Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ride Report: Breakaway Ride (The Ride That Wasn't)

An article from Runner's World that KK@RunningThroughLife posted on her blog two days after my disastrous performance during the Breakaway Ride has really helped me come to terms with what happened that day.  After reading it over and over again and letting the appropriate time pass I think I am finally able to have a better perspective on what happened that day and a clear vision of where I would like to go from here. 

The short version – I gave up, didn’t finish and hated myself for it. 

Long Version:

Two weekends ago I attempted the Breakaway Ride in Santa Rosa.  There were three distances to chose from – the 112 mile actual stage of the Amgen Tour of California from Davis to Santa Rosa, a 50 mile intermediate ride in Santa Rosa and 25 mile “recreational” ride in Santa Rosa.  I had signed up for the intermediate ride.  It was a tough course with over 3500 feet of climbing (elevation chart).  I had been training on some hills in the bay area and of course, what with Barb’s training and all I have been keeping a fairly consistent cycling schedule so while I had no doubt it would be challenging, I had no idea how challenging it would be.   

The ride was Sunday but we headed out to Santa Rosa on Saturday for packet pickup since there was no race day pick up.  We had a great pasta dinner and watched the San Jose Sharks win round one of the playoffs.  The hotel we stayed at had a free continental breakfast with all my favorite pre-race food – bagels, peanut butter, bananas – the ride was getting off to a perfect start. 

The ride started at 8 am and we were at the starting line by 7:30 am.  There were about 550 people doing the long ride but only approximately 80 – 100 people doing the intermediate ride. 

Since this was a ride and not a race I really didn’t have too many expectations going in to it.  I wanted to finish – preferably less than 5 hours – and I wanted to use it as a good hilly training ride for Barb’s race.  I knew Barb’s was not near as intense or as hard as this ride so I knew if I could do this, Barb’s bike course would be very doable. 

At 8:00 am we were off.  The first mile was really funny because I wasn’t paying any attention to the signs and just following the group.  We all made a big loop and ended up right where we started!  I guess that is what you get for not paying attention!  Eventually someone pulled out the map and we go back on course. 

We didn’t hit the first climb until about mile 10 and it was good sized but nothing I didn’t feel prepared for.  I knew too that the first rest stop was coming up fairly soon so I would have a chance to regroup.  Once we made it to the rest stop I grabbed some oranges and within about 10 minutes we were off again.   

I wish I had better words to describe how the road twisted and turned for the next few miles but the best I can do is tell you to imagine driving up a mountain where you constantly have to slow down because you have to keep making sharp turns.  I am not going to lie – it was brutal.  At some points it was all I could do to turn the pedals fast enough to keep the bike upright.  Every time I rounded a corner hoping to see the top of the hill, all I was met with was more hill!  Finally, the road flattened out a little and all I could think was “yes – when you go uphill you have to go downhill.”  However, we rounded the corner to, you guessed, more hill!  We climbed for about 5 miles until we finally got a downhill.  This was not a gradual 5 mile climb either.  Honestly, I think I could have handled that, however, these were very steep inclines and that just seemed to go on and on. 

During these 5 miles I really lost it mentally.  My breathing was all out of wack and I even stopped a few times along the road to try and catch my breath but I was flustered and frustrated and so I never really recovered.  Of course, when you can’t catch your breath, oxygen is not getting to the other parts of your body so my legs were tiring much faster than they needed to be.  The kicker – I was only about half way through the first hill and this one wasn’t even the hardest.  The famed, “King of the Mountain” climb was still looming ahead at mile 24 and that was going to be a 7 mile vertical climb – 10x as hard as what we were on now.  As I coasted down the downhill all I could think about was if I was struggling with this hill how was I going to concur “the King”?  At the bottom we were met with a sign – “recreational” ride to the left, “intermediate” ride to the right.  To the left I saw flat – the right I saw the second half of hill one I still had yet to tackle.  This was it – I had to make my decision – was I going to suck it up and do what I came for wimp out and take the easy way home.  I sucked it up and headed right.

The next mile or so was nice and flat and I was able to recover my breathing a bit.  I kept telling myself that I had pushed through some hard hills on rides before and always made it through.  The difference with this ride though was that there was no time to recover – it was just hill, after hill, after hill.  In my previous training rides there had been 10 miles or so between hills and there had always been a nice downhill waiting after an uphill.  Mile 17 started the next phase of climbing for hill one.  I went no more than a half a mile when I just completely shut down mentally.  I was hot, tired, I couldn’t catch my breathe and my legs felt like they were out of gas.  To make matters worse we were almost completely last.  My dad, who is a very experienced cyclist had been staying back with us and I think Kevin could have kept going but I was done and when I said I was turning around my mom decided to as well.  We said goodbye to my dad who continued on with the intermediate ride and the three of us turned back to finish on the “recreational” route. 

For the first few miles we enjoyed a fabulous downhill but I was too upset to enjoy it.  It was at that point I knew I gave up mentally long before I would have had to give up physically.  I knew I could have finished that ride.  It might have taken me forever but I could have finished, however, I was too panicky about being slow and I just couldn’t get my breathing under control.  The last few miles were nice and flat as we made our way back through town.  We crossed the finish line and rode a total distance of 26 miles.

When we crossed the finish line we were given medals (all riders, no matter what distance got them).  If you know me you know I LOVE my medals, however, this was the first one I feel like I did not deserve.  I didn't complete the ride I set out to do and even worse - the "official" results show me finishing 4th overall since I finished on the "recreational" course.  Obviously, like I said this was not a race and the times were merely posted as a courtesy for people to see their finish time so it isn't like I kept anyone from an award, however, I was not deserving of a 4th place finish spot.

While we waited for my dad to finish all I could think about was how I was going to make sure nothing like this ever happened to me again.  I have done multiple rides between 40 and 50 miles and never had a problem - why did I fall apart so early with this one?  Many things raced through my head - I would find a hill and take the bike up it every morning, I was going to ride everyday, I was going to start strengthening my legs, etc.  I had to come up with something because this feeling of failure was not something I enjoyed feeling.  A few hours later my day crossed the finish line and he said the course was very tough and I could tell he wasn't just saying that to make us feel better.  For a fleeting second that made me feel better - if someone so experienced thought it was tough then it was to be expected that it might be extra tough for me.  Despite that though, I wanted to finish something that was tough and challenging - I really wanted to earn that medal hanging around my neck. 

Dad finishing strong!

George Hincapie is the first finisher for the 107 mile ride from Davis (on the left).  He finished in just over 5 hours - a leisurely 19.0 mph/average for him.  Last year in the actual Amgen Tour he finished that stage with an average of 24.0 mph.  CRAZY!

Reading through blogs the week after, I came across this article KK had posted from Runner's World called "How to Let Go of a Bad Race."  The article starts by saying that not meeting a race goal doesn't mean the race is a failure if you can learn something from it.  They break down the recovery process in 5 steps to help you recover from the initial disappointment and plan your comeback.

Stage 1: Immediately Wallow a Bit
It is okay to be upset about about a failed attempt at completing a goal and they go on to say that one should cry, vent and blog about it but for no more than a week tops.  I did wallow for a bit about this and had a lot of support.  Alisa sent me this great pick me up as a way to get me back out on the bike. 

Stage 2: The Morning After Find a Positive
There is always a silver lining - think about one thing that did go right.  Despite the fact I didn't make it through the whole ride, I did make it up some pretty challenging hills for 7 miles - more challenging than I had ever ridden on before.

Stage 3: A Week Later Analyze It
What went wrong?  This was easy for me - I was under trained for what I took on.  Sure, I had been riding a lot and even tackled some good climbs, however, this was beyond the scope of what I was prepared for.  In addition, I let my emotions take over and ended up being unable to control my breathing which just set me up for failure. 

Stage 4: Two Weeks Later Set New Goals
I am already signed up for a similar ride in October - Levi Leipheimer's Gran Fondo - and I know what to expect this time.  My training between now and then will be much more concentrated on hill training.  Sure, I still need to do my long rides for Barb's, however, I will be focusing more on quality of ride rather than distance.  My rides need to have a good balance of hills and other elements that will really develop me as a cyclist. 

Stage 5: Before the Next Race Set Expectations
Luckily, I have a few more months before I have to think about this race but my ultimate goal will be to finish - no matter how slow.  In the meantime I will work on my physical training and hopefully the emotional confidence will come as I see results from my training.  Another thing I would like to do before the ride is actually go out and drive the course to have a mental picture for what I will be up against. 

I have been lucky so far - I have never really had a "bad" race.  Some have been worse than others but until now I feel like I have never just "given up" before.  It is an awful feeling and the worst part is the only person I could be mad at was myself.  I have hung my medal up in my room as a constant reminder of what I want to achieve.  I look forward to October when I have the chance to prove to myself I deserve it!

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  1. You are a strong rider, I hope you were able to add that to the list of positives you should focus on!
    We have all been there, too! It is not a failure since you did learn from it - running/cycling, they are all hard, if it wasn't everyone would do it. But since you felt like you missed this one, chalk it up to experience.
    I'm always so impressed with your Tri training and the cycling! Keep up the awesome work and I'm sure by Oct you'll be killing the competition!

  2. I know that feeling, so frustrating!! But, it is a definite learning experience and motivator. I know you will do so well next time!

  3. The first time I tried to comment on this post it wouldn't let me. Anyway, you already know what I think but I'll say it again. You didn't give up, you just post-poned this adventure for a few months. Learning lessons from rides is great but you can't dwell too much on the past. You gave it your best effort for that particular day and next time you'll be ready to tackle the whole thing.

    I seriously wish we were closer because I think we'd be the best cycling buddies!

  4. Sorry you had such a tough day :( but you did conquer some major hills and still rode strong for the rest of the race! I had a rough race this past weekend and the steps to get over a bad race are really helpful! Glad that you signed up for another race and you will do great this fall!

  5. Sorry to hear the ride didn't go the way you had planned. But I think you have the right idea about what to take away from the experience. The course sounds just brutal and I think making it up all those hills you did is an amazing accomplishment. In my short cycling stint I learned how freakin' hard it is to bike up any stupid incline! I can't imagine miles and miles of them!

  6. Thanks for posting that link! I actually read it a while ago but am only now getting a chance to post on your blog. I felt the same way about the Shamrockn like you did with this, so I know the feeling!
    Glad to see you are back up and at em!


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