I'm home now and a little depressed. You remember the build up to Christmas then the let down when it was all over. It's like that only 10 times worse. I achieved a great thing at TransPortugal, I found my limits and there is something truly spiritual about taking it to your physical edge. It's a way of getting to know yourself deeply.
Stage 3 - The Mountain Stage
I woke very stiff and my sit bones were super sore. No open wounds but so tender I was worried I wouldn't be able to tolerate being in the saddle all day. Tom suggested I do a 2 short day and that helped the tenderness even if it didn't help my dead legs get up that first steep hill. In my mind, if I could make it through this day, I could finish the whole race.
There were 3 bigs climbs in the day. Kim Kreb and I started together each day. She is a better climber and is all around faster and fitter than I am, so it's nearly impossible for me to stay with her. But there is some technical descending on day 3 and I was able to pass her on a difficult Roman cobble descent. Then it was all over. She regained a lead on me in no time on the next climb. There were large portions of the climbs that I could not ride. They were steep, I was tired and I was running a 2 x 10 drivetrain. I walked, a lot, but it was apparent very quickly that when I walked, I wasn't going that much slower than those who were passing me. In fact, I was giving my back and my bum a break while being pretty efficient about going up.
In the end, I finished the stage with 1 hour or so to spare, rocked the technical descents and was featured in the stage's video of the day. That's me from 3:23 on. The stage finished with a chilly fast 10 km descent on pavement into the town of Unhais de Serra, and the very fancy H2Otel.
When I showered I was unhappy to find an open area over my left sit bone but I was exstatic with my performance for the day. For the first time since starting the race I felt like I was going to make it to the finish line.
Stage 4 - A rest day???
I now had the task of getting up even earlier each day to clean, dress and tape my saddle sores to keep them from getting worse. My morning routine was now taking about 1.5 hours and eating further into my sleep time but I was assured that this day was going to be easier.
Apparently 110 km is a rest day in Portugal. To be fair, the first 80 km were relatively flat. Well Portuguese flat which really means rolling. Then we headed up into the amazing villiage of Monsanto. This is one of the oldest settlements in Portugal with houses build into the stones.
When I say up, I mean really up, like greater than 15% grade on Roman cobbles. Ouch.
The rest of the day was rolling and while it may have felt like a rest day to my fellow racers, it didn't to me. The cumulative fatigue was beginning to be a problem.
Stage 5 - Another 144 km with 40 km of climbing at the end??!!
The first 100 km of this day were glorious. Relatively flat with a lot of pavement to give my tush a rest. I was able to stay with Kim for that time and we helped each other out by taking turns drafting. Then the climbing started and I was on my own again. By the end of the day I had finished the stage with about 1.5 hours to spare on the clock. The stage ends with a nasty climb up Roman cobbles, again, to another amazing hilltop villiage, Castelo de Vide. The first signs of knee trouble started to appear...
Stage 6 - The longest day, 165 km.
I woke exhausted and not confident. The weather was perfect, overcast and cool. The first 30 km of the stage were the hardest with some significant climbing but then we were headed into the Alantejo, the farming plains, were the obstacles would be gates instead of hills.
I rode 40 or so km, was having increasing knee pain and was not fast enough to make it to the finish of the stage in the cut-off times. I had tried pushing harder but the knee pain would get worse. I was miserable and had been for nearly 4 hours without any sign of my attitude turning around no matter how many mental tricks I tried. I had to make a choice, push on and risk likely being pulled off the course late in the stage, exhausted or pull out at the 53 km mark at the next checkpoint, get some rest and hope to come back better for the last 3 stages. I decided to pull out. It was a hard choice and I cried when I got in the truck. But the people of TransPortugal are amazing, they consoled me and hugged me like family. I have come to think of them as family, especially Anontio Fael, Lena Ferreira, Pedro Cardoso and Jose Carlos.
There is no race anywhere in the world that can compete with TransPortugal in terms of the Staff.
I hung out at Checkpoint 3 for a while, taking a nap in the truck until Tom came through. He was ready to quit but was convinced otherwise by a Portuguese rider and he went on to have a pretty good day. I went on to have a pretty good rest.
I don't regret my decision to stop that day, even more than a week later when hindsight is 20/20. I know that I was heading for a collapse of some sort and choosing to stop that day held it off and allowed me to finish the next 3 days.
Stage 7 - What a difference a day can make.
I woke excited about the day ahead of me and while my legs certainly weren't fresh, they were world's better than they had been. I still had saddle sores to deal with but my management stragety was working and they actually seemed to be getting better, not worse.
On this day other riders started having a lot of trouble with gut issues. A virus was going through the ranks, not just the riders but the staff and the companions. By the end of the day, as many as 10 people would be in hospital getting IVs. My starting buddy Kim was affected. The day was long but relatively flat with a fair bit of pavement riding. I decided at the start of the day that the best thing I could do was to stay with Kim all day and make sure she was OK and finished.
It was a long day. Made longer by my mistake of washing all the sunblock off my hands at about km 50 when I spilled perpetuem on them. I had no gloves on and this resulted in a fairly siginificant sunburn. Kim finished with a very unhappy tummy and I rolled in with her, tired but happy with my day. We only had about 45 min to spare on the clock. It makes it difficult to recover when you have so little time in the evening after each stage.
Stage 8 - Another 140 plus km with a ton of climbing!!??
Well, I was exhausted again, my knee was hurting at breakfast and I couldn't eat much. I was looking at one of the hardest stages of the race and not feeling very confident. I went back to the hotel room after breakfast complaining of knee pain and not knowing if I should start. I wanted to tape my knee but I didn't think I'd make my start time. Tom convinced me to tape it even if it meant I was late to my start. So I did a quick clean, dry, tape and wrap and managed to make it to the start just in time. Kim was feeling better and was ready to return the favour today by riding with me all day long.
It was a hell of a day and I will save you the details. Needless to say, I was a really grumpy girl when I turned up that last steep pitch when I thought I was done climbing. Grumpy enough to get off my bike bike to walk and curse a bit. This seemed to amuse Kim somewhat. We rolled into the finish with less than 45 min to spare and I headed straight into the bar for a beer. I knew that if I could finish this stage, I could make it to the sea the next day. I don't think I've ever been more proud of a finish. This day took all I had to get it done.
Stage 9 - How hard can 99 km be?
The last day. The easiest stage. Not flat but short and by km 50 you are riding along cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean with the most amazing views you can imagine. Many ride this day with an easy effort. That was my intention, I wanted to be a tourist. I wanted to stop at cafes and soak up the views, bask in my accomplishment. I did that, for about 45 km then I hooked up with Tom and he pushed me, as hard as I dared go for the last the leg of the journey.
I don't remember much about the stats. I know I came in much earlier than I normally would compared to other riders. It was a beautiful day and the sights did not disappoint.At the end there was beer and food and the sea. And joy.
Here's the day's video. I get a quick shot at 2:00, Tom and I riding together at 2:50 and of course in the staff and athlete shot at the end.
Bottom line: This is an amazing race. It's challenging but worth every bit of misery in what you get back in views, new friendships and support from the race organization.