Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The B-I-G Haleakala Climb

I arrived home from Hawaii last night, but still have a few Hawaii posts to finish off.  The whole trip was just amazing...  I met lots of great people, put in some great training on the bike in one of the most scenic places I've ever been, relaxed, and ate lots of yummy fish tacos, gelato, and banana-split milkshakes (not all at once, of course). 
The most unusual ride of the trip was the climb up to the Haleakala volcano crater.  Haleakala (pronounced hall-ee-ock-a-la) is a shield volcano that forms 75% of the island of Maui, with its summit being 10,023 ft above sea level.  Its latest eruption is best estimated to have occurred in the 17th century.  From what I can tell, that classifies this thing as ‘dormant’… or at least I hoped so as I was pedaling my way up!
Living in Pittsburgh has given me a lot of practice riding hills, but climbing Haleakala presented an entirely new challenge:  A long, winding road that climbed at an average 6-7% grade for just under 27 miles.  At one or two points, it briefly leveled or dipped down slightly, but for the most part it was up, up, up!  We started riding as the sun was coming up, and knowing that it would be a long morning on the bike, I settled into a comfortable gear and prepared to spin my legs off.
From the base, the top of Haleakala was barely visible through the early morning fog and clouds.  It was really interesting to see how the landscape and plant life changed as we climbed higher.  We started at about 1700 ft above sea level, and for the first few thousand feet of elevation gain, the plant life was pretty standard: grass, trees, flowers.  As elevation increased, the trees became shorter, scrubbier, and grew sparse.  At around 5,000 feet, we officially entered Haleakala National Park.  This was the only place I took a short break to grab a snack and refill my bottles at the group's van and stretch my back/legs a bit.  
By this point, there were no more trees in sight as looked upwards to the observatory at the top of Haleakala -- we had arrived above the tree line.  Large rocks were taking over as the predominant land feature, and yellow flowers  seemed to be one of the few plants hearty enough to survive the altitude/rocky soil/weather conditions.

At around 7,000 feet above sea level, we started noticing that we were looking into the clouds instead of up at them.
By 8,000 feet, the clouds were below us!
See the road snaking though the landscape below me?
(For a shot taken with one hand while pedaling, I think this picture turned out well!)
Since I’ve never done a continuous climb longer than 6 miles, or at an altitude close to half of Haleakala’s altitude, I wasn’t sure how hard to push myself.  I wanted to be sure I would stay strong enough to complete the climb, and I was a little worried about having breathing issues from the altitude near the top.  Overall, I think I handled the altitude adjustment well, but I did notice a bigger difference than usual in effort level when I went from heart rate zones 1-2 into zone 3.  It was a little harder to breath working at a higher effort, so I kept a low gear and enjoyed the scenery while I spun my way to the top.  Every 10 or 15 minutes, I would crank up the gearing a few notches and stand up for a minute or so to stretch out my legs and back.  (I think these stand-and-stretch breaks became more frequent as I got closer to the top!)
When I reached 9,000 ft above sea level, I felt like I was on an entirely different planet. Large volcanic rocks ranging from black to grey to reddish brown were strewn about; the black-topped road with its double yellow line was the only thing breaking up the endless sea of rocks.

The last half mile or so up to the observatory was the toughest. Not only was I closing in on 10,000 ft above sea level after 4 hours of climbing, but the road hit its steepest pitch of the climb: 12-15% according to my Garmin bike computer. 

Chillin' above the clouds... happy to have reached the summit! 
I felt a tremendous feeling of satisfaction from completing the climb and reaching the summit after 4 hours of being in the saddle.  We won’t encounter any climbs this long in Race Across America, but knowing that I can complete such a climb is a nice boost of confidence!  

View from the top looking into the crater… this is what I picture Mars to look like!

Volcanic rocks everywhere! 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Maui updates

The days in Maui have been flying by!  I thought I would have more time to recap each day, but our days have been packed full, and I am usually ready to crash by 9pm.  Thank goodness for yummy Hawaiian coffee to get me going in the mornings.  

The cycling in Maui is AWESOME.  Lots of very smooth roads and lots of climbing!  The climbing here isn't like what we have in Pittsburgh... I've heard others say these are "European style" climbs... long and lower-grade.

Yes, it is possible to eat this with hands.
The scenery continues to impress.  It's hard not to turn into paparazzi and start snapping pictures of every beautiful landscape, plant, beach, bird, etc.  The food also continues to impress!  We found a restaurant called Coconut's Fish Cafe that has the most amazing fish tacos ever... they are piled high with toppings like mango salsa and coleslaw made with coconut milk that make them messy to eat but unbelievably tasty...  So tasty in fact that we've been there twice for fish tacos in the last 3 days!  (Cute story: Coconut is the owners' cat- shown in the logo on their website. The owner/founder came out to greet us at our table and his chef jacket had his name and "Coconut's Dad" embroidered on it.  I asked them to open a store in Pittsburgh, but he didn't think the East Coast was in their near expansion plans, boo.)  Next door to Coconut's is a 50's-themed diner that serves banana-split milkshakes that are just amazing.  And did I mention the gelato?  I think I may go through withdrawal when I get home...

Coming into this trip, I didn't really know any of the others very well, but I've made some awesome friends.  Katie and Nancy are also from Pittsburgh and we hit it off right away.  Early in the trip, we were posing for a picture, and as a joke, I said, "Let's do a Charlie's Angels pose!"  This started a huge running joke of Charlie's Angels poses at pretty much every photo opportunity.  The others on the trip have even started referring to us as "the angels" or "the angles" (the latter is due to a Facebook friend's type-o comment on a photo).

Pictures from our ride along the western loop of Maui:

Papaya and fresh banana bread break at a fruit stand after some tough climbing. YUM! 
View from the back of the fruit stand.  I wish my office view looked like this... 
One of many Charlie's Angels shots. Love these girls!! 
A sweet descent after a looooong climb! 
 Some other random shots:

Looking out from the deck at Ono Gelato in Lahaina. 
Oceanside gelato. Doesn't get much better than this!
The gelato was so good that I ate two servings like this - gotta live it up on vacation! :)
Flowers seen on a morning run. Beautiful flowers like this make up for the creepy hippie dude pushing a rusted-out shopping cart who yelled "Running is boring!" as I passed him.  

The Iao Needle, a 2250-foot rock pinnacle...
the most prominent landmark in the Iao Valley

Starting to hike up the Waihe'e Ridge Trail.
It pretty much went straight up for 2+ miles. 
I had a great day of cycling and hiking with Don. The two of us added in some extra mileage to the group's ride plans for the day, including a 5-ish mile climb up to the start of the Waihe'e Ridge trail head.  Don is awesome - he's been giving me lots of tips and suggestions for RAAM and is really fun to hang out with! 
Waihe'e Ridge Trail, another view... 

View from the top of Waihe'e Ridge Trail.
360 degree views of  breathtaking views...
photos just don't do it justice!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Maui, Day 1

This will be a picture-heavy post, since my jet-lagged and confused body is ready for bed.  Simply put, Hawaii is amazing.  Everything about it is amazing: the brilliant blue of the ocean, the sound of wind rushing through the palm trees (it sounds like it's raining!), the chirp/click noises the geckos make (I've yet to actually see them), the exotic flowers, the macadamia nut coffee (I swear, it's better than coffee at home!), the coconut cream ice cream, the breathtaking scenery.  All day, the question I kept asking myself was, "How did I get so lucky to be here?!"

I love the other people on this trip!  A common interest like cycling can bring people together very quickly, and I feel like I've known these people much longer than barely over a day.

Today's ride was 37 miles, 3200+ feet of climbing.  The first hour was a net downhill, and the rest was a LOT of uphill.  As in, I rode a straight 45 minute uphill segment trying to chase down Michelle, who was our Queen of the Mountain for today.  The mid-80 temps and high humidity were a shock to my system, but luckily there always seems to be a constant breeze blowing.  And of course, having the ocean for a post-ride dip to cool down in is just AWESOME :)

Tomorrow's ride will be longer (70ish miles) but with less climbing.  Can't wait!

Our beach house!

These are the flowers traditionally used for leis.  
The beach across from our house.  

Me and Don.  Don raced RAAM as part of a 4-man team in 2012 and they set a new record for the Men's 70+ age group, averaging 19mph to cross the country in 6 days, 13 hours.  Needless to say, I'm looking forward to gaining LOTS of RAAM wisdom on this trip! 
View from the start of our ride. 

Probably my favorite view of the day. I love the window in the rock! 

Cows and baby cows hanging out!  (Actually, they were being herded by a helicopter- not shown. This was a sight to see!)  

We saw lots of these purple trees in certain parts of the island. 
Amazing roads for riding - hardly any cars and incredibly smooth surface.  

Today's ride ended at a winery!  I sampled some pineapple and pineapple-passion fruit wine.  Not a bad way to end a ride :) 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Like Real World Hawaii but with bikes: an incredibly generous sponsorship

After much anticipation, I am sitting at Gate C53 at the Pittsburgh Airport.  It is 4:51am, and I have two tickets tucked into my carry-on:  One to San Francisco, and a second to an airport I simply refer by its 3-letter abbreviation, OGG, because I do not know how to pronounce its real name properly (Kahului).
I am headed for a week of cycling around the beautiful island of Maui to kick off my training for Race Across America 2014.  The trip is being organized by Global Ride Productions, one of our sponsors.  They will be filming video footage for their next training DVD, and I will be one of the cyclists in the video! 
Tumbl Trak, another Team PHenomenal Hope supporter, has graciously sponsored this trip for me.  When I found out about their offer, I was dumbfounded.  Me? Hawaii? To ride bikes for a week? Um, yes please!!!  I am still in awe of this generosity.  The offer was extended to my whole team, but unfortunately, none of my Team PH teammates were able to make the trip due to work commitments/vacation time conflicts, etc.  
Of the other people (12) who will be staying in a large beach house together for this trip, I only know one or two casually... which is why I've jokingly dubbed the trip "Real World Hawaii with bikes".  In my head, I keep hearing a modified version of the standard Real World intro: 
This is the true story... of 12 strangers (ok, technically some people already know each other)... picked to live in a house...cycle together and have their adventures taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start riding bikes(?)...
Cheesy, I know. But it is not even 5am and I have been up since 2:45am so I can't help it.  
The packing adventure began last night.  I managed to cram all the stuff below into my suitcase, only to cringe when it weighed in at close to 58 pounds.  I weeded out some excessive clothes and random items that were not deemed necessary, moved some things to my carry-on, and voila! 47 pounds.  Ironic that the ticketing/check-in guy didn't even weigh it this morning!  

In addition to cycling and trying to avoid 3rd degree sunburns, I am meeting with some members from the Hawaii PHA chapter in Honolulu to share the story of our team’s journey with them.  I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have this opportunity to travel to Hawaii to train and reach out to PH patients.  Stay tuned for reports and photos of my trip!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

helping others

A few weeks ago, one of my Steel City Endurance teammates sent an email to the local cycling listserve.  A cyclist friend of his who lives in Washington state had sent an email to him about one of his teammates named Mark, who had just suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury.  To help out Mark and his family (a wife and 4 kids), a local coffee shop was donating proceeds from sales of a certain coffee (appropriately called La Bicicletta!).  Sounds like a good cause, and well, coffee is delicious, right?  (It may have taken me the better part of 31 years to figure this out, but nonetheless, I am finally on the coffee bandwagon!)

When I clicked on the link to the Facebook invite (everything really does go through Facebook these days, doesn't it?) and read the story, my mouth dropped.  It's unbelievable how small the world can be at times.

The fundraiser was being organized by Jenni, my very first triathon coach, and also a teammate of Mark's.  I worked with Jenni through Wenzel Coaching, an online coaching company, in 2008-2009 when I first started triathlon.  We parted ways on good terms when I joined the SCE team and started working with a local coach, but we have remained Facebook friends and I have periodically sent updates to her about things like my first Ironman.

I was so touched when I read how her account of what happened and how she wished there were something "big" she could do to make things easier for Mark and his family.  I ached when I read that her words, "Mark lived and breathed cycling" -- I just can't imagine what I would do if I were facing a severe spinal injury that could prevent me from riding my bike ever again.

I think a lot of times when something bad happens that is outside our immediate reach, we sit around feeling helpless and wishing we could do something to help.

Jenni actually DID do something; something that is an example of little things adding up to something big.  She went to a local coffee roaster, DOMA, and asked if they would help out by donating proceeds from one of their coffees to help raise some money for Mark and his family.  She has promoted this through the Facebook invite, has been helping to ship coffee all over the country, and takes the coffee with her when traveling for races to sell there.

To me, this is such an inspiration to think about the little things we can do to help others...  A bit of organization and lots of caring people can have a BIG impact!

I asked Jenni it was ok to repost the story and these links on my blog, and she gave me the go-ahead... so...  

If anyone is interested in buying some fantastically delicious coffee for a good cause, DOMA will donate proceeds through the end of April from sales of La Bicicletta coffee:

Order here:

Yummy, yummy DOMA La Bicicletta coffee!
Yes, I am all fancy with my French press! 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

sweet reunion


At last - I've gotten to spend some quality time on the mountain bike!  3 rides in 5 days, to be precise.  Here are the highlights of the rides: 

1.  I finally experienced the single track at Frick Park.  Despite all of the running I've done there over the years on the "double-wide" walking/hiking/running trails, I had NO CLUE how much great single-track is hidden back there!  It's amazing for a city park to have so many great trails. I finally know what mountain bikers are talking about when they refer to "the slags" and "Iron Grate"!  

2.  Wimpiness (that is, the state of being wimpy) does not disappear on its own.  Mountain bike skills, like pretty much everything else, atrophy when not used.  The first two rides I did involved a LOT of dismounting and hopping over logs, rocks, roots, etc that I think I would've had no problem riding over last fall.  

3.  My skills (however limited they may be) started to click back into place after about an hour of solo mountain biking at North Park yesterday.  I think being on familiar trails helped.  I started riding over (smaller) logs and rocks by the end, wahoo!   

4.  How to dress just right for a mountain bike ride in 45-50F weather, overcast skies, and wind:  Wool socks, bike shorts, tights over bike shorts, long-sleeve light underarmor, wicking t-shirt, long-sleeve jersey, full-finger biking gloves.  My fingers were a little cold at first but once I got going, I was completely comfortable.  

5. Getting muddy on the trails is really fun!  Looking forward to many, many more mountain bike rides!  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

track time

Race season is approaching, so track intervals are back into the schedule.  Hooray!

Maybe I'm odd, but I love track workouts.  They're tough, but I always feel a nice sense of accomplishment at the end.  Yesterday, my set was 2 x 400, 2 x 1600, 2 x 400 in a sort of race-simulation workout.  The 400's are fast (in this case, sub-5k pace), to simulate a fast start in the beginning of a race and the kick at the end of a race.  The 1600's are faster than goal pace (in this case, half marathon goal pace, since my next race is the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in May).

Since spring weather has finally arrived in Pittsburgh -- maybe even bordering on summery weather, since it's reached 80F the last few days -- I opted to commute to work by bike yesterday.  I guess that technically made my track workout the first brick of the year, since I biked home, changed out of bike clothes and into running clothes, and then drove straight to the track to run.

When I started my warm-up, my legs felt heavy and stiff and icky. During said icky-feeling warm-up, I started scaling back the goal times I'd set for the 400's and 1600's earlier in the day.  I thought about bagging the workout completely and trying it again another day this week (but that would've messed up my plans to mountain bike later in the week- I think that is actually what kept me on that track).  I hadn't even started the workout, and I was already marginalizing goals and assuming the workout wouldn't go well.  Oy.

Once I got going, my legs finally woke up.  I surprised myself and the first two 400's were right where I'd wanted them to be, and the 1600's were actually a little faster than goal pace.  The last two 400's definitely felt tougher- surely a result of running them on legs fatigued from the 1600 repeats, but they were also in my pace goal range.

The lesson being reinforced is that I need to at least attempt a workout before I rule it out for the day or start scaling back my goal times.  I ended up having a solid workout -- it's crazy to think I almost skipped it!  This was my 4th track workout of the year, and a recurring theme has been that during the warm-up I convince myself that I won't be able to hit my goal paces.  I don't know why I'm afraid of failing to meet those goal times in a workout, but I automatically come up with a list of excuses why the goal times are too fast for me.

Yet, in each of those workouts, I've met or exceeded the goal paces.  It only takes the first interval:  When I hit my goal pace for that first interval, my perspective changes, I'm confident about the workout and my love of track sessions is reaffirmed.

I guess I've identified something to work on, eh?

Pre & post-workout nutrition:  Last year at this time, I would've been eating energy gels/gummies before/during the workout and drinking a protein shake after.  Yesterday, I had an apple with almond butter and some prunes (yes, further evidence in addition to my normal 9:00pm bedtime that I am actually a 75-year old at heart, but I really like them!) before my 7-mile bike commute home.  During the workout, I drank only water with Elete electrolyte drops.  I felt great during the workout- no hunger, no GI issues.  When I got home, I had some plain, full-fat Greek yogurt with cinnamon and a fresh kiwi as a recovery snack.