In November the Ironhusband and I will return to the scene of the crime in Tempe to volunteer and sign up for Ironman Arizonia 2011:Once Is Not Enough. We're taking extra time this trip to see the sights and we're thinking of taking our cyclo-cross bikes to do some driving and day riding. We'll have 2 half days to begin and end the week of riding and 5 full days and we need ideas. I'd love to be able to ride some dirt roads and easy trails through some of the desert parks and possibly stop by the Grand Canyon for a day hike. Thoughts??
The course consists of 20km of gravel and dirt roads, 18km of rail trail, 13km of singletrack (1-3km sections), 8km of paved road and about 3 tons of mud – give or take a ton. It ends with a climb up a dirt hill surrounded by more hills on top of which are perched, like vultures, various onlookers cheering you on (not so much like vultures, that part). On the side of the road are the fallen warrior men (never a woman) screaming in pain at the cramping of their quads. If someone would just play Ride of the Valkryies over a loud speaker, the scene would be complete.
In short IT IS FANTASTIC.
It is also very very male. Really male.
Now, I like males. I really do. They have within them such a core of self-assuredness that they will show up at the above race with a piece of crap bike that looks like grampa used it during the Second World War. This is admirable, but stupid. I’ve elected to be in the third of three waves and it is by far the most unattractive group of bikes I’ve ever seen. There are kickstands, fenders, handmade whatchamacallits and doohickies. One guy is wearing a golf style wind breaker and a pair of pants. People are massively overdressed as newbies always are.
Off we go and within a few kilometres the side of the trail starts to be littered with mechanical breakdowns. Clearly, male self-assuredness, absent of bike tune-ups, is actually highly overrated by the self-assured males.
But you know, you’ve got to love them, when they aren’t parked in the left track of the rail trail holding you up.
I’ve decided that what this race needs, to offset the testosterone, is a dollar store tiara on my helmet. It is brilliant. I knew that the women out there would love it, it’s so very Barbie, but the men are having a good laugh as well. And there is something about wearing your own personal crown jewels that gives you that perhaps unfounded belief in your ability to ride a ridiculously varied course on whatever 2 wheels you have lying around the house. Ah ha, so that’s it – my dollar store crown jewels gave me the same abilities as those crown jewels that the men though they too were wearing, snuggled up in their bike shorts.
As we whip throught the Ontario spring countryside I point out to my fellow competitors all the pretty flowering trees so they can tell their wives about them later. As I past them of course.
I LOVE CHICKING GUYS. Is that wrong?
I pop out of a mud trail onto a road I recognize as the start of the short course race and, checking my watch, am dismayed to see that it took me 1:35 to ride 25 km. Given that I finished the next 35 km (the short course) last year in 2:27 I’m feeling a little down that I’m going to be over 4 hours. I honestly thought it was doable in 3:15 which would have put me in about the same placing as last year’s short race. This year I absolutely refuse to not PB every single race I do. I just refuse, so clearly I need to somehow PB this one somehow.
I’m mentally kicking myself for walking so much of the mud in the first portion but I know what’s ahead of me and, except for the formal mud hills, the trails are pretty much going to be dry. Riding a cyclo-cross bike also gives me an edge on the portion left as it’s not quite so technical. Mental readjustment and it’s back on.
So, I start sailing past those boys, down in the drops to fight the wind, cursing the fact that I’ve dropped behind and I’m now faster than everyone so I can’t find anyone to draft off of. Not that I don’t receive some drafting attention, notably from a guy who tells me he’s never done it before but can he draft off of me. Sure I say but then proceed to put the hammer down to shake him off. I just didn’t want any newbies with kickstands taking me down. Sure the scars would look impressive but I might ding up my tiara.
On we go, over hill, dale, farmer’s fields, rail trails and fast happy pavement. Two guys on a tandem go down behind me as we struggle through muddy tractor tracks and I watch the process of remounting before seeing them take off yelling in tandem as they tackle the ruts. I do a bit of my own self encouragement a little later on as I get to the top of a forest trail hill that suddenly seems to end in an awful lot of loose dirt.
And then, the mud, the famous part of the race. We are all corralled into a steep little valley not much more than maybe 10 feet wide with mud oozing over our shoes. The husband, having seen someone loose one of their shoes last year, counselled a tight fit. I’ve ratcheted them on but I can still feel them slip around in the suction. The other key to success is to carry your bike so as not to gather up 5 pounds of mud on your frame. Another bonus of the cross is that it’s much lighter than the mountain bikes around me and I manage to carry it all the way to dry land.
After the mud is a brief respite of pavement and hard pack dirt roads. And then there is more mud. It was so much fun the first time that the course steers you into another mud valley. Same routine, carry the bike, hold onto the shoes, scrape off the cleats, remount.
I’m getting tired here but I’m pretty sure that the race is almost over and when I see the “chewed up” dirt road I know that we’re starting the uphill slog to the finish line. All I can do at this point is to stay on my bike as much as possible as I work my way through massive ruts and small ponds. Then, the final ascent has me off my bike, calves burning at the angle and I walk to the top. You can’t walk the finish line however – that would be shameful so it’s back on and I ride across the mat.
So, how about the personal best dream. Well, I sailed through the second part of the race over 20 minutes faster than last year so I’m taking a PB both on the 35k route and the 60k. I may not have placed as well as hoped on the 60 but it’s always a PB for the first time.
Pants that used to be too big now fit and new pants seemed to have fit for only the briefest of moments. This Iron(wo)man has been letting herself down. Life just got in the way but, exam is over, kitchen is so clean you could eat in it, basement still mouldy but Ironhusband has made great strides in destruction preparing for anti-mold fogging so, it’s back to what now passes as life. As an aside, in the midst of Iron training last year the back half of our basement began to harbour another form of life on the walls – so, of course, we just shut the door, waited for it to dissipate in the fall and then, since it wasn’t visible any more, well left it until this spring. Then I got the brilliant idea that since I’d like a cold room, the easiest thing was to strip the walls of the mouldy drywall and insulation and get instant cold room. Apparently the devil is in the details and the husband is worrying about this and that – heat to the kitchen just above for instance – he’ll figure it out.
Triathlon training is slated to begin gently the first week of May but that doesn’t mean that I can’t get into more activity before that. I know I do much better with a formal schedule but I need to make the effort to get into the pool, back on the treadmill at lunch a couple times a week and, most pleasurably, the bike on weekends – both days! I know that all that activity, coupled with journaling my food, and those too big pants that were on the list for charity will be gone and I will be able to do cartwheels in the new ones. Not that I don’t want a cookie right about now…ugh!
Absolutely pumped for Paris to Ancaster, a point to point cyclocross/mountain bike race – I’ve never done the full 60 k but I’m ready for it. Well not quite. I decided that such a macho, manly, muddy race needs a tiara for my helmet. If I can find one that will fit on the helmet then I will be Iron Princess, slayer of boys on bikes. A tutu was suggested but that just isn’t aero you know. That’s Sunday. Look for race report of great glory and awesomeness next week.
So, second attempt at the exam is tomorrow and I think that success is at hand. I went back to basics and worked my way through all the problem areas, trying not to think I was too smart to start with 1+1=2. We can get into a lot of trouble thinking we are too smart to start with the basics, with the structure of whatever we are trying to build - a garden shed for example, or the risks and rewards of option trading, or gosh, a banking system. So I took my conservative Canadian banker self to the desk and did the grunt work. Please feel free to plead on my behalf to any deities. I'm a great fan of deities.
In addition to my scholastic awesomeness I also obtained great glory on the streets of Hamilton during the annual running of the Around the Bay Road Race - tagline, older than Boston. Makes you feel older than Boston anyway.
Like all great human athletic endeavours this one started with a drunken pledge between 2 newbies, 1 junior runner and 2 sceptical Ironmen. The sceptical Ironmen (husband and I in case you're not getting it) were really looking forward to a winter off formal training but the drunk newbies were so cute, well, we agreed to sign up once the drunk newbie names appeared on the confirm list. Weeks went by, no newbies on list but then suddenly the junior signed up and changed the game. I really couldn't let such a trusting soul down and so entered Ironhusband and self.
Twelve weeks before the race I get a 12 week half marathon plan and proceed to modify to cover off a 30 k race. We started out on the program with just one newbie (almost puppy like in his energy and enthusiasm) and the junior who is moving up to the big times with her first full marathon, one Ironhusband and self. And gosh, we have fun. When we started out this journey it was just the two of us training and I'm so happy that as time has gone by we've managed to gather up a crew of like minded fools for this ship. We run the trails that have opened up the ravines of Toronto, we spend time on the waterfront following the Humber River north past very lovely homes that will have to wait for our next life, we exhaust ourselves and the resident Irondog. But still, I just can't get into the long weekday runs and I decide to lower my expectations and add in 2-3 lunchtime treadmill workouts alternating between 30 minute hill workouts and 40 minute run ladders.
One benefit of all this rest is that I arrive at the race for the first time in 4 years with no injuries whatsoever. None, nada, rien, nichts. Honestly. Winters traditionally have been spent battling IT band issues, Plantar Fasciitis, Irritable Wife Syndrome, all the stuff you read about in the running magazines. I've always found that triathlon training with limited running and lots of cross training to be considerably easier on the body so I'm pretty stoked to feel so good.
None of that changes the fact that THIS RACE IS A BITCH - and not in a cute cuddly new female puppy way. The first 19.5 km is lovely, if you consider running past drunks and a very smelling water treatment plant lovely. If you do, you should move to Hamilton. It's very affordable.
Oh now I've gone and slagged Hamilton which is not fair, I love Hamilton. We train there, the Maple Leaf Pancake House rules and our house would be about a quarter of what it costs in Toronto. If we didn't like walking to work so much we might be tempted.
Right, so back to the race. Alex had come down with a nasty stomach bug, combined with too much travel and decided that he really didn't have anything in the bank so race morning found us with his cyclo-cross bike strapped to the Subaru for Sherpa and cheerleading duty.
Newbie and junior were pumped. Oh, maybe that was me yelling "RACE DAY" just as they sat down in the car but well, they were pumped after that.
The weather was perfect, just slightly overcast, about 4 C, the promised rain holding off for the morning. Newbie, being young and male, seeded himself well ahead of junior and I. Junior looked me in the eye and assured me that 3:15 was absolutely obtainable given the paces we had been running on Saturdays and I believed her and shoved myself in just in front of the 3:15 pace bunny. We took off and it felt great. Now, the ugly truth is that races can be boring so the first 20 km were really just about monitoring how the body was feeling (awesome), was I too hot (off with the arm warmers), what flavour of Gatorade did the aid station have (pleasantly varied amongst all the colours of the Gatorade rainbow), what kind of pace booty was ahead (sorry but triathlon has the best looking men), you know, all the sort of stuff.
So, around 20 k the hills start and happily that's about when I saw Alex. That was also the last I saw of Junior until post finish line. But that was ok, she got me to 20 k in 2:06 and I felt lots left for the hills. I had worn the Ironman finishers shirt that I bought and I've got to tell you it's not conceit that had me choose it but both the opportunity that it gives in terms of opening up a dialogue with people in the race about what I truly believe we are all capable of and also, reminding myself of what I can accomplish. That second purpose really came in handy as I pushed myself beyond what I think I would have done had I been wearing a generic shirt. I was very publicly an Ironman and had to make sure the brand was well represented. The shirt and I dug deep and I came in sprinting (cause that's the way I roll) and in the end I took about a minute off my best time ever, and more importantly, placed well beyond what I had done in the past.
So, here's the dilemma - that was going to be my last Around the Bay road race for the foreseeable future, but, well, I PB'd large on minimal training (and not much later it became obvious that I had also picked up Alex's stomach bug and presumably been working on that during the race)...damn, I'm so going to have to do it next year.
PS - Junior and Newbie rocked the course. Unbelievable!
I've come to believe that the very essence of our humanness is found with endurance sports. They are seemingly solitary, self absorbed pursuits but those of us who take that route to life know, perhaps more than others, that we are a team out there.
Please take your life and use it up, wear it out, get blisters, chafe and sunburns. If you choose triathlon, and I hope you do, I wish you well on that journey. You will take on a lifestyle that is unparalleled. Either way, drop me a line, tell me your story.