I have always felt like the word "epic" is way overdone. So I try not to use it a lot because if EVERYTHING is epic well than epic isn't so exciting anymore.
The trip started off well when I saw a certain Ironman World Champion roaming around the San Diego airport waiting on the same flight that I was taking to Tucson.
I wasn't going to say anything but then I couldn't help myself. She was incredibly approachable and kind and let me talk her ear off until we boarded our plane. (And don't ask why I was in San Diego when my destination was Arizona. Buying the cheapest tickets doesn't always result in the most direct flight pattern!)
Thursday was our first full day in Tucson and didn't involve a lot of training. We went to the noon masters practice at the University of Arizona where we swam long course meters outside in the sun in February. I think I was in heaven.
There are 3 pools in the complex. Pictures don't even do it justice. And I found a cute little friend at the pool (although he didn't like to be petted).
Going to a new masters practice always makes me a little nervous - what lane to swim in?, what will the practice be like?, are the people nice? - but luckily Barb and Kim are outgoing and make friends quickly and we fit in just fine. Did I tell you that it was so sunny I had a hard time seeing the pace clock?
Oh yes, Arizona and I were going to get along quite well...
On Thursday we also built our bikes, visited trisports.com, bought a mountain of food at the grocery store and planned for the coming days...
On Friday we woke early for the 6 am masters practice at U of A (imagine having so many practice options each day!) where we swam in the short course meters pool and watched the sun come up on our cooldown. I seriously had one of those "there is no place in the world that I'd rather be right now" moments. Many of those moments to come through the next several days.
And then once home from swimming we started our Mt. Lemmon adventure.
We weren't orginally going to climb Lemmon on Friday but it appeared from the weather forecast that Friday was our day as it was supposed to be the warmest (non-raining) day of the 3 full days we had remaining.
Lemmon is pretty epic in my opinion. I've not done a lot of other huge climbs but I think it would be kind of hard to top this one because of it's length. About 21 miles to the top and then another 4 or so (that are down and rolling) to the famed Cookie Cabin. It took a little less than 2.5 hours to get to the cookies (I had a few bonus miles in there because I got a little lost) and it was serious climbing! Also the weather - like I had heard from many people, it really is quite a bit colder at the top. As we climbed on and on it also got windier and windier adding to it's epic-ness. I was definitely glad to see this treat at the top! (along with some hot chocolate in an attempt to warm up :)
By the way, that's not a sandwich sized bag, that's a freezer bag and a regular sized plate (that you can't see because the cookie is THAT big).
I felt strong the entire way up Lemmon which was encouraging. Riding the trainer all winter long really gives me no concept of how fit I am on the bike. The first ride outside is always an eye opener but I was pleased!
5 hours and about 75 miles later, Kim, Barb and I pulled back into the condo parking lot with big smiles. First big day complete! (well complete after we ran off the bike for 30 minutes that is... :)
On Saturday morning we were at it again, first with a hill run workout of about 10 miles in length. Kim and I ran side by side for the entire run (except for when I took a little spill and was flat on my face in the dirt :) which I truly, truly enjoyed. Kim and I were XC and track teammates at Penn State and have run many, many a mile together. Although our lives have taken us through lots of ups and downs since that time, running together on Saturday morning brought me back 10 years when we first became friends. I was having another one of those "there is no place in the world that I'd rather be right now" moments again - this time realizing that although time has passed, Kim and I are still doing very much the same thing as when we were sophomores in college - chasing our dreams and our passions, side by side.
After cleaning ourselves up and refueling (and picking the cactus prickles out of my leg :), we headed out again on our bikes on Saturday afternoon. This time Cary, another MAOer (Kim, Barb, Cary and I were all on the MAO team at some point or another), joined us for the fun and games. We rode for 4 hours and about 70 miles and if Friday's ride was epic because of the climbing, Saturday's ride was surely epic because of the CRAZY (and I mean CRAZY) winds! We survived though (and there was only one mini meltdown when I had to stop NOW for food or else someone was picking me up in the car :).
I think Sunday was what was scaring us most of all - on tap was 6 hours on the bike with a 60 minute run off the bike - so Saturday night we made sure to fuel with lots of good Mexican food!
I've got to say - I've only ever ridden my bike 6 hours or more on 2 occasions and trust me when I say, on those 2 occassions, I did NOT ride 5 hours and 4 hours the previous two days! I had felt surprisingly good all weekend but Sunday would be the true test of mental and physical toughness in my book.
Sunday was supposed to be rain and cold (in the desert?) so we all dressed warmly, myself moreso than I thought I needed. In fact Barb had to convince me to wear leg warmers. So glad I did. I figured I would be taking clothes off left and right but in the end I really just wished I had MORE to wear. The desert does get cold!
Sunday's ride is kind of hard to put into words. It started off quite normally and again I felt good and strong and we rolled along in the Middle Of Nowhere, AZ for 3 hours out. It looked a lot like this for 60 miles:
We definitely had a tailwind on the way out but we also had climbed quite a bit at the start so I figured we didn't need to turn around any earlier than 3 hours. Quite a miscalculation on my part. The wind was stronger and the rather LOOOOOOONG descent we had after our huge ascent almost did us in.
Around 87 miles in, we stopped at a little market shop where three disheartened cyclists sat on a little bench inside eating Snickers bars and pondering the 35 miles we had left. I'm sure it was quite a sight as we looked like a mis-matched bunch of hobos! It wasn't even that my legs were that tired but my head was - tired of being cold and tired of my rotten gut and tired of the wind and my goodness, tired of being on my bike!
But this is where the teamwork truly kicked in. We worked together and although there weren't many smiles (more like gritting of teeth) we totally got the job done! 120 miles in 6:40 of riding. Definitely a bit of a positive split on that one but dang if I wasn't impressed with our ability to get the job done!
Of course the whole ride home I was thinking about that 60 minute run off the bike that I was supposed to do. And I have to admit - I totally flaked out on that one! I'm blaming the Diet Pepsi because once you throw down a cold one and eat a whole bunch of tortilla chips, running for an hour doesn't seem quite as fun as normal. :)
Me, pondering the epic-ness of Sunday's ride. Although not seen in the picture, Kim and Barb were close by in similiar poses. :)
WHEW! We did it!
On Monday morning I dropped Barb and Kim off at the airport early and was instantly sad! I had such a wonderful time with them - working hard, eating good food, listening to their stories (I have to work on my stories, I had nothing good for them) and of course laughing until our bellies hurt. We made quite a trio, that's for sure and I'm truly thankful that they took time out of their busy lives to join me on this adventure!
After dropping them off I headed to masters one last time, went back to the condo and did that 60 minute run I was supposed to do on Sunday (and it was awesome outside and I truly enjoyed it!) and then packed myself up for home.
Tucson, you truly were epic!
Unfortunately the epic didn't stop there because as I was flying home Pittsburgh was getting 10 inches of ice and snow. The Pittsburgh Airport closed for a bit so I ended up in Detroit. Ugh. We did finally manage to get home around 2 am Tuesday morning but then I spent about an hour trying to find my car in extended parking underneath about a foot of snow. Once found, my car doors wouldn't open because they were frozen shut. I seriously wanted to sit down in a snow bank and cry until daylight. Was it too late to catch a flight BACK to the sun and warmth of the southwest? :)
I made it home though and now I'm back to normal life. My bike has been reassembled and de-gunked (LOTS of sports drink and gels caked on there :) and my winter hat is back out!
What did I learn in Tucson? Well certainly that friends that love what you love are worth their weight in gold. That laughing can make even the most daunting of situations seem doable. That Snickers bars can save you when you still have 35 windy, cold miles until home.
I learned that my body is capable of much more than I ever imagined. 265 miles of riding with 3 swims and 3 runs thrown in there is something I've never even remotely attempted before. And it certainly scared me! But I was just fine and in my body handled it quite well.
And finally I RE-learned (because I definitely already knew this) that I am hugely blessed to be able to do this sport. My bike and these legs of mine have taken me all over the country to see such amazing sights and do amazing things - all while meeting wonderful people! I couldn't have asked for a better life. And that's probably the most epic thing of all.