Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mt Washington Bicycle Hillclimb

Back when there was still snow on the ground, I registered for this event. My motivations were: it would fall on my 55th birthday, age grouping up, it would be an "easy" podium. This assumed, of course, that registering for the race would motivate me to get back into Hill Junkie training mode with lots of VOmax and LT work on the bike. None of this silly trekking through the woods BS! This could be my last chance to climb this Rock Pile as a local too. Don't want to go too much into it here, but Cathy and I are at an inflection point in our lives and thinking about new possibilities.

So did registering for the race motivate me to train? Heck no! Every time I tried to get into a periodic structured routine of interval work like I used to do, it quickly fell apart. I started hiking in the mountains a couple years ago and it grew on me. Nearly half of my outdoor time is now spent on low to moderate intensity treks through the mountains. I use poles, primarily for going down. Hiking brings considerable balance to the body, meaning you bring so many more muscle groups into play than highly imbalanced cycling does. I like it mostly for getting away from people and cars, although many hikes require sucky drives. You definitely get more top of the world experiences hiking than you can cycling. So much more terrain to explore when ditching the bike.

I have been out to Mt Monadnock to run up to the summit three times this summer. That is intensely aerobic, or anaerobic I should say. Perhaps that would help maintain some semblance of peak fitness on the bike, I hoped.

Needless to say, as Rock Pile day arrived, I knew my finishing time was going to be less than stellar. I didn't really care and wasn't going to let it bother me. I did rest well all week and felt great warming up. The temp was mild but humidity was quite high. The weather was decidedly better than predicted just a day or two earlier, almost perfect even.

There were some seriously fast guys called up to the line, like Phil Gaimon, who many may know. Lot of familiar faces in the elite top notch wave, many new faces too. The eardrum popping cannon goes off. I made certain I didn't go out too hard.

The race starts around 1500ft elevation, and by 3000ft, it felt like I slid backwards through the entire top notch field. Hmmm, that never happened before. It was borderline oppressively humid out, but I did not sense thermal overload yet. I just didn't have the goods I normally do.

By 4000ft, riders from the next age group wave started passing me. Hmmm, that doesn't usually happen either. I kinda threw in the towel at that point. Why kill myself for 12th place and many minutes slower than my previous finish? The climb became much more manageable then.

One thing I realized is that the same gears you use when posting 65 minute finish aren't adequate when you slog up much slower. I was forced out of saddle in many places in my lowest gear just to keep the pedals turning. Oops. I have lower combinations to put on that bike, just didn't think it necessary. I've been using the same bike for this for about 16 years now, my Trek 5900.

I reached a point in the climb where panic set in. What if I don't even make top notch time of 1:20? My pace was so far off that it was conceivable.

I reached the finish in 1:14:55, my slowest ever, having to go all the way back to 2000, my first climb as a complete noob on inappropriately geared bike. Think I was still a bit heavier back then too.

Below my 13 Mt Washington race result times are plotted vs. my age. First race was back in 2000, through today's race in 2017. Pretty amazing really, how consistent I was through all those years, posting my fastest just a few years ago at 51. In 2008 at 52, I commented in my training log about losing focus in training and it showed. That was nothing compared to this year! Age will eventually dictate a decline though. Maybe it starts mentally, not wanting to push that hard all the time. I think the only way I feel my age right now is it takes longer to recover from a long, hard weekend of activities.

Add to this the six practice climbs I did over the years, I've ridden a bike up Mt Washington 19 times now. 90,000ft of climbing without rewarding descent!  I've hiked it at least six times and ran up it last year for the foot race. That is at least 26 times self-powered up to the summit. I have never taken powered transportation to the summit.

The summit was a party atmosphere as it always is for this event. The weather up top was spectacular, steady 7mph wind, high 50's, mostly sunny, and stunning cloud formations.

A couple fast guys in my age group didn't show up, so back at the bottom I was shocked to see I still made the podium (2nd) with that finish. Normally you'd have to be much faster than 1:15 in 55+ age group to ensure a podium spot. Wish my friend Brett could have been there. He trained well for this race, would almost certainly have knocked me down a step. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with anaplasmosis this week, a nasty tick borne disease. So many people are getting tick borne diseases this summer. Scary.

The catered Hart's turkey lunch was awesome as always. Real mashed potatoes, squash, stuffing, carved turkey, couple kinds of salad, rolls and real butter, and ice cream. Overall a great day talking with great peeps. Many from Colorado come out for this event. Who knows, if I find myself in Colorado five years from now, maybe I'll come back on my 60th birthday.

Myself pushing up finishing 22% grade

Almost there

Dying coming up to the timing mat

A lot of cars, but none of the overflow lots were used this year. Race did not sell out, first time since I've been doing this since 2000.

The finishing chicane, mostly above the clouds

So many to cheer you on over the last 200 meters

Like the TdF, spectators chalk out their rider's names

Summit area will be filled in as racers finish

Tuckerman Ravine appeared to be a cauldron of clouds all day

Summit crowd will give you the boost to get up that 22% grade section!

The Nelson Crag trail I hiked across the weekend before in zero visibility, frigid temps, 60-70mph wind. None of that today.

Winds holding steady around 7mph. Warmest at 3300ft.

Cathy and I with Tuckerman Ravine in background

Boott Spur on other side of Tuckerman Ravine. Hike over that last weekend too.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Monadnock: It's Like Wednesday Night Worlds without the Bike

I found a new midweek workout to get my hurt on. This summer, Soups and others have been meeting at Mt Monadnock state park on Wednesday nights for a run up the White Dot Trail to the summit. In case you've never hiked Monadnock, it is steep and scrambly. The term "run" is used loosely. The last half of the climb is slow motion hands and feet death slog.

What is so cool about it is in minutes, you pop out above tree line, and it is like whoa, how did I get this high so fast?! On a week night, there are very few others on what is normally a severely crowded trail on weekends.  The White Dot Trail gains about 1800ft to the 3165ft summit. My fastest so far is 32 and a half minutes.

A diverse cast of characters come out for this craziness. Coach Kathy from the Dublin school sometimes joins with her Nordic ski juniors. I haven't had a chance to meet her yet. Some of the kids are fit!

From the state park HQ at the bottom, the climb starts out harmless enough, actually runnable. Then it pitches up at an angle that makes your neck hurt to look at it. All semblance of running disappears. Breathing goes to max and you settle into a pace just below VOmax. It is both an individual time trial and a sprint race against the others. Some excel on the gnarly or downhill spots, others like myself do better just grinding out obscenely steep slab pitches. Just try not to hurl upon reaching the summit in front of the few people that are up there, wondering why you are staggering and breathing so hard. Fun times! Upon recovering on the summit with its 360 panoramic view, I can't help but think how fortunate I am to still feel this great in my mid-50's.

The hands get put to good use, and sticky rubber soles are pretty much mandatory if you want to take the fast "A-lines." This is where approach shoes like the Scarpa Cruz or La Sportiva TX3 prove very helpful. I've tried both now, and I think the Scarpa's have slight advantage.

It is a bit of a pain in the ass to get over there at peak rush hour from work, but its so much more rewarding that doing the same three minute climbs by the office for midweek intensity work.  I hope to do this more often. Wonder how it will prep me for the Mt Washington bicycle hillclimb next month? At this point, I'm not going to stress over that at all. This year will likely be my last racing a bike up the Rock Pile, right on my 55th birthday. Maybe a subject for another post...

Anyway, I'll leave you with a few pics from this week's blast to the summit.

Soups reaching the summit

Only three of us this week, Soups, myself and Isaac

Soups sporting a halo

Night glow settling in to the east with the Packs and Wapack range

Soups in the Pumpelly "cave." Soups hadn't been there before so I showed him on the way down. Pretty easy to find now with 0.25mi herd path beaten down along the ledge it sits on

And there was a monster blueberry bush at the cave...

Yum yum

Top side of the cave. Looks like original tin or some kind of tin alloy

Taking the steepest trail on the mountain back down, Spellman. It is practically straight down!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Genotyping for the Masses

I remember in the 1990's when the first genome of an organism was mapped out. It was a pretty big deal. It wasn't much later the whole human genome was mapped. DNA sequencing and genotyping continues to get faster and cheaper. Genotyping, determining the specific genetic variants a person possesses, has become cheap enough to draw curiosity seekers in.

Many companies now provide ancestry analysis. Spit in a tube, and for a hundred bucks we'll tell you how many hundreds of years ago that 0.5% Mongolian entered the blood line. Or no, you really don't have Native American DNA. Hundreds of thousands have pursued this curiosity now.

Some companies offer much more for additional cost. 23andMe has a traits and wellness option that looks at numerous traits. The normal, obvious stuff, like eye color, but also less obvious stuff like sensitivity to caffeine and sleep habits. 23andMe nailed these last two for me. I tend towards heavier caffeine consumption than average coffee drinkers and I am not a deep sleeper. These DNA traits do not play well together and thus I really should curb or suspend caffeine consumption.

A host of carrier diseases that can be passed on to your offspring are also tested. Prospective parents might be interested in this. All of mine came back negative. One concern I have is that as we become more comfortable moving around in our genome, it will also become easier to tinker with it. Designer babies? It may already be happening. Huge moral implications here. We think climate change is a threat to our species...

A couple tests that 23andMe performed came with a warning and an opt-in or opt-out. These are early onset Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Some people may not want to know they are going to go batty at an early age. There is also the issue that once you know this information, it could be treated as a pre-existing condition for insurance purposes and you could be denied coverage or forced to pay a much higher premium. I opted to not be told the results of these two tests for now, a decision I can change later if I want. The raw data is there.

I already know my ancestry going back many generations (northwest European). I could care less if my DNA says I can tell my pee smells funny after eating asparagus. Yes, this is one of the tests. Everybody's pee smells funny, but I had no idea some people are genetically incapable of detecting this. I sure can. So why did I plunk down some cash for this silliness?

I recently learned 23andMe checks the so-called "sprint gene." The gene is called ACTN3, and variants of it code muscle composition. Anecdotal evidence for a long time has suggested I'm a fast twitcher. I was never curious enough to find out for sure by getting a muscle biopsy. Carve a piece of my quad out? No thanks! Spitting in a tube seemed much easier and less painful.

It is ironic that I have fast twitch traits yet shun activities where fast twitch prevails. I'm thinking stick and ball sports, track, or even criterium races in cycling.  I like the long distance endurance activities, such as multi-hour bike and ski races. I tend to ride and train with other athletes that are stronger than I in endurance efforts. I can out-gun them in a 5-30 minute effort, but go past a few hours, I get buried.

Another indication I'm fast-twitched is in caloric consumption. I eat much more than my presumably slow-twitched companions. We go on trips, weigh about the same, do the same rides burning the same calories, yet I replenish with far more calories and still lose weight. Fast twitch muscle is much less efficient in producing power than slow twitch. I feel a bit cursed in this regard, but some of my friends feel cursed with slow twitch.

23andMe makes your full, raw data available online. You can browse by gene name, by traits or even chromosome. Scary how much info is there. They don't sequence your entire genome, only parts of interest, but still a huge amount of data.

Below is screen shot from my results at 23andMe of the ACTN3 variation that encodes a specific muscle protein. There are three possibilities here:
  • T/T - no working copies
  • C/T - one working copy
  • C/C - two working copies
I have C/C, two working copies.  Doubly blessed (or cursed) with fast twitch!

So what does this mean? It's not rare. Nearly 30% of those from European descent inherit C/C. Some areas of Africa see closer to 100% of this genotype represented. That phrase "white men can't jump," well, there's a genetic basis for it right here in this gene, the fast twitch gene. What is rare, however, is somebody with no working copies, the T/T variant, reaching high levels of competition in sprint or power type competition. You must have this gene to climb that last couple percent in performance to compete at a world-class level.

So going forward, does this change anything for me? No, not really.  I'm not about to start weight training and racing crits. I already know I don't excel in several hour long events. One of the side benefits of possessing the C/C genotype is that muscle tissue with this protein is more resistant to breakdown from abuse. I now understand better why my body seems to tolerate weeks upon weeks of junky volume better than others. I will continue to engage in activities that are fun, clear the head and provide a balanced fitness.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Arches National Park with Cathy

[Previously posted on FB 4/24] I made a token visit to Arches NP 18 years ago when visiting Moab. Cathy has never been to Moab or Arches before this visit. Needing a break from the bike, it was a good day to visit the park.
The park closes down hard nightly at 7pm throughout this summer due to reconstruction of all the roads at night. Trail areas will be shut down periodically too. There was no line to get in early this morning. The place was practically deserted! And no trailhead areas were closed yet.
We hit the Primitive Trail off the end of the park first. There were maybe 8 cars there. We hit the first couple arches together, then I went around the Primitive loop solo while Cathy checked out a couple of the closer in arches. I had no idea what the loop entailed. There was one scramble that made me think for a minute, like if I slip, where will I end up kind of thought. There were no people back here. The solitude was nice.
Upon reaching the Double-O arch most of the way around the loop, I finally encountered people. Cathy later said they were unloading by the busload. There was another scramble below the Navajo and Partition Arches, which Cathy didn't attempt. She is 4 months post knee replacement and is still regaining strength. She went out to Landscape Arch though.
After this loop (8.2 miles for me), we went over to one of the Park's feature attractions, Delicate Arch. This was 3 mile round trip hike with good deal of climbing. Cathy felt up to it. Lots of people out now, but there were still parking spots available. After leaving the parking lot, you come around a bend and hear people ask "are those people up there?" Yes. You go up that. Was pretty cool looking, although I worried about how Cathy's knee would like coming back down that constant grade.
Up top you wrap around on an exposed ledge. Cathy said I've gone far enough. Nooooo, only 100m to go and then the arch is right there! Others offered encouragement.
Wasn't quite a mob scene when we first got up there, but the crowd built. We hung around a good half hour or so, did the touristy thing of waiting in line to have a stranger take our picture under the arch. Felt just like the tourists I despise on Mt Washington waiting in line for photo op at 6288ft, except we did not take a train or car up here.
Cathy did very well. Many noticed the scar on her knee and knew exactly what she was experiencing. They had matching scars, one woman on both knees. Cathy hiked about 6-7 miles for the day with upwards of a thousand feet of climbing.
We stopped two other times as we made our way out of the park, at Sand Dune Arch and at the Windows Section. Both had cool features worth stopping for. My tally for the day was about 14mi with ~3000ft of climbing. Maybe not quite a recovery day, but at least I stayed off the bike. Primitive Trail Strava track.

Cathy starting out on Primitive Trail


Cathy and bugs

Tunnel Arch

Pine Tree Arch 
Cathy returning from Pine Tree Arch. Had these first two to ourselves.

Heading out solo on the primitive part of Primitive Trail. A trail weaves through those fins.

Section that gave me pause on Primitive Trail. Slot dead ends, had to scramble up fin to left.

Could one scramble all the way up there? Gave me the chills thinking about it! 

View down slot from Primitive Trail

Side spur out to Private Arch. Hadn't seen anybody in a good while, so it was very private.

Side spur out to Dark Angel. I'm sure others would call it something else...

La Sal's from ridge heading out to Dark Angel

Double-O Arch. Note smaller arch below prominent arch.

Return along tops of fins on Primitive Trail

Primitive Trail 
Side spur out to Navajo Arch

Side spur out to Partition Arch

Scramble up there that stopped Cathy from getting to Navajo and Partition Arches. Not visible from this angle is how deep the slot was along either side of this fin.

Landscape Arch. I remember visiting this one back in 1999.

The narrows heading out to Sand Dune Arch

Cathy at Sand Dune Arch

Playing around in narrow slot at Sand Dune Arch with Cathy.
Cathy heading up to Delicate Arch, with Cathy

Massive bulge of sandstone to scale on way to Delicate Arch, with Cathy

Scenery never sucked on way to Delicate Arch

Cathy doing fine in one of the more rugged sections on way to Delicate Arch

Cathy enjoying some easy trekking on way to Delicate Arch

The two of us on way to Delicate Arch

A cove I saw someone else scramble up to.

It was easy getting up there but not so easy getting back down.

The exposed ledge that Cathy at first refused to traverse. Only a hundred meters or so of this with a 100-200ft drop to the left.

And then just like that Delicate Arch appears with the La Sal mountains in background.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch

Edge view of Delicate Arch

Back side of Delicate Arch. Few hundred feet straight down.

Cathy wanting to get out of the wind. There was zero wind until this point, then it picked up to like 25mph. Mild temps though.

Rare instant with no people in Delicate Arch

Cathy coming down from Delicate Arch

Almost down, new knee holding up fine.

Petroglyphs at the bottom

North and South Window Arches

Two of us at Turret Arch

I took the primitive trail around back side of North and South Windows.

View from back side of The Windows.