Salt and Culpeper

Went for a glorious five mile run today.  Why was it glorious?  It was only five miles.

Yesterday was our 110 mile ride (give or take).  We all pretty much knew in advance that it was going to be a tough one.  Not so much because of the distance but because of the terrain.  The Culpeper region of Virginia gives you Hobson’s choice: steep climbs, or constantly rolling terrain.  If you are ever offered such a choice of ways to die, trust me, pick the steep hills.  Many people on the team had done much of this ride last year which had the added bonus of being done in 90 degree weather (in April, no less), a ride captured in disconcerting detail by Mary.  Describing that ride to someone yesterday, Mary’s partner in suffering, Jason, remembered the way they degenerated into sputtering random profanities by the end of the ride.  “There were no actual sentences, just profanity.  It was like a George Carlin monologue.”

In one respect we lucked out.  The weather was on our side.  Starting at 7am, it was cool and overcast for most of the morning.  The temperature did finally climb into the 80s, but this was a lot better than the triple digit heat index days we’ve faced for the long rides recently.

We started off riding the 16 mile bike course for the Culpeper Sprint Tri (incredibly, I managed to get lost, along with half the team, on such a short distance), then embarked on the 74 mile main event.  The first part of this ride was simply gorgeous: gently rolling terrain, beautiful views, in every direction.  We arrived at the first rest stop and found a Team Z party in progress.  Mary had the back of the wagon open and was dispensing water, frozen grapes and cheesy snacks while blasting the Rocky Horror soundtrack.  People were adjusting bikes, refilling bottles, checking cue sheets.

After a quick break, we started our assault on the big climb of the day.  It was about as steep of the first major climb from Mountains of Misery, with the same deeply banked turns, but only about a third as long.  After a back and forth descent we got a little burst of flat riding along a main road.  It was the last piece of really flat riding we were to have for the rest of the day.  Maybe that was why some people in our line missed a key turn and continued blasting on down that road!

We were a bit less than halfway through this portion of the ride and this was where the “fun” began.  Rollers.  And then more rollers.  Rollers that gave birth to little rollers in the middle of them.  On and on and on.  It was technically challenging terrain.  Some of the rollers you could carry enough speed to get over if your timing and gearing were right, but many of them were so steeply pitched that they drained your speed completely.  The terrain was a lot more challenging than the IM Moo course, where the rollers are a lot more gradual (and there’s certainly nothing as steep as the big climb).  One thing that was reminiscent of Wisconsin however was the road surface which was pretty crappy.  Some sections, particularly on the downhills, were so rough that they were a little dicey to descend at speed and made even more so by a lot of loose chip left over from some low budget attempts to patch them.  You could also see the deep gouges where the local good ole boys had launched over a rise at speed and bottomed out their chassis.  They were especially fun to avoid on a bike.  I can’t remember the exact moment where the awful sinking feeling set in: this was going to be the rest of my day.

The route was a little more shaded than I expected, which was a mercy because when you did pop out into the sun it was pretty toasty.  I rode the middle part of the ride with Mary K. and Andy, and together we managed to puzzle out the confusing maze of turns and mismatched mileages on the cue sheet.  The road surface steadily took its toll on both my arms (from the pounding in aero position) and my arse.  After a brief rest stop (being manned by Mark K.’s dad), I hit the road again.  More up and down.

It was still beautiful, but I was getting tired.  I didn’t feel dehydrated, I didn’t feel like I was running out of energy; my muscles were simply tired.  It was getting harder and harder to stay in Zone 2, and every little change in temp or terrain sent me straight into Zone 3.  At some point I was caught by Alexis who announced his presence with a shouted “Fucking hills!!!!” behind me, followed by a mumbled apology.  It was the apology that had me laughing.  I felt like saying “Let me introduce myself.  I’m Mark Mullen.  I’m the profane kiwi bastard in love with the Shakespearian potential of profanity.”  But I needed to save my energy.  And besides, rock star climber that he is, Alexis soon left me behind.

After a while I saw Mary K coming up behind, me which I’d expected since she’s a strong cyclist and at by that point I wasn’t.  In fact, I was having trouble remembering whether or not I ever had been a strong cyclist.  However she never caught up with me, which surprised me until I talked with her afterwards and she said that she was in a terrible mood and felt that if she caught up with me she’d have to make cheery conversation.  As with Alexis, I have no idea how people are getting these false impressions about me!  I would have been more than happy to ride with her in sullen silence.  It’s how I spend most of my day, after all.

Got back to the parking lot, and after a brief explosion of profanity which set Jason laughing (although he had to admit that my response was nowhere near as profane as Mary’s last year), I re-stocked and headed out for the last part of the ride, another loop of the sprint course.  This arrangement seemed to have been set up almost to mock us.  Remembering the cool temperatures of the morning and how quickly I’d zipped around the course did nothing except heighten the contrast with my painfully slow (well, let’s just say painful) progress around the loop this time.  I shamelessly coasted every downhill, no matter how slight (no spinning this time) and the entire ride alternated between me not wanting to pedal at all and staging suicidal Zone 4 assaults on the climbs in order just to get them over with.

By the time the ride was over, I felt like the boyishly good-looking new kid at the end of his first day in prison.

I was also completely covered in dried salt, my face rough to the touch with it, and great creased lines of it striping my jersey.  Nothing wrong with my endurolyte intake today!

Nevertheless, there were some positives.  Rode a shade over 107 miles in just under 7 hours, a better pace than I expected.  Although I didn’t manage to stay in Zone 2 as much as I wanted (did I mention there were rollers?  Lots of rollers?) I still felt that I never gave up trying to stay disciplined, and for the most part managed to stabilize my HR in low zone 3 during the worst efforts. I kept the rest stops to a minimum (having just made the acquaintance of Mark K.’s dad I’m sure he was probably appalled at how quickly I inhaled a packet of chips).  And this ride was a lot worse than Wisconsin.  At least I hope that is the case and my memory isn’t playing me false in a desperate palliative reaction to yesterday’s suffering.

Plus, because this was a race weekend, there was a lot of Team Z love waiting at the finish.  SAG support had been great all day, and now there was barbecue, birthday cake (for Oli) and cold beers to be consumed semi-furtively.  Dogs splashed in the nearby lake filled with goose-turd glazed weed (glad I wasn’t swimming in THAT the next day). . .all except for Tina who doesn’t go in the water unless she’s convinced one of us needs to be rescued.  We dissected the ride a million different ways, and those of us who have ridden the Wisconsin course compared it every which way to Sunday.  When it was time to go, the body didn’t protest as much as I expected.

Six weeks until the big dance.


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