Happy Camper

I just got back from my first ever tri camp and it was amazing! I had such a fabulous time and learned so much that I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just start at the beginning.

I flew out to Tucson two Wednesdays ago for a triathlon camp led by Hillary Biscay, Maik Twelsiek, and my coach, Alyssa Godesky. I have been looking forward to this camp since last summer and it has been a major motivator for me throughout this winter. I knew this was going to be a huge challenge for me because of the caliber of the athletes who would be attending the camp. I boarded the plane excited, but also a bit anxious about whether or not I would be up for the challenge. I arrived in Tucson late on Wednesday, in time to get a good night’s sleep for the start of camp on Thursday.

On Thursday, I woke up to beautiful views of mountains. I made my first ever attempt at assembling my bike, which actually went okay, amazingly enough, and picked up some groceries. Soon enough it was time to get ready for the first activity of camp – an easy shake out run.

I ran in the back of the pack with a couple of other women. We chatted about our experiences in triathlon and our goals for this year. Although things started out nice and easy, I learned pretty quickly that Tucson has more hills than Northern Virginia (that’s called foreshadowing, people!). Our group slowed down a bit, but ended the run with smiles and with some goodies from our camp goody bags.

After the run, we went out for a delicious group dinner at a lovely Mexican restaurant with live music and I had the first of many Mexican meals I would enjoy during my short time in Tucson.

On Friday, we had a long and challenging ride to Madera Canyon. I rode with Alyssa and three other women. The ride was beautiful! We rode through the desert and saw lots of cacti and free roaming cattle. We practiced riding in a pace line, which I find terrifying, but I know is good practice. We rode on an Indian reservation. We stopped to take some photos along the way. It was a really fun and beautiful ride.

The challenging part of this ride was not only that it was my second longest ride ever (about 90 miles for our group), but also that it included a ten mile-long, slow, steady climb.

Climbing (below).Β Alyssa somehow got me to smile for this photo, even though I felt like I was moments from death.

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I’m not going to lie that this climb was a challenge for me. I think, in part, because I was already tired before the climb began. My group got a bit of a boost, however, when the faster groups gave us some cheers as they made their descent. One of the best things about camp was how supportive and encouraging everyone was, spanning all ability levels and experiences in the sport. I was so appreciative of those cheers!

When I finally made it to the top of the climb, I was elated and momentarily forgot how tired I was, as we took photos of the spectacular view.

The view from the top of the climb (below).

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Tucson is really beautiful and we got to see some great sights on our first full day of riding. We rode about 90 miles in just over 6 hours.

After the ride we had an hour-long swim session, however, I’ve blocked most of that out of my memory because it involved a lot of band-only swimming. #wompwomp

On our second full day of camp, Saturday, we had planned a long morning swim at the beautiful University of Arizona outdoor pool, however, about 700 yards in, we had to get out of the pool because of a thunderstorm.

Ominous looking clouds above the pool (below).Β 

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We tried to wait out the storm, but ended up leaving the pool and moving our planned afternoon ride over Gates Pass to the morning.

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View from the top of Gates Pass (above). The photo doesn’t even do the view justice. It was so beautiful!

The Gates Pass ride is short, but extremely steep. It was definitely the steepest ride I’ve ever done. Not only was it hard work, but it was also a bit disconcerting because there wasn’t much of a shoulder and there were lots of cars. I think Maik knew I was nervous and he kindly rode next to me on the left side to give me a bit of a buffer from the traffic. Like the day before, something magical happened when I reached the top of climb – I was so happy about making it that I forgot how tired I was!

Later that day, we returned to the pool to finish up our swim from the morning. Our lane started from scratch, which wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but for the warm-up being the hardest part of the workout for me. Because we started over again, I had to do it twice! But, I made the interval on the whole warm-up, finished strong, and ended up with 5700 yards for the day.

Sunday was my big day – Mt. Lemmon!

I had read so much about this ride on social media that it came to epitomize training in Tucson for me. Leading up to camp, this was the workout I had my eye on as my big goal for camp. I emailed Alyssa before camp and said something to the effect that I didn’t care how long it would take me, but I wanted to make it to the top of Mt. Lemmon. I had told my family and friends about the ride and how you are rewarded for your hard work when you make it to the top because there are giant, fresh-baked cookies at an aptly-named “Cookie Cabin.”

The mountain was closed in the morning because of the weather, but we finally got started on our journey around 11 a.m. From the start, I felt strong and knew I just had to keep moving. Alyssa had told me during the Madera ride that it’s harder to stop and start again than to just push through, so I had that in the back of my head. I also had the Cookie Cabin in the back of my head. I kept telling myself “just get to the top, and get your cookie.”

I was riding with Hillary and Holly and moving along well. For a while, Hillary and I were just chit-chatting and it was great to have that time with her. It was also a great distraction from the work I was doing to climb the mountain. She and Holly moved in front, but I told myself to stay on their wheels. When we had practiced the pace line on the Madera ride, Holly told me that you need to stay close because once you fall back a little, it’s really hard to hold on. Again, one of my favorite parts of camp was everyone’s willingness to share advice with me. I hope they all know that I was listening and filing those tidbits away for future use. And, here I was on Lemmon using one of Holly’s tips from two days before! (You can find Holly’s take on tri camp here.)

As you go up Lemmon, the vegetation changes. No more cacti. Lots of pine trees. As the elevation signs passed by – 6,000 feet, 7,000 feet – it got harder to breathe and really hard to breath and eat. Another tip I picked up at camp is how much you need to eat to maintain your level of performance throughout a workout. This was getting harder as we climbed. I ran out of fluids, too, and Hillary had to pass me one of her bottles.

At some point, several riders – even those in a stronger group than mine – had turned back because of the weather conditions on the mountain. It was cold, foggy, and icy. But I was determined. Hillary was awesome. She knew how important this was to me. She sensed my determination. So we bundled up in winter gear where others were turning around and she pulled me all the way to the top of that mountain! My Garmin tells me the ride up the mountain was just over 29 miles, but with 5,878 feet of climbing! (To put this in perspective, my usual Saturday morning “hilly” group ride is about 21 miles with about 1,600 feet of climbing). It took me just under 3.5 hours to make it to the Cookie Cabin.

This is my favorite photo from camp (below). It’s not very flattering, but it is my proudest camp moment. Me with a cookie at the famous Cookie Cabin!

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I was elated! My roommates, Leslie and Maggie, were so proud of me! It was awesome!

Soon enough (too soon if you ask me!) the whole group was descending down Mt. Lemmon. Just as I did on the climb, I followed Hillary’s every move on the descent.

Hillary and I in full winter gear descending Mt. Lemmon (below).

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We got to the bottom of the mountain safe and sound, but the fun wasn’t over yet! This was a brick! I changed quickly into my running clothes and headed out for a three mile run. My assignment was 1.5 miles easy out, 1.5 miles hard back. I really pushed on the return, so much so that I thought I may puke. But I made it back without my famous Cookie Cabin cookie reappearing. Alyssa was proud and I was happy.

There is no time to rest on your laurels at tri camp! The very next morning we were up and at it early once again for a trail run through the desert.

I ran with Maik and two other campers. I was definitely sore and tired from the day before, so I won’t pretend this was a stellar performance on my part, but it was definitely fun. And the views were amazing. I kept looking at the scenery instead of my feet, which led to several near falls and one actual fall. But I got through the 2.5 hour run relatively unscathed.

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Photo from the trail (above).

After the run, there was just enough time for a quick shower before heading to the airport.

In the end, camp was better than I could have ever imagined. I pushed myself mentally and physically, I made new friends, and I learned so much. I can’t say enough about how generous everyone was in sharing their knowledge and experiences. I love this sport!

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5 thoughts on “Happy Camper

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