Sunday, August 25, 2013

If you encounter the Hill Junkie on a ride, flee!

Lost track of how many D2R2 rides I've done now. Maybe five? This year I was bit bit maimed and had to settle for a shorter distance on my mountain bike. My left wrist wasn't quite ready for eight hours of pounding on the full 180km loop. So I rode the 115k loop instead, which shares very little of the big loop. It would be good to ride some new terrain, I thought.

A shorter ride also meant a later start, which also meant I could sleep in my own bed and drive over the morning of. I knew a few people doing the 115k loop. But they either had a later planned start than I or waited forever for the last members of their posse to show up. So I headed out alone (sorry Ray!). Probably just as well. Since I was doing a shorter ride, I hoped to score some Vermont 50 training value out of the ride by with minimal stopping and hitting the climbs kind of hard.  Shit always happens in group rides. Flats seem to go up by more than N, where N=number of riders. Not sure how that can be, although I read nobody in Ray's group flatted. When you ride solo, you stop only when you flat, not every time somebody in your posse flats.

I was constantly catching and passing groups of a few to over a dozen riders. Occasionally, I'd know somebody in the group, I'd chill for a few minutes and chat for a bit. Then we'd go up, the group would slow down, I'd press on. I caught up with Clara Kelly before the first water stop. Clara joined our 6-gaps ride one year and kicked nearly everyone's butt.

The first major climb was interesting. It was a jeep track that crossed over into Vermont. Not sure the first section even has a road name, as it doesn't show on the maps. I was so glad to have fat tires for this. It was full on mountain biking. The climb then continued as an uber steep doubletrack called Abijah Prince Rd. There were two large groups ascending when I road through, and I didn't see anybody clean it. They all head cross bikes.  Again, the MTB just scooted right on up. I didn't even work very hard and still claimed the Strava KOM on that one.

Precursor to Abijah Prince Rd

There was some very narrow, curvy road on the descent. The road was crowned, gravel and loose on the edges. I'm bombing down with a couple others just behind me when a septic service or heating oil truck came hauling ass up. He never moved over or let off the throttle. Me and the guy behind me nearly bit it. Some drivers are f'd in the head to be so cavalier with other's peoples lives. There was no excuse for this driver's behavior, especially after he saw me and I motioned for him to slow down. I think he even made sure I had little to no room.

Barney Hill Rd. Typical D2R2 riding.

I think this is Ames Hill Rd. Some buff gravel here.

Descending the second climb, I caught up with Steve Aiken, who I've mountain bike with before, and a couple others. We bombed down to the lunch stop, getting there pretty early. They were just finishing setting things up. I've learned to not stuff myself here, as you do nothing but go up when you leave.

Steve, myself and two others headed out together after eating. On a small dip on the climb, I hear the sicking sounds of bicycles crashing behind me. I turn around to see Steve crumpled up on the deck. We weren't going too fast, but fast enough make some nasty road rash. Steve was bleeding from and elbow and knee, the handlebars had turned on the bike, and the front tire blew up. I guess Steve went no-hands momentarily to do something when he and another rider bumped. Doesn't take much when you don't have your hands on the bar. It took a bit to get him going again. The injuries were minor. We pressed on.

The lunch climb was pretty serious, and I got serious with it. I was by myself again, and would be for a long time, since nearly all of the 115k riders were now behind me. The Jacksonville climb gains 1000ft over several miles and you could get into a good groove on this one.

Next up was the famed Pennel Hill Rd climb. I heard horror stories. Most of them were true. The climb was much steeper than Patten Hill at the end of the ride and was soft, loose gravel. My wide tires gave me a huge advantage here. I forced myself to climb it in my middle ring to ensure maximum suffering. There were only four sets of tire tracks ahead of me, and two of those had footprints along side.

Ed Clark Rd, descent after Pennel Hill climb.

There was a nice view at the top just before beginning the descent on Ed Clark Rd. This descent is also widely talked about as being a zero gravity inducing speed fest. The road is very narrow, new asphalt, with blind driveways along the way. The speed limit drops to 15mph, yet you can easily go over 50mph if you don't value your life. Two weeks ago I realized how easily shit happens on descents like these, so my self preservation instincts took over and I rode the brakes. Still was fun though, and I did feel my stomach float over one of the grade reversals. The gyroscopic effect of those 29 inch hoops was pretty extreme. Took some man-handling to turn the bike at 40+ mph.

Patten Hill came quickly, and I was kind of bummed how good I still felt. Normally, on the 180k route, I'm a wrecked mess by the time I get to Patten Hill, which is the only climb shared between the 115k and 180k routes. I caught up with Matt Lovett on the way to Patten and chatted for a bit. He and his riding buddy bolted on ahead as soon as the grade kicked up. I thought I was doing ok, but these guys were going to dust me.  Matt used to put out mad Watts, so no surprise there. Eventually Matt's friend (Jason?) petered out and a few minutes later I passed Matt.

I was first to the Patten Hill feed station from the 115k ride group as best I could tell. There were no other riders there. I waited all day to bite into that watermelon they always have there. I topped off my water and pressed on, knowing most of the work was done.

I stopped to take a few more pictures on the way back in. The day was perfect in every way for a ride like this. Bluebird skies, low humidity with temperature in the 70's. I brought my better camera along to capture some of the scenery. Riding with a group, you just can't stop whenever, lest you want to chase like mad to get back on.

View from Cooper Lane, descending from Patten Hill.

I rolled in with just under five hours moving time, with 7500ft and 73.5 miles on the Garmin. This just nicely meets my 100ft/mile metric for Hill Junkie seal of approval. I hung around a good while for some of my usual riding posse to get in from the 180k loop. Funny how time flies when you start trading stories. You also lose track of how much you eat.

After telling about Steve's mishap, the consensus was strengthened that bad shit happens when people ride with me. Crashes happen, bad weather happens, even forest fires happen in place I plan to visit soon. I never cause these things, but DaveP says they just have a way of following me.  It is probably wise to flee if you encounter me on a group ride.

I have to say that was one of my more enjoyable D2R2 rides, despite riding 90% of it solo. I got an awesome workout and rode mostly new terrain. Sandy is a genius in creating all these routes to go simultaneously without ever causing plugged roads and getting everybody back at about the same time. The event continues to grow in popularity, with somewhere around 1200 riders this year. That is a lot of gravel grinding. I surely will come back for more, maybe with a rigid MTB next year to do the full loop with the cool kids.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The BUMPS series awards points for how well you finish relative to the fastest finisher and the average of all finishers. The overall winner gets 100 points. By definition, the average of all competitors is set at 50 points. Where one's time falls on a straight line drawn through these points determines how many points one is awarded for each hillclimb event. The two Mt Washington events, one in July and one in August, award a 1.2x premium on points, since this climb is so much more difficult than the others (and pricier!). Because of the points premium, only a best score of the two Washington events can be counted toward BUMPS points.

Seven of eleven races have been completed now. A racer's best five events are used in BUMPS scoring. I just completed my fifth race, so this popped me way up on the leader board, to the top in fact. I thought that might happen after the Mt Washington event, but earlier in the season I had no expectations of being near the top of the leaderboard.  I'll take it though!

I suspect this will be very short lived, probably only one race. There are at least three guys (Eric, Gerry and Erik above) that have only four races scored so far and are faster than me. If any of them do one of the remaining four races, that will knock me off the top of the leaderboard. There are a few others that have done only three races and are much faster than me. If any of them do two of the remaining four races, that too will push everybody down a notch. Thus there are many opportunities for somebody else to claim the top title before the end of the season.

I may have the leader's jersey for only one race, so I just signed up for Burke Mountain to claim it. I suspect the yellow leader's jersey will change hands a couple more times before the last race in October. I'll miss the next two races after Burke, as I will be on vacation for Greylock and at the VT50 for Kearsarge. Hopefully I can replace my abysmal score for Ascutney at Burke.

From Sunday's Union Leader. They failed to mention I'm a research engineer.

Mt injured wrist is getting better very slowly. Still very painful doing everyday things, and most things I can't even do yet. I ride, but probably shouldn't. The rough roads left my wrist very achy for a while afterwards today, no doubt delaying the healing process. I plan to ride a shorter version of the D2R2 course on Saturday, the 115km route, with a hardtail mountain bike. The 2.2" tires with front suspension will help pamper my wrist. At 73 miles, 8000+ feet of climbing and 25lb bike, it still will not be a trivial ride. At least I won't be riding with the typical hammerhead pack this time, so maybe I'll actually enjoy it and not be such an ornery lad by Patten Hill.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

So, Did You Do It?

That was the question many Hill Junkie readers asked me after the Mt Washington race. The "it" refers to beating my personal best from 2008. Before I answer the question, I'm going to back-track a bit and share the battle I fought in my head for the last couple months. Fill the coffee mug. I'm in an introspective mood.

I've been racing up Mt Washington since 2000. A few years ago, I decided it was silly to keep chasing new personal bests as I get older. I've always believed the process of staying fit was more important than achieving results at events. Stress is greatly diminished, and you never set yourself up for disappointment that way. The vast majority of my riding is for fun. The number of hours I've spent on a mountain bike this season is a case in point. Half my hours were off-road and not training-centric. Riding for fun is good for the soul.

I've been running a couple years now, and I quickly realized a cycling motor carries over quite nicely to running. I placed well at the CIGNA 5k race last year (my time would have won the 50+ age group out of hundreds, just days before my 50th birthday).  I thought it would be cool to go for the win this year when I was actually 50.  Not only that, I wanted to run a sub-17:30 5k this year.  I ran only about 1-1.5hrs per week last year.  That left considerable room for improvement.  I'd have to run a bit more for loftier goals, and more intensely. I thought these goals, winning CIGNA with sub-17:30 time would be easily achievable.

I figured while I was honing my aerobic engine for shorter efforts, maybe I should also go for a new PR on Mt Washington. I got greedy. The events are just over a week apart. I'd either thrive or self-destruct.

I quickly learned I couldn't simultaneously train in both disciplines to be a high-end performer in each. I suffered recurring knee overuse pain and my bike workouts began to suffer. I ran with too much intensity on my rest days off the bike. Bike miles became junk miles and run miles kept me tired. I had to chose. My first passion is riding. If I had to cut something, it wasn't going to be cycling. I jettisoned the idea of running a fast CIGNA 5k and nearly abandoned running for the summer. I would go for a solitary high-risk goal of posting my fastest finish on Mt Washington yet.

There are so many things wrong this. It creates weight management stress, being fussier about training, added stress in relationships, and the huge risk of what if the race is cancelled like in 2007 or there are 60 mph winds up top? I was setting myself up for potential major disappointment.

After disappointing results on Okemo, Ascutney and Equinox, I felt a PR on Washington was completely out of reach. The Ascutney result was especially disappointing, because I actually rested for that event and had one of my slowest finishes ever there. My predicted Washington time based on Ascutney was more than six minutes off my PR. You don't make up 10% power deficiency in a few weeks. An elite triathlete friend said I needed rest. I could rest my way to a PR. Huh? His advice has been spot on before, and sometimes it takes an outside observer to objectively point out what's going on. I did not ignore this advice.

Training specifically for Mt Washington nearly killed me a week before the race. Doing repeats on Mt Kearsarge, I crashed spectacularly on my last descent. This resulted in a wrist fracture, but fortunately nothing else. At first I thought Washington was out. But no, I modified my bike for a more comfortable wrist position and told myself I'll deal with the consequences afterwards. A glimmer of hope came out of this workout though. I posted some of my best 20 minute power numbers in a long time. My third and slowest time up, I averaged 316W for 22 minutes. I figured this was a power I could come pretty close to averaging on Mt Washington. And if I did that and the weather was good, I had a reasonable chance at a PR.

The last two weeks in preparation were stressful.  Many Mt Washington fans understand this. It is the high point of the season for most competitors on the Rock Pile. I was the most careful I had ever been with my diet. I didn't diet per se, but I cut out most of the dark chocolate I ate daily and other junky calorie boosters.  My colleagues didn't help any, recognizing I was stressing over dietary decisions. They'd go out of their way to bring me donuts, brownies, pizza, you name it, anything left over from meetings and such. Pure torment. They wanted to bring Fat Doug back.  An evil bunch! My willpower failed several times.

Their attempts proved futile. Midday, the day before the race, I weighed in at my lowest weight ever for Mt Washington, but by only a little bit. In case you're afraid to ask, it was 156.4 lbs (70.9kg). That gave me a bit of a mental boost.

The night before the race, Brett Rutledge, my wife and I went out for pasta. It was quite salty and the portions were large. Great. Another test. Normally, I wouldn't hesitate one millisecond in devouring the whole plate. I'm proud to say I ate only a little over half. I was worried about how much sodium I consumed though. A spike in sodium intake will spike water retention with spike weight. That weight will not increase my power output, so my W/kg would go down. Before retiring for the night, I hydrated on a bottle of Biotta beet root juice. I still  have no hard personal evidence that I derive any performance benefit from it, but it can't hurt, and it certainly is a healthy way to hydrate. If nothing else, it may have a placebo effect benefit.

Ok, finally getting to the race. Warming up Saturday morning, my legs didn't feel lively at all, despite one of the most restful weeks I've taken in years. In fact, my legs felt better the day before when I did a couple brief efforts. I had trouble keeping power under 300W on Friday, but had trouble pushing 300W on Saturday. That really sucked. I did a pretty mellow warmup, about 20-25 minutes total, with only two 300W efforts for about 90sec each. Mt Washington is a threshold level effort, and you do not want to go too hard at the start, so an hour-plus rider doesn't need to do deep anaerobic openers right before the race.

We had a huge elite Top Notch field. Over a hundred I think. Star-studded too, with guys like Cameron Cogburn and Jeremiah Bishop present. I don't have a light enough power meter set-up to race with, so my plan was to pace off Erik Vandendries, who I know to be an exceptionally good pacer. He is slightly faster than me, so I know if I start out faster than him, I'm starting out way too fast.

The cannon goes off and we're off. There's about 10 seconds of shifting up through gears before you even more rapidly shift all the way back down as you head into the 12+ percent grade. I stuck to plan and never passed Erik. The pace felt quite manageable for a while. Many, many riders bolted on ahead. I've learned to block that out, knowing that I'll see many of them 10 minutes later after they blow up.

It didn't take long until things thinned way out. We had ourselves a nice little four-some, John Bayley, Erik Vandendries and James Hayes. I know these rider's abilities well. James and I sprinted for the first-mile $500 prime at Equinox two weeks earlier. The thing was, I thought I didn't belong with these guys on Mt Washington. John usually finishes much ahead of me, being a recent one-hour finisher on Mt Washington. I surely was going out too hard, but I kept thinking it was sustainable for quite a while. So I went with it.

When we got to about the four mile marker/4000ft elevation, our little group was still intact but starting to fracture. John put in some surges on the steeper bits that gapped the rest of us. James rolled Erik and I off too.  I knew the wind had picked up at the summit just before the race started, so I desperately wanted to pilfer off somebody's effort when we rounded the turn to head straight into the wind. But no, Erik rolled me off his wheel on "5 mile grade," the long gravel section. At least we had tail wind there. I would be on my own for the rest of the climb.

The wind proved to be far more formidable than we were led to believe. It wasn't the 60mph stuff we deal with sometimes, but it surely was more than some of the forecasts saying 5mph or 11mph. Turns out it was steady 30mph gusting above 40. I had a PR pace going at the four mile marker, but now all bets were off. Erik didn't seemed to be fazed by the wind and started putting time on me. I could still see John and James most of the time. I've never stayed this close to John this far into a climb before. Either he was having a bad day or I was doing really well.

The hard left turn to get out of the headwind couldn't come soon enough. Seemed like I spent half the race going into the wind. I had a flat bar on my bike, so I couldn't really get aero. My wrist wouldn't allow it anyway. At least the pain was manageable. Or maybe I just became numb to the pain. Extreme focus has a way of doing that.

After some flatter terrain with tail wind that lasted all of five heartbeats, there was more headwind coming into mile marker 7. I felt a PR slipping away. But Hill Junkie fan Stephanie Schoff Jacques was there with a cowbell and "Hill Junkie" chalked on the road. Looking at my Strava data, my estimated power output went up 30% after that for a while. That was the boost I was looking for.  I was right on the hairy edge of pulling off a PR, I couldn't throw in the towel with less than 1km to go!

Photo and artwork by Stephanie Schoff Jacques

I dug exceptionally deep. The problem was, I had that nasty 22% wall to go after already burying myself for several minutes just before it. I thought I was going to have to dismount and run up. It was the most ugly ascent of the pitch ever for me. It was the ruckus of the crowd up top that propped me up for those last hundred meters. I made it without falling over. I crossed the timing mats in 1:05:12. That was 21 seconds faster than 2008. I did it!

Coming over finish line. Photo by Heather Dunkerley.

It was a good day to be alive on the Rock Pile. It was windy. It was cold. The summit was in and out of the clouds. There was a lot of energy in the crowd up top. A surreal experience.  I always feel most alive when I'm outside pushing my physical limits up a mountain. This year's climb was my toughest, not necessarily physically, but mentally. On the cusp of bettering my fastest for much of the climb, extraordinary focus was needed to not let it slip away.

It is interesting to compare the times of Gerry Clapper, James, Erik and myself between Equinox and Washington. We finished in exactly the same order, very close to each other. The biggest difference is James and I finished closer to Gerry and Erik on Mt Washington. I suspect this is because we didn't go for any crazy $500 sprints early in Washington.

I got a chance to sit and talk with Jeremiah Bishop. An icon of the mountain biking world, he his very approachable and open.  He's mentoring Cameron Cogburn, who handily won the day's race with a time of 50:48. Jeremiah doesn't mince words when discussing the issue of PEDs in our sport. Cameron gave up professional cycling to pursue an advanced degree at MIT, is riding clean, and came wicked close to beating a confessed doper's record on Mt Washington.  Hopefully Cameron can claim the title, or even better, beat it outright riding clean. I believe he would have done that Saturday had he not raced the grueling Leadville 100 MTB race the weekend before.

Getting warm with Brett Rutledge, HJ, Tom Barton and Jeremiah Bishop (left to right)

In the 14 years I've been racing the Rock Pile, there have never been as many sub-hour finishers as this year - nine riders!  Conditions were good, but there have been years with no wind and many fewer sub-hour finishers. The average is 5, some years see only 2 or 3. It's the depth of talent that has grown. I was the top finisher from New Hampshire.

My wrist was in a major funk after the race. I had to cut off the tape job right away, as there was swelling and my fingers were going numb. Eight days later, I'm not even close to pouring milk with my left hand. I have to let my wrist heal now, as I head out west in less than four weeks where I plan to do some off-road riding. Going to be harder to hold back than when I broke my leg. I had no choice in that case.

Swelling is down, but this still don't look right. The tendons are extremely sore.

Thanks for the encouragement many of you sent my way and thanks for reading. I'll leave you with a few more pictures from Saturday.

Brief clear instant looking up at finish

Looking north/north-easterly from observation deck

Summit conditions during race

The "Rock Pile"

Heading up the 22% grade trying to not fall over

Mile 7 with a thumbs up. Photo by Stephanie Schoff Jacques

The 50+ podium, with David O'keeffe, Gerry Clapper and myself. Photo courtesy of Mt Washington
Auto Road.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weight in Seconds

Sitting at the computer, still icing my FUBAR wrist, I started thinking about how I no longer perceive the weight of cycling related items in terms of pounds or grams. I see them in seconds, on Mt Washington. This came about when I was forced to add bar-ends to my MTB handlebar to accommodate my injured wrist. How much is this 70 gram addition going to cost me on Saturday?  I "re-calibrated" my gram scale to display in seconds to see what some common items cost me on the Rock Pile.

Let's assume my target finishing time is 65 minutes. That's 3900 seconds. Let's also assume that my total weight - bike, body, kit - is 178 lbs, or 80,725 grams. Thus each gram contributes 3900/80725 = 0.0483sec/g cost to my climbing time. For small variations, say less than 10% around this nominal, these assumptions hold up quite well in reality.

So given a gram can make 48.3ms difference in my finishing time, let's look at a few items. First, the bar ends. You can see my scale says they weigh 3.4 seconds. Trivial, you may say, given the climb will take more than a thousand times longer than that. I set a pretty high bar for myself this year, so every second gets scrutinized. Given my current situation with a fractured wrist, a tiny increase in weight that lets me be more comfortable on the bike and maximizes my output power will more than pay for itself.

I fretted over whether to run a GPS. As they say, if you can't Strava it, it didn't happen. I always like backup too, Ascutney hillclimb case in point. The timing mats never picked up my tag. Do I want to add another 3.1 seconds to my time by mounting a GPS? If I had a light enough power meter, I'd definitely do this. The GPS by itself isn't going to give me any useful real-time info. Still on the fence with this one.

I've been trying to eat clean all week. You never want to diet, as in try to lose weight leading into important event, but when you back way off on training volume, it is east to overeat and gain a little body fat if you are not careful. I did eat a donut this week. Icecream sandwich too. Doh! So much for eating clean. Let's assume 100% of this 380 calorie donut is absorbed, are excess and converted to fat. This would add only 2.4 seconds to my time. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

Now lets look at the kit. Helmets are mandatory. There is little variability in high-end, modern helmets. They all get tested to same standard and have about the same amount of Styrofoam in them. What does this bucket cost? Surprisingly, quite a bit at 16.9 seconds. But what it protects is priceless.

How about shoes? These are lightweight road racing shoes with Speedplay cleats. They entail a much bigger hit at 31.6 seconds. I bet most riders don't think about this. They's spend $10 per gram shaving weight off their bike, but they could probably spend far less shaving weight off their shoes/cleat/pedal system. This has me wondering if there is some super light platform out there where you could ride in minimalist running racing flats and save a pound.

So what does a kit weigh? I put everything into a nearly weightless bag. This includes shoes, helmet, bibs, jersey, gloves and sweat band. It weighs 69.6 seconds. Not as much as I thought, actually. The majority of it is in the shoes and helmet. Many don't wear gloves, but I like the added security of grip I get, as I tend to sweat profusely.

So there you have some measures for thought. Looks like a stellar day on tap for the climb Saturday, cool with relatively calm winds. I'm rooting for Cameron, who I suspect will be going for the course record. Hope he's recovered from his phenomenal finish at Leadville last weekend.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bikes of Mt Washington

Seeing the August Mt Washington hillclimb race is upon us, I thought I'd present a few unique bikes that riders propel to the summit. I was going to share this last year just after the race, but time got away from me, and interest drops quickly after the pinnacle event of the season.

It is well known that climbing is all about Watts per kilogram. This W/kg figure of merit almost completely determines a rider's finishing time on a given, steep climb. Reducing excess body fat is foremost important. Fat is not only unproductive weight, it increases load on the heart slightly and can make you run hotter. You want to reduce body fat to the point of maximizing your W/kg. You can lose some power with weight loss, but as long as you loss kilograms faster than Watts, your W/kg metric improves.

Only after you've optimized your bodily W/kg, should you get nit-picky with reducing bike weight. Weight taken off the bike is pure benefit, as you will lose no power when shaving bike grams. Your Watts per total kilograms is really what matters. Say you weigh 75kg and your bike, shoes, helmet and clothes weigh 9kg. Taking 1kg (2.2 lbs) weight off your bike might be an 11% reduction, which seems huge, but in terms of your total W/kg and net finishing time, it will shave only about 1.2% off your finishing time! Many don't understand this.

The whole rotational weight thing mattering on a 8-10kph hillclimb? It's a myth. Absolutely doesn't matter. I've commented on this before and won't go into details. Only total weight matters. There's no advantage in targeting wheels over other parts of the bike.

Currently, the UCI limits minimum bike weight to 6.8kg, or about 14.99 lbs. You can readily go into bike shops these days and buy rigs that weigh less than this. That is why you see power meters and physiological telemetry on riders in the Tour de France these days. The weight has to be made up, and why not with cool stuff instead of lead washers?

Riders have been getting pretty creative recently in mods for Mt Washington. There are no UCI rules there. The only requirement is you must have at least one working brake. I've never gone to extremes for hillclimbs. I haven't even invested in carbon tubular wheels, which could shave a half-kilo (pound) off my bike weight.

So let's take a look at some of the rigs that have appeared recently. We'll start with Cameron Cogburn's 2012 rig, which he propelled to overall wins in Newton's Revenge in July and the original race in August with a time of 52:28. Cameron removed the rear brake and front derailleur. You never need the big ring, except possibly for about 10 seconds at the start. At most, you might lose 1s by spinning out with only a compact small ring. Removing front derailleur, cable and shifter can net somebody like Cameron 10-15 seconds over the climb. Big net gain there. Same with rear brake. You can remove at least half a pound there, maybe saving another 10 seconds. So what Cameron did was replace the standard road drop bar with a carbon bullhorn bar. This saved a little weight, but bigger savings come by eliminating the road STI shift/brake levers and using TT front brake lever and TT rear derailleur shifter. Very minimalist approach, and now copied by several. Cameron is an astrophysics grad student at MIT, so you can bet he knows his shit.

Cameron Cogburn on his way to a win at Newton's Revenge in 2012.

The current 2013 BUMPS leader took note of Cameron's setup and took it a step further. Jason DeLorme replaced the road compact crank with an MTB crank with a single, tiny ring up front. Jason says this gets the weight down to 5kg (11 lbs) and change.

Jason DeLorme with similar setup to Cameron, except with stripped down crank.

In 2012, Bikeman took on a special project to build the lightest possible bike for Mt Washington. There was no limit to the amount of customization that went into the rig. The weight was reduced to 6.98 lbs (3.165kg)!  I believe this was fixed gear, and that weight was with no brakes. I don't know if they attempted to ride it that way against the rules or not. Practically speaking, the only time a brake is needed is after crossing the timing mats up top, and even then, you are going slow. A fixie could easy stop soon enough. I would entertain something like this. I save over 20s per pound, and this bike weighs less than half what I typically race up Mt Washington. That would save me 2:40 off the clock! Of course, that assumes having one gear doesn't cost me power. My fastest time up Mt Mansfield was on a singlespeed MTB, so I do have some evidence that the weight savings trumps loss of optimum economy on portions of the course.

The sub-7 lb wonder.

So now let's look at what I plan to ride this weekend. It is most definitely a frankenbike with parts gathered from here and there. I spent almost no money for this year's mods, using things I had laying around. I've always removed the front derailleur and rear brake for Mt Washington. One of the biggest weight penalties that remained was the heavy alloy drop bar and Shimano STI levers. I could cut over a half-kilo if I went with MTB setup. You see, even though I removed half the brakes and half the derailleurs, I still had 100% of the shifter and lever weight. I only needed half of each side. You can't split STI functions. So I replaced the drop bar with a flat alloy MTB bar from early years of mountain biking. It weighs about 140g vs 250g for drop bar. Then I used a Shimano XT rear shifter and Avid front brake lever. Each weigh half what an STI lever weighs.

Hill Junkie frankenbike. Flat bar with old-school MTB components.

For the drivetrain, I'm using a setup used multiple times in the past. I milled off the spider of a Ultegra crank and kept the 74mm BCD pattern for a 30t elliptic Q-ring. Since I wanted to keep the lightweight Dura Ace bottom bracket, the best one ever made with roller bearings, I had to mill down the 74mm BCD posts to get the chain line right. The ring is aligned with the third biggest cog, so it's biased toward the lower end of gearing range where you spend most of the time on Mt Washington. This improves drivetrain efficiency. In back, I use a Dura Ace 27t 9-speed cassette. I left the MTB XTR derailleur on there, as it weighs only 5g more than a Dura Ace road derailleur. Didn't want to have to change the chain length for one race. I normally have a bigger cassette on the back for other races. Note I keep the lightweight left crankarm on, a carbon FSA arm that is part of the compact crank I normally have on this bike.

Modified alloy Ultegra triple crank on right, FSA carbon on left.

There's not much else. I replaced the water bottle bolts with aluminum ones I happened to scavenge. That saves 10g for free. My front derailleur mount is removable on this frame too, so I pulled it off with its screws and covered the holes with electrical tape. That saved another 20g. The front derailleur cable adjuster on left side of frame was removed too. Many little things like these add up, but combined, might shave only a couple seconds off the climb. All of these mods got the bike weight down to 13.8 lbs (8.6kg). This is not bad with alloy clincher wheels.

Seat post tape may come off if no chance for rain.

What you can't see above is the inner tubes. Tests show latex has lower loss than butyl. I use only latex tubes for hillclimbs. Since most of the loss while climbing is rolling loss, improving the ~4% loss even a little bit can shave several seconds off your time.

I set a goal earlier this summer to establish a new personal best on Mt Washington. While recent performance numbers suggest this is a long shot, I'm not giving up hope. I'll be one pound less weight with the bike and near lowest body weight. The rest depends on weather and pacing correctly.  My biggest short term concern is how badly my injured wrist is going to impact my performance. A flat bar may now well be an impediment. Hate to have to put the drop bar back on for a more comfortable wrist angle, or worse yet, mount bar ends. I'll have to get out in the next day or two to see how this setup feels.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Rag-dolling off Mt Kearsarge

It was the last weekend before my pinnacle event of the season, the Mt Washington hillclimb race. I thought about doing the Tokeneke road race on Sunday. The year I established my personal best on Mt Washington, I did Tokeneke the Sunday before. But I didn't renew my USAC license this year. That meant $100+ net cost to race Tokeneke. Plus I've become quite risk adverse since learning of my low bone density after a 2010 mishap. So I bagged the race, decided to do something "safe" with high training value. I headed over to Mt Kearsarge less than an hour away for some high intensity repeats.

Parking at the Exit 9 carpool lot, it was 6 miles to the mountain. Perfect for a warmup. I no more than turned onto Keasarge Mtn Rd in Warner than I was greeted by three other riders coming down. One hollered out my name. Stop. What other wackos would be out this early? It was Bill D, Jose A, and Jason D. Jason is the current BUMPS challenge leader, and Bill is close behind in 2nd place. Awesome! Great minds think alike. They had parked up by the toll road base and rode down to town and were heading back up for a warmup. The real climb is inside the park on the toll road. Also joining us were Craig G and his wife from Alaska. All of us guys are racing Mt Washington in a week. Kind of had ourselves our own little BUMPS race. This was going to be way more fun than Tokeneke!

Interestingly, the state park is no longer collecting tolls for cyclists. Not sure when this changed, but I was at Miller State Park recently, and they charged me the $4 per person entry fee. Not going to question it. We all took off from the gate at about the same time. I went out kind of hard, but I was running my PowerTap, so I could keep lid on going much too hard. Jason started to pull away from me. We've demonstrated multiple times now that I pass him mid-climb in races. I was going out on Kearsarge a tad too hard, so he was probably going out a lot too hard. I trusted my power meter.

I also was hoping to redeem myself after an abysmal pair of 20 minute intervals on Wednesday. I sought two 350W efforts, got 333W in first, and only 313W for 10 minutes in second. That is just awful. I was obviously still tired from the 50 mile MTB ride on Sunday. Probably didn't help either that I ate a large Kielbasa sandwich moments before heading out on that ride. Company campus picnic, and I was too hungry to head out without some food.

About half way up, I caught Jason and started to put seconds on him. I had slowed down a little, so he probably slowed down quite a bit. I crested in 20:49 with a 342W average. That's more like it. I probably could have gone harder, but I wanted to do more than just one of these too. Jason was about 90 seconds back.  We waited for everybody to summit, socialized for a while, took photos with 50 mile visibility, then headed back down.

Summit shot, after first ascent. Jason, HJ and Bill.  Photo by Jose.

The others planned to go up only once and then do a 30 mile circuit. When I mentioned I was going up again, Jason wanted to work on his pacing and decided to go up again too. Bill reluctantly agreed. Bill was reluctant not for the climb, but it meant he would have to descend the frost heave pocked road one more time. Bill wrecked really bad in the Whites several years ago and has titanium in his face as a result. I was riding with Bill that day. He came very close to death.

Second time up I paced myself a little lower, thinking maybe I could do a negative split if I felt better in the upper half. This time Jason started out much more subdued. We rode together most of the way. I did notice his helmet shadow right under my bottom bracket on the drafty bits. Taking advantage...

I did this one at 331W in 21:35, only 11W and 36s slower. I was very happy with that, and clearly a negative split, as my average power was only ~320W at the half-way point. Jason did even better. Looking at his Strava data, he was only 1W and 4sec slower! That on tired legs after going out too hard on the first one. That just goes to show how important pacing is in these things. Funny thing is, Jason was running power too, and his meter was saying too much, but male hormones take over and ignore the quantitative data. Now he's going to be a force to reckon with on Mt Washington!

After dropping down again, the rest of the gang was done with the mountain. I still felt pretty good and at least wanted to do the lower steep mile one more time. The others were going to do a cool-down ride into town and back.

This time I went out really easy, sub-threshold to start. The steep mile went by so quickly, I figured why not just go all the way up again? A huge, fateful decision. I crested in 22:16 at 316W average. Big negative power split again. I figured this third 20+ minute effort is something I can hold for over an hour on Mt Washington. That would get in range of a PR finish if we have good weather. I was psyched.

I started to head down right away. Trees are sparse closer to the summit, so the road is a patchwork of sun and shadows. The road has many nasty frost heaves jutting up and sinking down. I hit a couple pretty hard on the first two descents, so I thought I knew where most of them were now.

Not even a minute into my descent, going fast, I nailed a pointy frost heave in a shadow. Both hands lost grip of the bar. In a blink of an eye, I knew I was f'd. I was off the road, where the side drops precipitously to the right. It happened so fast. Don't know how I became disconnect from bike, as I have Speedplay pedals that require 30 degree rotation. But there I was, an instant of oh shit, heading for trees and rocks at 26mph. It's amazing how much goes through your mind in those few thousandths of a second.

I impacted the ground. Because of the steep bank, it took forever to slow down. I had time to think about how badly my body was going to break when I hit a tree.  Other than initial impact, I managed to rag-doll through the trees and hit none of them. I came to a rest upside down. I was way off the road, and my first thought was how was anybody going to know I was down here. Then I started to move things. I could still feel my body. My spinal cord wasn't severed. Legs worked. Neck didn't hurt. I righted myself. I was trembling mightily with adrenaline. I stood up. I wondered if I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I couldn't feel what was broken yet. I knew my left wrist hurt really bad, and my left calf was so knotted up I couldn't straighten my leg.

I had mud and weeds packed in everywhere. Most of my helmet holes were packed with debris. I was scraped and banged up, but not bleeding anywhere. Wow, I dodged a bullet big time.

Up on the road, I started looking for my bike. I couldn't find it! Did somebody come by and take it when I was down in the weeds? It actually went further than I did. It was just off the pavement but buried in deep weeds.

You know how when a car goes off the highway into the brush, it leaves a clear path where everything gets mowed down? Well, that is exactly what my body did going into the woods. Wish I had a camera to capture it. I also realized from my trajectory, I just missed a four foot tall 6"x6" wooden reflector post where I went into the woods. Like by inches.

The adrenaline started wearing off. My wrist felt awful. Pretty sure I was feeling stuff moving around in there. The forearm bones were fine. My calf was charlied up to point of having to hobble. The descent was going to suck. Hundreds of bumps to avoid with possibly broken wrist. No way could I have walked it.

I suffered through it. My thumb, index and middle fingers kinda worked, so I could at least work the front brake. The ulnar side of my hand was messed up.  Surprisingly, the other guys were just back to the cars as I reached the toll booth area. One of them said "you went all the way up again, didn't you!" I just looked at them, then pointed to my green and black stained jersey. Bill didn't really want to hear about it. I could understand that.

They gave me a lift back to my car parked by the highway. I drove straight to an urgent care center to get my wrist x-ray'd.  The tech said something didn't look right with the ulnar side carpal bones. An orthopedist needs to review the x-rays. I may have something like this going on. In the mean time, I'm splinted up. Moderate swelling, not much pain as long as I don't move my wrist. Extreme pain is result of trying to do anything normal. Typing is tolerable.

Hopefully I'll still be able to use my hand next weekend and the calf charlie works out. I bagged running the last couple months so I could focus on one event, the Washington hillclimb. Sucks to have something like this happen so close.

Ironically, in numerous places, like almost every hillclimb description on my website, I warn riders about frost heaves on the descent. As recently as this week, I put this up for Kearsarge specifically.   I finally got bitten by one of these bastards. This was by far my worst bike crash. So easily could have resulted in far more severe injuries. I feel unlucky the crash happened, but very fortunate to have escaped with relatively minor injuries.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mt Equinox Hillclimb

Continuing my quest of exposing how old I'm getting, Cathy and I drove darn near to New Yawk state for the 10th year of the Mt Equinox hillclimb race. It is a fundraiser for Lyme disease, of which I think half of the mountain bikers I know now have contracted. Some never completely recover from it. Wicked stuff, and I obsess over checking myself every time I visit the wild. The race definitely benefits a cause that is on my mind a lot.

I picked up a bug earlier in the week, probably a virus. Our water well died, and 10pm Tuesday night I went outside to investigate. It took a while to remove the cap. I performed an ice cube test to find the static water level. It was quite good, no more than 50ft down. Our pump is set nearly 500ft down in the shaft. That was actually a relief, as some homes in my neighborhood had to spend $40,000 drilling to find water. That meant "only" the pump was bad, probably the same thing that happened 10yrs ago when sediment eventually chews away the impellers and locks up the shaft. Turns out a lot more than that was wrong, and it set me back more than $4000 when finished. My well is costing me $500 per year in maintenance costs since I bought the house 16 years ago. Cathy is over 55, so maybe it's time to look for a 55+ condo...

Anyway, while working on the well, I must have donated blood to over 50 mosquitoes. I can't use deet. Two days later, I felt feverish, achy all over, sore throat and throbbing headache. DaveP randomly sends me an email about multiple mosquito populations in Pelham testing positive for West Nile Virus. Great. Most of my land is wetlands. I could very possibly have picked that up. 80% of people that get it, never know it. 20% develop mild symptoms just like I was experiencing. Less than 1% develop more severe illness. I'll never know. Symptoms usually clear up in a few days. I still didn't feel right for the race and didn't really know if it would impact me or not.

We spent the night before at the posh Equinox Resort, but in one of the detached inns that mere peasants can afford. They offered discounted rates for race participants.  The room was small, but very nice. Super comfy bed.  The building was not conducive for a good night's rest by a finicky sleeper. Movement anywhere in the building was heard everywhere. I had to turn my noise machine up to maximum, something like 1,000,000 decibels, and maybe it drowned out 80% of the noise. I might have gotten 4hrs sleep.

Enough on ticks, mosquitoes and lack of sleep.  We awoke to chilly temps and rain. That wasn't supposed to happen. I didn't bring suitable clothing to warm up in that. I picked up bib number and finished getting ready. It looked like it was going to clear up. Mountains have a way of making their own weather though. Cathy no more than left for the summit than it started pouring out, at 60F, with no shelter and just a light windbreaker on. I had no choice but to hit the road to begin the warm-up process.

The rain stopped as we lined up for the 8am start. That was sweet, else we all surely would have been shivering. It was actually an ideal temp for a hillclimb.

None of the previous super-studs were there, the guys that bolt from the line and go for the $500 cash first-mile prime. My five minute power numbers are pretty good right now, so this situation was confusing me. Should I contend the first mile prime? I've never done that here before, instead, sitting back and watch it unfold ahead of me. I think I've seen guys have to put a foot down to avoid falling over after going for it in years past. This could torpedo the rest of your climb. So do I go for it in the small chance I could take it and most likely screw up the rest of my race? It would make for good blog fodder, I thought. I decided to see how the Top-Notch first-wave goes off and plan a strategy in real-time.

We go off, and the pace is firm but cordial. Gerry Clapper came to the front and set a pace I suspect he held for the whole 40 minute race. About 6-8 of us stayed with him. At 0.8 miles, nothing is happening. I thought shit, is that all anybody has?  With only a couple hundred meters to go, James Hayes bolts from the group and goes for it. I jump on. Nobody else was coming! I didn't know this kid. I thought surely he'd blow and I'd take this thing. He looks back, sees me clinging on, shifts up a gear and another 50 Watts. I match. He looks back, still sees me there, shifts up another gear and another 50 Watts. I match again. Now we're going really hard, and I'm still hanging on. I kept waiting for him to blow. He didn't. He looks back again, and ups it another notch. He had another gear that I didn't have, both figuratively and mechanically. I could tell he had whatever it took to not let me come around. With a tiny 30t ring up front, I also ran out of gears and was spinning wildly. I missed the prime by 1 second! James is only 18 and is improving on the bike by leaps and bounds. Good for James. Winning a $500 prime at 18 is serious bragging rights!

I was completely wrecked for five minutes after that. Despite drawing a sizeable gap on the rest of the Top-Notch field, many passed me over the next few minutes. I gave up a minute or two right there. I really didn't care that much. Two of us had a real race embedded within a hillclimb TT. Now I knew what it was like to contend the first mile prime.

I eventually got my legs back and found my groove. I started making gains on Joshua Atshuler and Jason De Lorme. Jason is the current BUMPS leader and was wearing the leader's jersey. Mile four is the hardest in the climb. Most of it averages above 14% grade. I think it was along here that I put Joshua and Jason behind me. I was now in 5th place overall, with 4th well ahead of me.

I felt pretty solid finishing the steep last few tenths of a mile. I didn't think I left anything in the tank as I crossed the line in 43:37.  Far from a PR, but not my slowest on this mountain, and certainly a better effort than Mt Ascutney a couple weeks earlier. I was happy with how I felt towards the end, especially given the first mile effort. 43 minutes is far from PR material on Mt Washington in two weeks, however. I just have to get that crazy notion out of my head and enjoy my day on the Rock Pile. Gerry Clapper took the overall by just seconds. 15 year old Ian Clarke had Gerry looking over his shoulder a lot!

Approaching finish. Photo by Mrs Hill Junkie.

At times the summit was really socked in.

The beautifully reconstructed summit house. True timber frame construction, no metal
fasteners, only centuries old joinery techniques. I want my next house to be built this way.

Andy Holzman with the Manchester Rotary Club has been doing a fantastic job running this event for 10 years now. Great snacks at the summit and a buffet with awards at the bottom. Registration numbers were down a bit this year, due in part to the Catskills stage race going on not far away. Even though many road races have gone by the wayside, it seems cyclists still have multiple events to choose from each weekend.

Equinox from the bottom. Summit and base were very different worlds today.

Overall podium, with Ian, Gerry and Erik.

50-59 podium with Brett, HJ and Michael.

I have no goals for the BUMPS series this year. Good chance I'll move up to the 50+ age group leader at Mt Washington in two weeks. Whether I stay there or not depends on whether Gerry does more than four races. Now I have to decide if I want to do the Tokeneke road race next weekend. Haven't raced road in two years. The two times I did Tokeneke, I went head to head with Gerry on the finishing climb. I nipped him the first time for a podium spot, and he was sure that wouldn't happen again the second time.