Last Friday I packed up my bike and headed to Verona to ride two loops on the Ironman course. I had been looking forward to it for a while, as I really wanted to see what I was up against. My friend James picked me up around 8:00 and off we went. The actual course starts in Madison, heads out to Verona for two huge hilly loops, and then returns to Madison. We cut of the beginning and end, and planned to start in Verona for the loops. We parked at a little park area that had a bathroom and drinking fountains. Here I am before the ride, blissfully naive:
Let it be noted that I left with one 24 oz bottle of water, and one 20 oz bottle of 4x concentrated Infinit (or about 920 calories worth of sweet salty thick sports drink that seems like it needs to be chewed). Let it also be noted that high temps would be in the upper 80′s. Okee-dokee.
We headed out, and after about 2 miles realized that we were going the wrong way. We turned around and got on course, and thus the ride began. Now, I knew the ride would be hilly, and that perhaps hilly would be an understatement. A few miles in, we hit the first big hill (I thought it was big). As I would learn, that hill was nothing. The entire first loop was rather frustrating, because we had to keep stopping to make sure we were still on course. It was hard to get any momentum going, but I was starting to get a feel for things.
The entire ride is very scenic. For the most part it reminded me of being out in the Holy Hill area, lots of tree-covered hills and lots of farms. A little over half way through the first loop, we missed a turn. We went probably around 5 miles down the wrong road before we stopped to consult the map. I was already running low on water, and it was getting hot. A very nice biker stopped and helped us get back on course, thank you nice biker man! I snapped a self-portrait while we were trying to get things figured out:
In my mind, we had to be almost done with the first loop. We added on a good 10 miles by missing that turn, but I still thought we didn’t have too far to go. I was mistaken. There was one point when I looked to my right and saw this in the distance:
I instantly knew that this was the hill I always hear so much about. During the race, there are people lining the sides of this hill, and they go nuts cheering people up it. I tried to picture it as we were climbing, and I can’t wait to see what it’s actually like on race day. Let’s just say this hill is a mother. It goes up, and up, and up, then it flattens out a little, then it goes up and up some more. Hello granny gear. This is the first of three brutal hills towards the end of the loop. At this point, I was completely out of water, and I would have given anything for something wet. Then, as if sent from the heavens, there was a sign at the top of the hill that said “Water.” At first I thought it must be a mirage, but upon closer inspection, I saw there was indeed a water spigot that whoever lives there was nice enough to offer up to passing bikers. The water was warm, but it pretty much saved my life at that point.
We pressed on, and after 50 some-odd miles, we were back in Verona. Even though I don’t drink it all that often, all I could think about was orange juice. I was so dehydrated, I imagined drinking an entire gallon of cold, sweet, sugary orange juice. I had to settle for some sports drink and water, as we still had another loop ahead of us. There was a woman in the parking lot that was also biking the course, and she said at one point there was a cooler full of icy bottled water up for grabs. How did we miss that? We made a note too look for it this time.
Though I was already beat and wanted nothing more that to collapse in the car and head home, I knew we had to do another loop. We filled our bottles and set off. This time things went much more smoothly. We knew where we were going, and what to expect. I was much more comfortable this time around with switching gears so often, and was having fun screaming down the hills on the other side. A bit before we hit the three hills, we spotted the cooler. Low and behold, another sign proclaiming “water” and a huge blue cooler full of bottled water. Whoever put that there, thank you thank you thank you! I immediately slammed one bottle empty and filled my bike bottle with another. This time when I saw the mother, I stopped to snap a pic:
Notice that I am glistening with sweat, even on my arms. I have never sweat so much while riding, and I have now learned not to take the heat lightly. Hopefully it will be a little cooler on race day, but if it’s hot, I am glad to be more prepared. We finished up the second loop (40 miles this time without the detour), had another chat with the woman in the parking lot who finished shortly after us, and headed home. Even after consuming massive amounts of fluids, I was still about 3-4 lbs lighter than usual. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that dehydrated in my life. For the rest of the night I kept drinking, eating, and trying to recover, but I also had to get a lot of packing done for our camping trip to Door County the next day.
Some thoughts on the course:
It was hilly, and that is probably an understatement. It beats you down, and wears on your body. I am not used to riding on hills, so it felt pretty brutal.
I am so so glad that I had a chance to go and ride the course. I feel like I have a handle on it, and I know what to expect.
My bike split is going to be slow. My average speed on these loops was about 2 mph slower than my normal training pace.
I need to take it slow on race day and try to somehow save any small shred of strength in my legs to run a marathon. I still don’t know how it’s all going to come together, but I am confident that it will.
This weekend is my last big training weekend, with a 3 hour run on Saturday and a 6 hour bike on Sunday. After that, it’s a 3 week slow taper. Three weeks out is still pretty heavy on the training hours, but with no long bike. The two weeks after that will decrease in hours pretty dramatically, which will be weird. From now until the race, I am going to make an extra effort to eat super-healthy and get enough sleep. I can visualize the race, and I am really starting to get excited. Stay tuned…