Sunday, September 9, 2012

Highlander Cycle Tour Recap

Hello from the other side of Bristol Mountain!  Bottom line: I survived the Highlander.  It wasn't pretty.  I was most definitely not chipper for all 40+ miles.  I had to dig deeper than I ever had before, both physically and mentally.  I swear I couldn't have made up all that went on yesterday if I tried....

The forecast called for rain, so coach Rob and I planned on getting to Bristol early so we could start the ride around 8am and hopefully avoid any inclement weather.

highlander 2012 here i come!
After picking up our numbers, pumping tires and doing a last minute gear check, we clipped in and headed off for the 41 mile Yodeler ride.  It was crazy windy, but the first few miles the wind was at our backs (unfortunately this was the only time the whole ride where we were graced with a tailwind).  We were bustin' out 19mph like it was nothing but a thing - life was good!

The first big climb is right around mile 5 and also one of the hills that I had yet to conquer fully.  Each training ride I'd get a little further, but I'd inevitably have to get off and walk up the rest of the way every time.  

When we hit this climb, I was determined to push as hard as I could to make it the whole way.  A little more than halfway up, I got out of the saddle to climb but instead of making it easier, my legs felt shot and it turned out to be a bad decision.  I immediately sat back down, tried to pedal, and then stopped.  I took a second to regroup and Rob kept encouraging me to keep going.  I clipped back in and with zero momentum, I dug deep and pedaled my butt off up the rest of that hill.  At the top my chest was burning and my legs were toast, but it was an awesome feeling.  First major climb - success!

I was feeling good, and was pumped to have one conquered hill under my belt.  Andddd then it started to rain.  Not just like, a little drizzle rain.  Like bust out your umbrella and rainboots rain.  Right as the rain hit the wind started to pick up too.  And of course it was either a headwind or a crosswind - no tailwind anymore :(

rain rain go away

Riding in the rain wasn't as awful as I expected, although my brakes definitely got a workout because descending on wet rainy roads is terrifying.  My top speed of the day was 39mph and I just about pooped my pants when I saw that flash on my Garmin.  

Right as the rain was letting up it was time to tackle Miller Hill.  Climb #2 that I had never completed without walking.  About a quarter of the way up, I was already in my lowest gear and seriously doubting that I would make it halfway.  My legs burned with every pedal stroke and I'm pretty sure that if a cross wind came through it would have toppled me over because I was just barely teetering up this thing.  Mentally, I had to dig for every single piece of motivation I've ever used in order to keep going.  With my mind working just as hard as my legs, I made it to the top of Miller Hill.  Success!  

We took a second at the top to hydrate and also say hello to some friendly Bristol residents:

cows. welcome to bristol.
Around mile 20ish there was supposed to be an aid station.  The way it was set up, you rode about 1/4 mile off the main route to the stop.  We didn't see any signs where we expected the aid station to be, so we kept riding figuring it had to be there somewhere.  Well, we ended up riding down about a mile long massive incline and sure enough - no aid station.  Now we were at the bottom and totally off course.  Awesome.

We started to ride back up, but going straight vertical with no momentum is pretty much impossible unless you are Lance Armstrong.  So, for the first and only time of the ride, I walked.  Even Rob walked his bike up this climb, which made me feel a-okay with walking at that point.  

Turns out, we had been standing right at the entrance to the aid station but didn't even realize it because the 30mph winds blew the sign away.  Cool.  For the record, walking up a hill in cycling shoes will give you killer calves.  

After our little off course trek, we had a nice stretch of (relatively) flat road, and no rain and little wind.  It sucks that the skies were gray and gloomy because how awesome would these views be with sunshine?!

As we approached mile 30, I started to get nervous because this part of the route was all new to me.  Our longest training ride capped at 31 miles, which meant the the last 10 miles of the course I've never ridden before.  I had no idea what to expect.

Of course, this is right about when I started to bonk and hit a wall.  I'm really bad with trying to figure out nutrition on the bike and usually forget about it all together until it's too late.  Not only was I lacking carbs and energy at this point, but it also began to monsoon.  I use the word monsoon with zero exaggeration - I've never seen it rain this hard in my life. 

This picture does little justice to the amount of rain coming down.  It got about 57 times worse after this.  The winds along with the monsoon made for an extremely miserable climb that lasted about 15 minutes - sad thing is, we only traveled about 1.5 miles on that climb.  I downed a gel at the top of the hill and we kept on pedaling; this was getting ridiculous.  Although I felt a little tired, this was most definitely the hardest part mentally.  I love a good hurricane-style rainstorm, but I sure as hell don't love it when I'm IN it on my bike.  There's no way that was safe.  No way.

The worst weather ever finally let up around mile 38... oh what perfect timing since we were almost done.  We took a pit stop real quick to pee and hydrate, and this is pretty much how I was feeling at this point:

just having a great effing time.
By the time the storm passed I was cold and tired and soaking wet and ready to be done.  We rode those last few miles so fast and even passed a bunch of people on the way back - sweet!  Nearly four hours later, we were back at Bristol Mountain, with 43 miles successfully completed.

ride elevation - woof.
After we racked our bikes, we walked (I more like waddled) into the lodge to get our swag bag and meal ticket and to change into dry clothes.  After wringing out my clothes in the sink and bundling up in a hoodie, it was time to refuel.
obviously my favorite part of any athletic endeavor 
While I was a little disappointed with our swag (no tshirt? no bike socks??), I guess this made up for it:

highlander wine? don't mind if i do!
I rounded out yesterday with the longest, hottest shower I've ever taken, followed by the best most comfy nap ever taken in compression gear.

Overall, this was an experience that I couldn't have made up if I tried.  I'm so glad that I actually trained (and trained properly) for this, and that I had Rob with me the whole time.  There is NO way I would have made it the whole time without him!  I'm proud of myself for how hard I was able to push physically and how much I was able to dig mentally.  I suppose it's the crazy tough experiences like this that make you appreciate what you are doing and your ability to do it.  Of course it's easy to say that now that I'm on the other side of it :)

kicked bristol's butt!
Highlander 2012 was one for the books that's for sure.  Will I be back for Highlander 2013?  You betcha!

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