Sunday, December 27, 2015

Training takes a holiday

This past week was a definite break from the training plan. And from any form of discipline, for that matter. My annual Christmas escape gave me ample reason to abandon the usual hardcore adherence to the pursuit of higher fitness, and to live life with reckless abandon for 5 whole days.

Days were spent immersed in exploration, a return to the ocean, and beautiful cocktails. Evenings were made for lingering in dimly lit, intriguing spaces with feasts of fresh oysters and more cocktails. There was very little time for working out.

I wasn't a complete slacker. Dave and I did manage to get out once or twice to run through the city streets and down to the Embarcadero, but those were slow runs with lots of photo stops. The hotel had a very nice gym, too, and a couple of times I went there to fill up my bottle at the FloWater station (because all those cocktails were quite dehydrating). We even made plans to hit the gym early, before we started our day's adventures:

D:    "It's 7 AM. Wanna get up and go to the gym?"
P:     "No. Do you?"
D:    "No. Let's get breakfast."

We got back into Cleveland last night, to a pelting rain and a prediction of colder weather to come (finally!), and a brand new resolve to get back to training. Maybe we felt the need to shake off all those celebration beverages and expensive crab platters. Or maybe that one week off left us refreshed and ready to focus. In any case,  it felt like we were off to a good start, like the new year came a week early.

We grabbed our rain gear and headed out for some intervals. And managed to not celebrate our newfound momentum with anything with gin in it.
Wearing running gear, for proof that I actually did

Cask is a high-end liquor store
Decorated for Christmas at the Park Central lounge
The Dorchester, at the Slanted Door
The Princess Leia, at Novela

The Clift Manhattan, at the Clift

Fisherman's Wharf

Thursday, December 10, 2015

El camino a los Campeonatos del Mundo

There's lots to do to get ready to compete at the 2016 Duathlon World Championships this summer.

Alongside training my body to perform to its highest level, I also started training my brain to understand the local language. If I start now, I may be able to speak a few words of Spanish, too!

Wish me luck, and if you have any advice or recommended methods, please let me know.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Season of Pain

I'm not sure why it's called the 'off'' season, when it's really the season when all the hard work happens.

This year's races are over, but 2016 goals are not so far off. Future races (my first one of the year is the Chilly Willy Duathlon) are the little points of light at the end of this cold, dark tunnel.

Ambitious goals and important races mean that there are many tough workouts ahead. Suffering is mandatory. Gains are inevitable. Just keep moving toward the light.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"We aren't afraid"

I'm climbing up a wide spiral staircase in what looks to be the inside of a giant grain silo. I'm tired. My feet hurt from standing all day at the Salon du Livre, Paris's huge annual book fair. I'm jet-lagged, too, having just arrived this morning, and I'm hungry. I would be OK with a croque monsieur and a glass of wine and then let's call it a day, but my co-worker has other plans.  I'm being led through the labyrinth of the underground Metro, a connect-the-dots route to a particular point in the middle of Paris that is to become my introduction to the City of Light.

We come out of the dimly lit station into a dark alley. The night air wakes me up a little. We round the corner, and I'm stopped dead by what I just walked into. I'm face to face with the ominous, hulking grandeur of Cathedral de Notre Dame, awashed in an otherworldly glow of orange light. I don't remember if I gasped, or cried, or just stood there in awed silence for hours and hours. I remember my co-worker laughing at my reaction and saying "I knew you would like it".

This is how my love affair with Paris began. This is a place that I return to, over and over again, because I simply can't get enough of it.

After the Salon du Livre closed, I stayed on the rest of the week to explore this multifaceted gem. I wandered through gardens and museums (and one rather famous cemetery), ducked into tiny boutiques selling everything from taxidermy birds to exquisite art supplies to chocolate creations. I took the clean and efficient metro train everywhere, finding hidden treasures in each of the arrondisements. I spent plenty of time in cafes, of course, and watched the Parisian world reveal itself to me in its own time.

Paris exudes a quiet elegance. It is polite, and attentive, and unobtrusive. It embodies a joie de vivre (appropriately) that is evident everywhere. Paris values art, and beauty, and all the things that define what I consider a life well lived. French culture values quality over quantity, which is so contrary to  the general culture of the United States (a point I would dare anyone to argue). Paris, especially, has a culture that is clearly secular, but embraces a 'live and let live' mentality.

Paris, in my opinion, must be the most civilized place in the whole world.

Which is why the attacks on civilians earlier this week are so abhorrent to me. France has always welcomed immigrants, and although there is a concern that the waves of people from other countries aren't always eager to assimilate into their host culture (a global problem), there was an acceptance nonetheless. Not a 'let's build a giant wall' reaction. Not a 'round 'em all up and deport them' agenda. Maybe there should have been, but that would have been contrary to the French sensibility of civility, and hope.

I've been keeping up with the news reports since the coordinated bomb attacks. I've been interested in knowing who, and how, and why, and also in watching how Paris reacts.

What I'm seeing is this: that the Parisians, like America after 9/11, will mourn together, regroup, and move on. There will be a new sense of caution, of course, but there is a determination that wont succumb to extremist thuggery.  I can't see the Parisians using the bombings as an opportunity to protect their right to arm themselves to the teeth and lock themselves in their little houses.  Or that they'll now feel the need to carry a weapon into a movie theater or a church or a day care. Doing so would mean that they've given the terrorists what they wanted. They will have given in to fear.

The Parisians say that they're not afraid, but I know that's not true, at least not yet. I do know that they are defiant and resilient, and that they will fiercely protect their way of life.  My prayer for Paris is that it never allows anyone or anything to steal its grace.

"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it"

--Mark Twain

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seeing things in a new light

With the change back to 'standard time' a couple of weeks ago, the transition from summer to fall is complete.

I kick and scream going into it, but really, I like fall here in Northeast Ohio. The turning leaves, the bite in the air, the morning frost - it's all good. My friend Mike at DadCooksDinner wrote in a recent blog post that his cooking changes with the seasons*. I thought about how my entire mindset changes with the seasons, including my approach to training, and riding.  It's time to either move indoors or learn to live with cold and dark.

The unseasonably mild November we've been having allowed for some opportunistic outdoor riding. It's different riding than in the summer. For one thing, the post-equinox angle of the sun seems to intensify the heat and the glare, a phenomenon that every cyclist around here has been made too keenly aware of lately. It changes the way familiar rides look, too: more shadows, richer colors. Kind of like riding these roads again for the first time.

The same thing happens when the road is covered with snow, but hopefully that won't be anytime soon.

I'm just getting back into focused training after taking a month off to re-group from a busy season. I've got a bike set up on the indoor trainer, but I'm not in any hurry to use it yet.  For now, I'll take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy what's left of these waning days of autumn.

*And, I like to steal blog ideas from Mike. Oh yeah, and if you haven't tried his recipe for Pressure Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos, go do it RIGHT NOW.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A lot tougher than I imagined

Team Hellhound crossed the finish line of the 2015 Silver State 508 with an official time of 33:43:35. That is well within our estimated time of 36 hours (and certainly within the cutoff of 46 hours), and it meets our goal of finishing in daylight - a critical parameter for both riders and crew, since having to go into a second night is a psychological killer.

I know some of you have mentioned that you were waiting for me to post some details about the race, but I've been trying to figure out how to do so without writing an entire book. Brevity can't be sacrificed here, although I'm sure that the stories from the race could last longer than the race itself. So, I'm going to divide this post into sections for easy access, but this will still be the longest entry I've ever written. If you want nuts and bolts about the race itself, I suggest getting all of that from the 508 website.

And, of course, I'll be telling the story from my point of view, knowing that my Hellhound teammate and crew probably have some great stories that I may not even know about yet. I invite them (Tim,  Jill, Corrine) to add to this narrative as they see fit.

OK, here goes:

The route:
The 2015 Silver State 508 is an out-and-back from Reno, NV to Eureka, NV. It's mostly Highway 50, the so-called 'Loneliest Highway in America' except for the double tractor trailers hauling tons of fresh-cut lumber and barreling down it at 90 mph in the middle of the night. And plenty of other unsavory characters that made me question the definition of 'lonely'.

Total elevation gain was 20,000 feet, which doesn't sound like all that much over the course of 510 miles except that these weren't 'rolling' climbs. These were long, relatively flat stretches followed by abrupt mountain ranges that averaged about 8% grade. The terrain was everything from city streets to  winding two-lane mountain passes to long, flat open desert. Wild animals roamed all over the place: herds of pronghorn antelope and wild horses, jackrabbits, coyotes, even free-range cattle to make fast descents interesting.

The stages:
As a two-person team, we were required to ride specific stages of the race, all of which ended at a Time Station. We carried a GPS tracking device for accurate split timing; this we had to pass back and forth to each other during rider hand-offs, kind of like a relay 'baton'.

Tim rode Stages 1, 3, 5, and 7, and I took the even-number Stages. This was his choice: he didn't want to ride Stage 8's famed/feared Six-Mile Canyon climb. He's 'been there, done that' and thought it would be funny to make me do it. Truthfully, I think his stages were tougher than mine, although he (and everyone else in this race) had me dreading that last climb almost before I started the race.

Our goals:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, our main goal was simply to finish the race. Ever since I saw Tim's first 508 jersey hanging prominently in his house, I wanted one on my own wall! The vision of that jersey kept me going where I was starting to falter.

A week or so before the race, Jill and I calculated a desired ride time. We estimated about a 15 mph average speed over the course of the route, which is conservative but takes into account things like bad weather, strong headwinds, crappy roads, high heat. We built in an additional 'fudge factor' for things like time spent at rider handoff (which we were determined to keep to a minimum), stop lights, flat tires (we had none!), mid-ride breaks, and other things that might slow us down. With this estimate and the 8 AM Saturday start time for relay teams,  we calculated that we would be done racing by 8:30 PM on Sunday night. We didn't say it often, but our desire was to smash that goal so we would finish before 6 PM Sunday (or, in other words, before we had to put our lights back on the bike for night riding).

The '15 mph average' was based on Tim's prior finishing times, as a solo rider over the course of 510 miles. I was certain that we would be able to do better than that as a two-person team, and I had an individual goal of finishing my stages at an average speed of 17 mph. I'm pleased to say that I met that goal, even with some trouble I had toward the end (keep reading!).

Our crew and the importance of crew support:
Jill Marks takes care of every detail. She has had plenty of experience crewing for all of Tim's 508 races and training rides, plus two Race Across America's. I let her direct everything off the bike, including what I packed, where I put stuff in the van, how much food to pack, etc.  Corrine was brand new to crewing, but she proved the perfect compliment to this team and quickly became a pro at rider support.

Between Jill and Corrine, there was always a cold bottle of something at the ready, or an ice-cream sandwich or hot chocolate after ending a long ride. There was a bag of ice for my sore feet after my 113 mile slog through rough road and blazing sun.  They had to follow us riders in some capacity (leap frog or direct follow) day and night, make sure there was plenty of ice in the cooler, keep the van fueled up night and day. These gals were the definition of self-sacrifice for the weekend, and I appreciate them like crazy.

There's a new category of racers this year, the solo randonneur division. I don't know how 508 riders are able to do this unsupported, and to emphasize this point, every solo randonneur I saw along the way looked like death warmed over. More power to them, but I think they're out of their minds.

The ride details:
This is where I get to crunch numbers and try to remember details! And, of course, the stories get better with time so ask me again later if you want a more entertaining narrative.

The Starting Line/Stage 1 (Tim):
We gather at the Atlantis Casino in downtown Reno to see Tim and the other relay teams off. It's sunny but cool, and I'm REALLY NERVOUS. I want this race to start already. Tim rides the first 50 or so miles while I get to freak out in the van waiting for my turn.

Stage 2 (Me):
MY TURN! I'm on the road and waiting for the handoff, jumping out of my skin. When I get the tracking device, Tim sends me off and I ride my shortest, easiest stage (31 miles, 266 feet of gain) like it's a time trial. An hour and a half later, I'm back in the van and settling in for a long stretch of rest before I get to ride again. Once I'm on the bike, all that nervousness and anxiety goes away. When I finish the ride, I'm now all business: figuring timing, anticipating what I'll need for my next stage. Totally into the groove.

Stage 3 (Tim): Tim's longest stage at 106 miles, and at 5000 feet of gain, the most climbing of any of the 8 stages. I really think he gets the hard stages, in spite of his insistence that Stage 8 is the real bitch. He seems to get all the 'good' climbs, too: the long, luxurious mountain passes, and in daylight.

By my calculations, he'll be on the road for about 7 hours, and will ride until nightfall. I change out of my kit, stage everything I need for my upcoming night ride, set up lights on my bike, and then try to rest. It's hard to rest, though, because the world outside is so beautiful and I want to cheer my teammate up some of the climbs.

Stage 4 (Me): It's 8:00 PM and pitch black when I finally get back on the bike. It's cold, too. There are a million stars in the sky, and I take a moment for awe, to remember where I am and why I'm here and how I got here and to be practically overwhelmed by all of it. I'm waiting for Tim to finish on an incline in Austin, NV, then I'll start the first 3 miles of this 70 mile stage by a steady climb out of the city and into desolation. The rest of my team has called in a pizza for pickup from the International Cafe in Austin, and they have sent me on ahead. I told them don't hurry - I've got a ways to go and I'm feeling great.

Typically, during night hours, support vehicles must stay close enough behind their rider that the rider can navigate in the light of the van's headlights. But on this race, direct follow isn't allowed on the eastbound route because the road is too narrow to accommodate this tactic in both directions. No matter - we all have powerful lights on our bikes and we can see everything.

And I find that I REALLY like night riding. Except for the super-scary lumber trucks sharing this windy road with me, there's not much of anything out here but me and my bike. The light from my headlight illuminates the fog line and big, suicidal jackrabbits. The shadow caused by my light makes it feel like there's something big and ominous running alongside me. I sense, rather than see, shapes of coyotes and other dog-like predators, but I don't feel fear at all. The darkness creates a cocoon around me. I can't see beyond the right edge of the road, where I ride, and anything beyond the yellow center line to my left. I imagine that I'm riding along a sheer cliff drop into blackness, but it could just as well have been a big, open desert. I'll never know.

I ride through pockets of cold, then pockets of warm, then into cold again until the cold doesn't go away. I keep a steady pace, think of nothing and everything, keep aware of my thirst, my hunger, if I'm cold or warm. I don't look at mileage, but I do glance at time every once in a while. The stage goes by fast until I'm close to Eureka, the turnaround point. For some reason, it starts to feel like a slog (I find out later that it's an uphill finish, but in the darkness I couldn't tell). The wind picks up and I'm fighting against it, my least favorite thing to do.  When I finally reach Eureka around 1:00 AM Sunday morning, Corrine hands me a hot chocolate - so delicious! - and I shed wet clothes in the back of the van as my crew gets Tim on the road. We are now at the halfway point of this race: 255 miles covered, 255 more to go!

Stage 5 (Tim):
Since we're now at the turnaround and heading west, back to Reno, 'direct follow' is required. This means that my crew has to stay close enough behind Tim to keep him in their headlights. This is for safety of the rider more than for visibility, since our headlights are fine for the job. Corrine and Jill trade off driving duties, keeping the rider close but with enough room to maneuver if the rider happens to crash. It's scary, especially since we've now been on the road for 17+ hours and everyone's a bit tired. And there are sharp descents, and godawful slow climbs. I have about 4.5 hours to rest (Stage 5 is 70 miles), and to re-fuel. Problem is, I don't feel hungry, and nothing that we have to eat sounds appealing (not even the leftover pizza from the International Cafe). I choke down Perpetuem and re-hydrate, knowing that my two hardest stages are still ahead of me.

Stage 6 (Me):
We are ahead of schedule. My calculated timeline predicted that I'd be back on the bike by 7 AM, but here it is not quite 5:30 AM (and a COLD 26ish degrees) and I'm back at it. This is my longest stage, 113 miles that will take me over the delicious Carroll Summit before hitting a 22-mile descent into Fallon. I'm having some gut issues but nothing that I can't deal with, although I'm forced to choke down whatever I can (only Perpetuem, which is starting to taste disgusting) in order to keep the fuel stores up.

I shed clothes as I gain daylight and elevation. Once on the road to the Carroll Summit I'm hitting my stride, warmed up. As Jill noted in her Facebook post, 'she's only happiest when she's climbing'! By the way, I am so grateful for Jill's ability to drive, navigate, take care of her riders, take care of her crew, socialize with and encourage other 508 teams, and keep the fans back home updated on Hellhound progress! I'm not sure how she does it, but she's definitely got some talent!

I don't remember a lot about this stage (I can sense my readers are happy about this!). After the climb, there was a fast descent, then a long, brutal slog on a roughly-paved road through a never-ending salt pan under a blistering, brutal sun and with heavy truck traffic. I changed the name of Highway 50 at this point to 'the Most Obnoxious Highway in America', and I couldn't wait for it to end. I had to stand up every now and again to relieve the pain/pressure on my feet and ass, and to stretch my tired calves and quads. I watched the big trucks, the ones that thought it might be a good idea to run me off the road, as they disappeared into the distance. I was hoping to see them turn away from this godawful salt pan, which, in my mind, meant that Fallon was close.

Going into this race, I knew that there would be times that I would lose my focus, wish for an end/death, want to throw in the towel. But you know, that really didn't happen, although it was at this point in Stage 6 that I came close to my one and only WTF moment. And it didn't have anything to do with long miles or long climbs, but with that freaking never-ending salt pan.

By the time I finished, Jill had set me up with a bag of ice to soothe my achy feet. I grabbed an ice cream sandwich (my only solid food since the night before), and opted to stay in my kit for my last stage of riding, since my break would be pitifully short. I told Tim to slow down on this, his last stage, but I knew he was almost delirious with the thought that he would soon be finished with his race.

Stage 7 (Tim): 
Tim is practically giddy. I've never seen him so happy to be on a bike. He will tell me later that the relay riders who were lined up with him at the start of this stage were also in party mode. Fuckers. They only have 27 miles left, and it's a relatively easy stage. Very little climbing, but it's high noon and the trucks are in full force, and the wind is starting to pick up. We leapfrog him to the next Time Station. At this point, my body is probably done, but my mind won't have anything to do with that. All I allow myself to think about is pulling into the parking lot of the Atlantis Casino and being handed that finisher's jersey - and in daylight, too.

While walking out of the mini-mart with my ice cream sandwich, one of the gals from Team Hellcat 4X is looking pretty pissed off. She's telling me how she had to do Stage 8 last year, and how she had to stop every few minutes on the climb and how she had to make a second attempt at the steepest section. I'm trying not to let this information get under my skin, because it doesn't really matter. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get up this climb in the most expedient manner possible.

Stage 8 (Me):
I'm ready to start. Tim rolls up, puts the tracker in my back pocket, and tells me not to listen to anything I've heard about Six Mile Canyon. I'm assuming he means that I shouldn't listen to all the smack he, himself, has been telling me about it from the day I agreed to do this race. His words are meant to encourage: "You will have no trouble on this climb".  I allow these words to penetrate my subconscious, along with all the other great words of wisdom that friends and teammates doled out on me for this race, especially the ones from George Liolios: "Pain is temporary, pride is forever." Let's get this thing done!

The race book tells me that the first 20 miles or so of this 47 mile stage is 'fast and flat', a real time trial start. To which I'm thinking, MY ASS IT IS! With 210 miles on my legs, a blistering sun above me, and a headwind that feels like a blast furnace, I'm not exactly in TT mode. But, I do pass the Hellcat, and that buoys me up a bit. I reach the turnoff to Six Mile Canyon, and shortly after I begin my climb. My throat is parched, but the thought of more of my Nuun hydration, no matter how icy cold, makes me want to gag. I take a swig anyway.

The climb starts. You know, this really isn't so bad. All the climbs on this race, all of them, feel familiar. Carroll Summit felt like Hell's Gate, the climb out of Austin felt like Amaragosa Opera House climb. None of the climbs here were as brutal as some of the ascents that were part of the Hincapie Gran Fondo, in South Carolina, last year, and I kept that in mind as I snaked up Six Mile. Six Mile, by the way, felt like Santa Monica - but, of course, with a couple hundred miles on them.

I was in my glory! Keeping a steady pace and channeling my inner Shawn Aker, I kept my cadence high and intensity low and steady. I even passed other riders. The Hellhound van would pass me, my team cheering me on and Tim, looking pretty darn rested, would thank me - again - for being here. It made me laugh every single time. Corrine told me that I had only 1.7 miles to the top, which surprised the hell out of me and boosted my adrenaline rush even further. The finish line was looking really, really close!

Close to where the road tips up for a final 21% ass-whooping, I unclipped and pulled over to give my legs a brief respite. That's when all the bad stuff happened.

As soon as I put a foot down on the ground, my head started spinning and a tidal wave of nausea hit me. What the hell?? I got off the bike, dry heaved, sat down and tried to get the blood back to my head. My support crew was there with cold drinks and fuel, but I refused it all. I figured anything I took in at that point wasn't going to stay with me, anyway, I just needed a moment to regroup.

Not sure how long that 'moment' lasted, but finally I asked for my Tevas, and began walking up the steepest pitch. Tim walked with me, probably hoping to get me to move faster but I would stop under every shady tree to catch my breath. I felt like hell but I had to keep moving.

Toward the top of the climb, at Virginia City, the road widens out a bit and the climb becomes more reasonable. I opted to get on and ride from here, knowing that after this final few miles of climbing there would be the Geiger Grade descent. He warned me against riding this part of the route, and particularly the descent, if I still felt dizzy but I assured him I would keep that in mind but that I would probably be fine.

Geiger Grade: 10 miles of 8% descent. Two lanes, switchbacks, killer views of Reno way, way down in the valley below. I was on the brakes the whole time, trying to stay in control of my speed and my focus. Sunday afternoon tourists were racing back from Virginia City after a long afternoon of gambling and liquor. Did I mention that I started thinking that Route 50 is probably not the safest route in America?

Let me cut to the chase: The descent seemed to take forever, and my hands were going numb for constantly having to squeeze the brakes. Soon afterward, I was in Reno proper, the only thing left to do was navigate the city streets to Atlantis. One small climb and a trip through a sprinkler system, a stop at a traffic light and there was Hellcat, then one more turn and there was the Atlantis. And the finish, and my teammate crossing the line with me.

There was the jersey, the medal, the photo shoot. There was my entire team, elated and relieved and ready to call it a day and happy that we could all go home in daylight. There was Georganna to cheer us on, and our friends and fellow competitors celebrating their own successes. I sat on the curb, the symptoms I experienced on Six Mile coming back in full force now that I no longer had to hold it all together.

If I could re-do any of this race, it would be the very end (and maybe Six Mile Canyon, which I honestly think would have made my top ten list of fave climbs under different circumstances). I would re-live the pride I felt, the sense of accomplishment, the celebration of a true team effort. Instead, it was all I could do to haul my depleted carcass back to the hotel, where I showered and crashed and didn't wake up again until late into that first night, well past any celebrating I had hoped to do with Jill and Tim at the hotel bar. But when I did wake up, I knew that, somehow, something about me was changed forever.

Before this race started, I knew that this would be a 'one and done' event for me. I still feel that way, and for many reasons. The training leading up to it is all-consuming; I don't have the attention span to go through this again. And, as everyone knows, I'm more of a 'speed' girl than a distance rider, which was glaringly evident when I was up against all of the other 508 competitors. Without exception, these were all double-century types, people who log their week's training in miles, not hours. These are the people who, upon completion of a race like the 508, immediately start thinking about what they're going to do different next year to improve their time. Like Tim. I don't have that in me, mainly because having to be on a bike all day is just not appealing to me. Or maybe I'm just addicted to the instant gratification of shorter races! Call me shallow.

So, I'm going back to short-distance races. I'm happy to have finished the 508 (and I got my jersey!), but I'm switching my focus back to the kinds of races and events that fit better with my sensibilities. Any talk of a repeat of this race is just silly, or alcohol induced.

But I have to admit this: after being home barely one day, I suddenly figured out why someone might want to do this again. I thought about all the hard work and time and sacrifice that goes into this event, and the ordeal of the race itself.  As miserable as it was, at times, it made the return to all this 'real life' stuff seem incredibly mundane. It's kind of funny, because while I was grinding through my 20-hour training weeks, I would think about all the things I would do once the race was over and I didn't have to spend so many hours training.  And now that I have that time back, I wonder why I wanted to trade in a perfectly grueling 20-hour training week for anything so, well, ordinary.

Tim claims that this was his last 508. I'm sure the super-long training rides in the hills of Wisconsin every Saturday were starting to get a little old, for both Tim and for Jill. At some point, when you find that you don't have the same hunger for the same goals, it's time to move on to something else.  This is a concept I understand completely. I hope that Tim finds a worthy substitute for the 508, because I know how this thing has defined him over the years since we met back in 2010, in Death Valley.

Back in June, when I told Tim and Jill that I would ride with Tim in a 2x team, I figured I was doing him a favor. Tim couldn't stand the idea of not competing in this, his Hall of Fame inaugural year (granted to 5-time finishers of the 508) but he was losing interest in the amount of suffering required to ride this as a solo racer. I thought that the team effort would be a lot easier (I think it was) and that he would be able to offload some of the pain and angst onto his teammate.

Jill tells me that this was destiny, that this 2x team thing had been in the works since we met back in Death Valley that first time. I think she's onto something. I was always intrigued by the 508, but never to the point that I would enter it as a solo competitor. I decided early on that I would never do this race, but if I did, I would only do it as part of a relay team with Tim.

Which means, looking back on this, that I really DIDN'T do this race as a favor to Tim.

He did it for me.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This road we travel...

The 2015 edition of the Silver State 508 starts in a couple of hours for Team Hellhound, and all the other relay teams. It's been a long and interesting journey just to get to the starting line, and I couldn't be more ready to get going.

On the evening that we arrived in Reno, as we were setting up our bikes at Corrine's house, I got word that 5 cyclists were hit by a pickup truck as they were riding down Snowville Rd, in Brecksville. One of them, Matthew Billings, died at the scene. 3 others are in serious or critical condition. One was released from the hospital, and I don't know his condition.

It was the Akron Bike Club's regular Thursday night ride. I know all these people, and have ridden with most of them. And, of course, Snowville is one of my favorite climbs in the Cuyahoga Valley, although my relationship with this hill will likely be changed forever.

We do what we do because we love to do it. We know that there are risks involved, but we justify them because of the benefits of our sport. We always expect that the ride will end, we look forward to that hot shower and cold beer, and the satisfaction of a good ride. We plan on doing it again tomorrow.

I rode around Reno yesterday, a short test ride for bike and legs. I was keenly aware of traffic and the behavior of motorists. I was keenly aware of my own behavior, because we always have to ride with eyes wide open. We need to be able to react as best we can when the situation requires it.

This 508 race is challenging on so many levels that I often forget (or try to forget) that I'm on a highway, with other fast-moving traffic. My job is to stay alert, stay safe, and live to tell about the journey. But I also know that sometimes I really don't know the road I'm travelling.

Please keep the Billings family, and those fellow cyclists still fighting for their lives, in your thoughts. I'm sure I will be thinking of all of them over the next couple of days during my long rides on 'The Loneliest Highway in America.'

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My 508 Adventure Begins!

Let's get this show on the road, already!

Introducing Team Hellhound:

Tim Marks (Pileated Woodpecker):5 time solo 508 finisher, which earns him a place in the Hall of Fame
Pam Semanik (Hellhound): First/last time 508 competitor

Jill Marks - Crew Chief Extraordinaire. Crew experience includes all of Tim's races and training rides, as well as RAAM support both this year (Seana Hogan) and last year (Team Ohio Cycleworks Charities)
Corinne Casanova - Crew/Support/Beer Garden Reservations/party planner. Opened her home for our mega-shipments of bikes, equipment, etc. Can't wait to meet her!

I'm leaving Cleveland tomorrow morning, meeting up with Jill and Tim in Minneapolis and then we'll be flying into Sacramento together. By early afternoon, we'll be in Reno and putting our bikes together at Corinne's house. Tomorrow and Friday we get ready; the race starts at 8 AM on Saturday.

I'm terrified and excited and wondering if I'm prepared but ready to find out.

We have goals, of course, and in their most basic form look like this:
1. Survive
2. Finish before the cut-off time (46.5 hours for relay teams)

Of course, we have some other, slightly more lofty goals, but I'm not going to jinx myself by posting them all over the public domain. Those goals are based on ideal conditions and no freaky incidents.

If you want to follow us, or your other 508 faves, you can check out the 508 website's live feed:

Tim and Jill, Death Valley c. 2011

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Misery vs. Strength

"We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves stronger. The amount of work is the same."
-Ken Emerson, 508 Veteran

Just realized that today is September 1st. Where did the time go? Seems it was just yesterday when I was talking to Jill about her crewing experience with Seana Hogan's team in this year's Race Across America. That was in mid-June, and the same day I decided I would do the 508, although I don't think I told Jill until a day or two later. I had to first run this past Dave.

Actual conversation with Dave:

Me: I'm thinking about doing the 508 with Tim this year.
Dave: THIS year?
Me: Yes. This may be my only chance. What do you think?
Dave: I think if you don't do this, you're going to regret it for the rest of your life.

Fast forward to...holy shit! Now. Staring this thing in the face. I'm not sure if I'm ready, but I'm not sure if anyone is ever ready for stuff like this.

If the 508 brings a lot of rain and cold weather, followed by excessive heat and humidity, then I think I'm good. This past week of training could easily be considered 'miserable' conditions. Training days have been not only taxing physically, but competitions with rush hour traffic, crappy road conditions, poor visibility, and, oh yeah, the coldest day in August this area has seen in the past 7 years, Not exactly a picnic, but I've ridden enough in the desert to know that things could be worse.

Someone once said that pain is just weakness leaving the body. (I wanted to smack that person). I can't say that I feel myself getting stronger, but I have felt plenty of 'weakness leaving my body' in recent days. So, with a couple of ridiculous training days left this week, and then settling into maintenance before the starting gun goes off on September 19th, I will trade up any misery for whatever benefit I can gain. Because if this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I want to savor every moment while it lasts.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I survived my first 'Crash Cycle' training week!

I think Rob must be trying to kill me.

Either that, or he figures if this Crash Cycle training doesn't kill me, the Silver State 508 might not be able to, either.

In any case, I'm happy to say that I survived my first week of intense, focused training in preparation for the 508 in a few short weeks. Almost 20 hours on the bike since Tuesday!

It was a pretty tough week, but there were quite a few bright spots along the way:

  • I love riding solo, of course, but I was extremely grateful for the company of friends, particularly in the last hour or so of a long ride. Grateful, especially, to Angie, who met me on multiple occasions, always in the rain, willing to modify her training plan and slow her pace to accommodate mine (and my soggy attitude), always upbeat. And then she bought me coffee afterward. There is no way to repay that kind of support!
  • Loved having other riding partners (Tiffany, Tom, Craig) on some of my tougher days,  and for bumping into teammates unexpectedly during my rides: Deb finishing her long morning ride in the rain, George out for a speedy spin around the Valley, Chappy doing hill repeats on Truxell, Rich on his 'easy' ride which seemed to include some hills that wouldn't qualify as 'easy'. And, of course, the ride into downtown Cleveland last night with teammates, to end my 5+ hour ride in the best way possible.
  • Grateful, too, for Dave's support in all of this. This week, I was either at work or riding my bike. And when I wasn't doing either of those, I was probably using up all the hot water in my super-long shower, eating all the food in the house, or sleeping. The only evidence that I was even nearby was the growing pile of soaking-wet kits piled up in the laundry room. Dave always had dinner and a cold beer waiting for me when I got home.
  • I learned the value of a good NEW chamois, liberally-applied ass butter, and a Bactine/Medicated Gold Bond cocktail apres-velo. I also learned that my older pair of shorts, no matter how much I like them, will NOT be going with me to the 508. 
  • I'm learning how much of a mental game this really is. 
  • Happy that I'm DONE until Tuesday. And just in time, too: Sunday is GIN MARTINI day around here. Cheers!
Ready for a night on the town! David, Me Jason, Angie, Dave, Catherine, Bob, and Dominic (Photographer: Tim Neff)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How a distance-averse athlete trains for a long-distance event

Me and Tiffany racing together in the Team Time Trial in the August Eastern Ohio TT series

I love a fast, short race.

My best days on the bike happen when I have to ride until it feels like my legs are going to fall off and my heart is going to explode, which is usually about half an hour or so into a time trial. 

And because I'm a speed junkie, most of my training efforts are focused on developing power and speed, but not necessarily endurance. Endurance is what my IM friends are out pursuing while I'm back home lounging in the kiddie pool with a cold beer because my race ended at 10 AM that morning.

Now, of course, I've had to change up the plan a bit. The 508 is going to be a slog and a sufferfest, even if I can employ some of those speed-trained muscles to shorten the duration just a bit. Even if Tim and I (Team Hellhound!) have an ideal race, we're still talking about almost 20 hours in the saddle inside of 48 hours - for each of us. (And I can't even imagine doing this as a solo rider). 

The endurance crazies are quick to offer advice, and I know its well-meaning but I also think it's scary and often misguided. One friend suggested I sign up for a nightmare of a ride in southern Ohio called 'The Frank', which promises 100 of the most hellacious hilly miles or your money back. I was appalled by the suggestion. Who would DO that to themselves? It sounds like needless suffering to me. 

My coach, Rob, adheres to the 'Training Bible' philosophy: there's no need to do more than you need to do to accomplish a goal. He's got me doing mostly my same workouts I would be doing to train for shorter distance time trials and duathlons: lactate intervals, long tempo rides, aerobic threshold builds - just a lot more of them. This week starts a two-week 'crash cycle'  for me, which means more hours on the bike this week than I even have time for - but I'll make it work. What I need to train my body to do is to ride hard for a few hours, take a break for a few hours, and repeat a few more times. 

I bumped into Sarah Harper the other day at the Velodrome. Sarah is a RAAM vet, and has competed in other distance events and actually seems to like them. She suggested I may be thinking about getting into distance riding/randonneuring, but I assured her that I was not. The 508 is a once-in-a lifetime thing for me and I am only doing it because it may be my only opportunity to ride with Tim on a 2-person team. I asked Sarah's opinion about training, and she verified what I already knew: there are things you just can't train for. Among these things are sore feet, sore ass/other parts that we won't mention, sore neck/shoulders/back/pretty much everything, numb hands, sleep deprivation, hallucinations, and decaying attitude. All of these will happen during the 508. There's no need to 'train' for them. I already know how they feel and I don't wish to be reminded until absolutely necessary.

In fact, I don't like to think any farther out than what I need to do right now. I have a plan,  so all the thinking has been done ahead of time. All I need to do is follow that plan.

Wish me luck as I start a few training days of long rides and back-to-back workout days. Chamois butter, do not fail me now!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Time to get serious!

Recent text message exchange between me and my Silver State 508 Teammate, Tim:

Me: When do you think I should start training for the 508?
Tim: 10 years ago.

Time to get serious! Race-specific 508 training starts tomorrow, with a 5-hour planned ride in and out of the Cuyahoga Valley. I'll have plenty more of those in the next few weeks. The race is in just over a month (Saturday, September 19th).

We are Team Hell Hounds (2x team). All info about the race can be found on the website, like the elevation map for this race:

I'll be posting more 508-centric stuff as this journey continues.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

And some other stuff happened...

The whirlwind that is my life often leaves me spinning, with little time to take a glance back over my shoulder to remember where I've been.

It wasn't until I took a badly needed (and too-many-times-rescheduled) coffee break with an old friend that I realized I forgot to chronicle a way cool event of the recent past. (Ed, my coffee date, knows me from my Rescue Village days*, is not a FB guy, and likes to follow my antics via this blog**).

The event of note was the Duathlon National Championship race in St. Paul, MN, in early June. No race report here, but some fun things to remember as well as some highlights:

  • I competed in this event at Angie Ridgel's urging. We both did this race (as did Martha Brennan, another SnakeBite Racing team member), and we both loved it (and did well). I wouldn't have done this without her, and I can't imagine a more compatible racer/friend to share this experience with. 
  • We flew into town and stayed with Jill and Tim Marks, who live north of Minneapolis. This is always a treat. I wish these two lived closer. But clearly for us, distance doesn't seem to matter all that much. 
  • The amazing Jill not only hosted us, she volunteered her time for the event (i.e. ALL DAY, even longer for her than for any of us racing). Having Jill cheering on the sidelines as I came into the transition area was out of this world. Jill. Is. Awesome.
  • Competing against nationally-ranked athletes was an eye-opener. Waiting at the start line, the announcer rattled off names and titles of the gals in my division. I thought for sure I was in the wrong group. 
  • I have a lot to learn.
  • Angie, Martha, and I all qualified for World Duathlon Championships next year, in Aviles, Spain. Yes, we're going. 
  • Prior to leaving for St. Paul, an acquaintance overheard that I would be competing in Duathlon Nationals that weekend. She gave me an odd look and said "Do you shoot guns?" I often need interactions like this to put this stuff into perspective.

*My 'fat' days, before I shifted my focus to things more strenuous. Or, as Ed puts it, 'back before you traded your tits for legs'. Ha! Georganne, I thought of you immediately! ;)

**And sometimes the motivation I need to post something, anything. 

Coming into T2
Angie (357) and Martha (356) at the start line

Finish line fun!
Hamming it up at the Finish
Post race posing: Lucky #13 hanging out with 'the Magnum'!

Jill, Angie, me, and a trio of gardener martinis. We live to celebrate!

Podium shot for my age group. I'm #3!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Next Wave

Could this be the next 508 Dream Team?

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just didn't think it would be THIS soon.

After what seems like years of turning down Tim Marks' (Pileated Woodpecker) suggestion that I race the 508 with him as part of a relay team, I have finally succumbed. Tim and I will be racing as a 2X team in the 2015 Silver State 508 (totem TBD, stay tuned).

My head is spinning, but that's OK. I know better than to try to overthink decisions like this, especially after my mind is made up. After all, I'm now committed - in every sense of the word. The timeframe has suddenly become very, very abbreviated.

My life is truly dictated by endless harmonic convergences, maybe because I'm willing to open myself up to opportunities. And when they come around, I grab hold.

A few years ago, I learned to surf off the warm waters of Maui. I was fascinated by surfing and the surfing mentality (after reading 'West of Jesus', a book that has altered the path of my life). Surfing was everything I expected it to be: challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, salty, and wet. What I didn't expect was how it proved to be so allegoric. There were lessons I learned from surfing that have endless value on dry land.

First, surfing requires a lot of waiting, and watching. The four of us in my little group would paddle out to where we could see the waves begin to break. For the most part, we sat around on our boards, talking and laughing. We watched the horizon, looking for the telltale white foam that meant the ocean was coming up to meet us.

Second, surfing requires you to be ready. We would take turns, one after the other. When it was my turn, the others would back off and let me do my thing.  At that point, it was just me, and my board, and that wave.

I would wait for the wave to get closer so I could set myself up to catch it.  I would paddle out to meet it, turn my board toward shore and, if I timed it right and paddled hard enough, I would be where I needed to be just as the ocean began to lift the back of the board. Then it was all about letting the momentum of the swell propel the board so I could find my balance and stand up. When all the pieces fell into place, I would ride that wave gracefully toward the shore.

Or not. Sometimes I would fall into the ocean. Sometimes I wouldn't get enough momentum to stand up. Sometimes I was in the water before I knew what happened.

But the point is this: When it's your wave, you ride it.

So, yeah, I'm in for the 508 this year. I've watched, and waited, for the moment to present itself, and now it has. This wave is mine, and it's big and it's scary but it's mine and I'll ride it. Tim and I, we're gonna own this thing.
THIS is the Dream Team - because without Jill, none of this would be possible

Other posts that feature Tim (WAY too many, but here they are):

(Yes, this is bordering on ridiculous...)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Synchronized Suffering"

That was Phil Liggett's description of the Team Time Trial, during the Tour de France some years back. I kind of like the idea of sharing the pain with a teammate. After all, what are teammates for?

The Eastern Ohio Time Trial series has become a favorite. Every third Sunday from May through September, those of us who crave the Race of Truth show up to teeny Deerfield, OH, for a blissfully short morning of racing.

The cool thing about this series, aside from it being probably the most low-key race in NE Ohio, is that you can race practially any category you want to: standard class for those without aero equipment, single speed for the truly hardcore, tandem, even stoker/kid. If you wanted to, you could probably enter in a Fat Bike class (and I know somebody just crazy enough to try this).

I like the Individual (ITT) and Team (TTT) races. I've raced the TTT in prior seasons with another teammate, and that was a great experience. This year, I figured I would try to introduce more teammates to the joy of time trailing. I challenged my teammates: I would race the TTT every month, but with a different person every time. Any takers?

For the race in May, my first taker just happened to be the super-human speed machine, George Liolios. Although I'm sure our race was the slowest one he's ever done, it was a memorable race for me (George is one of my cycling heroes). We decided on a team strategy and stuck to it through the entire course, and I have to admit that the last charge to the finish nearly killed me.

Tomorrow, I get to race with Uber-Track Maven Beth Rowell (AKA "Miss June"). I can't wait!

"Miss June", Beth 
And the rest of the Team Line-Up:

"Miss July", Angie

"Miss August", Tiffany
"Miss September", Deb