I've been having a hard time figuring out what to say about Torturefest, our training camp up in Lake Placid. It was a good experience--getting to know the course, and the hills. It was a bad experience--my total freak out on a descent in bad weather has robbed me of my confidence. What do those two things total when combined? No idea. So let's just recap the weekend here and see what happens.
Lynn and I drove up with Bart and Bethany, overnighting in Scranton PA. I don't think I've ever seen fog as thick, and driving through the hills/mountains of central PA at midnight was scary. The following morning was much better weather wise, and we made it into Placid close to 2pm. The first order of business was a bike ride! I think we were all happy to stretch our legs and preview the run course. Down down down out of town, past the ski jumps, and a left onto River Road to follow the river. I was thinking it wasn't so bad...up to the part where we had to climb those hills back into town. Coach Karen made sure we got to know those hills very well while we were there!
Our first dinner in town was good--and we got to help Bethany celebrate her birthday with yummy carrot cake. That was a pretty early night since we had a monster bike the following day. 2 loops of the bike course, minus the out and back section on Haselton Road. Karen let me try Carbo Pro for the first time, so I mixed up two heavy bottles (one for each loop) with about 900 calories per bottle. I planned on supplementing that with a couple of Gu's too. Kim was our SAG wagon sherpa extraordinaire and met us at multiple points along the way to refill bottles, collect and disperse clothing, and take pictures. We all loaded up our bottles and bikes, and headed out of town. There were quite a few other groups out, training and doing the same thing, and some were nicer than others. The hills just out of town didn't seem too horrible on the first loop, and soon we hit the big 9 mile descent into Keene.
Last year the Ironman website touted the bike course as having "impeccably smooth roads." Maybe this past winter was a bad one, because those first downhills were BUMPY. Here you are, screaming down the hill at over 30mph on unfamiliar roads, trying to dodge both traffic and bumps. I just kept singing "la la la la la" to myself as I alternated squeezing my breaks. There are some pretty steep sections, where it seemed that no amount of braking really slowed me down, and then comes the really curvy 2 miles just before Keene. Traffic on the opposite side has two lanes, but we were sharing one with trucks and cars. Whew. I made it down, and rendezvous'ed with the rest of the gang at the van. Not the most fun I've had on a downhill, but manageable. The next 10 miles made it all worthwhile though--rolling along at a good clip through Jay and Upper Jay with beautiful river views, smooth roads, and wide shoulders. Then came the bitch hill--a 3 mile climb up and over into Wilmington. Very much like Mt Lemmon--just put it in your easy gear and spin spin spin. The road here is narrow, with one lane in each direction, but traffic wasn't bad and drivers seemed used to bikers and gave us a wide berth.
After Wilmington, you turn uphill again to head back into Placid. The course rolls, with some small chainring climbs mixed in with some flatter sections where you can pick up your speed a little more. Twice we went past some waterfalls, and then caught up with a section of river. Right about then it started to rain. Yuck. All along the river there were fly fishermen, looking at us like we were weirdos for being out there. I kind of liked this part of the course--there were beautiful views, cool forests, and challenging climbs. Then came the Cherries, which lead to the Three Bears, just before coming back into Placid. They weren't all THAT bad, but then I was expecting a little break to cruise into town. Not. Another hill, harder it seemed than Papa Bear. Ouch. We pulled into our makeshift rest stop behind the van just alongside Mirror Lake, where the special needs bags will be, and it starts pouring rain and the winds picked up. Karen and Bethany pulled out for loop #2 first. Lynn, Shawn, Deanna and I put another layer back on and waited a little while for the weather to let up. I think we were all thinking how FUN this next part would be....
Through town, down the hill, and then back up it wasn't bad. We passed a group on the uphill climb that seemed to be poking along and then came the descent. I was in the lead, and started the bomb. With the rain and wind, I stayed pretty far out into the road, and got screamed at by Shawn as she passed me. I couldn't stay any farther to the right, since seeing the road for all the rain was hard, and the wind was really blowing me to the left. Just past the two lakes I was able to move over, but then trucks were going past and the wind started gusting. At some point, it seemed that I couldn't slow down at all, and I was having a hard time controlling my bike. I was fighting wind gusts, and my front tire seemed to be jumping all over the place. I almost crashed, and kept thinking that I didn't want to end up splattered all over the road. I was finally able to come to a complete stop, just 3 miles outside Keene. I was shaking and so scared, and wasn't sure if I wanted to finish the second loop. Lynn had been behind me the whole time, thank God, and stopped to and just hugged me, telling me I was safe. After a few minutes, she talked me into trying to make it the rest of the way (we didn't have any cell phone coverage) but I didn't make it far before giving up and wanting the SAG wagon. Lynn took off to find Kim in Keene and not a minute after she left it started to pour rain again. At that point though, Deanna and Scott pulled up in their car. Having only done one loop of the course, they were headed down for coffee in Keene and to act as another SAG. We passed Lynn on that curvy part, and quickly stopped to ask if she wanted a ride. Unlike me, she had worn her big girl pants, and was determined to make it all the way down.
Once at the van in Keene, we all agreed that was the scariest damn thing we'd ever experienced on a bike. I don't know if I was actually cold or coming down from the adrenaline, but I was still shaky. At this point, I knew I needed to get back on the bike and finish the loop. My confidence was totally shot and I doubted that I had any strength to deal with anything resembling a downhill. I thought alot about my friends from the Florida and Tucson camps, and what they would advise me to do. "HTFU and get back on the bike," is what they'd say. So I did. I didn't like it, and it took me all of the rest of the ride to feel any semblance of control. In the end, I'm glad I did. Death before DNF. When it was over, we did a 20 minute T run down the hill into town and back. Ouch.
That afternoon, many lucky housemates had massages. I think I took a nap. Then we ate a great steak dinner, played some cards, and ATE CUPCAKES! Yum. We all then fell into bed before 10pm. On tap the following day: a 16 mile run. Around the lake, down the hill, and out the run course to the turn around and back. The first 5 miles were tough, and I just felt slow, tired, and sluggish. (Could've been the almost 90 mile ride we did the day before...) Then we caught our groove, aided by Kim at strategic stops with water and gu. The run course is just as beautiful as the bike, winding along a river with the sound of babbling brook for company. Before I knew it, we were back at the ski jumps getting ready to climb the two hills back into town. Lynn is always good about pushing at the end, finishing strong. She ran all the way up with Bethany and me struggling behind until we reached the lake. Finally we were done! We stripped off our shoes and socks and waded into the water. Cold has never felt so good. Walkers, bikers, and runners went past yelling that we were crazy. But man, did that feel good. Another dinner out at the Mirror Lake Inn, in which many bottles of wine were consumed, and early bedtime.
Our third day there was another bike day. This time just one loop of the entire course. The weather was cold, but good--no rain and not much wind. I was still pretty nervous, and Karen took off with me 10 minutes ahead of the rest of the group to help talk me down the hill. All the way there I was going through mental negotiations with myself, telling myself that I had done Mt Lemmon and quite a few Blue Ridge rides, this shouldn't be any different. Karen stayed at my side pretty much the whole way, counseling me to "let it go," or "pedal through this part." We had a headwind, which really helped slow me down, but I still rode the brakes quite a bit and at the last steep, curvy part into Keene, slowed myself to about 17-18mph. Embarrassingly slow. Don't do this during IM or you'll miss the bike cut off slow. But I made it down the hill, without a major freak out or peeing my pants. Everything after that was gravy--I could relax knowing the hard part was over. On the downside of the hill into Wilmington, I used my new "free speed" mantra, interspersed with some "let it go's" and "breathe." Karen and I hit the turnoff to Haselton and I knew I was home free.
The rest of the ride went well. Karen left me to ride with Deanna, so I finished the last 12 miles through Wilmington and back up into Placid by myself. I was glad for it--the time alone with my own head was good, and I felt strong going up the Three Bears. At this point I was trying to visualize what it would be like on race day, for both the first and second loops. How will it feel with people at the top of that hill, knowing I am either heading back out for another loop, or coming in to start the run. I think either way it'll be good--being that much closer to finishing, knowing I can catch sight of my family, and hopefully be that much closer to becoming an ironman again. Yet one more T run off the bike, down and back up the damned hill in town and it was time for a massage!
I helped Bethany make dinner that evening, and then we piled in the cars to go swim. We were all butt tired and just a little whiney. We tried to figure out how to bag the swim, but the pool was reserved, and Karen had stuck around that evening to coach us. Very reluctantly we all got in the pool (which felt cold) and started our warm up set. The pool didn't have their lane lines up, making for some pretty choppy water. After about 800 yds, Karen had us all circle swim around the pool, first clock wise and then counter clock wise. Queasy. A final 500 yds and we all threw in the towel. Pop goes the timer, we are DONE.
The next morning was yet another run, this time just 45 minutes. Again we went down the hill through town, and turned around just shy of the horse show area. Bethany and Deanna started complaining that I had picked up the pace, but I knew this was it for workouts for the weekend, and I wanted to be finished for good. I don't know where I found it, but I had the strength to run up the hills, past the oval circle, and all the way back to the house. Man, it felt good to be done! On tap for the afternoon was shopping, lunch, some packing, and dinner. I was ready to head home and see the family, and have at least one or two days off completely. Lynn had flown to a conference a few days earlier, so Deanna joined Bart and Bethany and me for the ride home. We took a different route home, stopping for lunch in Bucks County, PA. We hit some traffic around Baltimore, but otherwise had a pretty good run back.
I had been scheduled that weekend to do a hilly olympic distance race in Columbia, MD. I am so glad I opted instead for the torture of Placid. Getting to ride the course, even in the bad weather, is good prep for whatever race day holds in store for us. I pray, of course, that it is not raining and blustery on July 26th. I have been working to regain my confidence on the downhills, and every ride out into Goochland that we do, I try to "let it go" just a little more each time. This weekend and next we're back in the Blue Ridge. Practice makes perfect right? And when all else fails, I try to remember "free speed" is what will get me to that finish line.