Monday, April 16, 2007

Mulholland Challenge

Where do I begin? I suppose I should start with the drive up to Calabasas, which took two and a half hours thanks to my decision to leave at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday. It was okay though, I got to make a few phone calls, talking to my friend James who committed to crewing Race Across America with us (sorry about the unemployment thing though!!!) and then to Phil who was about twenty minutes behind me dealing with the same horrible LA traffic that I was dealing with but sounding much less irritated about it than I did. I arrived, checked into the room and then went to the registration area to check in and get my number and route slip. I ran into some Bike Forums friends...Lee, Frank, Gary, Jim...then Phil arrived. We all talked for awhile and Phil and I eventually decided that we were hungry and that dinner was beginning to sound like a good plan. I was trying to wait for George to arrive before eating, but with no word from him my hunger won out and we headed out in search of food. We ran into Mike along the way and he joined us at the Italian restaurant across the street. George eventually joined us, starving and a bit wacky from the long drive. ;) We enjoyed our dinner, then made our way back to our rooms to prep for the early morning start.

The alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Ten more minutes? Please????? No? Damn. I guess I should get up and start getting ready. In contrast to the wonderful pre-ride breakfast that I was spoiled with at the Solvang Double, our breakfast this time was Bonk Breaker energy bars. It was quick, easy and required nothing more than opening the package, so I was happy with that. We filled our bottles with Sustained Energy and set out for the start. George was starting at 6:15 a.m., as he was doing the double century, and I was taking the 6:30 a.m. start, which was the earliest start for the century riders. I ran into more Bike Forums members at the start line...caligurl, sirlance, Tony, Karen, Lee. I ended up rolling with Karen, Tony and Lee, but took off, trying to gain some time in the beginning of the course. I went into this ride with the expectation of riding by myself all day. I've found that I climb better if I'm alone and can ride at my pace, ensuring that I'm not blowing myself up trying to keep up with others.

So the morning air was cold...okay...I'll take that back. The morning air was FREEZING! I immediately regretted my decision to leave my full fingered wool gloves in my suitcase and though I recall starting the ride with fingers, by the time I reached Pacific Coast Highway, I was beginning to wonder if they were still with me since I couldn't feel them. At all. Oh well, minor details, who needs fingers anyway? Once on the coast, I joined up with a group that formed a paceline to make our way south to Topanga. We weren't moving as quickly as I would have thought we would, but when I considered that I'd be putting out more effort on my own, I decided to stay put and conserve my energy for the climbing that was yet to come. The next turn on the route sheet took us onto Topanga Canyon, where the climbing would begin and the group would break up. I was alternately passing and being passed by people on the climb and jumped on with a couple of guys as they were passing people. I kept pace with them for a bit, but as they gained speed I decided to let them go and do my own thing. Not paying attention to the route slip, I thought that the first stop was a full rest stop, so I was making an effort to finish both of my bottles of SE before I arrived at the 27 mile point. Of course, I roll in and it's just a sticker stop! I filled up with water, got my sticker and took off for the real rest stop, which was 12 miles away.

On the way to the rest stop at Peter Strauss Ranch, I realized that the velcro on my saddle bag was rubbing on my new shorts, so I knew that would be something I would have to take care of when I rolled in. When I got to there I saw Bill from Bike Forums volunteering and I asked him for tape, a band aid...anything to cover that exposed velcro. He tightened my bag as much as he could and told me that the ladies out front had the tape. After filling my bottles with SE, loading up on Endurolytes and Advil, I went in search of the ladies with the tape. They kindly fixed me up, so that I wouldn't have to worry about it for the rest of the day, and let me know that the next sticker stop would be at the bottom of Deer Creek. I might have whimpered a little bit at that point, the memory of descending that road the weekend before, still fresh in my mind. They told me that it would be fine, and off I rolled. I still had quite a bit of climbing to do, so I tried to concentrate on that instead of the Deer Creek descent that I was going to have to deal with. I was in and out of the next rest stop quickly, just long enough to fill my bottles with more SE and be on my way. I had done this portion of the course before, and it was helpful to know what was coming next. After a steep climb on Cotharin I was approaching Deer Creek. I knew that I had to descend this section in the drops, trying to do it on the hoods last week was unsuccessful and resulted in me having to stop at least five times on the way down. Taking a deep breath, I was off. My speeds were higher and I felt more confident descending this time, but I still had to stop once to shake my arms's better than five though! I couldn't believe how many people were flying down this descent...I'm not sure that I'll ever have that level of confidence. I made it to the sticker stop at the bottom, declared "THAT SUCKED!!!" as one of the volunteers kindly topped off my bottles, and I was off, turning south on PCH and heading toward Decker.

I was behind a group approaching the turn onto PCH, but I had to stop to wait for some cars to go by before I could make the turn safely. This was one of the only "flat" sections of the ride, so I was trying to catch up to their little paceline, but was having a hard time. At that point another paceline rolls by me and one of the guys created a gap and told me to jump in, but I had just been on the verge of blowing up trying to catch the other guys, so I opted to latch onto the back so I could drop off easily if I needed to. I was with them for a short while before deciding to let them go so I could take it easy and conserve for Decker. Ahhh Decker...the climb about which I declared "it's not that bad" after our little preview ride last week was kicking my ass. Of course, I made that declaration having taken it on 26 miles into the ride and here I was, facing it at mile 68 and eating my words. I saw a guy get off and start walking his bike and decided that I would take a minute to recover before I kept going, and pulled off to the side of the road to rest. Surprisingly I didn't feel discouraged by the need to do this. I had really been on top of not wasting anytime at the rest stops, felt that I was riding smart thus far and that I should take the rest when I really needed it. Getting clipped back in and going again was a challenge, but I resumed my climb feeling better from the small amount of rest I had just taken. I made it to the sticker stop located a few miles up the climb where I talked to one of the volunteers about how Decker was hurting a lot more today than it did last weekend and he said "you weigh nothing, you should be flying up these hills"...ummm...thanks, but it's far from the truth and I told him that maybe if I dropped ten pounds, that might be true, but at this point I wasn't flying...I was eeking my way up! Back to climbing Decker again, I was off...the last part isn't as steep as the first section, but the climbing was starting to add up and my legs were beginning to feel it.

The Decker climb out of the way, there were some rollers before the descent down Mulholland. Thanks to some coaching from George, I've abandoned my death grip on the brakes style of descending and have learned to enjoy this part of riding. I'm still more cautious than some, but have come a long way from where I was at a few months ago. The descent down Mulholland was great, and well deserved after all of the climbing we had done up to this point. I made my way to the sticker stop at Peter Strauss, asked Bill to "sticker me" before I filled my bottles up with SE one last time and ran to the bathroom so I could roll out quickly. Before I left Bill told me that I only had 30 more miles...some rollers and then two more good climbs before the finish. I love when people tell me what to expect. Yes, I could look at my route sheet, but I wouldn't have known to expect the rollers on the way to the Stunt Road climb, so it was easier to pace myself with that knowledge. Thank you Bill!! The ladies at the front cheered me on as I left, which always feels good. The volunteers at these events really make the experience great and Planet Ultra seems to attract the best ones, everyone was great!

The next ten miles seemed to drag on forever, but along the way a group of guys passed me and told me that I was doing great, and that made me feel so much better. It's the little things that keep me going on these rides. Usually I have George there motivating me, but this ride was different because I was riding alone. It seemed though, that every time I needed that extra little bit of motivation, either a volunteer or a rider would say something encouraging...their timing was impeccable. :) I turned on to Stunt Road and began what would be one of the harder climbs of the day. Four miles long, it was not nearly as steep as Decker, but at mile 90, it felt like it dragged on forever. Shortly after the climb began, another rider began riding alongside me silently. We seemed to be pacing each other up the climb, but the funny thing was that we probably rode side by side for over a mile before we finally looked at one another. It was when another rider passed us and shouted out "we're almost to the top...only 1.5 miles and another 500 feet of climbing" that we both went "HUH????" He said "I don't know about you but..." and I replied "yeah, my idea of almost to the top is half a mile...tops!!" and we had a good laugh about perception. As I continued to climb, wondering if I would ever reach the summit, a car drove by and one of the Bike Forums members yelled "go Brandy!!" <~~~See...more motivation just when I needed it!!!

As I approached the final sticker stop at the top of Stunt Road, I noticed that Bobbi Fisher was working the stop. I yelled "STICKER ME BOBBI" and she told me that I was doing great, that there was just one more good climb, then a short but steep climb on Cold Canyon. It was so nice to see her smiling face there, but I didn't stay long, probably under a minute because I knew that I could recover on the descent down Schueren before I would have the last significant climb of the day which was Piuma. Feeling good, I climbed Piuma and got a little shout out from the ladies who had been working the Peter Strauss stop, and enjoyed a wonderful descent. I was about to take a corner and a guy behind me says "I'm behind you" I thanked him for the heads up and he says "the only time I can pass you is on the descents, you drop me on the climbs!" and I realized that he had in fact been passing me on descents since at least Little Sycamore earlier that morning. I caught up to him again on the Cold Canyon climb and after the little ego boost he gave me, I had to step it up and get that last climb done! From the turn onto Mulholland, I felt amazing! Nothing like knowing that you're a short six miles from the finish. I hammered the whole way back and rolled in at 9 hours and 4 minutes according to my Garmin. Of course, dismounting, parking the bike and making my way to the timekeeper, they recorded me at 9 hours and 7 minutes.

Overall, it was an amazing day on the bike. I accomplished my goal of taking only short, but necessary stops and ended up with only 31 minutes of off the bike time for the whole day. I didn't have a time goal in mind, as I've never done a course like this before, but I have to say that I am very happy with my effort!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Solvang Spring Double Century

We arrived in Solvang just in time to check in for the ride on Friday night, after a long drive in heavy traffic. Much of the time in the car was spent trying to decide what time I would start in the morning, in relation to George's 7:30 a.m. start time. Recalling that I had a 45 minute head start at Butterfield Double and that he caught me by the first rest stop at mile 38, we decided that a 6:30 a.m. start would be good. It would be the earliest that I could safely leave without carrying lights, which we would drop with the ride organizers in the morning and pick up at a later rest stop.

After checking in, we were off in search of some food and Firestone Vineyard where we would be staying in a guest house on the grounds. We got settled in, and then it was off to bed for me. I was exhausted and facing another early morning start. When the alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. I didn't want to get up, thinking that I could easily enjoy a day relaxing around the winery and exploring the town (just kidding...though I was asked at registration if I would just be hanging around town while George was Ummm...HELL NO! I'm riding too!) but I dragged myself out of bed and started getting ready. George made a breakfast of bacon, eggs, bagels and yogurt while I rushed around trying to make sure that I had everything that I needed. We left Firestone and headed toward the ride start, slightly behind schedule. As we drove down Foxen Canyon, we saw some of the first riders who must have left at 5:00 a.m. The farther we drove, the more cyclists lights we saw, what a great sight!

Having left a few minutes behind schedule, we of course...arrived at the host hotel a few minutes later than we would have liked. I ended up rolling out alone at 6:40 a.m. Brrrrrrrr...that pretty much sums up the first hour of my ride, at least! I was freezing, having opted to suffer for a short time so that I wouldn't have to ride with knee warmers in my very tiny jersey pockets for the rest of the day. I rode alone until the first climb on Foxen Canyon, where I joined up with a group that had left shortly before I had. Following George's advice, I secured myself a spot in a paceline with a great group of three brothers, one of their wives and a friend of theirs. I stayed with them through the first rest stop and we all left together. We rotated several times and after I dropped back after a strong pull up front, we were suddenly being passed by a train of tandems and a split second decision was made to jump on the back. The tandems kept a fast pace and we were with them for awhile, until a few of us decided that we were pushing too hard to keep up with them through some of the rolling terrain and opted to take it easy and let them go.

At this point, though I was trying to get as far along as I could before George caught up to me, I was also thinking about conserving some energy, knowing that I would be pushing a higher pace once he did join me. As we made a sudden turn, we lost one of the guys from the group, so we pulled off of the road as someone went back to find him. We weren't rolling for long before one of the riders needed to stop for some water, so we pulled off again. I had a feeling at this point that George couldn't be too far now and that he would show up any minute, as I'm standing on the side of the road, motionless, waiting for this rider to buy some water at the store across the street. Sure enough, just a couple of minutes after we stopped, there he is and he shouts "I WASN'T SUPPOSED TO CATCH YOU YET!" I think that was code're going too damn slow. ;) I said goodbye to my new friends and we were off. Shortly after meeting up he turns to me and says "I'm going to push you today, but you'll thank me later." Huh? What? Ahhhhh crap, I'm in for it now. With that, he picked up the pace as we made our way toward the second rest stop. At some point (NOTE: this ride report may or may not be accurate, it's all a blur now...hell, it was all a blur DURING the ride!) he threw me into a paceline with some very strong 7:30 a.m. starters. I tried hard to hang on and was able to for a while, but eventually I couldn't keep the pace that they were going, so I let go. Shortly after that we reached the second rest stop.

It was a mad rush to refill bottles, grab electrolytes and Advil, and use the restroom before hitting the road again. As we rolled out, the same tandems that we had joined up with earlier rolled out as well. George didn't even have to say it because I knew what was coming next. The words were familiar as I've heard them before ~tandems punch a big hole in the air and provide a great draft ~never pass a tandem on rolling terrain ~if you have the wheel of a tandem, don't let it go! So grab the wheel of a tandem, I did! George was right, the tandems do provide a great draft, but they were not easy to keep pace with unless we were climbing. That seemed to be the only time that I felt like I could handle the pace comfortably.

As we pulled out of the "not so secret control point" in Morro Bay, we saw M.E., Joel, John and Bill who appeared to be on a restroom stop. We waved hello and were on our way. This is where my competitive beast reared it's ugly little head, I'm woman enough to admit this much. I was thrilled to have passed them, knowing that they had started before me, in the dark. As hard as I was pushing and struggling, seeing them gave me a boost, assurance that my hard work was paying off and that I was on my way to finishing my second double century with a decent time. Feeling like I was fueling well with the Sustained Energy provided at the rest stops, I asked George whether we were stopping for lunch. One of the tandem guys answered that they were planning to eat and we made the decision to stop as well so that we could continue on with them.

At the lunch stop I grabbed sandwiches and V8 as George took care of refilling our bottles and grabbing more electrolytes for us. We sat to eat, keeping an eye on the tandem riders so we could leave together. As we were standing in line to use the restroom, M.E., Joel, John and Bill pulled in. I shouted "Happy Birthday Joel!" across the parking lot and M.E. came over and snapped a picture of us and then we were ready to roll again after a 28 minute stop. It as during this next section of the ride that I hit my low point for the day. Unbeknownst to those I was riding with, I was seriously suffering. Not that I hadn't been suffering trying to keep pace with the tandems all day, but this was different, I was really suffering. It was apparent within several miles of leaving the lunch stop that I made the wrong decision and that I should have stuck with liquid fuel. I spent at least 20 miles nauseous with my lunch in my throat and the V8 would have been the first thing to come up...I could taste it right there. I rode in silence, not mentioning how horrible I felt because I knew that if I did, I would totally lose it. George realized that there was something wrong when I was refusing to drink when he prompted me to. I tried to sip, but I couldn't and finally I told George how awful I felt. Not wanting to lose the tandems, George took over, literally pushing me in order to give me a couple of minutes to recover. It wasn't the first push that I would accept from him, nor would it be the last. Those little reprieves from the hard pace were just what I needed at the time.

With much effort, we made it into the next rest stop having not touched my bottles at all since the lunch stop. I believe that this was the point that I started telling George that I hated him. He was pushing me to my limits, limits that I never would have pushed myself to and I was feeling beat and didn't hold back in telling him, or anyone else who would listen for that matter! I remember one man asking me how I was doing and I answered back "HE'S TRYING TO KILL ME!" As we looked around the rest stop, he pointed out that I wasn't the only one who was hurting. The exhausted looks on the faces of most of the riders said it all...he was right. As we were getting ready to get back on the road George told me that there were only 50-ish miles to go...a club ride, that's it! One of the tandem riders said..."even better, only 30 miles to the next rest stop!" Okay, 30 miles was do-able, even if it was going to hurt. I started fueling right away and was beginning to feel a little bit better. I don't recall much of this section, though I was feeling better than I had on the last section, and that's all that matters! I'm sure that I told George that I hated him a couple more times, but he can take it.

The first thing that I saw when I pulled into the last rest stop was...lots of people resting! As tired as I was, we were less than 20 miles from the finish and I just wanted to be done. We went to our routine of bottle filling, restroom breaks and quick "hello's" to other riders and volunteers. The Cup'O Noodle was calling my name, but fear of more solid food and desire to just get it done, had me skipping it. George and I left the tandem riders who were resting and headed out to climb Drum Canyon. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. What sadistic freak puts that at mile 175 of a double century? Oh, who am I kidding? If I organized the ride I would have done the same torturous thing. ;) If I recall correctly, I stopped telling George that I hated him on Drum Canyon, but only because he was hurting more than I was, riding on a 49x15 fixed gear. Finally reaching the top, I was ready for a fun descent...but OUCH! OUCH! OUCH! The road was horrible and as I passed George on the descent he warned me to be careful, so I slowed it down considerably.

After descending Drum Canyon I felt great! My spirits were high, I turned on my iPod, grabbed George's wheel and we took off. The closer that we got to the finish, the more riders we passed. I had gotten a second wind and George was now counting down the miles for me. 7 miles! 4 miles! <~~~that was the best, four miles. Anyone can ride four miles...and I was going to do it...and do it fast! The road was familiar again, I knew exactly where I was and how far I had to go. As we came up the final hill into Solvang, I asked George what time it was...6:38 p.m. I told him that I was so close to finishing sub 12:00. It wasn't a goal of mine, as a matter of fact, I would have never dreamed of having a time anywhere close to that considering I did Butterfield in 14:25 and was very happy with that time. Suddenly at that moment, it became the goal and I was so close, but even the sprint to the finish couldn't seal the deal. I came in at 6:41 p.m. which gave me a total time of 12:01.

The second that I got off of the bike, all of the pain, all of the suffering I had all went away and was replaced by smiles, hugs, sheer joy and pride. George was right, he pushed me and though I wouldn't have said it until that very moment, I was thankful for that. I tested my limits like they had never been tested before and I never would have known that I had that in me, had he not pushed me to achieve it.