Sunday, June 24, 2012

A 50 Miler Gone Awry

Having got training oriented business out of the way in Saturday's time-trial, Sunday was going to be a fun day. Dave and Isaac planned a long FOMBA/Bear Brook trail ride. The deal was, I didn't think I was up for it Saturday evening. I told Dave I was out.  My wife has a few relatives over, and this has been messing my sleep up. I think I got less than three hours Friday night. I hit the sack early Saturday night, actually got more than a few hours sleep and felt remarkably better Sunday morning. Dave pinged me a final time to see if I'd reconsider joining them, so I caved in against better judgement. It was going to be too nice of a day to do a lame-ass recovery ride, and a long ride meant less time dealing with inlaws...

We did the usual, big-ring around Massabesic Lake at pretty crazy speeds, then Isaac's secret back way to Bear Brook. We entered on Podunk Rd this time to ride the I-trail from Hall Mountain. That is where the ride went awry. Isaac attempted to chop a log with his rear derailleur. Goodbye rear indexing. The chain and derailleur appeared to be spared, but the hanger sheared clean off. We were over 20 miles from the cars.

Secret way to BB has this gem in it. About 30% grade.
Dave was too far back to see my magic lines to the top.

Single, but fail.

We fussed a good while to get a singlespeed combination to work. Has anybody ever gotten this to work? I never have. Ramped cassettes will not hold a chain, even a tight chain, on a cog. Especially on a full-suspension bike where chain tension is a function of swing-arm position. We got something going that had potential. The good news was we passed Isaac's folks house just as we entered Bear Brook, so he didn't have far to go to call and wait for help. The bad news, we later learned, the chain jumped up to a very tight cog, and maybe with suspension motion adding extra force, sheared the small chain ring completely off the crank. Word is the crank is scrap now. I haven't seen the crank, but maybe there's a chance the bolt remnants can be extracted.

Scenery along Trail 15 heading back.

Dave and I continued on, hitting the campground to top off water. We hit all the good stuff, like Hemlock, Bear Brook, Alp d'Huez and Bear Hill before taking Trail 15 back to FOMBA land. I ate profusely during the ride. I'm learning more and more this is connected with my cramping tendencies in long, fast-paced rides. Dropping down to the Wahoo course around Tower Hill Pond, I had a flashback to the Watershed Wahoo race days. For a moment, I thought I was in the final lap, hammering at speeds of 20+mph around the course. Dave pretty much pegged what was going on in my head and hung on by a thread. It was a great way to finish off a 52 mile, 4.5 hour ride.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

White Mountains Cycling Classic - Kanc TT

I committed to this event on a whim, registering minutes before Bikereg closed. Brett called me on Friday to see what I was doing this weekend and told me he signed up. I was on the fence, but if he was going, and the weather looked good, I thought why not. I did not plan on racing and wasn't in a very rested state. We have a full house with my wife's relatives over, and sleep has been very scarce this week. Nothing like a 40 minute TT effort to slap you up side the head, eh?

Field sizes were small. There were a few solid masters riders there. Mark Suprenant and Eric Carlson and I have been battling for southern New Hampshire supremacy in Strava lately. Shawn Smith recently quipped to Mark that he owned southern NH after claiming many notable KOMs, and Hill Junkie was not going to be happy about that.

Turns out Eric was staged many minutes ahead of me, so I would have no interaction with him in the TT. Mark was staged three minutes up. I figured it was slim I would ever see him either, but it did provide motivation for me to try. Brett was staged a minute and a half behind me with Eiric Marro in between us, another solid time-trialist.

The Kanc from Loon Mountain is a pretty gradual climb. The first half is <3% grade with speeds over 25mph in spots, the last couple miles around 5% grade. Total for whole 10.2mi climb is a paltry 3.5%. It is more a flat TT than a hillclimb. I joked with Eiric about not having TT gear, as there was no climb here. In fact, very few people used any aero gear. Aero bars were allowed. I used my heavier Ridley Noah, first ride on it since last year, even though it is heavier than my hillclimb bike.  I can keep the more aero Rolf Vigor wheels on the Ridley now that I have Rolf Prima's for the hillclimb bike.

Warming up, my legs felt pretty poopy (when haven't they lately?). I sensed an imminent blood-bath. I had no bio or power feedback. I probably went out too hard. I sensed a little deflection a few minutes in. Not much play-by-play to report in a TT. I stayed in the big ring for the first two-thirds of the TT.  I passed a lot of people, but only a couple numbers staged just ahead of me. This gave me some consternation, as I had no idea how I was doing, other than suffering immensely.

Based on Mike Barton's time from a while back in Strava, I figured the climb would take at least 40 minutes. So I was surprised to hit the finish in 36:24. Just goes to show, leaderboards in Strava are not race results. Comparing results with the other strongmen at the top, I did ok. Was fastest master, and just missed cash payout with a 4th place overall finish, as results later showed. We had ourselves a nice little paceline posse heading back down to Loon after the finish.

The course was the most well marshaled and staffed of any event I've done. Registration was a bit expensive, but proceeds go to New England Disabled Sports, and you get an army of volunteers from the benefiting cause. Very well run.  I'd come back to do this again.

Brett and I didn't wait around for awards. We headed in the other direction on the Kanc and climbed Gonzo Pass for a bonus. I secretly hoped Brett would have enough upon hitting the summit, as I was cooked. Of course, I wasn't going to be the first to suggest turning around at the top. Our plan was to bomb all the way down the other side and climb the west side too. So when Brett said he might be happy with just the east side, I thought "yes!", but said "maybe, let's see how we feel at the top."  Odd how a 36 minute effort can leave you so lifeless. A second ear popping descent was a nice way to cap off the day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Done (almost)

This week's project has been to equip our main floor with air conditioning. Like most New England homes, our home was plumbed with hot water heat. When we moved here from Michigan 15 years ago, our builder convinced us it didn't get hot enough in New Hampshire to warrant forced air heat in order to accommodate central AC. I regret not challenging him on this.

Options available to us were a) use many window units (hugely inefficient, ugly, and labor intensive, b) run ducts through the house with an air handler in the basement or attic (disruptive, very expensive install), or c) install a split ductless AC system with the evaporator unit installed on a wall (some might protest aesthetics).

The ductless systems are very popular in other parts of the world. These are also among the most efficient systems.  Some people in nicer, modern homes, might not want an evaporator unit with fan mounted to an interior wall. Cathy and I are not that fussy.

We went with a Mitsubishi ductless system, a 2-ton (22,000 BTU) unit with a SEER rating of 19.  Misubishi AC systems are highly rated and thus not cheap. The compressor uses inverter drive technology. You barely can hear the compressor turn on when standing by the unit outside.  The only external wall that had enough space to mount the indoor unit on was our dining room, a room rarely used.  The dining room is open to both the kitchen and foyer, two paths for air to circulate through the rest of the main floor. The fan in the unit is whisper quiet, nothing like a window unit. You pretty much have to walk right up to the unit to feel air movement to tell it is running. With a single unit on one side of the house, I do expect some temperature gradient across the house. My study in particular, is at the opposite end and has one narrow doorway. But the room with our home theater in the middle should cool just fine.

The system came Wednesday from I wired the 220V to outdoor compressor Thursday and finished the copper and drain lines with inter-unit wiring this morning on my off-day. I had Rob Coletta swing by after I finished the install to pressure test for leaks, vacuum purge the lines and perform start-up. I was super-stoked Rob had an open slot at the end of the day and could get me going before the weekend closed out.  By the time Rob left, our main floor was cooling down. Would have been nice if I had started this project a few days earlier with recent heat...

Compressor unit. Stands about 3ft high but only a foot or so wide.
Three cement blocks and two patio pavers form pedastal.

Evaporator unit.

The system was quite easy to install. As an electrical engineer and having built an entire house in Michigan, I have good familiarity with electrical code. The most challenging part was drilling the 3" hole through the wall and then getting four items (liquid line, suction line, drain line and electrical conduit) through that hole while holding up a 60 lb unit. The compressor is pre-charged with R410A refrigerant. My line length did not require any additional charge.

Still a couple loose ends to finish. The inter-unit lines finishing kit did not make it with the shipment. On back-order. So exposed lines will have to hang on the side of our house another week or two. Also need to anchor the compressor unit to the base. It weighs over 130 lbs, so it won't be going anywhere in the mean time.  Might have to move the bike stand upstairs now...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

PR's and Demo Days

I went out for my lunch ride feeling a little peaked (that's ˈpē-kid, not pēkt) from the weekend's efforts. I debated whether to go for any intensity at all or wait another day. At nearly 50, I'm finding it takes longer to recover from punishing rides. And how does one really know how fresh you should be for interval work? You can't spend five days a week recovering. You'd never build any fitness that way. So there should be some level of residual tiredness when going out for intensity work. But how tired is too tired?

Anyway, I hadn't been out to Uncanoonuc in a while, so I headed over at an easyish tempo pace. Legs came around after a while. When I approached Summit Rd, I ditched the water bottle (every 2 seconds counts!) and headed right into the steep, 500ft climb.

I felt awful but gave it my best shot anyway. I have my power meter set up to show average lap power. It ramps up to 480W starting out, then slowly drops. Question was, how high would it be upon summitting? My recent best was 403W, which netted me just over 6 minutes for the climb. I'm a couple pounds lighter now (<158 lbs this morning), so if I could match that power, I'd at least be faster than 6 minutes. My PR was 5:40 from 2008. I've been measuring my performance on Uncanoonuc for over 10 years now.

As I approached the summit, I struggled to keep average power above 420W. I clearly was going to have my best time in a while. I did not have my GPS set up to show lap time, so I was very pleasantly surprised to see 5:38 when I hit the lap button. A PR by 2 seconds! I was on the same bike as in 2008, set up a little differently (water bottle in 2008 but no power tap), so a very apples to apples comparison. That eases concerns over abysmal performance on Ascutney this weekend.

Wish running would go as well. Not sure when I'll be able to get back into it. My short exploratory run on Monday produced some mild discomfort, so I shut it down. May try again on Thursday. Another runner/rider had similar problems and was diagnosed with plantaris tendonitis. An interesting muscle/tendon that some sources say 7% of humans don't even have. Read more about it here.

This past Sunday, Pivot Cyles with Likin Bikin was at Bear Brook State Park for a demo day. This was perfect. I got in a superb training ride in VT the day before, so I could accomplish two tasks at BB on Sunday: Pick up my new climbing wheelset from Likin Bikin, and try out some of the latest full suspension MTBs on my favorite local trails.

There are only a couple New England dealers for Rolf Prima wheels. I didn't want to go south of the border and pay big sales tax. Next closest was Likin Bikin in the lakes region. I've been a long time user of Rolf wheels, going way back to 1999 when I bought a bike with Dolomite disk wheels. User experience is mixed with Rolf wheels, but I've had exceptionally good luck with them. One road set has many 10's of thousands of miles on them, abusive miles, and have never been trued. Rim sidewalls are about gone though. I ordered the Elan's. They came in a little heavier than advertised, just over 1400g. But they are definitely the lightest wheelset I've bought. They will be used primarily for hillclimb events.

The first bike I domo'd was a Mach 5.7 Carbon. The Pivot Cycles mechanic dialed in the suspension for my weight, then I was off. The Shimano brakes are uber punchy, way more so than the Hayes I ride. Neither good nor bad. Just different. I do not like 2x10 drivetrains either. They neither gear low nor high enough for the kinds of riding I do. I took the 5.7 on one of the most technical trails there, Carr Ridge. Yeah, now I know why DaveP is so much faster than me on this trail with his Yeti 575. I would still suck if I had this bike, but suck a little less. I found myself taking lines I would not normally take. Nearly 6" front and rear travel makes my Racer-X dualie feel like a hardtail. The slack head angle did make climbing more challenging, and without the suspension locked out, there was good deal of wallowing when climbing out of the saddle. I did notice some kick-back into the pedals going over bumps. The suspension is not as independent as my Racer-X FSR suspension. Maybe this comes with big travel bikes.

After waiting a long time for my size bike to come back in from a demo ride, I jumped on a Mach 429. This was an alloy steed. Rumor is a carbon version will be coming out later this year. The 429 was a very different ride. No wallow, and it climbed exceptionally well. I went up Bear Hill from the south. The handling did not seem to be as quirky as my Superfly 29er. I think Gary Fisher over-compensated the fork trail geometry spec. The 429 felt very much like a hybrid between my 4" travel Racer-X and my Superfly hardtail. Based on the type of riding I do most, I would probably go for the big wheels and small travel rather than small wheels and big travel. I've always been skeptical of DW and VPP designs, but Pivot seems to have a pretty solid execution of the DW Link design. I'm looking to add to the quiver in the next 12 months. Hard to say right now if I'll stay with a Specialized FSR suspension or jump over to one of the other designs.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Running

I was bummed not being able to run Mt Washington on Saturday. Conditions were ideal. DaveP ran 1:27 on less running than I've done. Impressive effort.  After the Cannon Mt hillclimb a week ago, I thought the massive blister on the back of my right heel would have foiled my Mt Washington event, not a calf injury. Fortunately, my calf injury does not seem to be bothered by riding at all. Strange. Saturday I still had to be careful going down stairs, but riding up mountains? No problem.

Being such a fine day, I wanted to take advantage of the situation and hit some big, steep climbs I haven't done in a while. I drove over to Mt Ascutney in Vermont. My legs were pretty tired, as I was still able to do some pretty high intensity work on the bike on Thursday despite a messed up calf. I took my heavy training bike with the Power Tap, weighing in at 19.0 lbs.

After a brief warmup, I hit Mt Ascutney first. I forgot I didn't have a compact crank on that bike. Ugh. I did have a MTB cassette on back though, so my cadence wasn't going to drop too ridiculously low. I could use the high-force/low-cadence work anyway. I figured I'd just go easy, maybe average 350W.

Yeah, right. I held 369W first mile. Average dropped to 350W at mile two, then plummetted after that as the grade slackened. I reached the top with a 335W average and was surprised I went over 30 minutes. I knew my legs were tired, but I didn't think they were that tired.

A little math when I got back home suggests my lighter hillclimb bike will take 30-40 seconds off. Then I need to come up with 7% more power to break 28 minutes, my goal next month. That seems like a stretch right now.

I grabbed some food and water bottles and headed over to Okemo via Tyson Rd. Seems no road in Vermont escaped the wrath of Irene. Parts of Tyson Rd were washed out and temporarily repaired with gravel fill. The descent towards Ludlow was still in pretty good shape though, and is one of the best around. Reminds me of some of the Alps descents.

The Ascutney effort had fully caught up to me by the time I reached the base of Okemo, another 4mi, 12% climb. It was getting warm too. I was going to die on this one with my gearing and trashed legs. There is a long 15-17% grade section in the middle of the climb that is trouble even with fresh legs during the race. Post ride analysis shows my cadence dropped to low 50's for extended periods of time on this climb. There's no way to keep power numbers up with that low of a cadence. It took me about 34 minutes to reach the end of the pavement, a fairly typical time when climbing Okemo after a hard effort on Ascutney.

After bombing down the totally crap pavement of Okemo, the highlight of the ride was next, stopping at Java Baba's. Vitamin Water and a monster homemade "energy" bar consisting of coconut, chocolate chips, nuts, graham cracker crust, oats, probably marshmallow holding all together, and more. No way could I eat all of it in one sitting.

I had to hit one more climb before heading back to Ascutney. I've never climbed Terrible Mtn/Rt 100 from town, only descended it. It is all in the sun, and Rt 100 is kind of busy, but the climb threw a couple more 12% punches to make sure my legs were cooked before I got back. Didn't win any Strava awards on this one, that's for sure. Bombing back down to town the same way was fun.

Scenic Rt 131 is taken back to Ascutney. By now I had a headwind. I was counting on tailwind to push me along at 30mph on this slight downhill grade, but instead, I had to burn more kilojoules at 20mph to get back. Legs were starting to cramp on the final 500ft climb flanking Mt Ascutney.  I finished with about 77 miles, 8300ft of climbing, in 4.8 hours. I was in such an endorphin haze driving home I'm surprised I even remembered where I lived.

Thanks for the many great comments on my calf injury. They give me much to research and think about. I've been aggressively stretching my calves since the injury. Interestingly, I'm noticing now that I no longer have a limited dorsifexion in my left calf. Both of my calves are balanced. I wonder, is it possible I had some tight muscle strands left from my fracture in 2010 that let loose? I know as recently as a couple months ago, I had a few degrees less range of motion in my left calf. It is possible the amount of hillclimb running I did loosened it up too.

It is also interesting to note that I did not experience the disabling injuries while running uphill. Both the March and June episodes were on dead flat ground. No doubt running and hiking up 10-30% grades puts huge stress on calves, but I think it is the eccentric muscle contraction running on flat ground that does the final damage. So the question is, if I run only flat terrain, would my calf issues go away?

As of Sunday night, the pain is pretty much gone doing normal activities, including going down stairs. I may go out for an exploratory run on the office campus early in the week to see how it feels.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Seems a few of my colleagues have a little time on their hands these days. Even though they never met "Fat Doug," they believe this person still lives inside me, and he's fighting to come back.  Since a small child, I've always had a reputation for voluminous eating habits. Eating volume hasn't changed the last 15 years since I shed over 70 pounds. I balance the eating with aerobic activity these days.

This masterpiece appeared this week in the office. Lots of inside humor here. Images of Kevin Sliech and I were taken at last year's CIGNA 5k race. Not  sure where image of master chef Tom was taken. One day Rich (creator of masterpiece) and I were ridiculing one of Kevin's designs, and in frustration he rhetorically blurted "What are you guys, big F'n experts?" So now were known as BFE's in our group.

A while back, there was a push to bring Fat Doug back. A photo of what I once was appeared at the entrance to my office seeking edible donations of the sweet kind with a goal to reach 300 lbs. Very cleaver. The first day, I scored all kinds of good stuff, and with my lacking willpower, I ate most of it. Unfortunately, donations plummeted shortly after. I had to take this donation center home to photograph it, as cameras are not allowed in our facility.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


My left calf exploded again. Literally, just running along, at conversation pace. This happened to me back in March without warning. Dave and I were half way out on an eight mile loop at lunch today when something popped in my left calf. It was so violent, I nearly hit the ground. Dave thought I got stung by a bee or something. Felt like an arrow right through the meaty part of the calf.  I told Dave to keep going. I though maybe I could walk it out, but didn't realize how bad my calf was wrecked initially. I did not have my cell phone with me. It was a very long four mile hobble back to the office.

When this happened in March, it took a week for my calf to come around. And that was laying low. In four days, I'm supposed to run up Mt Washington. That was to be my capstone event for the summer. Now I'm out just like that. My calf is worse off than last time, and I don't want to provoke a season ending injury.

What is it about running? This random bullshit does not happen on the bike. Now I have to figure out why this recurs and try to prevent it from happening again. The more I learn about running, the more I'm convinced it is all about injury management, not really about enjoying exercise or training. It seems something is always getting broke and needs fixing and then constant preventative maintenance. I suspect at some point, long-time runners have a huge preventative maintenance check list. This does not sound like fun to me.

There is an eery similarity of training stress leading up to both the March and June calf blow-ups. These are:
  1. Week or more of little to no running prior to injury
  2. Huge off-road hike-a-bikes in carbon soled shoes in days prior to injury
  3. First run after the light week produced unusual left calf pain and I ran through it
  4. Injury occurred on second run after light week, with no discomfort before hand
  5. Injury occurred 3-4 miles into easy run on flat terrain with no warning
My left and right legs are not the same since my ankle fracture in 2010. When I first began physical therapy, my left calf was 50% smaller than my right, and I had no dorsiflexion whatsoever (where calf muscle elongates). Thus the need for many weeks of PT. Running has brought back more of my range of motion, but my left ankle still lags right by a few degrees. I believe the range limiter is from my left calf muscle being shorter than my right.

My medial gastrocnemius muscle is extremely tender.
No bleeding evidence visible.

If I continue running long term, I must figure this out. I thought I did a pretty good job stretching my calves. But maybe not. Did the huge hike-a-bike stress on Sunday (all toe push-off with heavy mountain bike) make my calves tight? Can muscle fibers get weakened with no sensation that something is about to pop? Did I take too much time off from running prior to each injury, maybe letting my calves tighten up? Who knows.

I've read calf injuries are far more prevalent in weekend warrior type athletes. My running could almost be classified as such. Perhaps on extended periods where I don't have planned training runs, I at least need to go out for an easy 2-3 miles. Maybe I need to stretch my calves before I run (I usually avoid stretching before I'm warmed up).

So here I am, trying to divine what went wrong on a hopelessly incomplete data set. This is probably no different than ancient mystic explaining how Earth, wind and fire worked.  Not very happy right now. This might not seriously impact riding, but I can barely walk right now, let alone run.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Franconia Sufferfest

Where do I start with this one? Back about 14 years ago when my affinity toward hills became strong, I sought out ski area climbs. I did not have a road bike. Dirt service roads provided the biggest climbs around. Many ski areas ran lifts back then too, for the downhill set. I could catch some of the easier trails back down for extra fun. I would draw all kinds of crazy comments at Killington while climbing, like "you bought the wrong pass!" Or "you're going the wrong way!"

Over the years, I hit virtually every ski area in New England. Day trips took me as far away as Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine. More recently, I hit Mt Sunapee (100% rideable) and Sugarbush (almost cleaned it).

Then this quirky event popped up on the calendar called the Franconia Sufferfest, sponsored by the Franconia Inn and Littleton Bike & Fitness. It started at the Franconia Inn and finished at the summit of Cannon Mountain. I had always wanted to bike up Cannon, now I had a perfect excuse to do it. Little did I know, the state-owned ski area did not allow bikes (or even hiking for that matter) on the ski slopes, except for this special event. The tram would have to be taken back down.

The race was open to runners and mountain bikers. I wasn't sure who would be faster. On pavement, runners reach parity with road cyclists at about 17% grade. On gravel with mountain bikes, parity is reached at a much less steep grade, around 10-12%. This is due to much heavier bikes with much higher rolling losses. The route up Cannon Mtn was about 21% average grade on very suspect surface. Clearly, runners would have a huge advantage here. If we started with a bike, we had to finish with a bike. So whether a biker would finish ahead of a runner or not depended on how much the rider could gain in the first four miles of the course which gained only 1000ft or so. Total course gained more than 3000 feet in 6 miles.

Sunday's weather was ideal for the event. Cloudless and perfect temps. Riders queued up along the grassy airstrip across the street from the Franconia Inn. Runners would go off in second wave a minute or two back. There were only 20-25 riders crazy enough to attempt this. There were at least twice as many runners. There was no shortage of talent on hand though.

We go off, heading down the grassy airstrip. It was a typical MTB race start, holeshot sprint to the singletrack. The deal was, I didn't think there'd be any singletrack. So I settled back. Pace was still very high, not something sustainable for more than an hour. We cut into the woods, and immediately the trail necks down to muddy singletrack with skinny plank bridges. Ah, that's why the locals bolted so hard. Actually, I was probably the kind of rider that they wanted to put behind them.

I didn't recognize anybody there, so before the race, I asked race director Dave Harkless who I should watch. He pointed out Greg Jancaitis, a Cannondale rider, and a couple local guys in Dutch Treat jerseys, Justin Kline being one of them. Before long, there were only five of us pushing an aggressive pace on slick trails in a dense hemlock forest. The pace waned a bit, I moved up to fourth place, then third. The grade was very steep, and I was deeply anaerobic. I thought these kids were going to kill me out here. At some point, somebody had to relent just a little. They did. Not sure who was up front, either Greg or Justin, but I pounced on the opportunity and came to the front to ensure pace didn't drop too much. I must have kept the pace up pretty good, as a little while later, it was just Greg, Justin and I with nobody else in sight.

We reached a downhill with a very abrupt, rooty right hand turn. It caught me off-guard and I totally bobbled the turn. Greg and Justin bolted on ahead. I lost many seconds getting going again. We reached another longer, fairly treacherous downhill. Ferns obscured the greasy rocks and roots. I had never ridden here, so I dared not let my speed run out, being the delicate roadie I've become. I hemorrhaged many seconds in a brief time. I pretty much relegated myself to third place at that point. I could match Greg and Justin aerobically, but not technically.

We hit some heinous grades in the woods at one point, like 2.5mph kind of stuff, barely keep the front wheel down. It hurt so bad, as I didn't want to walk. I took a look back to see if anybody was coming up, as at that pace, two minutes back is not much distance. Nobody. But in looking back, I wobbled right off the trail into trees. Idiot. Do you think I could get started again? Noooo! Greg and Justin were gone now.

We finally popped out at the base of the Mittersill ski area. Reviewing the course profile before hand, I knew that there was around a mile of almost "flat" terrain cutting across the Mittersill ski slopes to the Peabody lodge at Cannon. This is where I thought good time would be made up on runners, as surely I'd be able to go 15-20mph here. Not a chance. It was soft, mushy grass. 5mph required about 350W input. It was such a demoralizer, as I knew what was just minutes away.

The turn to go up for real came way too soon. Right up the ski slope fall-line. I saw Greg and Justin walking almost immediately. I hoped this was just a brief spat at the bottom. Soon I learned, this was not to be.

GPS track, start at Franconia Inn on right

We pushed, and pushed, and pushed. My GPS told me the grade at times was over 30%. The trail was loose cantaloupe rocks half the time. It was easier to push the bike in the grass along the eroded ATV track. A third of the way up was a water stop. I think I was able to ride my bike for about 5 seconds there before jumping off again. My 29er doesn't gear nearly as low as my 26" dualie, but no gearing option would make a difference here. I was aerobically max'd out at 2.5mph. Justin had even less hope than riding it as I, as he had a 1x9 drive train.

I did slowly gain on Justin. I did not seem to make any progress on Greg. The gain he made on me in the woods was what he held to the summit.  On the open ski slopes, it was easy to see where everybody was. Next rider was many minutes back.

I was wearing almost new carbon sole shoes, and I could tell they were getting trashed. They weren't broken in yet, and the my heels were badly chafing. Half way up, I could tell I was already getting blisters on the back of my heels. My calves were getting destroyed too. This bothered me deeply, as the Mt Washington foot race was less than a week away.

Detail of Cannon Mtn portion of climb

About 75% up Cannon, I caught Justin at about a 0.01mph speed differential. We talked a little, then realized heavy breathing was coming up behind us. It was Richard Morris, the first runner to finish. Guess my suspicions were right. A bike is a big handicap to lug up this mountain, and that was based on assuming the bike could be ridden. Richard passed Justin and I quite decisively. I don't think he passed Greg before the finish, but because he started minutes back, was still faster than Greg.  I reached the summit with enough margin on Justin to zip up the jersey before crossing the line. My time was 1:13:14, pretty close to the 1:15 I estimated. I finished 2nd biker and third overall runners and bikers. I was so glad that was over.

The spectacular view and weather helped take some of the sting out of the slog that just happened. This spring I commented that I did the biggest hike-a-bike (HAB) ever in Arizona when I took a "short cut" back to the car to retrieve Dave. Well, that was NOTHING compared to this 2000ft HAB. In fact, Cannon was a bigger HAB than my three previous biggest HABs combined! No more than 2% of the ski mountain was rideable. Lower gear, fatter, softer tires, maybe would net 5% rideability. But it won't make you faster than a good runner.

I was not disappointed in doing the event. The course was very well marked and marshaled at tricky spots. The event was well organized, and there was good food afterwards at the Franconia Inn. I guess I was disappointed in thinking I could actually ride up Cannon. Silly me. I've skied it many times, so I know how steep it is. I may go back next year, minus a bike. I think I can run it faster than I biked it. I'd run it just for the morbid curiosity of experiment alone.

This event forced me to put another 2000ft of vertical credits in the bank. With Pack Monadnock a week earlier, I've climbed about 3500ft more than descended. This entitles me to one free 3500ft shuttle ride at some point in the future.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pack Monadnock 10 Miler

This year has been about venturing into new territory for me. Back in January, I did my first winter triathlon, a run-bike-ski event. Multiple running events are planned for this summer.  In fact, I may end up competing in just as many non-cycling events as cycling events in 2012, if ski training races are included. Podium finishes are hard to come by in running and skiing events, but that is not why I participate in them.  Skate skiing is just plain fun, a lot like mountain biking actually, and running continues to grow on me.

The most interesting event on the calender this weekend was the Pack Monadnock 10 Miler foot race.  It is two weeks before the Mt Washington road race, so I thought it would be perfect training. It doesn't hurt that it is close by, either. Pack is part of the New England Mountain Circuit, a USATF sanctioned series that I believe is in its 17 year. Serious runners participate in these events. So what's a guy like me who runs 2-3hrs per week doing here? Anything that goes up must be good, right? The Pack 10 Miler didn't go quite like I expected.

We really lucked out with the weather. Saturday night called for 90% chance of rain Sunday morning. When I got up Sunday morning, forecast changed to 10% and partly sunny. Cool temps, too. I picked up my bib number with a chip for timing. DaveP, not even 24hrs back from Italy and jet-lagged, made it out too for day-of entry. He lives about two miles from the start line.

The course starts in the town of Wilton, NH and finishes at the summit of Pack Monadnock 10 miles away. There are two lengthy gravel road sections. Half of the 2000+ feet of climbing is gained in less than two miles at the end. Portions of the Pack toll road hit 20% grade. I've biked and run Pack many times, but never at the end of a 10 mile foot race. In fact, I've have never run 10 miles in my life. So not only was I going to run my longest distance ever, I was probably going to run it at my hardest intensity ever. A dangerous combination.

Profile recorded by Garmin 500

In the profile above, I count at least 14 grade reversals, places where the grade goes negative. I don't do well going down hill. I really didn't know how this would factor into the race. Runners that finished near me on Mt Ascutney last year also did Pack Monadnock last year. Assuming I would finish near their time on Pack, or even better since I'm running much more now, I thought I had an outside chance of approaching 1:10 for a finishing time, which is not far from a top-10 overall. Well, it turns out you can't extrapolate from a 12% pure climbing race to one that is more like flat 12k plus a climb at the end. Ascutney and Pack have about as much in common as a hillclimb and an individual time-trial on a bike. Some runners are just built for speed on the flats, while others excel on the steeps. More on this as the story unfolds.

Dave and I did a very minimal warmup, basically walking down to the start line with a few hundred meters of light running thrown in. In the first mile, there's a persistent 200ft climb. I had no idea how to pace on this, other than I expected the race go a lot like the Mt Washington bicycle hillclimb, so I needed to pace my breathing about the same as that. I lined up third row with at least 10 runners in each row.

The horn goes and 200+ runners take off.  I'm sure the fast guys went out at sub-6min pace. Just crazy. Humbling was the fact that at least 30 runners charged ahead of me at a completely ridiculous speed for me. So much for a "top-10" finish. I even started to doubt I'd make the bottom end of the range I thought I'd finish in, 1:20.

As we got into the meat of the initial steep 200ft rise, a few runners drifted back. Most runners rapidly pulled away from me. This is not easy! I was pretty sure I was going out way to hard for a 70-80 minute effort. We crested the initial rise, only to give a chunk of it back. I got schooled on the downhill, with many in front of me doubling the time gap in no time and others flying by me. So this is how guys that do Ascutney in 35 minutes do so well here. They can run really fast on flats and downhills. That initial blip down pounded my body. I felt like I was barely in control and flailing. Kind of like ski racing at Weston on icy boiler plate.

The terrain rolled some more, gaining almost no vertical in miles two and three.  There were two runners I kept trading places with. They'd drop me on the flats or descents, I'd catch them back on the steeper uphill pitches.

At mile marker four, two other guys decisively caught and passed me. The two guys I was running with until that point latched on. Hmmm, there's no drafting at 9mph. I wondered if this works just like a bicycle hillclimb. If the two slower guys hung with the two faster guys long enough, they'd blow up, then maybe I'd catch them back. While I pondered this, the four got smaller, and smaller as the gap to them grew.

At mile six, a whole pack of runners, guys and gals, passed me at a pretty good speed differential. I knew I was slowing down. I ran the first four miles at a 6:30 pace, way too fast considering the terrain and how long the race was going to take me. Now I was paying for it. This was going to be a bloodbath.

At mile 6.5, the course starts becoming more like a hillclimb race. The flats and downhills pretty much disappear after that. We dropped down onto dirt Old Revolutionary Rd and start climbing earnestly. To my amazement, all the of the runners that had passed me in the last couple miles starting getting bigger again. Some of them were at least two minutes up. The two guys I traded places with during the first few miles did get spit out by the two faster guys. I quickly reeled one of them in. Then others. We popped out on Rt 101. There's a half-mile section with passing lane, which means steep. I now started picking off runners in the pack that passed me at the six mile mark. The interesting thing was, my perceived effort wasn't any harder, yet I was reeling them in faster than they blew by me on the non-climbing part. How cool is that?

We turned into Miller State Park. This is where the horror begins, 12% average grade for 1.3 miles, with sections over 20%. My left calf was doing some weird stuff. I could tell something was getting pulled or torn in there. I was just starting to feel better about the race when I feared I might have to drop out. We climbed only 1200ft to that point. So not sure what was up with the calf. The weekend before I did Kearsarge, which is 1400ft in one shot. I cautiously kept going. I still had two more runners that passed me in miles 4-6 to reel back.

And reel them in I did, as soon as the grade kicked up. One reverted to speed walking on the steepest part. The difference between flat and uphill capability in runners is far more striking than in cyclists. Why would somebody that passed me so decisively on flatter terrain be so much slower on steep terrain? I really feel hamstring strain when running uphill. I believe I heavily use my hamstrings on the bike, so I may be much more conditioned for uphill running than a full-time runner that doesn't train extensively on uphills.

Anyway, I dropped the last of those that passed me mid-race. My placing was now pretty much where it was a minute into the race.  There was a big gap to the next guy, but it was narrowing. One thing was certain. Running up Pack after running nine miles is way harder than just showing up and running repeats! But I did 100% run it. No walking. I believed my calf was going to make it, but not without some consequences later.

Hill Junkie in pain, oblivious to surroundings

Dave noticed the camera woman

I reached the final, sustained 20% section and knew the race would be over in less than two minutes. My wife would be up there with the camera somewhere, but my brain was too whacked out by that point to see her taking photos. I crossed the line in 1:14:58, right in the middle of the range I thought I'd finish in. I was not disappointed. It was a solid effort, except for maybe going out a little too hard.

Two months from 50. Age group podium next year.

Dave came through a few minutes later, which is quite impressive, given he climbed something like 40,000-50,000ft this week in Italy and was jet lagged. Sitting for three minutes was probably a bad move. I could barely walk when I got up! Calves, hamstrings and glutes in both legs were completely knotted up. Not cramping, just totally wrecked and tight. At first I doubted I could walk back down to the car at the base. I've never experienced that kind of muscle pain after a hillclimb race. Once on Ascutney came close, but this was really bad. It only got worse by the time I got home.

No point in over-analyzing these results for Mt Washington in two weeks. One runner I talked to after today's race, Jeff, said Mt Washington is nothing like the Pack 10 Miler. Mt W is a very steady grade, which I know well, and I should do comparatively better there. Still hoping for a 1:20 finish on Mt W, which surprisingly is only slightly more time for more than twice as much vertical!