Saturday, May 23, 2009

Torturfest - Placid Training Camp, Part 1

The subtitle to this post should really be Facing My Demons in Lake Placid.

The trip to Placid went smoothly. Bart, Lynn, Kate and I loaded up the Beast around 7:30 pm with our four bikes, bags and bags of gear and the obligatory wine and some fantastic sweets (even GF ones) and started for Placid. After some bad fog and about 5 and a half hours of driving, we stopped for the night in Wilkes Barre, PA.

The next morning, the fog had disappeared and we were back on the road. Our "quick" stops for breakfast at a tiny diner and lunch in a quaint spot of Route 9 weren't so quick and we rolled into Lake Placid at the hour our cheeks were supposed to be on seats for the first workout of the weekend. Thankfully, the others had also arrived later than planned so we had time to claim our bedrooms in our beautiful accommodations, "Hawthorne," and unpack. The group took an easy spin around Mirror Lake and out the run course to stretch our legs. Bart and I soon discovered that the out and back on the run course was MUCH longer than we ran last year during our volunteer weekend. After our ride, we celebrated my birthday at the Brown Dog Cafe and even had a yummy 3 Fellers Carrot Cake for dessert.

After returning from dinner, we figured out nutrition for the next day's ride, loaded water bottles and set off to bed. At this point, the events of the next day began to sink in and I had my first melt down of the weekend. On our drive into Placid, we rode up the big descent into Keene. The grade on the hill looked steeper than I remembered and the hill longer. I am not confident in my descending skills and so I stressed and cried a bit to Bart before I went to bed. Not a good sign for the next day.

Saturday morning was cooler temperatures and the weather called for rain and some wind. I had my usual "pre-race" breakfast of rice, a banana and some juice and got my bike ready to go. I was in the second group along with Kate, Shawn, Deanna B and Lynn. Shawn brought us down the steep short hill from our house through town (it would become our transition hill) and coached me on descending. I felt uncomfortable from the start. I don't like the fact that bicycle brakes merely slow you down and already, I didn't like the sensation of not being in control. We stopped, descended another short steep hill, and I felt a little bit better, but still nervous as we headed out of town. After the turn at the ski jumps, we were greeted by the first climb of the course. It isn't named, but should be, and so by the end of the trip it was, "the bitch." The miles of climbing out of town took my heart rate up and my mind momentarily off the next step, the descent. My legs weren't feeling particularly strong and my heart rate was higher than I would have liked. Then again, I haven't done much climbing in the mountains yet. When we got to the top, Shawn told us the descents were about to start and to keep loose, hold the top tube with our legs and feather the brakes. I descended behind Kate O and in front of Lynn who kept me positive and kept saying words of encouragement -- "You're doing great" and "Almost there." I was thrilled when we got to the bottom and our SAG car manned by superwoman Kim, but was shaking like a leaf and spent.

We took off a few layers and headed for Jay. This is by far my favorite part of the course. It is flat, fast and along a beautiful river. I kept thinking to myself, why am I racing Placid and not Florida. I love the flats. I can ride 20 mph on a flat and feel totally comfortable but 20 mph down a mountain feels out of control and scary. Even on smaller hills, where I can see the end, I can go much faster and feel fine. Clearly its mental, and I continued to stress about my preparedness as we rode towards Jay and onto Upper Jay. In Upper Jay, you make a left hand turn and the next hill that should be named but isn't appears. As we headed up this hill, I got dropped, and dropped fast. The more I lagged behind, the more I stressed and the worse my riding got. Speedy Bart and Karen B passed me at this point and despite Bart's words of encouragement, I felt like crap. Before Haselton, we hit a potty break, regrouped and headed into Wilmington for our next SAG stop.

After refueling, we headed out of Wilmington and began the climb back to Lake Placid. It was on this climb that whatever positive confidence I had in my riding abilities disappeared and the demons appeared in full force. The Wilmington to Placid stretch, while beautiful and all along the river, is predominately all climb. Sometimes its only around a 2 or 3 percent grade, but there are very few if any "fast" parts. Again, I was quickly dropped despite DB's efforts to pull me up to the rest of the group and hang back. My legs just wouldn't push, and every time I looked at my speeds I was discouraged. How can I "race" at 7 mph? The more I stressed, I think the worse I rode. By the time I climbed Papa Bear I was a puddle. Yes, full force tears streamed from my face for the second time that day. My training buddies were awesome and encouraging. The told me to stay optimistic, have fun and not worry about my speed or pace. I had spent so much energy on the descent and worrying about my place in the pack that I didn't have that energy to spend cycling up all these hills. We plugged on back into town and ran into Coach Karen at the SAG vehicle. She sensed my frustration (it wasn't hard given the tears on my face) and we set off to ride the second lap together.

For Karen's coaching during the second loop I am extremely grateful. As a primary matter, I feel confident that I would not have made it down the hill the second time had she not been by my side. As we started out for the second loop, the wind picked up and gusts were no doubt in the 18-20 mph or higher range. The rain also started to pelt us. I decided that I was going to ride this ride at my own pace and try to relax. The winds were brutal up the hill out of town and coach Karen rode in front and pulled a bit and gave some pedal stroke and shifting pointers along the way. When we got to the top and started the descent, she rode beside me and encouraged me to brake lightly so I could feel it and pedal some so I would feel more in control of my speed. The winds by now were crazy gusty and by half way down, the wind gusted against my bike and it felt like it was being pushed all over the road. I wanted off my bike so badly at this point and was absolutely petrified. Coach Karen didn't give up though and kept encouraging me and talking to me. It was at this point that she told me that there was no way the wind could blow over my bike (which I believed at the time) and we worked on trying to pedal a bit and leg positioning through the corners. Finally, we neared the bottom, and I was incredibly thankful. Thankful to be done with the hill for the day, thankful to have ridden it in tougher conditions than I'll likely see on race day (I hope) and thankful to have a Coach to get me to the bottom and stick with me on my tough day.

The rest of the second loop was much better than the first loop. I'm not sure if I was much faster, but I certainly enjoyed it more. I took it at my own speed and laughed at times wondering what ProKaren thought about my gruelingly slow speeds, but I pushed on and was determined to finish. Near Upper Jay, I had a mechanical issue with my brakes (Bart discovered later that he doesn't think my rear wheel was in position) but we were able to stop the noise and rode on. I had nausea issues twice on the second loop, and tried to rectify them with some salt tabs and some extra water. Midway through the Wilmington to Placid stretch, Bart caught up with us (he and Karen B had done extra mileage with the Haselton loop) and he and I rode the rest of the way into Placid together. This time, I enjoyed checking off the 5 named hills into town - Little Cherry, Big Cherry, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear.

When we finally got back to town, I was so proud that I had managed to stick it through and ride the second loop. That Saturday by far was one of the toughest if not the toughest days I've ever had on my bike. The conditions were windy, the descent terrifying and I had wasted tremendous amounts of energy worrying and stressing. I learned that I had to make peace with this course if I want to have a successful Ironman.

I was so happy to put my running shoes and ipod on and head out for my transition run. It was still raining but it felt so go to have my feet on the ground and to not be on my bike. Although I ran the wrong direction, I had a great run on the road near the lake. My legs felt fast and my tunes boosted my spirits.

Post ride, we feasted on a fantastic dinner of steak, salad, sweet potatoes and wine. I think I smiled the whole evening knowing I had conquered and faced some major demons out there on the bike course. I had won though and had finished my ride. It wasn't pretty, but it was done. I can be tough on myself and I learned that sometimes, it isn't worth it. This Ironman is going to be tougher than I imagined. I needed to step back, adjust my goals, enjoy the experience and just aim to finish.

I think I was the first to bed Saturday night. I was wiped out, but slept well and looked forward to Torturefest day 2 and my long run.


SusieQ said...

Way to hang in there - even when things didn't go as you had hoped. You still did it :)

TriGirl 40 Something said...

What an experiene! Congrats on conquering those demons and making another major physical - and mental - deposit in your race training!