Sunday, July 8, 2012

Newton's Revenge

Sleep deprivation, dew point above 60F (15C) with winds gusting to 62mph (100kph). These are not your ideal personal record breaking conditions for Mt Washington. Given recent performance metrics and lightest body weight ever for Mt Washington (159lbs/72kg), I thought there was an outlying chance I could better my best on the Rock Pile. I brought reasonably fresh legs. I can suffer through tapering for an event once in a while. But if an event is important enough for me to actually rest for it, the event is important enough to keep me awake at night. Compounding inability to sleep was the fact I had to leave the house at 4am. Newton's Revenge is expensive enough without a hotel stay. I doubt I got more than 3hrs sleep.

The weather is a wild card. I waited until the last minute to register. I've had Mt Washington races cancelled on me. The race fee is gladly accepted as a donation to the benefiting charity. I was more worried about heat, as most of the country has been sizzling. There is no sense in sending my body up a one hour climb when thermal meltdown occurs in 20 minutes. The forecast suggested marginal conditions. I took a chance. I missed the Rock Pile. I hadn't climbed it since 2009.

The July Newton's Revenge race is held as an overflow to the popular August race. A record number may have registered for Newton's this year, perhaps driven by the popularity of the BUMPS series. The elite Top-Notch field had some depth of talent. Lining up in the first row, I could guess to within one or two spots where I was going to place in the results. There's no suspense like in a road race.  You're not racing against people, it is you versus the mountain. I was interested in where I stood relative to when I last climbed Mt Washington in August of 2009. Did I still have it?

Top-Notch field lining up. I'm partially cut off on left side of photo
talking with Cameron Cogburn (not shown).
Photo credit: Mt Washington Auto Road.

Start. Note cannon smoke and plugged ears on left. Cannon is
so loud you feel the percussion from it.
Photo credit: Mt Washington Auto Road.

It was muggy at the start line, maybe 70F. We were told of very high winds up top and a little cooler. I'll take wind over hot and day. I lose way more minutes in heat than wind. I decided to not take a water bottle. Why break my streak of never taking water up the Rock Pile? Most riders around me only had half a small bottle. One large squeeze puts that much in your stomach, which I did just before the start, then put the bottle to the side.

The cannon goes off. Lined up next to me was Cameron Cogburn (CCB), who I knew would handily win today's race. In a minute or two, he was gone. A large number of riders bolted on ahead of me. I stayed back with Erik Vandendries (545 Velo), who I know paces extremely well. Maybe 20 riders shot ahead. It is really hard to let that happen. You have to have faith that many of them will come back as they implode. I comment to Erik, seeking reassurance, "they're going out too hard, aren't they?" Erik replied "yes, they are."  Half of them did fall back in the next 10 minutes or so. Glad I don't get suckered into those frenzies anymore.

A mile or two into the 7.6 mile climb, things were pretty much sorted out. I stayed on Erik's wheel, which I was questioning the wisdom in. I've beaten Erik on this mountain before, just barely, but that was before he got really good at hillclimbing. I felt good, but I was most likely going out 1-2% too hard. At the three mile mark, I decided to let him go every so gradually.

It wasn't long before I heard heavy breathing coming up behind me. It is never a good sign mid-climb when I get caught. It usually means I went out too hard, hit deflection, backed off, then got overtaken. I believe this was Greg Bartick. We poked up above treeline at 4000ft around mile four and found the wind. I thought "oh goodie, a big guy going slightly faster to pull me through this heinous wind back up to Erik." But no. We were very closely matched, and it seems neither of us were very willing to slay the wind for the benefit of the other. This Mickey-Mousing cost me time, I'm sure.

Fortunately, a couple of the hardest sections of the climb had tailwind, like the infamous "Five Mile Grade" section. It almost felt flat with 40-50mph blowing at your back. The wind was so strong that it was blowing my unzipped jersey over the top of my head! It also boosted my front wheel over where a nasty cross wind burst hammered me. That always bumps your HR up a notch.

Summit conditions during race. 45mph sustained, >60mph gusts.

The road switched back, and then it was full-on headwind, still on gravel, and even steeper. I nearly came to a stop at one point. I couldn't have been going over 2.5mph for a stretch. At least with a drop in temperature and high wind, I was no longer on the verge of over heating. I couldn't shake Greg, nor he I. Maybe there is a bit of real racing in a hillclimb after all. Erik seemed to put good time on us through this section. The wind could have been much more damaging had it been from the southwest. It was out of the northwest, so some of the straightest, most exposed sections had tailwind.

Back on pavement with some tailwind again, I managed to roll Greg off my wheel. The fastest parts of the climb are in the last 1.5 miles or so. I seemed to be gaining time on Erik, but the summit would come way too quickly before I caught him. At 6000ft, clouds would move through in the blink of an eye. Visibility would go from 10 miles to 100ft in seconds.

One instant, visibility.

Next instant, no visibility.

The finishing 22% grade was more difficult than I remember it. Maybe it was the wind. I crossed the timing mats in 1:07:08, about 8 seconds slower than my last time up in 2009 and 1min, 35sec slower than my best. It was hard to not be pretty happy with that. It was good enough to know I still got it.  Most top finisher's times were a minute-plus slower than last year, when conditions were much better. Cameron won at 55:59. He was hoping for a low 50's finish.

Myself coming up 22% grade. Photo: Cathy Jansen

All done, in more ways than one.
Photo: Granite State Race Services

The Mt Washington events are one place where everybody sticks around afterwards for awards. The catered Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant lunch is not to be missed. I did miss having Richard Fries there to announce the finish and MC the awards ceremony.

On gearing. Seems I never use the exact same setup twice on Mt Washington. I put a new drivetrain on my Trek 5900 just before the Okemo climb last weekend. I'm done messing with swapping out cranks, derailleurs, cassettes and adjusting chain length for individual climbs. I will now leave on the bike an FSA compact crank with 34/50t rings. The 34t ring is an elliptical Q-ring. In back, I have an 9spd XTR 32t cassette. An early generation 9spd XTR medium cage derailleur handles the shifting. Not the lightest setup, but it will leave me with gears for a post climb ride. I did remove rear brake and front derailleur for Mt Washington. Those are easy to take off/put back on.

In the minutes waiting for the start, I asked Cameron what he was using for gearing. He ran the same minimum ratio as I did, a 34:32, although I doubt he was in that minimum ratio nearly as much as I was. Cameron has pro fitness and runs near 1:1 gear ratio. Ned Overend, who finishes in similar time, also runs near 1:1 ratio. Many first-timers fret on how low to run. If you have to ask if N:1 is low enough, where N>1, the answer is probably not.  Invariably, first timers don't go low enough and come back with much lower gears the next time. Take a cue from sub-hour finishers. If they finish in two-thirds your time (say 1hr vs 1.5hrs), your ratio should be 2/3rds their ratio as rough guide.


CB2 said...

Nice job Doug!

Cogburner said...

Doug, try sitting in a sauna for 30 min immediately after riding and ride hard in the heat of the day and you will overcome your thermoregulation meltdowns.

I used the 32t much more than one would think. I think 90% of racers in all categories at all races pick too hard of gears. Train on hard gears, race on easy ones.

More importantly, for anyone reading take Doug's advice that you need to have a bailout gear. I strained my iliocostalis lumborum - something that has given me problems all season - right before timberline, and if I did not have that 32t I probably would have had to stop in the second half due to the pain and grinding.

the bully said...

Still got it! Did Newtons in 2011. Everyone should do Mt. Washington at least once in their lives.