Monday, July 1, 2013

Haleakala... Cycle To The Sun

So they call it the longest steepest paved road on the planet. I didn't believe it. I mean, that must be an exaggeration, no? I mean, ok 36 miles is a long way to climb and 10,000ft is pretty high up there (especially when you start near the ocean) but it wasn't that steep, was it?? Just some mellow climbing for ~4 hours is what I anticipated.


Anyway. I entered this event about 3 weeks ago. It had been in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do but I wasn't sure at what point I'd do it. Everything just sort of lined up this year though... I've been riding enough all year to feel confident that I could jump into an event like this without a ton of specific training and still get myself to the summit. Add to that the fact that I had been coaching a Maui athlete for the last several months specifically for this event, and that she had an extra couple of bedrooms at her house which happened to be part way up the slope of the mountain... And then when I ran the idea by Scott and his first response was I love Maui let's make a family weekend out of it, well, the deal was sealed. I bought plane tickets for 3 and told my coach I wanted to add some extra climbing to my schedule for the next few weeks.

We flew over Friday morning where I got to meet Dianna and her awesome family... staying with them was a big part of what made the weekend what it was. :)

Heading into Saturday morning I was undecided how I was going to approach the actual 'racing' part of the climb. Was I going to race or was I going to climb the mountain? I wasn't sure!? I was going to make decisions as I went along and just see...  Like, if I found myself in a position to contend, maybe I would contend. If not, my day would be 100x easier. :) You can see how amped up I was right before the gun went off.

It was a pretty mellow roll out- no safety issues. Everyone seemed to line up in a pretty appropriate spot on the fairly narrow road. There was a small group that stepped on the gas right away and they were gone. I watched one gal go with that early group and didn't even think about going with her. I settled in behind a guy I know from Oahu who seemed to be cruising a pretty steady effort and let the race begin. It's uphill the whole way, right from the first pedal stroke, so we were warming up while climbing.

Maybe 15' in, a gal with bike shorts that said IM Louisville rode by. I considered going with her but was comfortable enough on the wheel I was on... plus, I hesitated too long and by the time I thought maybe I should go, it would have taken a decent surge to get on her wheel, so I stayed put. But then a few minutes later another gal rode by and I made the instant decision to go with her. I still wasn't sure that I wanted to race, per say, but it occurred to me that I might miss the opportunity if I didn't jump on the train and ride with the gals who were gunning to place higher up in this event. So I thought I'd give it a go and see what happened.

The gal I was with was riding what felt like a pretty strong effort- she was on a mission and we passed by a bunch of guys who had gone out harder than us. One by one she was picking them off with me on her wheel, and eventually, maybe 20' later, we had IML gal in our sights as next on the road to catch. We were only maybe 1500-2000ft into the climb at this point, and I was thinking that the smartest thing this gal could go would be to catch the IML, ease up a bit, and have us all work/climb together for the next 5-6,000ft and then we could sort out the placing after the 8,000ft mark. But that is not what she did! Instead, she surged and attacked. So ok I'm not the most experienced bike racer in the world, but seems to me when you still have like 8000 feet of climbing left, starting the attacks that early is not the brightest thing to do. (post note, turned out it was indeed not a good decision for that gal to be drilling it so early- she ended up only finishing ~3' minutes ahead of me, while IML gal rode strong all the way up and finished ~30 minutes ahead of us. #pacing #tactics)

I was watching all this take place and made another decision- one that involved not playing these games. I don't know. It was just such an amazingly gorgeous day- blue sky and the scenery was unlike anything I ever get to ride- and it just occurred to me that I didn't want to spend my whole morning suffering and staring at this gals wheel... I wanted to enjoy the ride b/c it was just such a stunning morning. So I let them go. And instantly I was happy. :)

So that was it. From that point on I tried pretty hard to not get caught up in groups. I was thoroughly enjoying climbing this mountain by myself at my own pace. I alternated sitting and standing as I felt, looked around at the amazing views as we got higher and higher, and thought about how incredibly awesome this mountain is. I think these switchbacks pictured below were the ones that come ~1/2 way up. So, um, ya. ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?
I stopped at the aid station at 6200ft because Scott and Moana were there... I drank a bottle of coconut water and told them this was harder than I anticipated. :) BUT, still pretty darn awesome. A few hundred feet later I entered the clouds and it started to feel cold, but it was epic and felt right to be among this mist. It only lasted maybe 1000ft and by 7500 ft I climbed right out of it and just like that was above the cloud line and back in the sun. The wind started to blow, and I admit it was a little scary... I am afraid of heights so being on a skinny road at 9,000ft in a strong crosswind blowing in the direction of the fairly steep slope was not my favorite. I tried hard to not look down during that section.

I'd been warned by just about everyone that the last 1/4 mile or so was the worst- super steep like maybe you fall off your bike kind of steep... so I was *sort of* prepared for what I encountered right there at the end. I swore a lot anyway and wished I had like 3 more gears because my 39/25 was just about as inappropriate as I could imagine on that section. I'll guess I was ticking over at ~40rpm (maybe 30, seriously) and even though there was like no oxygen up there I managed to drop a bunch of F-bombs out loud (if no one is around to hear them did they really get said?) Just trying to stay upright.

Eventually I came around a little turn and saw the most beautiful sight ever- it was a yellow sign that said FINISH.
It was freezing and windy up at the top. I had to wait a while for Scott to get there with my bag of warm/dry clothes so that was the only part of the day where I was actually near tears. Finally Scott got there though and once I had a coat on I was a lot happier. Then Nalani pedaled up and we started drinking beer. That made me even happier. This one seemed appropriate given that essentially I spent pretty much the entire ride in my 25 tooth cassette, wishing I had a 28. Or a 32. (No kidding some people had 32's. Brilliant.)
Then Dianna and Kurt got up to the summit and we were all happy! Success all around, and we checked that off the bucket list!

In the end, they gave me 1st in my age group, but only b/c they took the actual first place gal out and gave her an OA award. It was  10 year age group 30-39 which was actually pretty cool b/c for the first time ever, Nalani and I actually got to share the podium!
So, a few days removed of course I'm looking back and thinking things over and what would I have done differently, etc. And to that question, I'd answer an enthusiastic Nothing! I'm super happy with how the whole weekend went... It really was a ton of fun, all of it. I'm not sure I'll go back and try again, though if I did, the first thing I'd change is my mindset- I'd go in more prepared to grit my teeth and suffer. Next, I'd have to lose 10lbs. At least. Those mountain goat girls who can climb are smaller than me. Lastly, I'd change up my gearing on my bike. 28 on the back for sure. That said, I'm not envisioning myself going back to ride up that mountain again. I feel pretty content letting that be my one and only crack at Cycle To The Sun.

That said, Sunday morning I woke up early and went for a longish run... ~65' up, 50' down, all relaxed effort. It was without a doubt the most peaceful run I've done in years. I absolutely loved it. I've never felt a pull toward Ultra marathons, but I heard a rumor that they might bring back the Run To The Sun, and if they do that, I could see it being my first ultra.


Run Gunn Run said...

Awesome! That sounds just amazing! Ultra run...huh...:)

Run Gunn Run said...

Awesome! It just looks amazing! Big Congrats! Ultra, huh?! ;)

mtanner said...

Love the picture of you! Love the challenge too! I am with you for Run to the Sun- friends did that in 2007 and LOVED IT!

Katie said...

That sounds amazing! How fun! Huge congrats! said...

Steve's always wanted to do this. Me, not so much. Though it does sound interesting...