Jul 30, 2009

NYC Nautica Triathlon

Bravabella first checked in with Sarah O’Brien Hammond almost eight months ago, she had recently completed her first triathlon three weeks post new baby Sophia. Sarah is back in tri-action full time with Sophia as her good luck charm and coach/husband Brian Hammond of the Everyday Triathlete (who also lends BB a hand with training). She gives us a play by play of what it was like to compete in the NYC Nautica Triathlon.

I love the NYC Triathlon. I love everything about it. I love that it is in my home town and I don’t have to take a plane or drive to the race. I love that I know the course inside and out and I love the energy that exists here in NYC. What I didn’t love this past Sunday morning was waking up at 4:30 am and seeing that it was raining. Major bummer! I wasn’t looking forward to racing in the rain, but hey you got to do what you got to do. Off to transition I went to set up my gear with my coach, Brian Hammond from The Everyday Triathlete.

Upon entering transition a miracle happened—it stopped raining! I couldn’t have been happier. I wasn’t sure if the rain would hold off the whole race, but this was a good start. I walked the mile up to the start of the race and prepared myself mentally as we walking along the river eying the stretch of water in would be swimming in shortly. My goal was to place in the top five of my age group and beat my personal best time for an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) of 2:35. My age group was finally called and into the Hudson I went! The water was a nice temperature (71 degrees) and was very clean (contrary to everyone’s beliefs). The current was working in our favor and I was stoked.

NYC Triathlon swim. Photo courtesy of New York Times

We started in the water with one hand on the floating dock keeping us in place. The horn sounded and we were off! My spotting (sighting on the finish of the swim or other object to assist swimming in the best line) has improved tremendously so I felt strong and finished the swim in 19:12. After getting out of the Hudson there was a long run back to transition. I forget just how long that run is when running in a wet suit and no shoes.

I flew out of transition and climbed on the bike ready to hit the West Side Highway - riding alongside the cityscape of NYC is in itself incredible. It had rained all night the roads were still pretty slick so everyone was being a bit more cautious. There was also a bit of headwind which required using aerobars for must of the ride. I pushed hard on the bike but saw many people on the side of the road with flats. My husband later reported seeing a big crash which you NEVER want to see during a race. It can really shake you up even if you aren’t involved. I was feeling a bit concerned because I was really working the bike and my legs were beginning to feel tired. I still had 6+ miles to run after my 26 mile cycle and was a wee bit nervous. I ran into transition finishing the bike in 1:19 and headed off to the run.

The start of the run heralded a steep incline that kicked my butt - it didn’t stop there. I continued running across 72nd street to Central Park which is a steady incline and THEN entered the park which is non-stop rolling hills. It is a hard run and even though I run it four days a week in training, I feel like it never adequately trains you for the actual triathlon. Unfortunately I forgot to hit my watch and get my running splits so I had NO idea how fast I was running. All I knew was that my legs felt like 400 pounds. I heard that if you smile while you run it doesn’t hurt as much. SO I was smiling the whole run—no joke. I figure if anything people would got a good laugh out of me!

Sophie, Brian and Sarah

My daughter kept me going because I knew I would get to see my little good luck charm at the finish. A girlfriend of mine ran with me for about a quarter of a mile giving me the low down of my standings in the race. She told me that the lead runner was two minutes in front of me and I could catch her if I really pushed hard. I really really really wanted to catch her, but I couldn’t make up that two minutes in spite of the cheers from onlookers as well as others in the park just out for a Sunday morning run - gotta love NYC spirit.

I finished the run in 46:44 and settled on 2nd place for my age group—which I was VERY happy with. I not only got in the top 5, but got 2nd place and I beat my personal record by getting a 2:32! I didn’t wait for the awards because I didn’t know I got 2nd place. Needless to say, I was so bummed I didn’t get to receive my ‘hardware’ but hey I learned a valuable lesson. DON’T leave until the awards ceremony—you never know, never give up! I am looking forward to the rest of my season which includes two more Olympic triathlons and finishing with the NYC marathon.

Brava Sarah!

Jul 27, 2009

Swiss Fun Run - 4 miles and 4000 feet of Elevation

Le Gran Muveran

Fun runs have a new meaning these days with race organizers upping the ante as interest and expertise among comeptitors grows. Nowhere is this more true than in the Alps where the severe elevation changes allow for some brutal courses. This past Sunday Cecile Pasche, Melanie Favre and I did the Les Plans-Cabane de Plan Neve run to the base of the Grand Muveran. 6.4 k (4 miles) and 1190 meters (4000 feet) of elevation gain over technical trails. The hut was not accessible by car so anything needed at the top racers had to carry, or else con a friend into hiking up earlier in the day with a large pack. The race was put on by the Ski Club UPA 10 (the alpine patroller union) and very well organized. We could not have asked for a better morning.

Melanie and Cecile

We met in Les Plans sur Bex around 8am. It was a stunningly beautiful village with flowered chalets and looked to be horse country. The sun had not yet risen over the Muveran and it was chilly. We waited inside until the last minute to change clothes to stay warm. The first 3k I was told was rather mellow, a gradual up undulating along the river - it might be damp and a little chilly. We all opted for short sleeves, shorts and of course our ipods.

Race registration in Plan sur Bex
Race registration in Plan sur Bex

About 150 people (30 women) approached the line. We started in a rush, mindful that shortly the road would turn to trail. After a kilometer winding through chalets, we headed up over roots and rocks along side the river. I felt good for about the first 2k, but reminded myself we had not gained much elevation and there was only 4k to go. The next kilometer wound more gradually up into the sun and passed another hut where volunteers were handing out tea and water. To my left there were a few pigs in their fenced off home and dogs chasing the pet rabbit around - gotta love the Alps. Refocusing, I noticed the 3k mark about the same time I saw the head of the course way up on the switch backs above. Aha, there was my elevation gain.

A beautiful finish

The course indeed was steep and I had to alternate walking and running. My legs chose this time to express their distaste with uphill, they had had enough after the five mountain passes I had rather over-ethusiastically ridden inspired by the tour this week. The trail was filled with loose rock and large slabs that were slippery from mud. Another sign at 2k to go, nowhere but up.

“Go Lance!”  I heard Cecile yell behind me, trying to give me some inspiration from the Texan’s podium finish yesterday in Paris. My legs would not respond and she passed thankfully giving me a good pace marker to follow in her bright pink top.

The Cabane de Plan-Neve

The last kilometer flattened a bit and wound round to a final few switch backs and thankfully the finish! We headed down to the cabane for more tea and chocolate enjoying the amazing view - you know it’s a Swiss race when there is awesome chocolate at the finish! After about twenty minutes or so we started to head down the trail better able to enjoy the atmosphere. Back in village we turned in our bibs for race shirts made in Madagascar, an organizer’s daughter had just been studying there for nine months.

Checking out the race souvenir

At the bottom we relaxed at one of the little restaurants and checked out the results. The winning female, Isabelle Florey had competed the course in 1:04′38! Cecile finished in 10th place with 1:16′34, followed by myself in 11th at 1:17′19 and Melanie in 15th with 1:22′51. Brava girls!

Reviewing the results

Jul 25, 2009

Stage 17 TDF - From the Steeps of the Col du Romme

For the third stage in a row I threw all my bike goodies into a and Carrefour shopping bag (best travel bags ever) into back of my little VW Gulf. I got a late start as I had to wait for a registered package to arrive - not just any package, my new XOOD supply, SO worth the wait.

View from Nancy-sur-Cluses

I headed down to Cluses, France which was about forty-five minutes from Chamonix. The weather threatened rain and I received a text from a friend already riding up the Col de la Colombiere that she had pulled over and taken shelter under a tree while the downpour passed. The Tour actually passed almost all the way around Chamonix on the other side of the Mont Blanc Massive through three countries, and today would be the third country I would see the famous race pass through.

I found a parking place rather easily in Cluses and hopped on the bike in a light sprinkle after giving some Austrians directions up to the Colombiere. Taking an immediate right at the roundabout, I headed up towards the Col du Romme. A punishing 8.8 kilometers at an average of 8.9% grade with the first two kilometers maxing out at 11% grade, with the final kilometer at 13% over 795meters (2600 feet) the Romme would be a true test before climbing roughly an additional 7k over an average 10% grade up an additional 633 meters (2070 feet) to the summit of the Colombiere. Brutal.

I could see riders high above, as I rode to the base, colorful helmets bobbing along as they grinded away. Before the steeps kicked in I passed two Trek Travel vans. My parents had ridden a trip with these guys in Bordeaux a while back and gave me a contact should I ever want to do the same. I fired Trek Travel guru Doug Kirby a text saying hello and asking where he might be on course. Just so happened he and crew were at the top of the Romme. Pefect! Much more fun to ride with a goal in mind and new people to meet. I had never met Doug but he had given me great advice on bike routes in past years and it would be fun to finally put a face to the texts and emails.

Waiting out the rain

The start of the route felt a bit like I was riding on a drawbridge that just kept opening higher and higher. Right off the bat I was out of the saddle trying to warm up the legs after a week of steep riding. With each switch back the crowds grew and mid-mountain the terrain leveled a bit allowing me to spin for a wee bit as I traversed the village of Nancy-sur-Cluses. The houses were decorated and many homeowners had painted signs of welcome. This would be the first time the Romme would appear in the tour.

The Awesome Trek Travel Crew

About 3k from the top there was a huge cloud burst so I took shelter under a few trees with some fellow bikers. Water was running down the road and I refused to think about the descent. It was also possible to ride down the other side into Cluses if needed, either way was going to be a mess.

Who needs a heli?

The rain lessened and I took a chance and headed for the top, surprised to find that the village of Romme was decent in size and even sported a small ski area. A group of Alp Horn players stood high on the hill ready to welcome the tour. As I was snapping a photo of the Col du Romme banner, The Trek crew appeared. Jon and Doug recognized me from my bike outfit (I had texted them previously, can’t miss the ZGAspen kit) and it was nice to see friendly faces at the top. I was given VIP treatment and spent the next few hours at the restaurant reserved for Trek clientele. They even had a television brought in and I watched the tour coming closer while eating salad and tartiflette. I even had my bike looked over by Jon, a guide and Trek mechanic. This was the way to go!

Painting words of encouragement for the two Japanese riders, Beppu and Arashiro.

We watched as Thor Hushovd lead the race until hitting the third climb, a category 2 over the Cote d’Araches. As always, the energy grew as they descended towards the Romme. We headed outside to find a good spot along the street for viewing settling on a place just past the barriers after the summit of the col. Again I sat with my camera ready, but this time determined to watch and actually see the riders as they reached the summit.

The lead pack, Kloden, Contador and the Schlecks

Anxious minutes passed and their arrival was announced by the roar of the crow. The lead pack consisting of Contador, Kloden, and the Schleck brothers came screaming over the col.  Followed soon after by a chase pack with Lance, Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins. Thor came cruising over on his own in bright green and I was amazed at how relaxed he looked. The first leaders of the tour did not wear yellow, but instead a green armband. When it was suggested in 1913, the winner Phillpe Thys declined worried that it would encourage others to ride against him. I wonder what he would have thought of the maillot jaune these days, not only a jersey but an outfit from head to toe screaming, “keep up if you can!”

The Green Jersey, Thor Hushovd

The remaining riders crested the col and pointed to the newspapers on the ground. Spectators reacted quickly and handed them out. Bikers stuffed them in the front of their jerseys to break the cold wind before the last climb up the Colombiere. I only took a few shots, more interested in watching their facial expressions and actions. Some stuck their tongues out, others ate and some exhaled and enjoyed the respite before the final climb.

Getting ready for the descent

As before it was all over in a matter of minutes and I hopped on my bike thankful the sun had returned and dried the roads. My bike now had a matter of all different colors of paint on the wheels, a tour souvenir. I descended joining up with a group that seemed to know what they were doing, yelling out commands to riders behind. It was fairly enjoyable until the last 3k or so when a rider in front yelled, “Attention!!” Cars were backed up bumper to bumper and the road was steep and exposed. We descended slowly in the opposing lane moving to the center when a lone car tried to climb the col. Good luck with that, I thought to myself, and made it down the last steep bit and back to the car - my hands actually hurt from braking.

Go George!

The Romme ended my mini - tour, but the more days I watched, the more addicted I became. The riders became people with personalities that I could follow and interact with to a limited degree. I have new respect for their accomplishments after biking some of the steep cols a few days in a row - and I only climbed one each day! It solidified my love for the bike and I can’t wait to watch and ride again next year.

Jul 23, 2009

TDF Stage 16 from the Col du Petit Saint-Bernard

Alberto Contador, le Maillot Jaune, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali

We piled in the car early-ish on Tuesday morning and headed through the Tunnel du Mont Blanc from Chamonix to Italy. An incredible work of architecture, the tunnel extends 11.6 (7 miles) kilometers through the rocky massive of Mont Blanc. Not cheap for a return trip (40E) we thankfully had a twenty punch pass that cut the cost to 7E a trip. Driving protocol is very strict through the tunnel due to a massive fire that killed  thirty-nine people in 1999. After a three year renovation new technology was installed that will prevent further similar disasters.

Chillin’ at the pizzaria

Once through to the other side (which is actually about one hundred meters higher in elevation) Jay House, Phil Martin and parked just outside of Pres St. Dider and hopped on the bikes. The ride to the top of the Col du Petite St. Bernard was about twenty three kilometers (13 miles) rising 1,136 meters (3700 feet) and would wind through a few tunnels and the quaint village of La Thuile. We threw small packs on our backs with flip flops, food and warmer clothing for the cooler weather towards the summit of the col.

Stage 16 passed through three countries over 159 (98 miles) kilometers starting in Martingy, Switzerland, passing through the Aosta Valley in Italy, and ending in the French village of Bourg-Saint-Maurice. We started biking around 12:30, the same time the riders started in Martingy. We headed up the first eight turns (tournati in Italian) marking them by the signs posted. The road had also been recently paved and many bikers were taking advantage of the smooth asphalt while others walked into a good viewing position.


We stopped in La Thuile after about forty-five minutes to check out the crowd and refuel. The roads had gotten much more crowded as we gained elevation and the street painting and costume wearing had begun. Back on the bikes the road switched back a few more times and the peleton of riders heading towards the summit grew in size. Occasionally we had to get out of the way for a tour car or a van selling official tour merchandise. A Tour bag consisting of a small teddy bear with yellow jersey, hat, umbrella and water bottle ran 20E.

My new Italian buddies

The steep switchbacks flattened out to another roadside restaurant. Again taking a moment to regroup and absorb the ambiance, we snapped a few shots and before riding the last 5k to the top. Camper vans took up every inch of real estate of roadside now with groups huddled around portable televisions. Flags of every color decorated the mini villages. The last kilometer passed through a false summit and we finally reached the col banner. Pulling over to take more photos we watched the Tour crew carefully sand over the oil marks on the road, sadly covering some road artwork.

The three of us retreated to the roadside restaurant to eat and watch the tour advance. We made some new Italian friends, including some who had recently attended the Fabio Casartelli memorial fund-raising race. Fabio was a Motorola teammate of Lance’s in 1995 who died in a crash during the tour. Lance later won stage 18 of the Tour and dedicated it to his teammate by pointing to the sky as he crossed the finish line.

Lead pack Pellozo, Van Den Broeck, stage winner Astorloza plus guy running with snorkel

After the passing of the Caravan, we rode down about a kilometer to small spot on a switchback that allowed us to see down the valley as well as both sides of the turn. Again we could see the helicopter down the valley and the riders came into sight on the horizon. Getting into ready position I was determined to get better photographs this time. Without the barriers the crowd closed in around the riders as they rounded the corner with the race cars honking and pushing people back.


First up was the lead pack with king of the hill jersey wearer Franco Pellizoti, Mikel Astarloza and Jurgen Van Den Broek, followed by the main contenders riding in a pack of about ten strong. We cheered loudly and in multiple languages for all the riders, even the last one - know as the red Lantern or the lanterne rouge. In certain years past, this rider has worn a red light under his seat referring to the red lantern hung on the caboose of a train, which conductors would look for to be sure all cars were in order. Spectators began to ride down even before the main pack including the green jersey had passed - incredibly poor sportsmanship that was rewarded with loud booos from the crowd and jeering in Italian. Polizia on motorbikes aggressively rode at these riders, stopping short of their front wheels.

Team Colombia

After watching the crowd take turns pushing up Kenny Robert Van Hummel, the red lantern, we headed down descending into chaos. Bikers of all kinds flying down the hill with camper vans heading both up and down the pass. It was the worst descent I had ever experienced often times having to ride down the middle line of traffic to get anywhere threading my bike through two campers, the side of the road not an option. Safely on the valley floor we stopped to watch the end of the race and headed home as I planned my spectator attack for tomorrow somewhere along the Col du Romme…..

Allez, Hop Hop, Forza!

Jul 22, 2009

Verbier Welcomes the Tour de France

Sunday may as well have been a Swiss holiday in the Valais Canton with over 100,000 people descending on Verbier to welcome the riders of the Tour de France to Switzerland. The atmosphere for stage fifteen was described by many as “Alp d’Huez-like” with crazy costumes and people 3-4 deep along the route. We drove over to Les Chable at the base of the Valley to drop of friend Ruth Martin around 8 am that morning. She offered to be our sherpa and took the cable car up with all our luggage while Cecile Pasche and myself went for a ride.

Start of the Verbier climb

Located in the Vallee de Bagnes (which is know for sometimes cloudy weather and thus breeds hearty souls) Verbier sits high above the valley floor. Later we would tackle the 8 kilometers to the top, but first we headed up valley towards Mauvosin for an hour ride. It was fairly chilly and we passed fellow riders on the way with the same idea, many from all over the world. We watched as the sunlight inch down the walls of the valley and knew it would be getting warmer soon.

The road up to Verbier was closing at one to ALL traffic so we headed back to cycle up and join the masses. The sides of the road were packed with some of the most ingenious camping spots I have ever seen, some in primo places along switchbacks, and others along the side the road with inches to spare - these people better not sleepwalk. One camper attached on end of a hammock to a street sign and the other to a barrier, suspended well into space. We watched as the police thought about telling him to take it down, but then with a nod to one another as if to say, ” weeellllll that is pretty clever,” they let him be.

Cecile and the Italians

Riding up the route we passed many people painting the roads for their favorite teams and riders. It was hard to go more than a few hundred meters without getting offered a beer or taking a photo. A few Italians had a roll of toilet paper and were holding it across the road for the bikers to break through, these guys were awesome. Microphone and beer in hand they announced the riders coming up and cheered and sang. “You come back later,” they kept saying as we biked off.

Italian commentator/bar stop

Once in the village the finish area was closed off so we wandered the streets grabbing something to eat before meeting up again with Ruth. She walked us to the chalet where we would be staying down in Old Verbier. It was beautiful with a stunning view and right on the tour route. Small problem, we were missing a key to get in. No worries, as Cecile was able to climb up and get in over the balcony. Only issue with some European chalets, once you lock the door, its locked - only a key can undo the damage so we created an easier door out the side window. It all added to the fun and adventure of the day.

Cecile climbing up to the balcony with Ruth spotting

We got into position about two hours before the Tour came through. Standing on a switchback about a kilometer from the top we had a view of a TV, were close to a bakery as well as privy to amazing people watching. The Caravan came through first, about twenty parade-like vehicles with riders strapped in like race car drivers throwing out hats, water, candy and distributing a daily newspaper recounting each stage of the tour.

Our crew was fairly lucky, we scored a few polka dot hats which came in very handy in the heat, some yellow Tour bucket hats, a big green hand to wave and some Haribo gummy bears. People were taking each other out for these goodies - free stuff is serious business. We settled in to wait another hour and watched on the big screen as the riders progressed. We could see the helicopter coming down the valley. The riders were getting close. A few specators had climbed to the roof of the old church nearby and sat in the window of the bellfry baning the bell every now and again causing everyone to cheer.

The start of the Caravan

People got into position as it was announced riders were are the 5k mark. We waited cameras at the ready and the team cars started coming through along with the police and flashing lights - this was it! To add to the emotion a different church near the finish was ringing bells Sound of Music style. Around the corner came and Astana rider and a roar came up from the crowd.  Alberto Contador was accelerating as though it was flat ground, his average speed was reported as 30k an hour. I snapped quickly and got half a shot and my excitement made it difficult to hold the camera steady. Next came Andy Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, Frank Schleck Bradly Wiggins, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and then two more Astana riders, Andreas Kloden and Lance Armstrong already about a minute thirty behind Contador.  Fabian Cancelara followed soon after sporting his Swiss jersey and receiving the loudest cheer of all.

Contador in the lead

Riders continued to trickle up and before the main peleton arrived the top finishers were cycling down to return to their team buses and cool down as most were staying in the valley. As they descended, a few high-fived the riders still coming up and chatted to them as they passed. One rider from Colombia threw his bottle to the crowd and a lucky friend behind me caught it and drank from it for the rest of the day.

Lance and Kloden approaching the last kilometer

After watching all the riders fly down the route we headed up to the main town, took in some chow and later some live music. We were joined by our hostess, Nicky Ffrench Blake who had been busy working all day and had kindly offered us room in her chalet for the night. Running and event company called Kando specializing in mountain events and alpine experiences, she had banged out two events in the midst of the tour chaos, one lovely picnic on the side of the mountain, and a luncheon and Tour finish area reception for fifty or so lucky clients. Her day had started at seven with a bike ride and had just finished around nine. She was still smiling and had the perfect events person aura about her. It could be a hurricane on your wedding day and she would smile and come up with a simple solution. We all listened as she explained what it was like at the finish area. We had tried to get close but too many people and too much hill was in our way.

Awesome picnic by Nicky and Kando - looking over Tour chaos

We headed off to bed early exhausted after a long day in the sun. As I fell asleep I started mentally planning how and where I would watch the next stage after the following rest day. Brava Ruth, Nicky, and Cecile for a successful and amazing day in Verbier!

Cecile and me at the last kilometer flag

Jul 18, 2009

Col de la Colombiere

Col de la Colombiere from above courtesy of www.panoramio.com

Tour fever has ruled the roads in France these past weeks. A few days ago I dove in myself and headed up the Col de la Colombiere near Cluses, France.  I also wanted to get primed and ready to follow the Tour for the few days it loops around relatively near to Chamonix. There are many of the famous climbs throughout the Alps and each year I like to try to tick off a few. First included in the Tour de France in 1960, the Colombiere has been featured 18 times, most recently in 2007, it was first “mountain” to be climbed by the tour. This year the Colombiere will be the last class one climb on stage seventeen, July 22 from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand Bornand. While not as exciting a climb without all the crazy crowds waiting for the arrival of the riders, the road was still chalked up from previous races and I could feel a bit of the latent excitement seeping up from the pavement as I rode over the names.

The Colombiere connects Cluses in the Arve valley with Le Grand-Bornand in the Borne valley. The road then leads further to Annecy (where the tour’s final time trial will take place) or over Col des Aravis to the Arly valley and is situated between the Massif des Bornes to the north-west and the Chaîne des Aravis to the South-East.

Elevation gain in meters

I parked my car in a small lot in Scionzier at the base of the climb and started to gear up sporting my ZGAspen kit in order to represent my pals in Aspen. From here the climb would total 16.3 km long over 1108 m. (an average percentage of 6.8%). I had been told the last 3-4k to the summit was the steepest, topping out at 10.2%.

Gearing up with ZGAspen
Congrats to Master’s Champion and ZGAspen Owner Tommy Hayles - Many Thanks for the ZG Sponshorship!

The weather was debatable and I cursed myself for the late start. The road began winding through small villages and I picked up the pace trying to make up for dawdling all morning as afternoon showers were predicted. About four kilometers into the ride another road forked into the main route and I saw an older French male cyclist fall in a few meters behind me. I assumed he would pass soon enough and forgot all about him as I rode listening to Widespread Panic - the perfect antidote to Colorado homesickness.

Village of Le Reposer

The road meandered a bit through the trees until it passed through the village of Le Reposer and the start of the steep stuff. The switch backs began in earnest and I looked back and saw my French buddy. He passed on a corner and I gratefully fell into line and drafted off him. Even though I didn’t know him and could sense he was slightly annoyed a girl was on his wheel, I hung on. It was much more fun than grinding away alone.

We had been biking for about and hour when the grade changed considerably. I had passed him feeling a sudden energy boost as the summit was finally in sight! He had yelled out a warning I could not understand. Turns out he was cautioning me that it was about to get steep, to pace myself and he was right on the money. Strong French guy passed again and this time I did all I could just to push the pedals over and get to the top. I tried to take a bite off the bar in my pocket but due to my huffing and puffing it was hard to chew and I flailed. Thankfully the  XOOD in my water bottle saved me.

En fin, Le Colombiere. Great climbing on peaks in the background

The best sports drink I have tried to date, it was created using all natural ingredients (like pomogranite, mangosteen and green tea) by cardiologists that know their stuff. XOOD (pronounced exude) keeps the GI distress at bay and gave me a push the last twenty minutes to the top.

Finally on the summit I saw about a dozen bikers taking photos. A few gave me the thumbs up and some applauded - my favorite part about riding in France. It is not common for a female to ride on her own and everyone gets respect when the reach the top. Strong French guy gave me a, “Chapot and bonne journee,” (or respect, good job, and have a good day) and headed down the other side. I stopped to have my photo taken and thought about a coke until I looked at the darkening sky. Time to suit up and head down.

The descent was a little shaky up top, the rode uneven, no guard rails and the wind harsh. Lower down the road was repaved, probably in preparation for the tour and was awesome for the descent. The perfect grade and the slight headwind allowed for minimal breakage and I ended the ride with a smile from ear to ear, ready to head to Verbier for the real thing on the 20th.

Thanks to my new sponsor, XOOD!

Jul 16, 2009

Climbing the North Ridge (Nordgrat) of Weissmies

Weissmies Nordgrat

Dating a mountain guide gives new definition to the phrase, “I have a day off, what should we do?” Last week my boyfriend and UIAGM guide Danny Stoffel had a rare day to himself and we decided to climb the Northwest ridge of a peak called Weissmeis above his hometown of Saas Grund, Switzerland. We climb together as much as we can and each year as I gain more mountaineering experience, we are able to attempt more difficult routes. The North ridge would be a challenging route, great preparation for harder goals to come this summer. Rated D for difficult and 4, its a longer traverse over an exposed ridge at high elevation. While not that difficult with rock shoes in a sport climbing arena, it’s made much more interesting with mountain boots, a heavy pack and being roughly 4000m off the deck. Depending on the snow conditions, some of the traverse would also have be done in crampons adding to the adventure.

Heading up to the ridge

Weissmies is part of the Pennine Alpine chain and one of ten four thousand meter peaks surrounding the Saas Valley. Standing at 4023 meters (13,199 feet) the view from the summit is incredible, eighteen four thousand meter peaks are visible. There are three main routes up the peak, the normal and easiest route crossing the Trift glacier on snow from the Hohsaas Hut, the Southern ridge (from the Almageller Hut) and traverse including some rock scrambling, and the North Ridge which is listed in “Walliser Alps top 100 Routes” by Gaston Rebuffat and Michael Vaucher.

We boarded the Hohsaas cable car around ten to eight. I had been up and ready to go since about four am due to jetlag - I knew I would have a limited gas tank before crashing in the early afternoon. Leaving the town’s elevation of 1559 meters we arrived at the Hohsass Hut (3142 meters) in about twenty-five minutes. A small crowd had gathered preparing to climb Weissmies by the normal route. Danny explained we would have about a two hour hike to the top of the ridge and he wanted to try a different route up a steeper snow field of about 45 degrees to avoid having to climb on loose rock. We set off and to his amusement half the crowd followed us thinking he was leading the way to the start of the main route. “They will figure it out soon enough” he said and continued on. It was extremely warm for that early in the morning and I was feeling the altitude as I had just returned from Minnesota two days before. Steady pace and frequent sips of water helped me overcome the shortness of breath.

Taking a breather before it gets interesting

We reached the snowfield and put crampons on zigzagging our way up until we arrived at the top of the ridge in just under two hours, leaving us a good amount of time to get across the ridge to the summit. The only time constraint was reaching the last cable car down at 4pm and of course beating the predicted late afternoon thunderstorms. As we drew closer, I took closer look at the rock we had to cross and realized the challenge climbing some of it would present in big boots and crampons. I loved my La Sportiva Nepals and hoped I was up to the challenge. Just in case I tightened the laces while we split a Snickers. Light fluffy clouds were moving in - a godsend as otherwise it would have been searing hot.

About to get vertical

Danny lead the way across the ridge advancing a few meters at a time. I belayed him off my harness with a Munter hitch or simply by wrapping the rope twice around a horn careful to tell him how much rope he had left as he progressed. He would reach a secure spot and do the same as I followed. We covered ground rather quickly and I was happy to see I was finding my climbing feet again as mountaineering boots can feel awkward at first, especially with crampons. Trusting the small points of steel against the rock can seem counter-intuitive, but easily becomes second nature. Looking down I could see all the scratches on the rocks from climbers before me, an easy way to tell we were right on track. Soon the remnants of snow faded and we took off crampons to resume climbing in boots.

Conquering “Das Ross” or the horse

About an hour in to the traverse we reached some slabby rock that looked rather formidable and I wished desperately for my rock shoes. I watched Danny scramble up while explaining I had to trust my feet (which already felt clumsy).  It was an exposed spot and I could not seem to make the rubber on the stiff soles stick. I made it up mostly using my hands with a pretty accelerated heart rate. I would have many more pitches coming up on which to practice Danny assured me.

We had to change the route a little bit here and there, climbing some more challenging sections. Some of the slab was coated with actual water ice, a think film of ice that covered the rock after a melt freeze cycle. Danny ran up each section quickly and I decided to try the same and use speed to my advantage. It certainly seemed to help and sure enough the Vibram rubber on the bottom of the boots stuck and I was starting to use smaller and smaller toe holds trusting my stance. Certain times we would move along the rock together threading the rope between the rocks as we climbed ensuring a constant belay.

The crux of the climb was called Das Ross (the horse) and only in the past few years was bolted by the local guides to improve the safety factor. The Swiss idea involves leaving the alpine climbing areas pristine with as few bolts as possible, however the guides felt some protection would reduce the huge swing and resulting impact that a climber would take if they were to fall. I enjoyed the crux and found the climbing much easier after some previous forced practice. Nothing like learning as you go - not moving on is not an option. We left the rock behind and put crampons on to ascend the final twenty minutes to the top.

Summit with the North ridge in the distance

It was the third time I had stood on the summit of Weissmies and indeed it was a charm. With stunningly beautiful views we stood alone and watched a few climbers follow our route, red climbing helmets moving in and out of the line of site. A one hour descent in the heat remained and I was dreaming of coke, a shower and a nap, or maybe some Movenpick ice cream, I wasn’t sure. The snow became slushy down below and it was possible to slide/ski down on the crampons saving the knees. We arrived back in Saas Grund at 2:30 in the afternoon. The entire day had taken about six and a half hours in total (four and a half hours to the summit) and in spite of a few short moments of terror was the best climb yet. Not a bad for a last minute day off.

Danny in his element

Jul 12, 2009

Surf’s Up

Surfing at sunset

So you wanna be a surfer but you live miles from the ocean. No problem. Thanks to a fancy boat by Malibu called the Wakesetter, surfing is possible on the freshest of lakes and rivers. Not just any ol’ surfing, this boat eliminates the waiting for the perfect set and the dudes dropping in on your wave. It is now possible to ride the most perfect wave (you can create) as long as you like without fear of being pummeled by tons of gravity fueled water or embracing the coral reefs along the bottom of the ocean floor.

I could do this all day…

Last summer my brother bought a Wakesetter and gave it a home on our watery turf Christmas Lake located in Minnesota. It took some time to tweak the perfect wave, there is definitely a learning curve while trying to imitate mother nature. The process has a few steps and takes about twenty minutes. First, the boat has four ballasts in the hull, one up front, one center, and one on each side in the rear of the boat. An internal pump fills the inner ballasts (also know as MLS or Malibu Launch Systems) adding roughly 1250 pounds to the boats original weight of 3300lbs.

Next there are two large compartments at the rear of the boat behind the engine that can be used for storing wetsuits, life jackets, ropes OR they can be used to add MORE weight. First we experimented with adding sand in lined plastic bags. This was a cheap temporary fix (but not a clean one) until we realized that sand would not necessarily be an excellent flotation device if the boat were to have a problem. Sinkage.

Elizabeth helping fill the Fatsac

Instead we moved on to the FATSAC, not a new lingo term, but instead a portable weight device. They can hold anywhere from 100-1500 pounds. Weight is supplied by water being pumped into the sacks from a small portable pump called the Tsunami that runs off the cigarette lighter. At first, it was a little difficult for me to plug something electrical in and then throw it in the water. It’s best to be out in the center of the lake clear from milfoil and other lake vegetation as it can easily clog the pump.

Getting the boat surf-ready

We have one 400lb sac in the back right corner container as pictured above, and then another 750lb FlyHigh brand sac that sits on the back seat. We call him little Buddha. The best part about the portable weight device is that the pump is also reversible and when finished can be used to reverse the water flow - this is helpful as most boat lifts (used to store boats out of water) can only hold so much weight. The boat fully loaded and ready to churn wave tops out at 5700lbs. As the standard size boat lift can hold only so much, trying to use the electric lift to drag the boat out of the water if all devices left filled would end in broken metal heap on the water and an angry bother.

Annie surfing with a fired up Kathryn

The Wakesetter has a tower above the boat with a trailer-hitch style device to attach the loops on the rope to give the rider more air. The rope itself is about fifteen feet long with a single handle on the end. Surfers sit out behind the boat heels up on the board until the boat moves forward into a slow taxi at which point its possible to use the resistance from the water to place the feet on the board, push the board perpendicular to the water and yell, “ok, hit it!” A punch from the accelerator pops the surfer up on the water and the fun begins.

Annie ready to hit it

The weight in the back of the boat is arranged depending on how you ride, if you are “goofy” with left foot back the left side of the boat will be weighted and the left ballasts filled or if “regular” with right foot back the right side will be weighted giving the boat such a tilt that when parked at the dock it looks like it is sinking. In addition the boat has a “wedge” that is a small sail located under the boat behind the propeller. The sail can be raised and lowered to create a steeper wave and give it curl. Once the surfer drops into the pocket of the wave and finds their balance, they can then throw the rope into the boat and be one with the wave as long as they can.

Kathryn demonstrating perfect “getting-up” technique

Kathryn (pink) keeping could company at the Gila between Nat’l Champ Allison Powers (white) and Olympic Champ Kristen Armstrong (white)

Last week we took her out for a spin and after some adjustments made a pretty cool four-foot wave. At least three people are needed in the boat, four or five is preferable, the more weight the better. We had five people making for some good poundage. My pals Kathryn and Annie were first up. Kathryn, a professional bike rider and ESPN athlete is attempting to head to London 2012. You can read more about her fascinating journey to the olympic games here. Olympics or not, she got up first try grinning ear to ear. A nice break from bike training and fighting off the masses in the peleton.

Kathryn dropping in the pocket

Next on deck was Annie Weissman was part of Bravabella’s extraordinary law team. Annie, a veteran to the sport led the way with her style and expertise. She was also the team videographer providing excellent commentary. Of course we had prepared for our film debut and were properly outfitted in surf gear. I was sporting the Quicksilver and Kathryn in Melika, an awesome female watersport line that is designed for athletic bodies. FINALLY someone who gets it!

Nice work Bananafana

Surfing is ageless as exhibited here my my talented niece and brother. We even get my talented dad out there a few times each year. With such an easy learning curve and close proximity to the boat everyone feels part of the action. We max out at a ripping 9 mph and the falls are soft and easy - the boat is always moving forward so there is no fear of being run over. While I am sure it’s not close to the euphoria of the real deal, and we can’t create another Teahupoo, it sure makes a great substitute and maybe a good trial run for the read deal someday. For more wakesurfing info check the listings here.

Father daughter duo Chris and Elizabeth

Brava Annie, Kathryn and Elizabeth! And Bravo to brother Chris (aka Captian Hook) for providing the endless wave. Never a bad thing to have an othropaedic on board while playing. See you all next summer!

Dr. Chris, the surf guru

Jul 08, 2009

Victory on the 4th of July

Smiles after a surprise third place in the Zermatt Marathon Relay

Its no surprise that the 4th of July goes rather unnoticed in Europe - with the exception of the excitement surrounding the start of the Tour du France. To celebrate our country’s birthday this year my good friend Mara Larson and I decided to sign up for the Zermatt Marathon Relay. Manager of Jagged Globe, Mara was fresh off a two-month stint as Everest Bast Camp Manager and I had just returned from a month at home in Minnesota on the lake. Both experiencing a little transition shock, we needed something to jump-start our fitness training for the summer. The race seemed a perfect inspiration to get started.

Zermatt Marathon Course

This year marked the 8th running of the Zermatt Marathon. The race begins in the town of St. Niklaus at 1085 meters (3559 ft), winding gradually up valley until Zermatt (1650m of 5400 ft) at which point runners were routed up and up, traversing the side of the famous ski area to eventually finish at Riffleberg at 2585 meters (8500ft) with the Matterhorn as a stunning backdrop. The race is unique due to its higher elevation and primarily uphill route. Mara is a 10k runner by nature but trying to up her race distances would take the first relay leg and 600m (2000 feet) of elevation to Zermatt, and I would attempt to tackle the remaining 13 miles and 1330m (4360 feet) of climbing.

Mara gearing up for the start

We arrived early in St. Niklaus as we had signed up last minute and were not on the list of inscribed runners. Prepared to beg to run, they let us sign up courtesy of a small late fee. The town square started to get crowded and I left Mara to get her game face on.  We started to get a little nervous and doubted the wisdom of this “great idea” we’d had. Neither of of us had been running a great deal and now were hoping to pull some endurance from last season. Mara estimated she would do the first 13 miles in 2-2:30 factoring the extreme heat and elevation gain.

I drove back up valley to Tasch and left the car, hopping on the train to Zermatt. All trains were free with race entry for the entire weekend, a nice perk. I waited with other relay runners watching the time on the race clock anticipating when Mara would arrive. Feeling some hunger pains and realizing the importance of never being hungry or thirsty before racing, I bought some Rivella and a few Ballisto Bars. I felt a little unprepared for what I was about to do as I hit the bathroom for like the third time. The blazing sun and heat was not doing much to inspire confidence. I grabbed my Ipod Shuffle. This thing could get me through anything. At the very least it was going to be a beautiful hike.

Mara finishing strong

While I waited in Zermatt, Mara was absorbing the energy of the crowds as she warmed up under the baking sun. In German, and then French, the announcers called the start of race to the massive number of runners and she calculated the countdown by watching those around her finally toe the line. The gun sounded and to her surprise the field went downhill rather than up! It was only a temporary appreciation and around the first bend the road angled back up the valley and the rolling hills up the valley to Zermatt quickly rose back into view.

The first half of the marathon turned out to be a fast and humid mix of asphalt roads and unshaded dirt trails. The heat set in early and after the first 5k water stop it became clear it was a fight for the cold sponges at each aid station. Nearing 10k in Tasch, inspiration took the form of the brass band playing American rock! She told me later that this reminded her of the 4th of July 5k’s back home and  finally gave her the kick start she neededto turn up the engines on the hills over the last 10k into Zermatt, ” I was set on finishing strong in celebration of the 4th!” she laughed.

Lyndsay thrilled the first hill is done

The lead runners came through Zermatt to cheers of a spectator lined Bahnhofstrasse (train street) and I had vague memories of the Patrouilles des Glaciers a year before. Relay runners were to stand to the right of the track as it passed under the banner marking the halfway route of the race. Runners lined the transition gate two deep and I stood back out of the chaos. It was 1:40 into the race and I figured I had some time - but kept one eye on the finish.

Mara accelerated the last kilometer Zermatt not realizing she’d run nearly twenty minutes faster than anticipated and crossed the relay line snapping the chip off her ankle and frantically searched for me in the  line of runners awaiting hand-off. Totally surprised, I stumbled through the crowd, attached the chip to my ankle and after a quick hug, it was Mara’s turn to beeline for the water station and recover in an ice cold dousing, She ran the first section in 1:48, the fastest over-all time for women in the first half of the relay, Brava Mara!

Photo courtesy of www.lauftipps.de

I started running at a mellow pace down the main street, past the church and enthusiastic Swiss band, up to the end of town, back down through the center of the village and then started the numerous zig-zags up to the Sunnegga which would mark the first 900 meters (3000ft) of elevation gain. Anxiety relived by finally starting the inevitable, I paced myself with the other runners around me. Halfway up I changed to a fast walk, my quads sore from a solid day’s mountaineering a few days before. Uh-oh, I thought to myself, this could be a long, hot, fly infested day. The asphalt changed to mountain road and after just under and hour I reached Sunnegga, gaining a second wind thanks to some fairly flat running across the mountain. I had been concerned as I pulled a rookie move using new trail runners fresh out of the box, the Salomon XT Wings GTX, but they were awesome and I didn’t even notice I had new shoes on.

After a slight downhill which was murder on the quads, the course headed back up across some beautiful terrain, over mountain streams and passed quaint on mountain restaurants which doubled as well-stocked aid stations. No need to carry supplies in this race, I walked through each one careful to take in fluids to prevent dehydration. Many hikers were out in force cheering us on with cries of, “Hop, hop”, and “Super!” (pronounced SU-pear). I mentally ticked of each kilometer as I passed becoming more confident I was going to finish. The Matterhorn hovered above and provided ample inspiration. Arriving at the resort Rifflealp, we only had 2 kilometers to go.

I rounded the resort and looked up at the remaining distance to the summit and laughed. The route took a serious turn for the vertical which didn’t surprise me too much, the more races I do in Europe the more I realize the hardest is saved for last due to the severe relief changes the terrain provides. I was passed by three women in the last 3k and couldn’t tell if they were marathon runners, mixed relay runners, or female relay runners. One woman walked by me so fast on the steepest section I thought I was going backwards. Not concerned with our finish I reminded myself, only the experience, I focused on maintaining a constant pace up the last bit of steep terrain that bordered the Gonergrat Railway.

Excellent place for a finish area

Mara met me at what I thought was the finish with some water. “Where the heck is IT?” I asked, ready to be done. “Just a little further,” she replied. I kept going determined to at least LOOK like I was finishing strong. One last uphill providing a panorama of the Matterhorn, bagpiper players and small church plus sheep, I flew down the little hill to the finish in a time of 2:43. The announcer welcomed Lyndsay Meyer and Mara Larson, third-place relay team for women to the finish! I looked at Mara in total surprise and we gave each other a high-five! Not bad for a last minute effort and what a way to celebrate the 4th! We even got to stand on the podium and won 100 Swiss Francs for the effort. Lesson learned, being relaxed and just enjoying the experience is the best way to go.

Searching for a race to try in the Alps? Datasport is the place to start.

Celebrating Swiss-style spoils of victory….

Jul 05, 2009

Two’s Company in the Open Water

I was raised a water rat. Constantly jumping in and out of the lake or getting shuttled to swim practice. I swam competitively for many years and can’t even begin to count the number of laps and flip turns I have completed. I gave up the pool for awhile during college citing burnout, but rediscovered my love of swimming when I found triathlon. As much as I love the mindlessness of a good pool work-out and the ability to tune out, I fell in love with the open water swim.

Kali psyched about the conditions

My neighbor Kali Ofstehagie and I met one afternoon to train together for our respective events. I am training for numerous triathlons as well as a 2.5 mile swim in Lake Anncey in France, and she is gunning for the Lake Minnetonka 5 Mile Challenge on July 18th. The race starts in Excelsior and traverses the great lake to Wayzata. Swimmers start at 6:30 am and must bring their own canoe and fit paddling support crew to cover the distance. I was happy to have a training partner today, swimming can be a lonely sport and having someone visible next to you out of the corner of your eye is a great comfort.

I think I am swimming straight…

Kali, a former state distance free-styler currently manages the popular fitness club, The Firm in Minneapolis. We both raced for the same school (although I was a sprinter) and are seven years apart. I used to babysit her ages ago and drive her to swim practice. Now here we stood, putting on our goggles and preparing to swim an easy mile down the lake where we both were raised.

Kali pointing out our route on Christmas Lake, Minnesota

Open water swimming and long-distance swimming are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their appearance in the last two Olympic games. It was an exhibition sport in Athens 2004, and the 10k marathon made its official debut in Bejing in 2008. The main difference between the two is that long distance or marathon swims often times are from one location to another ( for example across the English Channel), must be a minimum of 10k in distance, forbids the use of wetsuits and pits the swimmer against nature. Open water swimming can be a variety of lengths and occurs in oceans, bays, lakes and rivers.

Kali cruisin’

There are a few differences to consider when swimming in open water. Kali and I both wore brightly colored swim caps so we were easily seen by boat traffic. Some days we trained with someone trailing alongside in a boat to further protect us. We both wear goggles that are tinted and provide UVA/UVB sun protection. The reflection and the glare of the water can be damaging to the eyes. My favorite tried and true googles are the Speedo Women’s Vanquisher. Another issue is sighting - there is no bottom of the pool to focus on, swimmers must occasionally raise their heads and sight on an object in the distance in order to swim in a straight line. I used a white raft at the end of the lake to keep me on course. My first triathlon was hopeless. While I was out front with the lead pack my friend spectating on shore asked me why I swam in such big zig-zags. Sighting takes a little practice and requires a slight modification in stroke technique.

My alternative starting block

Wetsuits can also be used for certain events and are a slight advantage as the suits provide extra buoyancy in fresh water. Salt water being more dense can also elicit the same result. Drafting is also in full effect in the open water swim. If swimming into the wind, swimmers often will sit on the leeward side of the front swimmer at their waist to block the wind. Another technique is the “toe touching” which involves one swimmer directly behind the other. The front swimmer may not appreciate this and give your hands a little kick. Certain rules exist to prevent excessive body contact and swimmers do play mind games out there just like in any other sport. The wetsuits can also protect from the chaos of the mass starts. It is common to get hit, kicked and scratched in the beginning while you seek out your line.

Chaotic mass start

Kali and I chose an amazing sunny afternoon to swim. The lake was glass and a warm 78 degrees. No wetsuits needed today and we swam down the length of the lake marking our progress by noting the docks and boats of our neighbors down the ridge. We swam along observing the fish and lake vegetation as we advanced, stopping to laugh and point when we saw a sunken water-ski course buoy or some sunken piece of metal. Christmas Lake is one of the clearest lakes in Minnesota and we could see all the way to the bottom. The calm water allowed us to swim easily. After a quick 28 minutes we were back at her dock.

Later that night I looked down at the water while the sun set and saw a small boat with a faint light. A fellow swimmer was out with a head lamp training for the English Channel. Bravo night swimming dude and Brava Kali, good luck on the 18th!

My nephew getting ready for his turn.