I may not be the fastest. I may not win races or even get on the podium. But I’ll fight like hell to finish anything I put my mind to.
This past Saturday I participated in an event near Lake Tahoe called Death Ride. The name itself elicits fear, uncertainty, and doubt into its 3,000+ riders. I had been more nervous about this event than about any other event this year. Riding 126 miles with 15,000 ft of elevation gain in the California Alps under high heat is taking cycling to a whole ‘nother level. It’s crazy, really. But finishing the ride after a full day of sweat (no blood or tears!) was quite possibly the most accomplished I’ve felt all year on my journey to Ironman.
Below are some more details of the event along with another big turning point in my training; a 2.4 mile swim. Enjoy!
Death Ride Summary
Event: Death Ride
Date: Saturday, July 12th, 2014
Start/Finish Location: Turtle Rock Park south of Lake Tahoe
Distance: 126 miles
Elevation Gain: 15,000 feet
Altitude: 5,000 – 8,700 feet above sea level
Temperature: ~45 degrees in the morning. 90+ degrees during the day.
Mountain Passes: Monitor West, Monitor East, Ebbetts East, Ebbetts West, Carsons Pass
Wake Up Call: 4:00am
Start Time: 6:00am
Riding Time: 11 hours 8 minutes + rest stops
Highlights: Not feeling like “death” at the end of the ride and feeling strong and happy almost the entire day. Even had enough gas in the tank to swim and run the next day.
Lowlight: I was in a dark place mentally for the first 5 out of 20 miles of the last pass (mile 95) because I thought the steep grade was going to continue for the next 15 miles. Thankfully it evened out for a while before the grade increased again. I needed that slight reprieve!
I’m not going to go into too much depth about the day because I could write all day! Instead I’ll share some takeaways and learnings from the incredible event and share some pictures:
- Building Mental Toughness. Start to finish took me 12 hours 17 minutes which means I had to stay ‘in the game’ for the entire day. I had to keep a positive mental attitude, I had to remember to smile, to stay strong, to be kind, and to dig deep when the day got tough. This mental toughness ‘training’ is going to translate really well for Ironman. Sure I’ll be out on the Ironman course for more than 12 hours, but it’s darn close. I’ve never done an endurance event where I had to endure for that long, so now I know I have a strong ability to stay focused and to finish what I start.
- Climbing Legs for Days. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. But after the end of the ride I still felt pretty darn good. How is that even possible?? I should’ve collapsed on the side of the road after the event. I should’ve begged for mercy. But I didn’t have that feeling. In fact I didn’t have that ‘over-exhaustion’ feeling the entire day. I saw tons of people sitting in the shade in the middle of a climb, or walking their bike. I figured it was only a matter of time before I joined them. But it didn’t happen. I just chugged along at my happy pace and tried to dig deep to finish each of the 5 passes.
- Sitting is Death. The race is very well-organized with tons of large aid stations full of food, water, shade, and chairs. So this might sound weird but I consciously decided not to sit down for the entire day. I knew that as soon as I sat I would get comfortable, my legs would tighten, and it would be mentally and physically a LOT harder to get back up. So my strategy was to stuff my jersey pockets with a ton of food and just skip most of the aid stations until I needed to re-fill my water and re-apply sunscreen. Plus I didn’t want to be out in the heat all day, so the sooner I zipped through the faster I could finish. I only spent an hour and 9 minutes off of my bike the whole day. This seemed to work well for me.
- Steady Climbs and Slowwww Descents. Wow people were FLYING down the descents! I personally took my sweet time and just cruised down at a very controlled and steady pace. The descents were steep and winding so the last thing I needed was to fly over a cliff. I didn’t pass a single person going downhill, but passed a ton of people going up. I’ll take the latter any day. Safety first my friends!
- FOOD FOOD FOOD. According to my Garmin I burned about 5,000 calories during Death Ride. Burning that much means fueling is absolutely essential to prevent bonking and ending up with an IV at the med tent. So I ate, and ate, and ate some more. I had as much salty/hydrating food that I could handle — pretzels, potato chips, Shot blocks, watermelon, Clif Bars, PB&J, and Nuun hydration. The whole day was a giant eating fest. We topped it off later that night with Mexican food (a huge veggie burrito!).
- ‘Great Job’ is the New ‘On Your Left’ Each climb takes about 90 minutes so you have a lot of time to look around at the insanely beautiful mountain scenery and to chat with people. I met so many wonderful cyclists, each with a different story/motivation and often a complaint! Most of these people were dudes. In fact, the race is about 80% male. I was feeling pretty good all day so naturally I was passing people a lot, especially toward the 4th and 5th pass. But I was sick of shouting out “on your left!” I mean, who wants to hear that from some chick when they’re struggling and wanting to fall over? So instead I started saying “great job!” as I zipped by. I hope that helped, or maybe that’s worse? Jury is still out on that one.
- Encouragement from Friends. An enormous shout-out to Sam and Barbara for being with me for the last 50 miles of the ride and for celebrating at the top of the last pass. Even though you were ahead of me, just knowing you guys were out there was super encouraging. Plus, getting advice from two Death Ride veterans was invaluable (dousing my head with cold water, bringing an extra baggie, eating reminders, etc). Thank you! And thank you Trey and Chris for doing a mechanical check on my bike the night before the ride. You’re the best! And to Chrissy for your infectious smile and positivity out there. I wish I could bottle up your enthusiasm and carry it in my pocket for Ironman! You are all simply the BEST!!
Ironman Distance Swim — I did it!
About a year ago, having just finished my 2nd half ironman triathlon, someone asked if I would ever do a full Ironman. You know what I said? “No, because I could never swim 2.4 miles without stopping.” Looking back, that was the silliest comment ever made. I’m so glad I took a chance and signed up for Ironman anyway and took steps to (somewhat) improve my swim. Because swimming 2.4 miles isn’t impossible. In fact swimming in Lake Tahoe is quite enjoyable!
On Sunday morning, bright and early after a good night’s post-Death Ride sleep, I grabbed my wetsuit and went to the nearest beach to do a little swim, which turned into 2.4 miles. It felt amazing. I stopped to catch my breath a few times, I looked around at the mountains, and I would focus on different things at different times (not ‘crossing over the center line’, keeping my hands together, keeping my head all the way down to keep my hips up, and sighting). The whole thing took 1 hour and 33 minutes, about what I was expecting and with room for improvement.
When I emerged from the water with a huge smile and taking off my wetsuit almost everyone on the beach asked me what the heck I was doing. “Do you do this often?” “How far did you go?” And then got a ton of questions about Ironman. I think I just recruited a few more spectators for the big event!
Looking Ahead: 10 Weeks To Go
- Vineman Full AquaBike is in 2 weeks. This is a full ironman without the run. This will be a fantastic way to test my Ironman race day nutrition and other strategies (outfit, bike set-up, special needs bags, etc).
- I have a few weddings and some work travel so I’ll have to manage that appropriately and find some local gyms. But I’m sure it’ll work out!
- The key is to remain injury-free for the next 10 weeks. I have to focus on recovery, stretching, massage, foam rolling, all that good stuff. Tonight’s GGTC member meeting is all about that!
- I’m lovin’ M2 classes and Masters swim class, so I’ll continue those.
- Matt Dixon’s The Well-Built Triathlete I just started reading this and so far I’m loving it! Training, sleep, nutrition and functional strength are all “pillars” of performance. Love this philosophy.
- Runner’s World: Here’s Another Way Running Helps to Slow Aging More evidence against the idea that lifelong running wears the body down.
- NY Times: Giving Tofu the New Look It Deserves YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Triathlete Magazine: The Basics of Triathlon Training and Racing at Altitude Simple, sound advice.
Thanks Everyone. Swim. Bike. Run. Eat Plants.