Monday, June 7, 2010

PACKING FOR A TRIATHLON is not anything like getting ready to do a marathon. Or a Swim. Or a Bike Ride. I imagine it as more like packing for an ascent on Mt. Everest. You've got your gear: Swim Gear (wetsuit, swim caps plural, goggles plural, baby shampoo--keeps your goggles from fogging up, body glide--keeps your neck and arms from chaffing, conditioner--helps get your wetsuit over your body, towel, oh, and yeah- your bathing suit); Bike Gear (bra, bike shorts, biking shirt, helmet, sunglasses, Garmin--to keep track of mileage and time, socks, bike shoes, bike); Run Gear (run shorts--some people don't change shorts, run top--same deal some people don't change, running shoes, socks, hat). Oh yeah- -and that part that they don't tell you about in the TV commercials-- NUTRITION GEAR (7 water bottles, 10 packages of GU-type substances, 6 Gatoraids, 3 power bars, 2 packages of Gu Chomps, and 1 big container of Carbo Pro). This time, however, the coaches were throwing the concept of our "special needs bag" at us. Your special needs bag is something that you will get during the middle miles of the bike ride. In it you are to put any "special needs" you may have. With such great advice from my coaches (Simon-- a pillow and a pizza), mentor (a Starbucks double expresso), and friends (beer, porn), I had no idea what to put in my special needs bag. I perused the grocery store and decided on: a coke (in case I got a headache), some NutterButters, Advil, and, at the encouragement of my teammates, Pringles. I also added replacement water bottles, with my carbo pro Gatoraid mixture, and some electrolite tablets.
AND WE'RE OFF (part 1)
Packing done, babysitter in place, I was off to pick up Iron Mel to head out to Clear Lake for our training weekend. We added her stuff to John's Tahoe and put her brand new bike on the bike rack behind Bayou (my bike). Iron Mel had had a rough day man wise and as we headed out of town, she started telling me the story. While I listened to her story, I started noticing that The Garmin (the one that tells us how to get places in the car) was telling us to go a different way. Per our directions, we were headed out over the Richmond Bridge, through the East Bay and up 80. Garmin kept trying to get us to go another way. Thinking she was crazy, Mel and I turned her down and kept going. . . and going. . . and going. . . for about 3 hours.
Finally, out side of Oakland, Garmin gave up and got with the program. The population got thinner and thinner (at least one town had a "population 56" sign marking the town limits) and the terrain got more and more beautiful. It also started to remind me more and more of home. The closer we got to the lake, the more and more it looked like Lake Oconee-- or at least our side of Lake Oconee).
We were a bit worried about what the hotel was going to be like. Mentor Margaret had described it as "a dive", and she had informed us that there was a carp fishing tournament going on and the parking lot was full of Budweiser drinking guys driving pick up trucks. We were there. It was time to get serious.
What were we up against? Well, the course was a 2 mile swim, followed by a 100 mile bike ride on Saturday. Then we were to eat, sleep and get up on Sunday for a 16 mile run. I'd been told the course was "challenging".
I was pretty nervous-- not about the swim but, as usual, about the bike. I'd never done a century ride before. In fact, I'd really never contemplated doing a century ride before. But the biggest demon I was facing was myself. I've been in a funk lately. Not really in the mood to train (although I have been), not really in the mood to race (although I have been), getting really sick of all this fundraising (although I have been), and really wondering why on earth this matters to me anyway. Who really wants to be Iron. As John says, isn't it enough to be fit and healthy without actually doing a 140.6 mile Iron Man? So, anyway, I've been down.

We got up EARLY and headed out to the Shaw Compound. The Shaws are TNT Alums who open their compound on Clear Lake up to Iron Team every year. So, about 60 of us descended upon them at 5:45 in the morning to set up our mini-transition areas and get our swim waves.

I was to be in the second swim wave-- and I was NOT happy about it. If you remember the Louis Tri, where, due to my swimming ability, I was held until the fastest group to start, and then, due to my terrible biking ability, I was one of the last people to cross the finish line. Not fun. Not confidence inspiring. NOT WHAT I NEEDED FROM THIS WEEKEND.
AND WE'RE OFF (part 2)
The first group went off and our second group entered the water. Pleasant surprise: it was fairly comfortable. Unpleasant surprise: it was filled with tree like vegetation rising up from the depths of the lake to tickle (and tangle) our arms and legs. I was in a group with Sandy, Mel, Margaret, myself, and some other folk. We were off.
It was a smooth swim through the water, but it was not an easy swim. I couldn't see. I couldn't see the course markers. I couldn't see the buoys. The sun was coming up and every time I breathed to my left, I was blinded by the light (cue Jackson Browne song now).
Reaching the final buoy and turning around, I was supposed to look for a dock. No Dock. So, I started swimming. Still no dock. One of the support kayaks said to swim for the trees sticking out into the water and when I got there, I'd see the dock. I got there. Still no dock in site. I caught a vague glimpse of another support kayak out there and headed that way. They were sitting close to the dock!!! I turned around and headed back for the stand of trees that marked the edge of the Shaw compound. At this point, I'd passed a couple of wave 1 swimmers and was headed for the (dreaded) bike.
How Long Would it Take to Ride 100 Miles in a Car? 2 hours? 2 1/2?
100 miles. Wow. What a long way. In anticipation of this ride, I'd packed actual bike shorts (something I usually don't do) and worn a bathing suit under my wetsuit so that I had to change before heading out. I usually just stay in tri shorts throughout the entire race. The difference between the 2? About 2 inches of padding between your butt and the bike seat. For once in triathlon, more IS more. I stripped down and pulled on my shorts and flames bike shirt. (For those of you who haven't seen our flames, lets just say that lime green and purple are VERY noticeable on a bike). After a quick stop at the potty and to apply some Chamois butter, I was off.
About 3 miles in, my arms started to hurt in the areo position. I was in a panic. A few weeks ago, after our 80 mile ride, I'd been to the bike fitter. Rand had adjusted the stem on my bike, we'd gotten a new saddle, we'd upgraded my crankset, and I was expecting (as advertised) a pain free ride. 3 miles in, my arms were in agony. OH MY GOD. How was I ever going to be able to stay on this torture contraption for 100 miles. There were pins and needles running down my arms as I passed Marvelous Mentor Margaret (and one of my teammates) changing a flat-- turned out to be her second flat of the day). Fortunately, by the time I got to the first water station, which I blew by, the pins and needles in my arms had stopped and I was getting comfortable.

What was amazing was my new crankset. OH MY GOD. I'd been riding on a standard and had just upgraded to a compact. This was supposed to give me more gears. Not sure whether it did or not, but I will say that I didn't really feel like my legs were working at all. Just smoothly turning round and round easily on the pedals. My new saddle was a bonus as well. On the old one, 15 miles in I'd already be feeling it-- here, I was comfortable.
So, I settled in for a long day in the saddle. I wasn't really sure how long this was going to take; but I figured it could take up to 10 hours. This was a really hilly course, with some 9 % grades on it, and it was LONG-- encircling Clear Lake-- AKA, the largest lake in California. To check out the bike course (it wouldn't
About mile 30 Margaret passed me again and I started to see some of my teammates. Some passed me, some I passed out there. I generally ride alone, since about 2/3 of my teammates are significantly faster than I am and 1/3 is significantly slower than I am. Thus, I find myself alone on the course a lot. BUT today, coach Dave's wife had joined us. She is training for her second Iron Man and, despite tackling a beast of a 70.3 the weekend before, was joining us on our training weekend. Norma and I rode together for about 60 miles. I must say, having someone to ride with was wonderful. We alternated breaking the headwind (no where but in Northern California is there is head wind in both directions), despite USAT's prohibition on drafting. We talked about the course, nutrition (every time my buzzer would go off to remind me to drink, Norma would shout "hydrate" from where ever she was), Iron Man training, sharing your spouse with TNT, and, basically, having Norma there made everything easier and more fun. Even that stretch of pavement where the road was covered in dirt and holes.
Speaking of holes-- I've never ridden a course with more holes and crappy pavement. At least 30 miles of the 100 were on bad roads. They were a mess. My food sources rattled, my arms rattled, my tires bounced. For some of the ride, it was like riding on 2 flat tires. . . for some of the ride it was like riding on 2 flat tires while pulling a couch. I almost met my maker during one stretch. I'd veered pretty far to the left of the road (think uphill almost dirt single lane) trying to find some decent pavement-- it was about mile 72, I was OVER being on the bike and OVER being on crappy pavement, what do you want? Well, around a bend I went and there was the green SUV. I pulled hard to the right and got on my side of the road, but it was a close call. Its hard to say who was more scared, me or the driver.
Anyway, life altering part of the course done, we proceeded up the final real hill of the ride. Sedonia, our swim coach, had placed signs with our names on them urging us to "Go" and "Ride" As usual, this show of love and support brought on the water works. . .. Memo to all TNT coaches and managers: making people cry while they are trying to ascent 5% grades is NOT HELPFUL. Its really nice. . . its just not helpful.
Finally we were headed back into town. We'd passed the 80 mile mark (my previous longest ever ride) and were headed back to the park when we saw our leading teammate. . . What? We had to do this freaking road again? What? We had to go over this same stretch of HORRIBLE pavement AGAIN? NO FREAKING WAY! The workout Turrets started pretty hard and serious at that point. We started singing. . . we started signing the Oompa Loompa song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. . . Words like "what do you get when you spend 100 miles on a bike? A sore bottom and hatred for coach Mike (our lovable bike coach)."
Needless to say, when we got back into the park and saw coach Mike there. . . (and Marina told on us). . . we were not loving him. BUT we were wrong. I took back all my nasty lyrics when I found out that we were not to head back up the 2 flat tire couch stretch of the course. In fact, I jumped off my bike and hugged coach Mike when I realized that we didn't have to do it again.
12 miles left-- on the way home at last.
I can't begin to tell you how amazing it is to spend 100 miles on a bike. There really are no words to describe it to you. It is long. It takes a really, really long time (7 hours 41 minutes including potty breaks and water stops). It is hard. It hurts your girl parts. That being said, it is amazing. I started to cry off and on as I approached the last 5 miles. I just couldn't believe that I was actually going to make it through a 100 miles. At mile 97, one of my teammates, Katherine, drove by and asked me if I wanted a water balloon down my back. OH MY GOD YES. She tried, and, given that I had no idea what I was doing, I flew by her and we didn't make it work. Then, around she drove again and tried again. Success. A purple balloon filled with ice cold water down the back of my shirt and "pop" a cold splash of water. You know you are Iron when. . . . .
Anyway, I finally pulled into the driveway to the compound to Coach Dave, Mel (who had done 80 miles on her new bike with new aerobars), and M3 (Marvelous Mentor Margaret). I completely lost it. I just couldn't believe I'd done it! I couldn't believe I'd actually ridden 100 miles. I couldn't believe I'd done it in under 10 hours (which I wasn't sure I was capable of). I just couldn't believe that I had gotten that far. . .
But we weren't done. . . . we still had Sunday. A 16 mile run.
To be continued. . . . .


  1. omg HOW could I forget to blog about the WATER BALLOONS! Great write-up...have to go edit mine now to include the Great Water Balloon Treat! xoxoxo S

  2. Congrats! You must KNOW you can do it now!!

  3. Wow, Paula! I had to smile during several parts of your post, because certain memories match mine :) Especially the part about Tourette's kicking in when you realized we had to go BACK up and down the hilly, bumpy roads after reaching Special Needs #2 ~ only to find out that wasn't the case. Talk about HIGHS & LOWS! Ugh, and you're right. We were on our bikes for SUCH a long ASS time, and yet there was something inspiring, incredible, painful, joyous, and remarkable about it all. Tears & smiles at the finish for sure! Congratulations on your first Century Ride -- and completing 3/4 of an Ironman!! Woohoo, Luh'vuhl, here we come!! So proud of you!