Merritt Loop round 3 and then some…

The final weeks to Ironman Canada means there is still a lot of work to be done. Most of the biggest workouts are still on the horizon and it all started last Sunday with the annual Merritt Loop – a ride covering 200 kilometres with more than 2,000 metres of climbing and often in challenging weather conditions. It’s what I like to call, a ‘big girl panty’ ride. This is the third year I’ve ventured out on the journey and the third time I’ve sat down to tell the story; each year, it’s been a different tale.
FullSizeRender (2)The first year, I was inexperienced and naive, and I bonked with 52 kilometres left in the ride. I think I best summarized it when I said, “It kicked my ass.” I remember when I reached the summit of Cardiac Hill – the final steep climb just beyond the 180 kilometre mark – I collapsed off the bike with neither the energy nor the care to un-clip from my pedals. My training partner, Vince, captured the perfect image of me sitting halfway in a ditch on the side of the road with defeat exuding from every inch of my body.

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Last year, I vowed that I had learned my lesson and that redemption would be mine. Unfortunately for me, on the back end of the ride we were hammered by relentless headwinds and soaring 35 degree temperatures. I ran out of water and the delirium of heat stroke set in. We were out there for an elapsed time of 10 hours and 38 minutes. Yet again, another one of my training partners captured the perfect photo of me atop Cardiac Hill, this time lying flat out on the highway and again exuding defeat.
11695998_10153092903287861_4312962366059611938_nWhile I’ve been able to finish every Merritt Loop, I have not yet been able complete the 45 minute brick run afterwards or reach my goal of riding 200 kilometres. While the complete loop from start to finish is a few kilometres shy of 200K, it has always been my goal to put in the extra time to get to that number. In 2014, I was short 4.4 kilometres, and in 2015, it was just 700 metres! There was nothing left in me that could pedal another rotation.

When I saddled up this year, I was more prepared and determined than I’ve ever been to ride the 200 kilometres, complete my brick run and take a photo of myself on Cardiac Hill with a victorious smile on my face. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
13466536_10153796069092861_591032349321431953_nAs a middle of the pack cyclist amongst my group, I have been finding myself alone lately for most of the run and bike workouts. And, the Merritt Loop was no different; I was left alone with my thoughts and a long, lonely stretch of road. This year, unlike every other year, it was cold. My fingers were frozen and at times my teeth chattered against one another. Strong headwinds and rain on the other side of Logan Lake made the ride challenging and, at times, made me question myself. “Why do I like to be tortured? Why does anyone do Ironman? Why am I riding my bicycle in the middle of nowhere, by myself?” At times, I was happy and would sing songs about my granola bar, or my Gatorade, or the rain, or the number 60. At one point, when I couldn’t feel my fingers and all I could hear was the howling wind blowing past my frigid ears, I yelled curse words and cried. The best parts were when I smiled and laughed out loud. You could call me manic, but I think that’s just par for the course. Eight hours is a long time to be alone on your bike with nothing but your own thoughts. The true victory of the day though, was taking a selfie standing tall, proud and strong with a wide smile on my face at the top of Cardiac Hill. The picture that day was not of defeat, but success. I also, put in the extra 5 kilometres to get to 200K, and finished my brick run. For the first time, I had succeeded. It took smart planning, experience and a business-like attitude of just getting it done.
IMG_6159 IMG_6162In previous years, the Merritt Loop has defeated me to the point where I was forced to take the following two days off from training. This year, success meant the work was not over on Sunday evening. It meant I still had two more big workouts the following day – a gruelling set of 9X400 metres in the pool and a 26 kilometre run with tempo. I was already in pain from head to toe; it would take every ounce of physical and mental prowess I had to keep going.

By the time I crawled home Monday night, I was trashed. My body and mind were fried. I could barely lift my legs and simply standing still would make them shake. As I hobbled into the bathroom and looked down at my bloody feet, shaking legs, and salt stained clothes I burst into tears. I felt defeated, and again I questioned myself. What is with all the torture?
IMG_6170 IMG_6180 (1)Three years ago, I made a vow to change my life, to move on from the things that weren’t making me happy, to take on a challenge and live life every day with purpose. That plan didn’t include walking through life in comfort. The plan was to push beyond my limits. I’ve done that in more ways than one. This past weekend is a testament to that, and although it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s making me stronger, faster and in the end, a happier human being.

In the coming weeks, there will be many more ‘big girl panty’ workouts and I have no doubt there will be more pain, blood and tears. But I’ve been to the finish line before, and every moment of this journey is worth it. It is worth proving to myself that I am strong, I am damn crazy and I am living my life right to the very edge. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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Aly’s no good, very bad bike ride

You know those days when it just feels like everything that could go wrong, goes wrong, and really insignificant obstacles or hiccups along the way feel really ginormous and apocalyptic? That was my afternoon. It was like the universe decided to poke an already emotionally and physically distraught, unrested cranky beast to see how far it could get. Well, after nearly three hours of poking and pushing I just shut the emotions off, and at the end of it all I think my brain was in Disneyland and my body was merely a physical entity taking up space.
I was feeling somewhat motivated and refreshed for a night of four-peat hills up Juniper and Todd tonight. It’s been a tough week, so when I get the spark to take on a workout I have to run with it. As I rigged up the bike I decided to strap on the Go Pro to the front handlebars for a front seat view of the ride. This way I could upload some footage and make my friends jealous of all the wild and crazy fun things I do on a Friday night, while they drink frosty cocktails on a patio. Geared up and ready to go I pushed off from the curb and barely moved one full rotation before I heard a rubbing whirring sound coming from what I thought was the front tire. Awesome. Hiccup number one and I could already feel agitation start to creep over me. So, I hopped off examined it for a minute, then hopped back on, only to hear the same sound again. I hopped back off to see that it was the back tire rubbing against the bike frame. For the next 15 minutes I was bent over, fuming over the fact that my bike was just in the shop and the wheel was totally out of alignment. As I cursed under my breath and balanced my bike between my thighs with my spandex doned ass straight up in the air, I started to hear cat calling from guys driving slowly down the road. I had to muster every ounce of restraint to not fly off at the mouth like an inbred sailor. Finally, the tire was aligned and after wasting 15 minutes I was back on the road.
As turned off the highway onto Valleyview Drive I was greeted by my second obstacle of the evening; rocks everywhere. Flash flooding from the day before had left a horrible mess and I was dodging pebbles and mini boulders all the way to Juniper and praying my tire would not flat. Rounding the corner and heading up for the first climb of the night I turned on my ipod and blocked out my agitation. At the top I felt exceptionally dehydrated from the hot sun, with only 20 minutes into the ride I had already polished off one of my two water bottles. I thought to run over to the corner store to stock up only to realize I made the boneheaded decision to not bring any cash or cards with me; rookie mistake. I would have to make like a camel and reserve. As I turned around for the descent I went to flip on my Go Pro I encountered piss off number three of the evening, the memory card was stuck in the lock position. Mother trucker. I almost hurled that thing under the oncoming tires of passing by trucks. As I mumbled more curse words I could start to feel rushing beads of sweat down my arms, legs and face, and I wondered if I would make the next hour and a half of climbing on one bottle of Gatorade. Either way, the hills still needed climbing and I was standing still, so off I went.
Obstacle number four greeted me in the form of the biggest mother of a puddle I have ever seen; another after effect from the flash floods. It was like a god damned lake had formed in the middle of the road. With the way the night was going I wagered it a bad idea to try and go through it, so I unclipped, picked up my bike and proceeded to go around it through the claylike mud. With each step I sunk deeper into the muck and I worried I just might get stuck right there and bake in the sun until dark. Once to the other side, I hopped on the bike only to realize the mud had clogged up my shoes rendering it impossible to clip back into the pedals. More swear words tumbled from my lips as I peeled the mud from my shoes and smeared it everywhere. Finally I was back in the saddle, wondering what the hell was next.
About halfway down the highway something on the bike didn’t feel right. I didn’t know what it was but I was deathly afraid of self combustion and flailing under a truck and meeting my demise. I turned off for Todd Road and had a quick inspection to discover nothing was wrong and that I was getting paranoid, and headed up for climb number two. As soon as that was over, it was back up again for climb number three, which at this point had me feeling famished and desperate for cool drops of water. As if to add torture to pain I start envisioning watermelons and smoothies, ice cold water and more big juicy watermelons. Then the smell of BBQs wafted through the air, and I almost surrendered mid pedal. As I hit the top and started my descent, I was greeted by obstacle number five in the form of a loud SHHHHHHHHH…. holy jumping mother sand trucks. There goes my back tire. I pulled over to the side of the road and kicked gravel like a mad person. I just had brand new tires installed this morning, tires that were supposed to defy all the rules and never flat, tires that cost $150! How the hell did I get a flat? Oh that’s right, the universe has a bone to pick with me. In a fleeting moment I contemplated lifting the bike over my head and hurling it over the cliff side, wiping my hands, taking off my shoes, and walking home. But instead I flipped it over, pulled out my spare, sat down in the dirt and calmed myself. Just then I started to hear rustling in the bushes and gravel rolling down the hill side. Would obstacle number six come in the form of rabid animal who would tear me into pieces? No, but It made me change the tire faster, so maybe it was the first blessing of the night. Tire back on, back to Juniper for one more climb, but not before walking back across the clay like mud, wiping my shoes and singing some Celine Dion.
With about 250 metres to the top of Juniper, as if the icing on the cake, I felt my back tire slowly go down, down, down. Well I was out of spare tires, and frankly out of patience.
A $16 cab ride later and I finally made it home, with emotions turned off and one giant watermelon in hand. When the universe tries to tell you to just go home and try again tomorrow, tell it shut the hell up and keep on going. None of this journey has been easy and I would be damned if I let a few typical bike ride mishaps falter my focus and determination. On any other week I may have just laughed in the face of it all, but with race day looming and my tired mind and body, I was easy to provoke. Tomorrow I will head to Whistler to cheer on my training partners and I know it will be the spark I need to find my motivation to get ‘er done. Here’s to buckling done and moving on, even when you want to throw a tantrum and flip off the world.

 

 

The end of an era

This weekend began a new era of cycling in my triathlon journey as I made the switch over from a roadie to a tri bike. Since clipping in on Saturday I’ve put in over 100 kilometres in the saddle, and I think I’m in love. It’s sleek and quick and light and it’s molded to me like a glove. But this new love has come at the expense of my old flame. This week’s post isn’t about breaking through barriers, or new challenges, or epic journeys, but about remembering Red Lightning, one of the most important partners I’ve had along the way.
He was once the light that shone brightly and mighty. He was old, but full of life, and I loved him. Now he sits, torn apart and left behind like a broken lamp that has no home. I stripped his wheels, pedals and saddle, then left him there in his fading blaze of glory. As I walked past him this morning, I felt an unusual and most abnormal feeling of grief. Together we have conquered mountains. We have crashed together, cried together and laughed together. I’ve yelled at him and spoke softly to him. We have had bonding sessions before races, and I even hugged him after races. But most importantly during those races we could drop faster, sleeker, prettier, and pricer bikes, because together Red Lightning and I were unstoppable. He was my first road bike and in some way I feel that since we started the journey together we should end it together, but alas sometimes change is good. It seems so silly to become attached to an inanimate object, yet in a year of so many challenges and first experiences, it’s hard not to feel that connection. It does become part of the experience and, for the most part, he fared me very well. Together we rode more than 1,500 kilometres, climbed more than 15,000 metres, raced in six triathlons, called one taxi home, crashed twice and conquered the biggest challenges of my triathlon journey. I know this isn’t the end of his road, perhaps maybe it’s just a break, but nonetheless I feel it’s important that at this juncture to look back on the memories. Nonetheless, no matter where the road goes, he’ll always have a place in my heart and together we will ride again, it will just be a different journey.

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The long and delirious road home

Holy shit. Holy shit. These were the only words I could mutter out in delirium as I lay spread out in the back of my air conditioned car. My legs were burning, but somehow wanted to keep going; my skin was burning, like it was on fire; and my ass felt like it had been sitting on a steel pole for days. This is the aftermath of the biggest cycling adventure of my life, from Kamloops to Merritt and back again, totalling just under 200 kilometres in the scorching interior heat. It kicked my ass, and I learned a lot about myself, proper sunscreen application and hydration.
For the first 50 kilometres to Logan Lake I partnered up with a couple of the girls in the group and we coasted together in somewhat broken unison, drafting behind one another, then spinning separately, rejoining to chat side by side, and then flying down hills like children let loose after school. The scenery along the route was breathtaking, and the calmness of nature surrounding us made me entirely forget about what lie ahead. With each passing lake I would stare off at the glassy motionless surface, only to be interrupted by soaring birds, or floating butterflies. I had my iPod plugged in, yet the sounds of the world just waking up was too beautiful to be overtaken by my music.
As we descended upon our first pit stop in Logan Lake, the team regrouped to rehydrate and refuel before saddling up again for the next 50 kilometres to Merritt.
Part of the group took off ahead with three of us lagging behind enjoying the new stretch of road before us. Once again the landscape was incredibly calming and pristine. As we watched the group cycle in unison ahead three stunningly graceful deer pranced across the highway just in front of them. They must have been frantically trying to avoid collision with the oncoming bikes, but from my perspective, they just looked peaceful and majestic.
For the next stretch in our journey I would chase the group through the winding, rolling valley; tucking into TT, flying around the bends and absorbing the landscape before me.
Coming into Merritt I felt a little tired, but mostly strong, and exceptionally happy to hit the halfway mark where we could once again refuel, rehydrate and relax. Like toads sunning on a log we splayed out in front of the Husky station, eating foods high in sugar and salt, while some of the smart ones re-slathered lotions and lubricants. Within a few minutes, the rest of the gang who started later in the day arrived to join us and our little group had grown.
Ready to hit the road again for the final 95 kilometres we started off as a pack, drafting in perfect unison. We were maintaining a solid speed, and I felt comfortable that we would stick together at this pace for the journey home. Yet, slowly the pack started to wean as the fast ones picked up their speed and one group became two. More stunning scenery lay out before us, but within a few kilometres of hitting the highway it was rudely interrupted by the constant roar of erratic semi trucks barreling down the road. At times I wondered if they even saw  the pack of tiny cyclists on the barely-there shoulder beside them. I was terrified; one slight, wrong move to the left and we would have become pancakes beneath wheels that seemed to tower over us. If it came down to it, I would have leaped into the ditch to avoid such demise. As each roar came up behind me, my shoulders hunched in feared apprehension and it was all I could do to not close my eyes and veer off the road. As cyclists, we will always be on the losing end of a battle with any type of vehicle. Our lives are at risk on the open road, and accidents can happen because drivers are reckless and careless, which usually stems from impatience. It seems foolish but it happens, and so we ride with caution, and sometimes even fear. Unfortunately, this seemed to set the tone for the rest of my ride. I was rattled and I continued to unravel as the kilometres ticked away. I started to feel tired, my legs were feeling heavy, I could feel myself slowing. I was becoming less and less happy, and I wanted to burst into tears. Usually this is a sign of bonking, and that you need to refuel and fast, but even the happy colours of gummy bears, a gel and a chocolate bar couldn’t save me. For the first time I started to feel the heat of the sun bearing down on me and realized how dehydrated I felt. Two of my group mates realized I was on my dying last legs and told me that with 52 more kilometres to go that I had no choice but to keep on going. For the remainder of the ride they rode along with me, even as we slowed to a turtle’s pace, and even as I cursed at the world for really nothing in particular, and spat back up water all over myself. I drafted in behind them, while at some points Vince even literally pushed me along. The pain continued to intensify as my legs started to cramp and I could feel every pang within my body start to scream. The heat burned me into somewhat of a delirious state where the side of road began to look like moving waves and my training partner’s voices just began to muffle with the wind. I couldn’t quite think straight and at that point I don’t quite know how I was keeping my bike straight. Then I started questioning my insanity, and if I really had it in me to become an Ironman. Then I began to have a yelling match in my head and nothing really quite made sense. The only thing that brought me back to reality was a soaring eagle that landed with so much grace and power on the beach just beside us that I found a kick within my legs for one brief fleeting moment. Then it was back in my head where I began to repeat to myself, “home, home, home,” yet all I could think about was Cardiac Hill – our final climb of the day, which was slowly approaching. With more than 180k behind me and perhaps a bit of heat stroke kicking my ass, I was thinking about every which way this hill was going to live up to its name and actually kill me. So, when it finally did appear, curse words fumbled from my clumsy mouth, and Vince gave me words of encouragement like he was leading me into battle. With his hand on my back, he literally helped push me up that entire god damned mountain. Even as I sucked back oxygen like a dying cat and made horrible dry heaving sounds, he continued to push and continued to tell me that quitting wasn’t an option. My body screamed in agony and I yelled back to him that whatever my legs were doing, moving or not, it was all I had.
By the time we reached the top, I literally toppled off my bike and lay in a heap on the side of the highway. At first I was certain I would not get up as the earth spun around me, and I struggled to sit upright. I sat there with my head in my hand for only a minute or two before I finally decided I was no longer interested in hearing my internal voice whine any longer. So, with that I got to my feet, clipped in and carried on for what would be the longest 12k of my life back to home base.
We were out on the road for about nine hours, with a total riding time of 7 hours and 45 minutes. I can say without a doubt this was the biggest mental and physical challenge of my life. I learned that applying sunscreen more than once in a nine hour day is essential and that it should cover every last inch of your body. I learned that my bum is not as cushiony as it looks, and that eating a Snickers doesn’t always morph you back into your normal self. More importantly though, I learned how far I will push myself. For 52 kilometres I battled one of the toughest mental fights of my life – to give up or keep going. I chose the only option I’ve ever known – put on those big girl panties and keep going. Looking back on the journey, I have no regrets. It was a fantastic learning experience and now I’m that much more prepared for when I do it again.

Deflowered on Tunkwa

It was cold, wet, long and hard. I screamed in agony, begged for mercy, and closed my eyes tight. My ass was beaten, my legs could barely hold on. It was my first time, and nothing about it was gentle, in fact, it was rough and ruthless. But I came out on top, alive and unscathed; a brand new woman. This is the true story of having my cherry popped on Tunkwa; a one hundred and thirty kilometre up-hill battle of a bike ride from the edge of town in Kamloops to the heart of Logan Lake. She is unforgiving, and as we passed through rain that poured in sideways and right side up, hail, howling head winds, and freezing temperatures, I felt what it was really like to doubt myself.
It started out like any other ride and for the first twenty odd kilometres I laughed in the face of Tunkwa and it’s harsh reputation. I was extremely naive but humility followed shortly afterwards. Upon reaching the lookout point just past Tobiano, overlooking Kamloops Lake, we paused for a couple photos and a brief break. I felt strong, and I thought, bring it on. But after the ensuing playful and fast descent I saw what lay ahead of me. For the next forty plus kilometres rolling hills felt like mountains, and steep climbs felt like Everest flipping me over and slapping me silly. I drained my bottles of water, sucked back gatorade, mowed on bananas, crushed bags of candies, desperately searching for every ounce of energy I could find. At this point, I couldn’t tell whether I was on the verge of bonking or just overly exhausted, or just overly overwhelmed, or just overly crazy. With each breath, which sounded like I was in deep agony, I questioned whether I was worthy of chasing such absurd dreams. With every stroke of the pedal, I asked myself, “what are you doing, who do you think you are?” Then the skies opened and the rain began to pour. Grit and water flew up at my face and dripped from the brim of my helmet. My body started to freeze, and I began to think of which friend might find it in their heart to come rescue me. Then the rain turned to hail, and I saw another long ascent just ahead; “fuck me,” was all that escaped my lips.
After riding for more than 80 kms, we finally reached Logan Lake, and congregated inside the tiny gas station to warm up, replenish our fuel stores, and share stories of the grind. I was confused and lost, as I looked to Vince to tell him I may be calling for a ride home, I felt defeated. This is by far the weakest I’ve felt on my entire training journey thus far, both physically and mentally. I wandered aimlessly, feeling incredibly uneasy and unsure. Here I was pushed almost beyond my limits, miles from home, or anything that felt comfortable and safe, and I was on the verge of quitting.  Yet somehow, as I sauntered out of the store and into the harsh elements, I found myself back on the proverbial horse, and once again peddling my away along.
As we cycled out of town, the chill set back into my bones, and even changing gears became impossible, as I could no longer feel my fingers. I either stuck to the gear I had selected, or if desperate, reached around with my hand and palmed the lever until it shifted.
We were barely a few kilometres back on the road when we were randomly stopped by a guy with truck, apparently someone who knew my fellow riders, offering to give anyone a lift home who wanted it. Vince looked to me, and said, “hey Aly, you wanted a ride home, didn’t you?” I looked at him, with sweat and mud dripping from my face and said, “no, I didn’t come this far to quit.” And that was that.
By the time I reached the edge of Kamloops I was exhausted and just beginning to thaw. I was also talking to myself and singing random Celine Dion songs. Some would say I had gone delirious, but in my mind, I had made it.
My deflowering on Tunkwa wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Like all first times it was rough, raw, and painful, and I can’t wait to do it all over again, but this time I’ll be much more experienced and ready to go all day long.