Thursday, June 30, 2011

Round the Isle of Wight 70 mile Multistage Ultramarathon

I cannot say that spending a weeeknd running around an island with 80 plus British guys was on the agenda for my journey to England, but it has certainly been one of the highlights of my trip and probably life in general.  There were alot of "firsts" on this adventure, which helped to make it an even more epic experience.   I finished "FIRST Lady," with a comfortable  gap of more than 3 hours between myself and second place female.  It was the FIRST time I have ever managed to beat out so many guys to come in Second Place Overall in the feild, which is probably even more credible.  I set my FIRST (official) new Female Course record, stomping out the old record by 4 hours and 22 minutes.  More importantly, this was the FIRST time I have ever pushed myself through running this many miles in this period of time, making it not only my first multistage ultra, but the farthest distance race I have ever run in a single race.

Pretty accomplished final weekend in England.

 Pre Race

As seems to be the ongoing theme of my most recent races, I really had no idea what to expect going into this race.  I had really just signed up for this one on a whim, after I met Israel at the Northants 35 miler three weeks ago who told me about the race and made it sound so appealing.  The big difference here was the fact that I had never physically run that far in that short amount of time.  The closest I have probably come would still be about twenty miles less than the distance of this race, and that was in one day, and not having to wake up the next morning to run another ultradistance.  I knew signing up for this that I was going to have to push my body to limits it had never been to before.  But after my rather unexpectedly quick recovery and snap back from Northants, I was eager for the new challenge. 
 Ultra Race Eve night.  We weren't the only ones having a race the next day.  Hundreds of yachts lined up for Cowes festival races, also that weekend.  Never seen so many boats in one place in my life.
Day 1:
After a surprisingly decent nights sleep on the floor of the West Cowes high school gymnasium with all the other runners, I was ready to face the first 38 miles of the multistage adventure.  All the runners had breakfast together and picked up packets in the adjacent building.  Any other type of race, it might be strange that you and your opponents have been housing in such close quarters during the night and preparation before the race, but in the ultra scene it seemed almost normal.  It was actually kind of fun trying to scope out potential opponents.
The race has three starts: walkers at 8am, runners at 9am, elite runners at 10am.  I was categorized as an 'elite' runner based on the fact that I have finished trail 50Ks in under 5 hours (which is laughably elite).  I had my usual pre-race breakfast: bagel with jam and peanut butter (freshly shipped from the U.S.--thank you Mom!), banana, black coffee, and a handful of rice cereal.  It was a bit rainy and cold outside in the morning (of course) so I chose to wear my black DDT race shirt, Madison tri shorts, old Salomon trails and racing-white UA headband.  This part of the course would have four checkpoints, with no more than ten miles between each, so I made the rather risky decision to travel light and comfortably with only my Northface handheld, and digital camera in hand. The weather here felt cool enough for me that I'd be ok without massive quantities of liquids, and I don't usually drink much when I run anyways.  I stuffed the coursemaps, a couple gels, and a handful of Jelly Babies in the sides of my sports bra and I was ready to go. The other runners with their camelbacks and fuel belts looked at me like I was crazy as we approached the start.  
The 'elite' start group, Day 1.
  Boarding the starting ferry.
The start to this one was also pretty unique.  We all boarded a van to the ferry shuttle, then all boarded the ferry shuttle, crossed the waterway.  When the drawbridge to the ferry went down, this signified the start of the race.  Nothing like starting off a 70 mile run by climbing straight up a steep pavement hill.  When everyone is still together at the start of these long endurance events, I like theorizing how the race is going to play out, so I spent the first couple miles doing this.  I am usually pretty good in my predictions, but this one would be especially interesting because it is so long.  In reality, things played out pretty much nothing like I thought they would.
I felt charged at the beginning of this one.  I had been pretty good about cutting back my mileage over the past week or so, and I was now chomping at the bit.  I think it was probably good that we started up that hill first because it tamed my pace.  After a couple of miles the pack started to disperse.  Two or three guys picked up the pace and sailed far ahead.  I hung with the second pack of five or six other guys. 
And then came my panic attack.  Before the race I had wedged my preciously laminated cue sheet between the palm of my hand strapped to my water bottle.  I had probably studied the thing for hours and even made little notes in the margins.  When I looked down about 30 minutes into the race, it was gone.  Gone.  I frantically started smacking at every part of my body, hoping to feel it tucked into my top or shorts somewhere.  Nothing.  Damn it.  This race was going to be like  a Northants nightmare all over again! 
And there went my race pace strategy.  I was going to have to stick it out with someone who had one of those cue sheets or who knew the way.  So second pack of ultrarunner guys it was, the only group currently left in sight.  A few miles in they also began to quicken the pace.  It was nothing I couldn't handle at the moment, but pulling sub 8 minute miles before mile 5 of a 70 mile race is probably not the greatest idea unless you're Ian Sharman.  It wasn't that the pace was difficult, it was more that it wasn't comfortable enough.  But I stuck with them, pushing a little harder than I would have liked, but still feeling good. 
Still feeling fresh at 2 hours in.
We didnt waste anytime at checkpoint 1.  Then just as we were passing 15 miles we ascended a tall grassy hill with a stone monument on top.  I am normally pretty oblivious to most of my surroundings during races, but a glimmer of something shiny white blowing through the grass beside me caught my eye.  A cue sheet in a ziplock baggie.  YESSS!!!  It practically blew right to my fingertips and the snatched it up.  Yes, someone's Day 1 cue sheet--this really was it!  Ok, now time to have some sanity and run my own race.

 See ya in a few miles:-)
Immediately afterwards we approached checkpoint 2.  The small pack I was with dispersed a bit, with a couple of the guys falling off the back and a few others continuing to bolt ahead.  I hung somewhere in the middle of them.  This next part of the run was along the shore front on a paved boardwalk type road infront of the shops.  The road was flat and paved so I was able to lock myself into a comfortable consistency with the pace.  There were plenty of people out, half of whom were pretty intoxicated and rather entertaining.  Most of them would give curious looks and every once in a while someone would ask me what race it was or what we were running for, to which I would usually just yell "We're running around the island!" leaving them even more baffled.  I have to admit, we probably did look like quite a spectacle, a line of people with numbers on their fronts and backs running through the town during all the weekend's yacht races and festivities.
 Long stretch of beach before massive cliff climb.

Coming off the seafront, we had a pretty massive 156 step ascent to climb straight up the side of a cliff.  It's a climb that definitely took some wind out of me, but I hopped up over the last step and headed out to the next segment of the race..the single track trails!  Ahhh..  Being back on the soft dirt paths with smooth rocks and tree roots under the forest canopy gave me new energy, and I was cruising again.  I slowed down only to catch a small glimpse through breaks in the trees of the stunning views of the cliffs and ocean to the left.  It was so beautiful out here.  

 Small breaks in the trees gave a stunning view of the beach from the top of the cliff where the single track ran. Quick stop for a picture.
At about three and a half hours into the race, as I coming over the top of a small roller on trail and was on my way down, I came across two of the guys in the second leading pack I was running with who had taken off earlier.   They were currently walking.  When they turned around and saw me, they looked like two toddlers who had just been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  "Where did YOU come from??!!"  And just like that, they were running again chasing after me into the woods.  It was pretty humorous.  They did hang with me for a few miles, then dropped off. 
Around 26-7 miles in, we came up the main road and we turned back onto a single track and I passed the guy who was leading the entire race.  I didnt really realize who he was at first, becuase we had been passing lots of walkers and 9am starters, but when I passed, I knew he was not taking this thing casually.  He also asked me where I had come from (where did these guys think I came from??) as I passed.  He had obviously drastically dropped off his pace from earlier since I had caught him and was obviously in a bit of a rut at the moment.  I don't think that he was expecting to see me again that day, and was probably not very happy to be getting passed by me at this point.

 After I passed first place guy around mile 27, and currently leading the entire race!
After experiencing some confusing navigation that held me up a bit, I was finally on track to a clear-cut path to the last checkpoint of the day.  When I rolled into checkpoint 4, I came to the realization that I was actually leading the entire race at this point.  The ladies at that checkpoint were ecstatic, urging me on.  I wasted no time there, and was on my way to roll into the last 8 miles to the day 1 finish.  The last part of the course was running along the edge of a rock cliff overlooking the sea on the left.  The directions were clear and no more navigation was needed. 
However, turning the corner to the edge of the cliff, I was greeted by a blast of wind, head on.  Great.  I was still feeling pretty good, but battling into that wind was hard work.  Wind sucks.  Worse than hills.  You work so hard to flight your way through it, yet you still seem to be crawling.  And former first place was right on my tail.  It was kind of strange for a while, being together right there, battling into the wind, especially since he was obviously giving it everything he had not to lose to me.  Then he made the pass.  The slow pass.  Yessss!!  Finally some relief from this hard work!  I got right on his hip and took the wind break. He was bigger than me too, which was just perfect.  After a few minutes of this, I think he realized he was being used and started slowing down a bit.  That was ok, I'd slow down too to catch this break.  But then he started pretending like he was checking his unneeded cue sheet for something  and really dropped, at which point I said forget this, and bolted ahead several meters to gain a small distance so he couldnt pull and started chugging away again.
 Last segment of race, Day 1.  Run along edge of cliff and try not to get blown off.
I saw a campsight in the distance, and judging from the time, I knew that it must be our finish, especially since there were guys outside standing there waiting for us.  I pushed a bit harder into the wind, but as I approached, I realized that it was not it.  No flags or finish line, so we ran on.  Soon, we approached what was essentially a very large 50 ft tangential crack in the side of the cliff we were running along the interrupted the path and continued longways as far as I could see.  There was an extremely steep descent, at the bottom which there was a creek, and then a very steep ascent.  I didnt remember seeing this part on the map, probably because it was entirely verticle.  Were we actually supposed to cross this thing?  Former first place was soon by my side and starting the cliff descent.  He had done this race last year, so must be right. 
Those cliff descents and climbs (yes, multiple afterwards) were pretty hard on my already-beaten quads.  Here, he took a small lead on me, but I kept him in sight to the finish.  My instict was to give this last part of the race absolutely everything I had left in me, gunning it to try and pass him to the finish.  But my sensible side told me to avoid completely killing my already drained body till the real finish tomorrow.  We were only a little over halfway through this race.  After the cliffs, we continued on for a little over a mile until we finally reached our real campsite.  I finished in 5:52, and just two minutes behind him to take the second overall finish of the day. 

Finish line, Day 1.

Day 2
I could tell before I even crossed the finish line the day before that I was going to be feeling this in the morning.  Even though it was only a couple of miles over the Northants ultra distance, the terrian of this one killed my legs.  It was very hilly, including several cliff climbs and decents, which seemed to have ripped my quads from the inside out.  I made sure to stretch thoroughly and get in a good meal that night, but when I woke up on Sunday morning...ouch.  My legs were so stiff and sore that I hobbled to the bathroom, tripping over my tent on the way out.  I felt like I could barely walk, let alone run another ultramarathon starting in a couple of hours.  How could I be feeling this much worse now than after Northants?  Why the hell did I sign up to do this??? 

Barely standing the night before Day 2.

I soon realized that the thought of running an ultramarathon distance today was just too daunting.  Mentally, I couldn't do it.  So I starting thinking about the race in any other way possible.  It was no longer an 'ultra distance' that I would have to run; it was a distance that was shorter than yesterday.  Flatter than yesterday.  More "easily navigated" than yesterday (HAH!).  I made little sub destinations in my head, like just less than 10 miles to Needles Point, with a stunning view of the unique rock cliffs.  And just half a mile till I get to eat my next lemon Jelly Baby!  This mentality is undoubtably what was able to start my day and get me through some of the toughest miles. 
I spent the rest of the morning before the start stretching and then went to the bungalow (British word for one story house) to get some breakfast and coffee with the others.  After breakfast and as I was getting dressed and taping myself up, I began to feel better and some of the painful soreness in my legs had eased up.  I decided to test out my legs with a short sprint across the grassy field.  Check.  Legs still work.  I  could do this.  And then there I was wearing my UD tri jersey proud at the starting line, and the same scenario as yesterday.  Except this time people weren't just looking at me as the senseless American girl carrying one water bottle who has no clue what she's doing; now they had expectations, and curiosity as to how I'd pull through today. 
This start started even slower than yesterday. For the first couple of miles the first place guy and I led pretty much side by side, closely followed  a few guys from the second pack who had made it through.  I didnt purposely start out this way.  I started running and everyone seemed to file up behind. The first couple of minutes were not very pleasant, but after that my legs seemed to loosen up and I was able to ease into a rhythm with minimal discomfort.  This might not be as bad as I thought it was.  After the first few miles, first place guy started to quicken the pace and pulled ahead, to which I made no attempt to catch.  There was a lot of race ahead of us and I had made the decision before the start that I was going to do what felt right today, and if I saw him later, then that would be that.  I was going to be pushing my body to limits it had never experienced before, so I had no idea what to expect later on in the day. 
We ascended a long gradual hill and entered extreme fog on the ascent.  I could barely see 25 meters infront of me, let alone the landmarks on the cue sheet we were supposed to be looking for.  Timothy, one of my newly found American friends pulled up beside me and we ran together for a while with another new friend, Barefoot boy.  We managed to find the edge of what appeared to be a cliff on our left side and just kept following that, hoping that if we followed along the edge of the sea for long enough, we had to be getting closer to the finish line.   I had decided earlier to not carry my camera with me today.  Yesterday it had gotten in the way a bit, slowed me down (because I HAD to slow down to fumble with the camera and to take pics of everything I wanted to remember, which was just about everything) and I wasnt even that happy with how most of the pictures turned out blurry and off focused anyways.  And now I was glad I didnt because you couldnt see anything. 
Somehow, we blindly made our way to checkpoint 1, following a girl's voice in from her spot perched on a fence.  I was checked back into the reality of yesterday's miles on the long downhill right before that checkpoint where my quads started screaming at me again.  But other than that, everything else was feeling pretty decent, so I considered myself lucky. 
We weren't doing to badly pace-wise.  A bit slower than yesterday, but that was expected, and we were pulling little over 9 minute miles when we weren't getting lost or fumbling over directions, which got a bit confusing on some of the trails.  The sun was shining full through the sky and beating down on us today.  All the Brits were complaining about the horrible heat.  These people do not know heat.  It was in the low 80s and warmer than my ideal conditions, but not dreadfully hot.  Still, the sun beating down on  you all day can become fatiguing.  Coming into a small town, we turned onto road, and just as we were approaching a bridge, the lights went on and the gates went down, obstructing the only way to get through the town.  The entire middle part of the bridge then broke itself out and twisted sideways to that a huge boat could pass through.  Perfect timing.  The temporary bridge closing probably cost us a good 5 minutes.  At the first checkpoint, the first place guy was leading us by 3 minutes.  Now, he had probably just more and doubled his lead.

Checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3 was probably the longest and hardest.  Actually, Timothy and I almost missed Checkpoint 2 because after the town, we saw one of the white race flags in the distance, and took off at a quick speed to reach it, breaking off the road and onto the path along the shore.  After nearly half a mile though, we realized that it was not one of our race flags, just another long white stake flag that happened to have RUNNING in bright read letters written down the side.  Really???!! We had to backtrack a bit to find the read checkpoint 2.  We were now about 15 miles in and at this point I was slightly flustered from our maltracking and delays.  I was in, refilled my bottle, and then out of that checkpoint almost before they could even write my number down.  I think I broke off half of a 9 bar to carry in my hand on the way out, which probably saved my life.
 I was half a mile down the road already when I realized that I didn't get any other kind of food or candy.  I had no sugar and I had more than ten miles till the next aid station.  I searched around every pocket and crevice in my handheld and clothing for something, anything.  I found a single caffeine gel, green apple cinnamon flavor.  Gag.  I can make it for quite a while on most of my normal runs with little to no sugar, but at this point in the race I knew that I needed more. 

At the last checkpoint Timothy had dropped back and soon I found myself alone again and back on the single track.  I was feeling pretty rough out on the paved roads before entering the woods, but now in the shelter of the trees and  with the cool soft dirt beneath my feet gain, I felt alive.  Energy picked up inside me as I imagined running through my favorite trails at home and I picked up the pace as much as my legs would reasonably allow.  I think I felt as good as I could have at that point going through those trails, and it was my favorite part of the course for the day.  They would wind around through the trees and then just randomly fork and split, with no indication on the cue sheet as to which to take, so I just started choosing whichever the hell I felt like, and they all seemed to get me to the place I needed to be.
Sometime after coming out of the single track, I found myself on an even gravelish-dirt path going through grassy back farm land.  Here, it was almost like my body just snapped into a low point and I really had to mentally push myself to keep going.  My legs hurt (really...).  And the bottoms of my feet were pained by the blisters I could feel developing for the past 15 miles.  My stomach had shut down and I felt nauseous.  Not only did I not have any sugar, but the thought of anything sweet made me feel even more nauseous.  Still, I tried to stay sensible and knew I needed calories, so I forced down the nasty apple gel.  Then I threw half of it back up.  Even worse the second time around.  I wanted so badly to give up on running and just walk it in, but I pushed myself to keep the pace.  And pushing through that slump was some of the hardest running I have ever done.  I tried to focus on anything but the discomfort I was in.  I spent some time reminiscing on some of the testimonies of my ultrarunning heros.   When you think your body can't be pushed any further, you're only at 20% of what you're truly capable of.  I started feeling this way a few miles back, so really, according to David Goggins I was only like 40% there, right?  It doesn't seem realistic, but really this statement probably has some underlying truth.  At that point all my mind was telling me was that I could not take another step. I could not go any further.  I just couldn't.  And yet I was.  One foot after the other, I was.  Because I could.  I did my best to shut out everything inside me telling me to stop and just kept pushing through.
This low probably lasted for a couple of miles, but then we hit a road segment that was flattish downhill and shaded by trees.  I started seeing more people as I passed by more 8am starters, cheering me on and telling me I looked strong.  Really?  I felt anything but strong at this moment.  Whatever it was, it brought me out of my slump.  I stopped plodding and picked up the pace, cruising at about 8 minute mile pace down the cool smooth slope of road.  A couple of miles later we were at checkpoint 3.  I immediately gulped down a few cups of their Gatorade alternative, "squash" because I was not confident I could hold down much else.  It tasted so refreshing, and I realized how thirsty I was.  I didnt waste much time at this checkpoint either.  Knowing there was less than 6 miles left to go, I grabbed a handful of candy and was on my way again. 
Talk about the longest 6 miles of your life.  Now I felt the heat of the mid afternoon as we entered full on sun exposure along the hot rocky sandy shores of the beaches.  The nausea was setting in again.   I longfully stared at families picknicking along the shores with their children, skipping along the waters edge.  How did I go from being a young innocent child like that, to a young adult who thinks it's a great idea to run 70 miles around an island for fun?  I wanted to be them again.  And I told the 8am start guy running beside me that too.  We were finally off of the beach now, with another fence to hop over (ouch) and another massive hill to start climbing up an overgrown trail and in the full sun. 
The hill was not fun, but when I got to the top, I could finally see the town where I knew the finish at the high school was.  I also knew that I had to be less than two mile from the finish.  I took off.  Ouch ouch ouch painful quads down the hill ouch ouch but dont really care because I am about to finish this freakin race!  Navigating through town with some minor difficulties ("Where's the high school??!!  THANKS!!") I finally saw the neon arrows around the last couple of corners to the finish.  I dug up a sprint from somewhere inside of me and nailed it in through the finish line. 5:29 for day 2 (plus about 3 extra miles).

The American Trio at the finish.

Accepting my award.  Nice trophy, new pair of trail shoes, and a BUFF!

Finally damnit!

Weekend remnants. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

24 Hour Cycle Race: Exhaustion to Elation!

Road tripping to southern England last weekend to crew the University of Birmingham cycling team in the UK national 24 hour cycling race.  Best decision ever.  The whole weekend turned into an epic adventure and an experience that I will take with me for life.  

Xav and I drove down together (rather, he drove, I entertained, as me attempting to run/bike on the wrong side of the road is bad enough without throwing in the operation of vehicles flying at 60mph into the mix).  We arrived at his house where we met Nic and Mark, two of the other three who would be racing on the four man team.  We went shopping at the local grocery store that night, made dinner (a kilogram of rice with chicken and veggies, bread with hummus, nuts to snack on before/during/after, Mrs Disley's amazing homemade lactose-free cookies and cakes, JELLY BABIES, the list probably goes on), and went over the race plans for tomorrow.  When I say race plans, I really mean that the guys went over every watt and power calculation that they might need to get and strategies for drill times/swap times that they would need to win the race.  Then came the bike prep, which didnt take too much time considering these multi thousand $$ beauties practically take care of themselves.  Xav and Nic seemed pretty confident that they would be able to take home the winning title in tomorrows race. 
Saturday morning we all had breakfast together (my first crumpet ever! mix between english muffin/pancake..I like it).  The race didnt start till 2pm, so the guys got there early and I set out for my last long run before the Isle of Wight multistage ultra the next weekend.  When I first stepped foot outside that morning, all I could think was how glad I was that I was NOT the one going to be riding in this for 24 hours.  It was rainy and cold, with winds gusting at 25-30 mph.  My run went really well.  Better than expected, as I was feeling pretty fresh, probably from taming my miles for the two previous days.  Despite the weather, I felt great.  I didnt mind the rain if it was at my back, and of course the tail winds were my favorite, where I was probably running close to 6:30 min mis.  I ran along the side of the shore, sometimes taking the small roads to avoid running on the stones that covered the (currently) narrow beaches.  I did about 22-23 miles total, at which point I was barely tired, but wanted to stop early both because I wanted to get to the race and because it was probably best for me.
 Beach here is pretty, but kind of different.  The water is much greener and the waves are much bigger.  Saw quite a few surfers while running along the coast. 
I rode my bike the 12 miles to the race and it was raining for most of the ride.  When I got there, the first hour of the race had gone by and the UB guys were winning and up about 2-3 minutes from the second place team.  Third place was not even close.  Everyone was still looking fresh.  Soon after my arrival, they took the first lap.  They were planning to structure their race so that they rotated teammates every hour, or as someone needed to come out.  The course was a 2.4 mile loop around a motor speedway, relatively flat with one small incline, and a good headwind and tailwind section on this day.  
 Mark warming up before his first bout.
Nic and Xav make the time chip swap.  30 second transition times.

It didn't take long before things started getting more intense.  The guys wanted to gain as much distance as possible between themselves and the second place team, who was also looking strong.  Any unexpected mechanical failure could cost valuable minutes and seconds of time in this race if it was close.  

Will and I decided to take a field trip into the center of the city (downtown) for dinner.  While there, we visited the cathedral, which was beatiful. 

Cathedral, right next to the bishop's garden (behind you, not shown).  

Night came and the wind and rain started up again.  Still, the guys were going out there and killing it every single time for their hour.  Sometimes, they would go take a nap in the tents we had set up at the campsite nearby.  Meanwhile, I played the personal team physical therapist, stretching hamstrings, releasing hip flexors, manual massage therapy when needed.  There was actually a building where they were giving out free massages, and people later asked where the team had been the whole time.  

They were getting tired, but still fought relentlessly.  I don't think I have ever seen such determination.  It was awesome. 

Around 5am, going into the 17th hour.  Xav still killing it coming in from his fourth hour bout. This is why I came to this event!
 Nic enjoying his quad massage after a nice night of riding.

Field trip number two came Sunday morning, when I realized that the amazingly beautiful mountains behind us were, in fact, the South Downs that I had read about in my US trail running magazine race series on my flight over!  I had my Mizunos on before I could blink and Will and I set out to hit some trails.  What was planned to be a "less than 10 mile" run turned into a 13 miler, according to his Garmin.  

And it was probably the most magnificent 13 miles I have ever run in my life.  No lie.  I felt like I was in a fairy tale.  We finally found some of my beloved single track that I had been searching for for about three weeks now.  I felt back a home again when my foot hit the muddy root covered path.  It was great.

Single track Yayyy!!

Then we ascended another longer steep hill, and when we finally crested the peak, I lost my breath a bit, and I dont think it was completely attributable to climbing that hill.  The view was amazing.  

 And the pictures don't even do it justice.

Jackie heaven.

Then came the descent.  I went out hard down the little downhill footpath, and only accelarated harder.  The running was less than effortless.  It was just straight pleasureable, and appealing to every sensation in my body.  We weren't running; we were flying.  If I looked over my shoulder, I'd see a pair of wings right behind me as I soared through the clouds beneath my feet and all around me.  We ran the mile with that hill descent in 5:55.  I will never forget that feeling of being on top of the world. 
Also, no justice, but you get the idea.  Will is having fun too:-)

 Bottom of the descent and still flying high.

 We took some country roads the rest of the way back, since we were struggling a bit to navigate back on the trails, and it did not sound too appealing to some people to run back up that hill.  We took it pretty quick on the way in, but I was still feeling good.  And hearing the guy who was just kicking your butt up the hills on a 100 mile ride last weekend asking you to please slow down felt almost as good as that hill descent:-) 

When we got back there was just a couple of hours left of the race.  The guys were still going strong, and up by 5 laps at this point.  The senstation of victory had begun to wash over the team, which only seemed to push them harder through the last laps, giving it everything they had. 

Xav brought in the final lap and the celebration began.  The UB cycling team were the United Kingdom 24 Hour Cycle champions and a free trip to France for the 24 Hour world cup in August was on its way!

Mark, Nick, Xav and Ollie with their team PT.

 Accepting the award just in time for the (5th?) rain storm.
 Hmmmm maybe next year solo rider... ;-)

To appear on the cover of some Euro cycling magazine.  Who knew I could become a UK celebrity is such a short amout of time.

And of course, no ultra distance endurance event or trip to the beach would be complete without a polar plunge in the English channel!

"Crazy American girl..."

  One of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen with the Isle of Wight in the distance.

And now to physically and mentally attempt to prepare myself for next week's adventure, the 70 mile multi stage ultra.  Dun dun duhhhhhh

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Birmingham Century Ride Report

June 11, 2011

It started out a beautiful clear sunny day in the low 60's (Fahrenheit!) when Alex, Mark, Will and I set out that morning around 9:30.  This was the proposed route:
That's 103.5 miles with a good bit of climbing.  I hadn't been on a ride this long in a while.  I think my longest ride in the past 2 months hadn't topped 60 miles.  Actually I haven't even been riding that much because I've been focused on running more recently.  And now I was going out with a bunch of guys from UB cycling club who were probably in peak condition.  This would be quite a change of theme from last weekend, and I was fully prepared to be dropped and/or put in my place from the start.  But I wanted so badly to get out of the city for some good riding that I was willing to give the attempt.  I printed the map and wrote down the directions for the first 30 miles because I knew if I was dropped it would be early on.  If I could hang for the first bit, then I knew I'd be good for the rest of the ride.

When the guys first rolled up, I was even more skeptical.  Not only was I riding an old kind of shaky aluminum frame borrowed road bike, but I had brought my camelback and had two additional water bottles in my cages.  They all had carbon fiber frames and wheels, with a single water bottle in the cage, not carrying anything at all.  At one point Mark asked me what was in my pack...umm water, food, money, tubes, patchkit, keys, phone,  camera, air pump, multi-tool, base-layer...everything I could think that I might need on a 100+ mile ride through completely unknown territory in the middle of nowhere!  Apparently these guys run off of nothing.
We started out at a steady pace with some small rolling hills coming out of town.  Will and Alex accelerated into the hills pretty strongly, but we all regrouped shortly after the peaks.  The pace and ride seemed pretty relaxed so I stuck with them.  Before long we were rolling through the magnificently green countryside and I started feeling like home again. 
Story of most of the ride, hahah!
Postcard? or REAL LIFE?!!?
Favorite road of the trip.  Flat and farmey:-) 

At the start of the ride, Mark had said there were 6 hills on the route.  By about mile 35 we had already hit a few of what I would call significant hills.  Then one which was particularly long and steep hill and hit me kind of hard.  After the ascent, he informed us that we had just finished the first of six.  First??  This could turn into a longer ride than I thought.
Survived the "first" hill around mile 35.  Later we realized we took this wrong turn that caused us to cut off the second big climb.  Darnnnn:-)
Mountain we are about to climb.  *Note storm clouds directly above.

Then came the rain.  It started off  as a cool light drizzle that gave us a little chill, but nothing unbearable.  I thought that we were going to ride out of it and be back in the warm sunshine again within the next few miles.  After living in England for the past two weeks, I should have known better that this would not be the case.  That's about the time when the hail started.  Tiny icy pellets shoot in from sideways, stinging my arms, legs and face and bounced up off the road.  

Rain onset.  Stop to stash away camera and phones. 

But the hail was not even what killed us.  It was the torrential down-pour that quickly followed.  Heavy cold rain whipped in and within seconds we were all saturated.  At least the hail just kind of stung and bounced off of you.  This heavy rain stings coming in, then cuts right through you and sticks, seeping through your clothes and bringing in a deep chill that's not easily shaken and lingers even after it stops.  It didn't take long before I was dreaming about hot showers and warm beds.  But the guys ahead of me were still trucking, so I thought I was being a wimp and told myself to tough it out.  We were now entering a small town.  I questioned whether they had even been phased, until Will turned onto one of the sidestreets through town and asked some bystanders where the nearest coffee shop was so that we could get some shelter for a while.  Thank god!

Finally shelter from the downpour.
Ringing out the wet gear. 

We stopped for shelter inside a local coffee shop.  I think we must have been quite a spectacle for the locals dining inside the small restaurant with cute small wooden tables that was close to the size of my bedroom.   After we did our best to dry off we ordered some food and hot drinks to try and warm up and wait to see if the rain would pass.  Hot tomato soup with grilled cheese would have tasted like heaven at that moment.  Not on the menu. The guys ordered mashed potatos, gravey and sausages closely followed by cakes,  but this was not something I could stomach before riding 55 more miles.  I settled for PB&J, minus the PB, and downed two pots of tea, doing anything to get warm again.

Guys eyeing the cakes...

While I spent the next hour in front of my new best friend, the mini heater. 

While we were inside the rain had cleared up and it was now bright and sunny outside again.  Before this time we had been debating calling Xav to come pick us up from that point, but we were now all pretty set on heading out again and finishing up the second half of the ride.  Plus, I was nice and dry from all the time I had spent in front of the heater while the guys ate cake. 
So after a stop that lasted at least an hour and a half, we were back on the road again.  I warmed up faster than I had thought I would when we immediatly started off by climbing up the rest of that mountain.  I cant recall ever feeling so grateful for a long climb.  Plus it was worth the view from the top.  
The view.

Early into the ride I realized that my brakes were malfunctioning when I squeezing them as hard as I possibly could going down a hill and still ran into Mark's back tire a few seconds later.  Now, as we descended this mountain on the wet pavement, I was really missing them.  My hands were soon the most achy thing in my body just from having to maintain the death-grip on the brakes so I could get at much out of them as they would give. It was great fun to just tuck and fly down some of those windey up and down back roads though!
It warmed up and we were smooth riding for another 25 miles.  I knew this was too good to be true when we started noticing the cars coming towards us from the opposite direction were covered in rain drops, some still having windsheild wipers on.  Then we saw the clouds.  
Yep, we're going right into the storm.  Again. 

So after we stowed away our precious electronics, we braved it and rode out to face the storm again.  The second rain was not nearly as bad as the first one.  Really, it was more of a heavier drizzle.  It lasted for several miles, but was quite bearable and not very cold.  Instead of praying for the moment we would finally be out of it, after a while I began to embrace the rain.  It was like we were kids again splashing through puddles on our bikes. Despite being wet again,  I was actually enjoying it!  

I am a little disappointed that you are not really able to see from this photo the SNOW on the side of the road from the second hail storm.  Yea, it's mid-June.. 
Feeling low...Try this carblicious malt loaf(?)  Fuel of Euro cyclist champions!

The rest of the ride was relatively flatter than the first part.  I felt pretty good and never really bonked out on this one.  The only exception was probably during the attempted time-trial to the bike shop to try to reach it before it closed, at the demand which my legs said NO to hammering it at 20mph going into the 90th mile.  We dropped back a bit to our steady pace and took it back into the city for the last 8 miles for a successful completion of the 100 mile century.  I was still feeling good, and hunger had just set in within the last few miles, just in time.  My usual strategy of a continuous gradual energy intake over time (aka slowly eating candy all day) never fails. 
 We all split up to de-grime and change and then met back up at Xav's house, where he had a home-cooked meal waiting for us ( complete with a vegetarian option!). 
Mr Chef and my favorite guy of the day :-)  Soooo hungry!
Never thought I would say this, but no ride will ever be complete again without homemade donuts. 
Not such a big fan of the party beverages from Xav's training product shelf..

My homemade whole-oat honey pistachio trail bars from a new improvised recipe were delicious though!