Southwest Adventure Tour - Part Two

I don’t think I am there yet.

I am upset, tired, humbled, but more resolved than ever to keep going.

 This was the realization I made while staring in the mirror watching crocodile tears roll down my face and feeling a mixture of anger, frustration, pity, and exhaustion thump through my veins after finishing my second big bike ride on my third day of Triathlon Camp, AKA TeamHPB Smashfest Camp.

 Yours truly and TeamHPB's head coach, and my coach, Hillary Biscay moments after we SMASHED our 4 mile transition run.

Yours truly and TeamHPB's head coach, and my coach, Hillary Biscay moments after we SMASHED our 4 mile transition run.

This last year I improved in all three triathlon disciplines, swim, bike, and run, so my confidence going into camp was pretty solid. However, I knew I did not have a huge base of bike miles underneath me after mellowing out and recovering post Ironman Arizona. On the other hand, I did have a ton of swim yards, (DeSWIMber), and since this version of camp would be heavily weighted on both the bike and swim, and because I am a naturally stronger cyclist, I was happy to be better prepared for the swim. Plus, I was really looking forward to having Hillary and her coaches critique my swim stroke in person so I could make needful improvements that will lead to slicing off seconds during a race. Finally, I was excited to spend quality time with my teammates suffering and succeeding together in the delightful desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona.

 My teammates Dan Beaver, Mary Knott, and Molly Supple post transition run.

My teammates Dan Beaver, Mary Knott, and Molly Supple post transition run.

Camp officially kicked off with a 4-5 mile run through the University of Arizona campus on Thursday afternoon. I hung on to that run for dear life, because after just a few fun quick jaunts across the quad, and the start and finish of friendly dialogue among the campers and coaches, it was time to go to work.

 Moments before our first swim session.

Moments before our first swim session.

The first swim workout consisted of hard and technique emphasized efforts that displayed to all four coaches, Hillary, her husband and former pro Maik Twelsiek, former pro and sensational swimmer, Emily Cocks, and current pro, and the Ironwomen Podcast co-host, Alyssa Godesky, our current state of swim fitness and ability. Clearly there would be plenty of areas that needed to be tweaked and molded throughout the next five days.

 Our amazing coaches: Emily Cocks, Alyssa Godesky, Hillary Biscay, and Maik Twelsiek.

Our amazing coaches: Emily Cocks, Alyssa Godesky, Hillary Biscay, and Maik Twelsiek.

The main note I received was from Emily, “You’re tall, so use your length. You need to extend your arm like it is coming out of its socket.” I adapted my stroke right away, and it did feel natural to extend my reach even further, but no matter how far I reached out, it was never far enough.

I will keep practicing.

 La Cocina.

La Cocina.

We followed up the swim workout with a tranquil and delicious dinner in the courtyard of the staple Tucson restaurant, La Cocina. The food was fabulous, well-worth the mind-bendingly long wait, and the vibe was upbeat for our first long ride the following morning, 117 miles including a twelve mile, (6,880 ft) climb up to the top of Kitt Peak, and a short, devilish 3,172 feet climb up and over Gates Pass. I was looking forward to and felt ready for all of it.

We rolled out of the Starr Pass Casitas parking lot in high spirits shortly after 8A Friday morning.

 Just about to roll out on our first ride. 

Just about to roll out on our first ride. 

The first fifty miles of the ride were fun and social. While pedaling along I chatted with a handful of fellow campers and our coach, Emily. However, soon after a short stop to refuel at the base of Kitt Peak, it was time to go up.

 The base of Kitt Peak.

The base of Kitt Peak.

The next twelve miles were a surprisingly pleasant saunter up the mountain. I was unsure how I would feel, because Ironman Arizona was a flat bike course, so I trained mostly on flat roads, which meant I hadn’t done any significant climbing since June or July. Miraculously, I felt great.

 The top of Kitt Peak.

The top of Kitt Peak.

My effort was rewarded by being plucked from the social group of campers I rode the first half of the ride with, to the group of powerhouse cyclists lead by my weekend roommates, the Kona qualifying husband and wife team of Dave Lundberg and Amy Hite. Those Minnesotans sure can ride their Dimond bikes quickly.

 My roommates and Super-Speedy Cyclists, Dave Lundberg and Amy Hite. 

My roommates and Super-Speedy Cyclists, Dave Lundberg and Amy Hite. 

I ate a steady stream of Picky Bars and Clif Blocks for the first half of the ride, but my nutrition for the second half consisted mainly of humble pie.

The fast, strong group of cyclists dropped me a few times, and embarrassingly Maik had to hang back by my wheel during the final slog up Gates Pass just to make sure I survived. I did, but it was ugly. Oddly enough, a surge of endorphins kicked in once I crested the top, and I actually felt alive for the last few miles on our way back to Starr Pass. My pride was thwacked, but I respected the ride, and felt satisfied to have conquered it.

 My exceptional teammates waiting for me on top of Gates Pass. Photo credit: Dan Beaver's FB page.

My exceptional teammates waiting for me on top of Gates Pass. Photo credit: Dan Beaver's FB page.

Next on the agenda was a shopping trip to Smashfest Queen Headquarters, where my favorite resident of Tucson, fellow Kona qualifier, and Smashfest Queen’s top employee, Lauren Palmer, was hustling as always ready to sell us all of the gorgeous goodies inside their warehouse. It was a fun and light-hearted way to end the first BIG day of camp.

 My teammates Jan, Amy, Mary, Lauren, and Rosario soaking up the amazingness at Smashfest Queen HQ.

My teammates Jan, Amy, Mary, Lauren, and Rosario soaking up the amazingness at Smashfest Queen HQ.

I slept five hours at best.

I woke up tired. Not just the kind tired where you wish you had a few extra minutes of sleep, but the kind of tired that when you smile, your face slowly turns up in confusion wondering why it is being asked to function, and your voice loses all ability to enunciate. We rolled out an hour earlier than the day before, just after 7A, an hour when the pre-sunrise desert morning still clung to the frigid midnight temperatures instead of embracing the warmth and promise of a new day.

I layered up, but not enough.

The first hour or so riding on the bumpy, forgotten back roads of Tucson were jarring and unkind. I relaxed and channeled my cold weather riding skills I earned at Alaskaman and just pedaled happily at my own pace in between the fast and not as fast campers that were strewn all around me moving in the same direction toward another nearly 100 mile ride that was punctuated by a challenging climb up to Madera Canyon.

 The deceivingly difficult road up to Madera Canyon.

The deceivingly difficult road up to Madera Canyon.

I rode this same route in 2013 at my first venture at camp, and back then the only part of the climb that really hurt was the last couple of miles up to the top; it was tough, but not terrible. However in 2013, this ride was our first of the weekend, not the second, so I was riding on fresh legs verses legs that were slightly cooked from our ride up to Kitt Peak the day before. Even lovely Simone couldn’t make the stinging effort disappear.

The highlight of the ride was pedaling alongside my fellow camper, and exceptional human being, Sarah Gott. We shared our life stories which made the time fly by, but soon enough we were separated by the inescapable space between riders we all face when the elevation shifts quickly upward.

It was time to climb.

 Slowly eking up the last part of the Madera climb. Photo credit: Hillary Biscay.

Slowly eking up the last part of the Madera climb. Photo credit: Hillary Biscay.

I passed Hillary a couple of times on the climb, (she is due to deliver her baby boy at the end of next month, so she did not ride bikes with us, but rather drove her car all day catching us at various spots and capturing wonderful moments of pain and triumph), it was always a shot of motivation when she popped up.

After we all re-connected and refueled at the top of the climb, and just before we turned our bikes around to descend back to the bottom, Hillary said to me, “Follow them, and try to hang on.”

I took off after the lead group and descended in a fairly decent fashion. The first time I had done it, Hillary was riding behind me and shared some highly beneficial notes on how to do it correctly. I think I was closer to correct than incorrect this time around, because I reattached with the fast group at the bottom eager to enjoy our supposed chilled out remaining portion of the ride.

The next hour or so was spent chatting with Alyssa, and bonding over our youths spent as soccer goalies and her exciting plans for the Summer. I knew she was a fantastic person going into camp, before I had even met her, and indeed my instincts were spot on; Alyssa is good as gold. In fact, I thought for a moment that she would be a great match for any of my brothers, but they are all married to wonderful women, so, no luck there. There is some future sister-in-law that unbeknownst to them will one day win the elusive, “My brother’s wife jackpot.”

Before I knew it, we were pulling off to our last refueling stop of the ride and only twenty miles of supple rolling roads lay ahead until our second of three big rides was complete.

I promised myself that I would not get dropped.

I did.

 Trying to catch up. Photo credit: Hillary Biscay.

Trying to catch up. Photo credit: Hillary Biscay.

Then I spent the next forty minutes, or forever, pedaling hard to catch up. I chased after them in blood boiling competitive pursuit, it was SO fun, but even though that hard push felt great in the moment, it might not have been the best decision to allow my raging adrenaline overwhelm my common sense.

Our second workout in the day, a swim skills session in the Starr Pass pool, was lurking around the corner.

 Just before the swim skills session.

Just before the swim skills session.

This useful, yet stress inducing swim session was the exact reason why I signed up for camp, a one-on-one tutorial with our coaches on how to flip turn and improve my stroke. Emily was a rock star and hopped in the pool with me to demonstrate and walk me through the flip turns, and then she and Hillary dished out from atop the pool deck a couple of drills to help solidify her earlier note to extend my reach. Unfortunately, I was an exhausted mess at this point in the day, and flailed in the pool.

Miraculously, the session was brief, and not long after I started I was excused to go sit in the hot tub to warm up and re-evaluate my life decisions.

Next up, lots of food and rest.

After I ate, I holed up in my room and let myself feel all of it; the fatigue, frustration, self-doubt, disappointment, anger, and resolved to not give up. My ultimate goal in triathlon was always to be a pro, and even though I don’t plan to live the pro lifestyle, I love my career, I still want to be good enough to have the choice to race at that level. I know I have a ways to go, my fried state after three days of camp confirmed that fact, but I do believe I am moving in the right direction, and will spend the next nine months working up to the most accurate test imaginable, lining up against the best in the world in my age group at Kona. If I can hang with those ladies, I can hang with anyone.

 The Ironman World Championship finish line in Kona, HI. I should be feeling that way soon enough. 

The Ironman World Championship finish line in Kona, HI. I should be feeling that way soon enough. 

Remarkably, I slept soundly that night. When I woke up Sunday morning I felt refreshed and in a state of bliss, because my favorite workout of the whole camp was waiting for me with a hug and a high five later that afternoon, a four mile transition run after our ride up and down Mt. Lemmon.

I was not positive if I would be able to run well, my legs had been through a lot already, and still had a twenty six mile climb ahead of them, but I didn’t care, good or bad, I couldn’t wait to run.

Hillary told us we could ride as hard as we wanted up Mt. Lemmon, it was our last ride, so we could go for it if we wanted to, but she did request that we carefully pace the first ten miles or so, and then the rest was fair game. I had no desire to smash myself on the ride, because I wanted to have energy left for the run, and even more importantly, for the 10,000 yard swim waiting for us the following morning.

The ride up the mountain was incredible, but the ride down was even better.

 A few of us stylish triathletes wearing the Smashfest Queen Lemmon designs at the famous Cookie Cabin on top of Mt. Lemmon. Photo credit: Dan Beaver's FB page. 

A few of us stylish triathletes wearing the Smashfest Queen Lemmon designs at the famous Cookie Cabin on top of Mt. Lemmon. Photo credit: Dan Beaver's FB page. 

The first time I rode Mt. Lemmon I freaked out on the descent. This time was a whole new experience. I cruised down it with confidence and swagger that not only made the ride fun, but made it go by much faster than my first time around, which I appreciated, because I couldn’t get to the run fast enough. I took Hillary’s note about pacing the climb to heart, and realized at around mile twenty that my legs had plenty left to unleash on the run.

 I am excited to run. Photo credit: Barry Plaga. 

I am excited to run. Photo credit: Barry Plaga. 

Once I made it safely to the flat lands after screaming down Mt. Lemmon, I was joined by Mary and we rode the last four miles together side by side. I was so happy to end the ride with her, because one of the most amazing and valuable gains I believe I made over the week was the friendship we forged together. I knew Mary Knott was a truly phenomenal human being before I set off for my Southwest Adventure, but the hospitality, inspiration, and motivation she showed me all week went above and beyond my expectations. She is a fantastic athlete, wonderful coach, and I am honored to say, a real friend.

 My sensational friends and teammates, Amy Hite and Mary Knott.

My sensational friends and teammates, Amy Hite and Mary Knott.

Once we pulled into the mini-mall parking lot/transition area, I quickly put Simone away in our Jeep, changed into my running gear, and took off. I ran by Hillary and shouted giddily, “Yeah, this is what we’re here for!”

“Oh wait, you can run with, T!” She said to the swift-footed wunderkind pro triathlete, and my fellow Team HPB teammate, Molly Supple, who was sitting against the wall after finishing WAY ahead of all of us riding down the mountain.

“Okay, let me grab my shoes!” Molly scurried quickly over to the sag car, slipped on her shoes, and off we ran.

The course was a two-mile out and back along Catalina Highway. It was not exactly flat, there was a little up and down in both directions, but Hillary asked us all to negative split, so no matter what we were going to pick up the pace after the turn-a-round.

While we were running, I remembered how on the same run in 2013 Hillary ran with me, and we pushed a sub seven minute mile pace, which was the first time I was ever really able to do that. The timing of that camp took place right when my marathon racing started to pick up and my times started to drop consistently; I credit that run with Hillary as a turning point in the belief I found within myself to be a real runner.

Molly and I ran between a 7:00 – 7:15min. mi. pace on our way out, and dropped down to 6:45ish min. pace on our way back. I felt good considering the nearly 300 miles of riding in my legs from our first few days of camp, but my legs could have been transformed into actual lead blocks and I still would have been on cloud nine, I was simply overjoyed to be running.

I should mention that the only reason I could hang with Molly was because she was coming back from an injury and hadn’t been able to really run for a few months, but it was a very cool moment, and one that I will cherish for years to come as I believe she has an incredible career of triathlon domination in front of her.

 The up and coming pro triathlete, Molly Supple and her appreciative running partner. 

The up and coming pro triathlete, Molly Supple and her appreciative running partner. 

Later that evening Hillary and Maik hosted all of us at their rental house with an amazing array of southwest vegan dishes. I was in heaven. Also, it was fun to spend a little time with Hillary’s family. Both of her parents came out for the weekend to help keep an eye on their granddaughter Madison, while Hillary and Maik kept an eye on all of us. I always enjoy catching up with Hillary’s mom, (she and my stepmom, Sally, are buddies), and even though our time was limited that night, we were able to grab a quick hug which made the whole weekend feel complete.

 Hillary's wonderful mother, Brooke, and adorable daughter, Madison.

Hillary's wonderful mother, Brooke, and adorable daughter, Madison.

I also took the chance over dinner to mine Hillary for Kona Intel. I know the race itself will be very hard, the hot and humid conditions on the big island are legendary, but she shared a few priceless tips that I will definitely keep in mind before and on race day. It is still a trip that in less than nine months I will be racing alongside the best triathletes in the world.

Next up was one more sleep, and then our final workout, a 10,000 yard swim.

 Prepping for our final workout, a 10,000 yard swim session.

Prepping for our final workout, a 10,000 yard swim session.

I am thrilled to report that the swim felt pretty darn good.

I shared a lane with my roommates, Amy and Dave, plus my fellow Smash-Dimond teammate, Jan Lohman, and the one and only Cadence Running Co-Owner, Dan Beaver. I lead for the first 4,500 yards or so, but my swim math is feeble at best, (all math, really), so I strongly encouraged someone else to take the lead and follow the clock.

And just like that, the laps were tallied, we were out of the pool, and another outing at TeamHPB Smashfest Camp was complete.

We survived.

 My 10k swim lane buddies. Photo credit: Dan Beaver.

My 10k swim lane buddies. Photo credit: Dan Beaver.

I hit the road for my drive back to LA shortly after we finished the swim. I assumed the eight hours in the car would be filled with emotional reflection of a momentous journey coming to an end, but it wasn’t, because it didn’t feel like an ending. I will see most of my friends/teammates/campers soon at upcoming races, and naturally I will stay in touch with Hillary because she is my coach. I’ll even get to see Alyssa again at Kona, which seems far away now, but will be here before we know it.

For the next eight hours, and beyond, I simply felt grateful.

I am grateful to want to work hard in my real life so I can work hard in my triathlon life. I am grateful to have a deep seeded goal that I won’t let go of until I give it everything I have, and I know that I have more left to give.

Most of all, I am grateful to be living and sharing a magnificent life of adventure.

I love this Rita Ora song, "Anywhere." Enjoy.:)