Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Praise of Cleveland Metroparks: Final Century before Ironman St. George

Cleveland acting like New England
In Cleveland, we have an amazing civic treasure known as the "Emerald Necklace," or Cleveland Metroparks, a connected string of suburban parks (called reservations) that encircles the city of Cleveland. Long before I was fortunate enough to be a park employee (I work for Cleveland Metroparks Zoo), I was a daily visitor to the parks either on foot or by bike. If you envision the park system as a necklace, I live right near the bottom (where the pendant would be). My two very favorite bike rides are in either direction from there through the Metroparks - north and west or north and east.

On my first outdoor 100-miler, I tackled the west branch. Yesterday, on my second, I went east. In addition to being the last bike century workout before Ironman St. George, I also planned to use this ride to assess the winter damage to the park roads so I know better what routes to take this summer. While I was out, I remembered all the things I love (and hate) about riding east through Cleveland Metroparks.

There's really not much to hate, actually. It's more of that proverbial "love-hate relationship." To my surprise and delight, the roads had weathered Cleveland's harsh winter amazingly well, and I was able to spend more time looking around than worrying about dodging pot-holes. And, that's when I realized how much I love (hate) this route.

Squire's Castle in Cleveland Metroparks
North Chagrin Reservation
The route took me through the rolling hills of Bedford Reservation, into South Chagrin Reservation, and then north along the Chagrin River and into North Chagrin Reservation. Once you pick up the Chagrin River, you get to see how "the other half lives" (that is, if you're ME and NOT the "other half"). Along Chagrin River Road is where every house looks like a castle, but the actual "castle" is in Cleveland Metroparks (it's called Squire's Castle).

Being from New England, I always feel transported back there to a time when all roads followed rivers. In fact, the scenery of this area could be lifted right out of a Robert Frost poem (see photo at top). The landscape is punctuated by huge park areas, forest, creeks and horse stables. There are both rolling and steep hills. And there are little iron bridges. Everyone lives in "villages" and the places have names like "Hunting Valley" and "Gates Mills." It seems that each village has its own coat of arms which is proudly displayed as you enter the village. There's even a polo field. Yep, you heard me. A POLO field. I mean, seriously, who plays polo? But there it is, the Cleveland Metroparks Polo Field.

But I digress.. getting back to the ride.. I did see lots of bikers on what was very likely their first outdoor rides of the season. And not only road bikers, but EVERYONE was out yesterday - runners, walkers, hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists - all taking in the temperatures in the... high 50s! It looked like summer. There were people in shorts and tank tops. I've become well aware that Clevelanders see temperatures above 50 and declare it beach weather. And what's wrong with that after the crazy cold winter and spring we've had this year?

As a "Clevelander," I did it too. I walked outside with bike shorts and short sleeves, determined to make this a summer (or at least spring) ride. I found out rather quickly (one-half-mile into my ride) the air whizzing by on the bike wasn't so summery, and I quickly had to don a pair of arm warmers and gloves, which remained on me for the duration of my ride.

It started out well - most likely due to the fact I was riding with the wind. I reached the 34-mile turnaround at an average pace of 17.7 mph. By the time I hit 65 miles, it had dropped to 17 and I had become discouraged. I always forget that road riding requires stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, and, on this ride, several bathroom breaks because I hadn't dressed warm enough to sweat. I did my second loop south through the Summit Metroparks - mostly on their bike path. Similarly, this path went past some really ritzy areas such as Silver Lake. In the end, I decided to dub this ride "the other half."

My nutrition consisted of Carbo Pro mixed with Infinit Nutrition's preset cycling formula at about 250 calories per hour and supplemented with E.F.S. Liquid Shot. During my long rides this year, I've learned a new lesson: I need more than 250 calories per hour because I get lightheaded (more than usual) when I limit it to 250. I added the Infinit formula because it supplies protein but not so much that I start to feel nauseous like I used to with Hammer's Perpetuem.

The final 20 miles were mostly on a downslope which gave me time to rest my legs and get my average up to 17.3 mph by the finish. While in the homestretch, I realized my legs weren't feeling very fatigued. In fact, they were feeling pretty good. It gave me hope for the second part of my workout - a short run off the bike.

By the time I got home, the sun had come out and temperatures were warming into the 60's. My husband Jim had planned to use the day to get ready for summer: put away the snow blower (woo!), get out the grill and do lawnmower maintenance. Lucky for me, he had also agreed to ride his bike with me while I ran and carry water so I could test my run nutrition. (Secretly, I love when he does this because I have someone to talk to - or complain to - after six hours of riding alone.) It also helps to have him assess my running form and pace.

I did a quick transition - put on my running shoes, took the last swig of Carbo Pro in the bottle, grabbed a Gu and filled a water bottle - and was on my way. But something was NOT RIGHT. I didn't feel fatigued. I didn't even have "the wobble" (the J-Team terminology for what you look like coming out of the Ironman T2 transition tent). Jim commented on it first: "you're looking pretty good."

My comment? "I don't think I should feel this good." My legs felt fresh (dare I say "springy"?). Not the way they should feel after 100 miles of biking. And not the way I expected them to feel after my final really hard week of training.

I had decided to run for 30 minutes.. enough to get me through the first Gu/water stop. But when we got back to the house, I felt good enough to throw in 10 more minutes. It was somewhere around 38 minutes of running that I said it. I don't know why. I don't know what came over me. But I said IT.

"I feel good enough to run a whole marathon right now."

EEEEEEEEEEK! Did that just come out of my mouth? All I can hope for now is that the same thing happens on race day. It's 27 days away.