Recently a small group of us escaped the slightly colder sunshine of Vancouver for 9 days of winter training in the slightly warmer sunshine of Tucson. Wait, what?! Yes Vancouver was sunny the entire time we were away; in fact I think Tucson had more rain…
We rented a small house on Air B&B. Our lovely host Lee met us the first night to answer any questions we had, have a glass of wine and suggest some fun non-cycling activities.
We quickly overtook his entire house with 4 bikes, multiple rollers, massage sticks, electrolyte powders, gels, recovery powders and a monster amount of food from Trader Joes in preparation for the days ahead.
I had made the assumption I’d be given a rest day from my coach during this trip; a few text messages assured me this was not in his original plan but that I could book them off myself! Perfect, two ½ days booked off in TrainingPeaks to play tourist and ‘only’ a 2hr run scheduled for those days, full training days otherwise.
Over 9 days I clocked up 36 hours of solid training; 1.5hrs of swimming, 27hrs of cycling, and 7.5hrs of running.
There’s a good reason a lot of PROs spend their winter here, aside from the dry climate and sunshine the riding here is pretty hard to beat. For anyone thinking of riding here check out this site listing the Top 10 best rides in Tucson.
We had a solid first week of training; nearly all of us avoiding the rain and hail that occasionally passed through. Darcy met his match one day getting hailed on while 8000ft up Lemmon. I was not sorry to have missed that one as he deemed it ‘the worst ride of my life’ and ‘crashing would have been better’…
Our non-training highlight was definitely an afternoon spent in Tombstone, a town just over an hour outside of Tucson. Tombstone was one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the American Old West and is best known as the site of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We got to watch Sara in a western style gunfight, drink cheap $2 beer and watch a comedy western. It’s debatable what was funniest, the comedy western itself or several extremely drunken audience members intent on participating!
For anyone who likes to run and hike Sabino Canyon is an amazing place. I had a great run there one day along Bear Canyon trail. This passes a giant water pool shown in the photos below, well worth a visit!
Two rides I really didn’t want to miss out on while here were the Tucson Shootout and a climb (or maybe two) of Mt.Lemmon.
The shootout happens every Saturday; it is Tucson’s oldest and most famous group ride. During the winter PRO cyclists and triathletes ride it for fast tempo training; it’s essentially a 100km un-sanctioned race.
For us this was day 8. I rolled out of bed pretty cracked, non-verbal and unsure if my legs had anything left in them.
Roughly 60 cyclists rolled out from Starbucks on Euclid at 7am. More joined and the group quickly swelled to well over 100 within a few miles; I only counted 7 women on the ride that day.
The first 10 miles roll out at a somewhat mellow pace with an entire side of the road overtaken by cyclists and some jostling for position. I made sure to stay near the front in the hope of not being instantly dropped and looked around at some very fast riders!
Once you cross Valencia at the edge of the city it’s ‘game on,’ the pace ups pretty dramatically and then it was a case of, ‘how long can I hold on for?’ Some time passed, I stuck on wheels moving around a bit, trying to hide from the wind.
At some point while I was sure I was still pedaling I appeared to be going backwards and a little later I was unceremoniously dropped! I ended up in a chase group that built to around 30 riders.
I had briefly looked at the shootout route before leaving, but when 8 guys in front of me made a right turn (there are no right turns on the shootout) for some unknown reason I turned with them!
I knew I’d well and truly left the shootout when a while later I saw the lead group from it pass us in the other direction.
It turns out the group I was now with were practicing the course for the next weekend’s road race, the Tucson Classic.
They set up a rotating paceline, into a brutal headwind. Frequently someone would attack and everyone would give chase.
I felt myself beginning to crack, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t drinking and I had no idea where I now was. I was however, doing a good job of death gripping my handlebars and willing my legs to go harder.
Every time someone attacked I would count to 10 telling myself it would be just 10 really hard seconds then whoever would be caught; there was a lot of counting to 10!
I finally came to my senses, shoveled some food in, downed an entire bottle and then finally we reached the edges of the city again. At this point we joined with some of the juniors and the pace became more sedate.
I crawled home, lay on the floor, ate and showered. I went back to bed and I passed out, utterly exhausted. That was a hard 125km!
What better way then to spend that evening than by recovering at ‘The Roadhouse Cinemas.’ For $12 you can watch a movie in a lazyboy recliner complete with a full dinner service. You can even press a light next to you for service mid-movie! One word, amazing…
The following day, day 9 a climb to the top of Mt. Lemmon was scheduled! Mt. Lemmon, aptly described; ‘If you love to climb and descend this is the ride for you!’
There’s 40km of gradual climbing at a 4-6% grade, ending with an optional leg-busting final climb to the observatory, pitching up to 12%. There’s 7639 feet of climbing to the observatory.
Given that I’d been awake the night previously with quad cramping I wasn’t too hopeful. However, I set off a little cockily thinking, ‘oh this will be fine.’
A few days previously we’d done a slightly shorter climb of Lemmon to the cookie cabin, then I’d felt pretty good, this was just adding another 800ft to that, on some very tired legs!
I felt pretty decent till about 2hrs in when I pushed hard and hit a total wall; shoveling in extra gels did not help, I just then felt extremely sick. You know you’ve really started reaching your limits when you start thinking such crazy thoughts as ‘at least if I crashed I could rest,’ the side of the road had never looked so inviting!
Lemmon also has helpful mile markers; they let you know how far from the top you are, wow do those mile markers ever go by slowly when you’re having a tough day…
Those final few steep minutes on compacted snowy roads up to the observatory really tested both Darcy and I and there was definitely some swearing (Darcy)
I’m usually not a fan of descending but Lemmon’s wide roads and swooping turns make this a delight, especially as at that point you’re done and going down. You can happily pedal with no need to touch the brakes!
Our second ½ day tourist foray saw Darcy and I making a run for Mexico! We parked on the US side, crossed the border on foot and spent a few hours in Nogales, Mexico.
A sign of the failing medical system in the US was evident by the wealth of dental clinics, pharmacies and even plastic surgeons in Nogales. Primarily however, people come here to shop. Not having any room in our suitcases we did nothing more than walk around. Our US border guard on re-entry left a little to be desired; despite talking with him in English and showing him my UK Passport he still thought I was Spanish!
We’re now back in Vancouver again and it’s been a rest week for me. Next up it’s time to start working on some leg speed and prep for some up coming running races!