Adventures in Boulder: Part One
By Annie Byrne
I was recently at cyclocross race and had a really nice parking lot chat with another racer. She had seen I was in Colorado for training and asked me if I was going to write anything about it to share because she’d love to hear about the experience. It took just a couple seconds of thought to respond, “Yes, yes I will. That is a great idea.”
I was in Boulder for nine days and therefore there is a lot to write! This will be a two-part post with the first post on the days before the training camp and then the second post on the training camp days.
This trip was inspired by unfortunate circumstances. This past August I had to put Scout down, my Siberian husky and best friend. Scout was 14 years old and the last year had progressively been getting worse with his arthritis and dementia. At first it was a slow progression but then in the beginning of the summer it started to get notably worse-- he was tripping a lot, having bathroom control problems, and too anxious to be at the shop. I didn’t know what to do or how and when I would know it was time. But everyone told me I would know.
Then in August my mom came to town to help with the Women’s Midwest Road Race. Almost immediately upon her arrival, Scout took a turn for the worse. We got him some pain medication but it only made it worse. That Monday morning I called the vet to make the appointment for Tuesday. Monday was hands down the hardest day of my life. I stayed home from the shop and spent the day going back and forth between trying to work and stay distracted, and sitting on the ground holding Scout’s head in my lap.
I got Scout when he was nine weeks old, I had just graduated college and was about to move to Chicago.I had not planned on getting a dog but he unexpectedly came into my life and needed a home. I am so very grateful for that.
Scout was always there and offered me an endless supply of love and companionship. I miss him everyday and my heart aches with him gone but I knew it was time, he had a great life, and I am very lucky to have had him for so long.
I am also very grateful for all the love and support I have gotten from my family, friends, teammates, and customers. Sharing this loss with all of you has helped ease the pain a lot, so thank you.
A long, long time ago I told myself that when Scout was gone, I was going to leave the country for a while. I really like traveling but it’s hard to travel when you have a dog. And mostly I knew I would need a change of scenery. Well the time came and I was ready to pack my bags.
I had a few ideas of places to go and friends to visit. Then a friend who I ride and race with, Daphne, told me about a training camp she was going to in Colorado and asked if I was interested. It wasn’t out of the country, but it was much more doable and Colorado in the fall would be beautiful. The more I thought about riding up and down mountains and getting very intensive coaching by current and former professional cyclists, the more excited I got about this idea.
Daphne put me in touch with her coach, Alison Powers, who was running the training camp through her coaching company, Alp Cycles. Alison gave me the details of this “High Performance Camp.” Alison described it as: “A long weekend (Thursday-Sunday) in Boulder, Colorado where we dial in bike fit, proper training, nutrition, and recovery methods, strength training form and exercises, determine weakness and start to fix those, and make sure each and every athlete is 100% prepared to kick ass in 2017.”
I told her, SIGN ME UP.
Part One: Acclimating to Mountains and Vacation
I arrived in Boulder on a Saturday and the camp started on Thursday. It was great to have time before the camp to ride around and enjoy a bit of vacation. Daphne and I stayed with a woman, Nina, who was also doing the camp. She and her husband (and their five kids!) opened their home to us and it couldn’t have worked out better. They were incredibly warm and welcoming, and made us feel truly at home. We even got to use their scooter to get around Boulder (OMG SO MUCH FUN).
On Sunday we met up to ride with some former Chicagoans who made the move and now live in Boulder. This was my first experience riding up and down a mountain and I was excited, but also very unsure what it was going to be like. It was a 10 mile climb with nearly 3,000 feet gained. According to Strava, this is a “Category HC Climb” which according to Wikipedia: “Hors catégorie (HC) is a French term used in stage bicycle races to designate a climb that is "beyond categorization"...The HC climb is the most difficult type of climb in a race.” WELCOME TO COLORADO!
The climb up was hard, but I like hard rides, plus the views were amazing. I kept asking myself how this is real-- it just looked too picturesque to be real.
We got to the top (or at least for us) and stopped for snacks and water at a tiny, accurately odd mountain village general store. It actually felt pretty foreign and I loved it.
Then it was time to go down.
HOLY CRAP descending is hard and scary. Before we started this ride when I was chatting with one of the guys, I mentioned I was most nervous for the descent. He told me “just go slow” and I followed his suggestion. Everyone else was out of sight in no time and I was left wondering how are they doing that??! The road was actually quite bumpy at times with “washer board” ripples in the pavement, not to mention the sporadic patches of gravel and technical curves. It was so bumpy that at one point my water bottle fell out of my cage.
I was gripping my hoods (not in the drops, bad!) and squeezing my brakes so much, my arms and hands ached by the time I got to the bottom. But I wanted to do it again. It’s obvious this is the kind of thing that gets easier with time and it would take practice. Daphne and the guys told me how they learned-- by following another person down and staying on their wheel. Luckily I had a full week ahead of me to practice!
We came home and 13-year old Anya was making waffles. Like I said, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay.
Later we went to watch the Cyclocross race a few miles away in Valmont Bike Park. It was pretty cool to see a cross race that was not part of the Chicago Cross Cup. We watched the Women’s elite race and it was a tough battle between the two leaders which made for a very exciting race.
On Monday I set out on my own for a long road ride while Daphne was mountain biking with her coach, Alison. I told Nina I was hoping to not go straight up and down a mountain if possible and she helped me find a good route. While I really liked the ride I did the day before, I wanted something a little longer, a little less scary and challenging since I was alone, and really, I wanted to go for a good, fast ride. I like to go fast and that’s just not really doable when you are climbing for 10 consecutive miles. Plus she told me even going for a “flat ride” in Boulder I could still get a couple thousand feet in elevation.
There was a “Red Flag” advisory due to the high winds and it was for real. Nina urged me to head out sooner rather than later as the winds pick up in the afternoon. It took about 15 minutes to get out of the residential areas and onto a big open road that is popular for cyclists because there are no stops and a big smooth shoulder. There was a decent amount of traffic and the speeds were high, but the shoulder was really big so it was perfect.
Riding out I had a nice tailwind but every now and then a side gust would come and I’d have to really lean into it to stay steady. At times it was kind of scary but I told my myself it is good practice and to it’s good to get comfortable riding in that kind of wind. Coming back into the headwind was much harder but made for a good, challenging ride. I made sure to stop and enjoy the scenery and really take it all in. The wind started to pick up and the gusts were so strong it was becoming harder and harder to control my bike so decided to head back.
After my ride I went to Chautauqua Park which is practically in the backyard of where we stayed. It’s a big popular park with lots of hiking trails and a cute dining hall. I ate lunch on the wrap around porch of the dining hall and enjoyed the hefty breeze from a non-moving seated position.
Then I went for a hike, and suddenly started to really miss Scout. I don’t really go for walks just for the sake of walking anymore and it felt weird without Scout. I got hit by a strong wave of sadness and then a rather large black bird with white markings flew in front of me and landed on a tree branch that hovered across the trail. I stopped and thought about Scout and while he is gone, he is still very much with me.
After my hike, I napped, rode the scooter to a yoga class (where the instructor sang!), restocked my supply of snacks, and had dinner with the family. I’d call day two a raging success.
Daphne and I planned to ride up Flagstaff on Tuesday. Flagstaff is the climb I had heard about prior to the trip and we were staying practically at the base of this climb. It’s about six miles up and 2,500 feet gained. Oh god.
We started with a nice warm-up that ended up being a little longer than planned due to a wrong turn. We discovered this when we came to a dead end that is the El Dorado State Park. We went through kind of a unique little neighborhood that had a weird vintage/ghost town feel to it. It was really pretty and I was happy to get the extra miles. Then we made our way back and started to climb.
Okay, this was really hard. Perhaps the hardest ride I have done. Breathing felt more difficult than the first day and I felt like I began gasping as soon as we started. I tried to settle into a steady rhythm but it was really tough. The grade fluctuated here and there so there were a few times to get a little recovery but not really -- it was just less steep.
Here is the Strava profile of the ride.
At one point when it got more steep I was really struggling and started to wonder if I was going to make it. It can be very tempting to tell yourself it’s okay to stop and take a break. But to me, that is a very slippery slope. Being a competitive racer requires dealing with pain and pushing yourself past perceived limits. It hurts and it is supposed to. Stopping because it is hard would give me the message “I can’t do this, I have to back down.” Instead when I hit those moments that really make me question my ability I start the positive self-talk tapes. On this ride I told myself “You can do this, all you have to do is pedal and breathe. That is all.” And so I did and I made it up. And I was very proud of that. Daphne was waiting at the top, like she just went for a casual ride, but I knew it was hard for her too. I took a few deep slow breaths to get my breathing back to normal and wiped the drool from my chin.
Then we went down and I became much more aware of how technical it was with a lot of tight turns. Daphne flew away so smoothly. I was envious but it gave me hope. My max speed was 32 and her’s was 57. FIFTY-SEVEN. Daphne has done a lot of descending and is VERY GOOD at it, something I told myself as I was starting to feel a little down on my lack of descending skills. I have found that comparing yourself to others is not terribly helpful, especially when the other person is more experienced than you. I reminded myself we all have a starting point and what matters is that you work to improve. Instead of feeling bad about it, I was excited to practice the tips Daphne gave me and to to learn from the coaches during the camp.
Wednesday was our last day before camp started and we decided to take a day off the bike and go to Estes Park, located about an hour up from Boulder. A former Chicagoan, Stefano, a friend of Daphne’s opened a bike shop cafe there called Via Bicycle Cafe so our plan was to stop there for coffee, meet up with Luke and Sam from Ten Speed Hero who were also in town, and then go for a hike.
Stefano gave us the great recommendation to go go Bear Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I had never been to the Rocky Mountains and was very excited about all this. Again I kept asking myself if this was real but I was starting to get used seeing giant snow top mountains.
The weather in Boulder had been very warm but up in the Rocky Mountains, there was snow on the ground and puffy jackets were required. We had a really lovely hike and got pretty adventurous, climbing boulders to get to the furthest and highest point in Bear Lake, Lake Hiyaya. I enjoyed it all, though for a moment had a twinge of “this is the perfect 20/20 story… four friends go hiking up a mountain sorely underprepared…” We were fine, but when you have to walk across a slippery log to cross a stream, notice you are eye level with clouds, the snow suddenly picks up, and you're in gym shoes with wet gloves, you start to wonder if it is a good idea. It was a great idea, we saw a herd of elk, and had a spectacular hike.
Part Two: Alp Cycles High Performance Training Camp