But, there are hills, and then there are hills. This weekend's Garrett County Gran Fondo Diabolical Double was FULL of 125 miles of the latter. It was 16,500 feet of climbing - like climbing up Mount Lemmon twice, just without the nice sweeping descents or a Cookie Cabin waiting for me at the end. After this weekend, I could practically cry tears of joy that there are TWO rest days in a row scheduled in Training Peaks.
Originally my friend Karen asked me back in March/April if I was interested in joining a group of friends up in Deep Creek to do this ride. But when she asked I was in the midst of my spring travel extravaganza and couldn't contemplate the thought of more travel, even if it was two months away. Fast forward a month or two and I have one of my long ironman peak training rides scheduled for the same weekend as the Gran Fondo. Lots of my friends were doing the ride. Deep Creek Lake is a gorgeous area. It would be nice to get out of the city. And there were going to be six aid stations fully stocked with PB&J sandwiches and cookies galore. There was no reason why I shouldn't sign up, 125 miles with company (even if it is full of hills) is better than 125 miles with no company. So I signed up.
There's something about racing/riding in Deep Creek that brings out the butterflies. As Tim (my chauffeur extraordinaire for the weekend - thank you for carting me everywhere!!) and I drove out to western Maryland on Friday, I started to feel the nerves set in. There wasn't anything to be nervous for (except for killing myself on the descents) because this wasn't a race, it was just a ride. I've also gotten really nervous every time I've done the Savageman half out there. Something about that area, the hills bring out the nerves.
Minus my nightmare that I ate too many Klondike bars for dessert and couldn't make it up the climbs (I actually woke up in a sweat from this dream and tried to remember how many Klondike bars I did have for dessert - one), I slept pretty well the night before the ride. We were all moving pretty slowly that morning and it was a mad scramble to get to the start area by 7am, whoops! I managed to find Mindy and Sarah at the start area and we let the masses pass by before we jumped on our bikes to follow - no need to be mixed up in a group of testosterone-fueled two-wheeled vehicles bombing down a 4 mile descent. I was more than content to hang off the back. The first 10 miles were deceptively easy on the legs. Then the course slapped you in the face with a right-hand turn that brought you face-to-face with a silly steep hill. I had no shame in taking full advantage of my triple right from that first climb. By the end of the ride, I could've kissed my triple for getting me through the ride in one piece without destroying my legs. Worth its weight in gold.
I stopped at each of the aid stations, didn't linger terribly long at all of them, but in the first few stations that were being used by the rides of all distances, it was so great to run into to many people I knew who were out biking. I ran into so many friends I hadn't seen in awhile, it was definitely a highlight of my day. After the first aid station, Karen caught up to me and we spent the next 40 miles riding together, it made the miles absolutely fly by. When we split off after the third aid station at mile 60, the ride mentally and physically got tougher. Within two miles of the split, my ride went through a few miles of unpaved gravel road. Maybe the ride directors thought they would add to the fun? I was cursing this choice of road at the bottom of a hill when you had to make a sharp left hand turn to go back up another hill and my back wheel almost spun out because I couldn't flip through my gears fast enough. There were multiple times on that ascent that I thought I was going to eat gravel. And sadly, after that section of road my nicely cleaned up/tuned up roadbike was covered in dust and began making funny clanking noises that lasted the rest of the ride. Sigh.
Do you see on the elevation chart that section right before mile 80 where you lose about 1,800 feet of elevation in just a couple of miles? That's the descent into Westernport where I definitely thought to myself I am never doing this ride AGAIN. I didn't think I would be able to brake enough and I'd find myself flying off the road and landing in a ditch. I wanted to wave hello to my bricks encased in the Westernport Wall as I biked by but I was gripping my brakes too hard and there was no way I could let go unless I wanted to launch myself over the Wall. Once I got to an area that was slightly more flat, I pulled over to stretch out my hands and let them un-cramp. I can unequivocally say that I would much rather bike UP the Wall and its continuation than bike down it.
Once I hit aid station 4 at mile 84, I just wanted to haul through the rest of the ride and get it done. The sun was high in the sky at that point and the morning start through the cool fog felt like a lifetime ago. The 16 miles from aid station 4 to aid station 5 at mile 100 was probably the low point of the ride. Sure, you are more than halfway done but you still have FORTY more miles of hills and you've already been on your bike for what feels like forever! At mile 94.5, right before the 7 hour mark, my Garmin quit. This was a little discouraging, but probably a blessing at the same time, because the miles were just creeping by slowly and it seemed like I'd never arrive at aid station 5. My spirits picked up after mile 100 - only twenty-five more miles, how hard could that be (haha, TWO more hours of riding!!). This section still had some decent climbs and I caught up to a rider in a red jersey sometime during this section. We traded places back and forth for the rest of the ride, commiserated about the climbs (it was about this time that swear words were flying past my lips every time I saw another hill), and it was good to have company for this last part of the ride when all I wanted was to be off the bike. After our ride when we were eating our finisher fries, I found out he works for Chipotle and gets to eat free burritos WHENEVER HE WANTS. He arguably has the best job ever.
By mile 100 I was remembering what Karen told me - you should just sign up for the 100, it has more than sufficient climbing. At this point, I was in agreement because that meant I could be off my bike, but sadly I was still 25 miles away from the finish and had no choice but to continue onward. The last 14 miles, from aid station 5 to the finish were the easiest miles of the day - much flatter, except for that pesky climb up a ski mountain during the last 1.5 miles. The Team Z tent halfway up that climb was the most welcome sight ever. Jenny Gephart and Alexis did a great job at making me smile during that last mile when I was covered in sweat, salt, and absolutely dying to get off my bike seat. I wanted to timetrial up that last section but I didn't have a whole lot left in the tank. After a few more rollers after that doozie of a climb, the finish line came in sight and I could finally stop pedaling and get off my bike. Best. Feeling. Ever. Since my Garmin died partway through the ride, I'm guesstimating my ride time was about 9:35. It took about 35 minutes to get from mile 95 to the aid station at 100. Then it took exactly an hour to get to the aid station at mile 111 and exactly an hour to get to the finish line at mile 125. I crossed the finish line about 10:40 after I started, and this included the time spent at the six rest stops stuffing my face with cookies and lemonade.
This was an epic, awesome ride and I'm so glad I did it. It should be on any biker's bucket list for sure. I can't tell you how many times I was so happy to have a triple for my gearing, too many times to count. Also, the Fat Tire bike jersey Mr. Sweetie's parents gave to me was a great wardrobe choice for the day - good conversation starter, as a number of random bikers would bike up behind me and say wow, what I wouldn't give to have a Fat Tire right now. It was such a fun weekend seeing friends out along the course and at the rest stops. Kristin and her boyfriend Chris were having a solid day and it was fun to catch up with them at the rest stops. Sarah and Mindy crushed the bike ride (and this ride will make Placid and Mt Tremblant seem silly easy in comparison). It was fantastic to have a chance to ride with Karen again, we haven't ridden together in far too long. Tim did an amazing job in conquering the Masochistic Metric (and in putting up with carting me all over the place and taking me to the grocery store when I was hungry, an adventure in and of itself). I'm tired and sore from this weekend for sure. Jen had a sense of humor and put in an hour run for me off the bike. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA. I managed to do about 30 minutes of running before I decided that sprawling out on the porch of the rental house with a glass of chocolate milk was much more appealing. It was also past 7pm at this point and I was ready for the day to be done.
View from the top of Wisp
Today I had a long run and an open water swim on my schedule. I can tell you that biking up Wisp Mountain is MUCH better than running up it. Partway up the mountain during my run today, I had to stop, pull myself together and talk myself into moving forward, I was ready to just turn around, my hamstrings and quads and glutes were screaming at me as I shuffled up the hill. But I took a suck-it-up pill, pulled down my arm warmers, and started up the hill again, this time just keeping my gaze on the pavement a few feet ahead of me rather than looking at the steepness I still had to climb. As I came around the corner where the Team Z tent had been stationed yesterday, a good song came on my iPod and I could tell that the road was flattening out and I knew I would make it up to the top. I think I was almost happier about that accomplishment today than I was about it yesterday. The rest of the 15 miles was uneventful, except that by mile 12 my legs were absolute toast. I also made up my mind that my "swim" later that morning would consist of goofing off in the water and not much else.
This trip was made complete with an ice cream and a run-in with the Lakeside Creamery's bear. I think I got gypped on the size of my ice cream cone in comparison to the bear's ice cream cone.
Ice cream is the best recovery food ever