Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Toughest Ride I've Ever Done

Earlier this year I decided I was going to do the "World's Toughest Half" as a training race for Vineman. How bad could it be? I mean I'm sure the name is just clever marketing. Right?


Boy was I naïve. I had no understanding of what it meant to do 5,700 feet of climbing in 57 miles until HS and I trekked up to Auburn last week to ride the course.

Start of the Ride

We arrived at Rattlesnake Bar at Folsom Lake a little after 9:00am and were on the road within half an hour armed with the turn-by-turn course map, two water bottles each, and some snacks. I had plans of being back to the truck in about 4 hours or so.

We started to climb as soon as we left the park. CHIRP!  CHIRP!!!  CHIRP!!!!  I stopped within a couple of minutes and turned off my heart rate alert. At the rate I was going, my Garmin was going to be chirping at me the entire day because I was over my intended HR. I would be lucky if the battery survived all the "alerting" it would have to do.

We started off again…climbing…

I was prepared to climb for the first several miles because my Central Valley Triathlon Club teammates had been here the week before to do a practice run of the course. Several of their Facebook posts gave me an idea that it was going to be harder than I thought. After reading some of the posts, I started looking at the race course details and elevation chart to see what I got myself into…

I found comments like these…
The bike course offers a very challenging climb from Folsom Lake (el. 466′) up to Auburn (el. 1,300′) in the first six miles. Almost all of this climbing is at a mild grade, but with one section of steep switchbacks lasting one mile.
"Here you will begin a punishing climb of .4-mile at 12% grade. Greg LeMond once walked this climb in one of his many training sessions in the area. This is a fact because it was spray painted on the road at the base of the climb." 
"Due to the constantly varied course terrain, a road bike is the clear choice."
But then I found other descriptions that eased my mind a bit…

This course has a bit of everything: sustained climbs into the Sierra at gentle grades, a couple short steep climbs, a couple short windy descents, flat/slight downhill sections to hammer and a fun roller coaster section
“Less experienced riders can feel comfortable that despite the hilly terrain, there are no dangerous descents or extremely steep climbs requiring extraordinary gearing.
After trying to digest the various descriptions and maps, I knew I just needed to see for myself…which is what HS and I had just started to do.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There was a lot of starting and stopping to check the map. During the section of “steep switchbacks” mentioned above, we dismounted our bikes and walked up the hill. It was early into the ride and I wasn’t warmed up or in the mood for a challenging climb so soon into the ride. I reminded myself that on race day I would be warmed up from the swim and my legs would be ready for this little climb.

At the top of the hill we mounted our bikes again and headed off. Not only was the lack of a proper warm up hurting us, HS did not have the gearing for hills. In HS’s eyes, I was spinning effortlessly up the hills while he was forced to grind his way up. I did not feel like I was spinning effortlessly.

The beginning of the ride seemed to take forever…which it basically did. We managed to cover about 10 miles in the first hour! OMG! What did I get myself into???

During the first part of the ride we met up with another couple checking out the course. They had the course programmed into the male rider’s GPS so we stopped checking our map so frequently and followed them for a while. Unfortunately, they were only riding the Olympic distance course.  15-1/2 miles into the ride they turned around and rode back to the lake with a smile on their faces. I told HS we could turn around too if he wanted…secretly hoping that he would say “Yes”. I figured I had seen enough. The ride was going to be hard…end of story, no need to go further and freak myself out more. “Oh, no” he replied, “You wanted to ride the course”.  So we kept going.

There were more stops to check the map. More walks up steep sections. More self-doubt. How was I going to get through this race? I had seriously overestimated my fitness and my hill climbing ability.

We finally reached a point on the map referred to as the Tokoyana Roller Coaster and Bear River Loop. Only 5.7 miles. Once again I asked HS if he just wanted to go back. Please say yes, please say yes, please say yes. “Well, let’s see what’s at the top of the hill,” he answered. I think he was just as curious as I was about this so called “roller coaster” section. 

As it turns out, the roller coaster section was a fun twisty turny ride down the mountain with a few little rollers. Once we turned off of Tokoyana Rd, the descent became steeper and we flew down to Bear River. In the back of my mind I knew this meant a climb back to where we started. I was not wrong.

Trying to capture the grade

As we started to climb, HS’s phone started ringing. We stopped at a little bridge so he could take the call. As he talked, I stared up at the hill in front of me. I just wanted to be done. When his phone call ended, I could tell that he was checking his email. I clipped in and started to ride. “Just give me a minute” he said. “I just want to get to the top of this stupid hill!” I responded. Little did I know but the hill did not end just around the bend as it appeared from the bridge…the hill went on and on and on. I finally reached the top and waited for HS to join me.

Relaxing by the water while HS takes a call

Beautiful and quiet

Once we climbed back to the where the loop started it time to head back!! Yay! Downhill…well, sort of. There was still plenty of climbing on the way back including the “Greg LeMond Walked Hill”. There was one section of the race course that heads out and back along the highway, but we skipped that part knowing that we still had at least 6-1/2 miles from the end of the race course back to the truck. Since our water bottles were empty we made a pit stop at the AM/PM. I broke down and had HS buy me a bag of Skittles…I was in serious need of some sugar! We continued on and then got lost. We stupidly followed some arrows that took us off course. One little hill on our detour was a true “walking” hill…it was so freaking steep that walking was a task!

It looks as bad as it seemed

Once we found the end of the race course, I pulled up the info on my phone showing the so called “short cut” to the race start. Luckily, these 6.5 miles went by quickly and before we knew it we were back at the truck...six and a half hours later with only four and a half hours of actual riding time. We averaged 12.5 mph! Well, looks like I set the bar really low for race day :-)

Race Plan Based on What I Learned

Coach K says to do this as a test race with no dreams of crushing a best time ever. Good one, coach! LOL Trust me, after the test ride, I have no delusions of grandeur. My race plan is to finish!

Here is what I am hoping for:

Swim - 40 minutes
T1 – 5 minutes
Ride – 4:15 (Yes, I want to take 15 minutes off of my previous ride!)
T2 – 5 minutes
Run – 2:15

TOTAL: 7 hours 20 minutes

#endureandenjoy365 #endureandenjoy #ride365 #run365 #pearlizumi #trek

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