Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unexpected Detour

I knew it was too good to be true... Any decent as steep and long as the one I was on was bound to be met with a giant uphill further on up the road. I was not to be disappointed.

Getting back into the swing of training has been mostly great. Although I'm constantly checking my body - making sure that I'm not (in any way) overextending myself. The fear of relapse is still there - and in all honesty I think (as with anyone who has battled illness) this is pretty normal. My doctor said to, "take it easy." And it would probably behoove me to stick with zone 1 and low zone 2 intensity.

Not a problem.

For the most part, I'm happy to be doing simple things - running 30 minutes for the sake of running 30 minutes, enjoying a leisurely ride down the coast to Encinitas and back, or lifting weights in the gym while trying to hold back giggles when I see an overzealous person attempt to lift an impossibly heavy stack of weights and not moving it an inch.

It. Didn't. Budge. Period.

I mean the guy was relentless - I've got to give him that. Tenacity, determination, guts, will - all adjectives I would use to describe him. Smart, on the other hand, did not cross my mind. When I left he was still scratching his head.

Today's workout presented a new challenge: it was longer than one hour. Yeah! - you read that right. I had a whopping 75 minute "rolling hill" bike ride on the schedule. Last year I wouldn't have batted an eyelash - I think training for Ironman permanently alters one's idea of "long" vs "really really long." In the end it's all perspective and that varies from one individual to another.

Still, 75 minutes was 75 minutes - nothing to sneeze at. And I was definitely going to milk it for all it was worth - rolling hills and all.

And that's where this thing gets interesting.

I planned a route along El Camino (up and down the rolling "hills" which to my poor and out-of-shape body felt like mountains), up Palomar Airport Road and then...well - you see I was supposed to take a right when I saw Trader Joe's and make my way towards San Elijo Hills.

In a perfect world, that would have happened.

About :30 into my ill-fated venture down El Fuerte Road, I realized (that in my excited state at cresting the top of Palomar Airport Road), I had turned a stoplight too early. Oops. I never was great at directions. I quickly pushed the thought aside and enjoyed the ride down.

Down, down, down, ddddoooowwwwwnnnnnn! Weeeeeeeeeee!

Half way - while reaching high speeds and braking at the same time, I really began to enjoy myself. I figured getting "lost" wasn't so bad, and that in this grand scheme of life, sometimes we just need to go out and explore...get a little lost in order to find myself. This road had to come out somewhere, and who knew? Maybe I had discovered a great new bike route!

I was very proud of myself for my improved attitude.

But reality doesn't care about newfound ideals or attitudes and, truthfully: what goes down, usually goes back up again. Spoiler Alert: Reality check is about to become VERY real.

Good feelings vanished when I saw the BIGGEST HILL IN CARLSBAD that I have EVER EVER EVER seen. One would think - from a small California coastal community - the hills wouldn't be that bad. You would be wrong.

I don't recall too much about the next few moments. There was some cursing and panicked backpedaling. But who were we kidding? - I had just descended the second biggest hill in Carlsbad heading towards the BIGGEST hill in Carlsbad, and I was not about to turn around from a dead stop and attempt to climb the one I had just ridden down. No thank you. At least (fingers crossed) my momentum would carry me 100 feet or so, up the wall ahead.

Cue: laughter.

I vividly recall - in eerie clarity - looking down at my cassette and thinking that I didn't have enough gears to climb the thing. That's a really scary thought. Visions of rolling backwards or going postal flashed through my mind and suddenly my 12-25 seemed totally incapable of doing the job...and I longed for a triple big ring. Seriously.

But before I could stop myself or deviate from my course, I sailed through the light at Poinsettia and started climbing. For those of you wondering - there was no coasting, no "easy" bit. Instead, the climb went from steep to VERY VERY VERY steep.

200 meters (or so) ahead, I noticed a giant manhole cover, and after that the pitch of the road went to an alarming gradient and curved out of sight.

Its never a good thing when you can't see the top and the road gets steeper. I've climbed enough hills to know this simple truth.

I quickly shifted my gears, and put myself in the 21... I wanted to use the 23 when it got VERY VERY STEEP and the 25 only as a last minute "I-think-I'm-about-to-collapse-and-won't-make-it" move. Which was really funny, because I was shifting up to the 25 just after the manhole cover.

So much for saving my "emergency" gear.

And then, well...then it got hard. I suffered.

I don't remember working that hard on a bike - ever. And I've done some pretty serious climbing around here...but this, during only my second ride since recovering from pneumonia and ??? was just stupid.

I could feel the panic set in, and I thought about getting off my bike and pushing it up the hill. I've only done that twice before (but it was on the same hill in South Carolina so it only counts as once- 25% grade for 2 miles...I made it through the "birthing canal" section...the "fallopian tubes" part got to me. But I made it (eventually) and didn't fall over the edge in the process....). And yes - it was painful.

I couldn't be sure - but this hill in Carlsbad felt just as bad (even though the gradient probably wasn't even half of what I did in SC). But that had more to do with my physical state than anything else. The WILL was there - just the body didn't want to follow.

Foot by foot, pedal stroke by pedal stroke though - I crept forward. I couldn't swear it - but I think both the owner and the dog walking down the hill just before the half way mark, felt sorry for me. You know it's really bad when dogs give you mournful looks. Sweat streamed down my face, searing my eyes, and I could feel my hands clenching my drops with as much force necessary to keep me moving up. My palms ached with the force of holding myself upright in effort to turn the pedals over.

And from there - I just. Kept. Moving. Painful. Inch. By. Painful. Inch.

I flashed back to the weight lifter who refused to stop trying to lift his load, and it suddenly hit me that we weren't so different after all. And that all the same adjectives applied to myself. But darn it, I was (I hoped) 2/3 of the way up the hill and I wasn't about to get off my bike and walk.

And that's when it happened: its like my legs and arms adopted minds of their own, and suddenly - and without any idea of what/why/how - I was turning into a "flattish" side-street. I think my body was trying to send my mind a message: we need a break. Yes, we will get to the top. But we won't get there if we don't have a chance to spin easy for :30 or :40...

I rode past two houses and without getting off my bike, circled back around to El Fuerte and continued up the hill. The break was wonderful - the brief respite from the hill from hell - and I was rewarded with a stoplight sign a block or two ahead. From previous experience, I surmised that the stoplight was the end to the climb...and I counted pedal strokes until I reached the top.

All 139 of them.

And before I knew it - I was done. I had finished - a quick glance behind me was NOT rewarded with the sparkling ocean or even the mountain I had just climbed. Instead - I saw a few houses and then a curving road and....lots of trees. Sheesh - for all that work, I was expecting to see the Lhotse Face off in the distance. Or something magnificent...not just any other city block.

The rest of my ride went well - every "hill" seemed (thankfully) small by comparison, and I took my time getting to the top of each one. Eventually I made my way down La Costa and to the coastal highway. The tailwind push home was unexpected - but very welcomed.

What did I take away?

Well - first thing, that my will still works - and that if I want to get something done, I'll do it. But also, that my body instinctively knows its own limits...I just need to make sure we're all on the same page. Its okay to ease up, admit that THIS IS HARD - as long as we keep going and give it our best effort.

Doing the little things, on a daily basis - be it pushing through to the very end of those sprint 100s in swimming, maintaining your form during a long run when you want to hunch over, taking the time to stretch and properly recover, or reaching the top of a tough climb when you weren't sure you could do it (but kept going anyway) - make all the difference.

But even more important, is that taking life's unexpected detours can be kind of fun, exciting, and at the end of the day - sometimes it's those moments that bring us the greatest rewards.


kerrie said...

yay - you're back at it! that has got to feel good.
i'm very proud of you for being so patient, i know how hard it is. you'll be crushing that hill in no time.

ADC said...

I had no doubt for one second that your will is still there. It is who you are. Great job on that climb and as for the SC 25% hill - yuck!

San said...

Wow, outstanding job. I would have walked my bike up that hill. But I never even got near an Ironman so that's no wonder.

Glad you're back at it and hope your body keeps on the road to full recovery and race fitness.

The staring cat in your last post is really funny!

Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, San.

Kim said...


yay! keep pushing - one pedal stroke after the next. you will get back to where you were. you are well on your way!

TriGirl Kate O said...

Push and pull gets you up the hill! Hooray for being outside, on your bike, for however long!

cherelli said...

OUCH. Nice job! Bet you'll put that hill in the books for future challenges :)

Molly said...

Yay!!! Great accomplishment - your body definitely still has it in it to to wonderful things and you are still smart enough to read it properly!

Jennifer Yake Neuschwander said...

I'm still snickering about the dog giving you mournful looks. It's like they see our souls.

Anonymous said...

YES! I know exactly what you mean :). And sometimes those little detours are the best thing for us, no matter how great of shape we are in. That's something I am learning too. Glad your getting back out there! It's about time :).

Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) said...

Nice job on the ride! I think I would have died on that hill! Awesome job of sticking it with it and making it to the top..woohoo!

Beth said...

Yeah!! So great to hear you are back into some training! And I was sooo laughing about your "emergency gear"!! I do that all the time "no wait, save that one for the very steepest part of the hill" and before you know it, I'm using my emergency gear at the bottom of the hill before I even start climbing!! :)

Either way, no big hills like that in Sept so all is good!! :)

Mer! said...

WAHOO! You're on your way!!!! HURRAYYY!!!

Many many hugs!!

GoBigGreen said...

Ha Marit, that ride you WILL remember. When you are not lost you will remember climbing that sucker, and where the TJ's is:) Cannot wait to see you in a few weeks. Sounds like you will be here all week so we can swim or run or go to ninas! Yea!

Midwestern Dot said...

Well, you're back and you're back in a big hill kinda way! Congrats on your awesome, even if slightly painful ride!

jennabul said...

Ha! That is awesome Marit! What a great experience for you, and nice that you got to do LOTS of thinking on that hill =). Glad you made it up okay, I probably would have fallen over...congrats!