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Dispatch: Project Penny (Challenge Penticton), Chapter Two

On Aug. 25, three Triathlete magazine editors will tackle the inaugural Challenge Penticton, the Challenge Family’s first race in North America.

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On Aug. 25, three Triathlete magazine editors will tackle the inaugural Challenge Penticton, the Challenge Family’s first race in North America. The colleagues fondly refer to their upcoming endurance adventure as Project Penny, a warm and fuzzy nickname for what promises to be a challenging–yet rewarding–experience. Here’s an update as to how they’re each progressing four weeks out from the big day.

RELATED: Project Penny, Chapter One

Name: Julia Polloreno
Title: Editor-in-Chief
Age: 35

The good thing about taking a 12-day cycling trip to the French Alps during an iron-distance build is that you don’t even realize the volume of “training” you’re putting in because, if you’re like me (an imaginative worrier), you’re either A) fully distracted by the very real prospect of falling down the face of a mountain at any given moment, B) too focused on staying upright during a hairpin descent, or C) so mind-blown by the scenery, you just try to process the magnitude of beauty as your legs spin circles on auto-pilot. And, when it comes to bike training, there is nothing more inspiring than watching world-best bikers hammer up Alpe d’Huez and into the collective, chaotic embrace of European cycling fans during the Tour de France.

My husband, Lance, and I were fortunate enough to visit France last week during Le Tour for my coach Jimmy Riccitello’s annual cycling camp. The experience was nothing short of phenomenal—the rides, the people, the food and wine, the first-class attention to every detail, the wine. Jimmy has been hosting the camp for 10 years, and knows the Oisans region so well, he can tell you how many switchbacks are left on any climb, which is a useful piece of knowledge on a 9-mile effort at 11% grade. My favorite day was a jaunt up the Col du Galibier, made famous by Le Tour (the asphalt painted messages—Allez Alberto!—were a welcome distraction all the way up). It’s a 9K beast (at 8,600 feet) with an average gradient of 7% and peaks at 12% at the summit. The ride was breathtaking in every sense of the word, and a bucket list climb for any cycling fan. And I’ll never forget the ride to Villard Notre Dame on a skinny road carved into the face of a mountain. We pedaled in pitch-black darkness through multiple tunnels and into sunny stretches of snaking road angled toward the sky. At the top, we were rewarded with Coke from glass bottles from the tiny village store and a bucolic scene with church steeples and grazing farm animals. And rain. We carefully zig-zagged our way down the backside of the mountain as a summer rain pelted our faces. No matter, it was an adventure of a lifetime.

There were two vans supporting every ride, but I’d made a tacit promise to myself at the beginning of the trip that I wouldn’t spend a minute in a sag van. I was there to toughen up my legs, but also to stoke my fighting spirit for Challenge next month. The physical training was invaluable, but we all know that that’s only 50% of the equation, right? France was equally productive for sharpening my mental game—an anaerobic ascent of Alpe d’Huez, no matter how fast (er, slow), does wonders for your confidence.

The swimming and running have taken a back seat in favor of my European bike block—I was able to swim and run just a couple times abroad—so the work there restarts this week. With about four weeks to go, I’m feeling excited, nervous, eager, hopeful, tired and curious to see how it all comes together on race day. Allez!

Name: Jené Shaw
Title: Senior Editor
Age: 29

Last Sunday I raced Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens. I signed up because I’ve heard it’s an “enchanting but deceptively difficult” course (TRUTH), and felt like I should get in that obligatory 6-weeks-out 70.3 in to make sure my fitness was on track.

Going into the event, I did a few things wrong. First, I signed up sort of on a whim a couple months ago, and didn’t know anyone else doing it. As the event was approaching, I thought—wait, why did you sign up to do a race by yourself? Outside of what I’ve heard about the course and the race organizers, there was a main reason I signed up for Challenge Penticton—it was because these two other schmucks I know (ahem Holly, Julia) peer pressured me into it. (Well, to be fair, by “peer pressured” I mean they said, “Let’s do this” and I said, “OK, I’ll go sign up.”)

Second, I went home for a family reunion in Michigan the week before (excuse me, I mean my A-race, the Shaw Family Olympics—yes, of course we took gold) and ate my weight in Grandma Shaw’s chocolate chip cookies and didn’t touch a bike for over a week. Solid tapering decisions.

And third, for whatever loony procrastinator’s logic I had, I didn’t book my hotel, rental car or flight until a week before. I do not advise this. Although it does force you to answer the question, “How bad do I really want to do this race?” Apparently bad enough to buy a $600 plane ticket. I don’t want to talk about that.

The day I was back in San Diego between Michigan and Seattle, things started to look up. A friend of a friend, who was also racing Sunday, offered to let me crash on his couch to save some cash, and just like that I had a baked-in Seattle tour guide and a race buddy. Picturing going to the expo and driving to the race in the morning solo seems terrible in comparison.

The night before the race, my friend-of-two-days got a call that one of his best friends died in a mountaineering accident on Mount Olympus. As soon as we learned what happened, my brain immediately shifted from raceracerace to complete apathy towards any goals or times or really even going to the event in general. My friend decided to still race, driven by knowing what his friend would want him to do, which struck me as incredibly brave and admirable. The thought of losing someone remotely close to me, let alone that close, made me feel so sick and weak that I couldn’t fathom tackling something physically challenging mere hours later. We went to bed at midnight, woke up at 4 a.m., and both lined up as planned.

As soon as the gun went off, I knew I wouldn’t have the extra edge physically or mentally that day, but I didn’t really care. I just pushed when I could and relied on the fitness I had to carry me to an 18-minute 70.3 PR, something I was obviously happy with but didn’t quite have the same typical euphoric feeling about. My friend (who still pulled off a super impressive race) exuded a whole new level of mental strength, and it really gave me a newfound admiration for those triathletes who have every reason not to head to the start line, but who still do it regardless of how high their emotions are running. I hope I can carry an ounce of that to my next tough race experience.

The next few weeks have some pretty scary-looking Saturdays and high-mileage weeks, but I’m armed and ready to get stronger for this thing.

Name: Holly Bennett
Title: Editor-at-Large
Age: 45

This morning my roommate commented on my prep for Penticton: “You’re in the home stretch!” Home stretch? Say what? Why do I feel like I’ve only just begun the bulked up training that will carry me through the 226-kilometer course?

In reality I have logged quite a bit of quality training, though I know I still have a ways to go, especially in regards to chamois time (until now, my training has been more run focused to prepare me for the relay team marathon at Challenge Roth). And even though I spent a full week recovering from Roth, doing a just few easy sessions (my only heavy lifting involved wine glasses, beer steins and rather large slabs of chocolate), and now we’re only four and a half weeks out from race day, I know I’ll be physically ready to rumble just in time for the August 25th start. I’m not at all daunted by the final fierce sessions that lay ahead–but I am struggling slightly with the question of race day confidence.

I’ll be honest–my confidence was kind of rocked by my poor marathon performance at Challenge Roth. On paper, I was all systems go for a PR-perfect run. Coach Dibens congratulated me on my straight-A behavior, executing my sessions in impeccable detail and proving that I had the fitness to reach the finish in my goal time. Granted, I went into Roth toting equal parts preparation and experimentation. I’d shown I should be able to tick off 26.2 miles at a perfect 8:00-minute pace, but there were also a few unknowns, including the late afternoon start (due to the relay format) and my insistence on first doing the race’s 3.8-km swim leg. Bottom line, my run went to plan only for the first half–after which maniacal muscle cramping thwarted my effort and slowed me to an embarrassing shuffle. So despite the reason–likely something related to nutrition as opposed to any lack of fitness–I felt a slight sense of failure. The most important task ahead of me now is to regain my confidence by the time I toe the line in Canada.

In our first Project Penny piece, I stressed the importance of “flexing my positivity muscle”. But staying positive is about more than saying you’ll stay positive when the chips are down–it’s about actually walking that walk of toughness when you’re truly tested. On race day in Roth I did a darn good job of keeping my chin up as my pace fell, holding the sting of disappointment at bay in the moment. But I’d be lying to say it’s not there a little bit. Racing the full event in Penticton will surely be an even tougher test, with many more roller coaster moments and miles to conquer, so it’s time for me to turn that sting into a solution, pulling the positives wherever I can.

First and foremost, as my dear friend and teammate Jené so eloquently put it, I ran another friggin’ marathon! Good, bad or ugly, that’s experience that will only serve me well.

Second, I’ll fess up that for the first time I may have gotten my race nutrition wrong. Usually my nutrition strategy is one of my strengths (along with quick transition times–when you’re not the fastest swimmer, cyclist or runner you take what glory you can get!), but my Roth experience shows a few flaws. For example, trying to remain a gluten-free predominantly-vegan partly-poultry-tarian (say what?), while easy peasy in uber-alternative Boulder, is a tough task on the road. I’m pretty sure I went into the race somewhat depleted. I may also have needed more fuel than I was willing to stomach on race day itself, nervous about overloading my belly while waiting for my turn to run. And maybe, just maybe, Coke and water alone isn’t enough of a cocktail to hydrate the back half of a marathon. Note to self: Suck up the sports drink. Hats off to my relay teammate for turning the tables on my frustration. “You didn’t have a bad race–you learned a lesson,” he said. “And that can only be good.”

Third, my body was nowhere near as beat up post-race as if I’d run the full distance as hard as I’d hoped. Rather, I felt like I merely raced a half marathon–followed by a lot longer than average cool down. Sure, that led to a less than ideal result, but on the flip side my body didn’t take too much of a beating, leaving me fresher than anticipated heading into these final four weeks.

I’ll take these positives and run with them (and ride and swim, also). The focus from here on out is onward, upward and ultimately on that finish line in Penticton.

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