Friday, March 30, 2012

A Vacation From/For Work/Training

The view from our vacation
This month, I was "forced" to use a few days of work vacation carried over from last year. It's weird to actually get vacation time, and I wasn't aware I even HAD it until late December. At that point, it was too late to use it. Besides, I was ridiculously busy at work during the December holidays (isn't everyone?). Using vacation time has not always been easy for me, and because I only received three days per year for the past five years, the time I DID take off was either to race or get out of town for a couple days. Faced with three days of use-or-lose time, I had NO idea what to do with it - indecision was compounded by the fact I was in the last two months of Ironman training.

My husband Jim and I tossed around many ideas - London, San Francisco, Cape Cod, Arizona. We finally decided that where we went had to meet the following criteria: (1) somewhere warm, (2) close enough to drive to bring my bike, and (3) there had to be a place to swim. Despite my pleading to Jim that Cape Cod in March would be AMAZING (not based on my own experience but on my reading of Henry Beston's The Outermost House), we opted for a place we could both enjoy for the first time: the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Cape Cod or Outer Banks?
The Outer Banks would afford me my "Cape Cod fix" - they're both strips of land with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a bay on the other, mostly covered with sand and dunes. It would afford my aeronautical engineer husband a visit to the birthplace of aviation - Kill Devil Hills - where the Wright Brothers changed the world. Jim could fly his stunt kites (after all, the WIND is THE reason the Wright Brothers chose the area), and I could bike, run AND swim. This time, we also chose to "take a [real] vacation" by traveling during one of my recovery weeks - eliminating my need to be up by 5:00 am every day or feel guilty about spending the whole time trying to fit my workouts in.

Soon to be shark bait
Thus, it seems, when I don't worry about my workouts, I actually enjoy them. Or maybe it was just the change of scenery. When we woke up on Friday, the first athletic thing I HAD to do (and an obligation as a fish in a former life) was swim in the Atlantic Ocean. After almost freaking myself out by Googling "Outer Banks" and "sharks," (don't do it), my love of the Atlantic still won out - and besides, I felt the need to test my ability to persevere on May 5 in the frigid waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir in St. George. I donned my wetsuit - AND neoprene cap AND neoprene socks - and jumped in the extremely cold water. This resulted in instant disaster: two failed attempts to keep my face in the icy water for more than a minute, and I gave up. It was painfully cold - achy cold. Jim took out his phone and looked up the water temperature online - I assumed he would tell me it was in the 40s.

And that was the day I learned my temperature sensors were in desperate need of recalibration. Just up the coast, at Kitty Hawk, the ocean was 56 degrees F. Realizing it was time to "face" the facts, I reluctantly turned around and forced myself back in the water. About five minutes of swimming in that water gave me some new information - the aching pain in my face DID, indeed, go away. It was replaced by numbness.

The most bothersome effect of the cold, though, was losing control over my fingers. Numbness in my hands resulted in the inability to keep them in a paddle shape after 30 minutes. I decided to call it a day. Based on this swim, I predict that I COULD survive in St. George if the water were 56 degrees on race day (a very real possibility). However, just in case, I have resorted to prayer - for a six-week heatwave to hit southern Utah.

My second athletic endeavor was to run on the beach - one of my all-time favorite things to do. The only thing I did wrong was forget to bring sunscreen. And not wear my hat. My forehead and shoulders were therefore burnt to a crisp, which was advantageous in the greater scheme of things because they now matched the colors on my neck from my wetsuit chafing (yeah, that's from also forgetting to bring Body Glide).

No explanation necessary
By Saturday, the only athletic thing left to do was ride my bike, and since it was my "easy" week, I had only planned a three-hour workout. I got up early to avoid greatly impacting our vacation, and by the time I finished, I figured it would be just about time for breakfast. Before I left, I looked at the forecast to note the wind was from the south - and since there are only two direction options in the Outer Banks - either north or south, I (obviously) chose "into the wind." It would give me an opportunity to see Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the early morning light and hopefully get a glimpse - and photo - of one of its famous lighthouses along the way. Our tourist guide noted that the ride is "good for riders of all abilities" because there was only one hill, and it was man-made - the bridge.

Bodie Island lighthouse
It seemed like a match made in heaven: me, my bike, and two of my favorite things - bridges and lighthouses. I set out that morning with the excitement of a kid on an adventure. Seriously, after many months of tedious ironman training, it surprised me that I was still able to get "up" for a ride. It must mean that deep down I enjoy it, right?

My first observation was this: you know you're in trouble when the plants and grasses along your route are so badly windswept that they have been permanently bent in the direction opposite to the one in which you're riding. With only one quarter of the ride finished, my nerves were almost completely fried from non-stop fighting with the wind. The ridiculously flat road was beckoning for speed - it was taunting me! But the wind had other plans. Reaching a decent speed on the bike (I managed to hit 21 mph, big whoop) meant I had to force myself to remain the aero position. Don't get me wrong, this was excellent aero training for Ironman. But not so good for sightseeing - and yes, I DO enjoy looking at sand dunes.

You should also realize that the wind will be a factor in a place where all the telephone poles have to be anchored with guy-wires. And yet, when I think back to it, the most annoying thing of all was that the wind, at 8-10 mph, wasn't even blowing that hard! I stopped a couple times to take photos, but for the most part, the first half of my ride was basically 30 miles into the wind averaging a dismal pace of less than 19 mph. I KNEW the ride back would have to be somewhat faster - ok, I HOPED it would be faster because I didn't want to spend the rest of my (our) day sulking in my slowness.

The one hill on route 12
I decided to turn around when I reached 30 miles, just before reaching the town of Rodanthe, about an hour and forty minutes after I started.

That's when everything changed. The next one hour and twenty minutes of my life served to eradicate the memories of all those agonizing battles with the wind when it changed direction with me on the Erie lakefront. I was no longer in the midwest and I was finally able to truly experience the exhilaration that is a direct tailwind. In just a few seconds after turning my bike around, I hit 25 mph. I rode that wind all the way back, comfortably in the aero position, averaging 22-23 mph with a max speed on the flat road of 28.5 mph. It was with very little effort at all. 

On my return, I mused about this ride - it was absolutely devoid of potholes and angry drivers. The biggest hazards for bikers (and drivers) along the Outer Banks is blatantly listed on road signs: "Caution Sand on Road," "Caution High Crosswinds [on the bridge]," and "Caution Coastal Flooding." What I wouldn't give to see two of those signs on a regular basis. You can guess which one I would happily do without.

The rest of our vacation was spent watching the Ohio State Buckeyes make it to the NCAA Basketball Final Four and enjoying local food and brews. All-in-all, it was not only a respite from work and working out hard, but it also renewed my faith that I still love my chosen sport(s). Now all I need to do is remind myself of that - on race day.

The Wright Brothers proved anything is possible.

1 comment:

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