Monday, April 08, 2013

Climbing Hills

One of my reasons for signing up for IMCDA is that I knew that I would have to get better at climbing hills to be successfull in finishing the race.  See, I have had a hard time with hills.  A little over 2 years ago, I lived in the flatlands of Houston, where the largest "hills" were the highway overpasses.  Then I signed up for the Boise 70.3 (June 2010).  I would drive up to Chappell Hill to train, where these little 300 (?) ft hills would kill me.  Seriously, I'd get to the top and wonder how I was supposed to race the hills of Boise which were ~double or triple the size of what I was training on.  I was having nightmares about walking my bike up the hills during the race.

Then I moved out here and learned what real hills were like.  I'd purposely avoid the challenging ones, assuming that they were too hard.  After IMTX, I did a "classic" ride from Boulder to Jamestown, up Lefthand Canyon.  If a) my friend wasn't way ahead of me and b) there wasn't a promise of pancakes and bacon at the top, I would have turned around.  That 8 mile climb kicked my ass.  (stats: 8 miles, 1300 ft elev gain, ~3% slope). 

Then last year, on very little training, I had the brilliant idea to do the Boulder Epic Century ride.  That proved to be a funny (now, much later) lesson on getting my ass handed to me.  Lets just say that the bar for "hard" has been set pretty low.  A ride isn't "hard" as long as my Garmin doesn't auto-pause on me (because I'm going so slow) and/or a spider isn't spinning a web on my handlebars as I'm riding.  Yeah, that ride sure was epic.

Also: I sure can be a moron at times. 

So yeah, with my awesome history on hills, I decided to sign up for a ridiculously hilly 70.3 (St George - what am I thinking?!?!) and IMCDA, which has 5,500 ft of climbing.  That is more climbing than I've done on a single ride. 

I figured there was no way I would make myself climb hills on my own (they're scary!) so I'd sign up for scary races and force myself to climb hills.

I hired a local coach who won her age group at CDA last year.  I figured she'd know the course and would know the area well enough to get me trained up for the race.  Last week, she informed me that I would be riding Deer Creek Canyon and High Grade for my Saturday ride.  *gulp*  I know that Michelle and her training buddy ride on this road regularly.  I also have several (really good) cycling friends who mentioned riding up Deer Creek to train for St. George.  I was afraid but I knew that I didn't have any other choice than to just do it.

I decided that I would do the ride by myself.  That way I wouldn't have any extra pressure put on me.  If I needed to rest, I could rest.  If I needed to walk (or worse, turn around) I could do so and not feel like I was holding someone up.  Basically, I was giving myself permission to do the ride on my own terms, without time limits.  I would just ride and see how I went and not worry about the clock.  The goal was to make it up, not to make it up in record time.

Since I don't have my Alchemy bike yet, I took my road bike.  I started at South Platte Park, so I could get in a good 5 miles as a warm-up before entering the canyon.  At the turn-off into the canyon, I ran into two women who were riding into the canyon.  One woman (older) said she rides the canyon once a week.  The other woman looked scared out of her wits.  When I told them I was riding up to High Grade and Conifer, the both looked scared and mentioned something about a 13% grade.  Oof.  Just keep an open mind and keep pedalling.  That was my mission.

So the ride up the canyon was suprisingly decent.  I had on too many clothes, so I stopped at at turn-out and stripped off my tights and jacket.  It was shorts and a short-sleeved top for me!  And no sunscreen.  I need to remember to put some on.  I got to the top of what I think was the canyon and made the left hand turn onto Deer Creek Road, which eventually turns into High Grade and then eventually turns into Pleasant Park Road.  The signs weren't very prominent and I really didn't know where I was.  As an added feature, I had zero cell signal, so my GPS map wouldn't load.  Fun!  I just keep going up the hill - it didn't matter what road I was on.

Then I hit some switchbacks.  Ok, done.  Then I came to a section that had steep rock faces and a guardrail.  I still didn't know where I was, but I was really hoping that I was on High Grade, as I was afraid for my near future if I hadn't yet made it to that section of road. 
not my photo, but you get the idea. 

definitely not in town (or flat)!
As I'm riding, I'm noticing that I'm getting closer to the top of the foothills that are surrounding me.  And there's snow on the ground.  But its all good, because I wasn't dying!  I finally saw a sign confirming that I was on Pleasant Park Road, which meant that the switchbacks and guard rails was High Grade.  I survived!

one of my stops on Pleasant Park.  Look at the snow on the left side of the road!
I did stop on High Grade once to use my inhaler.  And I stopped two more times on Pleasant Park to catch my breath.  Both stops were quick, just enough to calm my breathing down.  Considering that I was too sick to ride outside 2 weeks ago, I think I was doing really well!  Legs were a bit tired, but not dead.  And I was actually not hating life. 

View from the top!  Look, you can see big snow-capped mountains from here!
I made it to the Old School House, which is made up into a little cycling rest-stop with picnic tables and a portable toilet.  There were a bunch of cyclists there but I had mapped my ride to Conifer, so I just kept going.  It was a bit of uphill, a bit of downhill, and a bit of flats.  And it was COLD.  I went until the road made a downhill switchback into Conifer, where I decided that I was done climbling switchbacks.  I had cell signal again, so I texted Will to let him know I was alive, and then I put on all of my layers for the descent.

Stats for the climb:  time- 2:18, 21.28 miles, 3608 feet.

And yes, I may have done a little happy dance.  I was damn proud of myself.

I rode back down the the Old School House and decided that since I'd only had 1 hrs worth of drink mix in 2+ hours that I should stop and have a bite to eat (SunRype Strawberry Fruit Source bar) and some drink mix (First Endurance EFS).  I hung out for 5-10 minutes, eavesdropping on a conversation.  Then I decided it was time to head down.

Damn, it was cold.  I was roasting on the way up and freezing on the way down.  And since I took off my clothes and tied them across my waist during the climb, they were now damp... making things colder.  And I only had my fingerless cycling gloves.  Brrr.  I normally love to bomb downhills, but given that my fingers were frozen, there was some sand/gravel on the road, and I really didn't know the road that well, I took my time.  I actually road my brakes most of the way down.  I was just so afraid of my fingers being too numb to operate the brakes that I just took it easy.  Honestly, the way down was much worse than the way up.  That's something I didn't think was possible. 

Deer Creek Canyon - how pretty is this?!?
Victory smile!
Even though it was freezing, I road down with a HUGE grin on my face.  Not only did I make it to the top, I
actually think I did the climb pretty well.

After I got out of the canyon, I had ~18 miles to do around Chatfield.  That wasn't so much fun, but I think its just because I'm not used to riding my road bike.  And I hate the saddle that's on the road bike.  At 60 miles, I made it back to the truck and called it a day.  Total climbing for the ride was 4,260 ft.  Phew!

And then I got a hard earned chocolate cupcake.  I devoured it in about 30 seconds flat.  I was hungry!

When I got home, I send my coach a victory text.  To which she replied: good - you'll be doing that ride weekly!


I definitely think I'll get good at climbing hills after this race.  Wow.

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