This past weekend was my cycling team's training camp in southern Illinois. We spent four days riding on some very hilly roads (particularly compared to the very flat roads of Champaign County) in what turned out to be some fairly nasty weather (much like last year).
The ride schedule was mostly the same as last year. About half the team went down a day earlier this year to get in one additional ride. We started out on Thursday from Giant City State Park and did a quick climb from Makanda up to route 51. This is a two mile long climb that got the heart pumping right away. On the way back down I hit 45.3 mph trying to keep up with fearless Jay. Last year on this same hill I only hit 39.1 mph.
From there we headed to Bald Knob, the highest point in southern Illinois. This is the same climb we would be doing on Friday, so this was just a warm up. We intended to go nice and easy, but those intentions never seem to work out. We rode a litter harder than we planned, and probably a little harder than we should have.
I was pretty exhausted by the time we returned to our cabins in Giant City to clean up. We drove to Carbondale for dinner at the Italian Village, followed by some window shopping at closed bike stores, before picking up Dan who took the Amtrak train from Champaign. After returning to Giant City I slept for 10.5 hours.
Friday we rode to Lick Creek to meet the rest of the team members who were staying in cabins there. From there we rode over to Bald Knob again. The entire group was much bigger and rode much faster. I was pretty tired from Thursday's ride, so it was tough just getting there.
At a gas station stop I made the mistake of taking too long to strap my little Flip video camera onto my bike and ended up missing the group as they rolled out. I had to chase for a couple miles, including the really big hill were the group split up. I caught up with several riders on that hill and a few of us hauled ass to try to catch up with the lead pack. We didn't quite make it as they reached the Bald Knob climb before us and we picked our way through the remnants of that group on the way up the climb.
The remainder of the ride was much easier as everyone was tired by this point. We refueled afterward with a big dinner at the Giant City lodge, which, despite not having any vegetarian entrees on the menu, has a number of delicious sides, including wild rice, mashed potatoes, corn, salad, etc. After dinner I quickly fell asleep for 9.5 hours.
Saturday's ride was 100 miles, going from Lick Creek to Golconda and back. At the start of the ride it was 50˚ and drizzling rain. The rain came and went all day, but the temperatures got colder. During one two minute stretch I was even pelted with pea-sized hail. We split into two groups. Given my fatigue from the previous two days (and the fact that I am supposed to be tapering for the marathon) I wisely chose to ride in the slower group. We faced a stiff headwind the entire first half of the ride. Despite the nasty weather we had a pretty good time. It was a tough ride, very hilly. The group would split up on the uphills they we'd come back together on the flats and downhill sections.
Half of our group chose to turn around at 37.5 miles rather than ride the full 50 to Golconda. The first 10 or so miles after we turned around were actually somewhat pleasant. Sure, I was soaking wet, but we had a good tailwind and as long as I kept moving I stayed plenty warm. Around this time the sun actually came out for about 30 seconds. Soon after came lighting, thunder, driving rain, hail, a drop in temperature, and a change in wind direction. We faced a headwind the rest of the way back.
After the ride I changed into dry clothes, munched on some snacks and chitchatted while we waited for everyone else to finish. Then we all packed up and headed over to the Giant City Lodge for a team banquet. Saturday was all you can eat fried chicken night at the lodge. This is going to sound crazy, but that's actually what I ordered. I simply didn't eat any of the chicken. The meal also had all you can eat mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, etc. Everyone placed the same order and huge plates of food were served to us family style.
We awoke Sunday morning to temperatures in the mid-30s, howling winds, and damp roads. The ride was much shorter, but still challenging. We coasted down to Makanda then took turns climbing the two big hills heading out of the valley. One was long and gradual, the other was short and steep. I did five climbs before deciding my toes would fall off if I did any more.
And that was it. Training camp was great fun. We had some tough rides in tough conditions. Most importantly, I don't think it screwed up my marathon preparations. We'll know for sure in less than two weeks.