Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iron Journey

I logged 17 hours of training last week (not including weights, stretching, acupuncture, massage, eating and sleeping--all the other unknowns that add to Ironman training). Thankfully, this week is a recovery week. As I rest up and prepare for my next block of training, it's starting to hit me. My body is feeling it. Stronger, fitter, my resting heart rate dropping, my blood pressure so low, I get light-headed when I stand up. I have deltoids all of a sudden, my glutes are bigger, the number on the scale is increasing (it's a good thing--muscle mass). I'm sleeping 10 hours a night. I'm eating all the time. As I prepare for my 3rd one, my body is snapping back to its familiar muscle memory. Jeez. It feels like I have an Ironman coming up. And I'm getting excited. Very excited.

Ironman Utah will be hard. Don't get me wrong. But my last post was simply to help mentally prepare. I have no doubt in my mind that I can do it. I just like to know what I'm in for when I line up for battle. Each Ironman I do teaches me new wisdom that I keep for a lifetime. And I leave a piece of me out there on the course with each Ironman I do.

The Ironman journey is like the ultimate acid trip. I live a lifetime in a single day. There are actually two journeys, the training and the race itself. The training is a long, exhausting, slow build-up, during which I eliminate any extraneous luxuries from my life. Time because the limiting factor. Each day becomes a juggling act, and I become a magician of time management, mastering being in two places at once. Each morning, I wake up, slip into the workout clothes I've laid out the night before and begin my morning training. Go to work, eating all day, trying not to fall asleep. Evening falls, and I complete my 2nd workout, sometimes abutted to some weights or a brick run. Sometimes, I lie about how much I'm working out on my training plan, embarrassed that I snuck in a 3rd workout. Weights don't count, right? And yoga is just stretching. If I'm not too exhausted after gorging on whatever is left in my fridge, I do some errands or chores. Oftentimes, this gets left until the end of the week. Yes, the dog has to be walked and both Travis and Babs need food and a little lovin'. But is it really that big of a deal if the clothes pile up in the laundry room or the dishes in the sink? After a few days, the clutter in the house feels like clutter in my brain, and I simply can't stand it anymore. After much fretting and worrying, I fly around and in one clean swoop, taking a span of about 20 minutes, everything is restored to order, fighting Newton's 2nd law of thermodynamics. If I'm lucky, I get an evening to go on a date or spend it with friends. But usually, such socializing is best saved for recovery weeks and off days. Otherwise, such companionship must be lumped into a long training ride or run. Ah, I am a master of multi-tasking and time management. If only time could be created...or simply slowed down.

By the time race day arrives, it is a sweet victory. I've worked so hard to get there. The excitement in the air is palpable. I am a nervous wreck before the gun goes off. But then, the cannon explodes, and a strange calmness rises within. Everything I have worked so hard for, my moment, it's finally here. I have arrived.

Time stops. Nothing else matters. I begin swimming. I am encompassed in a soothing bubble. My thoughts ebb away. My mind quiets. Nothing can touch me. Nothing can bother me. This is my day. It is a celebration. I get on the bike. I think about my pace, eating enough, drinking enough. I absorb the scenery. Every now and then, wasteful thoughts creep into my brain. "What about the marathon? I've been out here a long time. My ass hurts. What am I going to do after this? Where am I going with my life...." I don't fight the thoughts but I don't acknowledge them either. They simply float on by, and eventually, I float away again and go numb. Going numb is key. I begin running. At first, I hate it. I'm tired. How the hell am I going to run a marathon after all the other crap I've done today? I'm hungry. I reach the first aid station. I eat and drink like a stray dog. I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I start to feel better. I find a rhythm. My legs go numb. Completely numb. I have no pain. Then, I start feeling light and euphoric. I remember, "Oh wait. I like this!" And I start running faster, more comfortably. All of a sudden, I'm in a good mood. It's infectious. I smile and high-five the spectators, thanking them for cheering me on. I tell the other athletes suffering on the run course, "Good job! You can do it! Lookin' good!" They are like moths to a light, and I am their beacon. We cluster together, making our way down the run course, and our energy, infectious, feeds off each other. I am like a vampire, sucking the positive energy from the spectators and other runners, who give it away freely. I count the miles. I count the aid stations. I run to the next tree, then the stop sign, then the bend in the road, the boathouse, the parked truck. I am making progress. Suddenly, I only have a 5K to go, and I know I'm going to make it. I get wobbly and begin to quiver with excitment, the adrenaline fueling legs and muscles with nothing left to give. I do the only thing I can think of; I run faster. It's hard to run in a straight line. I've been out here a long time. I keep picturing the finish line. And suddenly, I'm in the chute. It's a loud, stimulating blur, overwhelming my weary senses. Spotlights, loudspeakers, crowds of cheering people. I am zooming down the chute. I think I'm sprinting but really, I'm jogging. Maybe my knees lift a little higher. I throw my arms high up in the air as I break the tape, and I want this moment to last forever.

Then, it's over, and I'm numb and giddy with endorphins. I've earned rest. As much food as I want. Overcome with emotion. The lessons I've learned. That I'm strong. I can do anything I put my mind to. That I am responsible for myself and my own happiness. But I need not do it alone. Gratitude for all those who helped me along my journey. Human compassion for all the others who suffered with me out there in the heat and wind. And I come away, a little wiser, a little older, a little calmer, a little more patient.

...And then I go and sign up for the next one, and the cyclical journey begins all over again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Where's the FEAR Button?

I've been reading up on St. George (IM Utah--May 1st, '10), and a fire has been lit under my arse. Needless to say, I'm training like a maniac now, as scared for my 3rd IM as I was for my first. Here's what I've found:

IM St. George Run Reviews
A training buddy and I just got back from St. George. He's signed up for next year, and I'll just say that I'm glad he's doing it and not me.

Brief synopsis:
Difficult bike, pacing will be vital, chip seal is awful. Run is all uphill or downhill, no shade, brutal.

Bike Overview:
(2, 40 mile loops)
The loop begins by winding through some housing developments…For us, the course really began with the right hand turn onto H91. This is all patched chip seal. I've found that this particular surface definitely robs me of speed. I also find myself experiencing more core fatigue... it's harder to relax when you're constantly vibrating and I tighten my core in order to provide a better "platform" for power application.

After bouncing your way along 91, you'll veer right onto 3184 and start riding through a narrower canyon. There might be some shade provided by the canyon walls, but that's dependent on sun angle (not sure what that will be in May) and the time of day, of course. When we rode it the first day at around noon, there was zero shade. The second day we rode it at 8:30ish, we got a little shade from the rocks. The road generally consists of rollers on an uphill bias, but there are perhaps four shorter (~:45 to 1:15 or so) hills in which I came out of aero.

..pacing is crucial. We went out way too hard the first day, and I simply burned too many matches on the first loop. The second day went much better as we tried to cap our power on these shorter hills. I would bet on a large % of AGers pushing too much on the first loop, being completely gassed on the second loop, and really suffering on the run.

The main climb on the loop is a switchback that occurs about 1/2 way through the entire loop. It's about .8 mile, rising about 400 feet in that distance for an average grade of just over 9%. I think it peaks at around 16-17%, and this occurs near the top of the climb. It's a relatively short but nasty little f'er.

This brings you in to the town of Veyo and a right onto H18 to head back into town. Veyo does have a small convenience/feed store to get some Gatorade/H20/etc. You're now on top of a wide plateau, and we had some good headwinds during our first ride. There's a slow gradual climb away from Veyo, as the road undulates gradually over the next 5 to 6 miles.

The first of the significant descents starts about 6.5 miles out of Veyo, as you approach Snow Canyon State park on your right. This continues for two miles, and levels out slightly with some slight climbs; you're still able to stay in aero. There's a brief respite from the chip seal with some nice smooth pavement (which will make you realize how much you've been vibrating and rattling around for the last 35 miles) but then, before you can say "ahhhhh...", you're back on the patched chip seal again.

The final major descent occurs after a few more miles as you wind your way down toward that Bluff/Snow Canyon intersection I mentioned earlier. It's not a technical descent at all. Only the quality of the road surface, the small shoulder, and the numerous trucks with horse trailers screaming past us made us a little skittish. Nevertheless, we still hit almost 50 mph on the descent.

Then you grab the brakes and make a hard right to do it all over again.

The bike course will be very challenging because of the hills, road surface, and weather conditions. I found it difficult to get in a solid rhythm because of the rolling hills on the course, which usually don't necessitate getting out of aero, but I found myself switching gears quite a bit. I believe a previous poster had mentioned the importance of a power meter, and I completely agree: pacing yourself up the hills and making sure you cap your power appropriately will pay big dividends. The chip seal just beats you up. When we rode the course the first day at noon, my SRM was over 100. I'd expect high temperatures especially for the second loop, with little to no shade. Coming out of Veyo, you could get hit with some serious winds.

Run Overview:
It starts uphill immediately and there's not much downhill to speak of until almost mile 5. You climb up Main to a little roundabout and veer left onto Diagonal. It's a gradual climb to a right on 18, and then the out-and-back on 1250 up to the Elks Lodge is a short series of stepped hills.

On the second day, we ran this as a brick after one loop of the bike course and found ourselves affected by the altitude (~3200') more than I would've thought. Coming from Seattle, we could definitely feel like we were more labored in our breathing and it was difficult to catch out breath. We slowed our pace significantly until we felt like it was under control.

Run up and down back to 18 to take a right at our infamous intersection again. Here's where the run really gets, um, good. There's an innocuous "8% grade" sign to let you know what's up. This steeper section, beginning at just before mile 3, lasts for perhaps 1/3 mile or so. The road continues to climb, albeit at lesser gradients, until mile 5. Then it flattens out and starts to turn down.

This downhill section is about 5% which can really hammer some tired quads.

The run is going to be just brutal. No shade at all, except perhaps along Diagonal because of some small trees. The hills are difficult, and there's maybe 500 yards of flat running over the loop. Those athletes who went out too hard on the bike are going to pay dearly on the run. Fueling and fluids are going to be crucial because of the heat.

Run course elevation change was ~635 ft of climbing and descending per loop, so double it for the full mary. The climb from the intersection to Veyo was a little over 1700 ft.

I think this might have an extraordinary DNF rate... I can't wait to see what the average AGer is able to do out there.
1. Wind, wind and more wind. There's just no getting around it. So much so that I'd give the Swim a 50/50 chance of being canceled. It's that bad this time of year for wind in SG.
2. Lots of sun exposure on the bike.
3. High DNF rate of first-timers.
…I was really surprised when I heard the course. I would love to do this race if I wouldn’t want a cross bike for the pavement. The pavement is just a quiltwork of patches and rough riding.

…Unfortunately this lake and this time of year (early May) does not have a good history with the swim leg of triathlon. The past two years in a row the St. George triathlon (Oly distance in early May) has either had partial cancellation or full cancellation of the swim leg due to high winds and rough water.
Everything, and I mean everything is totally exposed (no shade) on this course. So anything I saw could be a different situation if it's windy. But, there is NO shade anywhere on the entire course. Every breath of wind will be felt. High winds could create a real monster.

After Telegraph you cut under I-15 and on to Buena Vista. This rolls with a few small climbs that could get your attention. Buena Vista becomes Red Hills Parkway and this gets you further in to town and on to the big loop. There is a good hill going up Red Hills (more on that bad boy for the Run review later). Not long but pretty steep. After crossing Hwy 18/Bluff St. you are on to the big loop. This begins by working through the fringes of the town of St. George. The pavement is not great in a few locations. No pot holes, but some chip seal and generally not real smooth. You then get on to Hwy 91 and this becomes rather hilly and "rolly”. The road surface here is chip seal. I think a little lower tire pressure is in order for this reason. It will be an annoying surface especially on the second loop. At County Rd. 3184 you veer right and continue up a valley. On the Gunlock reservoir road there are numerous cattle guards. I did not count them, but at least 4 (per lap). Maybe 5-6. These are going to require a little caution. Launching bottles, flats etc. There are a lot of rollers on this loop. You are almost never cruising flats, always either up or down. About 2/3 of the way in to the loop you have a good climb up a switchback. This climb brings you out of the valley you just rode and up on to a high plateau. This is the high point of the entire course (4,700'). Altitude might be an issue here, but probably not a killer even for sea level athletes. It is probably more of an issue on the Marathon course even though that is lower (3,200' top). Shortly after this switchback climb, you turn on to Hwy 18 and off the chip seal. Hwy 18 is going to be a blast. It is almost all downhill back in to town and the second loop. It is good to excellent pavement, and fast. No dicey corners. Some of this descent back in to town is going to be fast. However, not dangerous at all as it's a wide road and there should be plenty of room for everyone. There are some spectacular views from this Hwy. It should make the run back in to town on the second loop really refreshing and fun. And, get you ready for the Run. Ouch. More on that below.

Are you sitting down? The run is going to be a bitch. It's hilly, it's exposed, it's a double loop. Strong runners have the upper hand on this course. After exiting T2 you start back up Main st. which is uphill, not steep, but uphill, turn on to Diagonal, also a gradual off camber uphill. A mile or two out of T2 you have a short out and back on 1250 N. This won't be fun as it is an uphill again. Back on to Hwy 18 and then the real fun begins with the turn on to Red Hills Parkway (last part of the bike loop). This is steep and long. There is a highway sign on it that warns drivers of an 8% grade. There is no shade. The course goes out and back twice on Red Hills Parkway. All I can say is Red Hills Parkway is going to be etched in to your brain after this race. It climbs and rolls both out and back, some of it steeply. Coming down the last lap is going to pound the S#$T out of your quads. On the Parkway out and back there is also a short diversion in to Pioneer Park on a bike path (.4 miles). This might be a nice reprieve as it is very pretty in there. It also is not flat however. Overall, if you are in great run shape and have not blown your legs to pieces on the bike, this run is doable and while definitely not fast, it is fair and honest. Just tough. Pace the bike or else.

Bottom line impressions:
The bike course is not that bad really. Not as bad as I had been led to believe. It will be comparable to IMLP or IM Canada in my opinion. Of course I did not ride it, so take that with a grain of salt. But driving it didn't scare me off. It will give you back a lot on the Hwy 18 descent, so plan to work hard the first 1/2 or so of the loop and then recover and get nutrition etc. on the second part. The ride from the lake to the loop will be a good warm up. There will be spectators on this section, not too many on the big loop.

The bike is going to require intelligent pacing. If you blow your legs off on the bike you will pay dearly on the run. More so on this course than any other IM I've ever done, including Hawaii. Chip sealed surfaces are going to get annoying as I said. A good chunk of the big loop is on these type of roads. There is plenty of climbing on the course, so factor that in as well. Run a little lower tire pressure. Cattle guards could blow an overinflated tire, not to mention comfort on chip sealed roads

The run is going to require that you have trained your quads to take eccentric contraction pounding. Long downhills are going to pound them good especially after 112 miles on the bike. If you do not pace the ride, I guarantee you it will be a walk not a run. I am estimating this run course to be 10-15 minutes slower for a fit athlete, and possibly a walk for anyone undertrained or who poorly paced the bike. Hold back on the bike and I think you will be passing hundreds on the run. Hammer the bike beyond what is moderate at most for your fitness, and you will be annihilated on the run. Trust me.

St. George has the potential to be quite hot, so with it being so exposed the whole way, people are going to be toasted to a crisp if it's normal weather for them. SPF 35+ for sure.

On Friday, October 23, 2009, eight members of the LA Tri Club who are participating in the inaugural 2010 Ironman in St. George, Utah, traveled to the venue to pre-ride and pre-run the course. The participants come from a broad spectrum of experience and ages. Ages ranged from under 30 to over 60, with 3 women and 5 men. One person has never done a triathlon of any kind. Our most experienced person has successfully completed seven Ironman races. We have two Legacy LA Marathon runners, with over 100 events between them. Others fall in between.

Quick Summary:
The St. George Ironman Bike Course consists of a 20 mile section into near downtown St. George from the Sand Hollow Reservoir (T1), and two 45 mile loops that take you out into hilly terrain north of town. The first 20 mile section is along well traveled roads with good surface conditions, with approximately 1500’ of total ascent. The two 45 mile loops are primarily on quiet 2-lane back roads except for the 10 mile return to town on U18, and with good surface conditions and some tricky climbs. Each loop gains about 2000’ for a total course ascent of approximately 5,500’

There are climbs of up to 10% in spots, but nothing of any real duration. The longest consistent climb we measured was approximately 4 miles at 2% - 4% grade. Most riders would call this course “rollers on steroids” with somewhat slower uphills, somewhat faster downhills, and some short steep 8% - 12% leg-busting climbs throughout that will require good course management in order to save your legs for a very tough run course. There are plenty of opportunities for recovery, and plenty of opportunities to over-cook yourself with the short steeper wall climbs that can easily take you into the anaerobic red-zone for 3-5 minutes – longer in a few cases.
Despite rumors and posts in other forums reporting a teeth-rattling chip-sealed washboard and hellish climb-fest, our riders felt it was very fair and manageable Ironman bike leg, largely due to the fact that there are no long extended grinding climbs. It is a manageable course with fantastic scenery that will challenge mind and body, but will require patience and good course management.

The run course may be another story. The total ascent is approximately 2000’ over the two 13 mile loops. The first section is a 2.5 mile 2% (rising to) 6% steady climb out of T2, then an immediate 8%-9% 400 yard grind after your right turn onto Red Hills Parkway will have you questioning your choice of Ironman venues for next year. What goes up must come down, and for every 8% uphill, there is an 8% quad-buster coming down. There is simply no flat section of this course – you are either going up, or coming down throughout the run. That being said, most of our runners felt that this course, too, was manageable. Probably no PR’s here, but a run-able course with proper management.

Two of the big unknowns are heat and wind. Locals say that winds are usually very strong in the spring. Due to the configuration of the surrounding canyons, headwinds may be coming at you from a number of directions throughout the day. Heat is another variable. Mean temperatures are rage from low 40’s to high 80’s in May (60’s average), and no way to tell what the day will bring. The area is very dry, so hydration will be, as usual, critical. Elevation ranges from 3000’ to 4700’, but did not appear to affect our riders to any great degree. We averaged 15.5 miles mph (auto-paused on the computers), with slower than race-pace slow areas, and faster than average climbs and flat pulls. Weather was perfect – cloudless blue skies, morning temperature in the 50’s rising to the high 70’s around 2:00pm.

The Bike Course:

Start and Mile 1-30 through town:
The bike course begins at Sand Hollow Reservoir, one of Utah’s newest State Parks, located approximately 15 miles east of St George. The road surface is super smooth new asphalt in good condition, and riders get an immediate view of the beautiful, treeless, desert panorama that will be with them for the most of the next 112 miles. Grade is relatively flat, with a few long rises of 1% - 3%. This is wide open expanse, with relatively few houses or buildings. There will be little to no shade on the bike course except around miles 25-30 and perhaps miles 35-40.

At 3 miles a left turn on SR9 (at 3700 West) for about 4 miles and a left turn onto Telegraph Road for another 4.5 miles heads riders southwest on good pavement with the first elevation increase of app. 400 feet of ascent coming between miles 6-8 with 3%-6% grades, a tough little 8% uphill at around mile 8, then a flat cruise with a long fast downhill until the right turn onto Washington Parkway. Road surface up to the point is excellent.

The one mile climb up Washington Parkway has a hard little 9% uphill pull for about 300 yards, and brings you onto the Highway 15 overpass. At this point the current road ends, but a new frontage road connecting Washington Parkway to existing Buena Vista Blvd at Graham Manor is promised before the race in May. We took a 2.5 mile section of highway to bypass that area. The course will eventually provide a left turn onto Buena Vista from Washington Parkway, a right turn on Cactus Lane, a left on Green Springs Drive and then right onto Redhills Parkway.
Redhills Parkway at mile 16 brings riders to a busier traffic area as you approach town. Elevation is at 2800’, and total climb up to this point has been about 700’. Redhills Parkway is a narrow 2 lane road that will take you to onto the run course at around mile 18.5. This road winds for 5 miles along a high ridge overlooking the city on your left, and the view is terrific. The road is a fairly steady climb, has long rollers with roughly ½ mile between tops, and two 6% - 8% climbs – one roughly 2/10th of a mile in length and another steep section of a 300-400 yards. The road dips down with a fast, steep 8% -9% downhill to cross Bluff Street at mile 22, where you will begin the two bike loops. Road surface is still good here.

You’ll get to know the Bluff Street intersection very well. You pass it three times on the bike during your 2 laps, and 4 times during your 2 loop run. This would be a good place for family and friends to wait and take pictures of you with your tongue hanging out as you run up the 8% slope twice during the run. More to come on that later!

The next 7 miles are uneventful, flat to rolling, and a series of right and left turns on wide streets through suburban neighborhoods leading to Highway 91, and the first signs that you are headed out of Dodge for the high country. There is a beautiful section where 2000 North turns into Pioneer Parkway at around mile 25, and you swear you have been teleported to Kona. The sharp volcanic lava rock field will have you looking for stacked white rocks (lave graffiti). You have 30 miles under your belt, total ascent has been 1500’, you are still at about 3000’ above sea level, and roads have been very good.

Mile 30 – 47 into the Paiute Lands:
The right turn onto Highway 91 lets you know immediately that you are not in Kansas anymore. The road surface turns to old-county-road style chip seal pavement with no shoulder. Fortunately, this is a relatively short lived 4.5 miles with long rollers and about 300’ of climb until you bear right onto CR-3184. The road surface here turns to fairly smooth old asphalt with a kind of pebble finish surface, and your chip seal-rattling time is done, at least for the next 35 miles until you hit it again on lap 2.

The CR-3184 road to Gunlock is one of the most beautiful sections of the ride. Our age-group champion “Legacy” Lou Briones has dubbed this area Gunlock and the Three Bears, because there are 3 progressively more significant wall climbs along this section. A Baby climb, and Mama Climb, and the Poppa climb at the switchback at mile 47. This road winds through Paiute Indian land through a stunning canyon alongside a small river. Hopefully, the river will swell in spring to provide a really breathtaking roll. Mama climb at mile 44.5 serves you up a nasty little ¼ mile hill with an 11% grade. Be careful of this one – it has the potential to eat you up as you get to the next climbing area.

NOTE: It is worth mentioning here that CR-3184 has 5 cattle guards in the road that you will need to pass over. These metal grates can be a little unnerving, but if you hit them straight on at a decent speed, and keep your weight off the bars, you should have no problems. Whatever you do, do not go over these slowly, or brake on them. After we walked over the first one, rode slowly over the second one and figured them out, some of us just bunny-hopped the 2-3 yard fixtures at high speed, but that may not be a wise thing to do.

The Poppa climb at mile 47 has a step switchback with arguably the toughest climb on the ride. This is a one mile long toughie that could eat your lunch, especially if you are on our second lap. The first ½ mile is 5% - 6%, but the second ½ mile jumps to 7% - 9% with an 11% section a few hundred yards from the top.

From mile 34 to 47 you have added 1000’ to your GPS - the switchback climb adds another 400’. You are at about 4300’ elevation at this point, and have climbed about 3,200’ over the last 48 miles. Altitude did not appear to be having much effect on our riders. Since the group only did 1 loop of the bike, plus the first 20 miles into town, we do not have dead accurate ascent figures, but simple math puts this course at about 5,300 total feet of climb – about 1000’ more than advertised.

The next 1.5 miles is a mild 1%-3% slightly uphill roll leading to the right turn onto highway U18 that will head you back to town. Elevation 4450’, but you are not quite done.

Mile 48 – 66 back to St. George:
After the long anticipation of the switchback climb, your mind somehow tells you “it’s all downhill from here”. And while there is nothing really serious up ahead, the right turn at mile 49.5 onto U18 is a little disappointing when you see a two mile 6% climb ahead of you. The next 5 miles on U18 will take you up another 250’ to the highest point on the ride at 4700’, with long rollers of 5-8 mph uphill’s and 25-35 mph downhills. One of the notable features of the route south on U18 is that a nice fast recovery downhill is a little spoiled by a persistent strong headwind that you will not shake until you hit town again at mile 66. The headwind appears to be a consistent year-round feature, according to local experts.

The next 10-11 miles starting the long downhill back to town at mile 57 are just plain fun. U18 is a busy state highway, (U18 becomes Bluff Street) and you will get buffeted by the traffic and the headwind. But road surface is very good, it is 9+ miles of fast downhill (35+mph) down to the 3000’ level before turning right onto Snow Canyon Parkway (smile, remember your fans are at that corner) to do another 45 miles loop.

The Run Course:

T2 to Mile 3
As mentioned in the summary, the St. George run course will be a rude awakening for many. It is perpetually hilly, including 3 grades of more than 8% to 10%. The terrain is either up or down, with virtually no flat anywhere on the course. There is no shade cover save for a short 1.5 mile section of Diagonal Blvd. Road surface is good throughout, and much of the gravel shoulder on Redhill Parkway is usable if you prefer to keep off the pavement.

The start of the run out of T2 in the old Downtown section of St. George is just plain hard. Most runners need 2-3 miles to get their stride together, and tend to hit the run too fast until they can get themselves together to find their legs and control their pace. The quick left onto the 5% - 7% uphill grade for ½ mile on Main Street makes this difficult to do. Veering left on Diagonal, runners maintain a 3% - 5% uphill section for another 1.5 miles. Turn right on Bluff Street at (U18).

In order to add mileage to the course, the designers needed to add a couple of small out-and-back sections. The first is at approximately 2 miles into the run with a right turn onto 1250 North, a little 4/10 mile dead-end turnaround that takes you up to the Red Hills municipal golf course and the Elks lodge. This out-and-back continues the climbing, however, and adds two quick 8% and 10% jumps of approximately 100-150 yards each. Turn around, head back down and turn right back on Diagonal and another right onto Bluff St at mile 3.

Mile 3 to Mile 6.5:
Redhills Parkway is the majority of the run course. Runners will stay on this 2 lane downtown by-pass that rolls along a bluff high over the city, offering a great panoramic view to the south of St. George. The airport to the southwest actually has planes landing below you. The right onto RedHills Parkway takes you immediately into an 8% - 9% uphill for approximately 4/10 of a mile. When you hit the top of this grade, you will have ascended almost 400’ in 4 miles since the start.

The next 3 miles is a series of long rollers with until the turnaround at just under 7 miles. There is another 8% grade downhill for approximately 3/10 mile at mile 5.5. At around this point, an extra loop section apparently takes you off-road for about 3/10 of a mile. We were not able to find this section, so not information is available. This section is only used on the outbound run, not the return according to the Ironman website.

Turnaround to Mile 13 or Finish:
The turn at 1000 East starts the 6.5 miles back to town, where you will reverse the two 8% - 9% grades you climbed and descended earlier. The left turn onto Diagonal will provide some recovery time with 3 miles of 2% - 3% downhill, before starting it all over after the turnaround at mile 13 at T2. The next 5 miles from mile 13 – 18 takes you back to the hilly section, and runners will really need to keep their mental game together as they deal with grades. Runners who will be going later into the evening may find this last loop particularly difficult as they deal with what is likely to be a desolate long stretch in the dark on Redhill Parkway. After passing the final uphill on mile 23, the 3 mile easy downhill cruise into downtown will present a classic run finish to your race.
Hills, hills and more hills....
No really- ride hills if you can, long rides should include elevation gain. The course has over 7000ft elevation gain over the 112 miles, so you need to be able to ride long and hilly and be fresh enough to run off the bike.
For running:
• parking garage, stairs, need to practice running up and almost more importantly running down
• the run course is up or down with very little flat so your legs need to get used to long runs on varied terrain
• the good news here is the swim is not hilly......
If you absolutely cannot find hills then go longer....more training is necessary for this race or you will suffer.
Hey Rachel, I was just there this weekend and rode
the bike loop twice (skipped the first 20 miles of bike) and the next
day ran 1 loop of the run course. It's tough. After one loop on the
bike (45 miles) I said to my riding partner "that wasn't so bad.
People keep saying this is a monster course, but I feel fine". The
second loop really hurt. Climbing the 3 or 4 steep sections (8 to 9%
grade?) isn't a insurmountable task, but doing it with tired legs
hurts bad. Getting off the bike with running legs will be quite
difficult, I think pacing yourself will be critical.

The run course is just plain mean. It's tougher than AFC or LJ half.
It's tougher than Vineman. It's about like Wildflower 70.3 if WF were
all on pavement. There is no flat section. There is a stretch on
Diagonal st. which is flatish, but it's still slightly uphill. The
climbs are brutal - steep up and steep down. Generally the "out" is
tougher than the "back" since the first 6 miles are mostly uphill -
but the return trip still has one short steep climb and one long
sustained climb. I did one loop and was fried. I don't see many
people doing well on this run course.

So for training - hills, hills, hills. Not ridiculous stuff like
palomar repeats - but consistently doing long hilly east county rides
and runs. Attacking the hills on the bike or run seems like a silly
plan to me - this course is about a smooth consistent effort and
conserving fuel. If you blow up on the bike or on lap 1 of the run,
you're going to have a long day.

Oh, and it's windy.
Gordo breaks down the Ironman St. George Course

I read a few course descriptions prior to checking out the course. They made the bike course sound like it was running through a combination of Death Valley and the Moon. Personally, I think that this is one of the most beautiful IM courses out there. The designer did a great job creating a course that is varied, picturesque and safe.

When you look at the bike course profile, you will get the impression that the course is much steeper than reality. While there is plenty of climbing on the route, it happens much more slowly than the profile will lead you to believe. Athletes that are used to racing Ironman Florida will need to add at least an hour to their time expectations.

My #1 piece of advice: Do not race blind. Figure out some way to get to St. George over the next six months to check out the bike course and make sure that you repeat my test workout (two laps of The Loop). The reason I recommend the journey is the course is 'slow' for the first 50 miles and you will be depressed with your time unless you manage your expectations by training on site.

I had a question about what type of athlete is best suited to this course. The course is suited to an athlete with strong power-to-weight but with a twist. I would not measure in terms of functional threshold power to weight (FTP/KG). Rather, I would measure in terms of Half Ironman watts per kilo. Using myself as an example 250w / 75 kg is 3.3 HIM watts per kilo. If you are a male amateur athlete then, I suspect that, you'll need to be close to that ratio to contend for a Kona slot here.

For the technically minded, I would use average HIM power (not normalized, and exclude zeroes). I would also only count the HIM bike ride as valid if the athlete was able to run within 7% of their non-triathlon Half Marathon time (I ran 1:22:30 off the bike after that 250w effort).

If you look at the marathon profile then you will see two solid climbs on each loop. This course is going to favor the efficient runner. Here, I would define efficiency in terms of maximum sustainable pace at the bottom of your Steady intensity zone. Again, for the technically minded, this course will favor the athlete with the highest pace at aerobic threshold. The combination of the bike and run climbs will take "big engine" athletes out of the picture. There is a TON of ground to be made up from being able to run well.

Skills - despite all the rollers and climbs, the course is NOT technical. The descent is straightahead and easy to navigate. The main skill required is pace management through the short climbs. For this reason, I think that most athletes will benefit from a road set-up (STI shifting) with clip-on aerobars. Athletes with aggressive TT set-ups with low front ends and/or brake hoods that are far from their hips will experience substantial back pain from all the climbing on the course.

Gearing - you can check my bike file in detail to see my cadence at various parts of the course. I use 50/34 gearing with an 11-28 cassette and had to stand in three places on each loop. While it might have been nice to have a 55-11 for a couple sections of the bike course, I bet my overall time would benefit from rolling-up zeros (no power output) at high speed, and eating/drinking. If you are mid-, or back-, of the pack then consider a triple chain ring. If you don't believe me then run for an hour after you complete the Two-Loop workout.

Altitude - lots of talk about the altitude at St George. Personally, I think that it is a non-event. The highest speed part of the bike course is the "top" and the thinner air (and smooth road surface) will help, rather than hinder you. If you are feeling breathless then it's your pacing rather than your location.

Swim - it is going to be COLD. I was swimming late summer at the end of a week that saw 90-100F daily highs. Even then, I needed a fullsuit to be comfortable in the morning. Practice a dry-land warm-up and experiment with neoprene caps and booties (I use the BlueSeventy ones). Because you are likely to be cold coming out of the water, consider toe covers, full-finger gloves and arm-warmers for the bike.

Heat - the afternoon high was over 100F the day that we did our ride. That said, I was pretty comfortable with a vented helmet and full-zip jersey. Because this race is going to be quite long (due to a hills), I would lean towards vents.

Wheels – because of all the pace changes, light climbing wheels will dominate aero dynamics on this course. Better yet, get yourself a set of light aerowheels - I ran my 404s with PowerTap and they worked great. The only guy that I'd recommend a disc for would be my buddy Chris McDonald (super strong, larger guy that copes with spikes well). For us mortals, you need to do everything possible to minimize the torque spikes in your legs.

Blocks - the bike course splits into three key 25-mile blocks.

The First 25: stay calm, get your HR settled and establish hydration/nutrition. It's going to be a long day.

The Second 25: this is your first journey from the bottom to the top of the course. You are going to witness some totally insane riding from stressed out competition that big-rings some of the steep rollers. Stay within yourself and remember your training ride on the course.

The Third 25: this is the second journey from the bottom to the top of the course. You will now see TOTAL carnage from the athletes that raced the first 50 miles of the bike. This course is extremely unforgiving if you crack (though not as bad as Placid because you have a late downhill to regroup).

Eating - when you turn onto Hwy 18 eat and drink plenty before the fast downhill to town. The downhill is so fast that you are unlikely to be able to eat/drink. So... you need to tank up across the top of the course to make sure that you have your calories in your system. I experimented and was able to get my HR under 110 bpm at the end of my ride. Focus on fueling and recovery in the high speed sections of the course.

Bike Position - you need a few different positions to reflect the nature of the course. You need to be very comfortable in all of them: straight ahead TT (standard); uphill TT (choke up on bars); high-speed descent (minimal frontal area); long climbs (sitting up); and standing (for the short steep rollers). Comfort is power on a course like this – my choice would be a road set-up with clip ons.

Saddle Position - while I used my "road" frame, I bumped the saddle forward so that my thigh:torso angle wasn't too tight on the aerobars.

Finally, be patient. The smart athlete will be able to make up over an hour in the second half of the race. You don’t need to “go fast” to do well here but you will need to run well after a variable bike ride. Set your bike ceilings and practice riding as evenly as possible through rolling terrain.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

San Dieguito Half Marathon Race Report

I woke up with legs of lead. How on earth was I going to run a half-marathon after riding 80 miles of hills and wind on Saturday ("80 for Haiti")? I felt trashed. I debated sleeping in...running a half marathon. Ugh. I hit the snooze. Several times. Sleeping in was winning by a landslide. But I was already signed up. I had paid my entry fee. A lot of my friends would be there. There would be aid stations. And, I had an Ironman coming up. The looming Ironman was enough to get me out of bed.

Thinking it would be cold, I pulled on a long-sleeved shirt and running tights and drove to the start, almost falling asleep behind the wheel while waiting in line to park. I finally found a place to mark and started jogging the mile to the start. I would be cutting it close. It was warm! No time to change now.

I reached the start and the gun went off. I couldn't believe how many people were racing. When I did San Dieguito 2 years ago, there were half as many people. I was a little frustrated, as the race wasn't chip-timed, and my watch read 1 minute faster than the "official" time. Oh, well. Training run, right?

My legs were tired and glycogen-depleted but I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I fell into a relaxed rhythm. Oh, wait. I like this! The temps rose sharply, and sweat beaded down my cheeks. I drank extra from the aid stations. My legs toiled up the hills in Rancho Santa Fe. I had forgotten how hilly the course was. Eventually, I was rewarded with long stretches of downhill. I focused on landing lightly on my toes and keeping my body relaxed. My IT band didn't hurt! My IT band didn't hurt! Did I tell you my IT band didn't hurt? YIPPEE!!! That was enough to make me run faster.

I enjoyed the Valentine's Day costumes (neon pink compression tights), a wonderful spectator dressed as the Queen of England, and a very hot guy dressed in native Hawaiin garb, complete with an ornate grass headdress, grass leggings, and a very sexy blue loin cloth. Luckily, I ran about the same pace so I drank in the pleasant scene for motivation whenever the going got tough. Spectators and runners quickly dubbed him "Grassy" and shouted out to him with delight as he passed.

I passed one of my rivals at mile 8. Not wanting to get passed back, I picked up the pace to put some distance between us. I passed another friend. Now I was going to have to put some distance on him! All of a sudden, I was racing. Oops! How did this happen? This was supposed to be a training run! Everything was going swimmingly until mile 12 when nature called. I saw a Port-a-Potty. 1 mile to go...nature calls. The debate wasn't long. Okay, Rachel. It's just a training run. Don't shit your pants. I dashed into the loo. When I re-emerged, I had to re-pass all the rivals I had passed earlier. With only a mile to go, I put some mustard on it. I flew across the finish, victorious. I had gotten in a solid training run, run the fatigue out of my legs, my IT band didn't hurt, and I felt strong. It was time for a hard-earned ice bath.

80 for Haiti

Somehow, I dragged myself out of bed on Saturday and was able to make it to Pine Valley in time to meet my friends for an 8:15 am start (it was supposed to be 8:00 am; thankfully, my friends got there late too). If I hadn't stayed up to watch the entire opening ceremony of the Olympics, I may have been able to get to bed before 1:00 am, making it easier to get up at 5:30 am, but I love a challenge.

I was a big nervous about 80 for Haiti 80 miles, 6,000 feet of climbing, in the desert=big gulp. However, Ironman Utah is rapidly approaching. It's going to be 112 miles with more climbing, sandwiched between a 2.4 mile swim and an even hillier 26.2 mile run. Time to put the hammer down and get serious.


We rolled out and began climbing almost immediately. I couldn't believe how warm it was. Since Pine Valley is nestled in the mountains at 4,000 feet and usually chilly (40s) this time of year, the high 60-degree weather and blindingly blue skies forced us to shed our extra layers fairly quickly. I scolded myself for donning arm and leg warmers. After only a few minutes, they were bulging out the back of my jersey. Plus, even though I wasn't technically going to wear them for the whole ride, they would still get drenched in sweat by the end. Does that mean I have to wash them? Ergh. Fine. I guess it does.

I felt great and drank in the mountain and desert views eagerly. Just a bit hungry, despite a large breakfast (banana, coffee, salmon, toast, and oatmeal). I couldn't wait for the first aid station. Meanwhile, I engulfed my Cliff Bar and Cliff Blocks. The first aid station appeared and I gobbled down PB&Js and whatever else I could grab. I snuck into the Port-a-Potty and when I re-emerged, my group of so-called "buddies" had taken off down the road. Thanks! It took off in a futile attempt to catch them, even though they had departed about 10 minutes prior (the line for the loo was long).

--at the first aid station

I pedaled madly into the headwind, which was blowing brutally at about 25 mph. At least I would get a tailwind on the return, I reasoned. Ah, but it's the eerie and evil desert. I would have no such luck. Well, it's good mental training for Ironman Utah. Funny how having a big, scary race looming in the distance on the calendar makes it possible for me to suffer through these ridiculously hard training rides. Otherwise, I think I would have turned at the sign that said "50 mile route riders turn left here". But instead, I put my head down, zoned out, and went to work.

In the meantime, I oohed and aahed over the adoreable baby cows and furry horses adorned in their thick winter coats (they must be hot!) along the sides of the road. Herds of horses grazed on golden grass in an adjacent field with no fence. I wondered what prevented them from wandering onto the highway. The pavement was broken and unforgiving in several sections, telltale signs of extreme fluctuations in temperatures. Pickup trucks and motorcyclists zoomed down the highway, careening inches from my handlebars. I stopped to help a guy with a flat tire. Passing trucks honked and swerved, waving their fists. One truck coming from the other direction stopped in the middle of the road to inquire as to our whereabouts. "Where are you riding to? What are you doing? There sure are an awful lot of youins out here!" I wanted to tell him he was blocking an entire lane of traffic on the highway by stopping in the middle of the road but was afraid if I opened my mouth, obsenities would pour out, so I remained silent.

As I coasted down one of the few downhills (which I begrudgingly knew would be an extreme uphill on the return), I noticed a long, rust-colored, tall fence, stretching for miles, paralleling a set of train tracks. It was ominous and foreign, breaking the land at an invisible boundary. It suddenly occurred to me: it was the border fence separating the U.S. from Mexico. I didn't realize we were so close. Hmmm. So that's Mexico? I'm glad the fence was there to tell me. Funny, but the land on either side of the fence looked identical to me. The fence stretched up towards a large hill and then stopped suddenly, which seemed a little ridiculous to me. Why have a fence at all? If the purpose is to keep people out, and it just S.T.O.P.S., that would be where I would simply walk around.

I finally reached the turn-around in Jacumba and was reunited with my friends. However, my blood sugar was dangerously low (I hadn't brought enough food with me, figuring since it was a supported ride, I could rely on the aid stations), and I was very grumpy, cranky, and irritable. I couldn't even enjoy the spectacular desert views, the Salton Sea, looming in the distance. I chewed out my friends and then complained bitterly to the volunteers that the aid station didn't have any chocolate or candy, which was what I was craving, all the while stuffing my face with granola bars, bananas, and oranges. Ten minutes later, I started to feel much better and a little ashamed at my rude behavior.

--the Desert View Tower at Boulder Park in Jacumba, CA (turn-around)

--gorgeous desert views

We rolled out, all together in a group again. I think it was my inattentiveness to proper nutrition but I felt a little loopy. Maybe it was the eerieness of the desert, or maybe I was starting to hallucinate but everything around me took on a weird vibe. Strange rocks made odd piles and formations. Out of the corner of my eye, some of them looked like people, spying on me. Had someone arranged these piles of rocks into weird configurations? They couldn't have naturally formed like that. Or could they? Someone had painted a large fish with a gaping mouth on one rock. There were other rocks with strategically placed paint to form faces, turtles, and other animals. Shivers started running up and down my spine. A sign as I left the park read, "Park Closed if:..." Following this was a list of conditions that occurred commonly enough for someone to have made a sign and included "Temperatures over 120 degrees Farenheit", "Winds over 90 mph,"...I stopped reading. It was like riding a bike on the moon. I was in a harsh, unforgiving and alien land.

As we made the return route, I kept waiting for the promised tailwind. And the downhills. Afterall, I had toiled up and up and up on the way out and the headwinds had been ridiculous. Now, the winds had died down. Everything was still and silent. And we were still climbing. Finally, the winds picked up again. Only the direction had switched. Just for us. Now, we would have a headwind on the return as well. (We had to climb uphill into a headwind both ways, and we ate nails for lunch....and we LIKED IT!!!).

Everything started looking very strange. The people, the houses, the road; I think the desert was starting to get to me. It takes a special kind of person to live in the desert 24-7, 365 days a year. As we passed by a ranch, I noticed what looked like militiamen out of the corner of my eye. Snipers? Migrants from Mexico hiding in the bushes? I gave a start and was thankful that my Joy was right next to me. Otherwise, I wouldn't have believed my eyes. Tusken Raiders from Star Wars? They certainly were in the right place!

No, the owner of the ranch had strategically place countless midget-sized war veteran voodoo dolls around his front yard. Were they scarecrows? Scarepeople? Maybe dead bodies he had murdered and dressed up to scare off trespassers? There were 2 by the chain across his driveway with a sign that read, "No Trespassing". If that was the point, it was working! My weary legs found new energy and pedaled like a maniac to get the hell out of there.

A bit further down the road, a much more inviting but also very odd inhabitance passed by. "Peacock Blue", the sign read outside a very colorful home. Ah, I love hippies. So warm and friendly with lots of pretty colors. Peacock Blue, the name of a tropical island, a fruity alcoholic drink designed to get girls drunk, an acid trip, or the name of a porn star? What do you think? Anyway, I like it.

Yes, by this point, it's safe to say, I was bonking. We regrouped at a market where I refueled on a Butterfinger and a Red Bull. I don't know why mile 60 is always my breaking point, but that's always where the trouble starts for me. I felt immediately re-energized, and using the Red Bull to my advantage, took off down the road. Until my stomach started churning. Damn Red Bull! It gives you wings by giving you gas!

We turned left down a steep hill with broken pavement. I stayed relaxed and prayed Torch's front wheel wouldn't catch in a giant pothole. We hit smooth pavement and careened down at 40 mph. My IMAZ water bottle was gone but there was no way I was going back for it. I let my legs recover and enjoyed the descent. Soon, we were climbing again. It was more of a false flat but at mile 70, I was dying. Red Bull: it gives you wings, and then you crash. Miles 75-80, it was all I could do not to fall asleep. I coaxed the pedals to turn over, and I refused to succumb to the negativity drills escalating in my head. Somehow, someway, I reached the finish, but it's all a blur to me now.

I rushed home so I could reach the fridge before collapsing, diving into my stash of fried chicken, sushi, and ice cream. I had never been so hungry and tired in my entire life. This was a good wake up call. I have my work cut out for me before Ironman Utah. Because "80 for Haiti" will feel like a warm-up in comparison. Gulp. I fell asleep afterwards in a deep coma, wondering how on earth I was going to be able to run the San Dieguito Half Marathon the following day.

Photos courtesy of Chris Kostman & Elizabeth Jefferson, 2/13/2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random Training Devices and Medieval Torture Devices (Foam Rollers and Bike Trainers)

After tweaking my IT band, I decided to take 10 days off from running. R.I.C.E.--the panacea for running injuries, right? Apparently, not for IT bands. I had my first, maiden voyage run yesterday after my 10-day hiatus. Travis was raring to go, deprived after getting used to his 16 miles a week (he's on a training plan too). I was worried we'd have to run the entire 4 miles at his breakneck 6:50 pace but, thankfully, he slowed to a more comfortable 8:30 after the first mile. Silly, Travis! Unfortunately, my IT band starting acting up after the first mile, as if I had given it no rest at all! That's it, IT band! No more rest for you! If you're going to hurt just as much with rest as without, I'm just going to keep running! I have upped the foam roller to 3x/day, however. Let the torture begin.

Last week was sort of a wash for me. I think I had a low-grade bug. Sore throat, headache, major fatigue. I slept, and slept.....and slept. Saturday's ride was cancelled due to rain. Rain, in San Diego? I guess it happens sometimes. I was sentenced to the trainer. Aside from the foam roller, 3 hours on the trainer is another form of medieval torture. My roadie friend asked if I wanted a rope or a gun afterwards. Ha ha. Why don't roadies ever ride the trainer? I guess, in San Diego, since they ride almost every day, they skip the one day out of the year it rains because they know they will back on the road the next day. Not us, triathletes, though. We are regimented (fist shaking in the air). We adhere to our training plans, dammit, rain or shine! So I duked it out on the trainer, watching Ironman Hawaii, The Spirit of the Marathon, rocking out to my iPod, and calling friends and family. Luckily, they didn't hang up on me when receiving my call and initially hearing nothing but heavy breathing. I had wistfully hoped for 4 hours but just couldn't do it anymore after 3. Funny, but when I had to ride the trainer for an hour last night, it was SO much easier. Good mental training.

Tuesday, I finally showed up for a swim practice at UCSD. I thought I would suck after a week off (oops) but I rocked it. I had only an hour to squeeze it all in. I desperately wanted to finish the workout. I'm not fast. What to do, what to do. Aha! Skip all the rest in between each set! Using this strategy, I was able to complete the 3200 yard workout. Is this cheating?

Today, I dragged myself onto the bike path for a simple workout. I wasn't in the mood but that's not a good enough excuse. I have an Ironman around the corner and it's enough to scare me into the mood! I forgot arm warmers and in the freezing 62-degree weather, I shivered as I sprinted to warm up (I just had to say that to piss everyone in the rest of the country off). The chilly weather made me eager for the hills. As I came to the west end of the path, dozens of wild rabbits grazed in the yellow light of the setting sun. They darted and scurried for cover as I zipped past. One scrambled across the path, right in front of Torch's front wheel. I screeched, sure that Torch was about to make roadkill out of the adoreable little bunny. Wide-eyed, Thumper somehow managed to escape near death. Phew! Close call.

On the return home, a bike commuter sprinted past me. Really? Something rose inside of my chest. I began to see red. I pedaled faster. Since when do I get competitive on the bike? I started to chase him down. I evaluated my prey. Did he have what it took? Sure, he could sprint past me but did he have the endurance to hold me off? After he passed me, he began to slow. Typical of riders harboring the ill-fated Y chromosome. I crept closer, closing the gap up each roller, up each hill. Soon, I was breathing down his neck. I didn't feel like passing him yet. I wasn't done evaluating. I caught my breath. His road bike was in decent shape but the musculature of his calves indicated he was more of a commuter than a roadie (harsh, I know). He smiled at me as we waited for the light to turn, and I immediately softened, smiling back. He let me proceed when the light changed to green, and it was all the encouragment I needed. I took off. I sprinted the next 4 miles as hard as I could, ignoring that they were all on a slight uphill grade. He was behind me, but only just. I was breathing hard, above lactate threshold, and it felt gooood. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Unknown Cyclist for pushing me on a dreary bike workout! At the next light, he struck up a conversation. We chatted the remaining mile left, and he waved me on, commenting that the rest of his ride would be much slower. Such a compliment for a girl like me, used to getting passed by everyone and their granny on crusiers.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Rachel Ride

I couldn't help but smile when my friend posted this e-mail on the Tri Club messageboard this evening:

"Sorry, couldn't resist. Here is a jersey for your next ride with Rachel:"

Monday, February 01, 2010

Sleeping Indians and Pink Flamingos

As I groggily write this with ice taped to my knee and Advil coursing through my bloodstream, I cannot but think how happy I am, despite my fatigued haze. I am exhausted but blissful after a hard and successful training weekend. I'm almost relieved to have a full work day because sitting at a desk seems relaxing. I also slept like a baby last night. Who needs Ambien when you do endurance sports?

After a full week of workouts, I took an unintended rest day on Friday. I could feel the fatigue accumulating in my muscles. A glance at the training plan and past experience advised me to take an off day to prepare for the heavy weekend. Begrudgingly, I obliged. I would miss a "perfect week" by a swim, bike and weights but in the big scheme of things, that was nothing compared to the importance of hitting my key workouts for the week and making them quality ones at that. It's taken me only 6 years to know when to back off (and I'm still horrible at it).

Sleeping Indian Ride:
I met a group of friends for a 65-mile ride Saturday morning. The sky was a blindingly blue and the weather was a crisp 62. You can thank me for arranging perfect weather for my ride. I do 'em right, down to the route slips on thick resume paper. Except for completely not recognizing Brian Long (former TCSD president) in his bike clothes. I pulled a, "Hi, I'm Rachel. What's your name?" DOH! Too late, I blushed violently, unable to save myself with a suave, "Ha! Pulling your leg!"

The 10 of us headed out for a relaxed, "flat" ride with some rollers. "Oh, it's only 2500 feet of climbing. Won't be that bad", I had promised. Luckily, most of my friends had ridden with me before and knew not to trust me. 4500 feet later; however, several were taking my name in vain.

I drank in the obscenely gorgeous views of rolling hills, carpeted in emerald green velvet. I've never seen San Diego so green. After last week's seldomly seen torrential downpours, everything was blooming. It felt like spring. The birds certainly seemed to think so as they sung and danced flirtingly to each other. We rode up Lilac, past avocado farms and lemon groves, making our way from Valley Center to Bonsall. Ironically, Lilac smelled like citrus, and Sleeping Indian Rd smelled like lilacs. Lilacs in January? Yes, the air was thick with the heavy scent of lilac. Furry horses dozed in the sunshine as we rode by small, private farms. At least they still sported their winter coats. Phew! A rooster crowed. A dozing dog basked in the sun on his side. I did a double-take to make sure he was still breathing. He was so content, I wasn't sure if he had keeled over or not. As I toiled up Olive Hill Rd (which smelled like eucalyptus and oaks, by the way--what is this: Bizzaro World?), I oohed and aahed over an adoreable mamma and llama and her baby llama, nursing contentedly in the paddock. They were so white and fluffy. I wanted to hug them and love them and squeeze them and call them George. Down the road, I heard a loud screech, and I jumped out of my saddle. In a tucked away farm to my right, dotted with animal topiary and bronze and stone animal statues, including a life-size elephant trumpeting, paraded a proud peacock, displaying his brilliant irridescent green and purple feathers.

We reached my favorite part of the ride, Sleeping Indian, a roller coaster of a road with 15% inclines and equally steep descents. I climbed out of the saddle to avoid toppling over, then crouched into my aero bars at the crest to take advantage of the downhills, cutting the next uphill in half. Ah, Sleeping Indian=steep rollers=fun. Plus, how cool is it to ride on a road with a supernatural name like "Sleeping Indian"? Although I was a little disappointed I didn't actually spot a sleeping indian, or even a dozing one. Maybe next time. I reached the final major descent on Sleeping Indian, and hunkered down into a ball, letting Torch fly. The computer read 44 mph. Not bad, not bad. Last time, Torch reached 48 mph, although a swift sidwind had picked us up and skitted us across the road into the other lane (luckily, no cars were around), making my heart leap into my throat.

As we headed towards our final regroup, a strong headwind hit us. Two Swami's cyclists blew by us. Someone in the group suggested jumping on their wheel. Okay. We sprinted for about a mile before catching them, and even after managing to suck their wheel for another mile, I was totally redlining. Afterall 24 mph is 24 mph; I don't care whose wheel you're sucking. Still, it was fun, even after a member of our group accused me of being a "wheel slut". Actually, I thought that was pretty funny.

We regrouped at the park on the San Luis River Rey bike path. I was giddy with endorphins and slightly hysterical. For some reason, we started talking about the colors of the rainbow. Someone mentioned ROYGBV. I heard "ROYG BV". Which quickly, in my warped state of mind got rearranged to "R OYG BV". Switch around a few letters in "ROYG" and what do you get? A doubled-over Rachel laughing uncontrollably until her stomach hurt.

The tired troops fell back into formation to brave the strong easterly headwinds as we headed back to the Pacific on the bike path. We strategically formed a paceline, taking turns pulling. With only 10 miles to go and feeling fresh and strong after a recovery day (and maybe still stinging a little after the wheel slut comment), I decided to show off. I jumped on the front and began pulling, something I am usually way too meek to do (or just simply not strong enough). I glanced at my computer, striving to maintain an even pace. I checked over my shoulder periodically to monitor the group behind me. Was I pushing hard enough? Too hard? It was an amazing feeling to be able to feel strong enough to lead for a few miles. Then, seemingly as suddenly as the ride had started, it was over, and we were back at the start with me thinking to myself, "That's it?" With my key workout of the week still looming ahead, a 16-mile trail run the following day on the docket, it felt good to end my long ride with a "Bring it!" attitude.

How NOT to do a 16-mile Trail Run:
1. Tweak your IT band early in the week.
2. Go out and party the night before until 3 am.
3. Drink 3 glasses of wine. Chase with 2 glasses of champagne. Proceed to get rip-roaring drunk.
4. Wake up with a flaming hang-over.
(Who IS this person? I NEVER do that!)

After several naps, gingerale, pretzels, and Advil, I succeeded in pulling on my running shoes and fuel belt and headed out the door. It was a little after noon. I grabbed Travis and hit the trails. The ground was squishy and wet, still saturated from all the rain. Travis and I were quickly covered from head to toe in mud. Ah, a muddy buddy run! The first 4 miles felt pretty good, and I settled into a relaxed pace, only thwarted by a couple wrong turns and some extra double-backs, my poor sense of direction and cloudy head being the only remarkable remnant from the prior night's raging. Travis, happy to be out and running this way and that, didn't seem to mind.

As we headed back to complete the first loop (I only run 6 miles with Travis), I did a body check. "Hey, my knee feels great!" Cue knee. Whine! Crunch! Squeal! OUCH! My right knee promptly began burning with searing pain. I could feel a twinge from the knee to my hip. G*d*mit all. Doubts flickered in the back of my head. How was I going to run another 12 miles? For a few seconds, the pain escalated to a 10 (on a 1-10 scale). I hobbled and limped and hopped, coaxing the knee to cooperate. The pain slowly ebbed away, and I was able to jump start the leg back to running again. I toiled up another hill and forgot about the knee. The pain dissipated and I was able to settle back into a pace again. Hmmm. Weird. The ebb and flow of pain on a long run.

Half a mile from the house, where the trail ends and the road begins, Travis and I encountered a pond, flooding the trail. I vaguely remembered that the pond would be flooded here but I had completely underestimated how much. I figured I could dance on some rocks over a few inches of water. Ha! Travis slowly tiptoed into the pond covering the trail. Hmmm. A few feet of water to traverse or 2 more miles to double back and circumvent the obstacle? I tugged off my shoes and socks. The decision was a no brainer. As I plunged into the water, I realized I was getting more than I bargained for. Oh, well. No turning back now, I figured. Afterall, I was already wet. Travis looked at me, apprehensively. I beckoned to him. Cooperatively, he submerged himself deeper into the murky watery depths, following my suit. The water was now up to my hips. Instead of having to traverse a few feet across, it became 36 feet. And instead of a few inches deep, it was about 4 feet of water to wade through. Travis would have to swim, something he had not willingly done before. I called to him, and he got this resolved look in his eyes and paddled after me. I showered him with praise, watching him carefully. He snorted to keep water out of his nose and kept swimming. When he reached the other side, I gave him lots of pets and kisses. He was ecstatic. He leaped out of the pond, shook, and took off running wide circles and spirals around me. I pulled my shoes and socks back on, and we kept on running.

I dropped Travis back at the house, and turned around for 10 more miles. I headed into Del Mar Mesa, where the trails are guaranteed to be exceedingly steep and slippery with millions of rocks. The recent erosion from all the rains didn't help. I danced sideways and up and around rock after rock, trench after trench. I toiled up hill after hill, running when I could, and walking when I must. Surprisingly, the knee didn't complain at all on the uphills. But on the downhills, the knee began to complain at an exponentially higher rate. I began to crave uphills and dread descents, a complete opposite from what is normal for me.

After another creek crossing and scrambling up and down some "hands-and-knees" hills, I reached the road, lined with horse farms. I watched a rider training her horse in a sand arena. A furry pony grazed in the paddock nearby. The mailbox was a great white shark with a gaping mouth full of teeth. A white goat with a long beard gave me a hard look from his pen under a shady oak. But what got me most were the pink flamingos. They were everywhere. A massive collection of pink flamingos as far as the eye could see. Plastic ones, metal ones, ones with springs for legs, one with a fan in its belly, another with a clock, paintings of pink flamingos, little ones, big ones, grazing ones, squacking ones; I've never seen so many pink flamingos in my life. I had to convince myself to keep running. I wanted nothing more than to stop and stare. But I knew if I stopped, it would be hard to get the knee going again.

As I made my way back to the house, the final 2 miles, the knee flared up like never before. I had to stop, doubled over in pain, wincing, and pray for the pain to subside enough for me to make it back. Even walking was excruciating. I smacked it, shook out the leg, and hobbled forward. Limping, galloping, slowly, I was able to jump start the leg back into a gentle jog each time. Somehow, I made it home and into the ice bath. I'm getting a massage today. I going to have to be diligent about stretching and the foam roller. I have to get this IT band thing under control.

Another week's workouts completed. In the bag. If I can just get the IT band in check, I'm on my way.