Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Road Race, A Time Trial, and a Crit...

Shoulders at my ears and breathing through clenched teeth. Glad I at least look happy (Carolyn Campeau Photo). 
I was a virgin all over again for all three. I wrote about the road race yesterday and despite the flat tire, when the final results were posted today, I found I did even better than I thought. Second Cat 5 female. Not bad for a virgin.
(Carolyn Campeau: photo)

The time trial went great. I was a little nervous about the ramp start. You can see it in my shoulders in the start picture. If you want to know how comfortable I am with a situation, that's always a sign, look at the proximity of my shoulders to my ears and that says a lot. Captain Rick was giving me hell about this in the store today. He's right.

And my damn locked elbows. It is no wonder I have nerve damage in my left hand and tennis elbow in my right arm. After this weekend I can now barely lift up a bag of groceries.

I went into the TT with more tired legs that I'd hoped after my unplanned solo effort the day before. It was an out and back TT and they started us in reverse order of how we finished the day before which means I was third out of the gate, with the wind behind on the way out, against on the way back. This suited me just fine. I tend to be a wimp with the wind and stronger into it. I just wanted to catch the girl in front of me. And I did, around 12 km in. My TT was raw me. No extra aero gear. It was just my legs and Kermit the bike with aerobars attached.

It was kinda short though -- 16.3km. I was just getting warmed up and it was over. I knew my legs were tired because I never did get my heart rate up to where I know I can sustain it. My legs wouldn't let me. I made myself get up and sprint over the finish line and then couldn't move my right lower leg due to a cramping soleus muscle for about 5 minutes after.

My kids were there. They hung out in the car for the 30 minutes I was on the road and two short-burst warm ups. They were patient. It helped that I told them that the long grass around the community centre where the TT started would likely have woodticks in it. I was kinda lying about that. But, yet, kinda not. They did the same in the afternoon at the crit, in the car with a Nintendo DS and colouring markers, and a cooler full of snacks. They were ever-patient.

In many ways the weekend was just as much for them as for me. 
After the TT, I skipped the prepared lunch and rushed them back to the hotel for one last swim in the pool and ate leftover pizza and a Dairy Queen Moolate instead. Race fuel at its best. Sometimes race weekends are not just about what you want to do. I had a good time with my kids this weekend. Left the computer at home. (OK, I did still have the iPhone). The kids were in the pool three times for over an hour on the weekend with no complaints about putting on cold wet bathing suits. My daughter went down the water slide about a hundred gazillion times. And my son really really wanted to go down it too. It was all over his face and he wandered up and down the slide stairs about 6 times without being able to get up the courage. After multiple offers from me to either take him down between my legs or catch him, in the last 5 minutes at the pool before we had to go check out of the hotel, he finally went down with me holding him. He had such a death grip on my arms I wondered if he would drag us both under at the bottom but we got down safe and sound and then it was: AGAIN!!

Of course.
Me and the kids in the hot tub.
And then for the rest of the afternoon, every time I asked them to do something: Put on your shoes. Pack your suitcase. Get your jackets on. It was punctuated with: And then we go on the slide? There is nothing like the post anxiety adrenaline rush that comes with realizing that the thing you feared was actually a ton of fun.

I wouldn't know anything about that. I don't model fear and anxiety about anything.

Yes the sarcasm is fully intended.
See, even in the crit warm-up I don't look relaxed (Photo by Stefan Isfeld)
So after he did the slide, there was no way I could weasel out of doing the crit, as much as I wanted to. And I really, really, really wanted to. And I was terrified the whole time, and now two days later, I've come down off that terror-high and I know I need to do one again. Not because I want to, but because I have to give'er another go.

The goal in the crit was simple: stay with the group. Which I did. Mostly. I was glad the speed was manageable for most of it because there was very little juice left in my old tired legs for the third race. I wonder how much extra energy I burned with my shoulders as tense as they were in all these crit photos. I was even tense in the warm up. I discovered it is hard to stay at the front when you don't corner so well. I felt the yoyo effect over and over and everytime I found myself in a position I liked, I fell back on every corner. One of those damn corners was about a 140 degree turn with a man hole right at the inside edge.

I'm proud to share a frame with these young gentlemen. They make me look good on this 140 degree turn. Willem Boersma and Aaron Carter and if someone could help me out with the right name for the third rider, I'd appreciate that. (Stefan Isfeld Photo)

It was all the strong boys from the junior development team, two junior girls, this old mother of two, and Bill Gendron, speed skating coach to many of these young riders and father of Canadian National cyclist Karlee Gendron who was out kicking butt in a race in Victoria for the weekend.

One of the junior girls dropped off the back from the start. She did finish the race and she still never got lapped. Strong girl, she just doesn't like group riding. She had a great TT too. She'll learn. She's young.

Teaching an old dog like me new tricks, that's another thing all together. I have fear. I know I can get hurt.  I just wanted to hang on. Stay upright. Play fair. Learn. The boys dropped me on the prime lap and then I caught up on the regroup. I got dropped again along with Bill and Hana on the two laps to go sign. Bill basically pulled Hana and me around for the last two laps. I sat in third position. To keep my position in the overall, I knew I just had to finish with Hana.

Myself and Bill Gendron and Hana Boersma (Carolyn Campeau, photo)
So I thanked Bill for his draft at the end of the race. We had a nice little getting acquainted chat on our cool down lap. The truth is, if I had been left on my own on those last two laps, I would have gave up and soft peddled  in. My legs were cooked.

It's funny. And excuse me if I switch gears here and get all philosophical, as I am known to do. Going to California and riding all those hills humbled and changed me as a rider. I don't care what position I fall in anymore. I didn't even have one twinge of anger or frustration with myself for riding through that crappy patch of road after I flatted in the road race. C'est la vie. That's racing.

What I seem to get out of it now is new places to ride and new people to ride with. I enjoyed all the people I got to know over the weekend. I met Nathan and Chris for the first time. I got to know Phil and Carolyn a whole lot better. I gained a lot of respect for Phil and Nettie and the Junk Yard Dogs Club out of Portage la Prairie for the very well organized race they put on and for their great team of volunteers. John the commissaire came up to me every time he saw me with a big smile on his face and asked how I was doing and was I having fun. Fun was just the beginning. It was a positive first race experience. I got to ride with some young, up-and-coming riders that I'm sure I will get to one day say about: I used to race with him when he was only 15 years old. 

But most of all cycling has become about beauty. Beauty like this: (Thanks to Carolyn Campeau for all the photos that follow)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stage by Stage: Notre Dame de Lourdes Road Race

The cheese does stand alone. There is beauty in solitude. Especially when you are floating on clouds. 
I almost didn't go. It was that close.

First I went to register and the early registration had closed two days before. I didn't immediately see that there was a walk up option so I thought, oh well, I missed out. Then my kids were misbehaving after school on Friday and I uttered a threat that I knew quite readily I would follow through with if it came down to that:

If you you don't stop pestering each other, being rude and not listening, I'm cancelling the hotel with the pool for tomorrow night and we are NOT going. 

I hoped they'd misbehave. I hoped they'd test me. Of course, they did not. They really wanted to swim in that pool.

Why didn't I want to go? I was terrified. I can't explain why road racing scares me most of all when it is the type of riding I am strongest at. I'm lying really, I can explain why, and I have already in this blog elsewhere.

My parents were kind enough to come to my house on Saturday morning at 6 AM so that I wouldn't have to drag my kids out of bed to get to the road race on time. And a true testament as to how awesome my parents are, they then drove them out to the race for approximately around the finish time so that I could take them to the hotel.

The trainer folk and putting Jason Carter to use pinning my race numbers

As my Cat 4 Alter Ego teammates warmed up on their wind trainers in the parking lot, looking like the pros that they are. I headed out on the road to do mine. When Captain Rick told me the wind trainers were to prevent pre-race flats, I told him I didn't care. If I got a flat, I'd be dropping out of the race. This suited me just fine.

This remark, of course, came back to bite me in the ass later. Serves me right.

I chose to race Cat 5 regardless of numerous people telling me I was probably strong enough for Cat 4. No. Maybe yes, maybe no. But I had no experience. I was starting at the bottom. Which meant I got to race with the Provincial Kids who made up most of the Cat 5 peloton. These kids race Cat 5 because they have to for the rules but many of them could race higher levels easily. A large number of them winter train in that magical winter foil for cycling, meaning speed skating. Some of them cycle to keep their fitness for skating. Some of them skate to keep their fitness for cycling. No matter what, it is a combination that works.

Do I blend in nicely among the youth?
So being one of about 5 riders over the age of 18 in the entire Cat 5 race, I wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't ridden with any of these people before. But we started off slow. Like really slow -- maybe 25km per hour. I ended up beside Willem who I think is about 15 and I remembered him from Cyclocross last year. Willem is a polite and talkative young guy who I had been "warned" (in a good way) was the one to watch out for. When I told him I'd heard this about him, he shrugged humbly.

And it stayed slow like that. I heard some of the stronger older boys mumbling about the pace. And soon we were averaging closer to 30 or 32. Still manageable but as the pace picked up the formation of the group disintegrated. What began as a double pace line turned into a hap-hazard jumble of riders jostling for a spot on the road. Some riders pulled more than others. I always pulled when I hit the front, always certain that when I did, that's when they'd attack. We hit the hills and the pack broke up a bit on every climb but always there seemed to be a slow down after an acceleration that brought most of the group back together.

My plan for the race weekend had been this:

1. Don't crash.
2. Be conservative in the road race.
3. Don't crash.
4. Be reactive rather than proactive. Go with the flow.
5. Don't flat.
6. Give'er on the TT
7. Learn as much as I could from people who know stuff.
8. Stay with the pack in the Crit.

Somewhere near the start
Well, some things can't be helped. Like riding through a cruddy broken up section of road. It was my fault really. There were two such sections of road both within the first 5 kms of the two lap race. One section you had to take entirely to the right. The second section there was a clear section on the right and a narrower section of good road on the left. I got caught trying to take the left route at the patch of broken road that had no left route, and I went right through it.

Thank God for cyclocross skills.

The hissing started shortly after. The kids heard it before I did. (I hate calling them kids by the way. It makes me feel patronizing and old. I'm used to riding with old-er guys who take care of ME... this was backwards). I think it was Willem who said, "Somebody's getting a flat tire." Then I heard it too. Then my mind flipped into denial.

Can't be me.

But I'm the one who rode through that crap section of road.

Nope. Not me... I don't feel like I'm dragging. 

Damn. It probably has to be me. 

And then eventually, but it took about half a km, I could feel I was on my rim of my rear wheel so there was no more denial. So I dropped back, put my arm up for the car that was following us. There was a spare wheel truck behind us but I had no spare wheel. I didn't even have a tube. I had already decided that if I flatted, I'd just DNF.  I put my arm up mostly just to signal that I was pulling over. I thought my race was done and they'd put me in the truck and carry on.

But Coach Jayson from the provincial team came out of the truck asking me what wheel I needed and brought me a replacement rear wheel. And this is what saved my race.

He told me after that if you flat you were supposed to put your right hand up for a rear flat and your left hand up for a front flat. Just like the gears. Front chain ring with the left hand, back chain ring with the right. Makes sense. Unless of course your using SRAM, then the analogy gets thrown out the window.  I had my left hand up because, well, I knew none of this, so I was inadvertently telling him to bring me the wrong wheel.

But the bottom line was that I wasn't expecting to be given a wheel at all, so for that I am grateful.

So I time trialled the remaining 25km of the race, by myself. Still managed to not come in last even though there were a couple of team girls who had got dropped on the first lap who were behind me working together. It was worth a bit of effort to try and catch up because the group was only doing about 26km per hour when I got the flat. It was also worth a bit of work to not get caught by the girls behind me.

I didn't catch up to the group. The cloud photo above was taken about 200m from the turn around so at that point they were no more than 500m ahead of me. You see the leaders coming over the top of the climb in the opposite direction. This is apparently when things started to get good in the Cat 5 race. Somebody attacked on the hill.  I was working hard by myself, harder than I intended to work in the road race. At about 2km from the finish I glanced over my shoulder and the two girls were no where to be seen and a question occurred to me, "Why the hell am I riding so hard? I have two more races tomorrow." So I slowed down and made a joke at the finish line asking the spectators if I should sprint.

And then it was done. I didn't get caught. It was anticlimactic, but it was still satisfying.

Then I was able to do a nice leisurely tube change while watching my kids swim in the pool later that night. Much better than a frantic tire change on the side of the road.

Yes, I can change my own tire, boys and girls.
And this made me all ready for the Time Trial the next morning, and my first ramp start. I think I handled it OK.

Thanks to Carolyn Campeau for the photos. More about the TT and the Crit another day.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Beach was Grand

A fine looking selection of Alter Ego racers dressed in colours at Grand Beach May 15, 2011. I'm the token chick in the photo. (Including Paul B and Adam G, second and third from the left, and Dave C third from the right. I'm ashamed to admit I don't know everyone's name. I will learn them, I promise.)
I was in Toronto once a few years back and ever since I was a kid I'd had this fascination with the CN Tower. So finally in my late 30s I got the opportunity to go up the CN Tower. It wasn't cheap, but I decided to make the most of it and had lunch over looking the city. It was an overcast day but it was still memorable.

If you've never been up there, or if it's been a while, one of the highlights of the CN Tower visit is the glass floor. You can walk on the glass floor and it gives the illusion that you are walking on air a kilometer or so in the sky. I was determined to check out the glass floor. I approached it easily. There were 20 or so people milling around on it comfortably. There were children rolling on it and lying on their stomachs and pressing their squished noses up against the glass.


So I walked up to the glass floor watching my feet and the floor. It's not very big. Maybe 100 square feet. Maybe slightly more. It is partitioned by metal beams between the glass squares so it isn't shear glass. As I got to the edge, even though my body was free to take the steps, my mind slammed into mental force field and I couldn't do it. My palms got sweaty, my heart rate jumped, and all I could do was stand with my toes pressed up against the metal border and watch everyone else stroll around the glass floor with complete safety and ease.

I've thought since that if I hadn't been alone that day, that maybe if someone had taken my hand and pulled me onto the glass floor and coaxed me through it, I might have been OK.

That same feeling of panic is what I felt every time I stared down every single one of those damn rock gardens on the Grand Beach race course yesterday. I'd mentally tell myself every time one approached, that I was going to at least try to ride it. But I'd get to the upper edge and the same thing happened every time. I put on the full breaks and I was off my bike choosing the far more energy inefficient route of walking through it. Damn me.

One of the Expert racers, I think it was Olly, passed me at the first rock garden and he flew through there at top speed without hesitation and that made me and another like-minded walking racer make statements of awe that involved 4-letter words.

OK it was only me who said 4-letter words.

But I feel the same way about the rock garden as I do about the glass floor up the CN Tower. Maybe if someone would coax me through it, I could do it.

That's the kind of mountain biker I am. My teammate Paul B., who won the Elite race, came in all of about 6 minutes (excluding the 9 minute head start) after me and he did 4 laps and I did 2.

My lack of mountain biking skills does not in the least bit make me unhappy with my performance. I rode my own race. I didn't come in last and even if I had, at least I was out there givin' 'er a go. Something has happened to me after California. I went out there to get stronger and I've come back realizing it is all aboutt he experience and being there. My endurance saved me in the race yesterday. I felt like hell on lap one. I can never seem to get a fast start but I settled into a rhythm by lap two and felt better. They were really long laps. Greater than 10k, I would guess.

I'm still recovering from California and I feel it every time I exert myself. I was out hill climbing at Garbage Hill the day before and it took nothing to shoot my heart rate up and make me wheeze with every breath. I felt like a bag of crap the whole ride. At the very least, I felt better on Sunday at the race. And the left hand, while better, is still not perfect. So imperfect in fact I've been threatened with needing to stay off the bike if it doesn't show improvements by the next time I go to physio. And what do I do? I go do two mountain bike races in one week, the most upper body taxing type of biking there is.

At this point is when my dear dear friend, to whom I give nothing but admiration and he gives me back nothing but flack (you can probably guess who) would say, "You damn roadies, always full of excuses."

Am I really just a roadie now? Can't I be more than that?

I had a great time yesterday. I learned a few things. I enjoyed the people tremendously. Tomek's wraps were awesome (I had hummus). My stomach told me to eat slowly so I got to savour every bite. The praises being sung everywhere about the quality of the post race food are all true.

I needed Coke, though. And beer.

And I finally got to meet Mr. Sherwin in person and that was a highlight of the race as he is just as awesome in person as he is in writing. And thanks to Greg, also, for lubing up my squeaky chain prior to me hitting the course. Thanks to JP and Colin for pointing out I had a squeaky chain at all as, in my terror through my gnashing teeth, I probably wouldn't have noticed. Thanks to Olympia Cycle Club for putting on an awesome show. And thanks to Dave C. for trying to teach me how to ride up the carpet and for dragging me into the above photo. He always does a good job of making me feel part of the crew.

It was my first Mountain bike cup race. Actually it was my first cup race ever. It won't be the last. See you at the next one.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Check Your Ego at the Bottom of the Hill

This was part way up Latigo. Looking down at the roads we came from.
Sort of an ironic title to give to my last instalment about my California climbing experience. California, in particular the Southern California Los Angeles region where I was riding, is by definition the Ego capital of the world.

I would say, the necessity of keeping your ego in check quickly became the theme of the trip for me. Out in the Santa Monica Mountains it is every (wo)man for themselves.

I went on this trip thinking I was a better than average climber. Kind of an arrogant thing to think when you live in a Very Flat Place. Nobody else in this camp came from flat places. I tore up the first climb of the day on Day one like some possessed animal and pretty much blew up by the end of the day and wondered how the hell I was going to survive the week. There was a point on the second climb that I said to Don through choked gasps and a heart rate of about 180: "I need to stop. I need to drink and I can't swallow with the way I am breathing."

That was on Yerba Buena on Day 1 when I still thought it would be nobel and big of me to be able to do all these climbs without stopping (how naive). This was a 10 mile climb up cruddy roads which on the 4th day when we did the first third of it again, felt kinda gentle. Funny how that happens when you pace yourself.

Later in the week on Thursday night at diner, while everyone ate lamb (I won't eat anything "baby"), and I ate steak with my fork fisted in my wonky left hand, Don made some comment about me kicking his ass up one of the climbs on the first day. I have no recollection of any such thing happening and I said so (and for those who know me, if I did remember and if I'd taken pleasure out of such feat as some measure of my own ability, I would surely toot my horn a little bit). But I fried myself on Day 1. I'm sure I lost a few brain cells to anoxia at the same time. And Lord knows Don beat me up and down many more hills during the week. Enough that I often told him to not worry about me and just go... which he did on a few occasions, but not many. I didn't want to hold him back.

Ann said from down the table, "Sure sure, I bet he's just saying that to protect his male ego."

"No. No.. I've been riding with this man for 4 days. I can honestly say I haven't seen one shred of ego. Not one."

And I can say that of most of the people at this camp. There was no point in doing these rides if you were going to turn it into an ego fest. This wasn't some LBS ride with a sprint at the end. A sprint for the county line, as they do in North Carolina. Or a sprint for the bridge over the perimeter as we do here in Flat Winnipeg. I challenge you to TRY and sprint at the end of one of these California days.

We went for dinner every night with Rich, the tour leader and those of the camp that opted to join in. It was different faces every night and depending on the faces, the conversation changed. One night we talked about literature and Rich's affinity for the Casanova biographies. One night it was beer. Usually me goading Don into having another or as it was one tired night, Eric goading me into having one at all. I was in the restaurant known for it's beer. How could I turn him down?
Eric's last day. He was off to a series of crit races in Atlanta on the Thursday. He shouldn't have been drinking that beer either that night in the restaurant. Eric is coached by the same guy who coaches Frank Schlek and has trained with both Mark Cavendish and Bernie Eisler from HTC during the off season in California.
But really when you do a camp like this, it is the people that make it what it is. I'll start by telling you about Paul from Vancouver with his brand new Pinarello he'd bought for himself the year before.
Paul and his Pinarello
What did you do to earn this purchase? I asked him one morning. Paul was a quiet guy. Probably shy, I suspect. He didn't start joining in on many conversations until about that 4th day and he never talked in the big group (not even when they were making fun of how Canadian's talk -- I still insist I DON'T say a-boot), only one-on-one is when Paul spoke -- that is, when we actually saw him. He kept to himself. Rode by himself. What did he do to earn the Pinarello? He rode a steel bike for 14 years before that. Well earned, my friend. The reason why we never saw him much and he rode by himself is that he was in a class of his own. There was no one that could ride with him.

Well there were the "Santa Barbara Boys," maybe. They dressed in their identical kits every day and outclassed everyone. They must have been pros or ex-pros. They looked at me with dry contempt when I teased them about looking hot in their matching gear. We never saw them at all. I couldn't even tell you their names, other than you see them go past us in the Day 4 video. No one, not even Rich or Eric knew what they were all about. We never once saw them at a SAG stop.

Or maybe there was Reve. I think Reve rode with Paul on one day. Reve is a 64 year old guy of Hispanic descent who could outride most everyone I know in this province in endurance feats. He didn't ride the last two days with us because he was headed to a double century race somewhere in Northern California. We heard his tale at dinner the first night of how for his 60th birthday he rode across the US from California to Maryland in 21 days. And he would have rode home too but he called home and his wife had a plane ticket purchased in his name for his return trip. On Day 3, Reve rode up and down the first climb up Rockstore at least twice checking on everyone.

Carol and her 11 pound bike.

And Carole, Reve's riding partner. Ex Torontonian (we won't hold that against her) who's lived in Tahoe for 25 years. Reve built her 11 pound bike for her. Yes, 11 pounds. That's not even legal, if you are a racer that is, which Carole is not. I heard her remark, on more than one occasion: "I haven't really earned this bike." Top level Stork frame was what it was. There are apparently only 25 of them in the whole USA. Pricetag? About $8000 for the frame alone. Never mind the components. Making a bike 11 pounds doesn't come cheap.  Carole was the most persevering among us. Of course, she'd earned the bike. She wasn't the fastest, she'd often leave the SAG a half hour before everyone else and still be last in, but she is the one that never stopped on a climb. Never. And I never heard her complain once.

I however, whined as often as I could.

And then there was the rest of our crew. If we had been on the flat we could have formed a great pace line and worked well together but we were in the mountain hillsides riding past multimillion dollar homes (most of which were for sale) wondering what the heck they did if they needed milk at 11:00 at night. Nothing was close. Or riding through Malibu where we saw peacock road-kill and a woman walking her dogs while driving a golf cart.

The veiw of downtown Los Angeles from one such million dollar for sale home.

But in the California hills there are no pace lines. You could grab a wheel for a while here or there but you were either going up something at 10km per hour (or less), or down something at 40km per hour (or more). And there wasn't much wind. Screw cheating in draft. You are on your own for this adventure, baby. Don and I rode a lot with Bob and Ann from Vermont on and off. But Bob and Ann hammered us on the climbs. They were two limber and light people and they had triples to work with (Don and I both had compacts -- it slowed us down often forcing us to grind it out -- in fact, on day 1 and 2, Don only had a 25 on the back).  But Ann was a very nervous downhiller and that's why we saw them on the road so much. It was the great equalizer.
Bob and Ann up on Piuma
The DC boys, Mike and John, were strong riders too and often passed us if they started after us. But they had off days. They were behind us on Day 3 and stayed behind. They didn't do the whole day on 11,000 foot day. But they were back in tip top shape on the last day when I struggled, and flew through the last two climbs.

And Judy, another Californian. She had an unorthodox bike positioning but she could power up those hills at a steady pace.
Watching the view: Mike and John from DC, Don, Bob and Ann. Rich in the background.
And Ray who is doing Ironman Texas at the end of the month. Apparently he didn't spend much time on the bike this winter. I think this trip was his bike training for Ironman. On the last day, he was right with Don and I up Las Flores. Las Flores 18% hell... for 1.8 miles. I stopped about 4 times to survive that stretch. I was long over my need to preserve my ego and not stop.

I did however, always refuse to walk any of these steep climbs. There is no walking in cycling.
Me up on Piuma on that part of the Day 2 video that most people have commented about where I  can be heard saying: "I wouldn't die if I fell."
And Jenn.... how I talked her into this, I'm not sure. Maybe I didn't. She has her own brand of crazy too. She didn't spend much time on a trainer this winter. She spent a lot of time doing anaerobic training at ELITE and eating spinach and nuts and seeds and chicken. She could have gone and lay on a beach on her vacation but she came out to LA for pain and punishment instead. Aside from the classic moment when she went to pee in the bush and came running out screeching from a snake encounter, my absolute favourite Jenn moment was sitting at the last SAG at the top of Latigo after 11,000 feet for the day and watching Jenn round the last corner and hoot and holler the whole way in. She did the longest day of all of us that day. A wrong turn earned her about 3 extra kms of climbing and probably another 500 ft more than the rest of us who finished. I even had her drinking beer by the end of the week.
Jenn and I at the top of Latigo at the last Sag stop of big Day 4. I think our faces say it all.
So now I recover. I've been home for 5 days. There are two races this weekend. My legs wouldn't survive either of them and I have no motivation to race. For whatever reason, earning race stripes no longer feels like what this past week was about. I'm sleeping about 9 hours a night and eating about every 2 hours. I still feel like I got run over by a truck. My daily training plans for the week say: 60 minutes of light aerobic activity. Not very high performance sounding but they are necessary. So I commute. I tried to run yesterday (it was too much). The 30+ km/hr winds we've had the last few days have felt deadly on my single speed bike. Wednesday's rain and chill felt worse.

I got an email from Don earlier in the week after his regular Tuesday night group ride. He said his heart rate never got to max and he found himself pushing the pace on more than one occasion in ways he never could before. That's what California did for him.

My brain is in a fog and I'm still trying to figure out how this week will change me. It is assured that it has already. It has changed me as an athlete. It has changed how I approach big efforts. It's changed who I am as a person.

And that doesn't feel like a very profound way to end this post but I haven't completely figured it out yet. I'll let you know when I do.

That's me showing my good side at one of the Los Angeles beaches. That water was cold.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Cycling Escapes and Leaving my Heart in California

Day 4 video courtesy of Don B., my friend and riding buddy, (featuring me, and Jenn, and Don's voice). I swear,  if I spent much more time with this man I was going to pick up his accent for sure. 

It was one of those decisions that I'm not sure where it came from. It was early March and it had been a long dark winter. Long and dark. And I got this really nice tax return and I had to get away. At first I thought I would go to back to Tucson, by myself, just for Easter weekend, because at least I was familiar with it. Then a friend tossed the idea of Hawaii into my head and that was enticing too.

But I couldn't get an air miles flight to Tucson and it looked like I was going to be travelling by myself so going to Hawaii, alone looked expensive, with long plane trips and at that time I didn't think I could get the whole week off. Not to mention, the intention was to ride my bike and the thought of riding alone, unsupported, on strange roads made me nervous.

So I started thinking about California. California wine, to be specific, but a Google search pulled up a link to Cycling Escapes and a quick scan of their tour calendar guided me to the perfect tour in the perfect week and doing my favourite thing. Climbing.

The SAG wagon

Except I don't think I really read the agenda that well or thought much about what it meant. When I started emailing the specs to riders I respect for their opinion, the reactions I got were of the nature of, "Holy crap! Did you see that 4th day..... there's 10, 000 feet of climbing."

Uh, yeah so?

I'm dumb. I come from this flat place where the "hills" are a couple hundred metres long on average and 10, 000 feet of climbing didn't mean much to me. I just wanted to climb hills. I did climb Mt. Lemmon last year after all. That was 25 miles of climbing. How could this be that bad? (dumb dumb). The day before I left another friend who rode in France last summer and did all the major climbs of the Alps and she said that the total elevation on this tour was more than anything she did in France.

Holy Hell. What did I get myself into?

Don up at the lookout on Piuma
I had that thought at least once a pedal stroke on the first climb of the first day -- you know when your legs are fresh and your brain is still ignorant. I had followed Don out through the "flat" (i.e. rolling.... rolling hills are the new flat to me now) opening section leading to the climb known as "Rockstore." A lengthy conversation with Don the night before at dinner had me pretty certain I could ride with this guy without trouble so I took his wheel and it was him and I alone on that first climb basically hammering beyond what either of us should have been doing (two geeks with heart rate monitors -- couple of nerds we were).

Like I said, I'm dumb. But I am also not used to long steep climbs. I'm used to climbing at a particular effort and then just recovering at the top. So I climbed at that effort and it didn't take me long before I maxed my heart rate. And then went over my max.

The View from Encinal. A little crooked so I must have been riding when I took this picture. 
We climbed Rockstore 3 times over the week. It did feel easier. We also descended down Rockstore at least twice and it was an amazing descent.  Aside from learning how to pace these climbs, I certainly saw big improvements in my navigation of switchbacks. I learned to trust the rubber. Break before the turn, and not in it. I studied.

Rockstore, by the way, was one of the climbs in last year's Tour of California. It is 2.5 miles long and about 6-10% grade. They also told us at the bike store that they hold a weekly Wednesday night TT up Rockstore. The guy at the store says he goes up it in 13 minutes.  I had a casual conversation with a local cyclist at the entrance to the hotel as he waited for a friend, who told me he could climb it in about 18 minutes, "on a good day" but his buddy climbed it the other day on a cruiser bike in 17 minutes. On a Cruiser bike.  I never really timed us and I'm sure we were much faster on day one, but I estimated we were about 20 minutes in climbing Rockstore on Day 4 at a nice easy pace set to start us off for the 11, 000 feet of climbing that were to come.

Don with his Flip camera and Jenn... I stopped us part way down Cothairn descent because it was mighty steep and sketchy roads. One of only two descents I actually dared to go faster than Don. 

Day 4 was by far my most rewarding day. When you do a challenge like this not every day is going to feel good. Day one I worked too hard too soon and burnt out by the third climb. I didn't have a clue how I was going to finish the week. Day 2 I paced better, felt better, and the goal was to finish as strong as I started. Day 3 I was bagged and thankful that there was only 5, 000 feet of climbing (ONLY). But day 4 I felt great. If you watch the video above you'll hear my voice is a little cruddy from whatever was going on with my sinuses and chest that week.

And Day 5 was a hard day again. Legs were tired, the lungs were tired, the brain was tired.  It had the hardest climb of all on Las Flores -- which had a lovely stretch of about 1.8 miles of 13-18% grade and most of it was greater than 15%.... it just went up and up around every corner on roads they were in the process of laying new asphalt on. Who knew it was possible to kick up asphalt tar at 5 km/hr. I'll be picking that stuff off my bike all summer.

Me part way up Latigo -- Day 3 when I felt like crap. I think Don had been waiting for me for a bit here. 

We did Rockstore, Puima, Latigo, and half of Yerba Buena climbs at least twice. We rarely went up the same climb we came down on the same day but we often went up a climb one day and then down it another. There were two climbs we only went down (Tuna Canyon and the other side of Cotharin) and both were brake heating knuckle whiteners.

Doing certain climbs twice was nice. They were never as bad the second time around. You had perspective on them the second time. Many times on a second go of a particular climb I would find myself pedalling along for kilometres and then hit my shifters and find I still had lower gears. This happened on 3 or 4 occasions on the last two days. On Latigo we knew that stretch of downhill near the top was not the peak (the math just didn't add up) and that Latigo had two peaks. It didn't feel as mentally fatiguing to head into another climb when you knew it was coming. Don and I climbed Latigo for the second time on Day 4 talking about life and the pursuit of happiness and it was done in no time flat. Ten miles, that Latigo climb.

Me and Don (and my one sunburnt arm... dumb)

Don may I add, aside from being pleasant company, was also a walking talking map for the week. Ann, one of the other tour members aptly nicknamed him "Garmin." As ex military, and a former Californian, he always knew where we were, and how far we had to go and how long each climb was and he could call how much we had left to nearly at 10th of a mile. He was the perfect riding partner for directionally challenged me.

There is Rich... he basically IS Cycling Escapes
And what can I say about Cycling Escapes? Earlier on in this blog, I referred to the company as "They" but Cycling Escapes is really just a "he" -- one guy, Rich Merrick, a self proclaimed nomadic bachelor who created his dream job. He's a one man band and for a one guy show, he does a bang up job with an iPhone and an iPad as his main sources of communication, and a van and a trailer for SAG stops. He came off 9 weeks straight of tours coming to us and still all his i's were dotted and his t's crossed. He had Eric Barlevav, pro racer with team Exergy, (who have really hot jerseys) as his SAG assistant for the first 3 days of the tour while Rich rode sweep with the slowest riders. And a gal Nicole took over for the last couple of days as sweep rider. Otherwise the trailer was stocked with everything you asked for. You filled out a lengthy food request list prior to arriving to camp and it was all there.

Eric... this is his "training" bike. Notice Microshifters. It would match Kermit perfectly. 

For the rest of you geeks, here is MY specs via Garmin.

Day 1 Rockstore, Yerba Buena, Decker
Day 2 Piuma, Fernwood
Day 3 Rockstore, Latigo
Day 4 Rockstore, Yerba Buena/Cothairn, Mulholland, Encinal, Latigo
Day 5 Piuma, Las Flores

And the rest of Don's Videos can be found here.

It was the best week of my life folks. Hardest thing I've ever done. I met great people from around the United States -- North Carolina, Vermont, California -- (and Canada, there was a guy from Vancouver). Nobody else came from a flat place like this. They laughed at me when I told them our standard out and back route had an elevation change of 5 m. Wednesday night Rich and Ray were teasing Jenn and I prior to the big climb day that "The Canadian Girls will never make it."  (WRONG). They were teasing. I hope.

Last day of riding, waiting at construction (yes, they have construction in California)
This post was pretty cycle-heavy. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the people part another day. I have so much more to say, about Don, Eric, Ann and Bob, Carol, Reve, Judy, Paul, and DC boys Mike and John, and "the Santa Barbara boys" (as Don called them) who we never really got to know. And Jenn and me, of course. The Canadian girls. It's nice to be 40 and still get away with being called a girl. And I have way more pictures than I can squeeze into this one post.

I'm home in body. But I left my heart somewhere on the top of a foothill of California. Or maybe it's on the Ocean shore buried beneath the sand and the salt.... I love the ocean.

There was no bad part of the Pacific Coast Highway. The temperature dropped by 10 degrees F and it was flat..-ish. Me doing a behind the head photo of Don on Day 1.