I am in the ass end of ironman training. It’s most volume of training, the most exhaustion, intensity, self-doubt and depression. It’s the howamIevergoingtodothis? stage. Top that off with the hottest, most energy-sapping heat to train in and hard, hilly(at least to me) terrain. It’s ninety degrees before dawn. Training is a matter of getting through it without heat exhaustion. Hills that would be no problem in cooler weather turn into mountains. I have to constantly monitor myself for signs of dizziness, headache or fatigue that can turn ugly. Fear creeps into my mind as I wonder how far I should go because it’s just that much longer to get home by myself if I am not feeling well.
My route takes me thirty three miles one way from home. It is suburban, but spread out and has stretches that do not have much in the way of water or ice if I get overheated. One section has nine miles of climbing without relief. It’s isn’t horribly steep, but it’s mentally challenging. Do I push myself and go a little harder? I usually err on the side of caution, which makes me wonder if I am training hard enough. Will I have enough speed to not DNF(do not finish) the race? How miserable should I make myself?
On a recent ride, I decided to start early at a pre-dawn five o’clock. I looked at the thermometer and it read ninety degrees. Really? Phoenix in June is dry, so in the early morning, it is actually cool or at least in the eighties. In July, the humidity rolls in and it never cools off at night. It’s utterly discouraging and makes me dream of a cool beach in California.
Riding pre-dawn is not too bad. The sun’s intensity is at bay and if I keep my sunglasses on, I can pretend that it’s still dark out. Not a lot of cars are out to annoy me. Rabbits run in front of me like they WANT to get hit. A family of quail with the little babies trailing behind the parents occasionally appears. This phase does not last long, however.
The rising ball of the sun gives me the evil eye. My route has hills because my ironman route does. Normally, in summer I would avoid them like the plague, but I need the training. I don’t see a lot of cyclists out. They are smarter than me. I start climbing upward and feel the heat stealing my strength. Having done the route before, I am accustomed to doing hills, but it seems more difficult now.
My route leaves town and I am out in a rural area. It’s treeless road. I suck down water, salt tablets, sports drink and sometimes pour water on myself. The air is pretty uncomfortable. I wonder if I should turn around rather than tackle the cruelty of Nine Mile Hill, which is exactly what it’s called, an unrelenting climb up. I push on, with the intention of ascending without getting heat exhaustion. It’s an intimidating prospect because there is very little out here besides a few houses.
I count off the street numbers from 178 to 114, at the blistering pace of ten miles per hour. I want to push harder, but it’s risky. I am hot and tired as it is. It’s probably 95 degrees by now. Other cyclists pass by me, but not too many. I wouldn’t be out here either, under other circumstances. My lack of speed torments me. If I can’t go fast here, how am I going to make the bike cut offs in the actual race? A decent bike rider wouldn’t have this problem, but I am slow. I signed up for this race to see if I could get through a hilly bike portion and I am still not convinced I can.
I finally crest the hill and now I am going downhill towards home. My plan is to re-stock with ice and cold water. The heat is pressing down now. I am still functioning. I wonder what people in their air-conditioned car think of a crazy bike rider out in the 100 degree heat. I just want to keep moving and not be stuck at intersections waiting for a light. It’s just that much hotter.
I make it home and get more ice and water to continue my ride. The sun is burning now. It’s a suffocating and oppressive blanket wanting to strangle me. I keep moving, but I am getting slower and slower. I survive. I endure.
Ironman training is hard, but this is ridiculous. Six hours biking on hilly terrain in 90-100 degrees. A mere 80 miles when the race will have 112. I am motivated by fear of not finishing and wanting to see what I am capable of. July’s hell will hopefully give way to triumph in August, but I have no illusions that it isn’t going to earned without a high price in pain, misery and every ounce of strength I have.