Saturday, February 28, 2009

4th time is Not the charm

I don't know why some days are easier than others, why some rides feel effortless and others just plain slow. Slow is kind. Stupid slow, is better. If I had the answer, I would probably be wealthy beyond my means. But I don't, so I'm not.

And it occurred to me after my ride - while staring at my favorite painting and calculating the hill gradient for the road that slopes up to the monastery at the top- that I've got hills on the brain. Specifically bike hills.

Call me crazy, if you want.

But when you spend the morning climbing Mount Palomar after riding there and then riding back, it's not all that far off.

Today's ride included, I've climbed Palomar a grand total of four times. And though I claimed last time was the hardest - I lied. This time - today in fact - won that distinct honor. And unlike beauty pageants, this was not pretty.

The ride to the base was blissfully uneventful. I met up with a gang of four other riders in San Marcos and we headed out early - just after 7:00 am. The 90 minute ride to the base of Palomar was beautiful - flat at first, then up Lake Wohlford Road (part of the Tour of California as well) before hitting Lake Wohlford, and then through Valley View and Rincon Valley past Harrah's casino.

Thanks to a love of gambling, there were no shortage of cars on the road. It was even better on the return trip. It's the economy stupid!

Oops - wrong blog for that. Sorry!

I knew it would be windy during the descent into Rincon Valley. The 2 mile downhill stretch (let me tell you - that felt super going UP after Palomar!) had me squeezing the brakes and still reaching speeds of over 40 mph. Then the gusts started affecting me, and I slowed down. After all, I haven't got the greatest track record for bike descents.


But with the wind, there was one point I was looking at the valley floor from over a thousand feet up and hoping - nay praying - that I wouldn't hit the guardrail, flip, and sail over the edge. The gusts made me slow down and they only increased in ferocity and we neared the bottom. At one point - going down a steep hill - our little group was barely holding more than 18 mph. While pedaling.

Yeah, good stuff.

It was only a sign of what lay ahead.

Looking back - I realize that all the signs were pointing towards NOT climbing Palomar. Like in the horror movie where the blond chick with big boobs is walking down the creepy dark hallway and all you're doing is yelling at the screen saying 'don't go THERE' but she does anyway because its a movie and gory stuff is oddly popular...

Sure, I was looking forward to the challenge, but I just wasn't feeling it. It was windy, too hot, too cold, my bottles were heavy, a less than stellar comment about my 4:bloody:34 am breakfast being wrought upon me by myself because I was the one who signed up for Ironman (that one hurt - mostly because I was already feeling crummy), I didn't get enough sleep because of nerves, the cat was in heat - you name it. I was looking for excuses.

And it was incessant. (Nathaniel can attest to the above statement: the poor guy had to put up with me before I left. If something could have been wrong, it was. He is so brave.)

But I refused to let that bother me: I was here to climb a really big hill. What was I supposed to do - just turn around and go back? Had I actually known the way back, perhaps. But I didn't. And besides - the guys that I was riding with are all incredibly awesome and supportive. I knew that they wouldn't have stood for it.

After stopping at Jilberto's Taco Shop to use the restroom (better than squatting at the side of the road like I did with Kim last time - luckily no one recognized me as "that girl"), we were on our way.

Within five minutes, I was off the back. And I wondered - as I watched the Mikes (there were two), Allan, and Rod pedal away - why wasn't I doing my best to stay on there wheel? Why wasn't I fighting for it? Why was I just settling??

For some reason, I had no response - and I just watched as they slowly pulled away. It almost would have been easier had they been faster (impossible since they were all going hard - okay, easier if I had been going slower, which seemed impossible given how slowly I was going). My cadence felt high, I just couldn't (or wouldn't) push the big gears. I was geared out right away in my 27. And that was just so sad.

For Mom and Dad: a 27 means that I was in my rear casset gear with the most teeth (rings) on it. So I was encountering the least amount of resistance possible. Had I wanted to go faster by working harder or encounter more resistance, I could have downshifted and put my chain in the 24 or 21 ring. It would have taken more effort to turn the crank and pedal, but the result would have been a faster speed. Most of the time when I climb this, I'm pretty comfortable in the 21 and 24 ring (in the beginning and even on the upper slopes unless its really steep). But for some reason, today I was all about the 27. Hope this helps...

I just wasn't feeling it - didn't have that fighting spirit. I was so frustrated that I wanted to cry. At one point I even took out my phone (while riding - very impressive for me - then again, I was going a mere 5 mph) and contemplated calling Nathaniel and telling him to pick me up at Jilbertos. I would have even gotten him nachos. But the lack of phone reception put a damper on my plans, so I reluctantly put it back in my bike jersey pocket.

Besides, my guys ahead would be really worried. So for better or worse - I pressed on.

But through the suffering, through the mental anguish of riding up up up, I realized that if I wanted any chance of completing the climb - I would have to turn off my brain. Ignore the powermeter, disregard the heart rate (blissfully low given my exertion level), stop thinking about my time from bottom to top - and just ride.

Just ride.

So simple.

But it took me 45 minutes to figure it out, and I was already well onto South Grade Road at that point (the steepest part of the climb).

So I put my head down, quieted my mind, ignored the scenery, and stared at the white line of the road. Once I allowed myself to ride, to go without thinking, it became much easier. I was no longer fighting myself, fighting my doubts, and instead, just performing a basic task of turning one pedal stroke over another.

Additionally, I realized that quitting was not an option. And not only because it would haunt me on any and every race day from here on out (Q-U-I-T-T-E-R is not what I want to think about when facing the wall at mile 100 of IM CDA bike course. Instead I want to remember how I pushed through those hard times. Within reason, of course!) Just because I wasn't having the ride of my life, didn't mean that I wouldn't learn from the experience or take anything away from the workout. Far from the truth. I've always said that the races where I learn the most are the ones where I've struggled.

So this would simply be one of those days.

I don't really remember much after that - because I tuned everything out. There were gnats, annoying little buggers that were attracted to my sweat or their own reflection in my glasses (or both). Also, lots and lots of motorcylcles - the guys on crotch rockets with leather suits and metal plates on their legs so they can race up and down the mountain roads. For the record, their bikes sounded like an approaching swarm of hornets, and the exhaust was enough to make one high. Additionally, I remember looking at the mile markers - located ever .2 miles on South Grade Road.

For some reason, I refused to acknowledge anything below mile 45. Like it wasn't there or something. Actually, I figured that because South Grade Road ended at 47.8 or something, when I finally started counting the mile markers I would only have 2.8 miles to count down. A lot less daunting than 11.7 or whatever the climb total was.

Seeing the 3000 feet elevation sign was wonderful. The 4000 feet sign (after the sign that reads: It is unlawful to throw snowballs at moving vehicles) was even better. And, in my delirium, I though that I read the 5000 feet elevation sign at mile 46.8, but I was wrong. Or just hallucinating. Because I saw it again at mile 47.0

It was the fumes.

The ups were constant and never-ending. But my sense of time was warped, as I refused to look at my watch or anything else that would have clued me in. Ignorance is bliss, it turns out (until I saw my time at the top, 8 minutes slower than last time). And instead I rode with guts, giving what I could to simply get by.

Today I realized that I won't be able to set a personal best every time I tackle a challenge. Conditions, wind, the ride there - hell all three could have affected my performance.

On the other hand, I'm not looking for excuses, nor am I willing to make them. I just didn't have that little extra bit that I've had before. That spark, that fire - was not burning in my belly. But I learned that I can still prevail, still push through and finish. As long as I let myself go - and then in the long run be okay with that.

So I am.

During the descent I thought a lot about my climb, and how I wanted the rest of the ride to be.

I wasn't satisfied and I refused to let a sub-par climb on Palomar dictate the rest of my workout. So I worked the hills (and there were plenty!), pushed as hard as I could, and managed to stay with the top two guys until the ride was finished. I grew stronger as the ride progressed, happier as the miles ticked off, and exuberant at every opportunity to get down in my aero bars and pedal through rural San Diego county.

Life wasn't so bad after all. Besides, if climbing Palomar is the toughest thing on my plate for the day, then I've got it easy - relatively speaking.

I guess I did have it in me: it only took three hours to figure it out. And one hell of a climb.

Better late than never, I suppose.

And now, I'm still contemplative. Days like these will do that to you. I've pretty much determined the gradient in the painting, and am moving on to other things. Like thinking about my date night with Nathaniel.

Yeah - that's more like it. We're having Thai-Japanese food, trying a new restaurant up in Oceanside for dinner. As long as the discussion doesn't veer toward biking or epic climbs, then I'm fine.

With 7,500+ feet of elevation gain, I've had enough for one day, thank-you-very-much.

In the long run, my body, my legs, and my mind will be better for this day, better for this workout.

And tomorrow, I'll think about it more objectively. But for now, the memory is still too fresh.

Next up: date with Nathaniel. And perhaps a movie...Lord of the Rings 1 was on TV last night, and my favorite happens to be the second...we'll see if I can stay awake that long. At this point, who knows!


Beth said...

GREAT job Marit!!! I know you already know this, but it doesn't hurt to hear it again -- it's these types of days that are so much more beneficial than on the days when you feel great and it's easy!! You pushed through and rode really well after the big climb -- so there -- take that! :) And we all have these days. Where everything is just HARD. So great job and I hope you and Nathaniel had a wonderful date night!

Maijaleena said...

A hard ride like this will help prepare you to be tough during your ironman. Great ride. I hope you enjoyed your Thai-Japanese food last night!

Missy said...

Just reading it makes my legs hurrrt. Gee, after that swim and this ride, sounds like you need a massage!?!? TT bike in the hills, er, mountains, is nooo freakin joke! Way to suck it up sister.

TriGirl Kate O said...

I'm pretty sure the IMCDA bike course isn't all uphill, and with your preparations and mental toughness you'll do great. I'm the stupid one signed up for Placid who should be climbing Mt Palomar every weekend. Ack.

E.L.F. said...

Marit really is there such a thing as a sub par climb of Palomar? YOU CLIMBED IT! PS are you doing Oceanside?

E.L.F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charisa said...

Good job on the climb! Remember - it's called training for a reason - they can't all be amazing workouts even though we want them to! Also - Cafe de Thai is one of our favorites too :)