This past weekend I paired up a different combo - Mt Ascutney and the Horror at Harding Hill MTB race. Ascutney is a smaller mountain than Equinox, but that doesn't mean it's easier. Oh no. You just go harder. It is steeper too, nothing steeper in New England than the first 2.5 miles of Mt Ascutney.
Ascutney - The Ascutney hillclimb did not go well for me. A casual observer may say, "Wait a minute Hill Junkie, you won your age group, how can you say it didn't go well?" There was a huge disconnect between the time I expected to finish in and the time I actually finished in. I even took it pretty easy this week, running zero, getting real rest days, and not heaping on large servings of intensity and endurance in the same rides. I actually felt pretty good warming up for Ascutney. The dewpoint was very high, however. I wasn't sure how that was going to factor in. I did ok a few weeks earlier at Okemo with a high dewpoint.
The 50+ age group goes off in second wave. I didn't know everybody in there, but the usual ringers like Gerry Clapper were not present. Eric Vandendries is not 50 yet and went off in the first wave. I like pacing off Eric. Keeps me from going out too hard. So I went for broke. Mark Luzio and Tom Fagan came with me as we pulled away from everybody else. Mark has beaten me in a few of these crazy climbs in the past, and Tom is currently the overall BUMPS Challenge leader.
I knew I was going a tad hard. I figured any damage I was doing to myself was damaging Mark and Tom at least as badly. I wanted a test of fitness and to see if I had any hope of a new personal best on Mt Washington in a month. I would need to hold the pace I set out on to the summit in order to be in range of PR fitness.
About a mile into the 3.7 mile climb, I began to gap Mark and Tom. I was still feeling pretty good but getting extremely warm. I started with jersey fully unzip. There was a bit of wind that helped, and the temp dropped as we climbed. Still didn't seem like enough though.
I began passing many riders from first wave that started a few minutes earlier. I also started to crack. Not sure if it was core body temp or just not having the endurance at that power level any more. Wish I was appropriately sensored up to know. At the 2.5 mile mark, after the heavy work was done, I began to realize there was no way I was going to PR. I had to do a mile in about four minutes. Even though there is some flat(ish) stuff in that last mile, there was no way I was going to do the last mile in half the time my first mile on-fire took. I pretty much threw in the towel at that point.
The damage was worse than I even imagined. I crossed the line in 30:42.3*, my worst ever if I exclude 2010 when I raced just a few days after coming out of leg cast. I was pretty bummed, as this was probably a representative effort of prospects on Mt Washington. Using my formula of 2.25 x Ascutney time gives about 1:09 on Mt Washington. I'd like to break 1:05. Probability of that happening is 0.00001 right now.
Finishing in agony. Photo by Heather Dunkerley.
Not all is bad though. I won the AARP division (yes, I'm a card carrying member). My times relative to my peer group are consistent with other climbs this season. That's good and bad, good in that I had a good race despite the heat, bad in that I don't have the fitness I used to have.
Eric Brandhorst did some nice statistical work on finishing times on Mt Washington vs. age a few years back. The trend is about 1.5% loss per year. Every athlete has to accept that at some point in their career/life, they are no longer going to improve. It is not an easy thing to accept.
Horror at Harding Hill - Ever since my mishap in 2010, I can no longer test the limits of my off-road skills. A governor kicks in and shuts things down. Strange how things like that, even though one 100% physically recovers, leave a scar in your psyche. I did promptly get back on my MTB though, even went on a solo "healing" trip to Colorado later that summer. Mishaps on the bike leave much deeper scars in others though. I know several people who never got back on a mountain bike after breaking something on their body.
I ride well within my limits these days, and I like to have control of risk. Road racing puts way too much risk out of your control. That is why it's been about two years since I've done a road race. Too apprehensive to be competitive anymore. The same could be said for MTB racing. Excluding hillclimbs, I race to be competitive. To be competitive off-road, you must push the boundaries of your skill. This entails considerable risk. It's been over a year since I last did a MTB race.
I last raced Harding Hill in 2009. It was extremely muddy that time, and I had no phobias about breaking my body. I think I crashed three times, once really hard going fast. Even though things started to dry up recently, it rained some Friday and Saturday before the race this year. There was bound to be some juiciness on this course. There always is.
Field sizes were small. There were multiple events going on this weekend, including Nats in PA. That no doubt stole a few regulars. All Experts went off in one wave as in years past. This was not too intimidating due to diminutive field size. We had about a 75 meter sprint to the double track. No mishaps that I saw.
On the start line, Keith Button pointed out that I should keep an eye on John Beaupre. I didn't know John, but I made note to keep track of his NBX jersey. I proceeded to bury myself on the first lap. I worked up to John and several younger guys who I thought I had no business being in the company of. My effort was clearly unsustainable. Legs didn't feel too awful, considering I did a 30 minute anaerobic effort the day before.
Lap two of four, things thinned out. I passed John and was now leading the 50 year old age group. I had no idea how many others were ahead. A pattern started to emerge. John would drop me through the mud boggy bits late in the lap, then I'd gain him back on the climby bits early in the lap. There was one bog that I failed to clean all four laps. I botched it badly in lap two, and just like that, I lost four places.
Lap three sent some warning shots across the bow. No cramps, but I was getting the quivering muscle signals that always precede full-on cramping. I backed it down just a tad. Carl DeVincent and Stephen Witkus on SS and a couple others caught me. Still no sign of others from the 50+ field. A win would have been sweet, but John could just put too much gap on me through the muddy gauntlet each lap and I'd have to kill myself to catch him, only to be whooped in the bogs again.
That's not to say was I was holding back a lot. I brought my behemoth, my long-travel 29er Tallboy. Thing weighs 28 lbs. That's like bringing a Howitzer to a knife fight. Total overkill for this mostly roadie friendly course, but I could slay a few of the descents with that thing. Nearly soiled my chamois a few times with some of the lines I took. I hadn't had that much adrenaline induced fun on a bike in some time. I was able to let my guard down.
I hadn't started cramping yet on the fourth lap yet, so I decided when I got to the climbing section, I'd hit it pretty hard. If I cramped then, it would be mostly downhill to the finish and I could limp in. I gained a couple spots back in the expert field. I started seeing John again. I almost caught Stephen. I still botched the last bog when I tried so carefully to clean it. I had to dismounted, and while remounting, my inner thighs sent a nasty message to my brain they were about to go into full cramping retaliatory mode. Glad I would be done in a couple minutes.
I finished in 1:40:48, 45sec back from John in the 50+ field, and 52 seconds back overall expert and single-speed (everybody that did four laps) for the day, best I can tell from printed results. Seems every time I double up races on the weekend, I always finish second on Sunday. Makes me wonder, would I win or would I finish further back if I didn't race the day before?
Expert 50+ Podium: HJ, John Beaupre and Keith Button. Prizes of maple syrup
produced from the land the race is held on. Photo by Mark Suprenant.
Being a very low volume week with three rest/active recovery days and no running, my ornery knee is vastly improved. Zero pain on the bike this weekend. Still slight pain going up stairs, but I caught myself going up by two's today, something I hadn't realized I stopped doing because my knees were not well. Seems to be classic runner's knee overuse, but it wasn't the running causing it. It was too much volume and intensity on the bike combined with running on my "rest" days. Now I need to sort out how to proceed. I don't want to abandon running, and I don't want to give up bike days.
*My stopwatch time. Timing service used my estimated finish, as my timing chip did not register over mats. This happened with one other person.