard, then stop.  So if it’s gonna happen, it usually happens on the bike to run transition.  The 30% reduction in available oxygen likely exacerbated the matter.

A spectator asked if I needed help and I waved her off, but apparently someone alerted the medical folks.  So I have three medics trying to take me to the med tent.  Nooooo!  Once I was able to talk I told them that I would be fine, I just needed to walk it off.  They let me go but told me to wave down a medic if I needed one on the course.

Once I finally caught my breath, I started to jog again and almost immediately started wheezing.  Dammit!  I found that I could jog downhill, but the minute the terrain flattened out or inclined I would be gasping for air.

Nonsequitor: So the Olympics were on last month and one morning, I was waiting in line in a coffee shop and they had some weird Olympic race on the TV. These folks were all noodley in the hips and shoulders, but not quite running   It was race walking.  Example: Race walking

So I started power walking.  I wogged up to a guy who was also walking and asked him how he was doing.  We laughed about how awful the swim was (probably delirium at this point) and he told me that his girlfriend finished her first swim loop, got out of the water and changed her race to the 1/4 Iron Distance.  “You could do that!?!”  Probably better that I didn’t know at the time.

I tried to keep up my noodley fast walk, then would jog whenever I saw a down hill.  Wow, I was really going to be out here for a while.

Also, fast walking is really different from running.  I started to chafe under both arms (luckily there was a bike medic with some Vaseline close by… Hey, are you following me?) and my feet just ached. Really ached.

I was so far back that as I was finishing up my last mile of the first run loop several spectators were yelling “Home stretch!”  Nope.  I sadly shook my head.  I still have another loop.

I took another gel, and by “another” I mean another for the race, my first on the run (this is not good).

At this point the aid stations are running out of water and cups (a usual inaugural race problem).  I had my hand held water bottle so I was doing ok. By now the sun was going down (well it wasn’t that late, but there were a lot of mountains to block the sun) and the wind was pretty stout, but comfortably cooling.  Those of us still out on the course were all encouragement to each other, which was nice.

I got to the final turn around and though out of water they had Coke.  Mmm, Coca-Cola – one of those things I never drink, except late  in a race.  Normally, gross, but now, so yummy!

I checked my watch to see if I could break 3 hours on the “run” and, nope.  It didn’t look like it was going to happen unless I could average 10 minute miles on the last two miles.  I started to jog again but within 1/4 mile I was wheezing.

bevis

Yep, nope.  Keep wogging.

Finally, I came into the last little turn around that led to the finish line.

Run time : 3:05:49

Total Race Time: 8:13:15

Ok, that was awful! Pretty much everything about it sucked.  What the hell was I thinking?  And why didn’t I eat more both before an during the race?  I never felt like I was going to bonk (and didn’t even realize how crappy my nutrition was until afterward), but four gels and a bottle and a 1/2 of Gatorade over 8 hours?!?  No bueno!  I have never come so close to missing every single race segment cut off, and I have never felt so bad during every race segment (except T2!) or come so close to quitting.  And I wasn’t even sick!  If that were my first tri, it would definitely be my last tri.

So now, no matter what happens at the Kerrville Tri at the end of this month, it will not suck as badly as that sucked!

Big, big KUDOs to the other competitors and Ginormous thanks to Erin Truslow who was such a great voice of encouragement every time I saw here.  Also congrats to the Race Director – while my race sucked that was not their fault. The race was really well put together and the water thing will most definitely be corrected next year.

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The 2016 Burning Can Beer Relay

This past Saturday (4/23/16) I participated in the Burning Can Beer Relay.

Wait, what? Yes, it was a 4 hour relay (from 10:00am-2:00pm) with 2 or 4 member teams running a 5k (3.1 mile) loop trail, after drinking a beer.

burning can map

The Course

The rules were: take a sobriety test, drink a beer (or take a 2 minute penalty), run the course, then pass the baton to your next team member who does the same, repeat as many times as possible. Whichever team completes the most loops before 2:00pm wins.

OK, that sobriety test. You’d think this would be easy, but no. No, it was not.   Some folks (like my team-mate Emily, for one) couldn’t get through it sober. The obstacle was a frame with four balance beams and you had to run across the beam, but there were half circle bumps on each board, and you had to jump from round slippery bump to bump to get across the board.

balance board

So something like this, with the dots being raised half spheres about 4-5 inches high and rounded

Emily and I got to the race site about 45 minutes before race time. We had brought a shade tent, two folding chairs, a cooler, and each had a backpack full of sundry stuff. I had the tent and the chairs and Emily has the cooler. Arriving at the site, we saw a good spot at the bottom of a slight incline to set up our home base near where several other teams were set up. As I stepped onto the grass the ground was slightly uneven, I twisted my foot and went flying onto my face… with the tent and the chairs and my backpack landing on top of me. Emily rushed over to see if I was alright and somehow dropped the cooler on my head. No kidding. So, we were off to a good start (luckily only everybody saw it happen).

I figured it would take about 30 minutes for each of us to do each loop with the beer or beer penalty. Since we had four hours that would be 8 loops, or 4 each and just over 12 miles; so less than a half marathon. Since we are both marathoners this seemed totally reasonable. But apparently there weren’t a lot of folks who would agree. The great majority of the teams were four person teams where the runners were not likely to have to run more than two laps before the time would run out. Also, all of these people thought we were nuts.

It was a beautiful sunny day with a gentle zephyr and temperatures in the 70’s at the start of the relay and in the 80’s by the last lap. Emily went first. Once she was out on the course I decided to start practicing the “sobriety test”. At this point I had not had any beer, but it took me 7 times and some friendly spectator coaching (stay on the balls of your feet, you can jump to the side if you start to lose your balance) to get through it, but finally I made one clean attempt. Having “mastered” the sobriety test, I chatted with the other teams, drank some water, and before long I could see Emily coming towards the finish line.

I took the baton (a 12” long piece of PVC), ambled over the sobriety test (got it on the second try), then into the beer tent where I attempted to “slam” a beer. My strategy was that a dark beer is going to go down smoother than a Pils even if it does have more alcohol. I have no idea if that is true. I have not slammed a beer in some… 25 years (?), so while some of these kids were gulping in 30 seconds I am fairly certain I would have done better to just take the two-minute penalty.  I finally finished the beer and set off on the trail.

beer

What I was drinking

I took off down the trail burping for the first half mile, but I felt good, felt fast. I was passing folks left and right. While the trail is not particularly technical it was not like the hike and bike trail either. There had been a lot of rain the week before so there was a lot of squishy black mud, uneven ground, sticks and rocks.

But I killed it. The last section of the route was almost a mile uphill to the finish line. I know this hill because I have run a similar route during some area races in the past. The hill does suck and feels a lot steeper than it is because it is just so freaking long, but I did not stop and I did not walk!

First lap done! I averaged 9:00 miles while running (but I took some time to drink that beer).  I handed the baton to Emily and went to cool down, get some water and relax.

Soon Emily was coming towards that finish line. I grabbed the baton, ran through the sobriety test (took 2x to get it, again) and took the two-minute penalty figuring it would take more than 2 minutes to drink and beer and I would probably run faster without it.

Now, on my first lap I was on fresh legs. During my second lap I was running against a bunch of folks who had not run yet since they have 4 person teams – so their fourth person was on their first lap. I didn’t pass anyone and I was passed like I was standing still by a few of the guys. Without the beer I did not have the burps, but I also didn’t get the hydration. (Yes, beer is a diuretic, but 12 oz of liquid would have been in my system hydrating me and cooling me down for those 3 miles as opposed to, well, nothing). It was so hot… 9:55 minute miles. Wow, I slowed quite a bit. I lumbered up the final hill and handed the baton to Emily.

While waiting for Emily to finish her third lap, I determined that a half hour is a LOT longer when you are running it then when you are sitting in a tent drinking a bottle of water and eating peanut butter filled pretzels (note: peanut butter filled pretzels are the best thing ever!)  Since we are “only” running 5k’s I had forgotten to eat since I do not need to eat on a 5k. But now it is lunch time and I am going to be going on 9+ miles, so I start snacking.

peanut pretzel

So yummy!

I determined that I would go back to drinking a beer for my third lap since it did not appear to hurt my performance on the first lap. And, well, here comes Emily…

I grabbed the baton, tell Emily to remember to eat something, and just made it through the sobriety test (I fell off the last half circle, but I was right at the end, so that counts!), grabbed a beer and chug, chug, chug, gasp, gasp, gasp, chug, [heavy breathing] chug, chug, gasp, chug, gasp … OK, I’m good. This is good. burp

So my 3rd lap is the 6th lap overall, and once again I am running against folks where most of them are only on their second lap and have had a two hour break, versus my 3rd lap on measly 30 minute breaks. But now I know what to expect. I know where the holes are. I know how to hit that mud puddle at about 1.5 miles in (but I swear that puddle got deeper every time I hit it).

puddle

I brought a water bottle with me and dumped most of the water on my head as it was now after 12:30pm and so, so hot for running. I did manage to pass a few folks and I felt like I was moving pretty good. I was able to get up the mile long hill without stopping or walking by picturing Coach Gilbert Tuhabonye yelling me up the hill. Just as I got to the finish line some young blond gal whips past me and beats me in. [shakes angry fist].

Finished in 9:50 minute miles which is better than lap 2 so maybe there is something to this beer drinking. Later, the blond gal admits that she was pacing off me the whole last mile then kicked it in at the end, which still sucks, but is sort of a compliment.

So, I look at my watch and it is 1:02pm. If Emily can get back in 30 minutes, I will have 28 minutes to complete my 4th, our 8th lap. Thing is, I don’t know if Emily is getting any faster as the day goes on, and I have not run a 28 minute lap since my first lap. I try to drink some more water since I know I am dehydrated, and I eat a few more peanut butter pretzels…

Emily finished her lap at 1:35pm. There is no freaking way I am running a 25 minute 5k, but I head out anyway. I figure (1) I need the miles and (2) Emily will kill me if I bail, and (3) who knows what may happen? I bound through the sobriety test in one try (woot!). I forgo the beer because I’m not sure how they add the penalty, but the rules say I have to finish before 2:00pm, so if I finish the lap before 2:00pm it should count even if my time is longer than the next team… I think… actually I have no idea how that would work, but if I spend 3 minutes drinking the beer I will never, ever finish in time.

As I run down the big hill at mile ½ I am passed like I am standing still but a guy who clearly has a shot at finishing his lap before 2:00. Then another guy passes me. Then…nothing.

cricket

Yeah, I am pretty sure I am the last fool, err, I mean, person on the course. I do my best and don’t slack off just because I know I am not going to finish in time. I set my mind to the ice-cold beer I will be able to savor once I am finished. I slosh through the now really deep muddy puddle one last time, I head down the long grassy hill, then up the long miserable hill for the last time, and for the fourth time I do not stop or walk.

As I get closer to the finish line I pick up my pace, but they have already started pulling down the barrier that guides you to the finish line, and as I cross the finish line I notice that…THE BEER TENT IT GONE!!! WTF?! I seriously don’t get a beer? Well, poop.

angry

9:58 minute miles, so yeah, I did not finish on time if it was not otherwise absolutely clear.

That said, apparently there was only one team of “2 female” runners, so Emily and I won our division and won a pair of Keens! Score!

While I didn’t get my final beer, I DID have a blast, and made a bunch of new friends. And the last lap did not suck nearly as much as I thought it would, and I did not hate myself for getting back out there when I knew I couldn’t finish it in time.

I highly recommend this race, especially for casual runners with beer drinking runner friends. A team of 4 makes this race doable for just about anyone who can run a 5k, and a team of 2 makes you an idiot like me!

 

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Texas Independence Realy 2016

Texas Independence Relay is a 200 mile running race from Gonzales, Texas to the San Jacinto Monument in La Porte, Texas, just east of Houston. This year the race was 4/2/16 – 4/3/16. Most folks run in teams of 10, 11 or 12 people (although there are a few crazies who run in teams of one or two, and they usually start a day earlier than the rest of us). We split our team into 6 and 6, and rent two 15 passenger vans.

So, pretty much it’s 6 sweaty runners in a vans for two days without sleep, running non-stop, and living on peanut butter pretzels, mini bagels, and beer (for hydration!).  Hmm, when I put it that way it doesn’t sound like much fun at all.  But it is SO MUCH FUN! Really.

This year was my fifth year doing this race (I think) with team Blood, Sweat & BEERS!

Where running a relay for two days sounds like a lot, I only had 3 legs this year (as opposed to the 4 I usually have since I was coming off an injury) .  Each runner has significant rest periods between each leg, so how hard could that be?

At 9:35* am on 4/2/16, my team started together on a short 1.1 mile warm-up Prologue before we sent our first runner out to start the race.  I got to hang out until 1:19pm before my first leg, Leg #6.

*Teams were seeded by projected pace, so some teams started at 6am, while other would not start until after noon.

That is not to say that I had nothing to do during that time.  The team vans offer support to the team member who is running; offering water, ice and encouragement, and one van has to make sure that the next runner is at the exchange point hydrated and ready to run (and post-tinkled).

kalynnvan

The team supporting Kalynn

But also, the team members have to make sure that all of the other teams know we were there by “tagging” the other vans at the exchange points.  Our team has the coveted “Blood, Sweat and BEERS! Beer, Run, Repeat” bumper stickers but also window markers with which we would tag the other vans.

BSBvans

Our decorated vans

So, we would sneak up on the other teams’ vans and tag the hell out of them.

beerview

You’re it!

So, as you can see, we were very busy.

At 1:19pm, I took the hand off from Angela and started Leg #6.  I was to run 4.8 miles from Old Moulton to somewhere between Old Moulton and Flatonia (protip: Flatonia, not so flat):

Since I was coming off an injury, I had not been running much and certainly had not been running for past the last several months.  My best estimated pace time was a 9:30 minute/mile.  However, I learned that even though Team Blood, Sweat & BEERS was totally chill and only expected each of us to do our best, not wanting to disappoint the team is an immense  pressure.

Even though my Leg #6 seemed to only go uphill, was in the middle of a sunny afternoon and half of it was on a caliche dirt road, I banged out an 8:34 min/mile pace but passed no one.  Seriously, where is everyone? There was no one in front of me for me to catch and no one behind me.  So, no “kills” for me on this leg.

big finish

Notice that there is no one behind me anywhere.

Then I got to support my team mates and cause general mayhem until midnight before my next leg. Did I mention we have a beer sponsor?  All good marketers use the products they are marketing, right?

sponsor

Tony and Justin of Blood, Sweat & BEERS! giving shout out to Independence Brewery!

So, I spent the rest of the day eating peanut butter preztles, tagging vans, supporting team mates and “marketing”.

*  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I love running in the dark. We generally offer a bit more support to our team mates since, well, it’s dark.  But identifying your runner in the dark is also a bit of a challenge. We were using a green headlamp.

inthedark

What runners may look like in the dark.

greenlight

What our teammates looked like in the dark (artist’s depiction)

By the time my next leg rolled around it was full dark . The race had now been going on for over 18 hours.

I donned the moist sweaty yellow reflective vest that at least one other person had run in before me (ew, ew, ew!), a red ankle light, an amber back light (that immediately stopped working when I put attached it to the vest) and my green headlight.  We left our last runner with one mile to go, so I figured I had 5 minutes to use the port-o-john and get to the hand-off.

Do know what is worse than using a port-o-john in the middle of the night after 18 hours of race use?  Nothing!  Ew, ew, ew!

I took the hand-off at 12:07am, and headed 4.2 miles out into the night towards Wallis.

 

A nice straight flat run (there was only 15 feet of elevation change on this leg).  I was a little stiff getting started, but was able to shake it off an find a good pace.

There were a bunch of racers on the road at this point in the race and I passed at least 7 people (I have difficulty counting when I am hypoxic so it may have been 8).  I did have one guy pass me like I was standing still (but just one).

Pace for Leg #21? 8:30 min/mile. Can I get a Woot! Woot!?

In Wallis, our van would hand the race over to the other van for 6 straight legs in order that we 6 team members have an opportunity to take a shower at a local high school, and get some sleep either in the van or in sleeping bags.

You know what’s better than taking a shower after running 10 miles, and spending 14 hours in a van with 5 other sweaty runners?  Nothing (I do love me a middle of the night shower).

After showering, we drove the 30-something miles to the hand-off location for Leg 28, then all snuggled down in our sleeping bags/van bench seat for some restful sleep.

Not! I have no idea when the temperature dropped, but it was 45 degrees out.  My sleeping bag was thermal, but I was too hot when I burrito’ed myself inside, but too cold when I poked my head out.  Then at 3:00-something in the morning all that Gatorade (maybe some beer) I had drank started calling my name, but Alas!  they “forgot” to deliver the port-o-johns to that hand-off location (Whaaat?).  Nothing quite like stumbling around in the dark buggy woods looking for a safe place to tinkle.  When I got back to my sleeping bag, I couldn’t fall back to sleep because I was afraid we would miss the hand-off (the other van would call us and let us know we had about 30 minutes to be ready, but cell phone service was sketchy on the course).  At least I was showered, but I don’t think I got an hour’s sleep.

cranky

You know it!

  • * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My final leg was Leg #32, 5.1 miles at 8:45am. I started in Memorial Park on the running trail. I would run along the hike and bike trail then into downtown Houston.

It was early enough that it wasn’t too hot, but after sleeping on the ground in a parking lot that stiffness I felt at the beginning of my second leg was settling into a real tightness by morning. I was pretty stoked to get started so when Mohamed handed the baton off to me I turned to run and both of the glutes went:

nope

Holy cow, my butt was sore.  OK, we’ll start it off nice and slow and hope that whatever this is works itself out.  But every step was ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow…

I felt like I was running pretty slow and this gal who looked really strong passed me.  We ran a 1/2 mile through the park, then just as we were heading out of the park I saw her run right passed the turn arrow (the arrows were on orange traffic cones).  “LEFT!  You need to turn LEFT!” I yelled.  She took the turn really wide and got back on course, but I was back in front of her.  As she passed me again I told her, “We are on this road for a couple of miles.”

About a block later she turned left.  WTF?  There was no cone, no sign, no random arrow painted on the street from some old construction, nothing. “STRAIGHT!  Go STRAIGHT!” I called, as I passed her again and she turned around to get back on course.  After that I never saw her again.  She may be in Louisiana at this point.

I did pass at least one more racer, but it was hard to tell who was racing and who was just taking a nice Sunday run on the trail.  And I felt impossibly slow and my butt really hurt (but in a good “using the right muscles” soreness way). One of the things that age had brought me is really poor eyesight (but still waiting for the wisdom that is supposed to be bestowed with age [shrugs]), so I could not read my Garmin watch to know what my pace was, but what did it matter?  This was as fast as I could go.

Once I got into downtown Houston, there were cops directing at each intersection (thank God, or I would have been totally lost), and stopping traffic, so I ran the final 1/4 mile into downtown and handed off the baton.  Done! And I really need a massage!

While I felt really slow, I was still able to run an 8:40 min/mile pace.

So, I was done and there was still a cooler of beer in the van.  Good times!  But there are 40 legs in this race, so I still had some supporting to do.  Luckily, I can multitask!

finish line

At the San Jacinto Monument

We had a really good group this year and everyone looked really strong.  No one got lost and no one got hurt. I would call it a resounding success!

Our team finished 53rd Overall and 32nd in our Open Division @ 28:06:38 with an average of 8:27.

 

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Tour Das Hugel 2015

While I have been plagued with hamstring issues while running this year, I figured I would give the running a break to let the hamstring heal, but concentrate on the bike.   Any running irritates the hamstring, yet it is completely unaffected by the bike (although, it has not actually healed and every time it starts feeling better I trip over something to aggravate it, I am certain this has nothing to do with the bike..dammit).

After successfully riding the Death Ride Tour in June, then the 200+mile ride to and from College Station, and the Double Shiner GASP (100 miles Friday, 100 miles Saturday), I determined that I would do the Tour Das Hugel as my “A-Race” this year.  Keeping in mind, of course, that the Hugel is not a race at all, but one of the most challenging ride in Austin.  It is a vaguely organized, slightly supported ride for which no one will take credit.  But they do have a Facebook page, so it must be legit (amirite?).

What is the Tour Das Hugel?  As they explain in the FAQs on their website:

     What the hell is Tour Das Hugel?

     A ride to Hell and back.  Does anyone have a roadmap to hell or a Garmin file? Das Hugel is at least 110 miles of Austin’s most brutal hills. (Some swear it’s up to 113 miles and climbing varies from 10k-13k, but who is counting?)

     While the ride features some notable (and memorable) individual hills with steep gradients, there are also hills and more hills leading to those hills.

++++++++++++++++

     Should I ride Das Hugel?

No.

+++++++++++++++++

tdhelev

So now that we are all on the same page….

A group of about, what, 200 of us(?) met at the pedestrian bridge under MoPac for the  7:00am start down Stratford Drive. I planned on going slow and steady, as a ride like this it would be really easy to blow one’s self up in the first 1/3, suffer through the second 1/3, then have to SAG the last 1/3 back to the truck… and there were no SAG vehicles on this ride.  I saw my friend George who I quickly got away from as he is the person most likely to encourage me to do something stupid (Exhibit A – the 100 mile Livestrong Challenge at 20.6 mph), and met my friend Herb who was only going to do the first 40ish loop.  I was to meet Rhonda for the second 60ish loop so I wouldn’t be alone out there. I did take the time to print out the turn-by-turn cue sheet, although my plan was to keep other riders within my sight so I would know where to turn because (a) I always get lost whether I have a map or a cue sheet, and (b) I did not have my reading glasses so I could not read the cue sheet anyhow.

We started out on the gentle rollers of Rollingwood Drive out to 360.  I was trying to stay with the “big group” and not get separated by the traffic lights (because despite what you have heard, cyclists do stop at stop lights).  These folks did not seem the type to wait for the rest of the group at a traffic light. Later, I determined the “big group” was actually the “lead group”- a group I certainly did not plan on staying with over the course of the day.  We turned onto Westlake Drive, then Toro Canyon to a road named “The High Road.”  No kidding.  The High Road is about 1.5 miles long with an average grade of 12% (translation: long and steep).  Good times!

Grades – There is a mathematical formula for determining the grade of a hill, but let’s be honest, most of my friends are not the type to pull out an abacus and figure this stuff out and those that are so incline have already figured this stuff out at some point in their lives.  This article nicely describes the various degrees of grade of a hill in a friendly way we can all understand – A Handy Guide to Climbing Grades.  As a point of reference, what I have found is that anything with more than about an 10% grade will cause me to pull my front wheel off the ground – which is pretty scary since all your steering is in your front wheel and you are moving really slowly climbing a grade that steep, so you really don’t want to be pulling a wheelie. I tried to err on the side of conservatism but if any of my friends want to correct the grade percentages I have indicated for any hill, please do!

Here is a visual.  I have no idea if that is even helpful.  A 10% looks a lot worse on a bike:

gradient4

I was concerned about what would happen when we hit the first steep hill being in such a pack of cyclists.  If the guy in front of you is going significantly slower it is not easy to pass when we are packed 4 wide.  I certainly did not want to ride up on someone’s wheel and crash, or slow too quickly and fall over, so I had to pace myself to the folks around me, giving a loud audible warning (also known as a “grunt” or “breathing really heavily”) when I was going to pass someone so they would not accidentally veer into me.   While two bikes “crashing” at 4 miles an hour doesn’t sound like a dangerous collision, no matter how fast or slow one is moving forward gravity will pull you down and the pavement is just as hard, then you would roll back down the hill and no one wants that. I was pleased to find that it was surprisingly easy to navigate around the other riders and once we got into the hills as the group spread out pretty quickly.  At this point I determined that (mostly because I am a horrible friend) I had lost my friend Herb never to see him again, (Not, like FOREVER, just on the Tour Das Hugel.  I mean, we are riding together this weekend, so we’re still friends…I think)

Having warmed up our legs, our next hill was Terrace Mountain, at 1.2 mile and a 3-6% grade.  Good steady climbing.  This is the climbing I like best.  At this point I hooked up with a riding buddy of mine, John and his companions Don, Tong, and David.  I determined that this was a good group to stick with because (a) David actually knew the route and (b) they were in it for the long haul, slow, but steady.

I’m not going to list every hill because, well look at that elevation map.  We’d be here all day. I will say that the entire ride was pretty much varying degrees of rollers punctuated with painfully steep hills.

Things I learned: Roads with names that include “Canyon,” “Mount,” or “Mountain” or whose crossroads all end in “Rim” or “Ridge” generally contain some sort of hill.

The next reputed hill we tackled was Cuernavaca/River Hills Rd.  This is a loop with a long descent into a long ascent, but  the road with the uphill depends on which direction you are heading.  After years of hearing about “Cuernavaca” like it was some sort of boogeyman, I was very glad to find that it’s actually a pretty fun loop.  We coasted down Cuernavaca and then rode up River Hills, most of the hills were in the 3-5% range, although there is a portion of 8 or 9% grades that will wake you up.

We headed  over to Barton Creek Blvd, always a good hilly time, then the final “big hill” on the first loop of the ride, which was Lost Creek Blvd.  Inexplicably, Lost Creek is delineated on the cue sheet with one small up arrow indicating that it is not a “bad” hill.  Yeah, well, while Lost Creek may only have an average grade of 5%, that is because it is 3.7 miles of three steep hills with a dip between each one.  The dip (which is a negative percent grade) gets added into the average.  The first and second “bumps” are only about 1/4 mile each with grades of 12%, and the third bump is over a mile long.  The the bottom of the hill starts with an average 12% grade then there is a brief flattening and the top averages 8-9%.  So I’ll just say, “Five percent my ass!”  But once we got to the top of Lost Creek were were done with the big hills on the first loop.

From Lost Creek we had a fairly flat ride back to the MoPac Bridge to refuel and for me to pick up Rhonda who had arranged to meet me at 10:00am.  However, strangely Rhonda was not answering my calls or returning my texts…

After using the restroom and getting whatever we needed from our cars, we set out for loop #2…without Rhonda.  Again turned on to Stratford, but this time in the other direction where Stratford is a bunch of steep by tiny hills. /\/\/\/\. Now that our legs were all warmed up we headed out to Mount Bonnell (8%) then Cat Mountain (a series of 4-14% hills).  Feeling good.  I could do this all day!  At this point I have been riding for just under 4 hours and I’m not even half way done! Weee!

At about mile 50 we got to what I consider the worst hills on the ride.  There are disagreements about which is the worst hill in town.  Is it Courtyard or Beauford? Is it Smokey Valley? Is it Ladera Norte after riding Smokey Valley?  Meh, doesn’t matter in, the next 15 miles we are going to do ALL of them!

IMO Smokey Valley is the worst. The average grade is a 15%+.  Average!  So there are actually portions that are 20%+ grades!  And the great thing about Smokey Valley is immediately when you get to the top you get to ride up the top of Ladera Norte with it’s 15% average grade. Good [pant, pant, pant!] times!

Kicking butt on Smokey valley

That’s me in the front. You see how I am leaning way over the handlebars?  That’s to keep my front wheel on the ground (and while I look like I am going pretty fast I was actually averaging 3.5 mph – that’s like walking, not power walking, just walking)…

From Smokey Valley we rolled up Bluegrass (12%), then Rain Creek (10%)   We stopped at the top of Rain Creek with my buddy Richard,who I was sort of kinda riding with for a little while.  He was generally ahead of me with his group but within sight.  Rich is faster than me and I was really trying to not go too fast on this ride, so I was not technically riding with him.  His wife Linda is the best freaking SAG support a person would ask for (she had driven SAG support for us during the 200+ mile ride out to College Station and back earlier this year). She had water and sport drink, then fig newtons (best cycling food ever!), bananas… you name it, and was willing to help out our little group.

David mentioned that he was not as on top of his nutrition as he should be, but we all seemed to be doing fairly well. I took out a chocolate covered honey peanut butter bar that I found in the bottom of my nutrition bag and packed for the ride. Ugh!  It was awful! It tasted like chalk covered in…chalk.  I commented to Tong that, while the bar was awful, I would save it for later just in case I really needed something to eat.  I carefully re-wrapped the bar and noticed the “sell by” date.  May 2011. (Spoiler Alert: I lived!).  I took Linda up on those Fig Newtons.

As I reviewed my cue sheet to see where we were heading and what the next hill would be, Linda asked where I got it. I printed it off the website, but hadn’t needed to look at it.  I gave it to her as she was ghosting Rich on the course and really needed to know where he would be, and besides, I was with people who knew where we were going ( there’s a little foreshadowing…).

We next headed over to Loop 360, where we would turn onto Lakewood in our quest for Beauford Dr.  Beauford is a thing of beauty. Standing at the bottom and looking up is pretty intimidating.  The road is harshly textured for vehicle traction (and by “vehicle” I am fairly certain they were not thinking bikes, because the road texture sucks!).  I have never tried to drive up Beauford because I do not think my 4 cylinder 1995 Nissan truck would make it (no, I am not kidding).  How bad is it?  Well, looking down from the top….

That's the texture I am talking about. Pix from Tour das Hugel website

Yeah, it’s that bad.  While the average grade is allegedly 11% bottom to top (note: I don’t believe that), I have heard stories about parts of it being 24%+.  I really have no idea. Beauford is only about 1/2 mile long, so while it is a challenge, I don’t think it is the hardest hill in town, but a lot of people would disagree with me.

After cresting Beauford we rode down Jester Blvd (Weeee!) then over to West Courtyard via 360.  Courtyard used to be the hardest hill for me, but that was before I found Smokey Valley which gets points just for sheer steepness.  Courtyard is long with three steep sections that get progressively steeper. But Courtyard is also the type of hill that sucks the life out of you, because there are curves in the road that give you the impression that you are just about done with the hill, until you turn the corner and see more steeper hill, but alas you are out of lower gears so you just have to grind it out! Courtyard still get a 10 for being the soul-sucking-est hill in town.

Ooo, look!. The Austin skyline! Hey, where did that road disappear to?

This is the view from the top of Courtyard.  I always remind people to turn around and look, because you should get some type of reward for making it to the top – the Austin Skyline! Hey wait, where did the road go?

There was a construction port-o-john at the top of Courtyard (I actually felt sorry for what the construction guys were going to be walking into on Monday ).  So we used the restroom as we waited for David.  And waited… and waited.  John then received a text from David: “Bonked.  I’m done.”

Wait, David knew the route.  He can’t leave us! OK, now no one in the group really knows were we are going.  Don has a GPS computer with a map, but he is afflicted by the same condition I have, Can-see-shit-up-close-itis.  He said that he could tell which way we needed to go so long as we were moving because the map would change, but if we stopped he was as clueless as I. Luckily, John still have a cue sheet, so we checked to see where we were heading next.  City Park Road (13%).  Unfortunately there was no way to check the cue sheet without also seeing that at mile 60 we still had over 40 miles left to ride.  Good times!

City Park lead us on a one mile climb with a few turns to a road named Big View.  I had never been on Big View before.  Never even knew where it was, but apparently we were at the top of it.  We turned right and coasted down, down, down, down.  At some point we were supposed to turn right onto River Place, but no one really knew where we were going so we headed all the way down to the bottom of Big View about a mile and a half where we hit a dead end, then we got to climb back out.  Big View is my favorite type of hill, a long steady climb.  The average grade is between 3-4% with some grades as steep as 9% , but you are going up the whole way, so find a good gear and grind it out.  At some point we realized we were supposed to have turned onto River Place, so we turned there now and, well lookit that, continued to climb…for another three miles at a 3% average grade (although there were a few down hill breaks on this portion). When we got to 2222 at the top of River Place we realized that at some point we had lost Tong never to see him again (and I may never see him again, really).  At this point we had to pull out our maps again, but luckily a group of cyclists pulled up while we were waiting for the light and they knew where they were going (Yay!).

We made our way over to a gas station on 620 to replenish our nutrition (Doritos and Nutter Butters!) and hydration (Gatorade, though I could use a beer), then headed down 620 to the Mansfield Dam which is about 4 miles of downhill.

I have ridden “the Dam loop” many times.  Its a very popular route in town, but there is what could best be described as “used to be a paved trail but now looks like the road to The Hills Have Eyes” that goes under the Dam Bridge and will bring you out on the other side of 620 if you are not killed in a bike accident or by lurking psychos.  I tried to find a picture of this trail to no avail.  So then I did a Google search for “dangerous overgrown trail” and still couldn’t find anything in as bad a shape.  So lets just say it was worse then this, but also with a steep downhill grade and giant clumps of grass growing out the middle and we were on our bicycles with the skinny wheels.

considerably worse than this

Someone had thoughtfully written “SLOW” in red spray pain, then about 50 yards later “SLOWER” just before where the trail was washed out and we would have gone careening to our deaths, and we were able to get off our bikes and climb down.  So mad props to whoever the spray paint guys is!

From here we got back on 620 and climbed back up the 4 miles to where we came from.  At the top of 620 it was back to just John, Don and I as we had dropped all of our new friends.  We headed down River Place and back to Big View, but since we had already climbed it once, we felt like were good for Big View and just turned left and made our way back to the top and through the neighborhoods back to City Park Road.  We only had one more big hill: Jester, a 1/2 mile 12% hill, then we were “done”.

While riding down City Park it started to rain.  It had been threatening all day with overcast skies and temperatures in the 50’s (up to this point we had good cycling weather, but rain is not good cycling weather).  We wanted to climb up Jester and get down Lakewood (the last 10% down hill grade) before the roads got slippery and dangerous.

Jester is by no means the toughest hill in town.  However, Jester at mile 93 of a 100+mile ride just might be the toughest hill in town.  Normally, I climb seated until I start to gank my front wheel off the ground, then I stand.  It is generally easier to climb steep grades while standing because you can use your body weight, but it also uses more energy so it is not particularly efficient.  In this case, however, it didn’t matter.  This was the “last hill.”  It was the last graded hill and the last hill most folks in Austin consider a crazy hill.  Mentally and physically, I was beat.  The only way I could get up Jester was on a 16/16 count in and out of the saddle.  16 pedal strokes sitting, 16 standing, 16 down, 16 up…  Another positive note was that counting to 16 over and over gave me something to concentrate on while I climbed the hill.

Luckily the rain never really got harder and the road up was not dangerous.   And can I get a “Woot-woot!”  I made it.  I completed the Tour das Hugel!!  Now all I had to do was get back to my truck at Austin High.  By the time we were riding down Lakewood (it has a pretty steep section, but we had to get back down from our big climb up Jester), the rain had all but stopped.  Somehow we had manage to avoid the rain over the course of the day. Pretty amazing if you ask me, since I have been told that it rained in Austin throughout the day.

And, yeah.  The thing about thinking you are done when you crest the last “big” hill is that it does not necessarily mean you are done climbing hills when you still have over 10 miles to get back to your car.

The Last 20 miles of the TdH

There actually were a few other hills between the “last hill” and my truck. I will just say that riding on 360 from the Pennybacker Bridge up to Westlake Dr (the long hill at mile 97ish in the diagram above) sucked a lot more than it should have.  And the hill from Wild Basin to Bee Caves (that last good bump at mile 101) sucked just like it always does, but perhaps a bit more so on this day.  Then we’re gonna call those last 10 miles a cool down: nice and easy back to the car mostly down hill.

So, yeah, I did the Tour Das Hugel!  I got my T-shirt and a beer and some potato chips.  It was brutal, but it was great!  Probably the toughest day of riding I have done.  I highly recommend it if you relate at all to this guy: (click link) I am a Cyclist!

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The Death Ride Tour (Ride for Life) Day Three – Colorado June 6-8, 2015

I dragged my butt out of bed on the third day of the ride.  This was the day with the 20 miles of continuous uphill climbing and some of the longest steepest grades.  Many times over the weekend I had pushed the thoughts (and doubts) about the ride from Durango to Silverton out of my mind.  I’d worry about it when I got there.  But holy cow, I was tired.  I decided to go with mind over matter.  So long as I keep a positive attitude, it’s gonna be great! Besides I can sleep when I get home.

Eek!

Day 3 – Eek!

The third day of the ride is the same ride as the Iron Horse Classic.  The Iron Horse Classic is a ride that started in 1972 wherein a group of cyclists would race the Steam Locomotive from Durango to Silverton.  I really didn’t think there was any chance that I would beat the train especially after the two days of riding I had just experienced, but it was nice to think that I might without any real pressure or expectation.

Well, that doesn't look too bad

Well, that doesn’t look too bad and there is that flat portion in the middle

The morning was beautiful.  Lows in the the high 40’s which would quickly be on their way to the 50’s.  Since most of the day would be climbing and any descents would not be until well into the afternoon, I opted for a Texas cycling wardrobe: jersey, shorts, fingerless gloves.  It might be a bit chilly in the morning, but I would not be hauling a pack of unworn clothes up the mountain. I mean I just spent $500 on wheels to save 9 ounces, why would I want to carry unnecessary clothes (Note: when you try to Google things that weigh 9 oz the results are generally given in the age of a fetus – I didn’t think that would be helpful here, so no picture).

We started off in town, in front of the hotel with the train.

As you can see, the train got a head start (photo by Daily Photography)

As you can see, the train got a head start (photo by Daily Photography)

The first bit of the ride was a nice warm up through the neighborhood.  Then we would continue on a flat course for the first 16 miles or so before beginning the long incline. The group rolled rather slowly through the neighborhood which had plenty of stop signs and stop lights.  But once we got on Highway 251 I settled in and gained some speed.

I wasn’t paying attention to much else but the road before me, but after a little while I fella came up next to me and said,  “You look like you could use a break.”  Huh?  When I glanced back I saw for the first time that I was pulling a pace line (who knew?).  He got in front of me and I was more than happy to draft. Apparently, the way they do a pace line in Colorado is each time a new person takes the lead they gain a bit of speed, at least that is what it felt like.  Several times I questioned the wisdom of staying in the pace line where we were averaging 21 miles an hour prior to starting a 20 mile incline, but you know how I hate to leave that draft.

By the time we got to “the bridge” at mile 16, the area where the flat ends and the incline begins and kind of an unofficial stop where pretty much everyone grabs some nutrition, I has breathing heavy and a bit nauseated.  Yeah, maybe I was going a bit fast.

I asked,  “Are we ahead of the train?” Because surely we were beating the train at this point and someone answered, “No.”

No?

Well, I guess I wouldn’t be beating the train today. (Spoiler Alert:  Yeah, not even close)

As soon as we crossed the bridge there was a switch-back to the long climb.  I got in a comfortable gear and started grinding it out.  I recognized a bike up ahead.  There was a gal who had been pulling the pace line really strongly for a good long time and although it looked like she had taken her jacket off, I was certain I recognized that bike.  I slowly picked up my pace until I was gaining on her (and by slowly, I mean it took me two miles to get close enough to her to talk to her).  “Hey, were you the gal pulling that pace line?” “Yeah.” She replied. “Nice job!  You were killing it!” I told her.  She said,”I was just trying to catch up to my boyfriend.  I didn’t even know you were all back there.”  Classic!  Then apparently she had to go catch her boyfriend again, because she left me in her dust.

Just about this time, something weird and inexplicable happened.  I cannot explain how, but from out of nowhere I rick rolled myself.  Somehow, this song that I have not heard in months got stuck in my head — as I was climbing the first 13 miles of the big hill.  I didn’t have the energy to fight it, so I hoped it would just play itself out… hopefully in minutes and not hours.

I do have to say that this climb was not nearly as bad as I had imagined.  Periodically I would switch into a harder or easier gear just to keep my legs fresh, but I could totally do this! (Never gonna give, never gonna give never gonna give you up…).

I passed a few folks; a few folks passed me (different folks), but this was doable.  About half way up that hill there was an unofficial rest stop. The advice I had gotten from more than one person was to stop at every rest stop and refill my water bottles.  You never know when you are going to run out and you really don’t want to run out in the middle of a 7 mile hill.  So I stopped, filled my water bottles and had a snack.  Feeling bold and poking karma in the eye with a sharp stick, I said to the other rider at the stop, “Ya know, this really isn’t too bad.”   Then I headed back out onto the climb.

Whenever I would encounter another rider on the route I’d ask, “Where’s the train?” The train was long gone and we were not gaining on it. At the rate I was riding, I have no idea how anyone could possibly beat this train although word on the street is that it does happen.

I rode on and started noticing a rhythmic tweet with each pedal stroke.  If I sped up my pedal stroke — tweet..tweet..tweet.  If I slowed — tweet….  tweet….  tweet.  Yeah, after riding for days in less than optimum conditions my blackened caked chain and gear cassette needed some oil (actually a really good cleaning and oil).  The longer I rode the more frequently the tweet came until I was certain I was an extra in an Alfred Hitchcock movie being chased my a flock of seagulls.

WRONG Flock of Seagulls

WRONG Flock of Seagulls

That's more like it

That’s more like it

Once I got to the top of that incline and started on the flat (kinda felt like a downhill actually) portion, and there was an official rest stop.  I stopped for water and nutrition and noticed that Zach and Thompson, the bike guys from Velosoul had set up a mechanic station there.  I asked if there was any point in adding lube to such a filthy chain.  Thompson offered to do a quick degrease and re-lube for me. Excellent, because the squeaking was driving me crazy.

I snacked on some melon and fig bars and refilled my bottles while he cleaned up my bike.  I walked over to see how it was going and saw Zach trying to help a guy who had broken his rear derailleur lever clean off his bike…and of course in the highest gear* on his cassette.  Suddenly a squeaky chain seemed like a pretty good problem to have (and, I didn’t even have that problem any more).

* For those of you who may not be aware, a high gear moves you a long way for each push of the pedals so you can go faster on flats and downhills, but it makes it more difficult to climb hills.  That’s where he broke his shifter… on this ride!

Nooooooo!

Nooooooo!

I left the rest stop with my cleaner, non-squeaking chain and got to enjoy a respite on some nice gentle downhillish and flat roads into  a town that was called Purgatory, then changed to Durango Mountain Resort, but now allegedly is called Purgatory again.  Anyway,  I could not find a sign welcoming me to Purgatory which is why there is not picture of me under the Purgatory sign.  Sorry.

Upon leaving Purgatory I did see this sign:

steep grades

What could possibly go wrong?

This was the beginning of the 6 mile 6-7% climb of the Coal Bank Pass.  It became immediately clear to me that that 2-5% graded hill was just a warm up.  This climb was unrelenting and twisting, so you could only see a short distance in front of you, until you turned the corner to see…more hill.

I bet the hill ends after this next turn!  Nope.

I bet the hill ends after this next turn! Nope.

I don’t know if it was good that I had no idea how long this hill went on for before I had started climbing.  I at least had hope that it would flatten out around the bend.  Ahh, blissful ignorance.

At this point I started singing “Slow Ride” in my head.  Slow ride….  Take it easy…. which was pretty much my strategy (unfortunately, I only know the 5 words of the lyrics).

Also, as twisting as the road was, you could hear RVs and trucks pulling trailer coming up behind you, as you hugged the cliff side of the mountain and pass you with about 2 feet clearance, as you mentally pictured the 108 year old driver looking through the steering wheel.  Good times!

Yeah, that's her!

Yeah, that’s her!

At about 5 miles up the hill, Kelly was parked on the side of the road yelling encouragement.  “You’re almost there!!! Only about a mile left.”  Thing is, when you are riding at really really slowly, a mile can be a really long way.  I had no idea how long it would take to reach the summit.  After several turns, I made yet another turn and the heavens opened up and the angels sang.  It was the summit!

Made it!!!

Made it!!!

I had purchased a new bike saddle right before heading to Colorado.  As much as you NEVER want to get something like a new saddle right before a big ride, my old saddle had completely broken down and was no longer a possibility for this long ride.  The new saddle was much better and had comfortably gotten me through the first 2 & 1/2 days of the ride, but I don’t think a saddle exists that would have saved my booty on that climb.  My ass was killing me!

I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:50am.  I turned to a volunteer and confirmed that the train had arrived in Silverton 20 minutes ago.  Yep.  And I still had to get over the Molas Divide.  I guess I won’t be beating the train this year.  Oh, well.

I took a good long break at the Coal Bank Pass and tried to massage some of the numbness out of my butt on a large rock (hey, you do what you gotta do).

Kelly told me that there was only on 4 mile climb left, then a swift sweet downhill into Silverton.  After the brutal 6 mile climb, 4 miles sounded totally doable.

I rode the terrifying downhill switchbacks to the base of the next climb.  While I was white-knuckled and literally wore out my brakes (yes, I really need new brake pads), the locals were flying down the hills.  In my defense, I generally have no fear of hills when I can see the bottom or know what is around the next curve.  I assume the locals know these roads, whereas I would come flying around a curve at 40 miles an hour only to find a sharp turn and steep drop off.

Weeee---Ahhhhhhhhh!

Weeee—Ahhhhhhhhh!

I do have to say that the next climb up to Molas Divide was not bad because I knew I only had 4 more hard miles.  Because Molas Divide was so close to Coal Bank Pass a lot of folks did not stop at the summit, but far be it from me to miss a good photo op:

First successful Selfie I have ever taken!

First successful selfie I have ever taken!

I got back on my bike and coasted pretty much all the way to Silverton. There weren’t so many switchbacks and blind curves on this section so it was not as harrowing as the previous downhill.

When I got into town, some nice law enforcement agency had put one of those big electronic speed limit signs with “Your Speed” appearing as you go passed it.  Surely, I am not the only one that had some fun trying to exceed the speed limit on the way into town. 🙂

Judy came in a little while after I did and we had a great lunch (I was starving), then spent a good while cleaning our bikes up enough to take them apart and ship them home (via bikeflights.com).  By the time we were done everything in the downtown area was pretty much closed, and we were hungry again.  He had dinner with a group of Death Riders, then got to bed at about 10:30pm, where….

Holy crap!  I could not sleep again!  How is this possible?  I could hear Judy gently snoring in the next room and I wanted to get up and stab her to death (not because she was loud, she wasn’t, she just sounded so peaceful).

Day 4: Heading home (because this, too, was a harrowing adventure)

After a very fitful night I woke up at, surprise! 4:45 the next morning and laid in bed until 5:30am.  Judy had to make a quick stop in another state on her way back to Austin so she was flying out of Durango, but I would be making the drive back to Denver with the wild bunch.

We left Silverton at 8:00am.  We stopped for breakfast along the way, then headed to Denver.  I slept periodically in the car and otherwise enjoyed the scenery along the way.  As we were getting close to Denver, due to road construction we got stuck in traffic for two hours.  Like, not moving traffic.  So, after awhile we all had to use the restroom, but we were on a big highway without any shrubery in sight.  To take our minds off of our full bladders Dan took over DJ duties and we all sang along to the dance music on on Deb’s play list.

My flight was scheduled for 9:00pm and it was about 6:30 while we were sitting in the traffic jam that my phone started ringing. When I answered it it was a Southwest Airlines’ recording telling me my flight was delayed until 11:35pm.  What!?! [insert choice cuss words here]!!  Well, with the traffic delay this would just give me enough time to get to the airport.

Once we started moving again, I decided to torture everyone with some of the songs on my play list (Shambala – Three Dog Night; Afternoon Delight – Starlite Vocal Band – oh yes, I have all the classics!).

We got into Denver a bit before 9:00pm and figured we would get some dinner then drop me off at the airport.  Apparently, I was a lot hungrier than I thought.  Once I started eating I could not stop!  But it also put me in a pretty good mood (which would definitely come in handy later).

They dropped me off at the airport at 10:00pm, where it became readily apparent that a LOT of flights had been cancelled (lots of unhappy people).  There were two folks in front of me in line. Both of their flights ended up being cancelled.  Eek!

I approached the counter attendant and asked “Austin 11:35?”  “So far, not cancelled!” she said. Woot!  I got my boarding pass and checked my big bag.  I was going to throw my backpack on the checked luggage belt, but the one brain cell that was still operating said “Don’t.  Your prescriptions.”  So I kept my back pack.

There was a delayed flight at my gate.  Apparently, the plane was ready to go and they were looking for a crew.  One guy was really angry, actually comically angry, about it.  I mean, throwing a fit is going to get you what, exactly?  There are 100 other folks there dealing with the same exact delay but acting like adults.  Yelling at the gal behind the counter (who has been being yelled at by various folks for the past 2 or 3 hours) isn’t going to make the crew get there faster.  But go on and be your bad self.  At least it was entertaining to watch for the rest of us.

My flight didn’t leave Denver until after midnight (that’s 1:00am Austin time).  I should have turned into a pumpkin long before then, as my bedtime is normally 9:00pm Austin time.

We landed at ABIA at 3:00am (did I mention I had been up since about 5:00am the day before), so I was fairly close to delirious at this point and I am fairly certain I was looking like Bill the Cat.

Ack!!

Ack!!

I disembarked the plane and followed the rest of the zombies to the luggage carousel.  Round and round it went.  Folks picked up their bags, bags came down the shoot.  Then bags stopped coming down the shoot.  Then all the other folks had left with their bags…

Pretty much me

How I felt, only more tired

After all the luggage had be collected and everyone had left, I was standing there still waiting for my bag.  I went to the little Southwest Airlines room behind the carousels and asked “Where’s my bag?”  The guy said, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” as he filled out a form.  I really have no idea what he said, as I was too busy worrying that I had taken too much time being the last person in the airport that the shuttle buses might have stopped running.  My car was in Lot G.  While you may not know exactly where Lot G is, be assured Lots A through F are between the airport and my truck.  I was thinking I might have to call a cab to get to my car if the shuttle buses had stopped running…or sleep in the airport until the next bus shift came on.

I was relieved to find that the buses were still running.  Of course I could not remember what row of Lot G my truck was in.  Just get me to Lot G. I’ll find it.

I didn’t get home until after 4:00am.  I left the truck in the driveway as I did not have the energy to walk across the yard from the garage,. When I got into the house, I dropped my backpack on the floor, fed the animals breakfast, then went to bed where I slept like a rock for 6 hours. Yay!

(Southwest did get my bag, unscathed, to me by 7:00pm that evening).

The best conversation came the following Saturday while I was on a group ride in town:

Fellow Rider:  So.  You didn’t die.

Me: Nope!

Fellow Rider:  What a gyp.

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