Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Peaking--Final Week of Training

I'm in the last week of training before I begin recovering and tapering for Ironman Wisconsin. I feel amazing. I have tons of energy and feel fitter than I can remember. I feel like a super hero. Able to lift all the heavy grocery bags in 1 full swoop. I'm absorbing the workouts, and eager for more. I can't believe how much I've been working out. It's been 20-25 hours a week.

I think the key has been devoting as much time to recovery as I do to training. With the summer off (I'm a teacher), I've been able to train like a pro. I take naps in between workouts. I eat small meals all done long full of protein and fruits and vegetables. I stretch and do Yoga. I work on mindfulness. More importantly, I just feel happy. Can I just stay here forever? (Alas, school starts back next week so that will be a tough adjustment).

I have been experimenting with foregoing recovery days during these tough build weeks so I can fit in the extra workouts and spread them out throughout the week. It's been working, and I actually love not dealing with the inertia of taking a day off. I have a recovery week next week so it's easy to push hard right now.

I did a tough open water swim off Coyote Point in the SF Bay on Friday, sharing the waters with windsurfers and getting tossed around like a stick in a hurricane. Saturday was the Mt. Tam Century, hosted by the Marin Cycling Club, 100 scenic miles with 8,000 feet of climbing. Honestly, it felt pretty easy, and I hammered the 2nd 50 miles after the tough climbing was done. The miles flew by quickly. Don't get me wrong; I'm still slow, but everything just feels easier. On Sunday, I did a hilly 17.5 mile trail run in Huddart and Purisima Creek. It was no big deal. In fact, it was exhilarating, and I had a runner's high the entire time.

Monday was 8x500 in the pool to mimic the Ironman swim. I was slow but it felt easy, and I wasn't sore or breathless. This was followed by a 5.5 mi neighborhood run with the dogs. Juneau can no longer keep up with me. Yesterday, I did a 24-mile rolling loop bike followed by an hour of hard weights. I finally felt sore and tired. I just have to make it through this week, and then I can recover and get ready for the taper!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Iron Practice Open Water Swim

Since the swim at Santa Rosa 70.3 was cancelled this year, I was short a swim workout this week. It's the final push before I taper for Ironman Wisconsin so every workout matters. I decided to do an open water swim at Gull Park in Foster City on Sunday. It would also give me an opportunity to test out my new sleeveless wetsuit. Since the swim is in a narrow saltwater lagoon lined by houses, I felt very comfortable swimming alone, especially in a wetsuit with a bright orange cap. After doing some research, I saw that swimming out-and-back from Gull Park to the next beach, Marlin Park, would be 1.2 miles. I decided to do it twice. Everything was fine until the return on the second lap. Yes, my wetsuit was chafing, and yes, the wind had created an uphill current on the return. However, I hadn't accounted for disorientation that set in. I had been counting the houses I swam past to pass the time. I was only 12 houses away from the end, when a beach to the left of me completely threw me off-guard (Erckenbrack Park). I hadn't seen it before (I hadn't been looking) and it made me think I had gone completely off-course. I became so confused, I turned around and swam back the way I had come, all the way back to Marlin Park. When I reached the 2nd beach, I was actually somewhat relieved, even though I knew I had to swim an extra mile. At least I knew where I was! As I wearily returned back to the start, I resumed counting houses, refusing to let anything distract me this time. At least, I know I will be able to the swim for my Ironman!

Weirdest Moment of the Day

I was doing an 8-mile trail run at Rancho San Antonio today. About halfway through the run, I noticed a guy with his back turned to me, intently picking apart horse manure with his trekking poles. He would then occasionally hurl it violently to the left. I had to yell, "On your left!" to make sure I didn't get hit with poo.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Favorite Moment of the Day

I went out for a ride today. A fast 20-miler with rolling hills, termed "The Loop" by people that ride in Palo Alto. It's a scenic route through Woodside and Portola Valley that winds through horse country and has access to some of the most scenic, famous climbs (Page Mill, Alpine, Tunitas, Old La Honda, and Kings) in the foothills and redwoods that winds up to Skyline and down to the coast (San Gregorio and Pescadero). I love it because it's only a few miles from my house and it's full of nature and wildlife. I was not to be disappointed today. At about mile 11, I spotted two tawny creatures, blending in with the golden grasses behind the trees. The second animal was unmistakably a deer. But she was craning her head back to stare at the creature behind her, as if waiting for it. Thinking it was a coyote, I actually stopped and got off my bike to get a closer look. The "coyote" began hopping casually towards the deer. Two giant ears unfurled, bouncing with each hop. It was a jack rabbit! Not only that, it almost seemed as if the deer and giant hare were buds. I stared happily at the pair for a few minutes before resuming my ride. That's why I love riding around here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3

It is officially 6 weeks away until Ironman Wisconsin. I'm officially getting nervous. This last weekend, I raced in Santa Rosa 70.3 as practice for my upcoming race. I wanted to test all my equipment, nutrition, fitness, and mental state to see if I was on track. However, it had been 9 years since I raced in a triathlon that long. I was nervous.

There were a lot of effort involved in preparing. I packed on Thursday, drove up on Friday, spent all day checking in and dropping off gear bags before finally arriving at the hotel, exhausted at 5 pm. The bike is a point-to-point 56-mile course from Lake Sonoma to Santa Rosa, a 45 minute car drive away. After athlete check-in, I had to drop my run bag off in T2, then drive up to Lake Sonoma to stage my bike in T1. It was hot--in the 90s--at Lake Sonoma, and I was glad that I would only be swimming there, early in the morning. However, the lake was beautiful--fresh, clear, and cool (73 degrees). I was looking forward to swimming in it. I previewed the swim course, surveying the yellow and orange buoys. The buoys were tightly clustered before the turning right and making a "dog-leg" under the bridge and back. At first, I thought the turn-around was where the first turn was. I slowly realized it kept going, under the bridge, and then kept going some more before turning around. I gulped. I had forgotten how far 1.2 miles looked. And I'm going to have to swim double that at Ironman Wisconsin? I gulped again.

I woke at 4:15, thankful I had a ride to Lake Sonoma and could skip the shuttle from downtown Santa Rosa. I had been gifted an extra hour of sleep thank to my dad, who volunteered to sherpa me at this race. In addition, our hotel was in Healdsburg, only 15 minutes from Lake Sonoma. Unfortunately, the logistics of getting out to Lake Sonoma on race morning were difficult. A 5-mile traffic jam of stopped cars delayed us (yes, stopped). My dad was unable to drop me off at the race start. Instead, they directed all cars into a parking lot about a mile before the start. Then, all of the athletes, family and friends waited in line for a shuttle to T1. The shuttles were unprepared and few and far between. Even though I had left the hotel at 4:45 and arrived in the parking lot by 5:15, it would be until 6:15 (when transition was supposed to close) before I actually got to T1. I was beyond anxious, and the pre-race was, by far (thankfully), the worst part of the race.

A dense, pea-soup fog hung heavily above the water of Lake Sonoma. The race director made the call to shorten the distance from 1.2 miles to half that (1000 meters). I was disappointed but at least I would still get to take swim in the lake and get some training. Then, they delayed the race start until 7, to see if the fog would lift. It did not. Due to safety issues, since lifeguards can't see the swimmers, and swimmers would be unable to see the buoys, at 7 am, an announcement over the loudspeaker decreed that the swim was cancelled. A loud cry of disgust echoed out of transition, alongside a few quietly thankful athletes. I was extremely disappointed. It would be like getting a sundae without the cherry. It just wouldn't be the same. I was also upset that I wouldn't get a chance to swim in Lake Sonoma. It seemed like such a nice place for a swim.

We prepared for a time-trial bike. The pros would go first, one-at-a-time, 10 seconds apart, followed by the age groupers, in numerical order. I was #1304. This could take awhile. I relaxed and decided to make the most of it. All my anxiety was gone (interesting--turns out the swim is what makes me so nervous at these events? Never knew). I went up front and watched the pros prepare for awhile. Gawked at their bikes and equipment. Stared at one of my heroes, Ironman World Champion Miranda Carfrae, who was completely relaxed and all smiles, selflessly letting fans take selfies with her before her big race. Then, I realized I had been staring and my mouth may or may not have been hanging open a little, so I went back to my bike. I chatted up my neighbor athletes incessantly as I sipped on Naked Juice smoothie with OJ and mangos. Delicious! I followed this with a PB&J, banana, and string cheese. When it was time to start, I was relaxed, well nourished and hydrated and had visited the loo 4 times. I was ready.

As I clipped in, I was surprised at how relaxed and happy I felt. It felt like coming home. I hadn't realized how much I had missed racing long-distance triathlons. The half-ironman is such a great distance. You get a solid workout in all 3 sports and still finish in the early afternoon. Shoot, there was still time for wine tasting (not that I did) afterwards!

The bike course was gorgeous and mostly downhill with rollers in between. It rolled through wine country and was extremely scenic. I took in the views of symmetrical rows of grapevines, farms, and oak trees. Occasionally, a resident would stop their work to stop and stare at us, mouths slightly agape. I tried to enjoy myself as we wound our way through Sonoma, like a fast parade of bikes. I felt sorry for the traffic, stopped for miles in the other direction. Tourists were out of their cars, staring in disbelief, waiting for the police to give them the signal to continue their pilgrimage to the many wineries awaiting. I was thankful for the closed bike course and hundreds of volunteers directing us on the course every step of the way. Every turn had been diligently marked, the course was swept of glass, and even the potholes had been outlined with orange tape so we could steer clear.

Despite the impeccable course, some of the roads were bumpy (notorious for Sonoma), and the race became progressively more and more littered with bottles, GUs, and CO2 cartridges. I was lucky and was able to steer clear of all of them, but there were several crashes. Not sure if it was due to hitting a bottle or aggressive riding on a crowded course, but I was thankful not to be one of them. There were even more casualties when it came to bikes, unfortunately, as the course was peppered with sidelined athletes fighting with changing flat tires, most of them tubies.

Because of the time trial start, the course was crowded, but I also had the opportunity to race with my age group. I had been training hills, and it showed. I passed a lot of people on the hills. I could feel my competitiveness set in, particularly when a rude cyclist would pass me, or someone with a number in my age group written on their calf. What constitutes as rude? Passing in a no passing zone, when the rest of us have to slow down. Don't worry, I chased her down.

I rolled into T2 feeling fresh and ready to run. I had stay hydrated, using water and salt pills (1 an hour). I had eaten solid foods, including a bar, 6 Cliff Bloks, and trail mix (my favorite). I couldn't believe how quickly the bike was over. Had it really been 56 miles already? It had felt like a long Olympic. I knocked it out in a little over 3 hours. Score! The training has been paying off.

The temperature had begun to increase as I set out on the run. I had to pee but really didn't want to wait in line at the port-a-potties, so I gutted it out until the aid station at mile 1, where there was no line. I found a comfortable pace and settled in along the creekside trail. It was nice to be on a shaded trail with some packed gravel (yay! less pavement!) but the course was absurdly crowded as we navigated a 2-loop, out-and-back course. Plus, runners were going in both directions on a trail wide enough for 2 people, but not 4. There were many competitive runners passing and darting into oncoming "traffic". It was quite crowded, and we were all getting tired and less coordinated.

I enjoyed the aid stations and imbibed every 2  miles or so, taking in coke, gatorade, pretzels and bananas. I splashed water on my head and drank my own water out of my FuelBelt. I was thankful for my own supply, allowing me the freedom and independence to indulge on hydration whenever I wanted. I passed a lot of people at aid stations. I was able to zone out and even lost a mile between 4 and 5. Thinking I was only between 3 and 4, I rejoiced when the mile 5 sign appeared. It was like being given a free mile. I ran with no GPS, no heart rate monitor, not even a watch. I was only focused on enjoying myself and loved the freedom.

Halfway on the second loop, fatigue set in. It felt like I had a pebble in my shoe, but I didn't want to stop. It didn't seem to be slowing me down but it was uncomfortable. I did a mental note--how painful was it? Only a 3 or 4. I decided to keep going. Oddly enough, it disappeared after another mile. So odd how pain ebbs and flows.

At the turn-around for the second loop, I kept an eye out for my dad. I kept hearing my name, "Looking strong, Rachel!" "Go, Rachel!" Confused, I looked around. "Dad?" I had forgotten my name was printed on my bib.

Miles 7-10 were the toughest. I focused on zoning out, but it felt like the miles were getting longer apart. I wiped my forehead. It felt dry and crusty. I realized it had been at least 90 minutes since I'd had a salt pill. I popped one and chased it with water. Ten minutes later, the fatigue was gone. It's amazing how your body talks to you in strange little ways.

Mile 10 came and went. I saw a spectator with a Wisconsin sweatshirt. "Go Badgers!" I shouted.
"Go Bucky!" he replied.
My right hip began giving me trouble. It had started earlier but the pain was getting noticeably worse. I broke down and took 2 Advil. At the next aid station, I drank some more Coke. Twenty minutes later, I felt great. I passed by mile 11 and could feel the adrenaline begin to build, making me tremble. I was going to finish this thing.

At mile 12, I began speaking positive mantras aloud to myself and anyone who could listen. "Almost there! We can do this!" I started running faster. I started passing other athletes. With only half a mile to go, my pace increased even more. "Only 2 laps around the track," I told myself. The crowd of spectators thickened, and they cheered us on, injecting me with energy. My name was printed on my bib, and they were screaming my name, "Go, Rachel, go!" I ran faster. I saw an athlete ahead with the number 43 written on her left calf. She was running strong. I wanted to catch her. "Great job!" I told her as passed. "You too!" she called back. I was sprinting. My breath was coming quick and loud. I was going for broke. There was no slowing down now. I entered the chute. The crowd was going nuts, feeding off my sprint, and their enthusiasm only fueled me more. I picked up the pace. I spotted a guy in front of me, doing his best to finish strong at a hobbling gait. A female spectator screamed, "Get him!" So I did. I burst across the finish, feeling victorious but unable to speak. A medical volunteer grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye, asking "Are you okay?" I nodded and gasped a yes. I may have barely been able to breathe, dripping with sweat, and red-faced but I was bursting with happiness. I had a great race and finished strong. On Wisconsin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

After a much needed recovery week, we woke up at 4 am to do the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing. How crazy to wake up earlier than during the work week only to suffer all day. I felt groggy and sluggish as we started, probably because I had taken too many rest days during the week. The first 30 miles, I felt sleepy and sluggish, not wanting to drink or eat. I had to pee a lot, which I couldn't figure out. I felt like I was in a fog. I worried I would feel like this all day. 

Soon, we started climbing Alba, a 4-mile climb with an average of 10% but sections of 15%+. The cobwebs were shaken off, and I had to concentrate. Sweat dripped off my nose. I was suffering, and all of a sudden, I felt awake and refreshed. Very strange. We climbed all the way to the lunch stop. 

After lunch, we enjoyed a nice descent down Bonny Doon to the coast. I didn't enjoy it that much, however, knowing we were doomed to climb it back up later on. The coast was flat and cool, and I was warmed up and enjoying myself. 

Then, we began climbing up Bonny Doon, Smith Grade, and Empire Grade, a steady 8-mile climb. I felt grumpy and began to feel tired. The aid station was heaven, and I stuffed myself with zucchini bread. The rest of the ride was much easier, with a nice descent into downtown Santa Cruz before a tiresome climb back up into UC-Santa Cruz. This ride felt much easier than the one I had done 9 years prior. Hopefully, that will set me up nicely for Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3 this weekend and IM WI 6 weeks from now. We're getting close!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Recovery Week

I was scheduled for a 3rd week of Build (bike-focused) training before my next recovery week. But towards the end of the week, my aggressive workout schedule began to play it's toll. Maybe I was still recovering from the 13-mile, hilly trail run in 90-degree weather. Or the 109-mile ride up Mt. Hamilton, Mines Road loop in 100-degrees the following day. The 2-mile open-water swim? Doing weights, swimming, biking, and running in 1-day? Olympic bricks. Regardless, I had been nailing my workouts.

When I woke up hungry Friday morning, only rising to eat before falling back to bed, exhausted, I knew I needed an unscheduled day off. Something did not feel right with my body--pure exhaustion. I slept all day. Saturday, I went on a lackluster 16-mile run on flat trails. I took an ice bath and a nap, hydrated, ate well, and tried to recover after. I even stretched.

Sunday, we drove to the base of Mt. Hamilton. The plan was a 74-mile out-and-back up Mt. Hamilton to the Junction on Mines Road, and then back. The frontside, my style of climbing, was an 18-mile climb with an average of 3-4% grade. The backside of Mt. Hamilton is 6-7 miles with an average of 8-10% grade. The temperature was predicted to be between 96-100-degrees with the peak during the final climb up Hamilton.

As we set out, my spirits were high. I had done this ride, but longer the weekend before. I was sleepy, sure, but that was because we had awoken at 6 am. But I was sure the cobwebs would wear off after an 8-15 mile warm-up, as they always do. Eventually, I started feeling better and settled into climbing.

About mile 12-14, fatigue started to set in. I ate, drank, took a salt pill, slowed down and waited. The fatigue increased with the heat and by mile 15, doom crept in. This was not how I felt the previous weekend. My speed was half what it had been, as were my spirits. I began to absolutely dread the long haul out to the Junction on Mines Road. I knew climbing the backside of Hamilton would probably require walking. And a nap. A nap. Oh, a nap. The urge to pull off in the shade and lay down for 20 minutes, or an hour or two, became overwhelming. Getting to the top of Hamilton, usually challenging but confidence-building, was almost impossible this day.
Juneau recovering after one of our runs.

At the top, I raided the vending machines, downed a Coke, and sat in the air conditioned lobby of the Lick Observatory. I happily decided to go back to the car. Immediately, my spirits rose. There was no need to push myself on this day. I had nailed enough key workouts throughout the last 2 weeks that 1 climb up Hamilton would be enough.

As I descended 18-miles back to the car, I felt relaxed and relieved. I knew I had made the right decision. In addition, I knew I needed a recovery week. Previous experience shows that my body prefers 2 weeks on-1 week off, as opposed to the usually prescribed 3-to-1. Figuring out how to adjust training to meet the demands of your body is key. And I would adjust this week, instead of being a slave to the training plan.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What a difference a month makes.

I have 8 weeks to go until Ironman Wisconsin. Training is intense but going well.

Garter snake from 13-mile Wunderlich run last weekend.

There are ups and downs, but overall, I feel strong and healthy. I've had some great key workouts, including the Rodeo Valley 30K Trail Run in the Marin Headlands at the end of June. I also nailed a 109-mile bike up Mt. Hamilton and back to Livermore on Mines Road last weekend in 100-degree heat. This was redemption for me since when I did it 1 month ago, I almost didn't finish. I felt like a different person the second time. Fast, powerful, and mentally tough. What a difference a month makes.

Pics from Marin Headlands Run:

At the end of this week, exhaustion set in. Friday, all I wanted to do was sleep. I was scheduled for a swim, run, and weights. I ended up scratching all workouts (guiltily) and sleeping all day. I woke up only to eat. Instead of dwelling on it, I woke up this morning and resumed the workout on the docket for the day: 16 mile trail run. I chose the Crystal Springs Trail, since I had never done it before. I started in Edgewood Park. It was 80 degrees, sunny, and most of the trail was exposed, but not hot. I had plenty of fuel, water, and salt pills. Heavily armed, I set out. I felt a little bored the first few miles, but the Western fence lizards darting underfoot kept me occupied as I dance over them. I counted them to keep me occupied (25 by the end).

The trail snaked along Canada road, littered with cyclists and triathletes zooming back and forth. A deep sapphire blue lake emerged--Crystal Springs Reservoir. A police siren blared in the distance, immediately matched with a cacophony of off-key sirens blaring from the reeds and bushes by the foot of the reservoir (off limits for people). My first thought was rowdy teenagers, instantly replaced with clarity: coyotes. I stopped and peered into the bushes. They were so close. It sounded like there were dozens of them. Despite the raucous, I saw nothing.

By the time I had reached mile 4, my mind began to empty, my feet turned onto autopilot, and I felt I was in a dream. A brush touched my arm. Was that poison oak? Afterall, it was everywhere, glistening with oil and bright red with early fall colors. Another vine patted my ear. I turned to identify the perp--it was indeed poison oak. Shoot! Now, all I could think about was not touching anything and showering in TecNu when I got home.

I continued running along the reservoir, laughing at the stop-and-go traffic piled along Hwy 92, waiting to get to the coast. Then, I almost ran headfirst into a thicket of poison oak. The trail just ended onto the Highway. Later, closer inspection of the map would show that the connector between this segment of the trail and the north end has yet to be finished. Drat! I would be short 3 miles. Grumbling, I turned and headed back.

Along the return path, I took a detour into the Pulgas Water Temple, a strange park with pristine lawns and a swimming pool-length monument that leads up to tall, ornate, cement columns and lots of steps. No trails. Well, there might be, but they are all fenced off. There were, however, bathrooms and water.

A little further down the trail, I turned into another park, Filoli, to see what it was about. Apparently, it's a historic garden and house that required admission. I ended up running on the service road to the nature center, catching a glimpse of a family of wild turkeys, hurriedly whisking their young across the path and away from my very suspicious camera. As I continued running back on the trail, I spotted a small family of deer, grazing like cattle in the dry, golden fields of Filoli (I doubt they paid admission).

After mile 12, my pace slowed and my hips began to ache. Aches and pains began to rotate between toes, IT bands, knees, and hips. I no longer had delusions of grandeur of fitting in a swim that afternoon. I laughed at the absurdity and ignorance of that earlier idea. The only swimming I'd be doing would be in an ice bath. However, I was careful not to admonish my slow pace, happy to still be running.

I reentered Edgewood Park and took the long way back to the parking lot to make up the 3 miles I still needed. I couldn't believe how much the familiar trails, normally with fast downhills, hurt and slowly crawled by. I reached the parking lot at 15.89 miles and kept running to the road until my watch buzzed at 16. Finally, I could walk and stretch. Let the recovery begin.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Terrible Two 200K

This past weekend, I successfully rode the Terrible Two 200k in Sebastapol, a sub-event of the Terrible Two Double Century put on by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club. Although the double century is infamously and ridiculously hard (hence the "terrible" adjective), the thought of riding 120+ miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing was still formidable to me. I didn't appreciate the "Tolerable Two" nickname donned by seasoned double century riders.

Admittedly, I haven't been training much on the bike. Teaching 6 classes and training for the 50K Skyline to the Sea run has dominated my training plan the last 6 weeks. I have been clinging to what cycling fitness I could by riding about twice a week, with my longest ride being 50-70 miles. And those "long" rides hadn't been going well. Three weeks prior, I had melted down a  simple 45-mile ride during the last 8 miles. Yes, there had been some climbing (Geysers Road, which is about 8-12 miles with ~2400 feet of climbing, but don't quote me on that). Turns out, I broke a spoke and the last 10 miles was a false flat, but I blame my lack of training and lack of food for a ride that ended in a "Poor me" weeping session.

Last weekend (one week before the Terrible 200k), I had one last chance to push my cycling fitness up. I rode part of the Devil Mountain Double Century out in the east bay, a 106-mile loop that included Mt. Hamilton and Mines Road with about 8,000 feet of climbing. It was one of the worst rides I've ever suffered through. I felt fine until mile 42 (hmmm, same place where I had my last meltdown--notice a theme here?), at which point a strong headwind and hunger caused diabolical bonking that even a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke at the Junction couldn't cure. Miles 50 through 100 were pure torture. Everything hurt, especially my feet, my butt, my hands and wrists, etc. Turns out, I've been suffering from something called "hot foot" for awhile now, where a searing, burning pain in the ball of my foot makes pedaling excruciating. Unlike previous endurance exercises, the pain and suffering never went away. Slogging through at 12 mph on flats didn't help. Neither did the relentless headwinds. I wanted to quit. Badly. I can only thank my riding partner for not letting me. I felt so humiliated by my shameful performance, I didn't even feel victorious upon finishing the ride. I head my hung low as I drove home with lots to think about. First, there was no way I was going to do the Terrible 200K the following weekend. I just wasn't ready.

Somehow, a week later, I showed up at the start of the 200K, nervous, anxious, and prepared for a hard day of suffering. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish. I was worried about quitting and climbing aboard the SAG wagon. There were several scary climbs ahead of me: Skaggs, "The Wall", Fort Ross. Plus the distance--121 miles. Was I setting myself up for failure?

I started in the pack of about 50 very strong riders. Everyone took off, and I set my own pace in the back. I was one of the slowest riders in the bunch. Amazingly, I found a very tall rider riding about the same pace as me, and I tucked in behind him. Another rider tucked in behind me. A pack of about 4 of us drafted tightly together for the first 30 miles, which were mostly a false flat. I coasted easily at about 17 mph, a pace I could never have maintained that effortlessly on my own. At the first aid station, we all introduced ourselves, and I thanked the pack leader profusely for letting me suck his wheel. After gorging on Oreos and peanut M&Ms, I began the long climb up Skaggs. I didn't mind riding solo, preferring to set my own pace without worrying about others. I crawled slowly up the peaks for the next 12 miles, thankful it wasn't too hot (about 80 degrees) since it was open and exposed. I took in the singing of the birds that surrounded me and spotted a brightly colored garter snake and blue-tailed skink. I was working but I felt positive. Nothing hurt either. I had come armed with cycling orthotics, gloves, and lots and lots of Chamois Butter. All of these helped (especially the orthotics). I drank lots of water and popped the occasional electrolyte pill.

The aid stations were strategically located at the top of each gruesome climb. At each, I topped off water bottles and ate. I couldn't believe how hungry I was. Determined not to make the same mistake as my last several rides, I ate constantly, both on and off the bike. I couldn't believe how many calories I consumed. And, yet, I was still hungry. By the time I reached the second peak of Skaggs, I had consumed too many salt pills and my stomach was rumbling. I spotted an empty bottle of Tums discarded on the side of the road and took it as a sign. I pulled out my baggie of pills and chomped down 2 Tums. The relief was instant and magical.

I coasted downhill and rolled along for the next 15 miles or so, revving myself up for what would be the toughest climb of the day. Nicknamed "The Wall" I had heard horror stories of people breaking down on this 1.2-mile relentlessly steep climb of an average of 13% with pitches of 19%. People can walk their bikes up faster than riding. People have to stop and rest. I wasn't sure I could get up it, even walking. I wasn't looking forward to walking up a slick, steep road for over a mile in cycling shoes.

I crossed the bridge and forced myself not to hold my breath. "Time to Climb!" was chalked in the road. And then, there was no time to think. I was climbing up a never-ending road into the trees with turn after turn after turn. My breathing was fast and rapid. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears like hummingbird wings. Each time I peered around the turn, searching for a break in the climb, I was faced only with what seemed like an even steeper section. I looked down at the road in front of me. Best not to look ahead. Best not to know what's coming. Some sections were so steep that the only way I knew to get up them was to get out my saddle and climb, forcing each pedal down with my entire weight at such an agonizingly slow speed that my bike threatened to topple beneath me. Each time I stood to climb, I was punished with a maxed out heart rate that was unsustainable. Snot poured from my nose. I didn't care. My face grew hot and red, and I was forced to sit, hunched over and grinding at the pedals. I leaned forward as far as I could to keep the front wheel down, gripping the handlebars and pulling them towards me with unrecognized upper body strength. I had no idea cycling would require so much from my arms, shoulder and back. My lower back screamed in protest. Finally, towards the top, I saw a turn-out near a more mellowed-out section. I had to rest. I could take no more.Wobbling my bike towards the turn-out I peeked once more up ahead. Was that the top? I decided to give it one last push. With whatever I had left in me, I gave it one more surge and unbelievably, crested the top. I crawled into the lunch stop, breathless and uncommunicative.

Lunch was such heaven after the Wall. The volunteers were unbelievably friendly and I ate and ate. We shared stories of surviving the Wall. Most had to stop and rest. Although I was slow, the others were incredulous when I told them I hadn't stopped to rest. They asked what my secret was. "Stubbornness" was all I could come up with. As I started to get cold, I knew it was time to get back on the bike.

I headed out towards the coast, pedaling easy up and down the rollers, heeding the unpredictable wind that threw me off my balance as it came sideways and forwards. Then, I saw the great, blue Pacific. I turned left and headed south, relishing in the ocean's beauty. The wind had died down and the sky was gray. A thin mist of fogged enveloped the coast. Surprisingly, with arm warmers, I wasn't cold. I rode easily and felt calm and peaceful as I watched the undulating waves. Campers and children along the 1 entertained me as I rode by. The double century riders lapped me, and I urged them on, in awe of their speed, endurance, and leg muscles like thick tree trunks. Suddenly, the Fort Ross rest stop appeared. I felt good at mile 83 and was pleasantly surprised.

After some hot chocolate and coffee and Ramen Noodles, I headed up for the last steep climb of the day. Luckily I had ridden it before. About 11% and 2-3 miles long, I wasn't looking forward to it, especially because I had suffered so much the first time up it several months ago. In addition, the broken pavement, branches, and gravel made it extra challenging. However, being prepared and knowing it was to come helped immensely. Yes, it was hard but I just took it easy and focused on pedaling, one revolution at a time. I stopped to pop some Advil after the first big peak to soothe my aching lower back. My quads were fatigued and felt like limp noodles. Someone had chalked a skull and crossbones in the middle of the road, which didn't help. Somehow, I made it up Fort Ross, and it was easier than what I had remembered.

Ecstasy began to set in. Here I was, pedaling along at mile 90, and I felt good. Nothing really hurt, and mentally I was on a high. I couldn't believe it. I felt immensely thankful and at peace. I took in the beauty of the scenic hills around me. I couldn't believe how much I was actually enjoying this. When I reached Cazadero, the highway began flat and smooth, and I screamed along at 18 mph for the next 15 miles in pure bliss.

I rolled into the last rest stop in Monte Rio feeling loopy and euphoric. The volunteers were especially supportive. I downed a Coke and ate some more Oreos. As I rode out, I received encouraging comments like "Way to represent!" (there weren't many female riders out there), "You go, Girl!" and "Ride it like you stole it!" I kept expecting the euphoria to be replaced with suffering. They say "If you feel good, don't worry you'll get over it," but that moment never came. The rest of the ride was essentially flat with one last little climb. I didn't mind it, however, because compared to the rest of the day, it was easy. Plus, it gave me more time to take in the sights around me, including a wedding, a goat climbing up a tree for fruit,  and, further down the road, a rocking blues band. At mile 120, I turned down High School Road. I realized I was going to make it. My chest swelled with happiness. I cruised into the finish, not caring that I had finished near the bottom of the pack. I had successfully finished the ride and had an amazing time doing it. This will be an experience that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I could even be talked in to doing another one of these crazy events!

Friday, June 15, 2018

School's Out!

Now that school is out, I can finally update my blog. It was a great year but teaching 6/5 (extra classes) really took it out of me. Somehow, I clung to a shred of my fitness and even did a few races, including the Half Moon Bay Triathlon and the Skyline to the Sea 50K two weeks ago. I also snuck in a couple of other trail races, including the Woodside Ramble half marathon (December), the Montara Mountain half marathon (February), and the Purisima Creek Crossover 35K (April). I guess I have a lot to catch up on.

I'm excited to focus on Ironman training this summer and prepare for Ironman Wisconsin in September. Never a dull moment, I'm going to try and survive the Terrible 200K this Saturday in Sebastapol and the Rodeo Rumble 30K in Marin in 2 weeks. I'm also scheduled for the Santa Rosa 70.3 in July.

Here's what I remember about each race (shame on me for not posting while it was fresh in my mind):

Woodside Ramble Half Marathon:
This was a cool and inviting winter half marathon in the redwoods of Huddart Park. Soft bedding of needles underfoot, gentle uphill slope to skyline then a wicked fast descent back to the start. Very enjoyable. I loved this race and had a lot of fun. Finished in 2:23.

Montara Mountain Half Marathon:
It was fun to realize that Pacifica is only about half-an-hour away from me with tons of new trails (and beaches) to explore. I was happy to be doing the half, which was challenging, since the ultra required doing several loops of the mountain. I hate doing the same course twice. The views were spectacular, and the course was extremely challenging, especially the mountain part. I finished in 2:35.

Woodside/Purisima Creek Crossover
We started in Huddart Park and ran up and over Skyline to the Purisima Creek Redwoods on the other side. It was chilly and rainy but enchantingly misty and dry at the same time, due to the magic of the redwoods. I needed a vest, gloves, and a headband, and I was still cold at times. I was nervous about running 20 miles, but after getting lost in Hayward at Garin Regional Park a few weeks ago and accidentally going 18 miles, I figured I could manage. And how was I supposed to run ultras if I didn't get my mileage up? The beginning of the trail run was crowded, just as they all are, and I waited patiently. I ran into a colleague up the first hill, and we walked and chatted to pass the time. Running buddies are invaluable. As the run progressed, I felt stronger and stronger and was able to find a solid yet slow running pace up most of the hills. Towards the middle, there was a ridiculously steep climb, where I was almost on my hands and knees. I don't know how anyone can run up that. I was so grateful for the aid station at the top. Oreos and Coke are the best! As I progressed back towards Skyline, I was disheartened to realize I was going to have a long 2ish mile climb back up the wonderful descent I had enjoyed earlier. I began walking and taking pictures to ease the pain, or more the annoying complaining in my head and fatigue that was beginning to set in. I also counted banana slugs to pass the time; I think the total count was 67. It was exceptionally muddy and slippery, making much of the trail treacherous and slow-going. Once back into Huddart, the rest of the run was a delightful downhill, and I cruised, relishing in the easy miles. The final mile back up into the park was slightly uphill, but just enough to torture me on my tired legs. It seemed like it would never come. When I finally crossed the finish line, I felt relaxed and happy. It took me 4.5 hours, but who's counting?

Half Moon Bay Triathlon:
This was a great race. It was the first tri of 2018 and was good to know I still had my mojo. Great course venue and well organized. The swim was in a protected bay. The water was cold (mid-50s) but that was to be expected. The bike was flat, on the coast, and a few boring, uneventful loops. The run was also flat and fast and relatively uneventful. It was a good place to do some speed work. I will definitely be back next year. I finished in 2:59.

Skyline to the Sea 50K:
It had been 7 (8?) years since I had run an ultra. 30 miles isn't that much more than a marathon, but I was plenty nervous. The race was in early June, and teaching 6/5 had interfered heavily with my training. I wasn't sure I could even do the race a few weeks ago. Resolute, I threw out my training plan and focused everything on my running. I stuck to 3 runs and 2 weights a week with the occasional bike and swim. I did some miserable long runs and some uneventful, mind-numbing ones. I discovered that all of the trails in the Bay Area connected and would spend my afternoons running from one park to the next: Huddart--Skyline--Wunderlich; Arasterdero--Palo Alto Foothills--Los Trancos and back; Windy Hill--Coal Creek--Russian Ridge and back. And, if I wanted to keep going, I could continue to connect, threading together the Bay Area foothills into one long tangled web of exhaustion. By the time I got to the start of Skyline to the Sea, I knew I had done the training to help me survive the day. It was already hot at the top of Skyline, which I had never felt before under the redwoods. It would be in the mid-80s that day.

It's supposed to be a downhill race. I was glad I had done a 24 mile training run on the course 2 weeks earlier because there was a lot of uphill too. It was slow going because even on the descents, I had to pick my way around protruding roots, tangled rocks, creeks, and wicked switchbacks. I decided to slow down rather than risk falling or injury.

My fellow runners were courteous and more than happy to strike up conversation to pass the time. The aid stations were well-stocked and I swept food into my plastic baggie like a kid on Halloween so I could eat, walk, and digest. I gorged on Oreos, pretzels, potatoes and salt. I refilled my Camelback 2x, which I had never needed to do before. It was hot. There were 0 banana slugs. Lots of flowers, clinging to the late spring despite the encroaching summer heat. I took my time, stayed in good spirits, and somehow, didn't feel quite as exhausted as I had the last time I had done this on my training run. It took me 7:14 and I enjoyed every second of it.