Sunday, July 31, 2011

HUNdo no FUNdo?

I will be in Colorado for the D2R2 this year. Why I keep going back for that sufferfest is beyond me. I barely escape alive each time. Yet I was sad I had to miss it this year.

A new ride popped up on the calender last year. It was called the Grand Fundo, a play on words from Gran Fondos that have spread from Europe to the US. I've never done a gran fondo. They are a semi-competitive event with riders of all abilities participating. Finishers receive a time. You can chose to race it or socialize and enjoy the scenery. Some of the bigger gran fondos have many thousands of participants.

Jeremy Powers Grand Fundo is a fund raiser for the J.A.M. fund. The emphasis of the ride is on FUN. Finisher do not receive a finishing time. The course is in the same area and hits very similar terrain to the D2R2 randonnee with many dirt roads. Last year there was a single route option, 65 miles long. This year, there was an extended route option adding 20 miles with extensive additional climbing. Of course, I wanted the full, special treatment. This was going to be my "D2R2 ride" this year.  The HUNdo is so named because it rides like it is a HUNdred miles. In my opinion, it was way harder than any paved century ride I've done.

Riding buddies DaveP and BrettR signed up for the HUNdo with me. Teammates Carl Ring and Dana Ernst also signed up for the long option.  It was soupy hot. I had no doubt I would suffer hydration woes on this ride. It was supposed to be a fun ride, right? Take it easy, socialize, enjoy the back country? It didn't exactly go down like that...

About 300 of us lined up at 10am with police escort and SRAM support. The ride group was as diverse as it gets, from top pros organizing the event to recreational weekend warriors.  I was quite far back when we rolled out. I heard someone say "I haven't ridden in a big group like this before!" Not good. There was sketchiness all around me and it wasn't easy to move up. We climbed a modest hill at a civil pace, then a curvy descent followed. The speed was quite high, and riders were pretty much curb to curb across the road.

Without warning, a guy cuts across my line a few feet ahead of me, clearly on a trajectory of doom. With rear tire skidding, he went off the road into a boulder strewn ditch and rag-dolled. His bike flew up and nearly hit me in the head. It sounded and looked horrific, but others behind me said he got right back up. That freaked me out. I made an earnest effort to move closer to the front.

About five miles in we hit a sustained climb that thinned the ranks a bit. The pace was less civil. That was fine by me. Around the 15 mile mark, we got to the Kings Highway climb. I believe this was mostly dirt. The pace was now far from civil. The pack disintegrated. I did my best to stay with the leaders. This meant tapping into the VOmax realm, a very dangerous thing for me to do on such a hot day. The gravel leveled off at pavement with a hard right turn. It almost hurt my neck to look up at riders climbing an even steeper grade. There were overgeared riders weaving all over to keep momentum. Eventually the 600ft climb came to an end. Maybe 50 of us remained.

Everybody stopped at the first water stopped around the 20 mile mark. I had already emptied two extra large bottles. My legs felt a bit tweaked from the explosive hard efforts, and we had four hours to go. Yee-haw!

The next 10 miles were rolling and civilized. It was a select riding group, having dispatched the chaff on Kings Highway.  We were 1000ft higher than where we started and it felt a little cooler. When the icecream truck came into view, there was a sprint for icecream. We all stopped again. I couldn't resist. Chocolate chip cookie icecream sandwich. I didn't read the label, but I bet 500 calories. Dave asked if I wanted the last half of a Gatorade bottle, and of course, I said sure. While I was looking for a place to dispose the empty bottle, everybody took off. Sweet! I chased for the next 15 minutes to catch the lead group.

The next section saw many moderately steep climbs. The lead group kept getting smaller, meaning I too eventually lost contact. Dave and Brett also got popped out. I was never more than a minute back. We hoovered between 1400 and 1600ft before a major plummet. Near the bottom of this plummet was the fork in the route. Right was shortcut back for the 60 miler, left for the 80 miler. I did not see the sign. I was ahead of Brett and Dave and just following other dropped riders ahead of me. I continued bombing down the shortcut route. Brett caught up to me and said "so you decided to do the Fundo?" I was like what? He explained, then I was like WTF! I serious considered heading back with him, only 10-15 miles from the finish at that point. But no. I'm an idiot. I turned around because I wanted the full treatment. It didn't matter that numerous VOmax efforts left me in a blown state. Both Brett and Dave bailed on the longer option.

I climbed back up and found where I missed the turn. It was clearly marked. Wouldn't you know it, the extension did nothing but climb double-digit grades and bomb right back down again. There was no recovery. One climb was particularly heinous. It was about 16% grade and rutted out full-on jeep track. I saw many tracks where riders from the lead group washed out and presumably dabbed. I cleaned it, but at what cost?  I was riding completely by myself, often wondering if I was still on the route. No riders in front, none in back. I figured Brett was going to be pissed, as I was going to be out there at least two hours longer than he was. We carpooled and he wanted to be back home by a certain time.

Garmin Profile. Lots of 10-20% grades in there!

The HUNdo food stop was a heavenly sight. The lead group was still there, so even though I added in a few extra miles and climbing, I wasn't that far behind them.  My water was long gone. I filled up my two large bottles (which hold almost three Gatorade bottles) and wolfed down a large jelly donut. Yeah baby, rocket fuel! The lead group left shortly after I got there. Didn't matter. There was no way I would be able to hang with them at this point anyway. Jay Gump stayed back too, and we rolled out together and chatted for 30 minutes until he reached his house.  His ride was done. I still had more dirt road climbing to go. Cramping twinges were coming on.

I turned on Nash Hill Rd. It just kept going up. I reached the point were I could only pedal without cramping if there was zero force on the pedals. So how do you climb a steep gravel road in that condition? I forgot to take electrolytes with me and there were no salty items on the course. Maybe it didn't matter, and it was going too hard earlier that put me in this predicament. I got off the bike multiple times and rested/stretched. There were no cars and no riders. I wonder if SRAM sag support would even come through here. The bottom portion of the road was gated. This was my second worse cramping episode ever, second only to Everest Challenge in 2007. In that episode, I fell over, clipped in, unable to move anything and was unable to get up for 20-30 minutes. I did not want that to happen out here in the middle of nowhere.

I eventually managed to crest the top. On the descent, a group of three riders from the lead group that had flatted earlier came by. I was coasting. The last food stop was at a general store. I went in and bought a bag of Fritos corn chips and a package of beef jerky. Both are very high in sodium. Protein in endurance efforts can be beneficial too. I filled my two giant water bottles again, ate most of the Fritos and a bunch of Jerky. I stayed there at least 15 minutes recovering.

I was in much better shape when I got back on the bike, able to pedal again without immediate spasms. There were lots of riders to draft too, as the two routes came together at that point. Many of the 60 milers were just coming through. I had done an additional 20 miles and 3000ft of climbing.

I ran into Carl back at the finish. I must have looked pitiful, as he laughed pretty hard at me. He also chose to stick with the shorter option. I wonder how many registered (and paid more) for the longer option, and then when faced with the choice, bailed on the longer option? Anyway, I logged 85 miles with 7300ft of climbing in 4.9hrs moving time per my Garmin.

Quite a party was going on. I don't drink, but the beer was flowing. The roast pig and grilled chicken were superb. All of the food was excellent.

This ride hurt me badly. More than D2R2, which is much longer with almost twice as much climbing. Go figure. I don't think the FUNdo competes with D2R2, it compliments it. The FUNdo is more spirited. More racer types show up for FUNdo, while more randonnee types show up for D2R2. The course terrain is very similar for both events. D2R2's climbs are much longer. The steep, punchy climbs in FUNdo wear you down more quickly.  Many riders were on 23mm racing tires for the FUNdo. I was glad to be on 25mm Pro3 Race tires. There were many flats. I personally saw at least two dozen. Some riders flatted three times I heard. A cross bike with cross tires would be overkill for this course though. So would I do this again. You bet. The HUNdo was FUNdo in a sadistic kind of way.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Freaky Things

On Wednesday I was heading up Ponemah Hill Rd for my last interval of the ride. A kid, maybe 9-10 years old, came bombing down a dead end side street onto Ponemah Hill Rd ahead of me. He went the same way I was going and I was pretty sure he saw me. It was steep there, maybe 10% grade. He was on a cheap 24" mountain bike. I was going all anaerobic and thought dang, I'm not exactly catching the kid very quickly. He was standing up mashing the whole time.

Eventually I caught him. He heard me coming up from behind, looked back and started screaming. This wasn't just a yelp, like I spooked him, but a continuous barrage of screams like he was being chased down by a grizzly. Just as I passed him, he scooted into a driveway, presumably his home.

Now I was nervous. What if his dad was outside. Would he think I tried to do something to his boy? Will he come after me with a shotgun in a pickup? The boy's reaction was kind of bizarre.

Had me wondering why he reacted that way. A few scenarios come to mind. First, maybe he was trying to outsprint me to his driveway, and when he saw I was closing in and he might "lose", he let out with a battle cry, like "I'm gonna beat you sucka!"

Maybe the Hill Junkie in VOmax mode is a scary thing to a little kid. I'm sure I had drool hanging from my chin, tongue out, breathing really, really hard, and coming right up behind him. Could freak anybody out.

Maybe the kid just has a phobia of strangers and spazzed out. I may never know unless I encounter the kid again. On a bike, usually I'm the one that's prey, whether riding in Alaskan wilderness or the local urban jungle.

The other freaky thing that happened to me this week was I received a letter from Best Buy congratulating me on the purchase of my new HDTV. They were selling extended protection coverage. Only problem was, I didn't buy a new big screen TV. The letter had my correct name and address, price, SKU number and date of product I bought. Very detailed.

Normally, I would just ignore this. Seemed a bit like a phishing email, but it sure looked legit.  I've been crazy busy with work lately and don't have time to mess with silly stuff like this. But this wasn't a normal situation. You see, a day before I supposedly made this big ticket purchase from Best Buy, an online account was compromised and fraudulent charges were made against my credit card. The custodian of the account quickly caught this and reversed the charges.

I called Best Buy. They have absolutely nothing in their system on me. Not my name, address, phone number, nothing. They cannot figure out how I got the promotional letter from the Geek Squad for extended protection. I called the number on the letter (and waited 20 minutes for the next available associate). They did send letters like these out, it's just that I should not have gotten one.

So is it a coincidence that Best Buy sends me a letter to buy extended protection on a TV I supposedly bought the day after another account was compromised? I don't think so. As best as I can tell, no new suspicious charges have popped up on any of my accounts. We have only one active credit card and one checking account. Something tells me I haven't gotten to the bottom of this one yet.

Remember kiddies, change your passwords frequently. I was asked by the custodian of the account that got hacked if I ever used that account's password anywhere else. I did. He said quite often hackers will go after say Joe Smoes Bike Parts, because they are small and often don't protect their data well. The hacker will harvest a few thousand usernames and passwords, then try his luck on other related websites where it may be possible to convert an active username/password to real currency. I've not been very proactive in both using different passwords for different services and changing them regularly until now. Funny thing is, I'm forced to change passwords regularly at work and use strong coding.  I should know better. The best passwords are ones that you couldn't possibly remember. They are not derived from anything related to you, past or present. They use lower and upper case, they use numbers, and they use special characters like * or #. Pick 12 at random, then you have a good password. Never use the same password more than once for anything that matters. It's a pain, you may be tempted to write them down at home somewhere (verboten at work), but you'll be much safer online.

Monday, July 25, 2011

That special place

DaveP and I hit up local Bear Brook State Park on Sunday for a solid endorphin phix. The climb up Ascutney the day before didn't take much out of us. A bit of hammering may have been on the agenda.

It was still very muggy starting at 8am. Fortunately, conditions improved from there. Bear Brook has seen negligible rain over the last few weeks. It was the driest I've ever seen it. The balding Mutanoraptor tires I had on my dualie were perfect for these conditions.

How all good rides start.

What was not perfect were the deer flies. Much of Bear Brook is quite technical, and we started with the climby part of the ride first. I think at any one time I had five deer flies buzzing in my helmet. Would drive you batty, and if you attempted to do anything about it, you'd lose your line on the 25% grade and end up dabbing. Then the deer flies would have a free for all on your hide.

We hit Catamount bypass, Bear Hill and Hall Mtn at a clearly unsustainable pace, at least for five hours at the current dew point. I started with a full 100 oz Camelbak and nearly emptied it in the first two hours. I had only three small Gatorade bottles in the car to top off my fluids when we swung back by that way.

The blueberries were abundant. I don't have a taste for them, except in pancakes or muffins. You could have picked many pounds per hour in some areas. Surprised we didn't see any bears feasting on them.

Berries on Hall Mtn

A little later on I-trail

After refilling fluids, we headed out for round two of BB singletrack, hitting the eastern half. We encountered a bunch of people this time, including a group of women. We passed a group of guys augmenting their ride with mother nature about 3.5hrs into our ride. No need for that at the pace we were riding. We were getting our fix even more organically.

Popping back out near the cars, it was decision time. Do we drive the last nails in with a romp up adjacent Fort Mountain? Why not. I wanted to visit that special place that only a good endorphin buzz can facilitate.

The climb starts with a bit of pavement, then jeep road, then ATV trail. The final 600ft of vertical is up a loose stones cell tower service road at 15-25% grade. It is a whacked thing to do after riding hard for four hours. A totally anaerobic effort nets about 3.5mph. You didn't dare dab, as that meant walking a good ways. You'd never get started again on the marbly surface. We both cleaned it. The view was good. The endorphin phix was complete. Time for the 1000ft plummet back to the cars in an intoxicated state.

View from Fort Mtn

Our ride went 44mi with 4600ft of climbing in about 4.6 hours. It was the longest ride I've done at Bear Brook. NEMBA keeps building more quality trail there, so it is easy to ride this long with barely retracing your steps. I was completely useless the rest of the day. Mission accomplished.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Slow twitch rider trapped in a fast twitch body

Mt Ascutney Hillclimb
Maybe I should have stayed home today.  My climb went as expected in one of the worst east coast heat waves ever. Regular readers know heat and I do not have a friendly relationship. Today's climb further solidified the correlation between abysmal performances and high dew points. For such a short race, here's a long, whiny, technical analysis.

I tapered for this climb. Not sure why. I knew it would be hot. I knew a PR was highly improbable. But I feel like I'm in PR climbing form right now. Three trips so far this year with tons of climbing have done wonders for my fitness.  My weight was probably the lowest ever this morning for a hillclimb race, sub-160 lbs. I've been hoovering around 160-161 for several weeks. I think it is the running. True rest days have become rare. I'm always burning calories.  And my triathlete friend says running abhors fat. It seems to tone your whole body up. I've even been doing interval workouts on hot days. My heat tolerance is probably the best ever, which doesn't say much.

My hopes were raised leaving the house this morning. It poured buckets. If the clouds hung around for a while, maybe it wouldn't heat up so fast. But with rain comes humidity. Upon reaching the mountain, the air was saturated. I bet the dew point was not much below 70F. That spelt doom for me right there.

I did a very minimalist warmup. I didn't want to elevate my body temperature. It was so muggy my glasses were fogging up at the start and I had to ditch them. I lined up with some fast guys, like Duncan Douglas and Erik Vandendries (545 Velo). I expected Duncan to beat me with a good margin. I wasn't so sure about Erik, as in 2009 we were pretty closely matched.

We were the second wave to go off. Nobody went crazy in the first 60 seconds. I stayed with Duncan and several others were just behind me. Then Duncan picks it up a bit. I let him go. At the 1mi mark, Duncan was up 30sec or so and Erik was just behind me. I think I saw 7:21 on my computer. I wanted to do better than 7:30 on first mile. Second mile is harder and should be around 30-40sec slower. I was feeling good at that point, but man, was I getting soaked. My new team kit has full length zipper, which I fully opened before the start. I could tell a full ice vest was not going to keep my core body temp in check on this one.

Erik passed me before mile two. My second mile took me about 8:37. This was very, very bad. I was already slowing down and there was nothing I could do about it. Funny thing was, I didn't really feel that bad. I was just getting slower. That is how heat stress works. It is kind of like riding into high altitude. You can't get enough oxygen to the muscles, so they just put out less power. You don't suffer any more. Actually, you suffer less than going anaerobic at sea level. With heat stress, you start slowing down long before the danger signals start popping up, like chills, nausea or confusion.

My mile three was a disaster. I think it took 9-10 minutes. It is the easiest mile by far and should go much faster than either of the first two miles. My pop-up turkey timer said I was well done. I started to doubt I'd even finish under 30 minutes. Three weeks ago when I visited Ascutney for an exploratory run, I biked up in 30 minutes right after a race-pace run, on legs tenderized by two prior days of epic mountain biking. So here I was, rested and all, just imploding. What was different? 10 degrees in dew point maybe?

I crossed the line in 29:43. If you exclude my time from last year when I raced just a few days out of a leg cast, you have to go back to 2003 to find a slower race result. Hard to get too upset about it too, as this was no surprise. Not everybody is impacted by the heat. Marti Shea crushed her own woman's record on the mountain.

People that aren't disproportionately affected by heat don't understand how frustrating this can be. Makes me want to move to Alberta or Alaska. I poked around a bit to see if there was anything new on the web about cycling economy and muscle composition. Many studies have shown that Type II muscle fiber is less efficient. It consumes more oxygen and calories per Watt produced. Studies have also shown an inverse relationship between VO2max and cycling economy. I speculate I'm a Type II guy, and I've tested with a very high VO2max. This points to being very inefficient.  I'm almost curious enough to have a muscle biopsy to prove I'm Type II, and what percentage of Type IIa and Type IIb. It could impact how I should train.

So what could this mean on Ascutney? I have to deliver about 600kJ to the rear wheel to bring myself and bike to the summit. This is independent of how fast I climb the hill for the most part.  In a PR time of about 28 minutes, this is 357W average. But my cycling economy is pretty poor, I'd say 20% at best based on UNH measurements and other bits of speculation. This means for every Watt I produce, four Watts are wasted. 4 * 357W = 1428W! That is more than a space heater or toaster oven!

As the dew point gets close to our body temperature, our body's ability to cool itself becomes greatly diminished. Another way to look at it is the maximum sustainable power becomes reduced above a certain dew point. The more wasteful an athlete is with his or her energy store, the greater the impact of heat. Climbing Ascutney at 357W in today's conditions was certainly beyond a sustainable limit for me. It had nothing to do with my threshold level or going anaerobic. It had everything to do with core body temperature.

It's a complex relationship. Your body has a lot of mass. Wasted Watts begin to elevate the temp of that thermal mass. The bigger you are, the more Joules you can dump into that mass for a given temperature rise. It is like a thermal battery that gets charged up. But the body also attempts to cool itself. You have finite surface area to evaporate sweat. If the rate at which Joules get dumped into your body exceeds the rate of cooling through evaporation, your body temp will rise out of control. This is ok for very short efforts, as your body temp may rise only 1-2 degrees and nothing will shut down. You won't need much cooling, as your body just absorbs the heat.  But if the effort is prolonged, say 30 minutes, you will eventually reach a dangerously high body temperature and things will shut down.

Quantitatively, I wasted about 2400kJ on the climb. My body mass is 72.5kg. A Joule raises a gram of water 1deg Celsius. If you assume our body is all water, 2400kJ applied to 72.5kg liquidy body will give 33.1C temperature rise if no heat is lost through sweat. This would raise my body temp to 158F by the end of the climb! You go into a comma above 105F.  So a lot is demanded by our cooling system. Slow to start sweating, not sweating enough, poor surface area to mass ratio or poor circulation at the skin can all contribute to poor heat tolerance. I have a pretty good idea I waste more energy than slow twitch riders, but I have only weak circumstantial evidence that my cooling system is weak.

When I compare my three worst hillclimbs due to heat and my PR's on those same mountains, I get a correlation of r=0.90 between delta from PR and temperature. This is extremely high, although if I looked at all the data the correlation would be weaker.  I've never had a good result on a hot day, but I have had some poor results on nice days.  In my log, words I used to describe weather for my PR's over the years are "pristine," ideal" and "cool." Temp was in the 60's at the base in all cases. My worst results used words like "oppressive" to describe the weather. Today's Ascutney climb was not my worst hot weather climb. That was Whiteface back in 2005.

Interestingly, after today's climb I felt fine, like I hadn't even exerted myself. No muscle soreness whatsoever.  I've never experienced that on Ascutney. Ascutney normally hurts me far worse than Mt Washington. I suspect this is because it is ridden much closer to VOmax, while Mt Washington is more of a threshold affair. I did take Sport Legs before today's climb. No telling if that had anything to do with it. Maybe because the heat curtailed my effort for the last half of the climb, I didn't do the normal damage.  Upon getting home, I checked my weight to make sure I was on top of hydration. I picked up 1.5 lbs from my morning measurement. Body fat was 5.6%, also indicative of full hydration.

It was still worth heading over to Ascutney. I did break last year's run/bike KOM record, just barely. Two others beat it by a lot more though. I expected Ducan to win it, but Ross Krause came out crushed Marshall's time by about 7 minutes.  I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a while and meet several fans in person that I've chatted with online. Probably the most remarkable point of the day was a single-legged cyclist making it to the summit. This was not a partial amputee with a prosthesis. He had no prosthesis of any kind. Truly amazing. And I whine about how hard it was to make it to the top with two good legs...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bungled Training

I can't seem to construct a successful training week these days. Extra work hours, juggling running with cycling and hot weather all conspire against me. I got in some great off-road riding this past weekend, even some intensity up Burke Mountain. But the real training payload comes during the work week. It is my short lunch sessions that deliver the most value per Joule expended.

The riding on Saturday and Sunday left me pretty ragged on Monday. I felt guilty about running only once last week. I plan to run the CIGNA Corporate 5k in a few weeks. Upwards of 200 people from my company will be running in it with 5000 others.  I have to keep enough running in my schedule so I don't injure myself. I don't have any serious goals, but it would be nice to break a six minute pace for a 5k.

So in my physically trashed, guilt ridden state, I ran 9k on Monday when I should have taken a complete rest day. I played a little with my stride too, like trying to really open it up down the long Exit 10 overpass hill.  The dew point was about 70F. Running sucks when it is that muggy. I bet I lost four pounds in 40 minutes.  I didn't think I ran very hard, but I was even more wrecked later in the day.

Then comes Tuesday, which is VOmax intervals day. I have a hillclimb race on Saturday, so I had to get a little early week intensity in, right? I wasn't even walking normally, yet I headed out at lunch with SteveG for some short hill intervals.

Sometimes after 30 minutes, stubborn legs come around and deliver some semblance of performance. I wasn't feeling the love today. Then mid ride, Steve flatted. This was after saying he should really replace his tire before the ride. Have you ever seen somebody intentionally head out on a tire with exposed casing the whole way around the tire? The tire had hair.  There was zero tread cap left on a Michelin Pro3 Race with about 6000 miles on it. Those tires are good for only 3000 miles. On a MTB ride last fall with Steve, he abandoned after the third flat. Same deal. Tube was bulging out sidewall splits in about 10 places. He gets tires at near cost from his buddy that owns an LBS. Go figure. I told Steve he could count on getting more crap from me here...

Anyway, the break must have done me some good, as I found a little bit of my legs after that. Unfortunately, the hilly section of the ride was about over. Some lively pulls quickly got us back to work. It seems I've had a number of training weeks go this way this summer. Rarely dipping deeply into the VOmax realm has to have some negative impact on cycling performance. Training has gravitated towards the junky middle.  Things were much easier when running wasn't in the mix.

Now it's contemplation time. Do I recover the rest of the week and attempt a PR on Mt Ascutney on Saturday? The forecast looks the worst ever for a hillclimb race. Temps will nearly reach 100F on Thursday and Friday with little cooling over Friday night.  There's just isn't any cooling when grinding 8mph up a 12-15% grade. I can count on 1-2 minutes added to my time for every 10F above 70F. So what would be the point of driving all the way out there for a 30 minute effort that represents how bad I suck in heat?

I've had some bad heat experiences over the years. During a study at UNH, I learned just how quickly my core body temp rises in heat. I am very inefficient at cooling myself, and if I'm indeed a fast twitch guy, that is a double whammy. Fast twitch is more wasteful and produces more excess heat than slow twitch. I find when I hit these thermal limits, it takes me days to recover. My abdominal cavity is left in a funky state. Organ damage? Who knows. People say everybody suffers in the heat. That is only partially true. Not everybody suffers the same in the heat.

I'll probably take my heat lumps on Ascutney, pout about it afterwards, then look forward to a long trail ride somewhere on Sunday when it should be cooler.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Burke for Breakfast

My weekends are booked into September. I was really jones'n to ride the Northeast Kingdom trails (NEK). I had a small window of opportunity early on Saturday. Early meant leaving the house before 6am. I don't like getting up that early even to race. A perfect day was on tap, so I managed to drag my sorry carcass out of bed. It's getting harder to find takers for MTB day trips. One riding buddy has become more infatuated with rowing than riding these days. He says the same about me and running, so I guess we're even. I headed up solo.

I reached East Burke at 8:30am. There were three other cars in the parking lot. The pass was $15! I almost didn't notice at first. That is what you expect to pay for premium grooming XC ski trails, where expensive machines and fuel till the trails 1-2 times per day. Off-road riding in Vermont has typically been a pay-to-play deal. This is changing, however, as the Green Mountain National Forest Service is warming up to the mountain biking community and entering into partnerships to build and maintain trails for mountain biking. National forest land in most other states is open to mountain biking unless posted otherwise. In Vermont, it is closed unless posted open to riding. There are still very few off-road riding opportunities on public land in Vermont, a state with vast national forest land. Thus the popularity of places like Kingdom Trails or Millstone, where you pay to ride. It is a bit ironic that snowmobiles pretty much have free-range of the Green Mountain National Forest in winter months. While they don't disturb the soil, snow machines are heavy air polluters.

I had a business agenda for the first part of my ride. With a couple hillclimb races coming up, I wanted to hit Burke Mtn hard all the way to the summit. You can ride singletrack up the first half now. The trail called Burnham Down was claimed to be muddy due to recent rain. I found it to be not bad at all. Interestingly, the sign at the bottom says "Burnham Up." I much prefer burning up this trail, which is quite steep at first but totally doable.

Camptown trail continues the climb. It switchbacks parallel to the road to the summit. Why is it I always see cars and trucks loaded with guys and bikes going up, but empty trucks with a girl driving down? I have some vertical credits to sell if anybody has a guilty conscious for not earning their vert...

The last 1.5mi to the summit is a paved sufferfest. 15-25% grade, 28 lb dualie, 12 lb Camelback and 28 psi in the tires. My heavy Camelback nearly had me wheelying over backwards on the 0.2mi of 25% grade.

Burke Mtn from Magill Fields.
Waist deep wildflowers and 100 bees per cubic foot

Climbing, I noticed a new wind farm in the distance. Wow, northern Vermont finally made this happen. There has been resistance against wind farms for years. All kinds of reasons were given, but it really boiled down to "not in my pristine backyard." Vermonters like their green ridgelines. For a state that claims to be progressive, it is a bit hypocritical to shun an energy source as green as wind. Humans have been harvesting wind power for about two millennia now. The Dutch mastered wind power many hundreds of years ago to grind grain and pump water (since a lot of their land is below sea level). My hometown Holland, MI has a 250 year old dutch windmill. I've toured it. The massive timber frame construction is a marvel.

Look closely for windmills on ridgeline to left

With the business part of the ride completed, I bombed down all the Moose Alley stuff, then headed over to the Darling Hill trail system. I rode for two hours before I saw another rider on the trails. Satisfying yet creepy. My last close encounter with a bear was at NEK. I hit all my favorites - Coronary, Tap and Die, Sidewinder, Rim and Kitchel. You cannot bomb Sidewinder without letting out a yelp. It takes all my might to not grab a fistful of brake as gravity pulls you into the bottom of the gully each time. There's almost a moment of weightlessness as your arc goes from skyward to earthward. At the end, I paused briefly. A kid in full downhill gear stopped to raise his seat 6" and commented it was now time for the "big climb." See the profile to put this "big" climb into perspective.

The Ridge/Rim/East Branch descent is underated. One of my favorites.
Here is a switchback after Rim pops out on East Branch

I completed my planned route more quickly than anticipated, so I wandered over to the town forest trails. It is a small beginner network without much climbing. A log stunt in there was anything but beginner! I probably wouldn't even try it with spotters.

Massive log stunt in the town forest

All the parking lots were full when I got back.  A nice touch NEK has added this season are coin operated showers by the parking lot. While dipping in the river is nice, a real shower is even nicer when you are driving directly to an evening engagement with the wife without going home first.

This was one of my better rides at NEK. I covered 35.4mi with 5000ft of climbing in 4.3hrs. You do get a lot for your $15 trail pass. The trails are meticulously maintained. Problem areas are continually being addressed. For example, many new spans of bridge and rock armoring have been added to Burnham Up. Without this, there would have been several mud slog hike-a-bikes. You get a good map and accurate signage. Where else can you ride 4-5hrs or more and not even see anything twice? I don't think $15 would get in the way of me continuing to ride there. Gas to get up there and back costs much more than $15. Many NH state parks charge admission fees too, although much lower at $4 per person. Hopefully this holds me up until this fall when I can get back up there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ascutney Mountain Run

Hmm, where to start with this one... When I took up running six months ago to bolster my bone density, I had no aspiration to make anything of it. It was going to be something I just suffered through. But running really isn't all that bad once you gain a little conditioning. I already have the motor, I just needed everything else.

I dabbled in running up a couple local climbs in the 300-800ft range with grades up to 12%. One thing I immediately picked up on was the lack of impact that comes with running fast on flat ground. Running a fast 5k requires powerful snap and good form. I lack both, as these come with years of training. Running up a steep grade doesn't require nearly as much speed in the legs and the technique is much simpler. Each push requires lifting your entire body weight to the next foot plant higher up on the slope. This is not all that different than mashing a big gear going uphill on a bicycle. Running uphill does require much more of the calves than biking uphill, something I'm still developing. So with these similarities between running and biking uphill, I decided to try an actual uphill running race.

Eric from Penguin Cycles commented here a while back that I should consider the race he and and his wife Raina put on at Mt Ascutney. No doubt this would be a well run event like the Ascutney bike race they put on.  They offer cash to overall KOM and QOM winners of combined run/bike times. A little research showed the same kid won it the last two years and probably owns the "unofficial record."  I pondered if I could beat it. Marshall's bike time was almost as fast as my PR time. I'd have to be at least as fast on the bike and be faster on the run. Only problem was I'm not a runner. I've accumulated a lifetime total of 28hrs running so far.  In my dabblings on local climbs, I extrapolated out to Ascutney's vertical. I thought I at least had a fighting chance.

On the fourth of July, I went over to Mt Ascutney on a covert mission. I didn't want to advertise I was going for the KOM title. I feared I would turn a couple Hill Junkie readers on to this climb and blow my chances. I wanted to sneak in under the radar, as they say. So I hit Ascutney after two punishing days of mountain biking. My goal was to see if I could even run up such a beast without imploding. Based on local climbs, I figured 33 minutes was a stretch goal, and 38 minutes was worst case, assuming fresh legs. It was wicked hot on the 4th, and my legs were far from fresh. It took me nearly 38 minutes to summit the beast. Wouldn't you know it, John Baylay, his wife Pamela and others were up there as I summitted. The climb destroyed me. Fortunately, having other hillclimb enthusiast up there took my mind off how badly that sucked. Running up is way harder than riding up.

My time of 37:55 was not fast enough to beat Marshall's KOM record, but I was quite confident in less heat and with fresh legs, I could do at least two minutes faster. I was still going for it.

Heading up I-89 to the race, I couldn't help but notice all the USAT & USATF stickers on vehicles. Normally, when heading up to say the Lake Sunapee bike race, you see a stream of bikes atop cars with USAC stickers on back. At bib pickup, I noticed runners can be even more emaciated than cyclists. Most of these guys and gals had no upper body whatsoever.

Then I spotted a dude that didn't fit in. His biceps were bigger than most quads. Was it... no... hope not! It was. Duncan Douglas decided to drop by for this one. He was one of the two dudes I feared would come.  Duncan owns the run/bike KOM on Whiteface Mtn, taking 2nd overall in both events this year. So how did Duncan learn of this event? I linked to it under my Planned Events to the right. He wondered what that was about, clicked on it, and thought he must do it. Doh! So much for stealthily going after a KOM title.

Upwards of 200 runners lined up. This race is part of the USATF New England Mountain Circuit. Kasie Enman was there, the current US mountain running champion. So not only did I have no chance on the KOM, I was getting girled too.

Since I knew about where I expected to finish (top 20), I positioned myself in second row. Gun goes off, and everybody takes off like it's a flat 5km. Holy crap, this is going to be a beat down. About 20 runners are ahead of me, and Duncan settles in the the lead group that starts to pull away. There seemed to be a select group of about 20 of us that pulled clear of the masses. I wore no bio feedback like HRM or pacing device. I've been up this mountain 25-30 times on bikes and once on foot, so I was going purely on perceived effort and using others around me to gauge pacing.

It didn't take long for things to sort out. Duncan slowly pulled away from me, but drifted back from the leaders. Kasie was right on his heals for the whole race. I traded places with the same three guys pretty much the whole way up. One guy kept resorting to walking, I'd pass him, then he'd come sprinting by a minute later. I think I nailed my pacing, as nobody came from behind and passed me during the race that I could tell. I wasn't passing anybody either. My bike climbs typically go this way.

One thing was decidedly different. Running uphill breaks your will to continue, even your will to live. The suffer factor is 10x biking. I rarely get that urge to stop on a bike, but running, yeah, the demons where taunting me to throw in the towel on this one. How I held the pace to the end is beyond me.

With no electronics on me, I had no idea how I was doing. Since I rested for this race and it wasn't too hot out, I assumed I was doing better than my trial earlier in the week. I hit the line in 35:44, more than two minutes faster than my trial run. This was pretty much where I thought I'd finish. Duncan and Kasie were two minutes ahead of me. I finished 18th overall. I suppose that is not bad for an hour of flat running per week over the last six months. Then I started talking with Duncan. He not only did the Mt Washington Newton's Revenge race in 1:02 the day before, and he not only climbed Mt Ascutney on his bike 1.5 times also day before, but he hasn't even run in the last three weeks. Unbelievable. I was still quite happy with my result, and I think it represents my best effort.

I probably did well enough to break Marshall's KOM record in two weeks when the bike race is held up Mt Ascutney, but I'd have to beat Duncan by more than two minutes to claim the title. That would probably mean breaking the course bicycle record, and that, my friends, ain't gonna happen. Duncan is going for the BUMPS title this year and is already signed up for Ascutney.

With three cycling trips so far this year, I feel my form has come back. This is my twelfth year racing up Ascutney. Just maybe, I can eek out another PR. I would be ecstatic if I did. At almost 49 years old, I can still honestly say I'm in the best shape of my life. The running has brought more diversity into my training and some balance back to my body. I look forward to trying a couple winter triathlons this season.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Filling in the Gaps

Everybody has heard of Brandon, Middlebury, Lincoln, Appalachian, Roxbury and Rochester gaps. These gaps comprise the infamous 6-gaps of Vermont ride. There are other gaps that perhaps few have heard of. Have you ever wondered why our traditional route must traverse so far down routes 12A and 12 between Roxbury and Rochester gaps? Surely there must be other crossings over the mountain ridgeline between those two gaps, which are at least 20 miles apart. Well, there are! Sort-of...

When I moved to New England in 1997, I bought Mountain Bike Vermont by Jen Mynter. I was on my way to becoming the Hill Junkie at the time, and one particular ride in the book caught my attention. It was Mount Cushman, described as "by far the longest and most challenging ride in the book."  Back then, and still today for the most part, most off-road riding on public lands in Vermont is on forest service roads open to motorized vehicles in summer months. The Mt Cushman loop was a mix of paved, gravel and jeep roads that passes over two gaps and hits the summit of Mt Cushman. Saturday, I did a variant of this ride.

My plan was to park in Rochester and head out on Rt 73 just like how we begin most 6-gaps rides. Instead of climbing Brandon Gap, I planned to take forest service roads across to Rt 125. I had no intel on this route whatsoever, just forest service, Google and DeLorme map info showing a potential route.

About 1.5mi up Rt 73, I turn off on a dirt road. Immediately, the grade kicks up to 12-17% and stays there a good while. My goal was to get liberal amounts of threshold effort in on this ride. No problem on grades like this. The road eventually peters out to doubletrack, which then became bush-wacky. There were no signs or gates.  The weeds and grass hid frequent perils, like slimy diagonally placed deadfall just waiting to suck your front wheel out from under you. Other times, the surface would give way to murky goo that lie just underneath.

At a trail junction, a cable and sign said trail closed. Crap. That was the way my GPS track told me to go. So I took the open route, which promptly started to plummet towards the east. Clearly I was not going to complete this route as planned. The initial descent was so steep and perilous that I don't think I went over 6mph, yet my ears kept popping from rapid altitude loss.

On Rt 100, I abandoned plans to ride anything more on west side of Rt 100 and proceeded to Braintree Gap. This gap is roughly half way in between Roxbury and Rochester Gaps. Another good 10 minutes of anaerobic effort was gained on the initial gravel road part of the climb. A small sign said Braintree Mountain Rd. Uh, oh. This is going to be hard. It looked more like rutted out creek bottom with brownie mix covering everything. It appeared to be open to motorized vehicles, although it would take a high clearance 4WD or ATV to make it up this thing.

Beginning of Braintree Gap. It gets gnarlier and steeper as the
climb progresses.

I brought my 29er hardtail with Stan's Raven semi-slick tires pumped up hard to avoid sidewall damage. They absolutely sucked on greasy granite. There were many ledgy outcroppings on this climb. A couple forced me to dismount. There was water trickling down most of the climb. As I approached the top, an ATV rider came over from the other direction.

The bugs were bad, so I didn't stop at the summit. The descent down the east side was even steeper and looser. My wrists nearly crapped out from braking fatigue. Had I been riding with somebody else with robust tires and full suspension, this descent would have been a lot more fun. Must have been 50 waterbars on the way down.

Rt 12A took me over the beginning of Randolph Gap. Again, some gravel road is taken to gain the first portion of the climb, but now, three hours into it, my legs weren't working all that well. My GPS track indicated when I reached the road that went up and over. At first, it looked like it might be passable by cars. It was very soft and wet though. Cars had been on it. But soon I realized it was just to reach a parking area for the hike up the rest of the way, presumably for Mt Cushman. This climb was going to be more of the same - rutted out creek bottom.

Beginning of Randolph Gap. Looks almost road bikeable here, but
soon degenerated into full-on Jeep road.

The grade was relentless enough that I - gasp - stopped to catch my breath. My legs were ready to shit the bed. Other than a stop and couple dabs due to slick tires, I did ride the whole thing. The top is quite pronounced. Not quite a knife edge, but close. Double tracks went both ways along the ridge line, one to Rochester Mtn, the other to Mt Cushman. This is state land and open to non-motorized use. I figured I was up there, I might as well ride the mile or so up to the summit of Mt Cushman even though I was out of water.

Apparently, ATV's used to rule this place years ago. There were giant pools of quagmire, many that you couldn't ride around. These were polliwog and mosquito larva infested stink ponds. One time I tempted fate and tried to ride along the edge of one of these cesspools. Midway, my front tire dove so deep I couldn't even see the brake rotor. It wasn't water, it was mud all the way. Needless to say, my legs went in as deep to catch myself. I nearly had to abandon my bike in place. The muck had such a tenacious grip on it. Had it pulled a shoe off, I would never have been able to recover it. The bike made heinous sucking sounds as the muck gave up its stronghold. My shoes were filled with the goo and I had no means to rinse them out.  Did I say this shit stunk?

The view from Mt Cushman was nice, but marginally worth what it took to get there. Later at home, I learned that had I ridden a bit further out, there was potentially a better view from where hangliders launch.

View east/south from summit of Mt Cushman.

The descent back into Rochester was another slo-mo affair. Nobody would find me out here if I ate it bad. I had to be careful. Loose rocks and running water were again the feature of the day. Randolph Gap dumps our right near the stop sign on the Rochester Gap descent where we take a left when doing 6-gaps. From there, it was pavement at 40+mph the rest of the way into town.

Braintree (center) and Randolph (right) Gaps.

I finished the ride with 39mi, 5700ft vertical in 4.2hrs on the Garmin. Intensity earlier in the ride put me in a pretty wrecked state. A large roast beef and cheddar sub and coffee from the corner deli in Rochester were enough to get me started on the drive home. I'd consider doing a Braintree/Randolph loop again, but only after a dry spell, on a dualie, with some real tires. There are actually four dirt gaps over that ridgeline, the other two being Moretown and Roxbury, both road bikeable. A hundred mile four-gapper on a mountain bike comes to mind...