Thursday, August 15, 2013

Unfinished Business - Cycle to the Sun Race Recap

An auspicious start!
It's taken me a few days, ahem, awhile, to wind down from all the excitement of this race.  With as crazy as my schedule has been since the beginning of June, I feel like I passed through the month in some kind of surreal haze.

I trained hard for this race since the first part of March.  Then, before I knew it, it was the last week, then it was the last workout, then it was Race Day!  As much as I felt ready for the climb, I did miss a few workouts, including one key day when Vanessa and I were supposed to do the entire route.  With that in the back of my mind, I approached race day in much the same way I approach a dentist appointment: I try not to think about it too much until it's time to go.

That's not to say that I wasn't excited or looking forward to it - I was.  The smartest thing I did was take the day off before the race - I had the day to settle down, relax, then get ramped up again when my coach, Michelle, and her family arrived.  She had decided to come over a do the race, and so did Nalani and Kurt, two of her friends/athletes from Oahu.  Michelle's husband Scott turned out to be race sherpa/cheering section extraordinaire along with her charming daughter, Moana, who was a kick in the pants!

After a good pre-race dinner, Michelle and I had a chance to talk (actually, we chatted A LOT about SBR-training-rehab-nutrition-paleo-goatcheese-tequila-coffee-wine-food-cycling-climbingthatbigfreakinhill-etc. all throughout the weekend...I was so excited to have another athlete around I probably wore the woman out!).  Anyway, she gave me some great advice - she told me that I was more than physically capable of doing this race, gave me some race pointers, then told me the most important thing of all.  That my mind would play tricks on me at some point and not to let it - that was the difference between F (finishing) and DNF (did not finish).  I did not realize how important that piece of advice was until later.

Kind of like getting your corsage pinned on at prom. LOL.
We parked a couple miles away from the start to avoid the crowds and so we could get a little bit of a warm up.  We lucked out on the weather - light breeze, clear skies, perhaps a sprinkle or two of rain, but that was all we expected.

There were 175 riders gathered at the start, ready to go, and we didn't wait long before we were OFF!

Michelle leading us to the start.
The first 5 minutes kind of threw me off a little bit.  I could not get my left foot clipped in - I fumbled and fumbled and it kept slipping.  It just would not engage.  I smacked my foot against the pedal in frustration and heard a tinkling noise - I think I had a rock in my cleat - then finally my shoe clipped in.  I had a few minutes of panic wondering if I had a broken pedal or cleat and how the hell was I going to climb this mountain with one shoe off?  Thankfully, everything worked out and I set into the business of starting the climb.

Not clipped in yet!
When I first signed up for this race, I would joke with my family that it was "only 36 miles."  But that 36 miles is. no. joke.

My plan was to pace myself early.  I was content to let others pass me and be closer to the back of the pack in the beginning.  I hoped to finish in 5:30 and needed some energy in reserve.  It was hard enough to keep my HR down with all the excitement, much less jump on it too early in the game.  I wanted to get to the start of Crater Road in under two hours, then 1:30 to the ranger station and 1:30 to the summit.

I managed to get to Crater Road in 1:48, so I felt pretty good with the time.  Nutrition and hydration seemed to be spot on as well.  There are a couple of fun little downhill breaks in the first section before Crater Road, but that's pretty much it.  Crater Road is where the serious climbing begins and this turned out to be the hardest part of the race for me.

This section starts in the last residential section on the mountain.  The climbs are steep, and once you pass the zipline area, you are in wide open range area.  By this time, the riders are pretty much strung out along the entire race route, sometimes in smaller packs, but mostly you are on your own while you pass (or get passed by) an occasional rider.  The switchbacks are relentless.  It's a real mind game because you can clearly see up the side of the mountain, and even see the summit, but you are still hours away from reaching the top.  You think you are making good progress, then you look up and see what appears to be 1,000 more switchbacks to go, with riders in their colorful jerseys along every stretch.  Kind of like the zig-zag of tiny lights on a cartoon Christmas tree.  After a while, I just stopped looking anywhere but the road ahead/under me.  You just keep pushing.

About half-way up this section I started to feel kind of sick.  I was still doing well with hydration and nutrition (I had 4 Amrita Bars, 2 Justin's packets and a banana with me).  I had one bottle of coconut water and one bottle of plain water.  Usually around a couple of hours in the coconut water tastes wonderful.  Today I couldn't get it down.  I could still eat, though, so I tried to eat a little more and drink more plain water.  That seemed to get me over the hump.  (Special thanks to Jeffrey from South Maui Bicycles for having water on his truck at this point - I would have been one bottle down and I needed all the water I could carry).

Finally, this section was done and I was at the aid station before the ranger station.  This is where our special cheering section was waiting!  Scott and Moana and my mother-in-law were there - Scott with extra nutrition, my jacket and snacks.  I was so happy to see them because I knew Michelle and Nalani were way ahead (if not already finished by then) and they waited for us - it was awesome.  It felt good to stop for a minute, but I didn't want to stop for long.  It was getting colder and looked like rain, so I pulled on my leg warmers and pulled up my arm warmers, and had my jacket tied around my waist for later in case it rained.  And it did, not long after that, and I was thankful AGAIN for having it (and for Scott - so we didn't have to haul all the extra gear with us up the initial climbs).

I knew once I hit the ranger station I had about an hour and a half to go, but the climbs start to flatten out a bit here and you get a little bit of a break - but not much.

About half way from the ranger station to the summit I was completely alone.  At this point my head started to really play games with me, and I started to get a little frustrated because this was about the time the finishers were starting to come down the hill.  In their cars.  I stopped thinking about it and just got down to business so I could finish.  I was grouchy.  At this point I was wishing I had brought an espresso Hammer gel - could have really used a little push right now.  Thankfully I was starting to feel better so I stopped at one point and ate my banana - DAMN!  That was the best tasting banana I've ever had in my life!  I think what I really needed at this point - now at about 8,500 ft. - was a good hit of sugar.  And a funny thing...right where I was stopped on this tiny little turnout of road, I looked down and there was a shiny penny.  I took that as a sign that everything was going to be just fine.  I just needed to finish.

It's the last 1,500 ft - you see the observatory and you see the summit and you think you are almost there, but you are not even close.  So while I was deep in self conversation at this point and talking myself through this last section, I hear someone coming up behind me, breathing hard.  "Kurt, is that you?" I call out.  Then I hear, in a booming voice with a Spanish accent, "NO, IT'S BORRACIO!!"  It was hilarious and I almost laughed out loud - it was kind of like a cartoon voice with trumpets blaring right along.  DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN!!!!!

And Borracio (I'm guessing at the spelling here!) starts to talk.  OMG, this is hard.  Are we almost there?  Have you ever done this before?  Gone all the way to the top?  OMG I'm DYING.  This is SO HARD.  My legs are killing me.  Etc.  Etc.  At first I was pissed.  I was having a hard enough time myself, I didn't need to listen to someone else's agony too.  But then we started chatting. Supporting each other, talking each other along.
My finish line photo!

It was great.  We were going to make it.  Borracio became an angel, helping me get to the top and finish this race.  His chatter helped me take my mind off anything but just getting to the top.

Soon, we were rounding the bend to the lower parking lot.  You feel like you are done at this point - you made it - time to celebrate, right?  Bwaahahahahaha.... not so fast.  The rangers wave you to the right because you have to go. to. the. summit.  And guess what?  It's like some cruel joke they save for last - this incredible, steep climb that curves around so you never see the end.  It just keeps curving and curving and curving around like some insane circular staircase.  About half way up I had to stop.  I had "a moment."  And unbeknownst to me, Michelle, Nalani, Scott, Moana and my mother-in-law were in the observation area (which is enclosed and out of the weather) watching my little melodrama unfold.  But I gathered myself, got back on my bike, and pushed the last few hundred yards to the the TOP!  AND I WAS DONE!!!

Kurt was just a few seconds behind me, then that was it.  I think Kurt and I were the last two "official" finishers - the cut-off was 6 hours 30 minutes.

Kurt and me - RELIEF!!

I am happy I finished.  This race is billed as one of the toughest road races in the world, so I feel a little badass for finishing.  Are there a few things I would have done differently?  Yes.  I don't think I had my nutrition really dialed in.  I think if I ate more early on I would not have had the mental battles I had later in the ride.  I also think that if I had more time to train I could shave a decent amount of minutes off my time.  It would be VERY beneficial to do some serious strength training in the gym in conjunction with the bike time.

Will I do it again?  I don't know.  My goal time was 5:30 and I finished about 6:19.  There is room for improvement.  Then again, this may just end up being a bucket list "one and done" and I'd be OK with that too.

Special thanks to Michelle and Simmons Endurance Coaching for putting together a training plan that got me to the top; to Kurt and Nalani (and Michelle) for making it a team effort and so much fun; to my riding buddy and partner in crime, Vanessa, for sticking it out through all the training sessions up the hill (and doing those mind-numbing hill repeats!) and being a kick-ass rider; to Jeffrey for being my own personal support crew and race course mechanic - at least I felt like you were there only for me!; to Scott and Moana for providing first-class sherpa support and cheerleading section; South Maui Bicycles for keeping my bike in stellar shape; and my husband and family for putting up with long weekend training rides, keeping me fed, and being my #1 fans.  LOVE YOU GUYS!!