Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How bad do I want that jersey?

Marathoners always say, “it sounded like a good idea at the time”.
Muscle memory counts for only so much. I would not say I was cocky so much as delusional.  Only a month until RAMROD and it’s starting to get real.

Flying Wheels Jun 10
The urban tour was fun but it was flat. I also signed up for my 2nd Flying Wheels, because I was pretty sure I couldn’t keep up with the Hill Yes! boys and needed miles. I recalled Flying Wheels was boring as f** just when I did the 25 miler last time (2013), but this time I was going to do the 100, which has 4399 ft elevation gain and goes out into the countryside of Snohomish. It was super crowded like a lot of Cascade rides, but pretty lonely riding by myself. When I reached the fork in the road where I could choose the 100 or the 75, I was tired. I tried to turn toward the 100 but ended up back-pedaling the other way. The 75 miler which only has 3381 ft was also boring as f***. Century attempt foiled, and I bailed on the marathon the next day anyway.

Tour de Blast Jun 17
I knew I needed more miles. I found it on the bikingbis website, which is the closest thing to the MM race calendar:

"Ride the new road into the Mount St. Helens blast zone! The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway winds its way up the Toutle Valley to the Johnston Ridge Viewpoint. This is an open highway ride. Most of the course is on new highway with wide shoulders and excellent visibility.
Mile 0: 500 ft. (Toutle – Starting Line)
Mile 11: 1,000 feet (Sediment Dam)
Mile 16: 1,400 feet (Hoffstadt Bluffs – Pit Stop)
Mile 24: 3,000 feet
Mile 27: 3,800 feet (Elk Rock – Pit Stop)
Mile 34: 3,159 feet (Science and Learning Center at Coldwater Ridge)
Mile 41: 4,314 feet (Johnston Ridge – Pit Stop)
Somehow I thought this meant 4314 ft, but if you look at people’s garmins, it is up and down, closer to 7000 ft (my garmin is dead so I can’t tell you…. But according to the website 6240 ft)
I laid in bed that morning fighting myself. I was so tired. So much work to do. Conserve energy? yeah right. There are only 2 long rides left to RAMROD. You are getting slower/fatter/older, how many chances will you get to get into RAMROD. I figured, I could stop by Elmer’s and we could eat at Bread Peddler on my way back to Seattle. 

This ride is an out-and-back so I could downgrade very easily. I didn’t make the 6:30 start but did make it before 8 AM. Love these courses where you can’t possibly get lost. It was a beautiful day. I would never forgive myself if I didn't go, since I already pretty much knew I was going to DNS the marathon sunday.
Whenever I would be climbing those evil 16-20% grade hills with Elmer, I would think, “man if I could just get some 6%grade hills I could go on forever”, well, maybe for a mile, or two, but 6? 10?

I made it to Toutle elementary school and there were tons of cyclists just hanging around. I asked, did they think I could do the whole thing in the time left? suuuuure. I was pretty toasted by the time I hit the Mt. St. Helens aid station. I saw this older lady riding a very handsome Davidson bike (with a cool matching bike pump! I noted the RAMROD sticker on her seatpost and no doubt she had done every hard ride in WA. But you never get too jaded to stop for an amazing view or photo “I’ll take your photo if you take mine…”

It’s a mere 9 miles (1780 ft) to reach the top, what the hell, keep going. The last part was steep but no worse than what I had already done and I had time to spare, but it sure gets cold up there, I was underdressed for the descent. The descent was almost as long as Ventoux, just miles and miles and miles of hand cramping but at least no sharp hairpins. Had a slow leak front flat which I changed myself :)
Was totally starved but luckily the best post race pasta feed ever in an actually school cafeteria with a live band of high schoolers. If I only knew when I was a HS volunteer how much the old folks love this shit.

I reached Oly totally wasted. I didn’t realize I was kicking Jay out of his housing that evening but was I glad he left a beer in the fridge. Elmer was on this work ultra of getting up at 1:30 AM to go to the office and made the executive decision to cut out our planned Sunday ride. A tad disappointed but any thoughts of getting work done were delusional, and at least we got Bread Peddler….

Jun 24-25 Marblemount to Mazama and back
I saw this Redmond Cycling Club ride on my google searches for training rides.
"Mazama - 2 Days, 150 Miles & 11,600 ft. of Climbing 
The annual Mazama Ride will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 24 & 25, 2017. The ride will begin in Marblemount on Saturday. We will ride 75-plus miles on the North Cascades Highway, climbing a total of 6800 feet over Rainy and Washington Passes, into the gorgeous Methow valley, ending our day at the Mazama Country Inn. After an overnight at the Mazama Country Inn, we head back Sunday morning (4800 feet of climbing on the way back)"

Full! But I learned after Tunnel Hill 100 that a carefully crafted letter of desperation to the RDs could get me in. I got off the waitlist! I might have to share a bed with a complete stranger at the Mazama Country Inn at the turnaround but I was OK with that. I looked forward to it for weeks but still fought myself that morning when my alarm went off at 3:30, stay in bed or show up? If I didn't do this ride, what were my odds of finishing RAMROD?
I’ve wanted to ride Hwy 20 to Mazama ever since I first drove it to Methow Valley for some run. But this was not an easy ride, 150 miles over 2 days, 11,600 ft climbing. Last minute the weather forecast turned, it would be 88 degrees Saturday ahd 91 degrees Sunday with 0% chance of rain, But the web site had pictures of snow on the passes and I recalled freezing on my descent from the TdB ride so I overpacked, a running pack with long pants, rain jacket, ear warmers, warmer gloves, etc.
I thought the TdB was hard for the sheer uphill mileage, but this was that x 2. The side wind was almost enough to knock me off my bike
…. Then it got seriously hot. I found myself taking a lot of photo breaks, especially next to cooling rivers/ waterfalls. I was also struggling without the garmin to tell me how steep it was and how many miles to go

I reached the Diablo viewpoint ready to quit.
Quit everything- if I couldn't do this ride, which was essentially RAMROD divided into 2 days- if I couldn't' do half, what chance did I have at the real thing?
Luckily the volunteers convinced me to take my pack off and keep going. A big lunch and can of ice cold coke helped. I was already sunburned.
Then I met a woman I had chatted with at the “severe side winds for 27 miles” sign. “Are you S-R-?” why yes I am- “I’m Sarah S---“ no shit. A fellow neuro at Swedish. I had heard she was a cyclist/ veteran of RAMROD but here she was. She had seen my name on the list- hard to recognize anyone in their cycling kit.

We start riding together up the long major climb but it is immediately apparent that I can’t keep up. I learn later she is 12 years my senior (has kids in their 20s) but in the 3-4 years since she took up cycling, she has already done this ride, RAMROD, RSVP, and the one she was most proud of, Mt. Constitution (which in my memory paled against Zoo or St Andrews but is apparently much longer at 3855 ft/ 26 miles) and also rode a custom ti bike with couplers (Seven). But I’m so done with feeling bad about anyone, even older women, kicking my ass. They are just awesome.
I also don’t need to be a hero. I knew I had time, and more stops meant more photo ops. Plus seeing dark spots in my vision probably wasn’t a good thing. I had another flat (slow leak- which I also changed myself :) and tried stopping at some waterfalls but they were no longer cooling.  
But I eventually made it to Rainy Pass which mean Washington Pass (the highpoint) was only 5 miles away (2 down, 3 up)

The downhill was long and amazing. The horseshoe descent reminded me of Tahoe. 18 miles pretty much straight down to Mazama, which meant, there would be 18 miles straight up first thing in the morning. But man was I glad to see the Mazama sign.

Arrived at the Mazama Country Inn and saw Sarah chatting with a couple experienced riders. I got my free Black Butte porter and listened to the one talk about his racing career, how his tolerance to pain changed after his mom died, and how after 6 RAMRODs he was content to just volunteer, The other one was into Radonneuring which I understand is the cycling equivalent of ultramarathoning, he had ridden across the country and done the PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris), a 1200 km ride. Staying awake and upright would be a problem for me, Even Sarah (a sleep specialist) agrees I probably have narcolepsy.
I went to check in to my room and found with relief that I was sharing a 2 bed loft with 1 other woman, I had half expected I would have to share a bed with a total stranger but luckily there were a few no-shows. Shannon was a waif-like woman who looked much younger than her 40 years, with her short platinum blonde hair and a crazy colorful tattoo on her back. She is a racer from Everett, of sprint and Olympic distance Tris, this was probably the longest ride for her, but she was killing it. At dinner we kept running into guys in their 30s who were 6 ft tall but in awe that she totally smoked them on the course, I think she finished >2 hours ahead of me. I sat with Sarah and Shannon and talked cycling and heard a lot of interesting stories. The staff at Mazama were so attentive, dinner was so relaxing, I actually started feeling better about day 2’s ride.
Day 2- I knew it would be hot (90s) but at least there would be 2000ft less climbing and almost all of it in the morning. But it got hot super fast. I had a leisurely climb to Washington peak and rode the ½ mile uphill to the viewpoint which was totally worth it
Then it was down down down. After the lunch stop at Diablo, we only had 2 short climbs back to Newhalem then all flat from there. I didn't dilly dally long, I didn’t even need to pee after drinking litres of fluid it was that hot.
After the first peak I hit the descent and was so excited- 1 small climb left to go! I was speeding downhill toward Diablo Rd when suddenly I see a big white truck in the oncoming lane, trying to pass the car next to it.
Actually not sure if it was an SUV or pickup but I saw those headlights in my lane for a millisecond before I heard a loud “whack” of its drivers side window hitting my left arm. There was nowhere for me to turn, there wasn’t any more shoulder (I had been riding on the white stripe with no car behind me) but there was a bridge straight ahead. Somehow I was able to stop the bike without falling off, but my heart was going 200 mph and I was shaken. Did that car really just hit me? I was hyperventilating then tears came to my eyes. I saw a car heading right at me at 30 mph while I was descending at least 25 mph, and somehow missed a head on collision. No the white car did not stop. I was asked later whether I saw the license plate but it was a millisecond and it was gone. I can’t imagine they didn’t realize they had hit me the “thwack” was as loud as a gunshot.

Did that really happen? How many times did I imagine/ dream what it would be like to step in front of an oncoming car, and this time, clearly instinct and who knows what kicked in. Somebody up there was saving me for some unknown gd reason. Now I had a badge of honor to match the running bruises on my legs. I probably broke that guy's mirror. Ironically, I had broken my own mirror earlier that week.
There were some tourists who stopped their car further down across the road and the lady crossed to see if I was ok. She saw my arm which was already swelling up and offered me water and icy-hot, as well as a ride back. To be honest, it didn’t hurt as much as it shocked me, and I was pissed they didn’t stop. I knew my arm was not broken and that I had full function of my hand. Only 20 miles to go. After about 5 minutes I calmed down enough to get back on the bike.
The last part was flat but hot hot hot, I could feel my skin sizzling. And no shoulder. I will be honest-the number of speeding cars, many of them large campers pulling boats and trailers and whatnot gave me a little zing of anxiety as each one passed.
About 5 miles from the end a couple passed me and offered me a draft. Yeah! Apparently they had been following me awhile and passed me when I slowed down. It was a godsend because by then I felt like I was riding straight into the world’s biggest hair dryer.
I reached Marblemount Community Center and Sarah and Shannon were still there. Shannon had just done a 15 minute run (to complete her tri training).
No one could tell anything was wrong, until they asked how I felt and I blurted out, “I was hit by a car” and showed my bruise, already the clear imprint of a driver’s side window. The RD was obviously concerned, gave me an ice pack and took photos, but honestly I wasn’t hurting that much. I felt a little detached, was oddly amused at how surprised people were that I actually rode back 20+ miles after being hit by a car. I supposed if my bruise weren’t there they wouldn’t have believed me, since I was all smiles and laughs. Guess it pays to be a sturdy girl.
It was the hardest ride I ever did but it is easier than RAMROD will be, which is all that in ONE day. I can’t wait to ride again, but next weekend, I am supposedly running the Inca Trail marathon in Peru at 12,000 ft elevation after a month of little running. Muscle memory.

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