30 March 2013

SkyMass in March - snow, shorts, and a caboose unhinged

Earlier this week, with Mt. Lemmon looming in the near future, I thought doing the SkyMass route this weekend was the BEST IDEA EVER. Eighty-two miles, with over 30 of them on Skyline Drive and then a steep, seemingly never-ending climb up and over Mt. Massanuttan. And with weekend highs forecast to be in the 60s, there wasn't anywhere I'd rather be biking.

Holy cow. Nothing shocks your poor bike legs, fresh off a winter spent on a trainer in front of Law and Order: SVU reruns, back to the reality that they are REALLY out of shape than this hilly ride. Not going to lie, there were several instances during this ride that I thought I don't remember this ride being so... so... HARD. And the earliest I've ever done SkyMass in the past was at the end of May, after I've had at least two solid months of outdoor riding and a few races under my belt. Today was only my third substantial outdoor ride of the season and more than two hours and almost 40 miles longer than the other two rides. Lesson: riding the trainer for hours on end is poor preparation for SkyMass. Noted.

My friend Kristin and her fiance Chris and their two friends Sam and Eric were also doing SkyMass today so we met at the high school right near the Skyline entrance to start the ride. There are fast cyclists and there are fast cyclist: these guys were the latter. I was the caboose on this speed train and unfortunately I came unhinged multiple times. Sigh. Another reminder that winter self is NOT the same as speedier summer self. I think my ego and this image that I have in my head, of being fast, fast, fast, was very much in need of this reality check. It is humbling to be dropped, it is humbling to feel the burn in your legs and know that you are working your tail off and yet you can't keep up. And it messes with your head if you let it.

It was relatively warm when we started the ride so we all opted for shorts and armwarmers. I didn't even bother with gloves or toe covers - it was near 60 degrees, what could go wrong?! As we made our way up the first climb, I could tell I was already a little out of my element trying to keep up and I banished the little voice in my head that said neener neener neener, this ride is 82 miles long, if you feel like this NOW, just imagine how you will feel a few hours from now HARHARHAR! As we came up to one of the first lookout points, Kristin and I both looked at some of the peaks in the distance and commented at how pretty those mountains look when they are covered in snow - the thought that we were likely going to be biking through said peaks covered in snow didn't even occur to us. Or the fact that those peaks were probably pretty chilly for bikers wearing just shorts and armwarmers, oops!

I know that Jen, Julia, and Sarah would be proud to know I wore shorts in these conditions!
Climbing actually didn't feel too bad, I was warm and enjoying my rice and honey bars and banana and rice muffins I made from the Feed Zone cookbook (trying out some new fueling methods, the gels for hours on end just isn't cutting it). I started to fall back from the group about 8-10ish miles into the ride, my legs simply weren't responding. I felt a little like I was biking through molasses, but there wasn't much I could do about that feeling except to keep pedaling. At one point, a couple cyclists passed me and I chatted for a couple minutes with one of the women - when I responded to her question about how far I was riding with my answer of 80ish miles, she laughed and said wow, you will be out here all day! Ouch. I know I was biking slow, but still, I'd had the hope I'd be done before sunset :)

Surprisingly, the ride didn't feel that cold, even in the sections where the sides of the road were covered in snow. It wasn't until the last long descent into Elkwallow that I started cursing my lack of gloves and toe covers. It took awhile to warmup after that. We even stopped for hot chocolate on our way down 211 into Luray - best hot drink EVER. I didn't want to get back on the bike after that, I just wanted to sit there with my hands wrapped around my hot chocolate mug. This was probably the low point of the ride for me - being cold and still having 40+ miles to go. Things got better after we started riding again and I had warmed up after about 10 minutes. I managed to hang on to the back of the speed train through Luray, but fell off it as we hit our first ascent out of town. A few miles later I was at Massanuttan and I swear that hill got steeper over the winter. I was in my easiest gear the whole time and towards the top of the climb, I started playing the game of just make it to that tree... now just make it to that pole up there... just make it to that curve in the guardrail up there... and that was how I made it to the top. Lots of self-talk. I don't think I've ever been so happy to crest that hill before. We had some nice downhills and I tried like heck to stay on the back of paceline as we went through George Washington National Forest. It takes a fair amount of concentration to focus on the wheel in front of you to make sure you don't hit it AND make your legs go faster than they want to. And everyone was so nice, trying to help me hang on, but at one point I was absolutely redlining to keep up and I eventually caved to the urge to dial it back.

In the end, I made it back to the car in one piece, and surprisingly I felt OK. During a few of the low points in the ride, when my legs felt like lead, I had grand plans of how I was going to whine on my blog about how slow I felt, how riding SkyMass in March was a stupid idea, and how I felt like I would never be speedy again on this ride. Or any ride for that matter, my legs were past their prime. But fortunately, that is NOT what this blog post is about. Kristin said something after our T-run that really hit a chord with me and completely changed how I felt about today's ride. Basically it was along the lines of, oftentimes the workouts where you feel like you failed, where you feel like you were slow and didn't hit the speeds you wanted to, where you feel like you reached your limit - THOSE are the most valuable workouts when it comes to building fitness. Those workouts where you really WORKED and FOUGHT and dug deep, even if you felt like you came up short, THESE workouts will make you faster. It was THIS - this makes me want to be the caboose on the speed train more often. I want to ride SkyMass in March more often. Because today's bike ride was the hardest I've worked in a long time. I'd forgotten what it was like to hurt on the bike, to push limits and work hard. It's days like today that will make me grow as an athlete and find forward progress in my training. I feel lucky that my speedy riding friends today still want to ride with me and you can bet your bottom dollar that next time they ask if I want to ride SkyMass in March (or May or July or October), I will say yes. Thanks guys for a ride that was character-building in every way possible!


Mindy Ko said...

I am so excited to see you CRUSH IMLP!!! way to tackle SkyMass in March. Reward comes TOMORROW in CHOCOLATE!

Katie said...

I haven't done that ride in years, kudos to you for tackling it in March! I usually just ride up to mile 24 or 32.

Katie said...

Brrrr! Remember when we did it last year and it was 200ยบ out? probably not.