I recently finished my last big block of Ironman training. This is the third time I have gone through training for an Ironman race. Things were different each time but one thing remains the same: I love this stuff. I love the block that pushes you and you work to peak in training. It’s hard. It’s challenging both mentally and physically. But it’s also what I love to do. It’s where I have my fun. It’s where I make memories with friends. It’s where I find my adventure.
I know it sounds weird. I know it doesn’t compute for some but really….it’s true. Riding 100 miles, or 80 miles, with someone has a chance for a lot of stuff to happen. Somehow, somewhere you will be challenged. Somehow, somewhere you will have a bonding experience with people and you will be forever grateful they are in you life. Even if only for that ride.
I have ridden two organized centuries, and two centuries self supported with friends in this preparation. Both organized centuries I have gotten in with strangers and both times they have made the ride amazing. Both times with friends have been amazing and good for me as well.
My first century was in Acworth with my coach and several of her friends/athletes (also, friends of mine at this point too). I had ridden with all of them before throughout the winter for shorter rides. I love riding with them….a group of strong, women riders. When we ride an organized century a group of men have tagged on and when we stop comment that they have just been trying to keep pace! Anyway, I was nervous. I was jumping from a high of 62-70 miles straight in to a century with very strong, female riders. It ended up to be amazing. I hung with them. There is a stretch after mile 80 where they all like to push…a series of hills and rollers that is challenging. We all rode our own ride there. I was not near the front and was still pushing high watts for me. Not sure how, after 80 miles, I found that effort in my legs, but I did. After that I keptin the back, well behind the draft zone. I kept pace with them, but mentally was done with drafting. And I learned that in a pace line I leaned too heavily on my right foot and it was sore. I just wanted and needed to pedal steady. So I stayed back a bit, but still with the group. Overall I was thrilled that I managed to stay with this strong group when jumping over 30 miles for a longest ride of the season. And still had a solid t-run!
Next up was the first organized century, Cartersville, is where I met Jeff….And he took a ride where I could have been alone and a bit warry (I had started with friends but just going a bit faster) as it was rural and I kept a watchful eye out for random, unfenced dogs, deer, etc….he and I stuck together for most of the ride after mile 35 or so, and rode well. I had a fabulous ride. He made a negative mindset I was nearing and helped me have a lot more fun.
My third century was, again, an organized one (Covington Century). I ended up getting lost with 4 random guys. I never learned their names. One navigated us back to course. At the rest stop we learned we were so far off course that distance options if we stayed on course were 88 or 118 miles. Oops. I wanted the century and didn’t want to make it up near town as those tend to be slow, “junk” miles so was game for the 118. The navigator of our group looked at his phone and said he could get us near a century by navigating off course. And so off we went….And had a terrific ride. We did get split up about mile 85 or so when I was leading and I think our navigator and his friend caught a turn I missed. So now we were down to 3, and using our phones to get back on course back home. All the while, I felt like I was just getting in to things. I felt great! We ended up with 112 miles and not too much more stopping time. I got home that evening and was going out with a group in town for a board meeting that Carlos is the president of. That evening they asked about my ride and I was absolutely gushing. It was a terrific time. I was stunned and flattered that this group of men were willing to alter plans to ride with me. I kind of felt like I earned their respect with how I rode which made me smile as I have been working very hard on the bike. The truth is they were just a great and flexible group of guys. And I had a strong t-run. Fabulous!
My fourth century I rode in a random group put together by my friend Michael. We were on the first GA Ironteam together and had ridden a lot together. He is a strong rider and helped me a lot in the past. I was looking forward to riding with him, hoping I had advanced enough to really hang with him. Carlos and I showed up and to my delight two more friends were there: Chrissy and Susie…both strong athletes (I think there is a theme of the people I get to hang out with here!). There were also three other men there I met for the first time. This was a hard ride for me in that in about 30 miles (miles 25 – 55) we encountered about 6-7 dogs, and one group gave Chase….hard. Ever since my friend Ann had her accident with a dog, and I had mine I am very wary of dogs, and I can freak out some. This was hard for me mentally. But Frank did his best to calm me down and give advice after the first dog, and rode me through the next group or three! Michael was also there….helping me by making me smile. As we rode I could see Susie scanning when she led. She was scanning smart – realizing where there was the most potential for dogs. I kept close to her and watched her motions. I knew once we were down to the last 20 miles we were home free…but it was actually ok after mile 55, our first and only stop. The point is on this ride we came together. Chrissy was planning on a store for some of her nutrition… normally this is a safe plan, but on this ride there were no stores. But people had extra, and shared. We used a hose at a church to replenish our liquid nutrition. I always carry my own mix. And there was an employee there that let us in to use the bathroom. Luxury! Although this was a hard ride mentally…it was a great ride. And we finished strong. I took the lead about 12 miles out and just pushed it home. I told Michael I was done leading at about 8 miles out and he took over at. And after a stop light I was on point again and pushing hard. Horse to barn syndrome? Not sure but it was terrific to know I had that effort in my legs after 90 strong miles.
Other rides, shorter in distance but just as challenging, and actually longer in time for two. One that was shorter, but was a series of brick repeats with my friend Anna. Without her I would not have made that last interval. I wasn’t hitting any numbers. If Anna had not been there I may have given up. But she got me through. And we both felt pretty proud to have gutted it out. Although I did feel disappointment that I just had nothing left by the last segment. Luckily my coach recognized the signs of extreme fatigue and immediately changed my schedule to a day off and a recovery week.
And two gap rides – both with my coach and both the longest rides in terms of time I have ridden. One was 8 gaps in one day and 82 miles: 8 of us (one great guy and 6 of the others were of the aforementioned strong female riders. And again…Laura pushed me on those last 15 or so miles up Neels gap and home.
And last weekend it was just Laura and me…82 miles up and over burnt mountain to talking rock and back. We climbed over 7,100 feet. Burnt mountain is about 1,500 feet each way. And there is a 10 mile stretch about mile 62 or so that Laura likes to push. So we took turns on the front and pushed that stretch on home. I wasn’t sure I’d keep up with her, but I did. And we hoofed it.
My last ride was 70 miles with Anna and Laura. It was a terrific ride. Despite the heat I felt great. However, the run was a hard lesson near Ironman Wisconsin that I need to be vigilant about hydration on race day. Ugh.
Each ride has been a challenge. Each ride I have been able to meet the challenge. Each ride I make amazing memories with friends, grateful for the experience. I love making these memories…And sharing this time. And hearing their stories and just having fun.
I love being all in: having enough sleep, well fueled, and feeling ready to challenge myself. Yes, one time I was putting the bikes on my rack as a couple of my neighbors were coming home. And I thought “it’d be nice to sleep a little later “, but that was all. I loved getting to go out for a ride, and know I appreciated how I would feel after much more than a hangover. In reality….I was (and am) doing what I want to do and what I love to do. Every day I am grateful for what my body lets me do, what my body lets me explore with “life without limits”. I have a goal and a dream….and am working hard to achieve it. And having the time of my life in exploring what I CAN do, and what I am capable of. It is amazing. My body surprises me almost daily…in a good way…with what it can do. And I have met fabulous people. And made amazing memories.
And I haven’t even gone over my long runs yet! Next time.