Wine Country Century & China Camp “Hike”

Saturday, H and I did our “big event” – the Wine Country Century. Click HERE for the route map. We went into this having been told it was a “moderate to easy” route, and so we figured that what we would be conquering was more the distance than the “geography.”

Well, we were definitely misinformed. First big lesson: KNOW THE COURSE. But let’s start with the “good.”

It was a perfect day for riding, with great Wine Country scenery. There was everything – from vines with the grape leaves filling in, to California poppies, to redwood trees, big old wooden barns, cows…even GIGANTIC goats…you name it. (the gigantic goats were a definite high point. They looked like Texas Longhorn cattle!!!) The course winds through the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley wine appellations. There were gorgeous, perfect moments of stillness now and again where we would be pedaling along, no wind, good tarmac, with the smell of the roses growing along the vines wafting over us. (Roses are planted next to the vines because they get the same bugs, but roses get them first – sort of the “canary in the coal mine” deal.)

Also, the Rest Stops were FANtastic – with everything from hand-cooked breakfast burritos, lots of different electrolyte beverages, coffee with real cream (H loved that!), pretzels, hand made sandwiches, M&Ms, cookies, bananas, chips, oranges, etc. Of course peanut butter everywhere – since I’m allergic, I didn’t take anything that might have been “around” the peanut butter (e.g., didn’t eat any of the cookies – which looked great! – because they might have been lying next to the peanut butter ones, etc.) – but the pretzels, bananas, and the like were a welcome respite to my GU Brew, Carbopro and GU! (I am still working on fueling…so far, the no-protein, low solid fuel seems to be working.) Though we didn’t thankfully need to use them, the mechanics that were available at the Rest Stops received amazing ‘reviews’ that we were hearing along the road, so great kudos to all the volunteers who came out for this one.

There were SAG wagons available on the route as well and we saw them pretty “plentifully” (is that a word)? Unfortunately, we got off to a late start (started at 8:00 a.m.) and were near the tail end of the 100 mile “group” – so we missed one turn because we’d gotten used to a SAG wagon being at each turn and at this one point, it wasn’t there. Luckily, it was near Hall Road, which I used to live on – so instead of having to backtrack, we went forward and down Fulton, then cut back onto Hall and caught up to the course. It was actually kind of cool to ride down Hall Road, thinking of what my life used to be like when I lived there. I raised shire draft horses, learned to ride my first motorcycle on that street, and certainly never in a MILLION years would have imagined myself 2/3 of the way to an Ironman triathlon!

There were apparently 2,500 riders that day out on the course – that is a LOT of riders! – but we never had any issues with being in big groups or crowds. I didn’t even have that long of a wait at any of the Rest Stop Port-A-Potties, so again, great kudos to the Santa Rosa Cycling Club for this.

The 100 mile course apparently has about 3,600 ft. in elevation (someone with a Garmin said that at the last Rest Stop). The Metric Century is about 2,500 ft. total climb (again, I had this from someone with a Garmin at the last Rest Stop), avoiding the early, hilly portions of the 100 mile course and taking an easy, eight-mile shortcut to the main course.

Another WONDERFUL thing on the “good” side was that Les (my TNT Cycling Coach) had loaned me his house, which is only about 2 miles from the start of the Century. So we didn’t have the hour and a half drive the morning of the race. We did manage to have a sub-optimal pre-race dinner of BBQ Ribs, wine, martinis, and the like with a friend – but that was because we THOUGHT we were just facing the distance, and had somehow been misinformed that none of the hills were more than a “few rollers.” We walked into Les’s house, and the first thing we saw were tiny red satin slippers with red feather boa tops, by the front door. Herbert laconically said, “Are those Les’s?” I of course texted immediately to Lesandjen (remember – ‘Brangelina’) with this question, to give them a bit of a smile during their pre-Wildflower jitters. I had a “You Know You’re Married When” moment too – here we are, in our own little “B&B” (kinda sorta) and Herbert spent the night…in Les’s armchair at his stereo (which he dubbed “Ze Sweet Spot”)! I fell asleep listening to Les Miz and smiling to myself.

OK, so, now – The Ugly. The one thing that saved me, before I get down “to it,” was meeting up with Phil, Erin, Kathryn and Will at the last rest stop – because hearing from THEM that the day was Tough, Awful, “Totally Sucked” – well, that just made me realize how much of a difference it makes that it’s “not just me” feeling the pain. THANK YOU Phil, Erin, Kathryn & Will (and Skip, who we met at once stoplight early on). Meeting up with my Teammates hit my “reset button” (especially at that last Rest Stop)! THANK YOU THANK YOU!

So. The scenery was gorgeous. But I didn’t really see that much of it. H kept us going at a fairly good clip – we finished (including Rest Stops) in 8.5 hours – just over 7 if you exclude the rest stops. We didn’t stop for the lunch, which was apparently fantastic – because by that time, I was in such a bad way, I realized if we stopped, I would STOP.

So, this is how the ride went. We got out kinda late – the 100 mile folks were supposed to be on the road between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., and H and I always seem to take a lot longer than we imagine that we will. It’s my job to “anticipate this” but I don’t seem to do this all that well. I got up early enough to get us some oatmeal (trying out an Instant brand from Trader Joe’s to see if it will work for IML), and to get the replacement drinks, etc. together, but then we wound up having a Fire Drill with things like “Where is the Chapstick?” “Did you get the pump in the car?” blah blah. One of my smiling “You Know You’re Iron When” moments was arriving at Les’s house, where instead of flour/sugar/coffee canisters on the counter or some such, there are big huge jars of CarboPro, Heed, etc. – and in opening the cabinet to look for a coffee cup, an entire shelf of bike bottles. (smile) OK – and the dozens of competition swim caps laid in a neat rainbow at the top of the stairs. (To which H said, “Is this like a low-key, in-the-know trophy room or something?”) No coffee in the house (and I didn’t think to pack any – bad me) so we wound up searching out some coffee for H,and then parking in the back parking lot that was closest to the Finish. I think if his bike bottles hadn’t already been filled with Accellerade, he might have poured in the coffee!

There were a few turns at the beginning of the ride, and as we were at the tail end, not a lot of cyclists to follow. I managed to drop my directions fairly early on – it was windy, and in trying to get them back in my Bento Box, they just blew out of my hand. We got offtrack as I mentioned above, but I got us back on the route because I knew the area. There were actually some 35-mile riders on the route by that time, and we even caught the tail end of some of the 200k riders too.

I needed a “pit stop” before the first Rest Area, and an old, overgrown cemetery “magically” appeared right at the right spot. NO, I did not pee on any graves – though I’m not superstitious, there are some things that even I’m not going to do (smile). The whole “ducking behind” situation reminded me of one of the “You Know You’re Iron When” quotes from the Becoming An Ironman book though – the author of one vignette, a woman, had talked about having “intestinal issues” at Kona, and thinking “Yes, I can just duck behind this twig, this is plenty of coverage…” You Know You’re Iron When a twig, or a leaf, looks like PLENTY of foliage to hide behind in an Emergency Pitstop Moment…

I can’t remember if we hit the first Rest Stop before or after the first Hill From Hell. The Rest Stop was great – as I mentioned above, handmade breakfast burritos, lots of cameraderie, etc. Also, there were message boards, and I spotted a “Go Team, IronTeam!” message, which made me feel GREAT! So. The Hill From Hell. NOT so great. It was pretty early on – maybe mile…20? Less?…and I got maybe 4/5ths of the way up and realized that I just couldn’t keep turning the pedals, even though I was in my compound low “super slo mo” gear. There was no way for me to “unclip” from the cleats to put my foot down; I wasn’t moving fast enough. I struggled to get the foot out and it just knocked me straight over.

So, I knew I was going down…and I did. The scary part? I was on the right side of the road – and the road went down into a STEEP ravine. Thankfully, there was a steel mesh fence (covered with poison oak, mind you) that was on the edge of the road, so I went down “into” it with a BANG. Without that fence? I would have dropped down into that ravine, still attached to my bike. It scared the crap out of me in a big bad way.

H was ahead of me, but the guy next to me shouted “You OK?” And I said – “Yes, no worries” – because I was. Nicely cushioned by the poison oak and saved by the fence. Fantastic. I got myself back up, and pushed the bike to the top of the hill, where H’s (also scared) reaction was “Why did you DO that?” Um – I didn’t do it on PURPOSE…

I tried to keep on top of my nutrition, and so by the 2nd Rest Stop, had finished off my Camelbak. That is 70 oz. of fluid, in which I had put the GU Brew (9 scoops) and 8 scoops of CarboPro. I had also taken 3 GU or so, and some Thermalytes. I did eat some pretzels, but I didn’t feel much like eating and was still unhappy from my experience on that hill. I queried the Santa Rosa Cycling dude what was coming, and he said basically “just easy rollers until lunch.”

Hmmmm. This next section actually nearly killed me. I guess it was between miles about 40 and about 70 (which is where lunch was). I lost my sense of humor, I was hurting, and I realized that the new handlebars that I had gotten from the bike fit were likely too narrow – because my shoulders started aching something fierce. I had to ride with my right hand tucked up to my chest, or hanging “next to” the handlebars, when I could (meaning, of course, when I wasn’t having to deal with changing gears or braking). I could feel racking sobs building up inside me. I mean serious, racking, “I just found out my best friend died” sobs. H was doing great – he would get WAY in front of me, as I was plugging along, feeling these sobs building up inside of me. He would wait for me, then we would join up again, and ride for a while, and he’d pass a clump of riders, and I just couldn’t keep it up, and so he’d get ahead, and then wait, and so on. At one point, he did point out that at the rate I was going, if I were to do that on race day, I wouldn’t make a cutoff in IML. I was just very quiet – because if I spoke, I was pretty sure these sobs would escape. He made me concentrate on WHAT I felt was “going wrong,” because he said that I “still had time to dissect and fix it.” I realized that I would have to “really get with the program”; though I was doing way more than I had ever done, the Ironman is a HUGE “bite” to “chew.” H also reminded me to think about how my legs felt – since on race day, I would have a marathon to do, after the bike. I started wondering whether doing an Ironman was such a good idea, after all.

At about mile 60, we were still 10 miles from the lunch turnoff, and H said that we would either have to “really hammer” to make it (cracks me up when he uses his new words, like “hammer” (smile)), or we could “treat it like an Ironman” and eschew lunch. We had been battling the winds for the bulk of the way from the Rest Stop, and I wasn’t sure what “hammer” meant for me at that point. I said we could make the decision when we came to the “T” intersection where left was lunch, right was continuing. As we approached, I realized that the decision was pretty much made “for us” by my speed – we would get to the lunch about 5 minutes before the cutoff, and that just didn’t sound worth it. I was leading at that point, so I just turned right and kept going.

About 5 miles more along the road, still being beaten down by the winds, I just stopped. It was flat, and H couldn’t figure out why I had stopped. I just said, “I just need to stop. I need a rest.” I couldn’t even talk, for fear of those sobs. They were like a huge welling force in my chest. Luckily I had my sunglasses on, because those sobs were leaking out of my eyes as tears. I just straddled my bike for about 5 minutes, not saying anything. He finally said, “Are we going to be picked up?” and I said “No, let’s ride 5 more miles.” That would put us at 80 – which was way farther than I had ever gone. And I could convince myself that “anyone” could go 5 miles. (SECOND BIG LESSON: Break things up into “bite-sized” pieces – and remember to STOP now and again. That little “rest” made all the difference.)

The road was pretty beaten up along the route, and by this time, my arms and wrists just ached from the potholes, bumps, etc. I was being good about the nutrition (now well into my 2nd Camelbak, which I had filled with water and a baggie of the Carbopro/GU Brew mix at the 2nd Rest Stop), but I knew that this mental/spiritual/physical hammering I was taking had to be something like bonking. I have heard that bonking generally has a real emotional component – and I was swinging from feeling irrationally furious at H (for going way out ahead; for trying to make me go faster), at myself (for not driving the course beforehand; for believing the folks who told me it was an ‘easy’ Century), to being right at the top edge of these sobs. Back, forth. Swing, swing. 5 more miles.

I got to the 5 mile point and was riding in front of H again, and realized I could just keep going. So I did. Another mile or so in I literally got blown sideways so my bike felt like it “skipped” to the left – no traffic, thankfully – and I was in “angry phase” so I just knuckled down and swore at it. (If I had been in “sob phase” I am pretty sure I would have quit.) I actually hadn’t realized that another Rest Stop was coming up (at Mile 86) – then when it arrived, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to duck into it. (Still at Angry Phase. I just wanted the ride “Done.”) I did know, though, that availing myself of any Port-a-Potties is a good idea, so I cut into the driveway and stopped.

On my way to the Port-A-Potties, I saw flames! It was Erin, from Ironteam! She asked me how it was going, and I waited a beat, trying to figure out if I was going to lie and just say “Fine, You?” I finally decided on “Not so great, You?” And she laughed and said “This SUCKS!” I started to laugh – and I could feel the sobs “pop” inside of me! She said that she had gotten going at 7 a.m., (an hour before we hit the road) but had only made it this far. I told her about my fall into the fence/poison oak. We talked about the winds, rough roads, speed demon peletons, etc. I WAS SO RELIEVED! It was NOT JUST ME! Erin was my “Reality Angel.” She said that she had seen Phil, Kathryn and Will, but surmised that they were “Way past by now,” and so we hugged and I wished her luck, and she took off for the last leg of the journey.

As I returned from seeing Erin off, I saw more flames – IronPhil was there! He said that Kathryn and Will were just behind him – which they were. (Sadly, I didn’t run into IronWu or Coach Helen, who were out there too.) H had gone off to find pretzels so the 4 of us talked for a bit – comparing how much the day SUCKED. The sob bubble completely disappeared and it felt as if a big beaming sun was in its place. I was still sore, bruised, tired, poison-oak’d, and not that happy, but not being ALONE in my pain changed every-freakin’-thing. THIRD BIG LESSON: Remember to “enjoy the camraderie of the misery of your fellows” during the actual race. I read this in the Becoming An Ironman book – but I really “got it” during the Century.

I was able to introduce H to Phil/Kathryn/Will, then we headed off on the last “leg” of the route. We had basically been following the Vineman route since before Guerneville (it comes down the long downhill that goes under Highway 101, then turns right on the frontage road to Guerneville, same course) – so I knew that the last 14 miles included the Chalk Hill hill.

I had made it up the big climb before Chalk Hill when we had done the Vineman course, and even had made it up the 350 foot “big climb” on it as well. It had been an effort, but I had made it. Unfortunately, this time, I was hitting those after about 90 miles of hard riding beforehand.

On the big climb before the 350 foot “steep part,” I had another fall. I realized that I wasn’t going to make it (which bummed me out, as I had made it when we rode the route 2 weeks previously). I was just not turning over the pedals enough, even in my super-slo-mo gear. So I tried to steer into a driveway to the side, which was flatter and I hoped I could get the pedal around to speed up and get my foot out of the cleat without just tottering to a topple. No dice. At least I went down in the driveway (gravel/grass) instead of in the road. H was a bit behind me, and so I said “I’m fine,” to which he answered “Stop DOING that, you are freaking me OUT!” (Thanks, I’d love to.) I knew that he was just as freaked out as I was with my falling – he gets very upset when I am in a situation he can’t “protect me” from.

By this point I didn’t have the sobs in my chest any more, but I started just feeling afraid – afraid of this inability to get out of the cleats. I pushed the bike up to the top of the hill (Phil blew past me when I was getting back on, shouting an Atta Girl – love you, Phil!). I didn’t even clip my right shoe in. I was really scared of falling now. As we approached the 350 foot “big incline,” I pulled over, and walked up it. A couple guys behind me were obviously puzzled as they blew past and said “Hey, you OK?” And I just said, “Yeah, I want to walk.” They laughed, but what can I say? I was too scared to try to get part way up, and then fall again. So I walked up.

By then, we were nearly done. I didn’t clip in, and was able to make it up the rollers and then back around to the car to finish. H actually put on my shoe (we are only 1/2 size different) and rode the bike, because he wanted to see if it was a cleat or shoe issue. Unfortunately, no. It’s a “me” issue. It has to do, somehow, with my physical mechanics of trying to unclip when I’m going slowly. As we got the bikes into the car and cleaned up a bit, we talked about it and he said he would help me, really watching what “part of the stroke” I was trying to uncleat from. His view was that I probably was doing it right at the bottom of the stroke, which is harder (hip-wise) to release from. So we’re going to have some “unclipping practice” some time this week.

We got some grub at the big end tent, and then headed back home. (I tried to avoid thinking about the fact that in the Ironman, I would be RUNNING the same distance!) On the way out, we happened to run into Steve Reagan, who had been on the South Bay Team, but had to drop out – he shouted “Go Team!” when he saw my Flames, and then actually recognized me because he had availed himself of my offer to use SendOutCards for donor thank yous. He’s going to do it again next year – so I said I would see him at a Boot Camp! (I have to stay positive – I would REALLY like to mentor next season.) All in all, I am glad I did it – but I CERTAINLY would never, ever tell someone that this is a “moderate to easy” Century. That’s craziness.

Once we got home, I was going to take an ice bath, but I was just too tired. H fixed me some miso soup (my ultimate comfort food – I think I was Japanese in a previous life), and rubbed my back a bit, and I was asleep by 7:30 p.m. I had wanted to check how Simon had done in the Utah Ironman, etc. etc. – just couldn’t do it.

Sunday, I was up and back out for more training – this time to China Camp, for what was supposed to be a 10 mile run. I didn’t feel that bad (surprisingly). I decided I would “do what I could do,” and so I picked up Mel and we met with Head Coach Dave, Mentor Margaret, Kathryn, Marina, and Michele (I think that was it?) out at the trail head. There were so few folks because our team was all over the map at competitions that weekend, including Alcatraz, Wildflower, and the rest (HERE is Paula’s writeup on Alcatraz – whohoo!). Kathryn delicately told me that my clothes were on inside out – ah yes, dressing myself, such a challenge.

We got started and  I was jogging in the back with Kathryn and we were talking about the Century and what we had learned, etc. when she tripped over a root and took a header right onto her hands and knees. She didn’t get up right away, which definitely concerned me. Once she was up, we realized that she had done a number to her knees – one was missing a flap of skin and she had a couple hematomas (hematomi?) starting. Dave had been wearing bike gloves “just in case he tripped” – Kathryn had given him a bit of a hard time about it and immediately said, looking at her skinned hands, that she “took that all back”! We cleaned her up as best we could with water from our Sports Belts, and headed on to find the big bottle of water that Dave said he had put “under an iron bridge” on the path.

That also led to our You Know You’re Iron When moment for that run – Kathryn had had her iPod playing in earphones, but when she tripped her iPod went flying (I retrieved it – it survived). When she went to plug it back in, she realized she had blood all over her headphone jack, AND her shoes. “You Know You’re Iron When…”

Kathryn decided to walk, and I was perfectly happy to walk with her. We walked at a pretty good clip – we covered 7 miles. Coach Dave came back looking for us and he gave us a different path to take, so we finished just after the main group, who had done the whole 10. We picked up and carried the liter water bottle he had stashed 1/2 way at “the iron bridge”, which was actually kinda fun – we kept offering water to folks along the path. It was a little amazing how many people were out there without any sort of water. One couple were obviously hot and thirsty when we asked, but didn’t even had a bottle – though he had a large covered coffee cup in his hand. When I asked if he would like to dump out the coffee and for me to put water in there for them, he looked like I had just said something sacreligious! Kathryn and I had a good laugh at that. We met a couple of bikers a few times (doing hill repeats) and near the bottom, one of them asked if we would be out with water next weekend, that they could “get used to that.” (smile). We also got to walk with Head Coach Dave for a bit, and had a hilarious banter about the “things that you do” when an Ironman athlete versus a “regular person” (including a number of “manscaping” issues that made us laugh out loud).

This morning (Monday) I am fairly tight and a little sore, so I’m glad that I didn’t push it any more than the brisk walk that we did. It was really fun walking together, discussing “all things Ironman, LLS, etc.” Kathryn had done a number of Teams In Training, so it was super interesting to hear where she had “come from” and such.

We were back at the cars and had a little cameraderie with our IronPeeps (HERE is Mel’s great writeup and a link to the China Camp area & some great Mental Techniques for getting back into Running). Then it was time for me to speed off for a shower and then the theatre! It was a very full weekend! Mom, Dad, H and I saw Girlfriend at Berkeley Rep, which was very entertaining. H and I headed from there to Larkspur to have some appetizers and – of course – cocktails at Left Bank, then he did some work down in the workshop and I watched some “guilty pleasure” TV while preparing a gi-normous assortment of grilled veggies (asparagus, mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, yellow squash, onions, cauliflower, broccoli). I’ve started doing this every Sunday night for us to eat during the week. Having all the veggies already grilled up makes it SO EASY to add them into our meals/salads/etc. – and I don’t mind all the chopping, watching, seasoning, etc. when I can catch up on “Biggest Loser” or “Oprah” during the preparation!

Today is a rest day (thank goodness!). I have been doing a few “honey do” chores and also today, pursuant to my conversation with H with respect to where I am in training and what is lacking, I’m going to go do some shopping, then come back and do a little Strength training. For the next 90 days, I am going to stop sandbagging the Strength training, and just knuckle down and start to Rock It. When we started training back on November 7th, I remember that Head Coach Dave said that Strength was the one thing that folks wouldn’t do, and that this was a BIG mistake. I hadn’t thought that I would be one of  “those” people, but the training had not worked for my knees and shoulders, I hadn’t been able to get “modified” exercises, and so I just quit. Stupid. Childish. And now I’m going to have to get going on it – because I’m quite sure that part of my issues are due to this lack.  Time to get the weights and DVDs out – I can do this!

You Know You’re Iron When…

…At the end of a run you have blood on your shoes. And your headphone jack (from Kathryn) – addition by Coach Dave, “…AND still continue to power walk 6+ miles of hills!”

…You know what “Yeah, this twig will hide me” is all about.

…You have a shelf full of bike bottles in the kitchen, and 4 huge jars of replacer beverage instead of flour/sugar/coffee canisters.

…Your “trophy room” consists of dozens of competition swim caps laid out nonchalantly on a shelf.

…Part of your day is dedicated to “manscaping” (courtesy of Head Coach Dave).

…You wander around a waterstop asking strangers for “butter” and get excited when someone hands you a mysterious gob of goo which you immediately and happily stuff in your shorts. (courtesy of Coach Helen)

…You start to break a sweat (for instance, on a crowded Bart train on an unusually warm SF day) and you immediately go to search your purse for an Endurolyte. (courtesy of Maria M-Dot)

…Your weekend includes meeting Macca!!!! (Check out Maria M-Dot’s blog HERE – where she talks about the goings-on about our teammates – I’ve included her awesome photo here, below!)

MCA and MaCcA!

Iron Quote (from Maria):

The attitudes and habits you develop in training will come out in races.  If you let up or give up in training when things get too tough, then you’re ingraining that habit in the face of adversity.  That reaction will come out when you’re faced with adversity in races.  A positive reaction to adversity comes from accepting the conditions and realizing that everyone else in the race has to deal with the difficult conditions as well.  A part of this positive reaction is not allowing yourself to become frustrated because your performance declines.  Stay positive and motivated even when the conditions are challenging. 

 -Jim Taylor & Terri Schneider