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Cycling, Ironman, Training

These Aren’t Hills — They’re Mountains

I’m in my last few weeks of peak training, which means huge workouts — like a double brick out in the Virginia mountains.

I’ve been looking forward to (dreading?) this workout since I saw it on my schedule months ago. In theory, a double brick (40 mile ride, 40 minute run, repeat) is supposed to help you finalize nutrition, hydration and pacing, prepare you psychologically for race day, improve lactate threshold and endurance, etc. Alone, 40 miles on the bike followed by a 40 minute run isn’t tough. But getting back on the bike — and then running again — is a huge test of physical and mental strength.

I somehow got roped into doing this with a group of super fast triathletes out in Marshall, Va., with the first bike loop on the infamous Mt. Weather. I’ve climbed hills of all kinds during this training cycle, but never a mountain that essentially requires you to go up constantly for miles at a time without any relief. We met up at 8am (SO late, in comparison to all my other weekends) to head out for what would be a full day on the road.

Our first loop on the bike was 57.1 miles long with 4,055 ft of climbing. We started out with some flats and gentle rollers before hitting Naked Mountain, a short but steep climb just 11 miles in. It wasn’t too challenging on fresh legs, and I wanted to believe that this was biggest climb of the day [even though I knew more were coming]. Around mile 18, we began to go up on a highway, took a right and suddenly were at the bottom of Mt. Weather. After regrouping, we started the long, slow climb to the summit.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I learned we were climbing a mountain. I was thinking TDF-style riding, where it’s just up and up and up for miles and you’re fighting for every pedal stroke. Good thing I built it up in my head to be really, REALLY hard, because I got to the top and got to shout “What hill?!?” The climb was tough and constant for nearly 5 miles with a few slightly flat spots, but it wasn’t nearly as steep as I was expecting. I just settled into an easy gear and tried to spin my way up — it’s amazing how much easier climbing becomes when you’re not racing or hammering. And all of a sudden, through the fog, you’re at the top.

The descent off the mountain was fast and a little bit terrifying — the roads were damp, the fog thick and the hills steep. I’m not great at descending at high speeds, especially when I can’t see more than 5 feet in front of me. The final bit is straight down and dead-ends into a busy highway. Funny how you get to the bottom in just a few minutes while the climb takes a half hour, right?

There was one more curvy, technical descent before we hit a small country store to refuel, a place I quickly recognized as it’s also on the Reston Century course. Then construction forced us to take a little detour, which unfortunately put us on 4 miles of winding dirt and gravel roads. Turns out tri bikes aren’t exactly made for off-roading, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous about crashing in my whole life. There was cursing and maybe even a few tears as I rode very slow behind the group.

The rest of the loop was fairly uneventful — rollers, some flats, some wind — until we were back in the Marshall parking lot. We packed the bikes in the car, put on our running shoes and headed out for the first run of the day. 40 minutes, 4.83 miles, at an average pace that I’m very happy with, especially after the challenging ride we’d just completed and the fact that there were some tough hills on the route. At this point it was sunny and hot and humid and we were all dripping and really not looking forward to getting back on our bikes.

Our second loop incorporated much of what we’d already done but cutting out Mt. Weather and the horrible dirt road detour. We did climb Naked Mountain again, and it seemed so much harder that time around. As did the rollers, the wind and pretty much everything about the ride. I felt like I was pedaling through mud. After a little over 2 hours and 35.3 miles, I was pretty excited to get off the bike for the second time. 2,118 ft of climbing this time around.

At this point, running was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. Eat ice cream? That’s a different story. But we laced up our shoes and hit the pavement for another 30 minutes and 3.32 miles. Again, I was tired but felt better than I have on most of my brick runs. At 5pm, after nearly 6:45 of moving time, 100 miles and 6,500 ft of climbing, we finally were able to strip off our sweaty clothes, pack up our gear and head to get some food. A McFlurry? Yes please!

The tough things about this day: the weather (cool, foggy, rainy to humid, hot and sunny and back), getting back on the bike after the first run, the climbing, the crazy dirt road.

The great things about this day: finishing a really tough workout feeling good, nailing my nutrition for the first time all season (EFS and Larabar FTW), hitting decent speeds despite the challenging terrain, being prepared for all situations (gear, a cooler full of nutrition, etc).

Just two more high-intensity weeks. I’m ready.



9 thoughts on “These Aren’t Hills — They’re Mountains

  1. That’s amazing that you can BIKE A MOUNTAIN and not think it’s that bad. Your hill training is seriously paying off.

    Posted by Victoria (District Chocoholic) | August 8, 2011, 8:50 AM
  2. This sounds like a super hard training day! But it will totally pay off in the end 🙂

    Posted by Sarah | August 8, 2011, 9:29 AM
  3. HARD. CORE.

    Emily, you are ready!

    Posted by Jon | August 8, 2011, 9:43 AM
  4. Awesome. Congrats on a great day!

    Posted by amy | August 8, 2011, 10:30 AM
  5. Kickass, lady. You got this. But at least it wasn’t hot and sunny?

    Also, I need a moment of silence to mourn Reston. 😦

    Posted by katie | August 8, 2011, 1:43 PM
  6. Sounds like you’re going to cross that finish line at IMWI and say “What Ironman?!” Seriously impressive weekend, Emily.

    Posted by laura | August 8, 2011, 5:31 PM
  7. Workouts like this are exactly why I do and don’t want to do an Ironman someday. Congratulations!

    Posted by lizard151 | August 8, 2011, 6:42 PM
  8. I second Liz’s comments. I think all of this Ironman training is the most intimidating part of the package. Which is why I am firmly in the “no thanks” camp right now. Congrats on this very impressive day!

    Posted by Allison | August 9, 2011, 2:14 PM


  1. Pingback: The Year That Treated Me Well « Speed Laces, Amazing Races - December 28, 2011

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