a long post for a long race

St. George 70.3 is often billed as the toughest half ironman course in North America. The bike has roughly 3500 feet of climbing with a 1000 feet in the signature 4 mile climb through Snow Canyon. If that wasn’t enough it is followed by 1300 feet of climbing on the run course with 5k straight uphill right out of transition. So you train for the hills, okay. But then there’s the weather factor. In 2015 temps soared near 100 degrees. In 2016 it was cold and rainy. One friend claims to have stopped and hung out in several portajohns just to stay warm during the bike leg. There are stories of people weaving back and forth on the road to get up the steepest climbs. And folks walking their bikes up the hill. But regardless of the climbing or the weather, everyone says they’d do it again for the scenery, or the rip roaring descents.

really lame scenery

So what possessed me to select this tough tough course for my return to the half iron distance this spring? Honestly I don’t remember how we settled on it. I think Tom and I had a romantic notion of traveling there in the Airstream and spending time before and after exploring Zion and Moab and the Grand Canyon. I figured it would force me to spend a lot of time in the saddle learning how to climb and growing not only some bike legs but also the mental strength to persevere on a hard ride. That November day when Mt. Lemmon brought me to tears was a turning point. I HAD to grow into a better cyclist. I wanted to climb the mountains and needed to figure out how, both physically and mentally.

All kinds of life happened between that first Lemmon ascent and March 20th when I finally registered for the race. The most important being I fell in love with riding my bike. Tucson may not be my forever home but it will always be a special place because of the cycling community. It is no wonder so many pros live and train here, it is the perfect setting to get fit and train outdoors when the rest of the country is stuck on their trainers. My naiveté helped because I tackled mountains I probably wasn’t ready for and grew into them on my way to the top. There were great rides and there were ugly rides. They balanced each other out and by the time I got to taper week I was ready to take on St. George at whatever pace my legs would go, power readings be damned. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t finish. I only wondered what I’d have left for the run and there was no way to know til I got to T2. All I could do was ride my heart out and trust my training.

I started my current job 30 days before the race. So my funemployment days were over and I was squeezing workouts in on lunch breaks and under the hot afternoon sun. It was exhausting but I barely missed any workouts – I love my green Training Peaks boxes 😀 As race weekend drew near, it was clear I was traveling alone, which stressed me out, but just one more thing to manage. I switched from the in town hotel to the Base team house next to the reservoir (swim locale) and buddied up with a Canadian teammate Saskia who had road tripped all the way from Calgary with her grandmother. It was nice to have someone to go over logistics with and do some practice swims and bike mechanic check rides.

making friends, as you do

Thursday was a long day. 8 hours of driving with the highlight being a work conference call. I went straight to the expo to check in and meet up with LauraLee and Saskia. Nothing out of the ordinary except that I didn’t shop at the merchandise tent. We caravanned back to the house to prep for a practice swim since I hadn’t been in open water since France – and we all remember what a fabulous swim that was… after a very sweaty wetsuit zipper debacle we waded into the 64 degree water. It was a short swim and the water felt great. It is a beautiful clear “lake” but I got a little dizzy exiting which made me nervous. I was demo-ing my brand new aero one piece tri suit and it is fabulous. Short drive back to the house and we hopped on our bikes. Saskia was having seat post issues and I was having brake rubbing issues. I couldn’t hear anything in my borrowed aero helmet with the ear covers so I had to take it off and ride up and down the street to figure out what was wrong. I also noticed my brand new-to-me di2 battery was low because I was stuck in my small chain ring. This is why you do shake out rides friends!

Pecan groves!

Quick trip to Wal-Mart for groceries led to the sad discovery that they don’t sell wine (welcome to Utah). No matter, dinner, a beer and Normatec boots and I was in bed. I let myself sleep in til 8am Friday then finished prepping my gear bags. Saskia, Gran, and I set out to drive the whole bike course. We wanted to check out Snow Canyon but also wanted to take in the scenery because we knew we’d be working hard and not enjoying it as much the next morning. The first 4 miles around the south side of the reservoir are probably my favorite, vista-wise. I’m committed to bringing the Airstream back and camping there – gorgeous red sand beaches. After a steep climb to mile 5 the course had its easiest stretch into the town of Hurricane before a long stretch on SR-9 which featured a long but not particularly challenging climb to mile 20. Turning left onto Washington Pkwy there were some super fun descents and some more climbs finishing at the second aid station on the far side of the bridge over the interstate. I was just so thrilled at the road conditions – very well maintained, a stark contrast to the whiplash inducing cracks in the Tucson roadways. More descending into St. George before climbing up Red Hills Parkway and riding right through the middle of the run course. The neighborhoods were beautiful, impeccable landscaping, prickly pears blooming everywhere. Once you hit the roundabout you start the odd little out and back with a VERY tight turnaround and then it’s time for Snow Canyon. We chatted with the ranger at the gate and he was very encouraging but said the second half of the climb did feature some double digit pitches. He also noted that the canyon didn’t get the wind like the rest of the area. I made Saskia hold the GoPro up out of the sunroof to video the drive. It really is stunning. And the road is freshly paved and total perfection. We were surprised at how not scary the climb seemed. It was a huge relief to have driven it and the descent back into town had us absolutely giddy.

keener!

We followed the course all the way back to transition then parked and dropped off our run gear bags. We did do a little shopping and I stocked up on my Base products. So now I really wanted to see the run course, and it was absolutely petrifying. The path just climbed and climbed and was totally exposed up on the ridgeline – full sun, and all the wind. Well, it’s a good thing I’ve been training on long climbs and in heat and sun and wind!

horse thought I was an alien

Back to the house for a last bike check ride – and some antics with the horses and climbing around on red rocks. Then it was time to drop off our bikes at the reservoir and take another practice swim. I was amazed at how many people had left all their gear and nutrition on their bikes to bake in the sun all day when we had hours to access them in the morning. We left nothing but the bikes. Everyone was swimming. And there were a lot of folks from the campground hanging out at the boat ramp too. Some of them jumped in the cold water sans wetsuit and declared themselves to be ironman. Yes, that’s all it takes really. I’m sure they would appreciate the 4am loudspeakers and stadium lighting wake up call. This swim went even worse than the day before when my zipper split wide open about 100m out. I kept going to see how bad it was, in case it happened again. It wasn’t fun but it was doable. Get all the kinks out before race morning right??

so much red sand in the cleats…

After eating and booting and eating and hydrating I finally fell asleep around midnight feeling a little nervous and when the alarm went off at 4:45 I was feeling more nervous. Just for the swim really. I don’t know why I struggle with it now when it didn’t bother me for my first two seasons of triathlon. Something happened in France and it almost happened again this time but fortunately I scared it off. LauraLee dropped us off to get on the short shuttle into transition around 6am. We both found bike pumps nearby (lucky for me bc I was racked on the total opposite side of transition from the provided pumps). After setting up all my gear I realized I forgot my trislide so I went hunting for some friends. Carley was still at her bike so I got lucky and borrowed hers. Still chafed a little on my neck – I’m just out of wetsuit open water swim practice. Stupid Arizona.

reunited with my Vanderkitten sister (and BASE teammate) I met at IM Boulder last summer!

I stumbled into Saskia again after my potty stop and we tried to go do a warm up swim. But apparently we couldn’t. So we just had to wait with the masses until go time. Now, the day before the Ironman powers that be made the decision to smush up the swim waves in order to get us onto (and off of) the bike faster bc of the crazy winds in the forecast. I would love to know if anyone actually did the math to see if this had the desired outcome. The swim is a deep water start and they held each wave on the beach until the previous wave started. So you had 2 minutes to wade in and swim out to the start buoys. This is not enough time to acclimate to 64 degree water and get your heart rate and mind ready to start the race – let alone take your obligatory wetsuit warming pee. I hadn’t even been able to get my goggles wet and had to dunk them several times to activate the anti-fog spray. My goal was to stay wide right to avoid the stampede but the kayaks were keeping the lane pretty narrow and I was running into people and knew the men in the wave behind us would be on top of me in no time. So between 200 and 400 meters into the swim I was starting to get those anxious feelings like I had in France. Even though I know it’s only half the distance, and I’m in a wetsuit, I was struggling to settle into my breathing and stop stressing out. Then it was time to make the first turn and sure enough I look up and see a kayak 6 feet from the turn buoy so everyone is climbing on top of one another to take the corner and multiple waves of men were upon me now. It was a cluster. By the time the buoys changed color to indicate I was half way I was feeling more in the groove but then more men would start swimming over me. I mean these guys were jerks. Grabbing my thigh and pushing me down. Slapping their arms right into me and not missing a beat. They weren’t even going much faster than me, they were just being inconsiderate. Around this time I saw a neon orange swim cap on what I assume was the bottom of the lake and I wondered to myself if I should tell a kayaker just in case there was a body down there with it. Bad morbid thoughts. Just keep swimming. As excited as I was to make the second/last turn, as soon as I did I felt a wake pushing me sideways out to the right. Again, I don’t mind swimming wide to get away from folks but I heard some kayakers fussing at people to stay left so I tried. And more jerks wanted to beat me up, particularly one in a silver wetsuit. Grr. Finally I was near the boat ramp but tried to stand up twice before I actually could which wasted some time. I started stripping myself but was struggling so I walked over to a volunteer who yelled at me to get down then yanked my wetsuit off my legs. My blue seventy thermal socks made running on the concrete rather pleasant so I jogged to my bike and loaded up my bike gear and nutrition before struggling to stuff the wetsuit in the stupid bag. I swear I used to be good at transition but now I guess I’m out of practice. (Racing only once a year and racing only full where they have volunteers that help you in transition can make a girl lazy.)

nasty headwinds ruining the first few miles of the bike course

So here I am mounting my bike thinking hey, I wasn’t the last one to T1, good job Hansen! Oh wait, what is this? Our first uphill and everyone is creeping along like snails. Did they not gear down appropriately? Oh, no, there’s wind. Hmm. People are pulling off to check their bikes. Men are commenting to each other about how badly they’re grinding their gears. So I peek to my left at the nice downhill around the corner and sure enough there is a line of triathletes just inching along, pedaling hard going nowhere fast. Great, this is how we start the ride? The first 4 miles should have been a nice downhill spin the legs out warm up before we hit the first real climb – a steep one. But no, I’m going 11mph downhill into the wind. Lord have mercy. Here goes nothing! That first climb was interesting. While I kept my legs spinning and passed a lot of folks, some guys rode by my in their big chain ring only to be caught back by the top. And that poor woman walking up the hill with her bike slung over her shoulder, derailleur hanging off the side… my heart broke for her. First category 4 climb done, 345ft in 1 mile, 8mph average. Sounds about right lol. The next 9 miles were nothing special, some cattle guards, country roads, first aid station, then the left onto SR-9. We were riding in the far left lane of a 4 lane (with center turn lane) highway. We had the shoulder too but there was a rumble strip that made passing complicated. And I was passing. A lot. There was some great descending in here and tucked in aero I felt unstoppable. There were a lot of road bikes that didn’t stand a chance on the downhills. Of course there were some speedy dudes passing me and a few leapfrogging but I averaged 29mph for a 3 mile downhill segment and nothing will give me more confidence than sustaining anything in the 20s. Then we get to the bottom of the 2 mile climb up SR9. And it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as it seemed from a car. Just spin and get some nutrition. Again some road bikes passed me, but not for long as the aero advantage on the downhill was just too much for them. A support vehicle hollered out the window asking if my rear water bottle was “supposed to be hanging off like that” which it obviously wasn’t. Thank you hippie man in the Subaru! I had frozen a bottle of Rocketfuel and put it on my rear cage before the swim so naturally as it melted the bottle morphed and [presumably riding over the cattleguards] it shook itself into a precarious position that no one else seemed obligated to inform me of. Muchos gracias señor. Love my BASE Rocketfuel. For whatever reason I convinced myself that once we got to mile 25 we had most of the climbing under our belt, minus Snow Canyon of course. The section from SR-9 to the second aid station was just plain fun. Maybe just passing people is fun. And hitting 47mph in aero is fun. Scary yes, but fun too.

from our last shake out ride, not the race

As we crossed the highway into the aid station a guy in front of me did the ol’ honk honk motion with his arm to the drivers down below and we got some feedback so that was fun. The motorcycle cop parked on the bridge seemed slightly less amused but we pedaled on by all the same. I was still passing people changing flat tires. Some were taking neutral support, some managing on their own. Why was everyone flatting?? I kept praying for a safe, non-mechanical ride. Thank you Jesus, because these tubulars have been enough drama. No flats, phew! There was one steep short down and up that Saskia and I decided we would most likely want to get out of aero for, and sure enough I did, as some girl on a pinked out road bike whizzed by me yelling “wee!” Yes I abso-effing-lutely passed her back pronto and no I didn’t yell “wee!” in the process. Sidebar – I did – for a moment – consider riding my road bike on this course because of the climbing, so I get it, I do. But with all the descending between the climbing, there is no way a road bike is a better choice on this course. No way, even with the insane winds. Thank you Theoden for confirming this for me. Aero, on a mostly closed course, on pristine asphalt and a FAST descent, is such a rush. I, like him, would do this race again, just for the descents. SO MUCH FUN.

Okay, so I kinda forgot about the Red Hills Parkway climb, but at least we got to ride through as the pros were on the run course and it was pretty awesome to see Holly Lawrence out there (in her swimsuit – Lord have mercy, not in my wildest dreams) just absolutely crushing it. And I think I saw all the way through the top 10 women before I shot down under the highway and out to the canyon. There’s just the short little out and back section where you can see other riders and I got lucky to see Saskia about 2 miles ahead of me and Carley about 2 miles behind me and then I was in the canyon. THE canyon. This was the THE climb. What everyone comes here for and dreads and trains for and fears. At the bottom was the last bike course aid station and it was legit. There was even a full on mechanic tent where I witnessed someone with their bike on a stand getting like a tune up – say wha?? So here we go. What is left in the legs you might ask? I’ve ridden 41 miles in just under 2 hours and 30 minutes. Because I’m a total badass, clearly. [Note: the Brownlee boy who won the damn thing rode a 2:01. Freaking Olympians!?!] So in order to not totally embarrass myself, I’d like to be done in 3:30. Let’s predict a 40 minute climb, 20 minute descent, and off to the run we go. I manage a 26 minute climb (4 miles at less than 9mph) and a 22 minute 10 mile descent (freaking winds man!) but truly, I loved the climb. The scenery was just as beautiful as the day before. Although it was pretty darn hot in there – the ranger was right about the lack of wind. Sure it was work and I was getting tired but I knew it was only 1 more mile to the gate once the pitch got steep and after all the mountains I’d climbed in Tucson, I was going to get there – and I wasn’t going to resort to walking like these dudes I was passing. For REALZ. I only got passed like twice. And the one guy that passed me whose jersey I remembered (because he didn’t go very far once he did) I passed back on the downhill, yep, a road bike. The other guy ,who I also remembered because he was black, and let’s be honest, the black men and women stand out in triathlon because there aren’t that many, especially out here in Utah… I passed him on the run and he gave me a shout out, and I gave him one back for passing me in the canyon!

gate house = Snow Canyon climb done!

So the climb is done, and it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be, but darn it all, I was totally planning on just cruising downhill to transition at 30+mph for the last 10 miles. That was not to be the case. I imagine that when the pros hit the corner 2 hours earlier they didn’t have 40mph headwinds blasting them in the face. But this was the hand I was dealt. The wind was pushing us around big time. Fortunately I’ve trained in wind but a lot of folks hadn’t and I was nervous passing them because I didn’t trust that they knew how to handle their bikes in these conditions. So I didn’t hit the speeds I hoped for on the descent and had to keep pedaling to stay upright and in control. It wasn’t the leg refreshing spin out I anticipated, but I was ready to be off the bike so I pushed through. I had gotten a little nauseous the last hour and got a little off track with my gels but I kept salting and drinking and felt like I had to pee so I considered that a win even though the last thing I wanted was to stop in a potty.

My transition seems to have been fairly slow. I tried to jog my bike to the rack but that weird adductor thing stopped me so I put on my shoes and swapped my nutrition and jogged out putting on my bib and visor and by then my legs were cooperating. As I ran by the potties I considered stopping but really didn’t want to. Then I saw Saskia pop out of one. How in the world had I caught up to her? I thought she would have swam 20 minutes faster than me and biked 30 minutes faster at least, so this seemed super odd. But I just said hey and kept on going. Before the first aid station I saw Lauralee then Matt. Well that was exciting. Now I won’t see anyone I know cheering for the rest of the race. Womp womp. The first mile wasn’t as steep as I feared but by mile 2 it got pretty intense. I reluctantly decided it was time to pee so as I approached the second aid station’s potties I unzipped and pulled off my sleeves – determined to make this a fast one. And it probably was – I can’t tell from my garmin readings how long it took me, and I walked a few times up the hill in mile 3 so overall it was far and away my slowest mile at 11:20 but not just because I peed. But the exciting thing that happened in that disgusting potty (I mean how do people literally leave clumps of poop on the seat? what the eff are you doing in there folks?) – is I discovered that… men close your eyes for a second… I started my period. Yes, in the middle of my first half ironman in 2 and a half years, 5 days early according to my tracking app, the flow arrived. No wonder I felt nauseous the last hour on the bike. It’s happened once on the morning of a marathon and even a 50k but I think this was my first triathlon flow. Well what are you gonna do? Zip back up and run your little heart out. That’s all I knew to do.

So up the hill I go. I saw some friends zoom by on their way down the hill to the finish line – damn me for having such fast friends, they really make me feel like a huge loser a lot of the time. But this was the worst part, the first 5k up the hill, then it was rolling, then it was down. I was prepared for this. I would make up for these first slow miles. Until I hit the wall of wind. I mean, seriously. Like you couldn’t even run fast DOWN the hill because the wind was so bad. I started cussing. Just a little, but enough to get some sideways glances from some guys I was passing. So after a brief walk break I kept running. Channel the anger Hansen. Run, salt, hydrate, smile. Once I got to the strange double side by side out and back on the ridgeline I was in heaven. All the people watching totally distracted me, I just zipped right down the hill and straight back up it, through the tunnel and do it again. I slapped some guy with a mohawk on the butt because he was standing in the middle of the course chit chatting with his buddy about how the bike blew him up. Uh, hello? This is a race. We run now. Chat later. Move your ass son. I’m just a giddy little son of a gun on the run course. Everyone hates me. Or hopefully loves to hate me. Yes I walk through all the aid stations, I take my ice and my coke and dump my water on my person and thank the volunteers and then I run. Run run run, wee!

Until the stomach cramps arrive. I’m still learning my ideal coke to water to salt ratio. And when it’s hot like it always seems to be, I tend to go overboard on the coke. So I had been chipping away at my one packet of honey stinger chews but between the menstrual cramps and the caffeine my internal organs were starting to revolt in a way I feared would put me back in the portajohn. So I backed off the coke and water and walked a little uphill. The W section was my fave, because there were people everywhere. Once we left that, around mile 9, it was kind of desolate again. Men were walking and pouting and resigning themselves out loud to walking it in. Boo. Let me pass right on by your negative energy. Because let’s be honest, I’m trying not to crap my drawers and I need to run – but I can’t run too fast or GI things speed up and I’d like to get to the finish line before disaster strikes.

thank you LL for capturing my quad’s freakiness

At this point in the race it strikes me how quiet this race is. There’s not a lot of spectators and no cool aid stations blaring music. No bands, no cheerleaders, no distractions. With a mile to go I pass the one yard party with the icee pops and the kids squirting us with water guns. Maybe St. George is like Tuscon, full of snowbirds and folks who hate cyclists and couldn’t think of anything less fun than hanging out on a curb all Saturday afternoon cheering on a bunch of lunatics who felt like busting their butts in the hot wind and sun for 6 hours. At least the finish chute was lined with spectators hanging their hands over the rail for a snotty salty sweaty potentially poop smeared high fives. And the last few miles were a pretty glorious downhill. Not so steep that it hurt, but enough to push it, and pass right through the aid stations taking nothing, knowing that the end was near. And it would be a sub 2 hour run split. My only real goal (aside from not having a melt down in the lake or crashing my bike) was a sub 2 hour run split. Something to hang my hat on.

As I took my medal and relinquished my chip I quickly asked where the nearest restroom was, just in case. Then I looked down and noticed my shorts were rather discolored so I took that nice cold bottle of water and poured it down my front. We’re going to pretend that was coke I spilled on myself. Smile for the camera! We pay a lot of money to do this!

There is it. It’s done. I survived. I more than survived. I didn’t have a melt down in the lake, I didn’t crash my bike, or walk my bike, or crap my pants, or blow up my legs. The big scary hard race I thought I had no business signing up for, pretty much up until the minute I pulled on my goggles that morning, was over. It didn’t kill me. In fact, in retrospect, I probably didn’t leave enough out there. That’s not a totally fair statement because in the moment you don’t know what else is coming and I tend to be a little conservative just in case. And I hurt in the hours afterward. My cramping got really bad and I can only be grateful I finished before it did. I was messaging Kelly that I felt more beat up than from the Ironmans. But now that I’m a few days out I feel refreshed and springy and ready for action. So that’s weird right?

This was the first training block that really gave me any confidence on the bike. At the same time, I pretty much quit swimming. While it seems I maintained my run, in all actuality, it’s probably pretty strong, considering how hard that course was and I didn’t feel totally tapped at the end. Training for 3 sports simultaneously is complicated. Finding the time to get in the prescribed workouts is one thing. Finding the mental focus to really develop each area is another thing entirely. I can practice transitions, I can adjust my stroke, I can get more aero, I can run all the intervals. What I really need to level up now is beyond all that. It’s in my head. Pushing past the comfortably uncomfortable. Seeking the pain. That’s where my breakthrough lies. On the other side of endurance. More than executing a plan. No more saving something for the final mile.

60 days til Roth.

Time to get serious.

well, after I play around on these rocks for a minute

recovery week stupor

I seem to be falling into a cycle of either having fun and adventures or wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. After a month in Tucson without finding meaningful employment I’m getting rather anxious and stressed about finances. I’ve been entertaining myself with lots of hard training and making new friends but the training will be for nought if I can’t afford to race as planned. And the new friends are great but when you’re having an existential crisis it’s really more helpful to be with people who’ve known you through many seasons and aren’t scared off by emotional overreactions.

Standing in the middle of one of said friend’s living rooms literally wondering what to do with myself I opted to sit down and write to hopefully avoid bursting into tears. My body needed an unload week from all the heavy riding but as my fellow endurance athletes can attest, there is nothing more traumatizing than a week with minimal workouts, especially when life is a little rocky. There are only so many non-workout, non-job related tasks to be done before total stupor sets in. I worked on my taxes, I changed my phone plan, I closed a bank account, I washed the car, all the laundry, tons of dishes, I cooked, I baked, I grocery shopped, I mailed packages, I paid all my bills, I organized the closet, I tried to clean the bathroom but supplies were lacking. It actually caused a spat with the friend whose bathroom I was trying to clean!

And it’s only 2pm.

Now I’m counting the minutes til I get to go to yoga and do something “productive.” Reading a book won’t do. Television isn’t holding my attention. If I don’t get some endorphins flowing soon I will resort to that bag of Reese’s Easter Eggs I definitely did not buy with the bananas, avocados and wine…

Mt Lemmon Birthday Ride
Bear Canyon Running
Mountain Bike Race Day After Campsite

the 3rd best U.S. city to live in, really?

or how I survived, then escaped Fayetteville, Arkansas.

In my last post I was trying to make the best of a waiting game. I pretty much failed miserably. So after a full week in a very remote and uninteresting RV park 30 minutes from anywhere (including downtown Fayetteville where the “action” is), I cut my losses. The house sitting gig was postponed at least a month and I was already bored out of my mind and going stir-crazy in the trailer, cooped up because of the nasty weather. I tried to see what was out there – spent an afternoon exploring the cute old downtown

tandem tacos

area with its quirky shops and plethora of food/drink establishments. I even popped in the art center and perused the free gallery. I drug Tom to the Crystal Bridges museum up in Bentonville, which is very well done (and free!) but the outdoor spaces were hard to enjoy in the constant gray drizzle. Aside from checking out a local bakery for lunch after a bike ride my last day, we ate at home, so that’s boring. I ran around the golf course where we were staying 3 times and the neighborhood across the shoulder-less street once. We used our free 3 (or if you’re lucky 4) day pass at the Fayetteville Athletic Club then ventured to the rather strange Jones Center in Springdale. The sun finally came out so I rode the famed Razorback Greenway which was fine but is probably better the opposite direction.

But by the time I even rode the greenway and found the great bakery, I was leaving. I’d paid for my last night at the RV park and Tom had moved all his stuff out of the Airstream. He wanted to stay, had a little part time job lined up even. Not I. I’d spent the week emailing people about house sits, looking for camp hosting gigs, and checking out campgrounds on the Texas Gulf coast for a temporary distraction. In the end I decided to head back to Tucson and interview for the CPA job and see what happened. Of course I wanted to take my time along the way, no 9 hour drive days, no creepy parks by the interstate. Naturally that means a slightly more circuitous route.

First stop: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a whopping 100 mile drive for day 1. An old marathon maniac friend of mine promised plenty of curb space and a spare bedroom. She even agreed to go for a bike ride with me and color my hair! Full on girls weekend complete with lazy wine filled movie nights and puppy snuggles on the sofa. I did go for a run around a park in Tulsa and managed to swing a free lap swim at a super nice new YMCA. The plan was to run at Turkey Mountain on my way out of town but a nasty cold windy rainstorm called for Plan B. My friend scouted a trail at Lake Texoma (obviously on the state border) while I headed south towards Dallas.

It was a SUPER windy waterfront locale but at least the woods offered some shelter. I was scared just to leave the truck/trailer in the parking lot (at the boat ramp) while I ran and envisioned returning to find it twisted on its side.

Thankfully it survived. My run did not go as well. Maybe it was being cooped up in the car or just not used to steep rocky trails, but I struggled and when I ran into a huge brush pile blocking the trail I wasn’t too disappointed to turn around early.

I finally made it to the house of another old running friend (and coworker) who relocated to a suburb of Dallas 5 years ago from Charlotte. She and her husband were enthusiastic to host an Airstream and I just baaaarely fit between their driveway and the neighbor’s, fully blocking the mailbox. We had a girls’ catch up dinner out and she set me up in the office/makeshift guest room – girl has 3 kids, so full house! I would have slept in the trailer but it probably would have required blocks so I just went with the air mattress and central heat.

The Base Performance guys were in town for a conference and suggested meeting up the next day which meant I definitely would not make the 300 mile drive west to Big Spring. My friend graciously offered to let me crash a second night and I promised to get out of their hair for family activities after school. She did my strength workout with me, then I ran in the glorious sunshine. Afterwards I set up my trainer in the driveway so her 19 month old got the bike ride bug and they all went for a family cruiser ride. So happy to inspire people to be active – she confessed she hadn’t found a group to train with and hadn’t run in years.

I reluctantly unhitched the trailer and drove into the city to meet the guys at the triathlon conference. I crashed the session Matt was speaking at then we all crashed the cocktail party and dinner. It was quite an entertaining evening – from the feisty table mates arguing the merits of retail stores, to the humorous awards, to my new friend who educated me about commercial bee farming. I tried not to be offended when the Active representative informed me my upcoming “ironman” is not an Ironman and I should not refer to it as such. Hashtag no M dot tattoo for me. Bozo.

It was a fun night, however late (mostly due to a zealous Canadian guy trying to teach me how to swim, at the bar in the Fairmont lobby), but I was up and on the road by 8:15 when the family left for work and school. LA Fitness Arlington didn’t know what was in store for them. In order to swim, I needed a pool, obviously, so I parked in like an entire row, which seemed like no big deal at 9am. Of course there was a blue hair water aerobics class til 10am though so I did an hour of HIIT first and didn’t end up leaving til noon by the time it was all said and done (ie. shower and smoothie). The parking lot had filled up a bit but I managed to get out okay, phew! Off to West Texas, finally.

Nothing very interesting about driving I-20 west for a couple hundred miles. I got creative at a very busy Love’s truck stop and even bought my first box of DEF. The West Texas Friendly RV Park I had picked, based on reviews, was pretty far south of Big Spring and nothing remarkable about it. No reservation, no problem. Sweet host couple got me situated and I headed into town for a grocery – praying for better than a Wal-mart, since I’d lost almost all my food due to the fridge not staying cool by using propane like I was told it was set to do… Google Maps directed me through some very dodgy neighborhoods to an amazing new store called Porter’s where I found all kinds of organic and vegan (and overpriced) goodies. A young man even walked my 2 bags of groceries to my car and called me ma’am. Oh my.

The evening passed watching cable and booking campgrounds in New Mexico (and airing out the trailer from the stinky food situation). So much to see, so little time. But why rush it? Maybe I won’t rush it. We’ll see. At $14/night the state campgrounds with hookups are pretty appealing.

Before leaving town I towed the trailer through Big Spring State Park to check out the view. The drive was a bit sketchy – rocky cliffs to one side, boulders and cacti to the other… wind was still pretty insane with no plans to let up. The day would entail long stretches on state highways with nothing to see but cotton fields and oil derricks. It was beautiful.

Then I arrived in the desert.

Scottsdale RV Ranch

The whole point of coming to Scottsdale/Tempe was to volunteer at the Ironman – otherwise why put ourselves through 3 long long days of driving to Memphis in time for turkey right? I asked Matt if there was room for me in the BASE team house but it seemed pretty full – so he said we could park the Airstream in the driveway and just hang out in the house, use the showers, etc. But after the situation in Tucson we played it safe and booked a spot at a proper RV Park. After another successful parking job by yours truly we hopped on our bikes (my triathlon bike actually) and headed out to ride the race course. The park was only a block or two off the course which worked out great, except the route didn’t have good bike lanes or even shoulders for some high traffic sections and the first 20 minutes were a little nerve wracking as jerk drivers honked at and buzzed us. Out on the Bee Line Highway we had a nice wide shoulder but we also had headwinds and a 10 mile false flat. We missed the markings for the U-turn and found ourselves out by a military base and caught in some traffic for a rodeo. After cutting across 4 lanes of divided highway we were headed back.
We missed the turn for the bridge across the river to the Ironman village and were again honked at and buzzed before pulling off onto a pedestrian walkway (maybe for bikes?). We said hi to the BASE folks then chased daylight back to the RV park – happily on a proper bike path thru a park. We were conveniently located 3 miles from the village on a good bike route.

There were a ton of athletes from Portland in town to race including several of Tom’s former teammates, the Ironheads, and Summit Coaching clients. They invited us to their hotel for dinner and we hit up a Hispanic grocery for a sad wine selection en route. I know it was nice for Tom to have some friends to hang with after we’d spent a few days with all my gal pals in Tucson. Karen and Bob RV too so lots to talk about – and if any of my Seattle friends got caught in a 4 hour interstate closure at SeaTac back in July I know why lol.

Saturday we had to swim, bike, run so we started off at a nice outdoor aquatic center nearby, bumping into Hillary, Alyssa, and a bunch of Smashfest girls.img_2870 Then we drove over to Hole in the Rock to run on pink paths around Papago park in the hot sun. img_2843We had to do another loop on the race course but with some TT efforts but first we rode to the village where I bought some new Hokas and chatted with my Base Salt peeps. I even forked over $10 to the mechanic tent staff because my headset was rattling around again and I didn’t have my multi-tool on me (hello lazy!). I thought I was feeling good and excited for a little workout on the P3 but I quickly realized that my Wahoo was paired with Tom’s power meter (my battery was apparently dead) so I had no meaningful data for my intervals and with the crazy winds I was beyond frustrated. Plus apparently Tom has been holding back on our rides and is way stronger than me when he actually tries so it was demoralizing to watch him ride off into the distance. He waited after #2 though so we could cross the highway together to head back towards town with the wind at our backs for #3. I got caught at the only stoplight though and started chatting with a 2 time IMAZ finisher who was volunteering too and out for an easy picture snapping ride.

After the ride we headed to the BASE house for team dinner and hot tubbing. Indeed the driveway would not have worked for the trailer seeing as how it was gated and had a decent pitch to it. The place was awesome however and we enjoyed hanging out until it started to get cliquey (as all triathlete gatherings eventually do) at which point we bowed out. The clique-i-ness continued the next day as we arrived, by bike, to help set up the salt party on the race course. It was still important to be there for the racers though.  Just before dark I decided we needed warmer clothes and I hadn’t gotten in my run for the day so I ran the 5k back to the trailer. Stuffed a few extra layers into my hydration pack and ran back to the aid station. Most of the racers I knew were finished and it was turning into a stream of exhausted walkers. Not long after, I got really tired myself so we packed up and rode back. We had a long day of driving ahead of us and needed to get a little rest.

Except for feeling like an outsider with the crowd that we actually came to hang out with and support, we really enjoyed Tempe/Scottsdale and hope to return soon. Of all the Ironman venues I’ve been to though, this one felt a little different, a little snottier. Maybe it was the hateful drivers, maybe it was the abundance of athletes set on punching their Kona tickets, maybe it was the wretched wind, maybe it’s just a west coast vibe, but it didn’t make me want to come race in Arizona, that’s for sure.

South Forty RV Park (Tucson)

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the illegal parking job

Our first night in Tucson actually involved an illegal parking situation in my friend’s neighborhood that resulted in some pissed off HOA folks and a tow notice. One of my Vanderkitten teammates generously offered for us to stay with her and assured us the trailer would fit in her driveway (she even measured it). Apparently another friend had parked their RV in the drive in the past. What she didn’t tell me, and I failed to ask, was the accessibility – like the street situation. I had been nervous about it all day but was busy driving and didn’t contact Michelle to ask for more information. Sure enough, we pull up to the house and the cul-de-sac is crazy steep. I could probably drive up it but there was no way I could maneuver to back the trailer into the driveway. It would literally tip over and I’m not even sure what would happen at that point. Does it just rip off the hitch? Does the truck go down the hill with it? There were no good scenarios running through my head. It was about 8pm so not entirely too late to go find an RV park, but getting close. Michelle suggested we park it in a big flat gravel area next to the neighborhood entrance and promised us she’d seen people park trailers there before for days at a time. I was doubtful but figured it would at least be morning before someone came to harass us.

So we unhitched it and went back to her house to have some [wine and] dinner. I stayed in her guest room and Tom went back to guard/sleep in the trailer. It was nice to have some space, especially considering he had a nasty cough. In the morning we made our way across town to meet Hillary at the Smashfest Queen office for some gab time and shopping. Then we planned to swim at UofA nearby. But when we got in the car I saw a ton of missed calls and frantic messages from Michelle. Apparently the HOA was up in arms and threatening to tow so she was babysitting the Airstream in case they tried to make good on their threat. Now it would actually be quite challenging to tow it off because A) there’s a hitch lock on the ball and B) all the jacks are down. I’m not sure what kind of liability a towing company would take on if they attempted to haul her off and manage to rip it apart in the process. Needless to say no one had shown up but we calmed Michelle and moved her back across town to South Forty, which is really more of a long term resident mobile home park than an RV park. No matter, we weren’t hanging out there. The little old lady checking us in must have been new on the job as she did a celebratory dance upon successful credit card processing. She failed however to return Tom’s driver’s license, which he wouldn’t realize until we got to the campus to swim. Hillary had made a point of telling me we HAD to have ID to get in. He said if they wouldn’t let him in then he’d just go run while I swam. On the sidewalk we ran into my friend (and former bike mechanic) James who had moved out from Charlotte back in June. He gave us his take on the Mt. Lemmon climb (we’d already heard similar versions from Michelle and Hillary), then we made our way to the rec center. Despite signs stating they absolutely required government issued ID for a day pass, they let officer Tom in and we got our outdoor swim on. img_2811It was heavenly. I’m feeling good in the water these days which is nice – especially since I’m running at a turtle’s pace and absolutely dying on the bike.

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rivers are dry beds that only fill with water during monsoon season

Before the trailer fiasco the plan was to drive out to Sabino Canyon and do a trail run but we were running out of time because I had a much anticipated massage at 5:30. Michelle had told us about The Loop – the bike path that goes all along the “river” img_2812so we resorted to doing a short run on it from a lot near the massage studio. I was pleased to discover a soft sandy trail next to the paved bike path so most of the time we ran on that. I had been referred to this massage therapist by another Vanderkitten and he’s definitely one of those “out there” types but so so nice and really really good at what he does. It was exactly what I needed but I was quickly deflated by Tom’s frustration with my appointment running over which left him waiting in the truck for 30 minutes. We haven’t done much on our own since we started this trip and I so needed that massage, physically and mentally. But having only the one vehicle means a little coordination and in this instance it left him a little pissed off. So I made a frozen pizza, drank some wine, and stayed in the guest room again, while he went back to the RV park.

There is a group ride on Thursdays that heads up Lemmon – pretty much no one ever goes to the top, but people go as far as they want then turn around. Michelle and her boyfriend were going so we planned to join them to get an early start on the day, but I had a bad case of insomnia and felt nauseous when the alarm went off at 6:30 am (after only 4 hours of sleep) so begged off. Tom finally came over around 10 to get me and we drove to the shop where they were all enjoying their post ride coffees and pastries. Somehow it was 11:15 before we finally got started. Kelly had put it in my schedule as a 4 hour ride, which I figured was a little optimistic for 60 miles even if half of it was straight downhill. But still, we had 6 hours of daylight, so we should be fine, even with a img_4057cookie stop at the top. Boy was I wrong.

Take it easy to the bottom they said. The first 3 miles are the worst they said. It’s really over by mile 19 they said. Stop and enjoy the views they said. Don’t look at the mile markers they said. There’s no water till 19.5 they said.

The 4.5 miles to the start of the official climb was still a climb. The first 3 miles were fine, because it’s the beginning. There was no noticeable difference after mile 3. By mile 6 the fun was over. I was going 6mph and was only 1/4 the way up. My expectation of a 3 hour climb just catapulted to 4 hours. Did I have enough nutrition? Fluids? It was clear I didn’t have enough positivity. I started pulling over for breaks not at the scenic vista points. I had to tell Tom to be encouraging. Seriously? I was literally cussing into the canyon.  img_3053I had done a complete 180 from marveling at the gorgeous scenery in miles 1-6 to not giving a flying f^@k where I was. I was bargaining with myself about how far to go. But the closer I got to mile 15 (a point I’d determined would be acceptable) the more I realized I had to keep going just to get more water (I wasn’t completely out though). At mile 12 I texted Kelly and said there was no way I would earn a cookie (mile 24). Mind you, the grade isn’t terrible, but it’s unrelenting. And the wind. Oh my God, the wind. Plus the elevation. Pretty much over 6000’ I disintegrated. My attitude mostly. I was shaking, dizzy, tearing up. Yet there were 60-70yos descending with smiles on their faces. So clearly THEY had made it to the top. Why couldn’t I? Because I’m fat. And pathetic. A loser. These are the things I was sure of as I ground out 5mph at 60rpm. A disgrace really. Now it made sense why everyone got this grave look on their face when I said I was going to summit Lemmon. I’m not a pro. I’m not a podium finisher. I’m not even in-season in shape. I’m a big fat nobody who has no business trying to bike her way 8000’ in the desert.

fullsizerender-2But apparently I’m also quite stubborn. And somehow in the middle of all that cussing and self-pity I ground my way to mile 19.5 where we hand pumped some water into our bottles and turned down the ride home from an old guy who had just called his “driver” to rescue him. And all I could about was calories. If there was a vending machine, a general store, anything, I would get a coke and a candy bar and head back down. Turns out the reason everyone talks about the cookie hut is because it’s all there is. So you have to keep riding another 5 miles to Summerhaven to this random little hut that sells pizza, gigantic warm cookies, and hot beverages. It’s rolling, so another mile up, a freezing cold mile down, another mile up, another freezing mile down down down. The thing is, when you can alternate, the ups aren’t nearly as bad. It’s the constant, steady grind that killed me. We were popsicles. I had packed arm warmers, gloves and a vest in my pockets but removed my shoe covers and skipped the base layer Michelle suggested.img_2819 I had barely stopped shaking when we forced ourselves back out into the cold (seriously, it was 37* up at 8000’ plus the wind!) and at least the climb out of Summerhaven warmed us a tad. I was absolutely serious when I told Tom to find us a ride down, hitchhike, call uber, do whatever. But the one truck he did ask was one driveway away from home and politely declined. Also the officers aren’t allowed to pick up strays so the sheriff guy turned us down too. Commence freezing. The sun was just behind every corner and the shade was extra chilly. I made us stop a few times to take some pics (and unclamp our hands).

sunset at Windy Point - brr!
sunset at Windy Point – brr!

The sunset was gorgeous and the temps did rise back around 6000’ but then it got dark. img_2821There are no lights on the mountain except cars. Our little bike lights weren’t providing any visual assistance. The descent felt just as never-ending as the climb and wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been if we weren’t popsicles and scared to death of hitting invisible rocks, cracks, potholes. Ironically, the final 4.5 miles in a proper bike lane on the “flat” road back to the truck were the scariest because still no street lights, lots of cars, tons of debris, oh and a coyote!

We hustled to the restaurant where we were over an hour late to meet the
Vanderkittens for dinner. 15109340_10211214557382539_8327357271510303611_nThey congratulated us then scolded us for descending in the dark and not calling someone to fetch us. I downed some wine and started to thaw out.
I was so so happy I didn’t quit but honestly quite embarrassed about my attitude and negativity. Kelly was thrilled with my cookie achievement but the whole thing really made me question my attempt at cycling and wonder how the heck I even finished 2 Ironmans in the first place. Will I ever get the legs for it? Do I need to lose 30 lbs first? Suffer through another 5-10 years before seeing progress? Why do I have so many talented, driven athletic friends that get good so fast? It just plain sucks being bad at something that I so desperately want to be good at.

One more sleep in the comfy guest bed, some errands run, and a short drive to Scottsdale for ironman weekend. If Mt Lemmon didn’t make me feel pathetic and inept then surely a weekend around a couple thousand triathlon junkies would drive it home.