Ironman Lake Tahoe Training · Race Reports

Week 26: Alta Alpina Challenge

The training volume is getting higher, my legs are getting stronger, my cycling is improving, I’m meeting awesome new people, and having an absolute BLAST with my Ironman training. We had another great weekend in Lake Tahoe with some Golden Gate Tri Club (GGTC) teammates and our coaches, Duane and Dorette. We rode the Alta Alpina Challenge on Saturday followed by a swim and run on Sunday morning in beautiful Lake Tahoe.

Ride Summary

Event: Alta Alpina Challenge: “Riding the Wild Sierra”
: Saturday, June 28th, 2014
Start/Finish Location: Turtle Rock Park south of Lake Tahoe
Distance: 110 miles (see map below)
Elevation Gain: 11,000 feet
Altitude: 5,000 – 8,700 feet above sea level
Temperature: 38 degrees in the morning outside our cabin. 90+ degrees during the day.
Mountain Passes: Kingsbury, Ebbetts East and Monitor West
Start Time: 8:00am
Riding Time: 8.5 hours
Highlights: 1) Finishing strong with a little more gas left in the tank, 2) unbelievable mountain scenery, 3) spending the day with Tami and encouraging each other, 4) the incredible volunteer support; they were unbelievable! 5) passing boys 6) watermelon, Coke, ice water, cold towels, and copious amounts of food.
Lowlight: Still having “ghost shifting” issues even after 2 trips to 2 different bike shops. Time for plan C.

About the Ride

“A ride for cyclists organized by cyclists.” The Alta Alpina Challenge is a cycling event organized by the Alta Alpina Cycling Club. They offer 5 courses with the option of choosing from 8 different mountain passes: Kingsbury, Luther, Carson, Blue Lakes, Monitor West, Monitor East (Topaz), Ebbetts East and Ebbetts West (Hermit Valley).

The two most popular options are the Metric Century (64 miles and 2 passes) and the full Century (110 miles and 3 passes). The most ambitious option is all 8 passes which is also called the “World’s Toughest Double Century” with 20,300 ft of elevation gain over 200 miles <— the Sanchez specialty.

The ride is very similar to the popular Death Ride but Alta Alpina is a little less crowded.

Decision Time: 64 or 110? 

If you saw my 2014 Race Calendar you noticed that I was registered for the 64-mile Metric Century version of the ride. But all week I had been thinking (er, daydreaming) about switching to the 110-mile Century for an extra challenge. 110 miles would be the longest ride I’ve ever done in my entire life but there was a little piece of me that knew I could do it.

The night before the race I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do. I started talking it over with a couple GGTC people and we realized that 64 miles wouldn’t be quite enough to prep for Death Ride in 2 weeks, and I also knew that Tami was doing the 110 by herself and didn’t want her to be solo. Plus I love a good challenge as much as I love cycling. So on the morning of the ride the kind race organizers bumped me up to the Century and gave me the appropriate route map.

We were ready to roll! There was definitely a little bit of hesitation when I first started pedaling. “Am I prepared for this?” “Is this crazy?!”  But I just started the ride with an open mind and strong legs and just saw where the day took me…

Carmen, Karen, and I before starting the day!
Carmen, Karen, and I before starting the day!

Pass 1: Kingsbury

The first 20 miles of the ride are flat and fast which is a great way to warm up the legs before starting the first big climb of the day. Carmen, Karen and I had a nice little paceline going to help fight the wind.

Kingsbury was a long, steady climb covering 8 miles and about 2,500 ft of gain. The climb took a little over an hour and was relatively painless. There weren’t any super steep sections, the bike lane was pretty wide, my legs were fresh, and my spirits were high. Plus the views of the green land and the Sierra mountains were spectacular.

I did, however, start to notice the affects of the altitude on my lungs and heart rate. We’re definitely not at sea level anymore!

All smiles climbing up Kingsbury
All smiles climbing up Kingsbury

I made it to the top and saw my IMLT training buddy, Tami! I didn’t see her at the start so I was so happy I caught up with the birthday girl! We quickly re-filled our water, grabbed a Larabar and started our long descent back to where we started.

Daggett Sign

Pass 2: Ebbetts

After Kingsbury we had about 25 miles of rolling hills with a lunch stop in-between before climbing up the east side of Ebbetts. For lunch I had a veggie sandwich with salty chips and a cold Coke (the only time I’ll drink pop). This was just what I needed to get ready for the challenging second half of the event.

Cycling with Coach Dorette before starting Ebbetts
Cycling with Coach Dorette before starting Ebbetts

Ebbetts started off pretty gradual with 2-5% grades. Tami and I were talking most of the way so it wasn’t too difficult. We were riding alongside a really pretty creek and just tried to take in the scenery and let my lunch digest.

Then all of a sudden at around mile 67 we hit a really steep grade; so steep I had to get out of the saddle to climb. The remaining 6 miles were very long and and very steep. I was coming out of the saddle frequently. I was also huffing and puffing more than ever and trying to drink water while trying to stay upright on the hill. It wasn’t easy.

The cue sheet said that the summit was at mile 72.7. So naturally I was keeping track of my odometer and counting down until I hit 72.7. Well… mile 73 came and I was still climbing. Then 73.2, 73.3… “where’s the summit!?” It was just one steep climb after the other and I was mentally getting burnt out.

It wasn’t until mile 73.8 that I reached the top. I hadn’t felt so happy to see an aid station all day! I grabbed watermelon, PB&J, electrolytes, and a trail mix bar to try and replenish what I had just sweat out in the hot afternoon and re-fuel for the remaining pass.

After that summit I turned to someone and said “I never want to do that ever again”. Well, turns out this climb is part of Death Ride that I’m doing in 2 weeks. Ick. It was the most soul-crushing, lung- and leg-burning 80 minutes of the entire day.

In all Ebbetts was an 8.5 mile climb with 2,300 ft of elevation gain that took me about an hour and 20 minutes (the last 5.5 miles were the steepest with an average of a 6% grade, 16% at the very top).

I guess the good thing is now I know what to expect for next time!

Tami and I made it to the top!
Tami and I made it to the top!

Pass 3: Monitor

One more climb!! And I had heard that Monitor “wasn’t as bad as Ebbetts” so I was happy, confident, and just ready to crush this last hill. Well… those people were liars.

The first half (3.5 miles) of Monitor is very steep and there is absolutely no ‘give’ or flat sections. And there’s no shade in the 90 degree sunshine. It was absolutely brutal. I so badly wanted to turn around and call it a day. But that was definitely not going to happen on my watch!!

So I kept on truckin’, tried to stay positive and take in the scenery and play little mind tricks with myself. The one ‘game’ I tried was to only look down at my odometer when I think I’ve gone 1 mile. That way I can focus on my breath, my form, the views, and not my watch. I did this twice. You know how long I actually went both times? 0.45 miles. I was crushed. “That’s IT?!” Those miles go by sooooo slowwwwly.

But the views were absolutely fantastic and worth the extra effort. I kept climbing and after 7.7 miles, 80 minutes, and 2,500 ft later I made it to the summit!! I’m on top of the world!!! I was overjoyed that I overcame such challenging climbs at altitude and in the heat. It was a tough day and all I had was one last descent back to the Start!

Almost to the top of the last pass, Monitor West. Gorgeous views.
Almost to the top of the last pass, Monitor West. Gorgeous views.

I started my descent down Monitor when I unfortunately saw a man who had fallen off of his bike and was badly scraped. I stopped to help him up and make sure he was OK. What happened was a driver of a pick-up truck was descending down the road and stopped without warning. The cyclist slammed right into him and fell off his bike. The guy was OK and I helped get the Ambulance and SAG vehicle there right away. They asked him questions and took him away just to be safe — he wanted to finish the ride and I basically insisted that that was a bad idea; his helmet was cracked!

Not the best way to end a happy day, but that accident could’ve been a lot worse.

After the final descent Tami and I cruised back to Turtle Rock and crushed the last small hill. We were done! Hugs, smiles, smelly clothes, and salty faces basically described the finish experience. We checked in with the volunteer staff, grabbed a veggie burger for dinner and drove back to our cabins.

Pretty Much Sums it Up

Annotated elevation map
Annotated elevation map


After the ride we did an outdoor home-cooked group dinner under the sunset and eventually the stars. It was perfect. We sang Happy Birthday to Tami, shared stories from the day, drank some beer, and eventually were in bed by 10pm — haha we were all so tired!

Thank You

A huge thank you to Tami for keeping me motivated out there. To Coach Dorette for the tips, tricks and general words of wisdom. To Carmen for organizing the cabins (not an easy task!!). To the incredible volunteers of the event. They were so friendly and attentive (“let me fill your bottle for you”, “here, have some more watermelon”, “how about a cold cloth?”) and all of the aid stations were fully stocked. They made the experience really enjoyable.

Sunday: Swim + Run

I now live in a world where a 110 mile bike ride isn’t enough training for one weekend. So we woke up early on Sunday to meet coach Dorette at Lake Tahoe for a 45-minute open water swim followed by an 8 mile run.

The lake was freezing! But I was testing out my new Xterra wetsuit which provided some nice warmth and a lot better arm mobility than my old suit. The water was so clear and the mountain backdrop was amazing. A nice change from Aquatic Park for sure.

Thumbs up and trying not to fall on the rocks!
Thumbs up and trying not to fall on the rocks!
GGTC at Lake Tahoe
GGTC at Lake Tahoe

The run was pretty darn slow. I’m at least 30 seconds per mile slower at altitude than at sea level. Maybe even a full minute slower. Crazy! But I’m glad we’re having these altitude experiences early so I know how my body reacts to the changes. Race day will be less of a shocker if I’m prepared.

Running after the swim with Tami and Mark
Running after the swim with Tami and Mark

Weekday Fun

It wasn’t only the weekend that was fun; the weekday was great, too!

I had a blast trying out a new indoor cycling video called Sufferfest (free with Strava Premium!). The video I did was 60 minutes of pure adrenaline, motivation, sweat, and jokes. Those writers are hilarious.

I also got some good pool swimming in to make up for last week. And I got into the Nike Women’s Half Marathon which is one of the most popular races in San Francisco. Firefighters in tuxedos give out Tiffany’s necklaces at the end after they give you Ghirardelli chocolate. I mean, is there anything better than that??

And to top off the week, USA is advancing in the World Cup. USA! USA!!!

Friday morning swim
Friday morning swim
Morning Run
Morning Run
I got into Nike!
I got into Nike!


This Week’s Training Log

  • 29th. Run. Post-swim 8 mile run in Tahoe along the bike path. 10:13/mi.
  • 29th. Swim. Kiva Beach Lake Tahoe open water swim. 45 minutes.
  • 28th. Bike. Alta Alpina Challenge. 110 miles. 11,000 ft. of elevation gain. 8 hours 40 mins.
  • 27th. Swim. Morning swim 2,150 yards.
  • 26th. Run. Morning run. 6.3 miles. 8:26/mi. USA! USA!
  • 25th. Bike. 1 hour The Sufferfest: Rubber band video. Indoors.
  • 25th. Swim. 2,000 yards, 1 hour, of drills and some continuous.
  • 24th. 1 hour strength training.
  • 24th. Run. 7 mile run around Redwood Shores. 8:32/mi

Thanks everyone. Swim. Bike. Run. Eat Plants.

3 thoughts on “Week 26: Alta Alpina Challenge

    1. Ohhh bummer!! There are still a bunch of ways to get in, through Team in Training, the running store A Runner’s Mind, and also just buying a bib from someone. You should still try to do it!

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