Tour Das Hugel 2015

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

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

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

     What the hell is Tour Das Hugel?

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

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

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

     Should I ride Das Hugel?

No.

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

tdhelev

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

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

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

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

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

gradient4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kicking butt on Smokey valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

considerably worse than this

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last 20 miles of the TdH

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

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

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

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

Eek!

Day 3 – Eek!

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

Well, that doesn't look too bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRONG Flock of Seagulls

WRONG Flock of Seagulls

That's more like it

That’s more like it

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

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

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

Nooooooo!

Nooooooo!

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

Upon leaving Purgatory I did see this sign:

steep grades

What could possibly go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that's her!

Yeah, that’s her!

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

Made it!!!

Made it!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Weeee---Ahhhhhhhhh!

Weeee—Ahhhhhhhhh!

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

First successful Selfie I have ever taken!

First successful selfie I have ever taken!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ack!!

Ack!!

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

Pretty much me

How I felt, only more tired

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

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

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

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

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

Fellow Rider:  So.  You didn’t die.

Me: Nope!

Fellow Rider:  What a gyp.

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

When I last left you I was tossing and turning in bed after the epic and exhausting first day of the The Death Ride Tour.

Day Two would be much easier starting in Telluride and ending in Durango.  Yeah, it is 111 miles but look at all that easy-peasey downhill and those tiny little hills at the end:

Piece of cake!

Piece of cake!

We woke up on Sunday morning to beautiful blue skies.  It was a bit chilly, so I put on the same outfit I had worn and washed the day before with the exception of the mittens since they were still really wet.

Judy and I went to get breakfast at the B&B we were staying at, but alas, breakfast would not be served before we had to leave.  We set out to find the one cafe that was serving breakfast and met up with about 20 other cyclists who had had the same idea.

I opted to a bagel with egg and cheese as I could not bring myself to pay $7 for a chorizo/egg/cheese breakfast taco (apparently this is exotic food in Colorado).  We then headed over to drop of our luggage and start the second day of the ride.  I was pretty tired and so glad that this would be an easy day with the least amount of climbing.  We would head out of Telluride to Lizard Head Pass, then coast 40 miles into Delores.  The map indicated a little hill before Lizard Head Pass which would be a nice warm up.

Umm, about that....

Umm, about that….

Judy and I rolled out with another new friend Trey.  For the first few miles he told us entertaining stories about rides past.  He told us he was from Kansas, which I seem to recall is a flat state.  But as soon as we hit that hill, he was a speck disappearing over the horizon.  While it had been chilly that morning by the time we got to the top of the hill I was sweating profusely and Judy was half naked (well, she had removed half her clothes).

Yeah, that was quite a hill

Yeah, that was quite a hill

After a short rest at the top for Judy to put her clothes and gloves back on (because we had learned something about the descent that day before), we were flying down a pretty nice sweeping hill.  And while it was not cold out, it did cool us down quite a bit.

After that little respite we were back to climbing Lizards Head.

Oh FFS! I thought this was the easy day!

Oh FFS! I thought this was the easy day!

Apparently, this is quite a scenic ride, but I was too busy looking down and trying to keep my breathing under control to truly appreciate it.  Once we crested the summit, though, the view was amazing!

by Daily Photography

by Daily Photography

We stopped for a bathroom break and to replenish our nutrition and hydration in preparation for the glorious 40 mile downhill cruise.  We hooked up briefly with Jeff and Sean again, but they both could descend much faster than Judy or I (fun fact: Judy is fearless on the descents, while Red imagines all the horrible things that could happen).

Judy flew down the hill, and I knew I would catch up with her a bit later.  I also raced downhill:

I am so ready!

I am so ready!

…when it started raining.  Actually, it didn’t start raining.  It started hailing some of the most painful pointiest hail ever.  Instead of enjoying my free micro-derm abrasion, I pulled my buff up to cover my face and aimed for the sunlight farther down the hill.

The first 12 miles were pretty glorious despite the brief hail, but after Judy and I hooked up in Rico the hill kinda sucked.

How could a 40 mile downhill suck? I know, right?  Well, add a 25 mile an hour headwind.  Judy and I took turns pulling. Each time we switched positions we would comment on how riding downhill shouldn’t be so much work.

At one point we stopped to eat and take off some layers as we were working up a pretty good sweat. How would we ever make the people at home understand that this downhill sucked?  See, you’re not even believing me right now.  I can tell.

A fella rode past just as we were getting back on our bikes and asked “How much farther?” (case in point, no one who is coasting down a hill asks how much farther).  Judy said, “About 5 miles.”  A half a mile later we saw a sign:

dolores

Oops.  But how could it be another 15 miles?  We felt like we had been out there all day.  And that was just 15 miles to Dolores.  There was still 30 more miles of climbing before the end of the day once we got there.  See, and you’re still not believe that a descent could be this disappointing…

We finally arrived in Dolores, where a rest stop and lunch awaited!  We refueled and Judy got a bit of work done on her bike, then we were back on the road.

We quickly turned out of the headwind and back into the hills.  The rest of the ride would be rollers and worse (but it was still better than the descent). We rolled into Mancos where we stopped for water and some food (we were both down to our last gel, so we wanted some insurance should the next rest stop be farther away than anticipated).  When we got back out on the road we hooked up with Jeff and Sean again.  They were riding about our speed so we just stuck with them.

As we hit the next good hill Jeff went off the front and I took off after him.  He smoked me, but I held my own and came in far before Sean (as did Judy).  The next big hill came along and once again I tried to stay with Jeff and failed but did alright.  We each waited for everyone to come up the hill before starting the descent.  I also believe there may have been some smack talk going on.

We got to the final big hill and once again Jeff took off, I went to go after him but all of a sudden Sean is not letting me pass him.  Every time I pull ahead, well there he is.  WTF? (sandbagger!)

When we got over the last big hill we were met with a big smooth blacktop shoulder of sweeping turns and a killer descent of 10 miles into Durango.  THAT was pretty damn fun!

But holy cow that was a long day.  I was a bit worried about day three and it’s 30 miles of 6700 feet in elevation gain, but I pushed it to the back of my mind.  We went to check into our hotel and it ended up that we were in the wrong Best Western. We were booked into the one clear across town…without a car… and with luggage and bikes.  That was not going to work, and we were too tired to fight, so we just booked a room in another hotel closer to where everyone else was staying and got cleaned up for dinner.

At dinner Barry introduced us to Bicycle Bob, who is this crazy cat who has ridden the Death Ride 18 times all in one day with a record time of 12 hours and 50 minutes.  Very cool, very easy to talk to guy.

We were also introduced to Mike, who was a Cat 3 racer diagnosed with ALS just a short time ago.  Knowing his past talents and seeing the devastating effects of this disease on his body in such a short time is startling and really does drive the point home of the seriousness of this disease.

After dinner we hung our stinky clothes out air out as there were no laundry facilities, but at this point I was too tired to care.  Since I hadn’t slept well my first two nights in Colorado I was sure I would be out like a light after this tough day.

I was wrong…

homer

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

How did it all start?  How DID it all start? I must have been messing around on the internet looking at bike ride schedules, when I happened upon this ride: The Death Ride Tour.  A three-day bike ride through the Southwest Colorado Mountains. As most of you know, I do love to ride my bike.  I really like to ride hills.  I also like Colorado.  However, this ride does have the word “Death” in the name, which would go into the negative column.

I studied the elevation map:

death riode tot elev

Seemed reasonable.  Now who could I sucker int— I mean convince to join me?

But first a short word about the real purpose of the ride: The ride supports finding a cure for ALS (or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), which is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  But you are probably more familiar with it as the reason all your friends were dousing themselves with water in Facebook in the Ice Bucket Challenge last year.

In the 80 years since Lou Gehrig had this disease, there has been practically no progress in the medical field. While about 5,600 people are diagnosed each year (similar to MS diagnoses), only 33,000 Americans have the disease because they lose their lives in such a quick & devastating fashion (2-5 years).  Folks with MS can live 20 years or more after diagnosis. With no known cure for ALS, a physician’s role is centered around making the patients as comfortable as possible. Yet, ALS doesn’t get the attention cancer does. (The DEATH RIDE Tour…Ride To Defeat ALS is a registered 501c3 Non-Profit and all the proceeds are donated to the ALS Association, Rocky Mountain Chapter and the War on ALS, Blazeman Foundation. Just saying… ).

So it was a tough course for a good cause.  I put a shout out on Facebook to see if anyone else was interested (everything  seems much more reasonable when one of your crazy friends joins you).  I just so happen to have such an insane friend, and soon Judy Roessner and I were signed up and making travel plans.  We shipped our bikes to the condo we were staying in via BikeFlights.com, which eliminated the need to drag our bikes all over the airport and find a car that could hold two giant bike boxes, but did cause many sleepless nights as I imagined what my bike might be going through:

What I imagined I would find in Colorado

What I imagined I would find in Colorado

I contacted the ride director, Barry Sopinsky, to see if there was a ride group flying into Durango, CO to drive out to the ride start in Silverton, CO together, because I could not see renting a car for a week only to have it sit in Silverton for 5 of the 7 days.  Barry was quick to reply, “Just fly into Denver [which is much cheaper] and we’ll drive you out to Durango with us!”

So this man who I did not know just offered to be in a car with Judy and I for a 7 hour ride.  See, you all know what he was getting himself into, but he didn’t.  What if we weren’t as funny and charming as we are?  Luckily, Barry, his wife Debra, and friends Kelly, Dan, and Skip are all as crazy as Judy and I and we laughed all the way to Durango telling inappropriate jokes, peeing on the side of the road, and relating ridiculous stories.  Good times!

When we got to Silverton we met the young bearded bike mechanics, Zach and Thompson from VeloSoul Cyclery in Denver, who graciously offered to put our bikes back together.  After digging through 56 tons of bubble wrap and foam tubing, they were able to locate my bike in the box and put it together again.

Like this, but with more foam

Like this, but with more foam

We headed to dinner, where I expressed my reservations about being a sea-level gal who likes to climb short steep hills, out in altitude on 4-6 mile climbs.  While Barry encouraged me, Thompson, who was sitting next to me, was heard to say under his breath, “You’re gonna die.”   …

I also met a fella named Matt from BH Bikes and WarmFront.  He offered Judy and I thermal bibs that keep your chest warm and have a velcroed collar so they are very easy to remove and stow when you get too warm, then replace if the weather should change.  We said “No.”  but he insisted that we try them and give him a review.  He would find us again the next night.  So we relented.

Day One: THE ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

I woke up with the sun at 5:30 on Saturday June 6, 2015, the first day of the ride.  It was raining…hard.  Today we would be riding over Red Mountain Pass, then the Dallas Divide and finally into Telluride.

Well, that doesn't look to hard...

Well, that doesn’t look to hard…

I grabbed a bit of breakfast, got dressed , when I looked out the window at 7:00am.  Beautiful sun!  While standing on the front porch of the condo, I hollered to Judy “Hey, It looks pretty nice out here!”  A couple of cyclists walking by replied, “Barry says it’s a go if you want to.”  (As if there was any doubt).

We readied our water bottles and other nutrition, debated over what to wear – the rain/windbreaker or my “real” riding jacket?  Arm warmers? Base layer and bib or just bib?  Long pants?

As we discussed our clothing options it started to hail.  Judy went out to get pelted and try to get a picture.  I stayed inside and put on every item of cycling clothing I owned.  By the time the ride started at 8:00am, there was a steady rain that did not let up for pretty much the entire day… Well, there was a point when it was not raining.  We’ll get to that later.

As the group set out, Judy immediately had a mechanical issue and we had to stop and fix it.  It was an easy fix, but put us a bit behind the large group, but that was ok, it truly was a ride, not a race.  We headed out of Silverton and almost immediately started climbing.

First climb of the Death Ride

First climb of the Death Ride

It was a slow grind and totally manageable.  Judy and I stayed together and got some pictures as we went because this was a ride and not a race:

Just don't look right...

Just don’t look right…

Yeah, I climbed that...

Yeah, I climbed that…

Since we have been training in the rain all month, riding in the rain was no big deal.  The climbing was not so steep as to worry about traction (even though Judy was very concerned that I might slip, roll 5 feet and fall off the cliff in the photo above).  Then the rain got fluffy and white!  Too cool!  Dressed warmly and riding up hill in the snow was actually a lot of fun!

Judy and I happy in the snow

Judy and I happy in the snow

So fun, so novel!

Les certain about the fun snow

Less certain about the fun snow

After another hour of riding in the wet snow, it was becoming less fun and novel.  But after ten miles of climbing we made it to the summit!

WOOT!

WOOT!

We stopped for several minutes to take pictures at which time I determined that it was kind of cold.  Judy said she heard it was in the 20’s at the summit.  I do know that it was at least in the mid-30’s.  Either way, we were already wet from having been rained on, and the snow was not letting up at all.  I questioned the wisdom of attempting a descent down winding mountain roads in the freezing snow…but Judy was having none of it (even though there were a ton of warm SAG vehicles that could have taken us down).

This...in the freezing snow...on 23mm bike tires...

This…in the freezing snow…on 23mm bike tires…

What could possibly go wrong?

What the HELL is THIS!!!?

What the hell IS THIS!!!?

We started the descent and it was immediately much, much colder than the climb.  Other riders were turning back, but the Texas girls?  Hell, no!

Another mile down and I could no longer feel my hands on the brake levers, but the brakes weren’t working all that great anyway.  My entire body was shaking.  Did I ever mention how I hate the cold (why do you think I moved from NY to TX)?  Judy, seeing my deteriorating state, called it then and we flagged down two SAG vehicles to take us to the bottom. OMG, I was so cold! I do have to say, I was never so happy to have accepted that fleece Warmfront Bib, because as cold as my extremities were, and damn they were cold, my core was not in near as bad a shape and my chest never got cold.  Then and there Judy and I agreed that we would be buying our bibs and needed to find Matt after the ride.

The driver of my SAG vehicle (a Toyota Camry) was Irina, a Russian lady and apparently a stunt car driver.  After I got into the car and was sure I was not going to freeze  to death, I was suddenly certain that I was going to die in a fiery explosion as the Camry careened off the side of the mountain.  I tried to assure myself that she probably drove in these conditions a lot in Russia but by the same token, I kept my face buried in my hands and gauged how she was driving by the screams of the other passengers. She did get us safely off the mountain.

I hooked up with Judy a few minutes later where we holed up in a coffee shop, whose owner allowed us to use his space heater to warm up and try to dry out some of our soaked clothes.  We hooked up for the first time with Sean and Jeff from Primal-Audi Men’s racing team. They were just really nice guys.  We talked about home and Colorado and we were there for a good long time trying to figure out how to dry our clothes and best continue in the cold rain.  I rode to a local sporting goods store and purchased some “water-proof”  (that part was a bit optimistic) fleece lined mittens because I was not going to be able to get my hands back into my soggy frozen gloves.  But let me tell you, mittens are the way to go! (Also, I later found out that the driver of the van Judy was in feared she may have hypothermia, so while she wanted to continue on down the mountain, my pathetic state probably saved her life).

The guys headed out and Judy and I headed out a few minutes later.  While it was still raining it was not snowing, and the temperatures were warmer off the mountain.  I have no shame for taking that SAG the ten miles down the mountain (or 8 1/2 of those miles)!  We learned later that a lot of the folks who rode down the mountain were done for the day thereafter, but we still had some fun hills to climb!

One of the folks who rode the whole way down Red Mountain

One of the folks who rode the whole way down Red Mountain

The ride into Ridgway was not so bad: flat to down hill, but not nearly as cold and my hands were warm in my mittens.

Once in Ridgway we started Dallas Divide Climb, it had finally stopped raining.

Oh, that doesn't look so bad.  What IS all that red and pink?

Oh, that doesn’t look so bad. What IS all that red and pink?

Wait, what!?!

Wait, what!?!

I don’t know if this was in fact the longest most miserable climb or if it just felt that way, but dang, it did suck!

After what seemed like forever, I was at the top.  I knew that Judy was right behind me, so I ate some fig newtons and spoke with the local riders as I waited.  These crazy people were going to take a SAG to the bottom of the Dallas Divide?!  After all that hard climbing?!  What kind of idiot would give up that sweet, sweet downhill?

Judy arrived, refilled her water and nutrition and I told her about these strange folks who were taking a car to the bottom of the hill.  She scoffed at the  ridiculousness of such a decision and within minutes we were flying down the 2-3% grade.  What became readily apparent was that (a) we were still wet and (b) holy shit is was cold on the descent!  This descent was long and sweeping so there was no real fear of careening off the mountain, but within minutes my whole body was shaking once again. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the rain that had let up a bit started again.  This descent is some 13 miles long!  Apparently THESE little nuggets of information was what the locals knew and what Judy and Red did not.  Even the Primal-Audi guys sagged down that hill (Woo-hoo we’re tougher (or more stupid) than race guys!)

At the bottom of the hill was a little convenience store where we holed up, once again, trying to get warm. We drank a cup of coffee, then another trying to stop the violent shivering. Judy’s hands were freezing in her wet gloves.  While my mittens were wet, they were still keeping my hands warm so I just wrung them out, but my legs were shaking.  Once again we discussed our incredible luck of sitting down for dinner at the table with Matt (the bib guy) the night before.  Several other brave hill descending cyclist joined us and we discussed the very real possibility of sagging it in. We still had 13 miles and one more climb before we would be done for the day.

A fella with shorts on (God bless him) asked us if we knew the SAG situation just as one of the ride vehicles pulled up.  They did not have room for any riders/bikes but assured us a SAG was on the way.  Judy and I decided to solider on, but told the guy in shorts that when the SAG passed us to make sure we were ok.

Judy stuck her gloves in the microwave for a minute to warm they up, put them on and off we went.  Once again being off the descent made all the difference in the world and after a few minutes we realized we would be alright.

We started the last ascent of the day up to the Telluride.  The best thing I can say about this hill is that it wasn’t the Dallas Divide.  I was huffing and puffing up the incline, which seemed to go on forever.  I was really thirsty, but having a hard time grabbing my bottle while I was climbing, so finally I just stopped so I could take a big swig and a few breaths.  I got back on my bike only to realize was less than 100 yards from the summit.

Last summit of the day!

Last summit of the day!

YAY!  I made it.  Once again, Judy was right behind me and we rode into Telluride together. We got lost trying to find the hotel (well, really, it was bound to happen at some point), finally found it and were able to get cleaned up and into warm dry clothes.  We headed over to the ride dinner where we sat with Sean and Jeff.  I was literally too tired to chew.  I felt like I should eat some more and was jealous watching Jeff eat and chew with ease.  I was determined not to fall asleep into the plate, but I just didn’t have the energy to eat any more.

fall asleep

Barry took a moment to explain why he put this ride together, then we went  around the room introducing ourselves and explaining why we were there.  There were many heartbreaking stories of folks who were there for friends and familiy who had been diagnosed with ALS.

I was exhausted and after dinner headed back to the hotel where all I wanted to do was sleep, but realized I really needed to do some laundry so I would have clean dry clothes to wear the next day.

Judy and I finally got to bed at about 10:30 after washing our clothes but too tired to wait for a dryer (so we hung them up all over the room). Then, as exhausted as I was, I slept like poo, but woke up at the first day light for day two: The ride to Durango.

But, my family understands:

tiff conversation

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Back in the saddle (and the water and the grass)- The Rookie Triathlon

So I competed in The Rookie Triathlon on May 3, 2015.  The Rookie is a super sprint (300m/11.2mile/2mile) which used to be an entry level triathlon for folks who wanted to try a tri, but then it somehow morphed into a race where you are likely to see all the usual competition. Folks were showing up in their team kit that matches their tri bike with the race wheel and aero-helmet…for a race that takes less time than a morning workout!

Who's taking themselves too seriously?

Who’s taking themselves too seriously?

Pretty intimidating if you are really new to the sport.  It got so bad that they broke the race into two races one for “Rookies” and one for “Veteran Rookies”.  I would fall into the latter category.

I have been plagued with injuries this season, or rather plagued with a heel injury that will not go away (and I am fairly certain I have an un-sport-related broken finger), so I did not sign up for any races…so I thought.  A week before The Rookie, I got a call from a friend who was working with the race director.

Her: “Red, you put the wrong birth date on your registration.  I don’t know when you were born, but I know it was not in 2008. What’s your birthday?”

Me: “I registered for that race!?!”

This is a very short race, one I can do without training for it… thank God.  I have been in the pool three times since the beginning of November and one of those times was last week after I was told I registered for the race; I have not run at all since March; I have been riding my bike, but there is only so much you can make up on the bike.  I was definitely not expecting a PR, I was not expecting a good race at all, but it had been awhile since I saw all my tri peeps, so I figured I could just go and have fun.

The day before the race I took over two hours to pack.  Seriously, this is not that hard, but I hadn’t done it in so long I kept forgetting stuff.  After I had loaded up the car and plopped onto the couch to watch some TV, I remembered that I bought a rear disc race wheel.  I should probably put that on the bike for the race since it was expensive and I only use it when I race.  It had been sitting since the end of October, so I aired it up and put it on the bike which was already in my truck. Ok, now I have everything I need!

The next morning I got up at about 4:45am, put on the race kit I had laid out, fed the pets, scooped the kitty litter, put the dog out, made a cup of tea and a 1/2 PB&J for breakfast (don’t be jealous of my glamorous life), grabbed my water bottles and headed out to the truck to drive to the race site at Decker Lake.  I stopped to put my water bottles on my bike when I realized that my rear wheel was flat.  I ain’t got time for that. (Ain’t nobody got time for that).  I ran into the house and grabbed a spare rear wheel that I know has a good tire, put it in the truck and headed out (I have a surprisingly ridiculous number of spare bike wheels.  In fact, if you are looking for a set of bike wheels just let me know, I can make you a deal). If I didn’t have time to change the flat I could just change the wheel.

Luckily I got to the race site at a time when the bike mechanics weren’t busy.  I really didn’t feel like changing that flat, but these guys can change a flat in 3 minutes.  I decided to let them further hone their craft and change my tire.  By the time he had finished there was a line of about 5 people waiting for some sort of bike assistance, as I’m gonna say I timed that well.

I found a good rack place for my bike and set up my transition area, while continually running into friends.  I had plenty of time before the race so nothing was rushed.  I even had time to go back to my truck in the parking area and grab a few folding chairs I had in the bed.  I also had time to watch the Rookies set up.  I did offer my friend Steph a bit of advice on taping a Gel to her bike.  I hate it when folks give me unrequested advice,so I hope I wasn’t annoying her (and it really was just a little bitty piece of advice).

I do have to say that some of these “Rookies” had nicer bike set ups than I did.  Rookie?  Really?  Reeeeeallllly?

There had been a great Facebook debate over whether one should wear a wetsuit for a 300m swim (equal to 6 laps in a pool) in 74 degree water. I will admit that under such circumstances a wetsuit is totally not necessary to keep you warm. But since I had not swam (swum?) in 6 months, I figured a buoyant wetsuit would free up a lifeguard who might otherwise have to save me from drowning.  It took me longer to put the wetsuit on than it took to do the entire swim, but it was well worth it.  Also, they had wetsuit strippers (folks who will get you out of your wetsuit in about 3 seconds, so I wouldn’t be flailing about in transition trying to get out of the tight rubber suit).

I lined up with my age group and we stood around, nervously, talking and watching the guys and younger gals head out in to the lake. Most of the area triathlons now use a time-trial swim start (something they started doing last year), meaning instead of a wild mass of thrashing, kicking, punching folks trying to get to a good position in the pack, folks run into the water one at a time every 2 seconds. Gals aged 40-49 were the second to last to start in the Veteran Rookie race.  All of a sudden, boom, I was running into the lake.  Since the swim is so short, I just went out hard and fast (well, fast for me on a swim).

While I have not been swimming at all, I have been doing a Bodypump class at the gym twice a week. This is a one hour weight training class that includes a lot of upper body weight lifting that I would never do otherwise.  And after this swim, I have to say, the hell with improving my swim form, power through it!  Yes, the wetsuit definitely helped but I could not believe how many people I passed in the water by just powering through and hoping for the best.

In a very short time I was back at the shore and out of the water.  An extremely helpful volunteer actually met me at the waters edge and started helping me out of my wetsuit.  Usually I would be required to get the thing unzipped, my arms out, and pull the top down to my waist before I’d reach the strippers, but this fella had me half naked in no time with very little effort by me. I sat down in front of the wetsuit stripper who grabbed my wetsuit and yanked it off my legs.

Swim 6:55 or 2:18/100 (but I am pretty sure the swim was longer than 300 meters because my swim was in the top 5 of my age group and a 6:55 for 300m is not very good).  Also the 6:55 includes some of the run up this long grassy hill to the transition area, so I have no idea how much of my swim time included the hill.

I ran jogged into transition (because I wasn’t sure how my heel was going to hold up on the run and didn’t want to have a blowout before I got to my bike) and quickly located my bike. Sock, shoe, sock, shoe, tighten shoes (dang it, this is where I will use my broken finger for an excuse because it took entirely too much time), racebelt, sunglasses, helmet… I have not worn this helmet since October but you would think I’da put the dang thing on before packing it for the race to make sure all of the straps were adjusted correctly.  You’d think.  Sometime during the past six months the little piece of felt that goes between the helmet and your forehead got all bunched up.  I didn’t know what the problem was until I checked it after the race, but it was really uncomfortable.  I just hoped I would not fall off my bike and hit my head as I ran out of transition because the helmet did not feel right at all.

T1- 3:19 (eww, that’s kinda embarrassing)

But now the best part.  On to the bike!

Since I have not been running (and I don’t love swimming) I’ve been spending a lot of time on the bike.  I love biking, but I also love biking hills.  Since I will be doing a really hilly three day ride in Colorado in June, I have been spending a lot of time training on hills .  And this race has a very hilly course. Good times!

One of the other benefits of having a ridiculously over-equipped bike for an 11.2 mile Rookie race is that you don’t want to be “that guy” who looks like he thinks he’s Lance Armstrong, but ends up getting passed by overweight, middle aged folks on a $89 Huffy from Walmart.

pee-wee-bike

I quit trying to adjust the helmet and just went out and had fun.  I am very familiar with the roads on this course and equally familiar with the fact that they tend to get these crazy skinny-bike-wheel-eating cracks.  Since I am so used to riding with a group it is second nature to point to crack, potholes and debris in the road when I ride passed it to warn the folks behind me, but not many folks do in a race (after the race, I had a gal thank me for pointing to the road hazards after I passed her, of course right after I passed her there were some of the worse road hazards on the course).

I had fun climbing the hills (and more fun riding down) and I felt pretty strong.  I can say that no one passed me on the bike.  One of my friends asked ‘No one?  Not even the guys.”  Well, of course not!  Besides the guys and all of the gals under the age of 45 started the race in front of me, so yeah, none of them passed me either! 😛

I was off the bike and into transition 2…

Bike 34:18 at 19.6mph

Got rid of the bike, helmet, shoes; put on a visor and running shoes and was off on the run.

T2- 1:30 (better…)

I got out on the run.  My goal was to try to keep my pace below 9:00min/miles.  Since I had not been running and every time I tried was sorta a disaster, I was just hoping to not be hobbled and have to walk it in.  I had replaced the insoles in my running shoes with new fluffier ones to cushion my heel, and the run was almost entirely on grass or soft dirt, so there was that. Wish me luck!

I was mindful not to look at my Garmin.  Whether I was going too slow or too fast, knowing and adjusting for what I thought I should be doing would probably not behoove me. So I plugged on.  My foot felt alright mostly.  I had been having a nagging pain all week and did not expect it to get better, but I did figure it would get a lot worse.  Luckily it never did.

I ran down the grassy hill, then up the grassy hill and was passed by several people.  But that was ok.  I was not going to win this thing, but I would do my best.  I shouted out to some of the cyclists as I ran next to the bike course, and some of the cyclists shouted out to me (I even recognized my friend, Elle!).  I was passing a gal as my Garmin beeped indicating one mile.  “Only one mile left.” I said for both of our benefits.

Because I usually am running a three mile course at this venue, I wasn’t entirely familiar with where the 2 mile course went, but once we turned in to the woods, I knew there wasn’t much longer to go.  I could see a guy up ahead that looked like my buddy, Roy.  As I got closer I realized it was Roy… just as he started a walking break.  “Don’t walk!”  I said, “One of your friends might see you.”  I was certain that he would just take this break, then smoke me in the finish shoot since I knew we were pretty close.

Once you leave the wooded area, you can see the finish line, but it is on a long gradual hill.  I tried to pick up the pace a bit for a strong finish (I have no idea if I was successful but two guys passed me just as I entered the finish shoot).  And like that, I was done.

I do have to say that the Run – 16.10 8:05 min/mile freaking amazed me and I am still not certain it is accurate, because it didn’t feel near that fast.

Overall for the race I had 1:02:15 my friend Julian was all about how he beat me by three seconds, but that was only in transition.  Apparently I need to learn how to put my shoes on a heck of a lot faster.

Somehow I was able to pull 3rd place in my age group, which was equally amazing considering my lack of training, but I will take it!

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Beach2Battleship 10/25/14 Iron Distance Triathlon

ussnc night

Sunset view of the USS North Carolina from my Condo

Getting there:

After the host Hotel sold out of rooms at the B2B rate, I found a condo “close” to the hotel. I figured that a lot of stuff would be happening at the hotel so I wanted to be within walking distance. On the VRBO.com map the condo looked to be about 3 blocks from the hotel, but when I go there we actually shared a parking lot with the hotel. And the condo was $60 a night cheaper. SCORE!

View of host hotel from Condo balcony

View of host hotel from Condo balcony

The view off the balcony was the Riverwalk and the USS North Carolina (the Battleship). Nice!

Seriously right across from the condo

Seriously right across from the condo

I was one block off Front Street which was the main tourist street with all the restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and coffee shops. Then, the day before the race I heard a bunch of clanging in front of the condo. Yep, that would be the finish line set up. I was one block away from the actual finish line and right in the middle of the finish line celebration area. Holy cow! What a score!

celebration tents

celebration tents

Finish line from balcony

Finish line from balcony

I sent my bike through TriBike Transport, and it was delivered directly to the Transition 1 area, so I didn’t even have to worry about transporting my bike (although I did have to go out there to claim it and set it up in the transition area). This was easily the most convenient race I have done.

I headed over to the Expo to get my packet, check out the Expo vendors, and buy a(nother) race belt since that was the one thing that I forgot at home.  It was weird to walk around a big Race Expo and not know anyone.  Who were all these people and where were all my friends?  I did run into Mohamed, the one other athlete that I knew in town.

Race Morning:

Luckily my husband had hired a fishing boat early race morning which just so happened to leave about 3 blocks from T1- where we could set up our area and air up our tires before taking the trolley to the beach start. While there was a bus from the host hotel to T1, a ride in an uncrowded car seemed like a nicer start to the morning. We picked up Mohamed on the way and Phil deposited us at T1 before the bus even arrived. It was about 48 degrees, but on its way to a high of 72.

I set up my nutrition on the bike, and checked my tires. Since I had dropped everything off the day before there really wasn’t much more to do. The first trolley was leaving to the beach start at 5:30 (still 2 hours before the race start). I figured I might as well hang out at the race start than distress over my T1 set up, and I was looking forward to the warm trolley so I got on the first trolley… which happened to be an open air bus with no windows or doors (as we pulled out, I saw the second trolley was enclosed an probably heated, nice).

Open air trolley

My freezing cold trolley

trolley behind us

The warm trolley behind us

When I got to the beach it was still full dark. I had my sleeveless wetsuit (the water was about 70 degrees), but I did not want to put it on until I had used the bathroom 5 or 6 times (just to be sure). While there was no “morning clothes drop” (anything you weren’t taking with you into the water would be left on the beach and donated), I thought it a worthwhile investment to wear a pair of old running shoes with old socks, a cheap jacket I bought the last time I was out of town and surprised by cold weather (for this reason all Texans have about 14 jackets they never wear), and one of the fleece blankets I usually keep in my truck. I was all wrapped up hanging out in a gazebo (between trips to the port-o-john), waiting for it to get light out and late enough to don my wetsuit.

Like a Plastic Bag in the Wind (the Swim 2.4 miles):

The sky finally started to lighten and I took one final port-o-john break, then started working my way into my wetsuit (since I was wearing my sleeveless, it is actually a lot easier to get into then a full sleeved wetsuit). I do have to say that I was much warmer once I got my wetsuit on. I “donated” my sneakers, jacket and blanket, with the remainder of my goggle anti-fog spray to the beach Gods. Then I headed over to the water.

The Iron Distance swim is 2.4 miles (4000 meters). I have been swimming a 1:48/100m in my wetsuit at Pure Austin Quarry Lake, so I figured I would be a bit faster in salt water and I knew that the tide would be coming in giving me a bit of a boost. I would expect a 1:12ish Ironman swim time, but with the incoming tide I was hoping for something closer to 1 hour.

The ½ iron distance is on the same course, but they start 1.2 miles further up the beach and after the iron distance swimmers have passed.   I was a little familiar with the course since I did the ½ distance 3 or 4 years ago but I am horrible with directions in general so I forgot exactly where the 1/2 way point was.

When the gun went off we all ran into the water. Since the water was 70ish degrees it actually felt pretty warm coming out of the 48 degree air. The swim was not over-crowded and I was able to quickly find a rhythm. I swam towards the big yellow buoy and followed whatever feet I could get behind. There was some person on my feet the whole time, I know this because they hit my feet. Every. Single. Stroke. I really don’t mind folks drafting off me and I know occasionally they might brush my feet, but every dang stroke? A little consideration please.

After the first big buoy I pretty much had no idea where I was going. There were only 3 or 4 buoys on the whole 2.4 mile course and I could not see them until I was within a few 100 feet, so I just swam on hoping the folks in front of me knew where they were going. Then I was at the big orange turn buoy. But how can that be?! I knew that the 1/2 iron folks came in before the turn and I hadn’t been in the water near long enough to have swan passed the ½ iron swim start.

Flying through the water like a bag in the wind

Flying through the water like a bag in the wind

Once I turned, I really had no idea where I was supposed to be going. Thank goodness all those folks in front of me were heading in the right direction!

Before I knew it I was at the end dock and climbing the ladder out of the water. I ran over to the wetsuit strippers and had my wetsuit pulled off, grabbed my suit and started running towards transition. I also glanced at my watch. 50 minutes and some-odd seconds?! How? That’s like a pro swimmer’s time.  I guess we had was quite a current!

Swim time: 50:23

I ran off the dock, over the sidewalk, across the street and into  T1.  I grabbed my swim to bike bag and ran into the changing tent.  I was quickly able to get my cycling jersey on, and my socks and shoes, but I could not for the life of me get my arm warmers over my cold wet arms.  I actually had to completely remove the first one after fighting with it for several minutes.  I just could not work it up my arm.  I was finally able to get them up most of the way.  I applied some sunscreen to my nose and cheeks, then stuffed my wet grassy wetsuit, goggles  and swim cap in to the bag along with the small towel I had tried to dry off with.  I ran out to my bike, and headed out of transition.

T1 – 9:43 (wow, that seems really long)

What the Heck Happened to my Tail Wind? (the bike 112 miles):

I got on the bike and started riding through the neighborhood streets to the main road.  This required several turns which is where I determined that I had forgotten to tighten my breaks after changing my rear wheel.  Meh, it’s a race. Who needs breaks?

About a mile into the ride we had to ride over a drawbridge that had a metal grate maybe 50 meter long.  As I said, I did the 1/2 distance race years ago and remember that as long as I kept my wheel straight the grate was no problem.  The gal in front of me rode on to the grate was all over the place.  I thought, “Girl, just hold your wheel straight!”, right up until I hit the grate.  It was like riding on ice.  I could feel my rear wheel fishtailing left and right and the grate was not flat, but had raised edges.  It looked like it would hurt – a lot, if I fell.

This is what the nasty grating looked like only much shiner

The wind was predicted to be NNW at 5-8 mph, which really isn’t bad, but we would be riding the course NNW for the first 65 miles.

Bike Course

Bike Course

Of course this meant that later in the day when the wind might be stronger I would have a nice tail wind to carry me home.

I had not been on my bike for a week prior to the race which may not sound like a lot of time to some folks, but felt like forever to me.  When I did start the bike portion of the race my legs felt heavy and a bit sore.  Uh-oh!  What the hell is that?  I was able to keep at a pretty good speed though, so I just waited for the sore feeling to go away (though, it never really did – I have no idea what that was).

While the course was almost entirely flat, it felt really good to use some other muscles on the occasional hill.  The roads were in pretty good condition.  While there were one or two that had chip-seal, it was nothing like the disaster that is Texas roads, so that was nice.

In most not-really-big races there comes a time when I feel like I am all alone on the bike.  At the Kerrville Tri, there were stretches when I couldn’t see any riders in front of me or behind me.  Since there were only 700 folks doing the full iron distance race, I thought I would be alone a lot on the bike, but I was never alone. And for most of the ride there were a group of about 5 of us who were within 100 yards of each other: Occasionally I would pass one of them, then one would pass me, but we all seemed to keep sight of each other throughout the ride. It was helpful for pacing and my pace was very steady throughout the ride between 14:30 and 16:20 for each 5 miles (there were two slower segments, once when I made a necessary pit stop and once when I stopped to get the EFS bottles out of my bike special needs bag at mile 56).

The course was marked at every 10 miles and I knew once I passed mile 60 I would get that helpful tail wind all the way back to transition.  I passed mile 60, then 65. Hmm, that tailwind should hit any time now.  At mile 70 I started asking other racers, “Hey, where the hell is that tailwind?”

While the wind was not particularly strong, I was promised a dang tailwind on the ride in, so where was it?  It was not to be…ever…

Really?  180 degree wind direction change just as I turned?

Really? 180 degree wind direction change just as I turned?

Oh, I see.  So that’s how it’s gotta be, huh? (Yes,that is the wind flipping from a N wind to a S wind, just about the time I made the turn to head south).  Ok, so maybe I did have a killer current on the swim, but I also had a head wind the whole 112 miles on the bike.

I was careful to stay on my nutrition and especially my hydration which can easily be forgotten in the cool weather.  I alternated between one bottle of EFS sports drink or one bottle of water at least every  1/2 hour, and either a gel or a 1/2 a PB&J sandwich every hour.  I think I did pretty good eating 5 gels and a whole PB&J while drinking 9 bottles on the bike.

I rode over the big drawbridge (not nearly as treacherous as it as in the morning, though it still did sorta suck), then rode into downtown to the Convention Center where I dismounted my bike after 5:46:01 (at 19.3 mph).

I ran into the Convention Center, handed my bike to a volunteer, then ran around the perimeter of the convention center while taking off my helmet, arm warmers and headband.  I  grabbed my Bike-to-Run bag and went into the changing tent where I stripped off my jersey, then changed my shoes and socks (mmm, clean dry socks), grabbed my 10 oz water bottle then headed out on to the run course.

T2: 4:48

The Devil Went Down to Georgia (the run 26.2 miles):

The run course was a modified out and back.  On the first loop you ran several blocks north and up a hill before turning around and heading back to the Riverwalk (on the second loop you did not have to run nearly as far or up the hill), then you would run along the Riverwalk, past the finish line, over the cobblestone street (I could swear I was going to trip and break my neck on one of those uneven cobbles) for about 2 miles, then through the neighbor hood for another 1 1/2 miles to Greenfield Lake.  Greenfield Lake is a lot like Brushy Creek Trail – tree cover, wooden bridges, the lake, and very soft black-top.  This has to be hands-down the most beautiful Iron Distance run ever.

Take a look:

gfl1 GFL2

Whoops.  You can just ignore this  Nothing to see here...

Whoops. You can just ignore this. Nothing to see here…

About 15 of the 26.2 miles was around the lake.

While there were only about 700 people racing the full iron distance, because of the two out and back loops the course was always populated.  They also had some of the most enthusiastic Energizer-bunny-ish volunteers at every mile on the run.  I grabbed Gatorade or water at each water stop and, if they had them, an orange slice. Everyone: athletes, volunteers, and spectators were very encouraging.  It was really nice.

On parts of the course where there were no people, someone had put up some encouraging… and some odd signs.

“Seems like a lot of work for a free banana.” was my favorite.

I still don’t understand “Run like a chicken on a sugar high.”

And there were multiple picture of Phil Collins with saying and quotes – none of which made any sense to me (for you young’uns Phil Collins was a singer in the 80’s both solo and with a band called Genesis, and he appeared on several episodes of Miami Vice a TV show in the 80’s).

As I was running I was amazed at how good I felt.  Usually the first three miles after the bike just suuuuuuck, but I had to work to keep my pace slow during the first three miles today.  Woo-hoo!  I was remembering how great I had done my bike nutrition, trying to member everything I did so I could do it again in the future.  I was so busy patting myself on the back that I was surprised when I started to slow down… a lot at about mile 6.

Now I was trying to figure out what could be happening. “Ok, just slow it down a bit until you feel better. Get to the next mile.”  At about mile 8 was the turn around and I was really not feeling it.  At the mile 9 water stop I grabbed a flat cola and some Gatorade and looked at the fruit and cookies.  Then  a proverbial light bulb over my head and I realized that while thinking about all I ate on the bike, I had forgotten to eat on the run.  Orange slices only go so far. I grabbed a gel and sucked it down.  Mmm-mm, 8 hours into an Ironman noting tastes as good as another gel…

I saw Mohamed on the run course as I was heading back through the park on my first loop. He was looking pretty good and I was feeling a bit better as the caffeinated gel started to take effect.

By the time I got back into town I was feeling better and did not stop nearly as long at each water stop. As I headed back out through the Riverwalk, I was thinking “I’ve got this! Just get back out to the lake.”

I can say that for the first time during an Iron Distance Tri, I never felt like, “Ugh, I have so long to go.”  While I wasn’t running as fast as I had hoped (I had really hoped for a 10 min/mile), I actually did not feel like poo.  Maybe that’s the trade off. I did another gel, but this one went down with a lot more internal dialogue, “Ok, you don’t have to eat the whole thing.  Just take a little, then wash it down with water. You won’t even taste it.”  Yummy, gel at hour 9 1/2.

As I ran around the lake, all of a sudden there were cars everywhere! Parked all over: driving looking for parking spaces; tons of them; and people everywhere, dressed in there bestest cowpoke attire!  What the heck is going on?  I asked some other runners but we were all pretty clueless.  The Volunteers and spectators were doing there best to keep the trail clear, was we runners were also warning them “Runner back!”.  For all the people, I do have to say no one every really got in my way.

When I got to the aid station I found out that there was a concert at the Greenfield Amphitheater.  The Charlie Daniels Band! (for you young’uns the Charlie Daniels Band was a popular country rock band in the 80’s, who’s big hit was The Devil Went Down to Georgia).  The band started playing as I approached the amphitheater and I got to listen to Charlie Daniels for about 3 or 4 miles.  That was unexpected but pretty cool.  In celebration, I ate a 1/2 a banana.

Turned around at the 20ish mile marker and knew I only had a 10k left, so I kicked into gear and hauled ass (by hauled ass, I mean I got my speed below 10 minute miles).  I stopped at the 23 mile water stop because while I felt like I could run all the way in, I often feel that way right before the wheels come off because I neglected my nutrition.

At this point it was becoming dusk.  I knew that the road to the finish line was mostly brick and some ass-busting uneven cobblestone, so I turned on my headlight so I wouldn’t trip and break my leg, then have to Julie Moss* it across the finish line.

*this is the most painful 3 minutes of video you are likely to watch, ever.

I sprinted across the finish line to the roar of the crowd and some loud music. I felt like I had a really good run, though I probably could have gone a bit faster if I remembered to eat earlier on.

Run: 4:37:50 (10:35 min/mile)

My overall time was 11:28:44, a 40 minute PR off my last best Iron Distance time!

I was 16th Overall Women, 3rd in my Age Group and 5th Overall masters:

SC20141103-153817-1

I was very happy with my time.

I got my Medal, bottle of water, and Finisher Pajama Pants (which are the bomb, if you were wondering), met Phil them walked 1/2 block to the condo elevator where I was able to go upstairs and take a shower; then change into clean, warm clothes; then go back downstairs and watch Mohamed finish. Perfect!

I wholly recommend this race to anyone.  Everything about it was fantastic.

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Kerrville Tri Festival 2014

The Kerrville Tri Festival is two days of racing in Kerrville , Texas: a sprint on day one, then  1/4 iron and 1/2 iron distance races on day two (done at the same time, there are also aqua-bike races for each distance on Sunday).

Julian had convinced me to do the swim portion of the sprint as a relay with him and Gary.  Swimming is my weakest sport and I told Julian that I could find him a fast swimmer, but he assured me that this wouldn’t be a real race since he was doing the Lake Tahoe Ironman the week before and would not be able to race after such an endeavor.  Well, unfortunately, Lake Tahoe IM got canceled due to a raging forest fire in the area, so the easy-peasey-training-relay turned into the win-a-any-cost relay.  Good times.

I woke up on race morning at about 6:00am because I didn’t need to set up transition, all I needed to do was put on my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles.  I got to the race site a 6:45, where is was already raining and discovered that the race didn’t start until 7:30, not 7:00am as Julian told me (no, I did not read the athlete information packet).  All of the age group full sprint racers started before the relay – the final wave, so I didn’t even start until 7:55 (coulda slept in warm and dry). After milling around for a while I decided to put my wetsuit on while it was still reasonable dry.  Getting a wetsuit on is a workout in and of itself, getting a wet wetsuit on is virtually impossible.  15 minutes later I was panting and sweating, but in my wetsuit.

It was a time trial start, meaning we would enter the water individually instead of as a massive punching kicking group.  We had the yellow swim caps.  I noticed a tiny skinny little dude in a yellow swim cap.  I pointed, “Is that the competition?!” He was goofing off with two of his friends (the rest of his relay team).  The thing is, kids have all that youthful energy and a total lack of reasonable fear.

Somehow I entered the water as the first relay racers.  This was probably because 90% of relay racers race as a relay because they either don’t know how to, fear or loath one of the sports or are trying to figure out how this whole triathlon thing works.

Immediately on entering the water I started passing the gals in the age group that entered the water before me.  This is mostly due to the fact that the really bad swimmers tend to congregate as the back of the age group, but also because I was wearing my super floaty wetsuit (Yay for wetsuits!).

At some point another relay swimmer past me (anyone care to guess who it was?), but I held my own and swam in a straight line (a big change from last year).  The 500 meter swim went by fast because it is really short.  Upon exiting the water I would normally have my wetsuit pulled off by the volunteer wetsuit strippers, but since all I was doing was swimming, I didn’t bother and just started running towards transition and Julian (our cyclist) to hand off the timing chip. The run from the swim to transition is a giant hill, but I had only been in the water for 10 1/2 minutes and the run up the hill was the end of my workout for the day, so I was haulin’ up that giant hill.  I got Julian our timing chip then took another 10 minutes to catch my breath.

I found Julian’s mom who I was to take to the finish line so see her son finish.  The transition from bike to run was about 2 miles away and near the finish line.  I changed into drier clothes, but it was still raining, so my cotton t-shirt and shorts were soon wet anyway. Mrs Julian got in my truck and we set off to T2…only a lot of the roads were closed for the cyclist and I hadn’t looked at the athlete information packet so I wasn’t entirely sure of where I was going.  Surprising no one, I got lost.  I told Mrs Julian to look for Julian as we sat in traffic trying to turn around and cyclist whizzed passed us.

So, yeah, by the time I got us parked and to the finish line we had missed Julian’s big finish.  Sorry Julian’s mom.  We walked over to see the runner’s and watch our runner, Gary finish.  Gary is a pretty fast runner so we knew he would be along soon.  Then this little dude goes flying into the finish shoot.   “Oh no!  Did we miss Gary?” because surely we were not smoked by a bunch of little kids.  Oh, and here comes Gary…

Later we found out that the kids were each 12 years old – they won the all male relay and we won the co-ed relay.  But I would like to point out that if you combined all of the 12 year olds’ ages you would still need to add another friend to get to my age!  Kids today…

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Later that day I had to rack my bike for the 1/2 Iron race the next day (we could bring our other bike stuff – shoes, helmet, sunglasses etc that next morning with our swim stuff).  The rain had pretty much let up. I was still trying to get warm after standing in the rain for 4 hours that morning and I really needed a nap, so I was in no rush to get my bike racked. When I finally got to T1, I got a decent racking position (a decent racking position is anywhere where you think you might be able to find your bike after running up the giant hill after the swim), then headed over to T2 (since I could now find it by car) to drop my run bag containing my running shoes, lucky snail socks, visor, race number and nutrition.

I was sharing a cabin on the river with Judy and Jenny; JoAnne had the suite on the other side of the cabin. We hung out a while at the cabin, relaxing, before the big TriZones dinner at an Italian Restaurant at 5:30.  At dinner I ordered a burger and side of pasta and ate the pasta and half the burger figuring I would eat the other half at 3:00am after the race when I would wake up starving.  I was exhausted and got to bed at a decent time … and stared at the ceiling all night.  Then I remembered that I put my lucky snail socks in my run bag, but I needed them on the bike!  I did have another pair of socks, but the snail socks are shorter and easier to get into.  I spent the next four hours deciding whether to try to swap out my socks in the morning. Finally, 5:00am arrived and my alarm went off, but I was already up…

I made a cup of tea and PB&J on wheat – my standard, but I didn’t feel hungry and I felt a little nauseated.  WTH?  I didn’t eat anything weird, I was totally not sweating this race, WHY would I feel sick?!  If I couldn’t eat breakfast, I feared it would haunt me late in the race when you really start to feel nutrition mistakes.  Jenny gave me a Pepto pill, and I drank a half a cup of tea and played with my PB&J but ate maybe 1/2 of it  (eating the whole sandwich and barfing is not an optimum race plan either). So, I grabbed a banana and set out to the race site hoping for the best.

I set up my transition with my helmet, nutrition, sun glasses, shoes and non-lucky non-snail socks, then headed to the port-o-john.  My tummy was feeling better and I was able to eat a banana while waiting in the really long line.  I subscribe to the theory that basically you should use the port-o-john at every possible opportunity before a race, but once you put your wetsuit on that’s it – you can’t get out of it to use the restroom again.  So I used the port-o-john two more times before the race start, then put on my wetsuit. But also there is something about putting on a wetsuit that makes you feel like you have to pee (probably the squishing of all of your organs as you stuff yourself into the sausage casing).

Old ladies* started right after the pros and I lined up kinda in the middle of all the old gals.

*Old ladies is a term of endearment as “Masters” are anyone over 40 years old (really?) and all of the women over 40 started together so if you were 40 or if you were 70 we all went out together.

I have to say, I had a good swim.  I swam straight.  I felt strong.  I passed some folks.  It didn’t seem too long and ba-da-bing, I was climbing out of the water.  I got my arms out of my wetsuit and pulled it to my hips as I ran over to the wetsuit strippers.  I plopped down on my butt and the stripper gave a good tug and dragged me about 5 feet, tug, another 3 feet (actually at this point I was hoping they would just pull me up the hill by my feet), one last tug and I was free!  I grabbed my wetsuit and headed up the hill.

Swim – 36:40 or 1:54/100m (a major improvement this season)

Dang, that hill is steep. I got to my bike and wiped my feet on my towel, stuffed my wetsuit, goggles and swim cap into my bag* with the towel; sock, sock, shoe, shoe, sunglasses – doh, sunglasses are completely fogged, dig the now nasty towel out of the bag to wipe the sunglasses; helmet and out of transition.

*Since T1 and T2 are in different areas everything you leave must be in your bag for transport over to T2 for you to collect at the end of the race.

T1- 3:30 (ouch!)

The bike has always been my favorite. I had good strong ride.  Passed a bunch of gals who were out of the water before me. It’s hard to know who else might be up there, though. Some guys passed me.  Then we turned into the hillier part of the course and I passed some of those guys.  I decided that I needed to hold strong on the flats, but attack on the hills since that is my strength.

I kept on my nutrition and hydration schedule and felt good.  The ride is two 28 mile loops. I felt really good on the first loop, then was better able to avoid some of the chip-seal on the second loop.  I held a pretty steady speed and the wind didn’t pick up until the end of my second loop (and even then, not much). I passed a guy with a bike cog tattooed on his leg, and he immediately passed me back, but then slowed… so I passed him again.  Boom he was back, and slowing…  This is actually kind of annoying, so I held a pace behind him and waited for the first moderate incline.  Boom, I was on.  Say “B-bye!”  Apparently some guys don’t like getting “chicked” (passed by a gal), but apparently some guys are just either gonna have to get over it or get stronger.

At about mile 50 I choked down one last gel knowing I would need those calories for the beginning of the run and that I would not want to worry about taking a gel right off the bike, but getting tired of the sticky sweet taste.

Bike – 2:47:35 or 20.05 mph (oh, yeah!)

I felt great and confident entering T2 and really, really hoped that I would have a good run as I put on my (hobo, wore out, why did  I not change my shoes weeks ago) running shoes. I knew my running shoes were pretty worn, but I had only replaced them 2 days before and did not trust brand new shoes on the 13 mile race, but yeah, there were holes in them and the sole was worn through in areas. Brilliant. Grabbed visor, race number and nutrition.

T2- 1:49 (that’s more like it) but you can leave your stuff all over in T2 since you’ll be back to pick it all up.

The run…

So it became evident pretty early on that this would not be my greatest run.  My perceived exertion (how I felt I was running) was simply not being reflected in my numbers.  For all my effort, I was running much slower than I had hoped.

Soon Aileen flew passed me.  Aileen is one of my archnemises, she’s fast, she’s in my age group, and of course, she is impossibly nice so I can’t hate her.  “Well, I guess I’m not winning this one” I thought.  She looked good.

The run is four loops (yes, four) of three out-and-backs.  What?  Like this:

Out, back, out, back, out back... x 4

Out, back, out, back, out back… x 4

So you get to see your friends three times on each loop, and you can also determine who is running faster than you and slowly watch them catch up and pass you over the course of the race!  Good times!

I did notice that me and my buddy Ron were running about the same pace and not too far apart. Usually Ron is much faster than I am, so I hoofed it up a bit to catch up to him and asked if he wanted company. He grunted something that sounded like “yes” to me, so I fell in step next to him. I figured that Ron probably felt worse than I did, which kept me running next to him because hey, if he feels worse than me than that least I can do is keep up.

Another great things on the run course is the mile markers.  Since you are running the course 4 times you get to pass the #7 mile marker when you are nowhere near the 7th mile.  The same holds true for #10 and #12 when you haven’t even run three miles. Nice!

Of course I have to mention the best thing on the course this year: Alien head practically nekkid guy!  Yes, there was some guy from Moxie Multisport dancing on the course wearing only a speedo and a giant alien head mask.  I can’t find a picture of him, but go over to Moxie Multisport and get an idea of what I am talking about.  Go on, I’ll wait….

Heh, see?

Did I mention that the second little out and back leg has an evil hill on it that we would have to run 4 times?  Yeah, that.

Eeeeevilllll

Eeeeevilllll

As we approached the evil hill that always seems so much steeper than I remember, I spied my buddy Shayla who was out spectating with a boom box cranking upbeat tunes on the bridge over the creek (you can see the creek in the map).  You could hear the music all the way up the hill, which was freaking GREAT!  Thank you Shayla.

I made it through two loops trying to pep talk myself – “1/2 way through!” “only two more times up the hill” or my personal favorite internal dialogue “After this one you one have one more left!”  Yes, that actually works for me, but I was still running about 30 seconds a mile slower than I had hoped..

I did a gel and a salt pill, while walking a rest stop.  At the next rest stop I really needed more water to dilute the gel and salt.   I would just like to take this opportunity to explain that what I did was completely inexcusable, I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly, but I wasn’t delusional and no matter how cranky I was I have no excuse.  I take full responsibility and wholly admit that I was acting like a d-bag and I have no defense.  I am embarrassed and humiliated, and am ashamed that I was wearing my team kit because this is totally not what a TriZoner should or would do.

As I approached the rest stop that was manned by several children, and I mean little kids like 7 and 8 years olds, as well as adult volunteers who were not getting paid to stand in the sun and hand me water, but were doing it because they are good giving people, the volunteer handed the last water to someone in front of me and no one else had a cup of water because these are not alien-beings who conjure water but people who have to run back over to the table to get more water.  I freaked out and started screaming at these good people that “I needed water!” Like some self important a-hole.  The kids weren’t really paying attention because they were 7 year old volunteers who had been out in the sun for 3 hours. I grabbed a cup out of one of the kid’s hands and when it was Gatorade and not water I threw it on the ground.  WTF?    Another runner said “HERE!  Take my water…(he didn’t finish with”bitch!” but his face said it all)” That kinda snapped me out of it and I was immediately embarrassed and regretful for acting like such an incredible ass.  I mumbled “I’m sorry” and I am sorry.  I cannot even imagine what I looked like to those folks. Take this as an example of what never to do and if you see it, just know that that athlete is an a-hole and completely inappropriate. If you ever see me do anything like that again, you have permission to trip me, then kick me.  😦

After that, I did do a bit of an attitude adjustment since I assumed that anyone running anywhere near me and about my pace was going to think I was a total bitch of the next hour of running.  I got through the third loop without further incident.

As I started the fourth and final loop, I started calling out to Ron things we would not be seeing again.  “See that 10 mile marker? It’s ours!”  “This is the last time we have to run out to the highway!”  “Only two miles left!’ “This is the last time we have to run this hideous hill”

With only two miles left I was reinvigorated if for nothing else then just to be DONE.  I kicked it into gear and ran the last hill, ran passed Shayla, ran passed the nekkid alien and towards the finish line so ready to be done.

This year I upgraded my Garmin (since my 6 year old Garmin died).  I haven’t completely figured out the new Garmin and periodically accidentally turn it off when I mean to reset the lap, or have it set to automatically stop when I am not moving.  So I looked at my Garmin which indicated I was going to finish in about 5:32, but I knew that was wrong. I also knew that I started the race 2 minutes behind the pros, but also in the middle of my age group, so I figured while I had turned the Garmin off several times, I would also get credit for starting later than the race clock.  However, when I am hypoxic I totally lose the ability to do math.  I was thinking I could probably finish at about 5:35…maybe.

I crossed the finish line and the race clock said 5:38:44, so I figured I was in in under 5:36.

My run was 2:04:08 or a 9:29min/mile (meh)

But my race time was 5:33:44. That almost 4 minutes off my PR so I was pretty dang thrilled.  Woot! Woot!

Of course, because I am currently in the most competitive women’s age group I didn’t come close to the podium – WTF ladies?  How can they just keep getting faster?  My original plan was to outlive the competition, but now I am thinking I may have to start hiring some hit men…

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