Monday, June 29, 2009

Carlisle by Singlespeed

After reading Putney race reports, I feel I made the right call by getting some quality training hours in the rest of the weekend. It was pretty greasy in my neck of the woods too. Probability of killing myself at non-race pace would be lower I figured.

Legs didn't feel half bad from Saturday's uber intense 32 minute race with another 2.5hrs of moderate to hard riding before and after the race. I didn't feel like trashing an expensive XTR drivetrain, so I tossed the singlespeed in the car and headed to Great Brook Farm State Park on Sunday.

On arrival, I freaked when I saw the parking lot. It was completely filled with horse trailers, I bet over 30 of them. Many were the extra big ones that maybe carry four horses. Now I like horses. My wife and her dad owned a Belgian draft team in Michigan for many years. But a whole calvery on soft singletrack trails?

Russell Mill upper right, Canberry Bogs upper left, Towne Forest lower left.

I started my usual way into GB but worked towards the north end to hit the new stuff in Russell Mill first. NEMBA has been very active in both GB and the Russell Mill parsel. I found more segments I missed the first and only other time I was in there. All purpose built stuff. There are several log stunts, many with no transitions at the end. You have to wheelie drop off 'em. Glad I inspected them before committing. There are some Vietnam sized rock stunts in there too, stuff way over my ability. All told, I bet there is 6 miles of new singletrack in there, chocked full of goodies.

I actually ran into Norm Blanchett and crew from Merrimack Valley NEMBA doing trail work in Russell Mill. Got to personally let the crew know how great their work rides in Great Brook, Russell Mill, and Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest closer to my house.

Russell Mill log stunt.

After I hit pretty much all there was to ride in Russell Mill, it was back to Great Brook. I was dismayed by the conditions of trails. Anything that wasn't solid rock was churned into soft compost ready for planting. It looked as though somebody took a garden rototiller right down the singletrack. What a pain to ride on. 1000 bikes could ride through there in pouring rain and not do the damage of 50 horses on marginally firm trails. I struggle with that one. They gotta have places to ride too. But on loamy singletrack after a week of rain? What really irks me is when mountain bikes are banned from trails under the premise they cause damage, yet horses are allowed to continue riding the trails.

That wasn't the only downside of riding after horses. It's one thing if they leave an intermittent "care package" here and there. Easily avoidable. In fact, growing up in Michigan I had the pleasure of stepping into steaming cow pies with bare feet. Do you have any idea what that feels like oozing up between your toes? No? You had a deprived childhood! Back to horses. When a bunch of them pass through a soft singletrack, the later horses mince up the care packages left by earlier horses. The trail became a well fertilized juicy solution. Later I spent an hour flossing spent equine fuel out of my teeth. Yeah, that is a lot more gross than stepping in a cow pie when you were a kid.

The hop up was just as abrupt as the drop shown here in Russell Mill.

Some GB trails were posted no horses. Those rode fine. Mostly just tacky, but a few muddy spots were encountered. When I encountered equestrians, I tried my best to be polite and do the right thing to minimize spooking a horse. I did encounter one horse that refused to go past my bike. Horses can be like that. A bike is not a natural thing, so they can't process its information.

I rode pretty much all there was to ride in GB. I next hit the cranberry bogs where I parked. This is all flat doubletrack stuff. Very fast, high cadence on singlespeed. My goal was to ride a minimum of three hours. I was riding so fast that I ran out of trails to ride before three hours was up. I remembered a little place off Rt 225 in Carlisle I found a while back. Think it was called Towne Forest. It's a couple miles by road, then a 2-3 mile loop in the woods with a little bit of climbing. Mostly just fast stuff. So I hit that, long out of water, and legs just about cooked when I finished.

Ride came out to be 35.3 miles in 3.3 hours. That's one of my longer singlespeed rides. Not too much climbing though, just over 2000ft per the Garmin. Despite the greasy conditions, I managed to stay on my bike the whole time while maintaining a good pace. Felt like I got superb training value out of the ride. Lots of very low cadence, high force stuff punching over the short hills combined with wide-open double track spinning. Normal geared riding keeps you in the comfort zone. The end points need to be worked once in a while to develop/maintain neuro-muscular strength (by mashing) and to keep the pedaling cycle efficient through smooth, high cadence spinning.

Next up is a White Mountains East loop on July 3. At least three, maybe five will be riding. This loop is not a deathmarch ride. I'm looking to get some solid threshold training value out of it, starting with 15% grade Hurricane Mtn Rd in Conway. Evans Notch in Maine is next. The high point of the ride, both in elevation and enjoyment, is Jefferson Notch road. Dirt all the way up and most of the way down. We finish with the 1200ft, 6% grade Bear Notch climb. Caravan leaves Nashua, NH around 7:15am for a 9:30am start in Conway. Drop me a note if you'd like to join.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another PR... sort of

Hit number two in the BUMPS hillclimb series today, Okemo Mountain. While Whiteface tends to draw interdisciplinary athletes, the obscure Okemo hillclimb seems to draw as much cycling talent as Mt Washington. A bunch of elite riders showed up, most signing up day-of so I didn't know they were coming. Anthony Coby, Charlie McCarthy, Andy Gardner and David Glick are a few. Local climbing phenom Gerry Clapper (Williams Cycling) was there too. Gerry was the last guy to hang with Roger Aspholm at Housatonic last weekend. Sub-hour on Mt Washington, I expected Gerry to beat me by at least two minutes here. He was the only one in my age group I thought I had to contend with.

Hillclimb race reports score pretty low for edge-of-the-seat excitement potential, ranking right up there with individual TT reports. Today's report is no exception.

We line up for 9am start. There were over 90 of us, in one wave. I queued up in first row, about 10 across. Without warning, the cannon (a real miniature cannon) about 8ft away from me goes off. No count-down. We knew race would start any minute, but this thing scared the crap out of us. The cannon was so loud you could feel the percussion.

Flying down the switchbacks to Rt 103, non-neutral, with riders that perhaps never road race, was a bit hairy. Idea was to stay at the front. Once on Rt 103, it is two miles to the climb. About 8 of us got a nice paceline going at 28-30mph. This fast start makes Okemo unique from the other climbs. It starts more like the middle of a road race where people are jockeying for front position when a big hill is coming up.

The first couple tenths of a mile are wicked steep, maybe 15%. All the young Pro/1/2's and Gerry go ballistic. I think I did a pretty good job keeping check on power. A number of riders went way harder than they should've and I soon passed them. Jeff Johnson (Battenkill-United) was ahead of me. We traded places for a while. I finished comfortably ahead of him at Whiteface last weekend but he was putting me into a world of hurt this morning. Maybe I shouldn't have gone for the mountain bike ride yesterday. I figured I was not having a good day or he was working on borrowed kilojoules. Eventually he snapped and was gone.

I was now gaining on Andy Gardner (Metlife). Andy did 6-gaps with us this year, and I thought to gain on him on something like this probably meant he was not having a good day. Later I learned this was the case. Then a no-team rider passed me and Andy. Who was this guy? He looked younger than me, but put me down another spot overall. Things settled down after that with about 1.5 miles of 12% to go. I figured my finishing position was sealed, as there were no other waves with potentially faster riders in them like at other hillclimbs. Anybody that was going to beat me was already up the road. I got a little bit lazy. I never lost sight of Andy, but there was nobody behind me.

Perhaps I backed off more than I expected. I here something, look back, and Bob Meikle is right there. Crap! Where did he come from? I still had better part of a mile to go, which takes a long time at 8mph. I started killing myself and could not grow the gap. I could not let up for even a second. I managed to hold him off to the line though, with only 9 seconds margin. That is only 100ft at 8mph. Bob is another one of those runner turned cyclist types. Seems all these converts climb like mountain goats on 'roids. I believe Gerry Clapper took up cycling after running not that long ago too.

I finished with a 32:08.2 time. This is about 21 seconds faster than last year. A new PR, right? Not so fast. We averaged around 29mph over the two mile lead-in to the climb today. Last year we strolled along at conversation pace, more likely 25mph average. I got pulled along about 40 seconds faster than last year. Thus on the actual climb, I was 19 seconds slower! To be fair, I did pull through a few times leading into the climb, so I earned my share of the fast stuff. But it wasn't an individual effort. Oh well, that is the way these mass start hillclimbs can be sometimes. I was happy with my result.

I placed 7th overall, 2nd to Clapper in my age group who was 4th overall. Colby won it, crushing the course record by nearly 2 minutes with 27:27. Glick, who established the record last year, was a few seconds slower this year. Ann Howard also broke the women's record by nearly a minute.

Since nobody that beat me at Whiteface made it to Okemo, I should be overall points leader for BUMPS now. This means I'll get to wear the KOM jersey at Ascutney next month. I really wanted one of these. I think the BUMPS team did a nice job with the design.

The rain held off for the race. Results were up by the time we got back down. What a novelty! Awards went on schedule, but most of us were passing out during the awards because food was not served until after the awards were done. That's one way to increase participation during awards! Seriously, Glenn Deruchie (Okemo Resort) and Jack Dortch (Ludlow Rotary Club) and team did a fantastic job putting this event on. Some top talent showed up today, and about 50% more riders participated than last year. That is notable in current economic climate.

Joey B and I went out for a loop ride after nourishment. Plan was to head north on Rt 100, hit the 10% dirt CCC/Shrewsbury climb, then Joey would had back via Rt 103 while I explored a couple more climbs. We no more than got to Shrewsbury Rd and it started pouring out. Neither of us wanted to trash our climbing bikes in mud. Joey headed back, I opted for a Rt 100/4/100A loop with a small amount of climbing. At least it wasn't cold or electrifying out. I got in a solid 100 minutes or so of upper tempo to threshold effort. Guess that means I'm bailing on the Putney MTB race on Sunday. I'm a wuss like that. With all the rain they've gotten the last few days, I doubt I could go more than five minutes at a time without falling off.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bucking the Age Trend

Many readers have approached me at races recently to ask about my training secrets. I don't have any really. My friend Brett once commented to his coach that my training is comprised of fartlek rides. Because my training lacks formal structure that most coach-based programs entail, Brett surmises that I may just be one of those genetic naturals in the sport. I may have inherited some good mitochondrial DNA from my mother. Surely there is more to this puzzle.

So how does one going on 47 years of age continue to hit new PR's on climbs each year? I can only speculate in my case. Here's a go at it, in no particular order.

Cross training. This winter I spent less time on the bike and more time on skis than any prior winter since I took up cycling. Readers may recall I fretted over my cycling fitness early in the season due to so few hours spent turning pedals. I never once hit an indoor trainer. The first six weeks of the year averaged 4-5 hours of riding, but at least that much again on skis.

I am still a hack on skate skis, but that does not diminish the enjoyment factor or the aerobic quality factor. XC skiing is likely the most intense thing you can do to your heart and lungs. My ski workouts were all about intensity, all the time. Waterville Valley workouts usually involved a few thousand feet of climbing at anaerobic intensity. Do this for three hours, you're cooked, mission accomplished. Mid week I hit the Weston Tuesday night sprint races. These ran 15-25 minutes right on the verge of puking the whole time. It is much harder to put that much stress on your cardio system on the bike. An epic snowfall winter was actually a blessing in disguise. I believe my cardio fitness improved over winter.

Cadence. Over the last few years, I've noted a steady decline in my average cadence on both the flats and the hills. Don't know why. It is just happening. I always used to be a big proponent of spinning. But the last couple years I've posted the fastest times yet on hillclimbs while pushing bigger gears. Could periodic singlespeeding be building strength up a bit, so a lower cadence is more optimal? Fast spinning is metabolically expensive. Everybody has a magic balance between muscular fatigue and aerobic stress. Mine seems to be shifting more towards using strength despite an apparent improvement in aerobic capacity. This is a best case scenario, as sustained power improvement is coming from both directions.

Training While Fatigued. This may be a big factor. I used to always recover well before my hard workout days. The last couple years, and this year in particular, I more often than not feel sore and/or tire going into my hardest workouts. Occasionally, I pull the plug on a planned hard workout and wait another day. But most often, I go with it. Interestingly, things loosen up, and the power output is there despite sensations that I'm suffering more than I should be. I have not put the Power Tap on my bike this year. No HRM either. 100% perceived effort is used. Liberating actually. I tend to do 2-day training blocks during the week. A set of VOmax intervals (hills at 3-9 minute duration) might be on Tuesday, while a 60-90 minute threshold effort on or off road might be Wednesday's workout. No rote repeats. Nearly all rides are loops, often solo, sometimes with one or two others. I've learned that the only way to tell I should not do a hard training session is to start one, see how it goes, and if it isn't happening, pull the plug. You cannot simply make the decision by how sore your legs are or how tired you feel. Nine times out of ten, the body comes through and I get a quality workout in. This effectively increases the number of hard workouts per week I get in.

Intensity Over Quantity. The past couple winters I did not get much time on the bike. When I did get on the bike, I was often sore from skiing. But I could not afford to waste these precious hours on recovery rides. I rode them like I meant it. Most rides included low cadence, high force efforts on small hills. If roads were dangerous, I sometimes hit a cell tower access road that gets plowed and do a few repeats (ok, I do repeats sometimes). I'd push the biggest gear that I could barely do without dabbing. The efforts lasted maybe only 2 minutes, but do a bunch of these at off the chart muscular force, your legs are mush in no time. The focus was on cycling specific muscular stress. My thinking was I'm not getting 12 hours of riding in per week, so I needed strength training to maintain cycling specific muscle mass. I got all the cardio I needed on skis.

Aerobic Activity Volume. I got a surprisingly large amount of aerobic work in at this point in the season, over 300hrs in fact. This comes from XC skiing and two cycling trips with huge volume. My body seems to respond well to liberal doses of threshold and VOmax work. The dubiousness of the epic mountain rides we do may in fact not be so dubious for me. What is interesting is that the Type-I muscle fiber guys usually bury me towards the end of these rides, but I come out ahead in a 30-60 minute hillclimb race. I in fact may be more of a Type-IIa muscle fiber guy. If true, it explains many things. I'm a loser of a sprinter and I struggle with ultra endurance efforts lasting many hours. Somewhere in the middle I have a sweet spot. It is perfect for TT-ish efforts like short MTB races, hillclimbs, and individual time-trials.

Diet. Virtually nothing has changed in my diet for several years now. My weight has varied very little too, maybe hitting upper 160's in winter and lower 160's in summer. I have made one small change though that I believe has made a profound impact on my performance. Are you ready for this? You will be disappointed, as very few athletes will benefit from what I discovered.

Since starting this blog, I've commented about my struggles with asthma. I've kept an inhaler nearby for most of my adult life. Over the last 10 years, I rarely used it as a rescue inhaler. I used it primarily to ward off exercised induced bronchial restriction (EIB).

My family doctor recommended a few years ago to take fish oil supplements to improve my LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio. They've always been out of whack. A couple years later I go in for physical, and no change. I read up on fish oil and learned that I needed to take many capsules per day to effect a change. So I did. During this research, I came across recent studies that show Omega-3's (DHA/EPA) can have anti-inflammatory properties. Asthma is an inflammation response. The studies showed that in a certain class of athletes, DHA/EPA reduced some athlete's EIB to point of becoming completely weened off albuterol. They took very large doses, on the order of 3000g of DHA/EPA per day. I upped my intake to about 1000g.

There were times even when I used my inhaler, I still got a tight chest. Nothing kills a ski or bike race faster than when it feels like you have an 800 lb gorrilla sitting on your chest. I more or less forgot about the asthma studies for a while until one day last summer I noticed I hadn't had any asthma in a long time. I was still using my inhaler before hard workouts and races. I decided to stop using it for a while to see what would happen. No asthma. Not even a hint. I went through a whole ski season this past winter with no asthma. We hit some nasty cold days, and those always used to give me trouble. Not anymore. I have since let my inhaler prescription expire. I now take one high potency capsule with 900mg of DHA/EPA per day. I feel like on average I have about 10-20% more lung capacity. Sure, I had good days when I wasn't taking any Omega-3's, but most days had some degree of limitation. Now every day is good day. This not only has an impact on instantaneous performance during a race, but also lets me train harder on a regular basis. The last year or so has let me train untapped space so to speak.

There's really no way I can prove 900mg of DHA/EPA per day is behind this. I can point to studies. I have no control. I can't think of anything else I changed in my life at the same time. Some people just outgrow asthma. Does that happen after 46 years?

So there you have it, the Hill Junkie secrets to hill climbing success. At some point though, I will hit the back side of the age curve. Each of the last few years I thought would be the year. My mother thinks when this day arrives, I won't deal very well with it. It's inevitable. I'm not going to stress over it now, nor will I when that slower day arrives. In the mean time, I look to local guys like Gerry Clapper or John Funk, my age, that are much stronger climbers than I. Ned Overend, whom I've had two occasions to meet at Mt Washington, is at a whole different level altogether in his early 50's. There's always hope and inspiration around us.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

First Benchmark of the Season - Whiteface

The Whiteface Mountain Hillclimb kicked off the 2009 BUMPS Challenge Saturday evening. Whiteface has a slightly different character than the other climbs in the series. It has nothing to do with the fact it's only 8% average grade. It has to do with where it is located. Lake Placid draws athletes from around the world. It is a winter Olympic training center, and it is home to the grueling Lake Placid Ironman, whose road course entails 8000ft of climbing. So the Whiteface hillclimb draws in some serious talent. The skiers may use cycling as cross training, while the triathletes may be in the area for a weekend of training on the Ironman course and drop into the hillclimb race to see what they can do

Do they deliberately make signs this confusing to keep the rest of the world outside of the empire state? You are going north on 9 at the same time as going south on 9N!

The weather was nearly ideal. Temp in high 60's at the bottom, much colder up top, no rain, calm winds, but pretty humid. I thought risk of overheating was pretty low. I've thermally blown up in a big way in this race before.

Hard to say how many were there. Easily over 200. Most mailed in registration, so the 107 on were a small percentage. On the woman's side, Sue Schlatter and Marti Shea were there, both in my age group and overall female contenders on Mt Washington. These women are wicked fast, even relative to pro's in their 20's. The only male contender I knew going into the race that I had to watch out for was Charley Casey. He beats me on some of the climbs. There would no doubt be other contenders I did not know or that mailed in their pre-reg. I was second overall here one year, so I like to know who my competition is at the line.

There is no "Top Notch" elite category here like on Mt Washington. Everybody goes off in age groups. The 40-49 age group is always the biggest. I bet there were 100 riders. I lined up at the front. With about a minute to go, a guy lines up in front of me. Teammate Brett Rutledge asked "hey, are you Duncan Douglas?" He was. Crap. Duncan is a former Olympian ('92 & '94 biathlon) and is in a rigorous training program to regain world class condition. He finished 5th overall at the American Birkie this year. He just won the foot race up Whiteface last week. I figured Duncan and Charlie would put me down to 3rd in age group at best now and certainly off the overall podium.

We go off. Duncan drills it. After a few hundred meters, we get into the 9% grade. It's Duncan leading and I've got his wheel with a long single file string behind us. I do not use a power meter racing. Brett, further back in this melee, said we were doing like 400W. It did not take long before Duncan and I had a nice gap to the next guy, who was Charlie Casey. Charlie hung just a few seconds back by himself for a long time. We were going so fast up this grade that I was deriving draft benefit from Duncan. But eventually he started doing a lot of alternating standing and seated climbing. When he sat, he slowed slightly. I came around him several times but my power would go up maybe 20W with the wind I was taking at 10-12mph riding speed. There was negligible headwind. At about the two mile mark, I actually drew a sizable gap on Duncan. Charlie was drifting further back. I now began to realize I was having a very good day, and a new PR was a strong possibility. That was all that really mattered to me going into this race.

At one point I had 50-100ft on Duncan. As we approached the toll house, the grade slackens, and so did my power. I knew full well I was riding at a pace that could not be sustained, but I was deriving enough aerodynamic and psychological benefit interacting with Duncan that I think it was worth it in the end. Normally I try to completely ignore other riders during a hillclimb. Duncan caught me before the toll house, about 3 miles into the 8 mile climb. I got back on his wheel, thinking the grade is slack for the next half mile or so and that was a good place to be. When the grade got steep again, Duncan put in a long out of the saddle burst. Earlier, most of these were short and I'd quickly get back on his wheel by maintain my steady, seated pace. But this one drew a large gap, and my pace did not get me back up to him. It was time to pay back the kJ's I borrowed in the first two miles.

A truck was waiting at the toll house for Duncan to come through. It stayed just ahead of him for the remaining 5 miles of the climb with his kids cheering him on. I heard "go dad, go, go, go!" at least 500 times, or about every two seconds for the next 25 minutes. It became annoying after a while. Some race video from Duncan's son shows on his blog. Not sure if I'm the ghost rider just as he enter the clouds.

Duncan very slowly pulled away while I continued to put time on Charlie. It looked like a second place finish in the 40+ group was secure. We had passed nearly all of the under 30 and 30+ riders staged 10 and 5 minutes ahead of us. I was alone in a dark, dreary world. Now it was going to be a matter of finishing time.

The clouds grew very thick as we approached the summit, maybe only 50ft visibility. After rounding the final switchback, I could hear the crowd at the finish cheering the first couple riders to come through. This really psyched me up. It is cool to hear it but not see it through the clouds. I stood to hammer what was left in my legs, which surprisingly was a lot. I crossed the timing chip mats in 48:17. I was super psyched. My prior best was 49:59.6. I crushed my PR from three years ago. Duncan came through less than a minute ahead of me, and Charlie was less than a minute behind me.

Just below the cloud deck around 4000ft

As Duncan posted in his blog, his average power was 344W. Based on small differences in weight and finishing time, I estimate my average power would have been about 347W, or about 4.7W/kg for a 48 minute effort. This really blows me away. I've never been this strong. I plan to put a subsequent post together with my speculations into why this is happening.

It is interesting to note that Duncan finished 47:22 in the Ski to the Clouds Mt Washington race, about the same time as his Whiteface bike climb finish. I can finish less than a minute from Duncan on the bike, but on skis I am 15 minutes back! I surely would like to improve upon that. We talked a while after the race. He commented he could give me some pointers some time. Really nice guy and a doctor too.

We were all gathered at the BBQ afterwards, waiting forever. This is the third race so far this season where I waited forever for results. An announcement was made that the results were not going to be posted that night. In fact, the chip timing system had failed. There was just dead silence with that remark. Chip timing is supposed to prevent these kinds of things from happening. They said a back-up camera system was used and they would extract results from it. Not a good way to start off a championship series. The Battenkill road race also totally botched up their results, and I believe many discrepancies were never resolved in that race. I left not very optimistic.

So as I'm typing this, results arrive by email. Looks like at least the top finishers are correct. I came in 4th overall out of 216 finishers, missing 3rd by just seconds. The overall winner was Cameron Cogburn, a young elite rider, who finished in just under 44 minutes. On the women's side, Sue Schlatter finished in 49:42 minutes! She's over 40 and finished 7th overall! A lot of strong guys got girled by a 46 year old woman. Sue's W/kg for this duration is no doubt world class for her age. Since Duncan took first in the foot and second overall in the bike race, he will earn the crown for this duo series.

This was perhaps my most thrilling hillclimb race to date, and I've done a lot of them over the last 10 years. Being able to mix it up with other incredible athletes brings an added level of excitement over besting my previous best. The hillclimbing clan is a special breed of cyclist too. It was good to talk with many acquaintences I see only at these events. The Okemo Mtn hillclimb is next weekend. Some fast guys will be there. I can already predict first and second place finishers from the Bikereg list.

So how do you top off a great hillclimb race? Get up early the next morning and climb the mountain again before the toll gates open. Brett and I did a sub-hour, more recreationally paced climb at 7am. The cloud deck was below 3000ft and it was drizzly in spots, but otherwise a fine morning for a climb to revive the legs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Made the New York Times!

A story on the BUMPS challenge ran in the sports section of Sunday's Times. The online version can be read here. The printed version had more photos. It is posted below. I had hoped to score a photo in the Times, but Bill Dunkerley took these honors. My website was linked, which is cool. Thus far I pay out of pocket for domain name and hosting services. I've thought about monetizing it. I really have no idea if it is worth it or not. If the pages of content become littered with ads and it nets $10 per month, it is not worth it. $100 per month, I might consider it. The site draws well over 20,000 visits per month during the summer. Anybody out there know if this has any income producing potential?

I've been invited to participate in the organization of the BUMPS challenge as a "racer consultant." The race directors from the 9 individual events run the series. Keone Maher, the Burke Mountain hillclimb director, got the whole thing rolling. There have been other hillclimb series in other parts of the country, but nothing that matches the scope of BUMPS. Climbs from four states are represented, NH, VT, MA and NY. The series is creating a new buzz in the hillclimb scene. It will be interesting to see how participation shapes up in this abysmal economy.

Hillclimb season is upon us. The season kicks off with the Whiteface Mountain climb on Saturday. It is in the evening, after the toll road closes to traffic. Thus most competitors will spend Saturday night in the Lake Placid region. The Adirondacks are a mighty fine place to spend a day or two in June. I've been on a two year hiatus from Whiteface, so I'm anxious to see how I will do. This year I decided to skip the Housatonic road race in favor of Whiteface.

Typically I do a mountains ride the next morning. The last time I raced Whiteface, I did a recreational paced ride back to the summit early the next morning with another rider. This is permitted, actually. The toll operators only request that cyclists be off the road before the toll gate opens. It is a marvelous climb when not raced. Very peaceful. Whiteface is comparable to Alpe d'Huez in vertical and average grade.

Other years I've ridden one or two laps of the Ironman course the following morning. Quite mountainous and highly scenic. Two laps entail 112 miles with many thousands of feet of climbing. I'll have to see what interest I can stir up for the morning after for something Hill Junkie worthy.

Whiteface has seen 300 registrants in years past. Pre-reg numbers look pretty low this year, but they don't include the mail-ins on Bikereg. Many people use this option to avoid the "convenience fee."

After Whiteface comes Okemo the following weekend. Then Ascutney, Equinox, Washington and Burke, all in the BUMPS challange. I also plan to do the MTB only Mt Mansfield hillclimb at the end of August. It is not part of the BUMPS challenge. In between these events or even the day after, I plan to work in three more road races and a couple MTB races. It will be a busy couple of months. Oh, and I'm going to Colorado the third week in August. Already have my rides picked out.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

White Mtns West Mini-Epic

A planned big ride did not happen on my off-Friday. Incompatible weather. NorEast riders Keith Button and Rich Brown were planning to ride 4NaaP on Saturday (4 Notches and a Pass). That sounded like a pretty good substitute to Dave Penney and I. The four of us have ridden or raced together on many occasions.

The four of us met at the Lincoln Visitor Center for a 9am roll-out. The weather was perfect. Normally, western White Mountain Hill Junkie rides start with Gonzo Pass and dirt Long Pond Rd climbs. If you replace these two climbs with Kinsman Notch, you get a simpler 4NaaP route. 4NaaP is a classic that many riders do each year, much easier than 6-Gaps. It is fully paved and the steepest grade is maybe 13%. Most climbing is much gentler than that. The route goes Kinsman Notch, Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch, Bear Notch, and Kancamagus Pass. It runs about 94.5 miles. Topo says it has 8200ft of climbing, but I bet a GPS will measure closer to 7500ft.

Having an extra recovery day this week from missing Friday's ride, my legs were nearly race ready. My goal was to make sure there would be nothing dubious about the training value of this ride. I was going to hit select parts of each climb hard.

Keith giving victory salute cresting Kinsman. I think the camera man took honors on this one.

The gradual ramp-up on Kinsman Notch was a nice warmup. I planned to hit the top 800ft or so, the really steep part, at near VOmax intensity. I no more than kicked it in when I saw a mature bull moose standing in the middle of the road in front of me. When he saw me coming, he bolted over the guardrail and down a very steep bank. You wouldn't think such a clumsy looking animal could perform such a feat. That was cool, but now I was starting to see cross-eyed and still had a long ways to go to the top. The other guys quickly became a dot in the distance. I hit the notch with plenty of time to take pictures before the others crested. Kinsman, perhaps with Crawford, are the prettiest notches in New Hampshire. That felt really good. I regret not taking recovery more seriously before last week's ride in the Berkshires. I had hoped Dave would be keeping me honest during this ride. Seems he picked up a bug this week and was well off his top form.

View south through Franconia Notch

We ride the big rollers into Franconia, turn right, and we all know what's in store. The climb up Rt 18 to the base of Cannon Mtn is a spanker. We've all done these climbs many times, just not with this particular four-some. My goal was the same as for Kinsman - as soon as the grade kicked up I was going to kick it in.

I quickly drew a gap from the others. About half way up the gap wasn't growing anymore. That first near VOmax effort for 10 minutes or so on Kinsman zapped my legs pretty good. This climb entailed more vertical, so it took longer. At the top, Keith gleefully pointed out that I went out just a wee bit hard and that they were gaining on me near the top. Still got what I wanted out of it.

We bomb down part of the bike path, pick up Rt 3, and continue gradual descent to Twin Mountain. Our only stop for the ride was the well stocked gas station that might have been a train depot at one time on Rt 302. I had some reservations about going another 50 miles after this on just two water bottles. It was mostly sunny with temp in the 70's. I was sweating profusely on the climbs.

The Presidential Range from Rt 302

The climb to Crawford Notch from the west really isn't a climb. Sure, there's a couple bits you might slow down to 12-15mph, but mostly it is just cruising easily above 20mph. The descent is rather spectacular though. I easily broke 50mph on it. Then it's about 15 miles of gradual downhill to Bartlett where we pick up the next climb, Bear Notch.

My legs didn't feel so good anymore, and I wasn't sure how Bear Notch was going to play out. Bear Notch is nice from Bartlett. It gains about 1200ft at one of the most uniform grades around. I think it is about 6%. Thus drafting can play a roll here among strong riders. We're all masters riders, reasonably well matched. Starting the climb, I thought TT'ing this one was no longer in my interest. Keith and Rich set a good tempo. We traded "pulls" starting out. I found I could pull at 14-15mph, but when I ducked back into the draft, the pace dropped by 1-2mph. Hmmm, maybe they're getting tired too? So I played the role of antagonist. When two riders are closely matched is when they will kill each other during a training ride. When one is much stronger than the other, that is just acknowledged and a truce is formed. If a rider thinks their nemesis is suffering, they will do all they can to stay with them, as their nemesis will tire and they might defeat him or her. Well, I was feeling good enough to carry 14+mph to the summit. I could have just bolted, and that would have been that. But instead, I hung around a while, making sure the gang just barely hung on. Yeah, I'm evil like that. One by one they dropped off. Keith was the last to hold my wheel. I don't know any other guys his size that can climb so well. Once that cord broke, I was free to knock myself out for the remaining half of the climb.

Coming through Crawford Notch just before the plummet

I honed this sadistic skill years ago on lunch rides actually, when lots of folks from BAE Systems used to go out at lunch. It works in many ways. Often, some riders would go out a little earlier than others. I would gain sight of a fellow BAE Systems rabbit heading back. Eventually they'd see me behind and ramp it up. I could have shut it down then, but not when fun was to be had. I'd ramp up just enough to let them think they had a chance of making it back to the office without getting caught. Cycling psychology is such that the closer a match gets, the harder you will try. Riders will run themselves into the ground to avoid getting caught if they think they have a chance to stay away. So let them dangle out there I did. Sometimes they caved, sometimes I had enough fun and finished reeling them in.

After cresting Bear Notch, we had one climb left, Kancamagus Pass. Now I really felt pretty cooked. So did everybody else. We did some more quality paceline work taking long pulls to the base of the climb. Nobody wanted to set tempo on the climb. I was stuck up front. Somebody said they had enough suffering for a day and then sent me on my way. I had little more than sub-threshold pace left in my legs. The steep four miles seemed to take forever. The others were only about two minutes back when I crested. After taking a few photos, it was 14 miles, almost all downhill, back to the cars.

I finished with 4hrs, 42min riding time. It was the fastest Keith and Rich had done the loop I believe. It was the first time I rode 4NaaP proper, so I had no previous time to compare to. It was a very efficient ride with only one short stop. The water held up ok. Solobreak might have liked this one. No whiny kids, no yahoos that are disruptive in a pacelines, and well short of a death march. Just master racer types out for some quality riding in the mountains. I actually made it home from a ride on time for a change.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kilojoules on the Breeze

We interrupt regular scheduled content here on Hill Junkie to discuss material a few readers may have some insight into. My dad is a retired autoworker. He has been keenly following the development of General Motors new electric car called the Volt. It is not a hybrid drive, but it does have a gasoline engine. What makes it different is that the electric motor always propels the vehicle. The gas engine simply runs a generator when batteries run low. A Toyota Prius uses the electric motor only to accelerate. It does not have enough battery capacity to drive under electric power even across town. The gas motor takes over the drivetrain after acceleration. The Volt will probably be the last evolutionary step before the day a fully electric car arrives with the same range as gasoline powered cars. The Volt theoretically should be able to perform short errands, up to 40 miles, without burning any fossil fuel. It can plug into household power to recharge.

My dad is also excited about new wind power technology coming on the market. Grand Valley University in Michigan, where I took an undergrad physics course many years ago, has developed a roof-top wind generator. Honeywell bought the rights to produce and market the EarthTronics WT6000. So the media gets a hold of this, doesn't understand the specs and limitations, and begins making all kinds of extravagant claims about what it can do.

I have a background in robotics, specifically battery powered automated guided vehicles. I've learned a thing or two about battery technology, electric motors and controllers over an eleven year span in that industry. So when I hear my dad say he can buy one of these windmills for a few thousand bucks and drive his new Volt with no fossil fuel and keep it off the grid, I think something is way too good to be true here.

So you PowerTap weenies out there, how many kilojoules of energy are there in one gallon of gasoline? How about 132,000kJ! Pick the hardest ride you've ever done. It was what, maybe 5000kJ for a 7-8hr effort? An efficient cyclist is about 25% efficient, so that meant you actually burned about 20,000kJ of energy. If we could ingest gasoline, we'd get about 33,000kJ of useful work from a gallon of gas. This is enough for 6.6 Six-Gaps rides for me! A small water bottle of gasoline would be all the calories I need to ride all of Six-Gaps, including post ride refueling. Gas has very high energy density. Cars are energy hogs, so it is no accident that gas works so well for this application. Batteries still have a very long ways to go to match this.

Back to the home wind turbine. The media states that it generates power with as little as 2mph wind. Yeah. I found and read the specs. Output power at 2mph wind is 6W. This is a typical nightlight bulb used for a kids bedroom. Use this to charge your electric vehicle, you'll wait many months just to get one trip to work out of it.

Now lets say we get more realistic, something closer to long term average wind speed around here, 10mph. The specs say the WT6000 puts out 105W. Not bad. It will power a single incandescent light bulb. Over 24hrs, you will get 2.4kWhrs, or 9072kJ. At this rate, with steady 10mph wind day and night, it will take 15 days to generate one gallon's worth of gasoline energy! Do you put more than one gallon per two weeks into your gas tank? I can think of only one person that might get away with this.

Because wind and power have a cubed relationship, when wind speed hits 25mph, you really start to get some power out of the WT6000. We get those days, but maybe only once a week, and usually only during the day. The last few days have been essentially windless. I think the year long average in most parts of the country is about 12mph. That's if you have no trees or buildings near you that obstruct the wind. As you can see, most people would not be able to power their electric car with this unit. It would barely make a dent in a typical commuter's energy needs. Cars are that way. I use about 10gal per week going to work and back. That is 1.32 gigajoules of energy. In comparison, our monthly home electric consumption is on the order of this. If our home electric power had to supply all of our electric car energy needs, our electric usage would go up at least four fold. I do factor in that electric cars are much more efficient in converting stored energy to motion than gas cars. Plugging our cars in would bump us into a very high utility rate, so the bill would go up a lot more than four fold.

I am not saying here that these new wind turbine generators are gimmicks. If you live on an open field or up on a hill, you will probably get a descent return on investment from one of these units. They claim you can get 15-20% of your home energy needs from this unit. Not sure what the neighbors would think. Back when everybody was putting 6ft satellite dishes up in their back yards, some communities passed zoning ordinances against them. My dad lives on a lake in Michigan. I think he would need to buy a couple WT6000's if he wanted to make a grocery run more than once every two weeks and keep his car off the grid. It would be more realistic understanding that you will be modestly reducing your dependency on grid power. Nothing wrong with that.

I fully support alternative energy source development. My favorites, in order of how I would prioritize investment are:

And of course, advanced battery technology will be needed to make all of this work. It is not always sunny or windy or wavy, so you store energy up in batteries on the good days for the weak days.

Also note I did not list bio as an alternative energy source, especially if it has anything to do with powering our cars. This goes back to the 132,000,000 Joules of energy in one gallon of gas. How many acres of soybeans does it take to power one commuter for a year? Acres of Corn? Or one of many exotic species being considered? That's a topic for another post.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Meanest Mile in Massachusetts

Checked another 100by1002 ride off the list Saturday. I dubbed this one the Berkshires Boondoggle. A boondoggle it was. Seven riders started in Adams at the base of Mt Greylock. The route consisted of looping over Greylock from north to south, swinging by the cars to refuel, then hit Hoosac, Hawley, Zoar, Kingsley and other climbs. Mapped route should have been just over 100 miles. Topo suggested there was nearly 14,000ft of climbing, but I know how it over estimates. I figured it would be just over 10,000ft and we could knock it off in around 6hrs. I was wrong on both accounts.

We had just a few miles before reaching the beginning of the Greylock climb, where the Mt Greylock TT Hillclimb begins. Then it was game on. Paul, the youngster in the group brought some pretty big gears for this hillfest, a 39t by 25t minimum ratio. He seemed quite confident in this selection, and he didn't have anything lower anyway. We picked up two more riders as we began the climb, Jeff Daigle and a friend. They knew were were doing our ride today and had just come over Greylock from the other side. They were heading back over and calling it a ride. So Paul, Jeff and his friend bolted. The rest of us did our best to hang on. It was 6-gaps all over again, when we had a few guys riding a 4-gap pace with the rest of us wanting to finish all 6-gaps. In this case, Jeff's ride was over after cresting Greylock. Of course he was going to hammer it. I should have known better than try to stay with him. The pace was not conducive to riding six more hours. Paul did stay with them. He had placed well in the Connecticut Stage Race Cat 3's, so I was curious how the rest of this day would play out.

The newly rebuilt road was marvelous. The surface was as smooth as glass. The shoulders and lookouts were all cleaned up too. No more small car sized potholes, frost heaves as big as your front wheel, or just random gravel sections. The climbing and descending are finally perfect.

Summit road, new pavement, Adams 2800ft below

The pace at the front of our group totally blew us apart. We reached the summit one by one over many minute's span. Despite backing down some, that was still way harder than I had planned to go on any climbs during the ride. My legs were only half recovered from interval work on Wednesday and Thursday, now they felt like somebody took a ballpeen hammer to them after the first of many climbs. It was going to be a long day.

The descent to the south was adrenaline packed. The smooth surface tempted you to take the 15mph posted hairpins at 40mph. Paul must still enjoy the invincibility of youth. Nobody else could stay with him on the descent. At the bottom, we hooked a hard left on Quarry Rd. It is gravel. It starts choppy and progressed to little more than a doubletrack. There was whining in the ranks. I loved it. We climbed a few hundred feet before beginning a plummet on loose fist sized rocks. All epic rides need sections like this. The group got fragmented again. Interestingly, the only one that won their field at Battenkill whined the most about the dirt sections in the ride.

Dave's head is almost as shiny as the memorial globe

A quick stop at the cars had us to the base of Hoosac Rd. I really didn't know what to expect, not having ridden any of the remainder of the route. I was already in world of discomfort and was strategizing clever ride bailout stories. I really started to doubt I was going to finish the ride as planned. Seems everybody else brought their race legs to the ride except me. Hoosac Rd was a bitch. The pitch was pretty much unrelenting. The sun was out, and much of it was exposed. I got very warm. I was one of the last riders to make the top. This was a good bailout point if anybody else had doubts, like I did. Keith did decide to bail, thinking about what lie ahead. I was ride leader and really didn't have the option. We pressed onward.

We hit a bit of Rt 116 with nice tail wind, then took combination of roads down to Rt 2, popping out from Black Brook Rd. We cruised down Rt 2 to East Hawley Rd, our next climb and the most selective climb in the Tour of the Hilltowns race. But first, we had to stop at a tiny shack of a liquor store across the river for fluids. This was an unplanned stop, but most of us needed it. By now I was in survival mode, and the ride isn't even half over yet. Dave, Alex and Paul were killing the climbs. Glen, Brian and I were bringing up the back. I seemed to reach a damage control plateau that just might get me through this ride. We crested the top and cut through a short bit of gravel to Rt 116 in Plainfield.

The descent of West Hawley Rd was unremarkable for just riding around. In a large race field, however, there could be carnage. The road is in very poor shape. Much of the edge of the road is broken up or even buried under dirt. Further down it is much steeper, tight turns, with deep cracks and poor patch jobs. Would not want to be riding blind in the pack at 40+ mph down this one.

Once we cross over Rt 2 to finish the ride, there would be no sources for water. So we stopped at the shanty sized booze shack again to get more Vitamin Water and salty substances in bags. I really could have used a tin of sardines. Zoar Rd was our next climb. Not too steep, but late in ride meant slow progress. Each climb proved to spread our group of six out further and further as fatigue set in. I had wanted to cut across on County Rd to Monroe Hill Rd, but it was gravel and there was dissent in the ranks. I need to add bold disclaimers on future Hill Junkie ride announcements that routes feature extended gnarly gravel sections. So we excised the tasty dirt bit by adding more miles and vertical on pavement. What was that? Did somebody say this ride will never end? The best was yet to come.

Because we deviated from planned route I had perfectly committed to memory, we missed a turn to descend Monroe Hill. I don't think Glen minded. Bring up the back of the pack, he encountered a bear sow with three cubs. Don't see that every day. The rest of us missed it. Back on track, I think most of us hit speeds in excess of 50mph down Monroe Hill. That was a breath of fresh air before being asphyxiated on the next climb.

We crossed the Deerfield River at Monroe Bridge. At first, you look across the village and don't see Kingsley Hill Rd. You wonder if there could even be a road up the near cliff face before you. Well, there is a road that slices up a ravine. We turned on to it and laughed. This was now about the 95 mile point in the ride with 10,000ft in the legs already. The pitch was ridiculously steep, even for fresh legs. All of us except for one brought reasonable gears for this ride. How do I define reasonable? How about cleaning the steepest hill without stopping. Perhaps the efforts expended earlier in the ride caught up to Paul. Not far into the steep stuff he had to put a foot down. Us old farts take sick pleasure in incidents like these. We think about Kingsley Hill when starting Greylock. It brings balance to the whole ride. Had I gone any harder on Greylock, I might not have made it even this far. I was the third one to crest Kingsley, behind Alex and Dave. Alex crushed all of us on it. Skinny whippet. Kingsley Hill Rd is easily the second steepest grade in New England, a small notch down from Lincoln Gap in Vermont. It no doubt is the "Meanest Mile" in Massachusetts.

By now the grumbling in the ranks was drowning out the sounds of nature we were riding through. I heard plenty of cussing below me as I climbed Kingsley Hill. But we weren't done yet. Most of the group thought that was it, just downhill on Rt 2 back to the cars now. Nope. We had another 700ft climb, Tilda Hill. Not too steep. This is the only hill I can claim KOM points on. Alex and Dave decided to socialize up this one I guess.

We got back to the cars almost two hours later than planned. We stopped more often, extend the ride to avoid gravel, made wrong turns twice, and a couple of our stops were on the long side. I hope Brian's wife lets him ride again sometime this decade. I logged 110 miles, 6hrs, 44min riding time, 11,300ft of climbing per my Garmin 705. PowerTaps logged 5000-5300kJ energy expended for 165-180 lb guys. The ride delved deeply into realm of dubiousness. I certainly got my butt handed to me by Alex, Dave and Paul. Definitely will have to try this one again sometime, perhaps with a couple minor tweaks to shorten it just a bit. Great scenery and near nil traffic on most of the roads.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To race or not

There are a couple good road races to choose from this weekend. I'm somewhat torn. With a great start to the season, I feel compelled to race more. I raced the Balloon Festival a few years ago and podiumed. The combined 30+/40+ field has only 27 riders pre-registered minutes from closing. I love racing in smaller fields. A few worthy contenders in there too. P(win) might not be that high, but P(podium) would be very high I think. The deal is Cambridge NY is so hard to reach from my house. It takes over 3hrs to get there. That would make nearly 7hrs round trip driving for a <3hr race.

In the other direction is the Lake Auburn race in Maine. It is only 2.5hrs away, also with a small field pre-registered so far. Never done this one. I don't think the climbs are anything like the Balloon Festival's climbs. Doesn't appeal to me that much.

So if I do an "epic" ride instead of racing, am I wasting my fitness? Some I train with would say yes, as racing is the primary reason they train or even ride at all. I train to stay fit. The level of fitness I maintain just happens to be enough to be competitive in certain types of races. It also enables 5hr off-road hammerfests or mountain centuries with over 10,000ft of climbing. I dearly love a long, hard ride.

A small crew of us will be heading into the Berkshires on Saturday. First up will be the freshly re-minted Greylock climb. The Greylock hillclimb time-trail returns this year after being shut out a couple years by the reconstruction project. I plan to do the TT this fall. We'll hit many other popular climbs in the area, all of them new to me. Climbing East Hawley Rd will be part of the ride, along with a descent on West Hawley Rd. I plan to race Tour of the Hilltowns for the first time this year, which integrates both of these roads into the course. Thus the ride will partly be scouting out race courses, partly epic fun ride. I should get about 6hrs of riding in for 5hrs of total driving and get to see a lot of new scenery.