Sunday, April 4, 2010

Climbing Tucson: Part I

As I write this, I am sitting at the desk in my hotel room in Phoenix. Everyone else has flown back to home. In fact, by my calculations the plane lands in about 30 minutes but given I booked into the training camp a little later than others, the cheapest flight home was leaving a day after everyone else, so here I am in Phoenix alone.

Every time I touch my ears I can feel the flakiness of them from when I sun burned them somewhere on the Picture Rock ride on Tuesday (which, by the way, has nothing to do with pictures or rocks, it is just a hole in the wall town) or from wandering the Desert museum. I’ve put in about 365 km of riding, the majority of that uphill, about 12 miles of hiking and running, the majority of that also uphill, and not one single lap of a pool – oh wait.... I did swim across the ranch pool once or twice and dipped in the hot tub.

Despite what amounts to about 20 hours worth of time spent with a heart rate above 135 bpm, I think I likely gained weight on this trip. Stig’s Garmin calculated that he burned over 15,000 calories. We figure we must have ate about 30,000 in return. Double sized breakfasts at the hotel continental breakfast (waffles, eggs, yogurt, friut, and horrid watery coffee), road food was our typical lunch, and we stuffed our faces daily at dinner because we were ravished from a day on the road. It is hard to imagine how one can gain weight after all that but I suppose anything is possible as you encroach on 40.

Today my legs feel recovered, but that is the one thing on this trip my body wasn’t prepared for – constant abuse with no recovery. How this training benefited me won’t be known for a few weeks I am sure. I’ll know when I get out to Bird’s Hill Park and do a lap and wonder what happened to the hills. I’ll know when I am riding to/from work into 30-plus km/hr winds on my single speed and it doesn’t feel so bad. I'll know when I pull off a sub 1:20 Olympic bike (HA!). I’ll know when I’m pulling the ride group at 35km/hr for 10 minutes straight into the wind and my heart rate stays below 160 (yeah, like that is gonna happen, but a girl can dream can’t she?).

That is one thing I can say about Tucson, there is no escaping the hills. There is no such thing as an easy ride. Often what looks like a flat section of road is really sloped very gently in one direction or the other. So riding in Tucson means this: you either feel like you are dying and something is majorly wrong with you today because you have no power in your legs, or you think you are having the best ride of your life and you are the fastest cyclist around and you could probably beat even Lance at his own game today.

We rode for 5 days with one day break in the week. Two days if you count today which was going home day. I rode hard. I dare say I rode harder and more to my max than anyone else on this trip. I was the only woman on the trip who wanted to do the distances. The other women had different goals. My goal was to ride as much as I could. But the guys doing the distance can also pull off 1:10 or faster (including transition time) 40km rides in Olympic distance triathlons. I busted my ass to keep up with them. And here is the thing. I was pretty successful at it by my standards. More successful than I ever imagined. One day I stayed with them for 17 out of 60 km. So what if Chris got up Mt. Lemmon 37 minutes faster than me with Michael about 10 mintues behind and Sean about 10 minutes behind that. I would have thought he could get up there a whole hour faster.

The problem was that there was no such thing as an easy ride when trying to keep up with riders of that calibre. I went into this trip with the attitude that I was going to do the distance and I didn’t care if there was no one my pace to ride with. I didn’t want to hang back with the women because, well, I’m a woman. I went into these rides expecting to get dropped and I did. Often quickly. Sometimes too early. Sometimes not because I wasn’t strong enough. A couple times I got dropped because I was too slow getting clipped in at red lights or stop signs. Sometimes it was because it was too early in the season and I haven’t reacquainted myself with riding as close as I could to get the draft. Once I got dropped because I was about 4 feet back and it allowed just enough room for a gust of wind on our windiest ride day to push me back and out of the draft. I got dropped several times because of my hesitancy on sketchy roads. But it didn’t matter. Most of the time I used getting dropped as an excuse to slow down and ride with some sanity. I was dog tired by Wednesday.

I didn’t expect Stig to hang back with me either. He did a much better job of hanging on in those guy’s draft and for far longer than either of us thought he was capable of and I would say that was thanks to Cervelo S2 and Troy Jacobson and maybe a little fear that his girl was gonna outride him (snort!). He did say all winter that he was OK with it if I was faster than him this summer, to which I just rolled my eyes and said, Whatever Mr. Ironman. But he did get dropped at times, sometimes because he was at his limit and sometimes by choice, and he would slow up and wait or... not.

Mt. Lemmon

I found out I was climbing Mt. Lemmon the following day on Sunday night just as I was swallowing the last mouthful from my 4th alcoholic bevy. Let’s just say I might have made different evening hydration choices if I had known earlier. (And may I add as an aside, if I had remembered to grab the itinerary from my work printer prior to leaving, I might have noticed the schedule change all on my own.) I didn’t know how I was going to handle 25 miles of climbing so I took it easy. Bob and Margaret and Sophie and Jim, who have climbed Mt. Lemmon about 5 or 6 times, in whole or in part, since they’ve been out there told us that the day we road Mt. Lemmon was the hardest it ever was for them. But given the wind factor on the next two days, I’m glad we did it Monday. Certainly up to about mile 5 you could feel that you were working against the wind in places. It was a warm day too. I was sleevless all the way to the top, only putting on warmer gear for the decent. And I am sure I was dehydrated.

I rode out from the ranch with the boys despite being offered a ride in the van to a closer starting point. And, may I add, I didn’t get dropped the whole way in but I was working pretty hard to be sure I didn’t. We did an 18 km warm up to the base of Mt. Lemmon and as Michael so aptly pointed out, Mt. Lemmon is like dying. It is just one of those things you do alone. I stopped a few times on the way up but my ride time, excluding stops, was 3 hours exactly. Stig figures I was only about 10 minutes behind him, including stops. My total ride time for the ride was 5.5 hours. My total time out on the ride was 6.5 hours and that includes a 20 or so minute stop at the top, another 15 minutes on the way down when we stopped to strip out of our long sleeves and pose for numerous photo ops, and about 10 minutes of stops on the way to the mountain when we lost Chris and Jim T. (due to technical difficulties) and stopped to wait.

I stopped at mile 5 to check on Jim S. who was having a bad day. As he was clipping in to start off and up again he lost his balance and ended up on the ground. He turned around to go back at that point. He knew he was done.

I made a brief detour into one of the camp areas around mile 6 to look for water as I was one bottle done by then. No water to be found. I carried on from there all the way to mile 14 which is known as Windy Point stopped and took a self portrait, looked for water (none) as I had sucked the last mouthfuls at that stop. I had seen numerous spring run-off streams up to that point so I carried on hoping there would be others to use as a last resort, but all I saw for a few miles was snow. I stopped around mile 16 to fill my water bottles with the cleanest snow I could find. I stuffed one of them in the back of my shirt hoping my body heat would melt it quicker. No go. But just past mile 18 I hit my oasis. There was a spring run-off waterfall right by the side of the road. I filled my water bottles and all I can say is this:


I drank down about half a litre right there. But don’t try this at home folks. Spring run-off is not to be trusted. I was desperate.

And from there I carried on right to the top. At mile 20 there was an information centre where I could have bought water and had I known, I would have waited, but I passed by without stopping. There was a brief reprieve of downhill for about 2 miles from about mile 20.5 to mile 22.5 which was a wonderful relief until you realized that when you turned around to go back, legs ceased from resting post 23 miles of climbing, that you had to climb that two miles to get to the downhill. Piece of cake.

I celebrated at the top with a Coke. Best Coke I’ve ever tasted. And, of course, a nice commemorative photo at the mile 25 sign.

And a word about altitude riding: we went up to 8000 ft after starting at about 2500 ft. At the bottom of the ride a heart rate of 165 was a manageable state to be in. By the time I was at 7000 feet, a heart rate of 150 was barely manageable. When I climbed up the short hill from the convenience store at mile 25 I was sucking wind so bad I thought my heart was going to burst. My heart rate there was 135.

And the way down was amazing if not a little nerve wrecking at moments on some of the switch backs. I had visions of myself catapulting over the guard rail and down the mountain. That was enough to get me to back off at moments. I did hit 60 km per hour or higher in places. I don’t know the exact max speed as I didn’t have that set to record on my Garmin. The wind wasn’t too much of a factor coming down. Chris went up again to mile 18 a couple days later and he said coming down was far more treacherous on that day with side gusts of wind. He couldn’t get over 45 on that day.

Stig, Michael and I rode back to the ranch together and there was one thing we all agreed on. None of us knew how we were going to top this ride. I would have liked to have done it again before we left but by Friday, the fatigue in my legs didn’t leave me with a whole lot of confidence. And there were other rides to do and other places to see. And a week isn’t enough time to do every ride available in the amazing Tucson area.

Jim S. did eventually make it up Mt. Lemmon. He psyched himself out (pun intended given he is a psychiatrist). He did get dropped on the ride to the base (uphill and against the wind) that morning and he mumbled behind me before starting into the ascent that he didn’t think he was going to make it. I think he had made his decision right then and there. He’d had a series of small injuries all winter that had killed his endurance. But he was the only rider in the group who didn’t make it to the top that day. So he went out the next morning by himself and he did it then. I asked him later that evening if he was happy with himself. His response: Well, Kim, I’m never happy with myself but at least now I can live with myself.

Yes. This is a sickness.

No comments: