Triple Bypass 2017 (or not)

I decided early this season to try the Triple Bypass this year.  120 miles of three mountain passes and 10,000 feet of climbing, all in one day: Juniper Pass, Loveland Pass and Vail Pass.

triple

Was I up for the challenge?  The world may never know.

I secured an AirBnB house in west Denver for Tammy, Dina, Cela (the mini wiener dog) and I; flew out to Denver on the Thursday morning before the Saturday, July 8, 2017 ride; and arrived at the condo, got settled and got some lunch only to be informed that due to an un-contained wildfire near Breckenridge all emergency resources had to be pulled from the Triple Bypass Ride and diverted to saving property and protecting lives (makes it kinda hard to get all indignant about the ride being cancelled).

No worries.  Talk about First World Problems: I was “stuck” in Colorado with my bike for three days with an open schedule.  There are probably worse places to be.

Day 1 – Denver -> Golden

So Friday morning we decided to ride from the condo in Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain.  A 42 mile ride with 2700 feet of climbing, but a nice average 5% grade over about 4.5 miles.  Just a little something to warm up the legs in perfect Colorado weather.

Dina carefully mapped out the route for Tammy and I (generally something that ends up being a complete waste of time since neither of us can read a map or remember more than the next two turns).  And we set off figuring we would take the bike path to 32nd Avenue which would take us straight to Golden, and immediately got lost….multiple times…

not lost

Eventually we located 32nd Ave (and only inexplicably turned off the course once), and headed to Golden.

not lost 2

We totally did not get lost on this stretch of the route

Once we got into Golden we used our tried and true method of not getting lost by asking every pedestrian and cyclist that we saw whether we were heading in the right direction  to Lookout Mountain, and eventually found the base of the pass. Once we got to the base of Lookout, Dina and Cela showed up in the car to do S.A.G duties and keep an eye on us (after finding us after we took and “alternative route” through downtown Golden).

While mountain passes are generally pretty scary from inside a car, I find that I feel very safe climbing on my bike (especially in Colorado where I also believe not everybody is trying to kill me).  It’s usually pretty peaceful and beautiful, even though it is also work.

lookout ele

lookout

No, I don’t know what the M stands for

I found a good gear and just started cranking it out. There weren’t many switchbacks or surprises, just a steady incline with few trees, so great views.
I did stop once to take a gel, as I had no idea how much longer I might have to climb, but this was a really nice ride and a few miles later I had reached The Buffalo Bill Park at the summit of Lookout Mountain at 7,300 ft.

While I can climb all day, I suck at descending.  As I gain speed and see those switchbacks I picture every errant chipmunk, major mechanical failure, operator error, and runaway car scenario imaginable and end up gripping all the way down.  Lookout Mountain was no different, but Tammy was nice enough to wait for me at the bottom.  We then caught up with Dina and Cela in Golden for lunch (note to self – next time maybe not such a big lunch before a 15 mile ride back to the condo).  The total climbing on the ride was 2700 ft.

It was a really pleasant day!

Day 2 Evergreen -> Guanella Pass

Team Evergreen is a big promoter of the Triple Bypass.  While it is a Colorado Cycling Group when I read about them I paid the nominal fee to become a member.  I can’t remember why, but something in the ride information made me think it was a good idea.  Score one for Red!  This was a good idea!

After the Triple got cancelled, Team Evergreen sent out an email to its members listing several different unsupported rides (with clickable links) they would be hosting starting from where the Triple Bypass was supposed to start.

triple rides

Our friend Carrie spoke with the ride director and determined that the Guanella Pass would be a good ride.  It was posted as a 70 mile ride “but might be a bit longer.” What was not at all clear in the “Guanella Pass” ride was that in order to get to Guanella Pass, you had to get over the Squaw Pass.  What I did not know until several days later was that the Squaw Pass was actually the Juniper Pass and the Juniper Pass was the first of the three passes in the Triple Bypass.  So, yeah, I pretty much went into this knowing nothing about what was in store

hell

So Squaw/Juniper pass is a nice 15 mile (wait, whut?) climb at a 4-5% grade.  It is not a bad climb, but OMG it just never ends.  Most of my Colorado climbing has been at about 5-8 miles and I thought I was a badass.  On this pass, I hooked up with a local guy who knew the climb well and kept giving me information I did not want.  Things like after climbing for what seemed like forever, “Oh, this is the half way point!” (I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t). There were a lot of trees so it was hard to tell whether/when you were close to the top.

I finally did achieve the summit at 11,100 feet (for 3000 feet of climbing on this one pass), and while the ride was long, it really wasn’t bad.  I took some pictures at the top.

IMAG0507

The descent was pretty cool since there were not a lot of switchbacks and the incline was not really steep and it was the last pass I got to descend while it wasn’t raining (of course I am still a brake grabbing, chicken shit but I was having fun).  The descent ended in Idaho Springs, where I re-hooked up with Tammy, Dina, Carrie and Sean.  We got some nutrition and used the restroom, then headed out ten reasonably flat miles to Georgetown and the Guanella pass.  When we arrived in Georgetown it was noted that Tammy decided to forgo Guanella and SAG with Dina. [Shrug] I was still having fun! Weee!

Georgetown is this adorable little town at the base of Guanella. Unfortunately, just as we arrived it started raining.  It wasn’t too bad, but unlike Austin, Texas where when it’s 98 degrees and starts raining it becomes 98 degrees and raining, when it rains in Colorado the temperatures drop 20-30 degrees.  I stopped to put on my windbreaker and looked at my Garmin.  Inexplicably we were at mile 42.  If you scroll back a bit you may recall that this was supposed to be a 70 mile ride.  I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, I can do rudimentary math and this ride is gonna be a hellava lot longer than 70 miles:

gtown

How cute is that!

So I rode through this idyllic downtown not knowing the horrors that awaited.

guanella_pass_sign_090812-72dpi

Happy Little Sign

Confession:  I did not actually look at any maps or grades or really anything concerning this ride, so everything was a surprise to me.  I trusted the information my friends’ had. My new Motto: Trust No One.

The Guanella Pass road starts with a switchback.  In fact, the first mile climbs about 500 feet over 4 switchbacks!  There is no joking around with this one. While the “average” grade of this 10.5 miles pass is “only” 5.5%, there is this weird false plateau and a reservoir  at mile 3.5. It lasts a little over 2 miles with some downhill segments.  Thing is, this part of the pass counts towards that 5.5% average grade, meaning you have to make it up (and then some).

By the time I got to the reservoirs I was sweating profusely and took off my jacket. I was wondering (a) what the hell was going on with the downhills, and (b) how much longer it was to the top because I must be close the way the road flattened out (ha! jokes on me).

Once I got passed the flat section the road started climbing again.  I would stop to eat because I was moving so slow I feared falling over if I took one hand off the handlebars.  Then I would stop to drink… Then I would just stop to rest…  Occasionally I would catch up to another ride and we would commiserate and ask each other “how much further” as I passed (talk about molasses running uphill).

Occasionally a rider would pass us flying downhill, but  beyond a “You’re doing great!”  No one was saying “You’re almost there.” 😦  Surely I must be “almost there” I’ve been riding up this hill for 1 and 1/2 hours!!

I had heard that the pass got steeper as you approached the summit, and the road seemed to be getting steeper but most of “what I had heard” ended up being lies and I was running out of food and water, so maybe it just felt steeper.

Finally, a gal coming down the pass shouted “You’re close!  Last incline!”

Ok, seriously, WTF does that even mean?  Last incline?  I had been on the last incline for the past two hours.  Also, I can say with confidence that “Marathon Rules” apply to long tough rides.  That is, never say “last hill” if there is anything can be construes even slightly resembling a hill in the distance.  Also your not “almost there” if you cannot see the finish line.

So, I interpreted “You’re close!  Last incline!” to mean that the summit would be around the next bend.  Nope, just another switchback… then another… and another.  Apparently, in Coloradoan “You’re close!  Last incline!” means you have at least a half mile of 8-10% grades.

Fun facts about Guanella Pass: According to the interwebs the first 3.5 miles has a 6.7% average grade and the last 2.3 miles has an average 7.4% grade (with some sections at 10-12%).  The total climb is 3600 ft (so 600 more feet of climbing than Juniper over 4 fewer miles).  Good times!

I finally reached the summit, and I was DONE. Cooked. D – O – N – E! Completely out of water/Gatorade, down to one Maple Bacon gel (don’t ask, because even I have no idea where that came from), and it’s now raining and cold.  I see Carrie right before the Summit and she says, “Did you see Tammy and Dina driving down?”

DOWN!?!  I’m out of water (actually, what I said was “I’m out of fucking water!!!”).  I rode up to the summit where there were restrooms… composting restrooms, not running water restrooms.  I was able to beg a bottle of water off a hiker and drank the whole thing just standing there.  Also, where the hell is the big green summit/elevation sign?  I need a picture in front of that sign!  This was the sign at the summit:

Mission accomplished.  But now I am at the summit of a steep grade in the cold rain, with no food or water beginning to bonk, with wet roads, and as I have explained, I suck at descents on a good day.

I started talking with a gal while putting on my jacket again and looking at the steep descent in front of me, waiting for the rain to let up.  I said, “I don’t think I could have done the Triple.  There is no way I could ride another pass today.”  She gave me the ‘oh, p-shaw’ hand wave and said, “Oh, this is way harder than the Triple!”  Hmm.  You’d think someone woulda mentioned that at some point.

It took me forever to get off that pass.  I have no confidence in a decent and on steep wet roads I was gripping so hard that I would periodically stop to rest my gripping-muscles and check and make sure I wasn’t glazing my brakes. I took me over an hour to descend off that pass (which is pretty pathetic).

When I got back into Georgetown and off the mountain my phone started pinging all the messages I had received during the 3 hours I had been on the pass and out of service range. I stopped at a gas station and realized that besides not having any food or water, I also had no money as I had left my wallet in the SAG vehicle. And my SAG, thinking I had turned back at some point (or perhaps been eaten by bears) headed into Idaho Springs for beer and pizza.

It took me three tries to compose a text message expressing my dilemma and displeasure, but also appropriate to send to folks that I love and would like to continue being friends with.

A fellow cyclist, hearing my bonk-y freak-out as I tried to compose said text message, reached into his jersey pocket and pulled out a warm Chobani yogurt he had been carrying around all day.  He said, “You can get some water inside and you can have this yogurt if you want it.” And as if on cue it started raining again.

Can I just say that that was the most delicious yogurt I ever sucked through a straw (no one has a spoon) while standing in the rain outside a gas station.

It was about ten miles to Idaho Springs.  Tammy texted me and asked if I wanted her to come get me, but I felt like I probably needed a bit more “me time.”  After taking about 15 minutes to get my head together, I set off in the direction of Idaho Springs…just as the sky opened up into a torrential thunderstorm.  Funny thing was I was actually feeling pretty ok.  That yogurt did the trick!  So when Dina pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted a ride, I said no thanks and had a fast fun ride into Idaho Springs (I did hook up with two other cyclists who was racing in the same direction).

idaho

Upon arrival at Idaho Springs, filthy and soaking wet, I found my compadres “waiting out the storm” in a local brew pub.

surprised

well, color me… 

While I was game to ride the 30ish miles back to Evergreen, once I was warm and dry, and all my other buddies decided they had had enough, I determine that 78 miles and 76,000 feet of climbing was probably good for the day (70 mile ride my ass!).  We drove back to the condo to spend the night eating breakfast for dinner and hanging out in our pajamas.

Tammy and Dina love Boulder.  From what I can tell it is their favorite place in Colorado, and they have several friends there.  So that night we determined that the next day we would go to their favorite breakfast place in Boulder, then re-connect with Carrie and Sean and do a fun ride there.

Day 3 Boulder -> Ward

The next morning while drinking coffee on the back patio in the cool dry morning air, I determined that I wasn’t completely psyched to ride over another mountain (which is pretty unusual for me).  Dina got up and was online looking for a good ride.  I made it clear that I didn’t want to do anything that looked like Guanella pass.  We decided on a 40 mile ride from Boulder to Ward (Lefthand Canyon).

We rented an E-Bike for Dina.  While Dina rides, she rarely rides with Tammy and I and would not be able to stay with the group on the climbs, but with an E-Bike she could stay with the group, but still get a workout since it is a power assist and not a motorbike.  I have to say that this was a really cool idea and worked out great (but for one tiny incident I will address in a moment).

In order to get to Lefthand Canyon we turned onto Old Stagecoach road.  This was the first climb of the day and it wasn’t long, but hell, it was not what I was looking for after the previous days ride.  It was a mile and a half of 6-10% grades.  When I got over that hill I told Carrie, “If this is the ride we are doing, I will go back to the coffee shop and wait on you guys.”  Dina assured us that this was just a short-cut to Lefthand Canyon and we could avoid the hill on the way back.

I would not hesitate to recommend the Boulder to Ward ride (but avoid Old Stagecoach and just take 36 to Lefthand Canyon Drive). The average grade was 5%, which is a really nice climb.  The road was tree lined a with little traffic, and most of the way had a breakdown lane for us to ride in. It really wasn’t bad climbing and the weather was perfect.

While the signs indicated it was 10 miles to Ward, this is a lie. It was 11 miles.  While this wasn’t off by 40 miles like the day-before’s ride,  we were all pre-dehydrated and it was a warm dry day on which we started late morning. I found myself rationing my water to finish it at mile 10 (which I did).  There was a spring at the top of the canyon where I could get more water and a General Store for supplies, but the last mile and a half had an average 9% grade with a short section at 15% (good times!), and I had no water (I think everyone was rationing their water on this climb).  Oh, did I mention it started raining on us again right at the steepest part?  And because we started late when it was already warm, I neglected to bring my jacket.  Yay!

So just as I got to the fresh spring to fill up my water-bottles and not 1/4 mile from the General Store which I could see in the distance, the sky just opened up. Carrie and I ended up holed-up under a near-by tree waiting for the storm to pass.  Because the rest of the group didn’t catch up to us, we figured they were probably holed-up somewhere, too (they were).

Once the rain let up to a bit of a drizzle, Carrie and I decided to get to the General Store.  I discovered that there is no way to look cool trying to get re-started on your bike on a steep incline on wet roads.  See, you have to get enough momentum to get clipped into you pedals without falling over, but you can’t actually start pedaling until you are clipped-in the pedals. So you end up with several false starts.

  1. Clip in with the right foot.
  2. Pull the pedal up to the 12:00 o’clock position.
  3. Push down hard to start rolling (but going up a 10% incline).
  4. In the microsecond before you stop moving, lift your left foot high and try to get clipped into the other pedal (which is now at 12:00 o’clock).
  5. Quickly put your left foot back on the ground before you fall over.
  6. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  7. (At this point you are pretty much using your bike as a scooter)

I decided to paperboy it.

  1. Wait until traffic is clear in each direction.
  2. Turn you bike sideways so you are facing across the street.
  3. Clip in with your right foot.
  4. Pull the pedal up to the 12:00 o’clock position.
  5. Push down hard to start rolling across the street (which is flat).
  6. Clip in with your left foot and turn fast before you ride into a ditch.

Success!

We got to the general store where I got some chocolate pop-tarts and a V-8. So yummy (I’m fairly certain this is what serious athletes eat).

The rain pretty much stopped and Tammy and Dina met us at the General Store (Sean had already headed back to the coffee shop). Now we would be descending for 11 miles.  There was a short argument between Tammy, Carrie, and I about who sucks the worst on descents. Then we started down.

I quickly lost sight of Tammy and Dina.  Then Carrie passed me (told ya I sucked).  Then after a few minutes the street started becoming noticeably drier and I was able to relax a bit and it started to become a lot more fun. Weeeeee!

We stopped at the intersection of Old Stagecoach (which we would not be taking home) and Lefthand Canyon to regroup. Where we determined that Tammy is full of [:poop], but Carrie did indeed suck at descents worse than Red (if anyone one knows of a local bike handling skills course that will teach me how to descend without being a danger to myself and others, please leave it in the comments).

The rest of the ride back to Boulder was a gentle descent that made you think you were on a flat road but a real badass.  When we got to Rt 36, it is a straight shot to downtown Boulder, so I passed Tammy and Dina to pull the group.  When I looked back, I was very surprised to see that I had dropped everyone, so I slowed down and waited.  Tammy said that she had to wait for Dina.  What?!  She’s on an E-bike, how the hell did we drop her?!

Apparently, Dina’s E-Bike is electronically limited at 25mph, so once you exceed 25 mph, the power cuts off.  This probably wouldn’t have been as big as deal if the bike didn’t weigh 50 pounds. But a fifty pound bike with no power would be like dragging an anchor.

We slowed down and all rode back into town together.

The ride was a nice 42 miles with 4000 feet of climbing.

Conclusion:

So while I could not do the Triple Bypass, I got in 162 miles and 14,200 feet of climbing.

Not too shabby!

 

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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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