Well training camp has come and gone and all I have to say is “WOW”! Amazing experience and I feel quite lucky to have been able to go partake in the fun. And the pain. And a little suffering on the side too. ;)
Starting from the beginning, I arrived in Denver on Friday around 1 pm MST. Barb , being the amazing teammate and friend that she is, was nice enough to pick me up at the airport, transport me around for the entire weekend, AND give me a place to sleep each night! Oh, and provide toothpaste too. (I always forget something). Tell me that isn’t a good friend!
We stopped at Noodles for lunch (oh sweet, sweet Noodles – how I missed you!), built up my bike at Barb’s apartment in Denver and then made the trek north towards Boulder. We walked around Pearl Street a little before our team dinner and I instantly remembered how different Pittsburgh and Boulder are. Different kinds of people and different lifestyles for sure. :)
Our team dinner on Friday was awesome. We ate pizza and I got to meet teammates from Seattle, Wichita, Miami, Davis, Minneapolis, and I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting. Of course there are a few on the team from Colorado. Coach Luis lives right in Boulder. And Mark (Allen) flew in from Santa Cruz. Awesome (and hungry!) bunch!
I woke up Saturday morning before my alarm went off, mostly because of the 2 hour time difference but also because I was so excited for the ride we were about to do! The ride is what I was most looking forward to, but also most nervous about. There would be a lot of “firsts” for me – riding over 5 hours, riding for that long in altitude, and heat, and riding with some fast teammates. It was a little intimidating but in the end it was simply amazing and certainly the highlight of the weekend!
We started at the Boulder Reservoir. I had so many calories packed in my jersey and Bento Box that I could have probably fed a small army. I didn’t want to run out of juice!
We first headed up towards Ward. Last time I was in Boulder we rode to Jamestown so things looked familiar. Ward was awesome – it’s my favorite kind of climbing where you just sort of sit and grind away. It’s not incredibly steep but it’s relentless. It just keeps going up! The last 2 miles or so to Ward DID get steep but my teammates prepared me for it so I was fine. We stopped at the little shop at Ward, refilled our bottles and were on our way again (later I would be sad that I didn’t buy a cookie at that little shop and stuff it in my jersey but at the time I didn’t have room! :)
From there we continued our way up to another new place to me – Brainard Lake. Luis and Mark insisted that we ride that way because they called it a “WOW moment” and indeed it DID NOT disappoint. Oh my the beauty! Hard to describe and pictures don’t do it justice. It was simply amazing though and while I was trying not to be the annoying tourist teammate, I did ask the group I was riding with if they wouldn’t mind me stopping to take a picture or two.
Up until that point the altitude was not really affecting me too much but as we climbed higher and higher (towards Brainard) I was starting to feel the hurt in my lungs. Ouch! (I also felt like my nose was bleeding the entire time but that wasn’t the case :) I asked my teammates how high we were and although they weren’t quite sure they guessed around 9000 feet. Finally, a sign at Brainard Lake confirmed – we were at 10,300 feet. Again I say – OUCH! It was also quite chilly up there! I would guess around a 20 degree temperature difference from down where we started at the Res.
Timothy Carlson was on hand to take some shots of our team - of course his pictures were awesome!
From Brainard, it was time to go back down. And thus begin close to an hour of descending. Holy cats. Let’s just say, I’m not used to clamping onto my brakes for that long! No time to be timid though because Barb doesn’t mess around going down and I was just trying to keep up with my teammates (and not let my heart jump through my chest).
At this point a little group of 4 (Barb, Kelly, Nate and I) of us had formed and we would end up riding pretty much the entire time together. We had a great little group! After we got back down off the mountain we rode through many little towns (I tried to keep track but I totally lost count after a while), the majority of which were flat. We rode to a place called Carter Lake (again, beautiful!), we stopped at a little gas station somewhere in the middle of nowhere and got ice cold water that never tasted so good. Oh, and Kelly clued me into just how good a Snickers bar can taste mid-long ride. Oh my. That may have been the best Snickers I’ve ever tasted in my life!
We rode on and on and I just tried to take in all the beautiful scenery.
Somewhere along the way we passed the 100 mile mark – yeah for my first 100 miler! And then the 112 mile mark (I tried to imagine running a marathon at that point and I wanted to cry :). A little after 6 hours in, Barb and Nate turned to get back to the Res and Kelly and I rode on.
At around 6:20 into the ride I had pretty much my only low point of the day. Up until then my legs felt quite good and I was surprised to be still going strong that late into the ride. But all of a sudden I felt…tired. And like I had been on my bike for a long time. And hot. And REALLY sick of drinking sports drink. And like my teeth might rot from all the sugar (does anyone else get this feeling?). Luckily Kelly was there and I just sat on her wheel and focused on turning my pedals over.
My low point didn’t really last that long (15 minutes?) because soon enough we made a turn onto the main road (36?) and I recognized where we were and I smelled home sweet home!
And I made it! In the end we rode ~6:50 and 121 miles and I was happy as a clam. What an amazing experience. I will tuck that one away as a wonderful memory, never to be forgotten!
The quote of the day for sure was when Nate asked (after we had all returned from the ride) if it was still Saturday. HA! I know dude – I felt like I had been on my bike for 3 days straight! But really it was only 4 pm. Time to get moving – swim practice was at 5!
We quickly changed, got some grub at Whole Foods (which I did not feel like eating) and soaked our legs in Boulder Creek which was cold and perfect and wonderful all wrapped up into one. Then we swam. Mark was on deck giving us the set. Although I hate to pull (because I’m still no good at it), I was quite happy to do a fair amount of pulling after that ride!
The shower after our swim never felt so good. I was crusted in salt and slime and being clean was dreamy! And team dinner #2 afterwards was even dreamier! And the sweet potato fries? I could have eaten an entire vat of them! I enjoyed dinner as again we all got to chat, I got a lot of great Kona advice and Mark assured me that in all his years of racing (and winning Kona 5 times), never did he get off the bike and feel like he could run a marathon. This made me feel much better because the run in Kona is truly my biggest fear (by far). (not that I’m not afraid of the swim and bike too though) Oh, and I also learned from Kelly, who is a forensic pathologist and gets to carry around a really cool badge, that shows like Law and Order aren’t too realistic. Did you know it takes like a year and a half to get DNA results back? Pooh – I thought it only took as long as the commercial break! :)
Anyway, if I was excited to race in Hawaii before, I certainly am even more now. Hearing Mark talk about it helped me to understand the hype. And why it is the race that it is. And why people would give their left arm to race there.
Needless to say, I slept well on Saturday night.
On Sunday we all met for a quick running clinic with Danny Abshire (founder of Newtons) and then we did our long runs around the Res. I only had 2 hours (yippee!) and surprisingly didn’t feel too woeful after my big ride the day before. The run was great although I was incredibly thirsty – that altitude really dries you out! After the run we again hit up Whole Foods (where I somehow managed to spend $20 on lunch?) and then back to Boulder Creek for more soaking. Free ice baths rock.
At 2 pm we had swim practice again – this time with Coach Luis on deck. And then just like that, camp was over. BOOOOOOOOO! I wanted to stay and train forever! (although I did miss Oscar and Roxy terribly!)
Sunday night was the trip back down to Denver, bike packing, dinner and then to bed for our early wake-up call and flight back to Pittsburgh today.
An amazing trip to say the least. And well worth the effort of traveling across the country to experience it all. I’ve come away with more fitness, more confidence, a lot of great advice, some amazing new friends and many awesome memories. Can’t ask for much more than that. And I can’t wait to do it again!
Thanks to Boulder, my gracious host Barb, our awesome coaches Luis and Mark and all my fun teammates!
PS - In case you are wondering about the title of this entry - Barb and I have decided that Holy Buckets (apparently a midwestern saying?) will now replace Holy Cats as our favorite term!