Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adios, Vamos!

My body hurts.

Yesterday, Katie and I wrapped up our week of cycling in Las Alpujarras, Spain with Vamos Cycling. It was an incredibly enjoyable week full of epic climbs, screaming downhills, picture-perfect vistas, and, of course, artery-clogging (but delicious) sausages and other Spanish cuisines. And now, I'm laying in a hotel room in Malaga, wondering if I'm ever going to feel the same.

Trevelez, the village of ham

You can't tell by how happy she looks, but Katie was mid-bonk here

Of the three triathlon disciplines, cycling is the one that I truly feel like I'm still learning. Just a couple summers ago, I was a complete rookie who always needed help pumping my tires, didn't know how to pace, and tended to fall down a lot. I've done a lot more riding since then and have gotten stronger and more comfortable on two wheels, but with such a limited cycling background, I haven't had a lot of opportunities to truly get outside my comfort zone and make it hurt...and then turn around and do it again the next day. In fact, until this week, I don't think I actually knew what a true bonk felt like.

Me and some of the boys I chased all week

This week changed everything. None of our days were particularly long, in terms of mileage or hours. But we were riding up and down some serious mountains, the likes of which I haven't encountered before, and being slightly competitive, I pretty much spent every ride trying mightily to stay with the boys (Ash, Robin, Mike, Ramon, Gary, and Paul), all of whom were stronger and more experienced cyclists than me. It meant a LOT of time with my heart rate well into Zone 4, some seriously burning quads, many gasping/wheezing/snorting ascents, and more than a few prayers to the cycling gods to 'please stop it with the climbs.' But I had a unique opportunity to really test my limits as a cyclist by riding with REAL cyclists, so I took advantage. All week.

The boys- Gary (our humble leader), Ash, Paul, Robin, Mike

Just to add to the fun, pretty much every day included at least one climb, at 6-8% grade, that took between 50 and 80 minutes to complete. Long sustained climbs like that are completely new to me and I found them to be just a difficult mentally as they were physically. It was during the climb on the second day (16 kilometers, and cruelly, after we'd already ridden 3.5 hours), that I had my first real blow up. Three-fourths of the way up, pretty suddenly, my heart rate dropped like a rock and I just couldn't turn over my legs anymore. I panicked a little....we weren't doing an out and back, and my options for getting home were: 1) somehow get up the mountain; or 2) somehow get up the mountain. Neither seemed feasible at the time.

Fortunately, I had an emergency gel in my pocket, and a little stop, eat, and regroup helped. I got home. Barely. It was my first real bonk, and I doubt I'll forget it anytime soon.

This is actually during a long run that I don't want to talk about.

But while the cycling was scenic, challenging, invigorating, exhausting, etc., in a lot of ways the highlight of the week was quality time with the Brits. Every dinner was a social event, with delicious concoctions prepared by Sarah, always accompanied by excellent Rioja, some homemade "pudding" (a generic Brit term for dessert), and lots of laughs.

In the end, I felt a bit a part of a family. A very funny, sarcastic, and quick-witted family. For six days, I hung on the boys' wheels, forcing myself to keep up, even once (gasp) beating all but one of them up a 14 kilometer climb. With Strava, those results are internet permanent, baby! But the boys didn't get angry, didn't make attempts to drop me, and only sorta joked about fiddling with my bike early in the morning so as to mess up my gearing and/or throwing tacks in my path. Instead, they were supportive in their own British, non-exuberant sort of way. ("Yeah, you did alright there" being the highest of praises).

In fact, Mike wants to work with me to devise a training nutrition plan that's based on sausages, and we're absolutely convinced this is the path to great success. If I stick to this plan, the stars align correctly and someday I manage to qualify to Kona, Mike said he'll be there on the side of the road with a big sausage sign. Robin's in, too....he'll show up the day before to chalk the road with a series of "comedy cock and balls." (Don't ask.) Basically, in some miraculous way, I found a group of British roadies humble and kind enough to be supportive of a female American triathlete. That's special. (And keep it quiet, k? They might all be shunned by their euro cycling clubs if their roadie friends find out.)

The whole gang
And there were lessons learned, of course. Mostly lessons about Britishness. Like....

  • If you possibly mention on your blog that one of the British chaps is from "near Scotland," well, that doesn't go over so well. No Brit wants to be considered close to Scotland, even if he DOES only live 120 miles away (that's far in British).
  • When it comes to talk about poop, well, there's no line. I spent six weeks last summer living with various 2-year-olds, so I thought I could handle the poop talk. Not so. There was a story told that involved Nepal, shit, and pigs, and it will haunt me for life. That's all I'm going to say about that.
  • Pudding means dessert. But black pudding is NOT a dessert. In fact, it's a sausage.
  • The word "tossing" means something very, very different in British. So Katie saying that she was going to toss her helmet, which she's had for 4 years and is a bit worn out, at the end of the trip.... that caused a few laughs. 
  • Exuberance is not the British way. Say the word "awesome" or the phrase "we got this!" early on in the week, and you will be mercilessly mocked (nicely) for the next six days. 
  • Nothing, absolutely nothing is more exciting or riveting to a group of Brits than motorcycle racing. 
  • If you hang out with a group of British roadies instead of triathletes, one of them might say, "if you want to eat something absolutely bloody horrible, try quinoa," and everyone else will agree. And you will feel completely, totally out of your element.
Overall, Katie and I had an amazing week with Gary, Sarah, and all our new cycling buddies. I needed a happy week among friends, and I got that. My body my never recover, but... totally worth it. It was AWESOME!!! (just a little exuberance, there, for the Brits) And yeah, I'm already plotting a return trip. I've got some Queen of the Mountain trophies left to win on Strava.

One day, we just climbed on through a cloud
A delicious Sarah creation


  1. Such a great an inspiring post!

    I did not want you to leave London because it's my favorite city in the world, I'd love to spend a month there, yada yada yada.

    However THIS post was worth it! For me. Cause your blog is all about me right.

    Ha! Of course it's not but what I love about this blog is your raw honesty about this trip, both the practical and the inner stuff you're going through. Very brave and compelling. Thanks for putting in out there for people you don't know to experience.

  2. Wow can we say misspellings. Ah well it's Monday. Or something.

  3. Thanks, Stef! I definitely worry that I'm being "too honest" on here, but hey, it's kind of serving as a journal, and I know I'll value looking back on it. Happy Thanksgiving!