I was nervous. After 2 weeks of rest and illness and detraining, I wasn't sure how much I'd been derailed from my training plan. Ironman Utah is just around the corner. I decided to jump back in (not recommended).
Saturday was a 100-mile ride in East County San Diego. The plan was to ride The Great Western Loop (http://sdbikeroutes.blogspot.com/2008/05/great-western-loop.html) clockwise 2x for 80 miles and add 20 by riding 10 out-and-back towards Pine Valley on the middle of the first loop. We started at 8:30 am from a Kohl's shopping center in Rancho San Diego. The weather forecast was warm and sunny. I watched everyone layering up. I don't need layers, I thought. Just in case, I threw on arm warmers and a vest at the last minute.
Immediately, as we headed out, I was thankful for the extra clothes. The clouds rolled in, and as we gained elevation, the temperature dropped sharply. Cold, icy drops fell on us periodically. WTF? Rain clouds misted over the tops of the mountains. A sharp wind blew through my bones. So much for a warm day.
I hung out at the back of the pack, knowing the day would be all about pacing. I stopped to pee by a willow tree. No sense being uncomfortable. Note to self: lay off the coffee right before a big ride. My girlfriend J. and I continued riding behind the pack. No worries; we'd catch up later. Unfortunately, even though I had planned the route, I made a fatal error right off the bat. At mile 13, we turned left for an out-and-back, instead of mile 20. Since my printer had run out of ink, the only route slip I was equipped with was my chicken scratch scrawled on a wrinkly piece of scrap paper. Somehow, the rest of the group turned correctly towards Pine Valley, while we turned towards Alpine. This may have been fortunate. Rumor has it that Pine Valley was verrrrry cold. We weren't spared on hills, however.
Patiently, we climbed up and up and up. The road was very scenic and rural. Knowing we had gone the wrong way, we just shrugged our shoulders and kept riding onto new adventures and never-before-seen roads. It was an out-and-back anyway. We debated what an "out-and-back" should be called. J. called it a "dog leg" which neither of us liked. It conjured up images of a dog peeing. We pondered on what the proper noun should be for an "out-and-back" segment. I finally decided on "unicorn horn", which I thought was pretty hysterical. J. didn't think the guys would go for it. I agreed that "unicorn horn" was not very masculine. On second thought, after mapping it, the "out-and-back" we did into Alpine looks more like a "fishhook". That would probably suffice although, personally, I think "unicorn horn" is better.
We zoomed down a steep hill right before the turn-around on the fishhook. It was so steep, I had to lean back as I hit the brakes to prevent Torch from flipping over. "How are we going to get back up that?" I asked J.
"It's not that bad," she assured me. We turned around and were, of course, stopped by a red light at the very bottom of the 20% grade hill. I took several short, sharp breaths, psyching myself up, preparing for the extreme physical exertion I was about to undertake. The light turned green. I took off, gathering as much momentum as I could at the bottom of the hill. I downshifted quickly into my lowest gear as the hill inclined sharply. I jumped out of the saddle and began pedaling, finding my rhythm. My breathing deepened, my heart rate quickened, and I focused on each individual pedal stroke, turning the front wheel slightly with each turnover. I gripped the handlebars until my knuckles turned white, focusing on keeping my weight over the front wheel, to prevent it from coming off the ground. The front wheel turned sharply as I fatigued, threatening to knock the entire bike over. Somehow, I straightened it out, saved myself, and kept pedaling. Up, up, up. I could think about nothing else, entire consumed by the moment. Getting up the hill. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, I kept telling myself. J. said I could do it so it must be true, I thought. Finally, somehow, someway, I reached the top, completely jubilant. I had this strange urge to go down and do it again, but I resisted. I still had 80 more miles to go. J. caught up to me: "That was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!" she exclaimed.
We passed by a farm with a sign "Goats for Sale". "I want to buy a goat!" I proclaimed. J. gave me a weird look. I asked her if she thought I'd be able to finish the ride pulling the goat on a cart behind me on my bike. We passed by many other farms, carpeted in a thick, emerald-green grass I had never before seen out so close to the desert before. Goats, sheep, horses, cows, and of course, every farm had a barking dog. The wildflowers were blooming. Thick blankets of yellow, gold, amber and purple lupine dusted the hillsides. A babbling creek rushed alongside the road for almost the entire route. Rivulets of water from melting snow dribbled down the rocks from the mountains above. The breathtaking scenery certainly helped give me energy during moments of extreme fatigue during the ride.
J. and I commiserated on our life woes as we toiled uphill. Funny, but sharing our deepest, most pent-up secrets seemed to make the pain of that hill fly by, as well as the time. What hill? Something about suffering with others in bike helmets and sunglasses that makes us feel safe to share. Kind of like group therapy on a bike. J. asked me the name of the cute guy that had flown by us at the beginning of the ride. I shrugged my shoulders. A group of firemen at the station overheard me saying, "What cute guy?" They all raised their hands and shouted, "Me!" We smiled. Just the sort of motivation I needed to keep pedaling.
The downhills came, and I wished desperately for my leg warmers back in the car. It was cold. Bone-chilling cold. I imagined a furnace in my belly, emanating through my limbs. It actually helped. Yea for imagination! The road winded downhill steeply, and I braked carefully. Torch isn't so good at cornering. I don't need to crash this close to my Ironman! The creek flowed over the road at a few places at the bottom. I can't believe how much it's rained lately. Begrudgingly, I steered Torch over the creeks, splashing water up onto my shorts. Great. Now I was cold AND wet.
We finished the first loop and searched for members of the original group heading out for the 2nd go-around. Most had bailed because of the cold. The rest were ahead of us. I had no choice. I had an Ironman coming up! I grabbed my leg warmers, refueled, and J. and I headed out for a 2nd time. 2nd time, good as the first! I prayed for the strength and energy it would take to make it through the entire ride. My mental state of mind was very positive. My legs were a different story. I struggled to gain speed but, as the first 20 miles were straight uphill, found this very difficult. J. said we would need to watch the time in order to make it home before dark. Really? No. I tried to pedal faster. I felt like I was pedaling faster, when in fact, I was not. We reached the halfway point on the loop right at our agreed-upon cutoff. Looks like we would make it in the nick of time. Point of no return now. I suddenly felt energized, seeing the end in my head. I was going to make it! I began picking up speed for real now. We returned to the start at 5:20, a solid 20 minutes before sunset. 100 miles and ~10,000 feet of climbing. Whoo hoo!
I felt drunk the rest of the night. J. asked me a simple subtraction question. I told her I couldn't possibly do math. Higher cognitive reasoning, out the window. I did think I was pretty hysterical, however, and kept laughing at my own jokes. I had a difficult time driving home and my speech was slurred. No officer. I swear, I haven't had a drop. I refueled at home and got ready for the next day, content to lay like a vegetable on the sofa.
Sunday morning, I woke up, feeling a little tired but not sore and actually found myself looking forward to my run. I grabbed my GPS and hydration pack and set off for my 18-miler. The Xterra Black Mountain 15K Trail Race (http://www.trailrace.com/blackmtn.html) was that day. It was only a few miles from my house. I decided to run there, run the race, and run home.
Unfortunately, the whole way there (3.5 miles) was uphill. Well, at least it would all be downhill on the return home. I found a steady rhythm and made my way to the start. Checked in, lined up, and shortly thereafter, the gun went off. I hadn't had time to go to the bathroom, and I really had to go. That's what I get for having a HUGE breakfast right before running. The thought was that by fueling up beforehand, I would need less calories during...which is true, however, you have to pay the consequences. I dove into the bushes and took care of business, only to get some raised eyebrows as I re-emerged and trotted off down the trail.
The trail was extremely rocky, full of deep trenches and eroded cracks, and hilly. Very hilly. Down, up, down, up, nothing about it was flat. Being so close to home, however, I was very familiar with the course and was able to settle into a nice rhythm. Plus there were people cheering me on and aid stations! Pretty cool for a training run. I was very happy with my performance. I felt relaxed and steady and only had to power walk a couple of times up the steepest parts. Just when I started thinking, "Okay, I'm ready to be done with this," the race was over.
Focusing on forward motion, I grabbed some bananas and oranges and popped into the port-a-potty one more time. As all my friends chowed down on omelettes and pancakes, I waved goodbye and kept on running. Only 5 more miles to go.
Now, I was back on the road and headed towards home. I was tired but I had no pain and my legs kept truckin', one foot in front of the other. The next 3 miles were pretty much all downhill. At mile 17, I started feeling a little pain. I grabbed Travis from the house and used him for motivation for the final mile around the neighborhood. However, his constant urge to stop and sniff the bushes was more than inopportune. I kept yanking on his leash, "C'mon! Only a little bit farther!" And, all too soon, it was over. I got a 1 mile cool-down, while Travis got a 1-mile walk (added to his 1 mile run).
Back at home, the clock was ticking. How does one refuel, stretch, and ice bath all in that critical 1 hour post-run window? Well, I stretched as I ate. Showered as I made my ice bath. Eased into a delightful ice bath and treated myself to soft music and scented candles as I read my favorite book. Afterwards, squeezed into my compression tights and curled up under the blankets for the most wonderful 2-hour nap of my life. Nothing is more heavenly than a nap after a weekend of Iron training.
Great Western Double Plus Loop: