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.
Name: Julia Polloreno
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!