BIG DAY = LONG POST... Apologies in advance for being a bit wordy.
- 10km Trail Run
- 165km Ride (Col de Lauteret + Col du Galibiere + Col de L'Iseran)
- La Grave to Sainte Foy Tarentaise
HOW I FEEL
I'm banged up. Maybe a 5 on the scale of 10 upon wake-up. Yesterday's Alpe D'Huez day took its toll. I woke up 3-4x last night in a cold sweat and generally got lousy sleep. The periodic wake-ups with sweat and chills is not uncommon to the triathlete - typically follows a high-intensity (aka high heartrate) training day and comes as a result of the cortisone and other hormones rushing through the body as it tries to recover. The high altitude here in La Grave doesn't help things. At ~1500m we're at the elevation of Denver, CO so we're getting less oxygen while we sleep. Not the best for recovery.
My heart rate is also a bit out of whack -- 60 bpm upon waking as opposed to normal level of ~38 bpm. While being up 22bpm might not seem too significant, it's nearly a 60% increase and is very noticible. It seems like I can hear my heart beat.
Basically all just another way of saying that the combo of a hard training day and the altitude has hit me hard. Nothing I'm not used to, but normally I might take it easy on a day like this with a relaxed swim. Unfortunately that's not an option here at Epic Camp... Staring down the barrel of the hardest ride of the week and I didn't even know it until someone mentioned it over breakfast. Eff! As I explain more in BIKE, I started the day at a 5 out of 10 and that's about as good as it would get from there.
With it being a long (long, long) day on the bike, the 10km trail run kicked off early. 6:00am start from the foot of the hotel. Given my fitful rest, I got out of bed at 5:50am and jumped on to the run just as the group started moving.
To call this a run would be a stretch. More like a hike. It was an out-and-back, first going downhill and then coming back uphill. I took it very easy; not that I had much choice in the matter. Me and JB, a witty bastard on the camp, found ourselves way behind the group after the turnaround. Both exhausted and a bit brain dead, we somehow got lost coming back on the trail. After a few wrong turns, JB pointed to a new trail that seemed to extend deeper into the forest. "Hey, what could go wrong?" We took a different route and ended up climbing an absurdly steep hill through someone's front yard. Final time was 1hr05mins. Definitely the longest 10k my Garmin has experienced.
In many cases, ignorance is bliss on Epic Camp. If you know what you're getting into, you might freak out and quit (literally or just mentally) before you even start. That said, it's probably best to have some sense of what the hard days entail and at least know when they are so that you're not blindsided.
Today, I was blindsided. In a convo over breakfast I got a bit of detail on the day's ride - 165km ride with 4500m of climbing, so a hundred or so miles with 12,500ft elevation gain. Cool, a big day. What I didn't realize is that we basically would climb from miles 0-15 and then again from 35-75, with miles 55-75 being at 7-10% grade. 40 straight miles of climbing is ROUGH. Especially when the last 20 f**king miles are Col de L'Iseran, a 5x Tour de France mountain climb and the highest paved pass in the Alpes. It didn't help that I'd be riding solo for about 95% of the day...
After packing my bags and slamming a robust breakfast of croissants, jam, nut butter, bread, fruit, muesli, bread, and more bread, I rolled out with the crew at 8:30am. I felt surprisingly decent at the start. Weather was crisp and the group was taking it fairly easy on the climb out of La Grave and up to Lauteret. I sat in the group riding a bit under Ironman pace (~180 NP). Soon we were at the base of Col du Galibier, a 8.5 km (5.3 mi) climb that has an average gradient of 6.9% with a maximum of 12.1% (?!) at the summit. Galibier is one of the super old and iconic TdF climbs - it first appeared in the Tour back in 1911 and has made nearly 60 appearances since - so I was pretty stoked to be riding up it. I kept cruising at about 180 watts while taking some pictures, letting the group pull away as I rolled up at a relatively easy clip. After 47min53sec, I was at the top.
After a few pics and a quick refuel with the aid car, I hit the long descent down the north side of Galibier down to Telegraph. Still not the best descender, I left the top a few minutes before the best riders in the group -- John, Adam K, Phil and Peter. While I hit a touch over 40 mph coming down, these guys blew past me. Phil, who cycle raced at a high level in his later teens and early twenties, hit 60 mph on this descent. Insanity. I could hear him coming from about 50 meters behind me before he torched by.
Ahead of most of the group but behind the top guys, I found myself in no man's land and would soon set out on a solo ride to Col de L'Iseran. This 40km trek was basically a false flat of 2% gradient. As I clipped along at 170 watts (not hard, but not easy; zone 1-2), I enjoyed the time alone since I could ride at my own pace and stop for the occasional photo - like the one below of the 19th century Esseillon Forts. Pretty sweet.
Since I was by myself and going at my own pace, I didn't stop at the car aid stations as I headed to the foot of Col de L'Iseran. In hindsight, this was a big mistake. Without realizing it, I was running a pretty big calorie deficit and would soon be climbing 33km (21 miles) unsupported. Still feeling solid, I kept rolling and about 5hrs30min into the total ride I hit the town of Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis which marks the start of the climb. About 5km or 3miles later, I started to get a bit tired and watched my power drop. I thought I'd rally, so didn't think much of it. Soon after that, I started to look at each kilometer marker (aka gravestone) with total dread.
My internal dialogue quickly went south. "18km left? 7% grade? Are you shitty me?" I did a quick mental calculus to put this in perspective. The longest climb I do back home is up Latigo Road, a "big" climb in the Malibu Canyons that's well known in the cycling community. It's 14.5km (9.2mi) and has an average grade of 4%. On a good day, when I'm fresh, I knock it out in 50 minutes. Now, nearly 6 hours and 65 miles into my ride I was still facing a climb that was longer than Latigo Road with long stretches at a much steeper incline. While Latigo climbs 2,000 feet in elevation, Iseran climbs over 4,500 feet! From 18km to 8km was a death march.
From there, I was just in survival mode. I crawled through the next few km's and started to wonder what the hell I was doing on this trip. While normally I have a positive internal dialogue, I started to get pretty down on myself. Exhausted and low on blood sugar, I was loosing my mind a bit. I thought, "Wow, I clearly suck at cycling. I have no business being on this trip. These guys are real athletes. I'm total a fraud. Why am I even trying to do well in Kona? I'm going to get crushed." As these thoughts were swirling, I stopped and got off my bike with 5km to go. I did so not to give up or to walk my bike, but instead I got off to simply take in the views. It was incredible how pretty it was. I reminded myself that this was a vacation. I took a few pictures, mentally reset, and started up again. I did this two more times before I finally reached the top. It would be a long descent home from here, so the hard part was now over.
All said and done, it took me an absurd 3hrs10mins to climb L'Iseran. A full hour longer than the faster peeps on camp, especially since it was a KOM points climb. (Adam K took out the KOM yet again with a time of just over 2hrs.) Watts were ~160, a good 20% lower than what I'd look to ride on an Ironman bike leg.
At the top, I hung out for about 10 minutes with Julie, one of our awesome supporters from Pyrenees Multisport. I was a bit dazed as she excitedly grabbed me and took my picture in front of the summit sign, blasting music from her support van. After a coffee, a couple of bananas and a few Taos Mountain Energy bars, I put on a warm jacket and started the descent.
The descent down the north side of L'Iseran is pretty spectacular. It's 48km (30mi) and you can really bomb down it since most of the turns are fairly wide. Not wanting to pedal another stroke unless absolutely necessary, I took all the advice I'd been given over the past few days on descending from Phil and John and went for it on this downhill. I was flying, and it felt awesome. Still descending, I cruised through the town of Tignes and was blown away by the lake views. Despite not wanting to waste any free speed, I got off my bike and snapped a few pictures.
The final climb of the day was a merciless 5km uphill to the chalet. After descending for an hour plus, my legs were like bags of cement. I cursed John for not picking a place at the foot of this climb and thought, "F**k, this place better be amazing." With just a 400m to go, I spotted Walter out on stoop waiting to steer me home. As terrible as I felt, I couldn't help but smile. The chalet was in fact pretty incredible, so John did well (once again) and I had to bite my tongue.
Looking back on this ride, I know that's it's the hardest I've done and by far the worst that I've felt on a bike. I'm a bit surprised by how frustrated I got with myself, but am happy that I was able to work through it. That's what Epic Camp is all about. Pushing through lows and just getting on with the training.