Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gaining Altitude (and perspective)

Over the past few years, there have been several key rides which have defined "killer hill" for me. Here are several rides, all to scale with altitude relative to each ride's starting point:

The first was "visiting Mr. Griffith", represented by the green ride above and illustrated here:

The next killer hill was the first time I "turned left" on to the river trail; that's the blue ride above, with a photo here:

On Sunday, we did the red ride. I won't bore you by trying to describe how bad the climb was; I'm hoping the chart speaks for itself. Big Hill. Sucked Bad.

The plan was to stop at a restaurant around mile 40 (the only sign of civilization for 30 miles in either direction) and I had to start rationing my water bottles around mile 30. They were empty by mile 35 and I was dying. I knew the climb would be bad but I don't think I was quite prepared. I knew that we were doing a completely insane ride when we rode past Ski Lifts and saw actual snow on the ground. This is the end of May, in Los Angeles, and we were high enough that were still some patches of snow on the ground. That's not good.

The downhill parts of the ride gave me little comfort because if I stopped pedaling I could feel my legs starting to tense up so I always had to keep them moving. Or at least I tried to. During lunch, I stood up a lot and walked around to stretch out, but at one point I got a cramp. Now then, we all get cramps but THIS was a pain the likes of which I have never felt before. The best way for me to describe it is that it felt like someone injected a baseball into my inner thigh. It really, really hurt. Gerald told me to straighten out my leg; I respect Gerald, I trust Gerald, but no matter how many times I told my leg "straighten out!" it just wasn't moving. After a minute or two I was able to grab on to my ankle and use my arms to move my leg. Most of the pain went away, but for the rest of the day I could still feel a knot in my leg.

I ate about 1/3 of my hamburger and stopped because it was making me sick and then it was back down the mountain. I know it sounds like it would be an easy ride back but we still had another 30 miles to go and just sitting on a bike for that long was painful enough. My back hurt, my butt hurt, my hands hurt... I was aching all over.

The ride itself got rave reviews from everyone. It's a spectacular climb with magnificent views. The air is clean and fresh and you can smell the pine forests. The restaurant, Newcomb's Ranch, is a popular motorcyclist hangout so it has a pretty cool vibe to it. This route has everything you'd want for a great ride but truth be told I can't say I enjoyed it. Through my own fault, it's pretty obvious now that I was dehydrated and salt-depleted. I had the bad cramp in my leg and was just feeling generally slow. At no point during the ride do I recall being actually "happy". That's not the fault of the course nor the great group I was with; it's just that I was physically not feeling good.

After last week's Baldy climb, I said I wasn't stupid and wouldn't join the same group for another ride. Well apparently I AM stupid. But NEXT week is going to be an easy ride if it kills me.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day on Bald Mountain

If I didn't feel like I was in Ironman training before I certainly do now. Today we did a ride up to Mt. Baldy Village. Even if you're not in Southern California, you can probably figure out what kind of ride it was considering that the word "Mountain" is in the name of the town.

This is the elevation (we came back along a different road, so it's not quite symmetrical):

Like a triathlon, the Baldy ride is basically 3 parts. The first segment (up to East Fork Road) is about 10 miles of moderate climbing with wide open turns. I wouldn't call it "easy", but I've done that ride many times.

Stage 2 (to the top of Glendora Mountain Road, and there's that word "Mountain" again) has a bit of a traversal road, and then you begin... The Climb. This is the hard part. It's 6-7 miles of steep, non-stop climbing with tight switchbacks all the way up. To make matters worse, dozens of motorcyclists go screaming past you, taking some turns wide and some turns tight and you never know where they're going to be on the road. We've been warned to stay far away from the yellow line to keep away from stray motorcycles, but it's really hard to do when you're doing a steep winding climb.

Stage 3 brings you another 13 miles or so to Mt. Baldy Village. This had the mildest climbing, and by itself would be considered the "easiest" part of the ride. Ah, but there's the rub. In a triathlon, the run isn't typically a killer by itself, it's just that you have to do it after a bike ride. And a swim. Similarly, Stage 3 of Baldy is excrutiatingly hard because you're already dead when you start. And to top it all off, Stage 3 had another man-eating snake. This time I didn't have any damsels to save me.

Maybe it was the ultra-thin atmosphere at such altitude, but my mind started playing tricks on me in those final miles. I would climb a bit and then reach a crest and try to coast down, but I would start slowing. I wasn't going downhill, it's just that the climb became so much less steep than it had been that it looked like a downhill in comparison. I was cruising up what should have been almost trivial hills at 6-7 mph.

We weren't at the top yet when this photo was taken, and we had already done some climbing to get to where the arrow is, but this is the basic terrain/view:

We stopped at a restaurant in town and to put it mildly I was not a happy camper. As Ride-Leader/Sherpa Evil Gerald told me, "I saw fear in your eyes." He was right. I honestly was not sure how I was going to make it back. Even though it was basically a 30-mile downhill return, on any mountain road there are short sections when the road will turn uphill for a short distance. And the thought of those 1/2 mile climbs terrified me.

Well, a funny thing happened. I had 2 Cokes at the restaurant; they were cold. They were yummy. And they were caffenated. With my Mountain Dew diet (and there's that word "Mountain" again) I respond very well to caffeine. So like Popeye with his spinach, I kicked butt on our first climb.

The ride down was very fast and a little scary. By the time we reached the bottom we were all complaining how much our palms hurt. The pain is partly caused by gravity pulling your body weight forward against the handlebars, and partly caused by squeezing the bars for dear life.

As much as I hated it, all-in-all it was a good ride, if that makes any sense. We had a really good group doing it and that makes all the difference. That doesn't mean if the same group does it again next week I'll join in; I'm not stupid.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heads and Shoulders

They say "good shoulders make good swimmers". Well I don't know if they really say that, but it sounds like good advice. Anyway, two short shoulder stories:

Joe The Trainer put me on some new contraption to work the shoulders. I honestly don't know what it's called; I sat down, he went behind and and threw a few levers and told me to push. It was hard, and it hurt, but that's how it is. When I was done, some other guy, bigger than me (obviously), who was apparently unfamiliar with the machine stepped in and started using it. He didn't adjust anything. Two minutes later, he asked Joe The Trainer "is this supposed to work shoulders?" "Yeah." "Cause I didn't feel anything. I guess I should add more weight?" So the weight I struggled with wasn't enough for him to even figure out what bodypart he was training. Thanks pal.

Then today I was on my own at the gym using a different shoulder machine I'm more familiar with. I was just doing a warm up, and then something - I don't know what verb to use - popped? twisted? kerplunked? I felt this sharp pain on my neck and back and suddenly I couldn't move my neck. It really hurt. I tried to do some stretching but nothing seemed to help. That was about 8 hours ago and I can still only turn my head about 45 degrees to the left before I feel pain. And even "relaxed" I can still feel a huge tension ball on my neck.

So my basic plan of action is to do nothing and hope it goes away. I'm a little worried about going to bed tonight, because if I sleep on it the wrong way I'll be even worse in the morning. Or my neck might snap completely. If I break my neck overnight, I'm TOTALLY skipping the bike ride tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Snakes on a Bike

You're gonna like this one.

I was out real late Friday seeing Trek (awesome) so I skipped the Saturday group ride. I wound up doing hills in Griffith Park with Robert.

On our way down from the Observatory, we saw this GINORMOUS serpant in the middle of the road. I swear, I think this thing could have swallowed a man whole. Robert and I both let out wimpy "AAAAAHHHHH! Snake!!!!" screams as we rode past it.

But then I stopped and went back. Snakes give me the heebie- jeebies but I couldn't NOT go back and look at it. Robert thought I was crazy, and as it turns out I probably should have just kept on riding.

The snake wasn't moving at all, and it was strange how it was stretched out so straight. We couldn't tell if it was dead or not. Then three Fair Maidens came walking down the road, saw us, and assumed we had slain the beast: "did you kill it? You ran over its head and killed it!"

We assured them we didn't do anything and that we didn't even know if it was dead. Their leader, I'll cal her "Eve", took a closer look and said "yeah, it's dead. Snakes use their tongues to sense what's around them and the tongue isn't moving." Eve then did the unthinkable; she reached down, grabbed the serpant by the tail and gave it a quick tug. What kind of person does that?! The snake didn't budge. Dead.

One of her friends asked if it was a rattlesnake, but Eve said it was a garter snake. I said "that's pretty big for a garter snake but Eve said "oh no, garter snakes can get fuckin' huge." As Robert explained later, "that's when I realized she was a broad and not a lady." (We liked Eve.)

Eve then asked me, "do you think you should move it out of the road so it doesn't startle other people coming down?" I told her "yes, I think it's a great idea for YOU to move it out of the road."

Eve grabbed a 6-inch stick and went to slide the snake off the road. I told her I'd help, but we should use a bigger stick. I was thinking something in the 8-10 foot range. I found a slightly longer stick and started "helping" Eve move the dead snake. Yes, that's me cowering behind her.

So as she's poking the snake, I saw the tongue start to flicker. I don't know how loud I was, but I'm sure I made my point clear when I started yelling "the tongue's moving! It isn't dead! The tongue! The tongue! It's not dead!" And yet, Eve DIDN'T STOP POKING THE SNAKE! What kind of person does that?!

Eventually the snake became sufficiently annoyed and slithered away into the bushes. Eve came up to me, punched me in the arm and said "you're such a girl!"

Most girls wouldn't have gotten off their bike to go back and look at the snake in the first place, so at least I'm a tough girl, right?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Back to the Hills

Wednesday we did trail runs in Griffith Park.

Apparently Ben put in a special request for steep hills, and Gerald was all-to-happy to comply by planning a long steep run up to the Griffith Observatory.

Turns out, Ben couldn't make it to the run so Gerald changed the plan. We were going to do a course they did last week or so - I don't recall his exact words but the definite implication was that it "wouldn't be too bad". And Gerald should know, right? After all, he did this run recently.

Now you all know I have the utmost respect for Gerald, but the man has the memory of a goldfish. As he confessed later regarding one of the hills, "huh... I knew it was steep but I don't remember it being that long."

Needless to say it was a tough run. It didn't help that it was 87 degrees when we started and 86 when we finished. The air quality was terrible: it was hot, and windy, and muggy and dry and dusty. (how could it be muggy AND dry?I don't know, but it was.) And it was basically just one steep climb after another.

I'll give myself a pat on the back because for the most part I hung with the group pretty well. But I was hurting a bit by the time we finished- I was feeling light-headed and dizzy. My head felt fine while I was running so I guess the lesson here is "don't stop running".

My feet didn't hurt during the run, but when I got home I noticed I was shedding my skin like a snake. (That's my heel, with toes off to left.) I don't remember that happening before. I hope it doesn't continue.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

I saw something odd while getting changed in the locker room at the gym. And I realize that sounds like something I should talk to my doctor about.

Gyms love mirrors. I don't know why. Personally, I'd rather face a blank wall in the dark. But others apparently prefer to look at themselves at all times. This is the basic layout of the gym:

While I was in the locker room, someone else came in and opened the door. I looked up at the mirror and through some tricky laws of optics I was watching some people using elliptical machines. It took me a little while, but I realized that if I could see them, they... could... see... me... I wasn't showing anything you wouldn't see in the Transition Area, but I'll definitely be more self-aware in the future.

I was able to put up hooks in the showers; I'm not sure I could get away with repositioning the mirrors.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Long Summer

It's going to be a long summer.

This weekend marked the start of my Ironman training. The weather called for rain and I was secretly hoping for downpours so that Saturday's ride would be cancelled. Then stupid Gerald said he was riding rain or shone, so I had to hope for sunshine.

Turns out we had great weather, and a large group of maybe 16-18 people. I had no idea what the official course was going to be, I only knew I didn't want hills so I just figured I'd follow the group.

We spread out pretty quickly, and I wasn't sure who I was supposed to be with. I think Steve and Greg were up front; I'm doing Wisconsin with them and thought I'd just stick with them.

Well that was tricky. I kinda followed them doing the catch-up-then-fall-back thing for 10 miles. What killed me was when Hector came up behind me and asked "is Steve just spinning today? He's riding much slower than usual." Swell.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, allergic Ben was busy getting stung by a bee at the time. I ran into Gerald later in the ride, who told me that he was with Ben and not to worry; Gerald hid the body where no one would find it. (Ben is just fine; or at least so claims Gerald.)

The total ride was 30 miles; shorter than I expected but the first half was at a faster pace than I was ready for so I was kind of wiped out. Went home and fell asleep on the couch. Now THAT part of training I can get used to.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Local Blogger Kills Teammates

I'm going to kill my Ironman Wisconsin teammates.

As you may recall, while training for the California half-Ironman I had some teeny-tiny nervous breakdowns about the workouts. I resented them all, just didn't want to do them and knew I would burn out if I stayed with it. So I dropped out of the Cali and declared May 1 as my official Ironman training kick-off.

Well May 1 is today. And helpful Steve, who swims like a fish, invited me to join him at the Rose Bowl after work for a short 3000m workout. I don't know my metric system very well, but I know that's far. I said no way. When Greg heard I didn't want to do the swim, he invited me to join him for a "light" run in Griffith Park up to the observatory. That's a whole lotta climbing. What is he thinking? Previously, Ben invited me to ride up Mt. Baldy on Sunday. That's a MAJOR climb, which even during the peak of my training last year I never did. (In his defense, Ben warned me it would be a difficult ride early in my training but didn't want to exclude me.)

Guys, seriously, you don't get it. In the past month, I have biked 0 miles. I have run maybe 20 miles total. I've swum about 600 yards. Yes, I know I need to ramp up quickly but I'm only going to hurt myself if I just jump into your workouts. I'll catch up, I promise. But sheesh, let me get warmed up a bit first.

UPDATE: So it turns out my "friends" were just messing with me, trying to freak me out about how far behind I am in my training. Mission Accomplished, I'm freaked.