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Training Update, Cycling in Denver

August 25, 2012

I’m racing the Chicago Triathlon tomorrow, but based on my training schedule this week you wouldn’t know it. This is the first time in recent memory that I’m not tapering at all leading up to a race. It will be interesting to see how it goes; I’m excited actually. I think the last time I did a race without tapering was leading up to early season races for crew in undergrad, when we couldn’t afford the time off from training. On Wednesday this week, I did a hard crossfit workout followed later in the day by long hard intervals on the bike (on the trainer). My legs felt like cinder blocks. Thursday I did an hour run, holding a faster pace than I could have on fresh legs at the beginning of our training. Yesterday, I biked and swam. And today I did another Crossfit workout. I would like to beat my time from the last time I did the Chicago Triathlon, back in 2008, but I should be able to do that even very tired. I’m a much better swimmer now, better at my transitions, and a much stronger runner. But really I have three primary goals tomorrow, and a personal record is not one of them: (1) have fun with Paul, the friend who first got me into triathlons and marathons, and is doing this race with me; (2) get in good open water swim practice in actual race day conditions, and see how my swim times are looking; and (3) work on my mental approach to race-day and transitions. Even if I physically will not be at peak performance, I can push as hard as I am able to tomorrow, and that requires the same mental discipline as if I was fully rested.

Late last week into Monday of this week, I was in Denver for a conference. While there, I skipped out on my conference for a day to go for a long bike ride in the mountains. And I really want to blog about that bike ride. It was amazing, and made me really wish I could spend more time in Denver, training, visiting, exploring, and maybe just living. I got to Denver on a Wednesday and specifically waited until Saturday for my long ride, so that I had some time to acclimate to the altitude. I also went for a run and a swim in the days before my bike ride. Saturday morning I had to present at the conference first thing, but as soon as I was done, raced back to my hotel room and then on to the bike shop. I was set with my rental bike by 11:30 and had until 7 pm to return the bike. The bike shop employee recommended a couple routes (I have learned that it’s much easier to find good routes by asking at the local bike shop than by searching online), I took a map, and off I went (here’s a link to where I mapped my route from my gps data). The first 20 miles were fairly easy, heading west out of the city and towards the mountains. Some very mild climbing, but not much.

At first I did not see many other cyclists. Lots of people on bikes, getting around, riding casually. And I must say, Denver drivers definitely seem to respect bikes! Yay! But not other serious cyclists. But as I got further from the city, I saw more and more serious cyclists. At mile 20, I rolled past the Coors plant and into Golden, Colorado. By now I was seeing lots of other cyclists. The bike shop employee gave me specific directions to Golden, but then only some ideas from there. And the map only went as far as Golden. But I knew Lookout Mountain was supposed to be nearby, and I had heard good things about that route. I could see the Rockies rising straight ahead, out of town, so I knew I was at the foot of some climbing. I asked some cyclists stopped at a traffic light about Lookout Mountain. One of them said it was “epic” and gave me directions. After a quick stop for a water refill at a gas station, I was on my way. A quarter mile later I was starting up the mountain. The next six miles was a consistent grade, around 5%, climbing almost 1700 feet. From there, it leveled out a little to a 2-3% grade for another few miles, climbing over 2000 feet total. As I wound back and forth up the mountain, I had incredible views of the valley below, all the way to Denver. I saw mountains and forest all around. And above, at the top of the peak, I saw hang gliders perched in mid-air.

I was pleasantly surprised that I could hold a strong consistent pace, despite the altitude. I was going 8-10 mph up the mountain, never stopping until I was at the top. And I felt like I could just keep going. I was tempted to stop at the turnouts, to just stare at the valley below, to enjoy the incredible views. But I wanted to see if I could push all the way up more. At the top, I was 25 miles into my trip. I wanted to go 60-80, so I had to decide what next. I chatted with another local cyclist who was impressed that someone from Chicago was (a) riding while on vacation and (b) riding up the mountains despite coming from flat land. She suggested I keep following Lookout Mountain road on, which would eventually lead to the freeway, where cyclists were allowed, and if I followed it far enough all the way to the continental divide. (I’ve cycled up to the continental divide once before, and would love to do it again, but that will have to wait for another trip.) So on I trekked. Lookout Mountain Road continued up and down, through mountain and forest, past small shops that looked like they would be great places to stop if I was in tourist mode.

At I-70, I paused at the on-ramp, pretty sure I could enter but wanting some confirmation. I chatted with a motorist who was pulled over with mechanical problems. She confirmed that, yes, I could go on the freeway there. And yes, if I followed it 20-30 miles, it would reach the Continental Divide at some 11,000+ feet altitude. As I got ready to leave, she said “I think you’re all crazy, I admire you, but I think you’re crazy.” I just laughed and agreed, yes, we are crazy. Then around mile 32 on my day, I had to get off the freeway. And the side road went sharply down while the freeway continued up. Oops. Oh well, the side road was through a breathtaking stretch of forest and mountain, and the road was almost desserted so I could enjoy it all to myself. Amazing! Inspiring! This was why I was out there. I dropped three miles, to 35 on the day, and decided I’d better turn around. This would put me at 70 total. Enough, right? The descent must not have been as steep as I thought, because I pushed back up the climb pretty handily.

The ride back down Lookout Mountain was one of the best parts of the day (and probably why that other cyclist described the mountain as epic). There were cutbacks on this descent, but not as many and not as sharp as on my descents in California. And the descent averaged around 5% grade, never above 10%, unlike the much steeper descents I had in California. Translation, I still had to use my brakes, but I was not riding them the whole time. I could get some good speed and really enjoy the descent. I did stop at a couple turnouts on my way down to enjoy the view. I had earned it.

I got back to Golden a bit earlier than I expected, and knew I only had 20 miles left to the bike shop. I guess when I turned around I could have calculated in how much quicker the ride back would be. I stopped at the gas station first to refill my almost empty water and get another clif bar. Then I tacked on a couple miles up another side road, that would have eventually led me to Boulder, CO. Finally, I decided to head back to Denver. I said goodbye to Golden and to the mountains. I enjoyed my stay and would love to return some day. It was a good thing I didn’t push my time. I got a flat on my way back, which cost me some time (at least I’m getting better at changing those). And then when I got into downtown Denver, I got all turned around a couple times. I got into downtown around 6:10, but by the time I figured out my way to the bike shop, it was 6:50. Barely made it before they closed! Whew! I was exhausted, my clothes, face, and arms streaked in salt (oddly enough, I never felt dehydrated even though my water intake was the same or even slightly lower than in Chicago), but I felt amazing. I bought two clif builder bars so I’d have something to munch on before dinner and called a cab. I’m sure I was a sight to see when I walked into the hotel lobby: wearing bike shoes, shorts, and tri jersey, clothes dirty with chain grease, sweat, and road debris, and obviously tired. But all well worth it. Overall, I rode 75 miles, 5700 feet of climbing, about 5:20:00 on the bike (7 hours real time).

After that ride I can see why people enjoy altitude training. Yes, I’m sure the altitude helped expand my cardio workout. But it was also just an amazing place to train.

85 days till Ironman Arizona.


From → cycling, training

One Comment
  1. I’m jealous. Enjoyed the read.

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