Spectator Report: 2014 Ironman Canada in Whister, BC

20140501_151259Over the weekend I had the distinct pleasure (and challenge) of shepherding my partner through his very first full 140.6 distance triathlon at the 2014 Ironman Canada course in beautiful Whistler, BC.

While it was meant to be a vacation for both of us, it was obviously not so relaxing for him, and not nearly as relaxing for me as I thought it was going to be, though it was really valuable to be able to see first hand the preparation for the race, as well as all of the check in and race day logistics. But be warned- supporting your athlete, especially a first time 140.6-er is nearly a full time, all day activity in itself, both prior, during, AND after the race. There’s check in, gear bags to pack, check, re-check and drop off, shuttling your athlete and their bike here and there, last minute nutrition and other items to pick up, final workouts to get in, eating, eating and more eating, and lots of stress and panic calming to be done.

Even though I tend to think Ironman brand races are SUPER EXPENSIVE- you certainly get what you pay for- the race course is well designed and well supported, and everything ran extremely smoothly all weekend.

I’ll talk about the race from a spectator’s perspective and a little bit about the course from the racer’s perspective based on my observations and my partner’s comments.

Pre-Race Check In

The center 20140502_064328of the entire weekend is the village in Whistler, and the pre-race check in and race expo (along with the finish) are all at the Olympic park in the village. Check in was easy and speedy, and Tony was super excited to see the awesome race bag (a really nice backpack with the race logo on the back) that he got at check in. We learned that finisher’s shirts (along with hats and medals) are given out after you cross the finish line. The race briefing was
equally well organized and executed, though I wish they had mentioned that athletes were allowed to get into the water during bike check on Saturday, as there were no swim practice details or times listed on any of the other schedules. As a result, we showed up to bike check on Saturday in normal clothes when had we known, we would have brought Tony’s wet suit with us so he could get in the water for a few minutes.

An important detail to note- T1 and T2 are in different locations. To check your bike in at T1 at the swim start/finish, and to get there on race day, you had to either walk, bike, or take a shuttle. On Saturday, all are welcome on the shuttle, but on race day, athletes only, so I had to walk the 1.8 miles or so down to the swims start (which wasn’t bad at all).

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The Swim is located at Rainbow Beach in Alta lake. The water temperature on race morning was a not so bad 66 degrees, which was initially warmer than the air, and the waters were very calm, almost20140502_064321 glassy. The beach is relatively small, so it is difficult to get a good spot to watch from (especially for shorter people, like me), so arrive early and steak out your claim, or be ready and willing to wade into thewater. This was the first time I have ever seen a 20140502_081211mass start in action and it was definitely impressive! Tony said that even though he hung back a little from the main rush, he still ended up getting jostled a bit on the swim.

The Bike

We knew the bike course had a reputation of being difficult, but as we drove a good portion of the course the day before the race, I was surprised at some of the very intense hills on the course, along with the very high volume of climbing, which includes a very uphill 20+ final miles of the ride back into T2. It’s definitely a course where you really need to pace yourself and be conscious of how much energy you are expending. There were a small, but sizeable percentage of folks on road bikes and a lot of compact gearing. A great bonus of the course is that the roads are closed to outside traffi20140502_082405c (which includes the closure of a major highway) and the bike course takes athletes by the village after about the first third or so, so while I couldn’t drive out anywhere to cheer him on, I still had the opportunity to sit by the side of the road, cheer people on, and see Tony go by once on the bike.

20140502_091406A testament to how difficult this bike course is- the pro male lead came in almost 20 minutes ahead of second place off the bike. Tony (who came out of the water on the swim way later than most) ended up making the bike cut off by a slim 3 minutes or so. When I was having trouble locating him on the run course close to the cut off, a volunteer suggested I got check transition to see if he had racked his bike and I arrived at transition just in time to see him come in. I was relieved to see him and surprised at all of the run gear bags that had yet to be retrieved. There were a lot of people who didn’t make the bike cut off or DNFed out on the course.

20140502_082356So, if this is a race you are considering, make sure you really, really train hard (and hilly) on the bike!

The Run

20140502_182023The run course is awesome for spectators as it loops twice through Whistler village and the surrounding paths and it does so in a way that it’s relatively easy to jump from point to point to follow your runner. I got to see Tony about 8 separate times on the run. Or there were plenty of folks camped out in a shady spot for most of the day. One thing is for certain, there are a lot of people spread throughout the course to cheer you on during the run! Even as the day wore on and it got dark, I was amazed at how many people were still out and about! Tony said there were even people on floating docks out on the lake, grilling, partying, and cheering people on.

The run course itself is relatively flat with aid stations at every 1.2 miles or so and a nice mixture of sun and shade. It’s mostly paved with a short stretch of packed gravel on each loop.

The Finish

I have never witnessed the finish line at an Ironman 140.6 event, but I was not disappointed. I told Tony afterwards that I would actually not want to finish super early in the day, as the finish line only attracts more and more people and gets more and more exciting as the day goes on. When I went to the finish line to see Tony, it was like a big dance party with everyone jumping and waving and music blasting. The atmosphere was simply electric. Athletes I had watched out on the course, many with faces clearly in a lot of pain, were finally smiling as they came down the final chute and across the finish line. I cried as I got to hear those awesome words, “Tony Barkey! You are AN IRONMAN!”

Overall

Overall, as one athlete featured in the official race video said, the Whistler course is epic. It’s big and beautiful and as long as you are a strong cyclist, an awesome place to race a 140.6. Some folks said they had a little trouble with the altitude, but for Tony and I coming from Denver, that wasn’t so much of an issue. There were also lots of cool things to do in Whistler- we rode the Peak to Peak gondola,and  I went for an awesome trail run. There’s lots of hiking and mountain biking opportunities, which may not appeal to the athletes racing, but to those tagging along. If you stay in the village (we rented a place through airbnb), it’s great for spectators because you can run back to your place to eat, or nap, or both while your athlete is out on course.

Not that I did that.

Shhhhh, don’t tell Tony I took a nap while he was out on the bike!

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At Whistler Mountain Summit! About the same elevation I did my last tri in Steamboat!

Post Race Break- Hiking in Breckenridge and Hanging out in Austin

After my recent 70.3, naturally my workout schedule dropped off for a week or two, which I was lucky enough to have coincide with a quick trip to Breckenridge to visit a meeting space for my office, as well as a long weekend in Austin to celebrate the wedding of two of my friends!

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Unlike the last time I was in Breckenridge actually running a meeting, I got to take a deep breath, look around, and actually enjoy things! I was pleasantly surprised at the cool weather (there’s still snow up at the top of some of the peaks!), especially as we were having a particularly hot week in Denver.

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The morning before our site visit, I had the chance to take an hour and go hike on a trail (I think it was called, “warrior’s way”) and enjoy the stunning scenery and peaceful forest paths I missed last time around. I hiked my way up the mountain, until I knew I had to turn around or risk being late for meeting, and then ran most of the way down.

The trail was mostly great for what I like to call, “starter trail running” (I mostly do road running, but I’d like to get more on the trail!) because the path was wide and the ground was soft, until I get near the bottom and everything narrowed a bit and I had to slow down to a walk to navigate so steep areas with roots. 20140709_100447

I ended up slipping a few times, but luckily the ground was nice a soft, so I didn’t mind the landing on my butt so much, and no one was around to see me fall, so my pride was spared.

After returning from Breckenridge, I packed my suitcase and headed to Austin, TX! I have several friends who went to school at UT, so I’ve heard a lot about Austin, but had never had the opportunity to visit before. Luckily, two of my friends were having their wedding in Austin and I was invited to be a bridesmaid, so it was the perfect opportunity. I also got to show off my triathlete tan lines on my back, shoulders and chest in my bridesmaids dress (oops)!

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IMG_20140712_115722I got out to see the wonderful, shady and surprisingly cool (ugh Texas is so hot and humid!) bike/run path along the river, running right through the heart of the city. I was surprised to see a TON of kayaks out on the river, and runners, walkers, and bikers alike on the crowded (but not unpleasantly so) path. Austin was more active than I thought!

After my river walk, I made my way to Barton Springs, which is a natural cold spring pool with an average temperature year round of 68-70 degrees. When I first waded in, the water definitely felt chilly, but after dunking my head under and swimming around for a few minutes, it felt lovely. I spent a good portion of the afternoon alternating between dipping in and aimlessly floating aroundthe cool pool, then getting out and drying off and warming up under the hot Texas mid-day sun. Rinse. Repeat.

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After my fabulous week of trips/vacations and relatively little exercise, it’s time to get back to business. I’m running on a team for the Colorado Ragnar Relay in August and my run game definitely needs some work!

Race Report: Tri The Boat- Steamboat Springs 70.3

Over the weekend I participated in my second ever 70.3 triathlon- the Tri the Boat 70.3 in Steamboat Springs, CO. While it was unfortunately not the best of race days for me, I wanted to give an overview of the race course and logistics before really getting into how I felt about my particular experience.

To give a little of background, this was the inaugural race for Tri the Boat, so it was definitely on the small and modest side. Nearly 250 individuals started and finished the triathlon, 71 completing the Olympic course and 176 finishing the half-Ironman. In my age group, Females 25-29, there were only 9 athletes.

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View from my campsite

Pre-Race

Packet pick up was scheduled for the day before (Saturday) at a local cycle shop in Steamboat Springs (there was race day packet pickup as well). Nothing fancy, no race expo or anything like that, just a tent with a line of athletes waiting to grab their stuff. In addition to a nice technical T-Shirt, we also got to pick out a pair of Merino Wool socks. Because the water temperature was forecast to be in the low 60s, they had some cold water swimming gear (neoprene caps, booties, full sleeve wet suits) on sale at packet pick up.

There was open water swimming time scheduled for 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning but since I drove up from Denver in the morning, I missed the open water swim time. If I were doing this course again, I would plan to drive up Friday night to be able to spend the day on Saturday in open swim and checking out other areas of the course.

There is no bike racking the day prior to the race.

Race Morning

After a rather restless night camping the night before, due to not one, but TWO visits to my neighbor’s campsite by a black bear, I woke up the morning and drove about 30 minutes from Steamboat down to the Stagecoach reservoir. It was an easy drive with little to no traffic waiting to park.

Transition is set up in a very long, single file line along a road in the state park. It is completely open, no one checking you or your gear in and out, and spectators and family members are wandering freely around among the gear. While I’m not particularly paranoid about people stealing my stuff, after all, there is always plenty of more high end bikes and gear around than anything I’m rocking, I still didn’t particularly appreciate the fact that transition was SO unregulated.

I set up my transition area and went to get in line for my timing chip, which went quickly. The lines for the bathrooms were short to start but relatively long near the race start as there were only 5 bathrooms for all 250 athletes and the small number of spectators.

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The transition area- with the nasty sun glare over the reservoir

 

The Swim

The swim was an in-water start in the Stagecoach reservoir, which ended up being a chilly 62 degrees on race morning. The air temperature at the start of the race was only about 50 degrees or so, so I stayed in my warm ups as long as possible before putting on my wetsuit about 15 minutes prior to my start time. I also waded in to about waste deep and splashed the cold water on my arms, neck, and head to try and get used to the cold temperature. It helped a little, but it was still rather shocking once I got in. The 5 minute wait from when they sent my wave to wait in the water to the starting air horn felt like an eternity of cold!

While most people around me swam in full sleeve wet suits, I only have a sleeveless one and did not particularly feel like purchasing or renting another. Prior to the start people kept remarking that I was going to be cold, but I shrugged it off. There’s wasn’t much I could do about it at that point anyway! While it was certainly cold getting into the water, my wet suit is rather snug and doesn’t allow for a ton of water to flow through, so after the first few minutes of warming up, my body felt perfectly comfortable. My arms felt warm through the entire swim. I swam with two swim caps, which kept my head nice and toasty, though I would definitely add ear plugs if I swim at that temperature again. Occasionally, after lifting my head to site, the water would drain from my ears and new, cold water would rush in, which was a little painful. Initially, the cold water did cause me to panic a little and gave me a constricted feeling in my chest, so I started swimming by breathing on every stroke to try and calm down and feel like I was getting enough air. Eventually, I was able to settle into my every third stroke pattern.

The most difficult part of the swim was the fact that there were only buoys far out into the reservoir just before and then marking the turn around points, and the sun glare made them difficult to site on the way out.

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Stagecoach Reservoir

 

The Bike

The bike course was an out and back loop (for the Olympic distance race) times 2 for the half iron race. Initially, the description in the packet was a little confusing as the turn around for the half iron athletes was located 1 mile past the turn around for the Olympic course, but it was very clearly marked on site. However, it did mostly seem like athletes were on the honor system, as while there were volunteers manning the aid stations at both turn around points, it didn’t look like anyone was actually checking or marking down which athletes turned around where.

The half iron course was described as having 2,000+ of climbing, though I heard several people remark that it was mostly, “rolling hills.” The hills did roll, but generally not enough to get you up the next hill. The course out was definitely more uphill work and there was more downhill on the way back, but almost nowhere to enjoy a long downhill cruise or even a few minutes of just flat. As I heard another athlete pulling into transition lament to her spectator, “There was just never a break!”

While the course was challenging, overall, I really enjoyed it. Some of the hills were short and steep, but there was no climbs that I felt completely overwhelmed by. I got in a few good, short downhill cruises and hit 42 mph at one point. Because this was such a small race, the bike course was very spread out and I only passed a few people and had only a few people pass me. The course was open to traffic, though it was generally very light. However, I did get passed closely by cars in a few spots because some of the course was a 2 lane road with no shoulder. I also had to stop at the turn around point my second time around because a car failed to follow volunteer instructions and stop while I went around a cone. It was a good thing I was paying attention (and the volunteers clearly signaled to me) or I would have been nailed.

The hardest thing about the bike course: absolutely no shade and only one set of bathrooms at one aid station.

The Run

FULL DISCLOSURE: I had a particularly hard run day due to the worst nausea I have ever experienced in a race, so it is hard for me to fairly evaluate the run course, but I will try.

The run course was a one loop course, mostly on a loose gravel path around the reservoir, with ABSOLUTELY NO SHADE ANYWHERE EVER. It was also another case of “rolling hills,” with almost no spot of just flat ground. Again, in the pre-race packet it was a little confusing in the explanation as the Olympic Run and the Half Iron run leave from opposite ends of transition, but it was clearly pointed out before the start of the swim in the morning.

The pros: I definitely enjoyed the fact that the race was mostly on gravel trail, especially since I have been dealing with a nasty shin splint this season. The constant rolling hills up and down where definitely challenging, though I’m sure it makes for a way more interesting course than just running on a flat road straight ahead. The view of the reservoir around the course was certainly stunning and there were aid stations located approximately every mile and a half.

The cons: It was definitely much hillier than I expected. The no-shade was also particularly challenging as it was an unseasonably hot day- with a high around 85 and the sun at the high altitude being particularly intense. Despite putting on sun screen 3 times that day (before the swim, before the bike, AND before the run), I still ended up with some very nasty sunburn. The aid stations were at an okay distance apart, but there were NO bathrooms on the run course. I REPEAT, NO BATHROOMS ON THE RUN COURSE. This was particularly unhelpful as I was experiencing some, ahem, gastric distress. I saw a guy in from of me stop and pee behind a bush. Seriously, why were there no bathrooms?

Because it is such a small race and the athletes ended up relatively spread out, and there are NO SPECTATORS ANYWHERE BUT TRANSITION IF YOU ARE LUCKY, the run course felt particularly lonely. For those who like to run in nice, quiet conditions that give you lots of time for self reflection (which I like to do in training), it may be an ideal situation. Because I was really struggling that day, I found the quiet and lack of other people to be particularly mentally draining and a little soul crushing. I was lucky enough to be joined on my walk by another competitor and we were able to keep each other company for most of the course.

Besides being a lonely course, I felt the lack of people (athletes and volunteers) for long stretches to be a little concerning safety-wise. There were times when I was really not feeling well and I kept thinking that if not for my walking partner, If I passed out, it would be a REALLY long time before someone found me. The only patrol I saw was a teenage boy on a four wheeler who drove by once early on in the run, that I think was with the race, but not really sure.

Another dislike I had about the run course was that at one point, after crossing a damn at the far side of the reservoir, you went passed an aid station and the course sent you on a short trip down a nasty hill (the worst on the course) and then back up. When my walking partner and I finished the race later, he had several friends waiting for him who admitted that the volunteers at the aid station forgot to direct them down that part of the course, so they had skipped it all together. Considering what a low point that had been for me in the race, struggling back up that hill, it was a little disheartening to hear and frustrating that the course was not more clearly marked.

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More of transition

The Finish

Admittedly, but the time I got to the finish, there were only 7 athletes left on the course behind me and most people had long since finished and gone, but it was so disheartening to cross the line to be greeted only by a few volunteers in the middle of packing everything up, who handed me a medal and pointed me in the direction of a cooler of cool (not even cold) Gatorade and water. There wasn’t really even any post race food left at that point, not that I would have been able to stomach any of it anyway.

My walking buddy was lucky- there were a few friends there to greet him, who had already packed up his things in transition and driven over to pick him up. Having no spectators with me, I was not so lucky. It was about a half mile walk along the highway back to the transition area, which they had already started to break down and absolutely NO ONE was watching. Located along a public road with traffic readily driving by, I was panicked when I walked along and initially didn’t spot my bike. It wasn’t hard, since there wasn’t many left. Turns out it had just been knocked over, whether bumped by someone or what, the stand was askew and it was laying on the ground.

I had already been close to tears on the long trek back to get my stuff (and then walk it further to my car), and the sight of my lonely bike laying dumped over cause me to sob as I hurriedly shoved the remainder of my stuff in my transition bag and hobbled to my car.

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A view of the river near my campsite

Overall

Overall, I really enjoyed the swim and the bike course. For those two legs, i enjoyed the small race atmosphere and the beautiful scenery. The loneliness on a difficult run course on a bad day would make me think twice about doing the race again. Also, I know it was the inaugural event so there are bound to be a few hiccups here and there, but the race support, though the volunteers that were there were amazing and friendly and encouraging and ALL AROUND AWESOME, felt a little sparse.

I would recommend the race only to those who have trained at altitude (Stagecoach State Park is at about 7200′ and the bike course goes up to 7800′) and feel comfortable and/or prefer the more quiet, serene, spread out kind of races. Though who knows- Steamboat is such a beautiful area, I could certainly see this growing into a larger event in the future!

 

Over the handlebars and through the woods- it’s downhilll mountain biking we go!

One week out from race day and a couple of mostly pain free short runs later (those shin splints are relenting!) and it’s time to take it easy and rest up for this weekend. Time to kick back and chill in the hot tub right? right? Wrong.

I had the amazing opportunity to go downhill mountain biking at Winter Park early this week and despite my visions of flying over the handle bars and injuring myself before my big race this weekend, I rolled the dice and went with it. While I did fly over the handle bars once (oops!), I did not get hurt, though my upper body ended up a little more sore than I was expecting. But the experience was soooo worth it!

I have to admit, I went in very skeptical to start. I have done some cross country mountain biking, but I didn’t really think downhill was going to be my thing. Admittedly, going into our lesson, I was terrified. But our instructor was AMAZING. He took things slow and really emphasized how to control the bike and go at your own pace. If you’ve never been downhill mountain biking before- be sure to take the time to take an intro lesson. It gives you the skills to go where you want when you want, and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable! Also, wear all of the safety gear! I would have been injured going over the handlebars if not for the pads and full faced helmet I was rocking, which was particularly useful when I landed face first in the dirt and the bike came down on top of me.

It was still definitely scary, but by the end of the first run, I was excited to go up and do it again! Before I knew it, I was whizzing around those tight switchbacks and over rocks and tree roots and wooden platforms. Ok, whizzing a little slowly, but making my way around none the less!

While I wouldn’t necessarily make downhill mountain biking a weekly part of my training regime for triathlon, I do think it was very helpful. Apparently, I used muscles in my upper body I was unaware I even had! It also takes a surprising amount of core strength and glut/quad strength to hold the standing position on the bike. It also helped me feel more confident in my bike handling skills in general. Obviously, handling a road bike is different, but it helped me really pay attention to my body position, and look ahead to plan my moves well in advance. I hope to eventually transition into some off road (Xterra) triathlons in the future!

I may never be a total downhill guru, but it’s something I definitely want to do again! Plus, all that gear makes me feel like a total badass!

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Training Plan versus Freestyle

So, I’m two weeks out from the Tri the Boat Steamboat Springs 70.3. I just finished a long bike ride this weekend and now can start to taper down. I will be focusing on tapering my swimming and biking for the next two weeks. I can’t really taper my running because, well, I haven’t been doing any! I have been battling a nasty shin splint in my right leg, which I suspect is the result of an indoor soccer league I joined, which flared up with a vengeance about a week and a half ago, so it’s rest and ice for me now. Looks like I’ll be going into this race with a max run of about 7 miles, (max brick run of about 3.5 miles). It’s less than ideal, but I will just have to make do.

I have taken a very different approach to training for my second 70.3 this year than what I was doing for my first 70.3 last year. Last year, because it was my first race at this distance and I had no clue what I was doing or how to train, I bought a training plan from TrainingPeaks.com and used their online system to track my progress. I really enjoyed the program and the online tool, but this year I decided to wing it a bit.

This year, I loosely developed a plan based on what I liked about my training last year, reading a few other sample plans online, and working around my personal limits. For example, I know that I will not get into the pool to do long mileage during the week. Mentally, I just can’t get there. But I will get in for shorter workouts. Better to keep the weekday swim workouts focused on short intervals to work on speed and form.

While last year I stuck closely to my training plain, basking in the warm, comforting boost it gave my type A personality, this year, I’ve been much more flexible. I spent more time listening to my body and pushing when I felt i could and taking a break or going short when I didn’t feel up to it.

This has been beneficial in several ways, the biggest being that going into this race, I don’t feel burned out like I did last year. After my 70.3 last year, I didn’t want to swim, run, or bike for a long time afterwards. This year, I feel like I’m still enjoying the training and it hasn’t started to feel like such a drag. Being more flexible has also allowed me to focus on quality instead of quantity. I feel like while my mileage has been lower this year, the miles i have put in have been of much more high quality (especially on the bike) and I have improved more because of it.

The downside? My run mileage has suffered because of it (and because of injury). Adjusting to the altitude in Denver has made running extra challenging for me and because of that, I let more run workouts slide than I should have. Then I got injured and there was no way to up the mileage.

For the next two weeks I will focus on tapering, rest and recovery, and upping my mental game. I already know that I can go the distance (no matter how slowly), so that is a huge mental advantage I have going in to this year’s race. I’m going to work to sharpen that mental focus prior to the race, and rehabilitate my shin in the hopes that I might be able to run at least some of the course for the race. At least 11 miles of the run is gravel trail, which is much more doable for my shin than slamming along on pavement.

I feel like this race may be less than ideal for me, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot training this season and improved in both swimming and biking, even if my run has suffered. I feel a little under-trained, compared to feeling over trained last year, and I think I prefer it.

In other news, we got a puppy last week! Her name is Rinny and getting up to let her out in the morning (because I don’t want to have to clean up a mess) is turning into the final push I needed to become an early riser/ morning workout person, which surely will come in handy for future training!

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On the Peak to Peak- Up so many feet!

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was staying up in Allenspark, CO for a family wedding in the area. Of course, I jumped at the chance to pack my bike (and shoes, helmet, etc) and get in an early morning ride in an area that I had read about, but not had the chance to cycle yet: the Peak to Peak highway.

The weather was less than cooperative all weekend. In fact, we ended up in a massive hail storm waiting for the wedding ceremony to start on Sunday. Needless to say, they ended up getting married inside. I woke up on Saturday morning feeling ready to go, but a little nervous to biking alone in a place that I was unfamiliar with and that had limited cell phone reception. I gingerly stepped out of bed at 5:00 a.m. in the cabin, shivering under my sweatshirt. Of course it would be below 40 degrees on the morning I wanted to ride. . .

I layered up, cursing myself for not bringing my toe covers and hoping that an extra pair of socks would keep my feet warm (spoiler alert: they didn’t). A bagel and cream cheese later and I was out the door, wobbling through the gravel driveway of our cabin to the main road.

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On the Peak to Peak Highway!

I’ve been riding a bike for a while now and it has become my favorite part of my triathlon training. I think some of it has to do with the fact that it is the discipline that I seem to have the most natural ability in. I also love that it gets me outside and lets me go further and explore places that I will generally never get while just running.

I knew the ride would be challenging as I was starting out at 8500′. The start of my ride was cold and harsh as I struggled to get my muscles warm on a few small climbs, only to find myself heading back downhill again (in the cold wind!) after just reaching the top and warming up. But then I settled into a rhythm and got comfortable in my surroundings: there was a nice wide shoulder on the road and very little traffic at that time of the morning. I cruised along highway 7 until finally making a right turn onto the Peak to Peak highway.

My plan was to ride all the way to Ward, but after a few miles on the highway, my toes were painfully cold and I could feel my legs begin to bog down from all the climbing. I started to head down a steep decline that I wasn’t sure I could turn around and come back up, so I pulled over, ate a snack, and headed back.

Back up into Allenspark I realized just how much descending I had done on the way out, because now I was heading up, up, up! While I couldn’t get Strava to work for me as I didn’t have any cell reception to start out, I later looked up the route to discover I climbed a segment titled, “l’Alpe de’Allen,” which felt about right.

It was a long, slow climb. I ride a full sized cassette and crank on my tri bike, so I was quickly out of gears, slogging along slow and steady, up the hill. I was hurting, but I wanted to push and make it to the top. I picked a spot about 50 yards ahead of me and said to myself, “ok, just get there.” I would make it to said spot and then pick another. And another. Up. Up. Up.

I wanted to think of some positive mantra to tell myself as I slowly pushed up the hill, but my brain was busy screaming at me about how my quads may soon explode. All I could think of was the beginning of the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Can’t hold Us” and just kept saying, out load to myself between gasps, “alright, okay, alright-okay.”

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View from the top of “l’Alpe de’Allen”

I finally hit the top of the climb, red-faced, sweaty (at least my toes were finally warm!), out of breath, tired, and wildly happy. I looked around at the trees around me and the snowy mountain peak ahead, a beautiful view all to myself on this cold, crisp, and quiet morning. I felt a wonderful sense of freedom! Here I was in a place few people may have the opportunity to visit, let alone ride, and I was lucky enough to have this experience. I wasn’t concerned with my speed, or my mileage or my cadence. I was just happy to be out there riding for the pure joy of it. It’s so easy to lose sight of that in training sometimes.

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Post Ride Mountain Selfie! I’m so cold!

Then I hopped back on my bike and hauled it home passing no less than one Elk and two coyotes crossing the road in front of me. #ColoradoLife

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Eventually I cleaned up for the wedding!

Finding My Climbing Legs. . . and the brakes

I’ve been resting a nasty shin splint for the last 2 weeks so I knew I wasn’t going to get a long run in this weekend, so I embarked on the next best substitute: a long hike.

We went hiking on the Mountain Lion trail at Golden Canyon State Park, up to the top of Windy Peak at about 9,000′. While it was warm and sunny at the bottom of the hike, we were definitely trudging through slushy, melting snow at the top. But the view was worth it!

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On Sunday we decided to head up to Boulder to get in our first official Boulder bike ride and do some sustained climbing. We started out from Amante Coffee on north Broadway, headed up highway 36, then made a left turn up Left Hand Canyon road began to climb.

The plan was to climb up to Jamestown, turn around and come back down, however the road up to Jamestown is closed for repairs. Bike by permit only. So, we decided to take the left fork in the road and head toward Ward, anticipating doing a couple more miles before turning around for home.

Up until this point, the ride had been a good intro to climbing. The road wasn’t too steep, but it was definitely challenging. There was only a small amount of traffic to share the road with, and the canyon is particularly stunning. The only bummer is that there are a lot of sections of the road that were washed out in the floods last year that haven’t been repaved and are covered in gravel- which means you have to slow down and it tends to sap your energy.

 

Then my boyfriend gets the brilliant idea of deviating from the course. “Let’s go left here,” he says, pointing up Lee Hill Rd. Another cyclist confirms that the road will in fact, loop us back to Boulder, so we agree.

We head off up the road and things get STEEP. I mean REALLY STEEP. My legs burning, struggling to turn the pedals over in my easiest gear. I wanted to stop, but had so little momentum that I was afraid if I stopped pedaling, I wouldn’t have time to unclip, and would do the embarrassing slow-motion clip in fail fall. I made it up the first section of the climb and stopped to rest, cursing the fact that I don’t ride a compact crank.

Then on the next hill, I did end up stopping. And walking my bike up the rest of the hill. Cursing under my breath the whole way. The is clearly a whole new level of cycling that I was unprepared for.

We struggled for a little while longer until the road topped out at around 9,000′ and happily started to descend. And then happy turned to scary as we tried our best to keep control while plummeting down the windy, steep road. At one point, I was so scared, all I could do to distract myself was sing R Kelly’s “I believe I Can Fly.” Loudly.

We finally hit the end of Lee Hill Road and I stopped to let my brakes cool before heading the rest of the way down on Old Stage Road. Despite the ride down being terrifying, the view was spectacular.

IMG_20140518_180744I used Strava to track the ride and we ended only going a little over 17 miles, but gaining somewhere between 1700 and 2200 vertical feet (my Strava reported one and my boyfriends the other altitude). I definitely want to keep riding in Boulder and in the mountains to work on my climbing, but I will stick to the routes I’ve looked up the elevation and grade on prior to riding. I want to ride the Lee Hill Road loop again, but I obviously need more practice and to work up to that level. And I probably should invest in a compact crank set for my road bike.