Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Reflections on 2007

Perusing a few cycling blogs New Years Day, it appears customary for bloggers to reflect on the past year. No doubts about it, 2007 was a good cycling year for me. There were some major hiccups, especially as the season drew to an end. But overall, several benchmark results suggests my fitness continues to improve.

I competed only in road and hillclimb cycling races this past year. Planned ski, CX, and MTB races fell through. Of the 11 events I competed in, 8 podium finishes were achieved. This includes category wins at Turtle Pond RR, Mt Agamenticus TT, and Equinox Hillclimb. Second place finishes were achieved at Jiminy Peak RR, Tokeneke RR, Bow RR (day after Equinox), and Mt Ascutney Hillclimb. New PR times were achieved on Mt Ascutney and Mt Equinox. I've been racing Mt Ascutney for 8 years now, and to achieve a PR at 45 years old was more satisfying than taking podium spots in big road races. It was a big chunk of time off my prior PR from several years ago.

There were some major disappointments. The Everest Challenge was the biggest. It was first road event I DNF'd. The whole training year was geared towards this late season event, and I seized up meters from the first stage finish line. First time use of HEED sport drink was behind this failure. It was my fault for taking such a gamble. It was what they served but I had no support to hand me my preferred Gatorade mix.

Both Mt Washington races were cancelled this year, Newton's Revenge in July and the original race in August. I was prep'd to PR the August race. My time on Mt Ascutney suggested I would crush my Washington PR in good weather. But good weather on Washington was scarce for cyclists this summer. Winds broke 90mph with windchill in the teens the morning of my race. The race organizers had no choice but to cancel.

The inaugural Burke Mountain hillclimb race went awry for me too. Early in the climb, my bike made a loud pop. Shortly thereafter, I could not maintain pace of race leaders. Riders passed me that shouldn't have. I thought I was having a very bad day until another rider asked about my bike at the finish. I popped a spoke and didn't notice the extreme rubbing on brake and frame. Rear wheel just dragged when I pushed my bike. Silly me for not noticing what happened when those around me knew. Had I known, I probably would have DNF'd this race too, but I stuck with it, still taking a 3rd place age group finish. Should have an easy target to beat next year.

So to what do I attribute the successes of 2007? Training for the Everest Challenge. I did a large number of group or solo rides that entailed 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing or more. All that threshold effort on steep mountain climbs raised my power at threshold, or more importantly, my W/kg @ LT. This is the bottom line in doing well in hillclimb events. It also lets you get away from the pack in road races and staying away for podium finishes. It does little for sprint capability. I optimize my strengths rather than train my weaknesses as some coaches would advise. I choose to be a specialist. Hillclimbs, hilly road races, and time trials are what I enjoy. When you achieve a certain foundation of fitness for these activities, the drawn out, super intense efforts really don't hurt. Rather, they induce a great endorphin buzz.

The big training rides hit some truly fabulous areas to ride. These included the western and eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire, the central and northern Green Mountains Vermont, the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and for the first time, the Catskills of New York. Of the biggest 10 rides I did this year, the average distance was 122 miles with about 12,000ft of climbing. These rides ranged from 4.8 to 8.5 hours in duration. There were numerous 80 and 90 mile rides in addition to this, always packed with climbing of course.

If I don't try the Everest Challenge again in 2008, I'm not sure what will motivate me to put in this much volume with liberal doses of climbing. Epic rides are fun, however. I will do long mountain rides for as long as my body permits. Six-Gaps of Vermont is always an annual highlight with its 132 miles and six major climbs totalling over 14,000 feet of climbing.

The scariest moment of 2007 occurred during an early season training ride in the White Mountains. Most of the Everest Challenge crew was present. On our first descent (Gonzo Pass), Dave and I were leading through a guard rail chicane section at 50+ mph. A short distance behind us, Bill and others were trying to stay with us. I panicked going into turns, braking just a touch before banking hard. Dave and I continued to bomb all the way down to the bottom, another 6+ miles. Then we waited. And waited. We freaked when emergency vehicles headed up the pass. We asked a motorist if they'd seen our friends. They hadn't, but they pulled on to the road only a little ways up from the bottom. They noted our concern and went up to check. Dave and I started to ride back up, only to be greeted by the motorist coming back down. They told us Bill was involved in a crash. We did not reach the crash scene before he was taken away by ambulance. Bill lost control, going into the guardrail face first at about 40mph. He was lucky to be alive. He suffered severe facial fractures and concussion. Surgery about a week later pulled the bones back into place with Titanium and screws. Other than some lingering nerve damage, Bill has made a near complete recovery. I no longer fearlessly descend like I used to. That could have happend to any one of us.

So what are my plans for 2008? Kicking around right now are the Bob Cook Memorial Hillclimb (Mt Evans in Colorado), repeat of Everest Challenge, and possibly the Leadville 100 MTB race. I did not do any MTB races in 2007. I signed up for the New Hampshire 100k but bailed on it. The Leadville race starts and finishes above 10,000ft in Colorado, peaking above 12,000ft. It goes 50 miles out and then back. That alone could be a big training motivator. I've already signed up for the Battenkill road race in April. The Masters 45+ category filled quickly. Many of the area's great road races will be in the schedule again.

In theory, I should be a competent time-trailist. The Mt Agamenticus TT is the closest I come to a flat TT. Most of that course is flat or rolling with a steep 500ft climb at the finish. Due to gravel sections and sharp turns, aero bars are not allowed. To move into the TT realm, investments in new equipment would be required. There are a number of TT series in New England that look interesting to me. A couple stage races have TT's too. I just may make the leap this winter.

In the near term, I would like to do more ski racing. I have events tentatively planned January through March. These include the Tripoli Rd hillclimb at Waterville Valley, the Mt Washington hilclimb at Great Glen, the Nordic 300 at Great Glen, and possibly my first multi-sport event ever, the triathlon at Weston (run, bike, ski, all on snow). The skiing has been phenomenal already this season, and my form continues to improve.

1 comment:

The re-awakening of an Athlete said...

Nice blog - just stumbled and was a great read on hill climbing