Rob called me crazy when I told him I was planning on going for a five and a half hour bike ride on Monday… two days after another five and a half hour bike ride.
He might have been right.
But when you are training for an Ironman, you end up doing crazy things to fit in your workouts, and since I had a race coming up that weekend, I needed to fit my long bike ride in earlier in the week. Fortunately, the 4th of July was perfectly timed to allow this.
I did make a concession—instead of doing my typical fairly hilly route, I decided to do the flattest route I could find. Essentially, this meant that I was riding north to Antelope Island, which is a peninsula (not an island!) that sticks out into the Great Salt Lake. I knew absolutely nothing about it except that it was called Antelope Island and that the ride out there was flatter than anything else I’ve ridden in Salt Lake City. I hoped the flats would be easier on my legs, and even though I’ve been living here a year and a half, I had never actually made it out to the Great Salt Lake, so it was about time to check that off the list.
I left early. Since I typically wake up before dawn anyway, I figured I might as well get out on the bike as early as I could so that I had some time to relax and recover after the ride. So, at 6:30am, I headed out the door. It was a nice morning, but it’s usually nice before 7:00am. I wasn’t sure what kind of day this particular pleasant morning would turn into.
I rode through town a bit and then I was out on the open road heading north. I’m not used to riding long, flat stretches, so when I got down into aero position, I felt like I was flying. At one point when I reached a beautifully paved bike path, I thought, “This ride is criminally beautiful.” It wasn’t long before I realized I’d been out for 23 miles, and I still felt completely fresh and excited about my ride. The path I was riding on was surrounded by trees and grassland with mountains on the horizon. Even when I left the bike path, I was riding through some pretty neighborhoods.
And then, I turned west to head out to Antelope Island. Pretty soon, I could smell the salt water. Eventually, I hit a booth guarding the entrance into the state park (Surprise! Turns out it’s a state park!). I had to pay $3 to get in, even on my bike. It was good to see the place, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back anytime soon. It wasn’t even 10:00am yet and it was already warm and a little stinky. The road was newly sealed which was great for riding, but I imagine the heat radiating off that road during the hottest part of summer days is nearly unbearable. When the water is high, the road is a causeway, and you’re basically surrounded by water. However, the water isn’t high this year, so I was mostly riding by some patches of water and some salt flats (which was still beautiful in its own right!).
I stopped a couple times to get photos, but those attempts were mostly aborted early because of the bugs. I have never seen horseflies so big. These must have been prehistoric horseflies that drank the blood of the dinosaurs. And whenever I stopped, they swarmed around me immediately, landing on me and biting me. Needless to say, that kept me moving. I did eventually get a little further away from the water and climbed a bit of a hill and actually got a good view of the lake. Despite the stink, the Great Salt Lake is an impressive and beautiful body of water. I’m glad I made the trip out to see it (even though I don’t particularly want to go out there again!).
As I headed back over the causeway, I started being buffeted by crosswind. During a couple of strong gusts, I actually felt my wheels just barely start to slip out from underneath me. At some point, I realized that this very strong crosswind was coming almost directly from the south, at which point I felt a sinking sense of dread as I recalled my route for the day…. about 35 miles straight north, then west towards Antelope Island, then back. I was going to battle this headwind straight on for 35 miles.
I made it to the gas station where I was going to fuel up before turning south. And I took my sweet time. I went to the bathroom. I ate all of my trail mix while sitting in the shade in front of the gas station. I may have played a couple rounds of a game on my phone. And then, with a resigned sigh, I got on my bike and rode into the wind. It wasn’t so bad at first. I was going through neighborhoods, and the houses and trees served as wind blocks.
Then, I hit the pedestrian/bike path. My wind blocks were gone. And it was tough. I am not a strong rider in the wind. Having a bit of mass to you helps in the wind because the mass helps keep your momentum moving forwards. Despite being pretty tall, I don’t have a lot of mass, and that basically turns me into a wind sail. The wind just kept beating me down. I eventually made it to Redwood Road, the north-south boulevard that would finally take to my last eastward turn. The wind was even worse here, nearing 20mph. In fact, I’m sure the gusts exceeded that. I was struggling to turn the cranks over and just trying to keep a 15mph average. Even though I was so close to being done, I felt more demoralized than ever.
Finally, I had to stop and give myself a pep talk. This doesn’t happen very often. Usually, I’m good at soldiering through workouts without having to play many mind games. But not during this ride. I needed to talk myself through the next few miles in the wind. “Okay. You have, at the most, four more miles until you turn out of the wind. You’ve been holding a pretty good pace. So that four miles will take you, at most, twenty more minutes. Twenty more minutes and you’ll be on the home stretch. Twenty more minutes, and this whole thing will be over.” I started up again and was soon met with a particularly nasty gust of wind. “This is just a gust. It won’t be this bad forever.” That was my mantra every time I was smashed with another particularly bad gust of wind.
After a miserable fifteen or twenty minutes, I finally saw my turn. It was like sitting down after a long run. I still had a few miles until I was done riding, but I knew the hard part was done. Once I wasn’t battling a headwind, I was riding around 17mph, even with my tired legs. I got back to Rob’s place, and he welcomed me in and took my bike for me, like my own personal T2 volunteer. (He also commented on my slow transition as I languished on the couch trying to avoid my transition run!)
This was my furthest training ride so far at 94.5 miles. I almost rode a century on my own two days after a long, hard ride. This was a pretty serious milestone in my training. On a flatter course (even on tired legs and with some serious wind), I averaged 17.1mph over almost 95 miles. I still have work to do. I have a little more fitness to gain during the next few weeks. I need to dial in my nutrition a little more. I’ve got a few more tweaks to make to my bike. But for the first time, I’m starting to think I might be (nearly!) ready.