It is three weeks away, the Granite Falls Triathlon. Three weeks. And while we have had a smattering of days in the 60's, when it's been possible and even quite pleasant to bike outside, today is, yet again, cold, rainy, and even a bit icy.
This three months of training has been a challenge for me. We've had the most lousy winter North Carolina has seen in years, with at least four separate weather events that have closed schools and kept us trapped indoors. My family, who never gets sick, has been taken DOWN with stomach bugs and sinus infections. And while it is feasible, possible even, that I could have spent a whole lot more time training inside, for one reason or another, I just haven't.
Don't get me wrong. I have ridden the bike course twice, ridden it and then followed with the full run course once, and I was fine. I will have no problem completing this tri and I feel my time will be decent. But I wanted to be out riding a whole lot more and ... oh well.
So here's what we have been doing, for what it's worth:
We've ridden the bike course, which is probably the single biggest benefit to us. You never know what the bike course is really going to be like until you ride it. You can drive it, and imagine how the hills and terrain are going to be, but it's no substitute for the actual thing.
This one was worrying us - we've heard endless horror stories about the windy, narrow, busy Rogers Road, the enormous hill on 98, and the traffic.
So, hubby went out with the group on a Sunday about four weeks ago. I was sick with a stomach bug. The weather for them that day was beautiful, and he said it went fine. The following week, when I was feeling much better, and the weather was beautiful again, he and I went out again, this time with our friend Ella who is doing the tri as well but not training with our group. A week after that, I went out with the tri group, and followed up the ride by completing the run course. Hubby was sick with the stomach bug and missed that one.
On that day, there were some additional riders with us that were not part of our group, but who I knew. We agreed that the guys would go first with Robert, and the ladies would go as a separate group, with Janice taking up the rear. Six women in all started off and two of them who were more experienced riders quickly took the lead. Erica from my group and I kept close to each other - our pacing was about the same - but the women in front of us were always visible. At some point down Rogers we realized that Janet and Janice were nowhere to be found behind us. Rogers Road is fine, by the way. Nearly all downhill save for one short but annoyingly steep hill down toward the shopping centers. But with a moderate shoulder and traffic, it is not bad.
When we got to the corner at Heritage Lakes and caught up with the first two ladies, one of the riders called Janice to find out if all was okay. Turns out Janet's chain came loose and they were unable to get it fixed and so had to turn back. So we continued on without them.
Heritage Lakes is busy, but wide, but had the most debris to contend with, plus a couple of small but annoying hills. The traffic is fairly heavy on this stretch, too, as it's a major cut-through to the bypass. We managed it fine, again keeping a decent pace and keeping the two riders ahead of us in view at all times. I took the lead in front of Erica this time, but she was always right on my heel.
We got to the intersection of 98, and went on through, then stopped at the Jones Dairy light. When the light turned, we headed off, tackling the first hill which is not too terrible, before leveling out for a bit as the road narrows. This is a rural stretch of road with fields and some minor subdivision entrances on the sides, but there is a LOT of traffic and not much shoulder in spots. Traffic is going about 50 miles an hour, people don't tend to slow down or move over and it's hairy, I won't lie. You just have to focus on keeping your bike straight and staying as far to the right as possible, avoiding the occasional pavement drop off and rutted shoulder.
So after the road is level for a bit, you start to come into the second hill - the one everyone talks about. As has been my experience in the past, it's not as bad as people make it out to be. It's a hill - one hill - and you just do it and get through it and then it's done. You are definitely going to be in the lowest gears. Your pace is definitely going to be slow. It's maybe five minutes. No big deal. And the nice thing is, when you're done, you come to the intersection at Averette and that road is a piece of cake. It's relatively flat, wide, and easy. The only issue there is the potential for wind because it's pretty open.
At Averette, the two front riders got some pretty good distance between themselves and me. But all in all, I think the ride took about 30 - 35 minutes. We left at around 1:50 or 2:00 and were done by 2:35. We pulled into the parking lot at Granite Falls and I took a little time putting my bike in the truck (I had to go inside for my keys to unlock the tailgate, then go back inside to store the keys again). Then I was off and running.
I struggled at the beginning of the run, I won't lie. I haven't been doing enough brick training and my legs were tired. I think this is the biggest obstacle with this race. Because the hills are tough, your legs are particularly tired. Robert and Brandy quickly caught up to me and passed me on the first hill in Granite Crest. Brandy was always just a little bit ahead of me for the rest of the run. The first hill there is STEEP and it sucks. Then the course levels out, then it climbs again, through a gravel path and then up a hill into the next part of the neighborhood where you finally, upon reaching the top, turn around. Then you head to another off-road path that is very gravelly and rutted and none of like it and all of us are pushing for the race organizers to change it because it truly invites the possibility of rolling an ankle. That part of the course is all downhill. Erica was walking back up it as I was headed down (she was okay, just taking a break). Brandy was headed back up as I approached the bottom. And at the bottom, you turn and face a pretty steep climb back up. When I finally got back up to the top and onto the pavement, Robert was there waiting for me, and we ran together back to the club, which included one more moderate hill, a steep downhill, and then another moderate uphill climb back to the parking lot. It's a pretty ugly run course if you ask me. Anyway, we all talked for a while in the parking lot and I learned that most of the men's group were pretty far ahead from the get go (how do they do that???), with one member of the group lagging in the middle of the men and women, and then us. We all agreed that traffic was the biggest obstacle to the bike ride and that hopefully it would be much better the day of the race with it being earlier in the day and with police presence.
I feel pretty good now that I've been able to ride the course twice, with one of those being a ride and run. I don't think I'll probably ride the bike course again before the race. I feel I've sufficiently taken my chances and don't want to tempt fate. Even our experienced road cyclists in the group feel that particular route is not worth the risk. Like I said, just an awful lot of traffic and a very narrow road.
So today, I will probably train in the evening by swimming in the club's master's swim class (I haven't been in the pool in two weeks. Yikes!!!!) and doing something else - maybe strength training - in addition. The weather is supposed to improve over the weekend and maybe, just maybe, we will be done with this crappy winter once and for all. But I'm not holding my breath.