The holiday last weekend screwed my training schedule all up. Normally, Monday's are active recovery days. Having taken Saturday off and Sunday really easy, I was itching to do something really long on Labor Day. I pummeled myself on my 29er for five hours in the White Mountains. So how do you do VOmax intervals on Tuesday after that? You don't. I deferred to Wednesday, which left only two days to taper for the Mt Greylock hillclimb. I wasn't going to give up interval work. I'm still rapidly regaining fitness lost to injury. I've only done a few interval sessions since May. I needed it. So Greylock was relegated to a "B" event, but only a slight B event. I still wanted to do well.
Not only was I feeling guilty about blowing off interval work thus far, I also was feeling guilty for not using my Ski Erg or doing any kind of core work for over two months now. So Wednesday night I did 15 sit-ups and 5 push-ups. I could have done more push-ups, but about 15 was my limit for sit-ups. Paltry, eh? But you wouldn't believe the damage the sit-ups did to my abs. The next day wasn't too bad, but by Friday, I couldn't even get in and out of the car right. And do you think this was cleared up by Saturday morning? Not a chance. Man I suck. It is Sunday night, and I still hurt leaning forward in my chair.
My hillclimb start time was 10:09:30am. A rider was sent off every 30 seconds. The weather was perfect. Ideal temp, clear skies, negligible wind. Warming up, I was dismayed to still feel Wednesday's intervals in my legs. No surprise really. Greylock falls pretty deeply into the anaerobic regime, being only 45 minutes or so. I had a goal to break 47 minutes. My prior best was 45:07 in 2004. In 2005, I came within 3 seconds of that at 45:10. The race wasn't held the last several years due to road reconstruction and other issues, so I don't have more recent history on the mountain.
I warmed up for 18 minutes with just one stiff one minute effort before queuing up. I know this climb very well, from both the three prior times I was timed on it and the numerous times I've ridden it as part of long Berkshires rides. The steepest grades by far were in the first mile. Many riders go out way too hard here. New signs have been added on the descent that indicate 17% and 14% grades. These aren't for just 50 meters either. These are sustained sections.
I eased into the climb. I felt guilty about how easy I was going, You have to, if you want an optimal finishing time. I go purely by perceived effort and do not use a power meter in competition. I passed two riders in the first half mile. In a mile or so, the course levels off, even dropping a few times. On one of these descents, I went over 36mph. You need all the gears for this climb.
After a sharp right-hander, the course goes up and stays steep for the next three miles, around 9% grade. It is much easier to get into a steady climbing groove here. I began picking riders off regularly in this section. I was breathing very deeply and was feeling surprisingly good. The anaerobic burn ran deep, and the hurl factor was ever present. I've learned over the years to thrive on that feeling.
The course starts to level off again, and speeds of 20-25mph can be held on some upper portions of the climb. I was still passing riders regularly, at least 20 by this point. Nobody was coming up behind me. I've learned you can't judge how well a climb is going by this, as riders around me are randomly picked. Some of the faster riders I knew were staged well ahead of me.
When I reached the left hand turn for the summit with 40:30 on the clock, I thought wow, I'm potentially in a position to PR this thing. I know that it typically takes 4-5 minutes to hammer out this last 0.8 miles. To PR, I would have to do it in 4:30 minutes or less. I was in a similar situation in 2005 when I missed my PR by 3 seconds. I wasn't going to let that happen again. But how much harder can you go when you've been breathing with your tongue wrapped around your chin for the last 40 minutes? A lot harder. I could see a large glut of riders ahead of me, no doubt in their last ditch efforts to trim seconds off the clock. At one point, riders were four across in my lane in front of me, a car was right on my wheel trying to pass along side us, and we're supposed to adhere to yellow line rules. The passers weren't making nearly fast enough progress, so in my adrenaline hopped state, I screamed "GO!" at them. It worked. I continued to belt out the last couple hundred meters, mostly out of the saddle, at a hugely anaerobic level. I reached a point where I knew I clinched a PR but didn't let up anyway. You can always pass out or throw up after you stop. I crossed the line in 43:59.25, taking more than a minute off my previous best and good for 6th place overall. I was too wasted to rejoice just then. I'm sure more than a few spectators and other riders wondered if I needed help, hanging over my bars, audibly gasping for air. It took me a couple minutes to regain my composure.
Pefect conditions at the summit
It is important to not read too much into this PR. I suspect if the race was running when I was PRing the other climbs, my prior PR would have been better. There are still some cracks in my fitness foundation. I think my VO2max is still off a bit, and I haven't gotten back onto rollerskis yet. The important thing here is it feels like I'm back. If I can derive the same pre-injury enjoyment from cycling now, then essentially I'm back to where it matters. Cycling is very important to me. Time will soon tell if can can transition to skis without issues. My limited range of motion is not an issue at all on the bike.
The event, run for the first time by the Northhampton Cylcing Club, appeared to be flawlessly executed. A record number of riders signed up for it, over 200. I suspect this number will grow dramatically next year, although there may be a limit on how many riders an individual start format can support. I didn't stick around for results, awards or the food afterwards. Up top there was a lot of fruit and fruit drinks to choose from. Perfect to begin recharging the 1000 calorie deficit incurred on the climb.
So how do you top off a hillclimb PR? You go boondoggling of course, as in a Berkshires Boondoggle! Alex, Paul, Aaron and myself went on a 50 mile loop after the race to hit three more climbs, including the infamous Kingsley Hill Rd, aka "The Meanest Mile in Massachusetts." I had severe reservations about riding with three slow twitch freaks after a race, as I just fired my one bullet on Greylock. I usually have nothing left after a 30 or 60 minute effort. Alex is usually one of the fastest guys at D2R2, and Aaron is half my age and training for the Everest Challenge stage race in a couple weeks.
I suffered mightily up our first climb, Hoosac Hill. Aaron handily bolted from the rest of us. I think Alex felt sympathy for me and hung back. I felt bonky and ate most of the available calories I brought with me. After some paceline work on Rt 116, we took Rt 8A down, the same descent used in Tour of the Hilltowns race. It is a much nicer descent than the Black Brook Rd we typically take. Next up was the Zoar/Brittingham Hill/Monroe Hill climb. Again, Aaron rode away from us and Paul started having trouble. We only had a few more miles to get back to the cars, but there was something in our way: Kingsley Hill Rd.
I had never ridden Kingsley after racing. I had adequate gearing, 34x32 min ratio, but my legs were trashed. Aaron had severe reservation about Kingsley too. He's done it before, but he essentially had standard road gearing with a 39t ring up front. So we start off. Aaron gets on ahead but soon realizes his gearing was no match for 25% grade. He resorted to walking. No shame there, as I would not be able to push his gearing up this climb with my best legs. Paul cramped up and put a foot down. Only Alex and I cleaned it. It is surreal, going all-out as hard as you can and only going 3-4mph. If you sit, your front wheel comes up. Your bike stops between each pedal stroke. I didn't dare zig-zag across the road. It was too narrow, and I was afraid I'd fall over. It is tricky turning on such a steep grade. I topped out less than 10 seconds behind Alex, totally gassed.
The climbing wasn't all over though. We still had Tilda Hill Rd which goes to high-point of the loop at around 2400ft I believe. Aaron effortlessly rode away from us on this. I could tell he was hoping to keep the pace more steady to maximize training value out of it, so I told him to keep going when I got to the top. I have a feeling all three of these slow twitchers will punish me at 6-gaps next weekend.
I finished the day with about 76 miles and 4.6 hours on the computer. Alex recorded over 8000ft of climbing. A good day indeed. I figured Sunday's weather looked wet, so I'd put must of my riding eggs in Saturday's basket. So while the rest of us were packing it in back at the cars, Aaron was heading back out with full water bottles. Yep, he was going back up Mt Greylock a second time. I couldn't fathom doing that after what we just did.
Notice I put a link to planned 6-gaps ride on the right. If you'd like to join us, send me an email. We have at least six, maybe nine guys now planning to ride next weekend.