Monday, June 29, 2015


The Okemo Mountain hillclimb race filled a nice gap where I didn't have much going on. No off-Friday I'd have to waste, no other big race events, no epic group rides planned. I could even sleep in for the late morning start. I figured I could throw two bikes in the car, hit the race in the morning, then STAB trails in the afternoon (Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin). I always wanted to check those trails out.

I had some dialog with Victoria Di Savino, a new hillclimber from Buffalo, regarding gearing for Whiteface and Okemo over the last few weeks. Her power numbers are small, but she is very small. Her W/kg number on Whiteface was on par with mine in best form. I was far from best form now, eschewing interval training these days and weighing about five pounds over my "climbing weight."   I told others I was getting chicked at Okemo on Saturday.

There were only about 90 of us lining up for the start at the Jackson Gore resort. The chicane down to Rt 103 is neutral, then the race goes live. The first two miles have slight downhill bias and can be very fast if young studs are going for a course record. But not today. Everybody sat up and we putzed along at about 22mph. Was fine by me, but these crazy flat or downhill starts to hillclimb races can add considerable variability when comparing your time to years past.

We turned right up Mountain Rd and immediately were slapped with double-digit grade. That spreads things out pretty quickly. I saw Erik Vandendries pull away with the fastest guys. He's 50 now and I can't touch him. I knew from the registration list he'd win my age group and I still had a shot at second, but Tom Fagan, also in the field, is riding strong these days. There'd be no slacking off.

Before long, Victoria came floating by, dancing on the pedals, barely breathing. Dang, how many tough guys were humbled that morning? More than a few, I'm sure. She pulled away and I thought, well, that was that.

Tom was ahead of me for a while and not letting up. I felt like I was going backwards. I didn't feel particularly awful or anything. I just wasn't going very fast.

But then, as in most hillclimb races, those that go out too hard start to come unraveled. I started passing people. I caught up to Tom. Victoria dangled just ahead. I found I could gain a little on Tom on the less steep parts but he'd gain it back when it got steep again. I could never seem to gain on Victoria. This went on for the last half of the climb, the three of us never spread more than 5-10sec apart.

We passed the 0.5mi to go mark and now I was on Victoria's wheel. I would have been content to just stay there over the timing mat. But Tom would have none of that. He came gunning for me about 15 seconds from the finish. I had no choice but to respond. To make it even more interesting, Kevin Bessett joined in the party. I've never sprinted harder at the end of a hillclimb. Victoria had no idea what was going on except three guys just came out of nowhere and crossed the line right in front of her. I saved my second place finish, just barely. That burst at the end put me the closest ever to hurling at a finish. My time was two minutes off my best, but most of that could be attributed to the slow start.

Victoria handily won the women's field, and I suspect some climbing records could fall next year if she sticks with it. The steep monotonic climbs will suit her really well.

A fine day to hang out at the finish

As always, Glenn from Okemo and the Rotary Club team put on a top notch event. Very reasonably priced compared to the other climbs and at a great resort venue. The food after was perfect with healthy selections and all kinds of yummy treats. Would really like to see more people at this event next year. There's nothing to not like about it.

After eating, I split to hit the STAB trails before rained moved in. I was humbled again by the steepness and technical difficulty of these trails. The level of engineering and creative use of natural features was stunning. It just wasn't my preferred kind of riding material. Trashed legs and balding Racing Ralph tires didn't help matters. There is a lot of exposed granite to ride there. With the ground a bit moist and tires that have marginal traction when new on terrain like that, I found sections a bit terrifying.

I must say though, I could like a few trails there. The South Ridge trail was a work of beauty. I'd hit that again. Many smooth granite outcroppings were worked into that loop.

With skies getting dark and no telling how close the rain was (no 4G signal), I pulled the plug early and finished with only 14 miles and another couple thousand feet of climbing. I'd have to explore more of the trails and hit Joe's Jungle just north of there another day.

Trail called Hay Ride I finished on. Switchbacks a mile down this giant field.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Rapha Inspired Gravel Grinding

I've ridden variants of the 2012 Rapha Gentlemen's Race course that snaked through VT and NH four or five times now.  Just the good part too, the section that makes many big hops through Vermont's mountains. The loop offers all the desirable aspects of cycling in spades, great views, challenging climbs, endless descents, solitude and minimal traffic. A cross bike is highly recommended for this route. There are a couple Class 4 roads that would be treacherous on skinny road tires.

Heading over to VT on I-89, a black bear and I almost collided. The bear came bounding at high speed out of the woods to my right. I didn't think I was going to stop in time and started to maneuver to avoid it. But just as the bear came to the pavement, it saw me, did a four paw stop and 180'd back into the woods. That was only my first of three close animal encounters for the day.

Early in the ride on the first Class 4 road, I was ripping downhill when I heard a crashing sound to my left. A large deer came bounding down the mountain on a collision course with me. Slamming on the brakes again, this time on a bicycle with no protection around my body. The deer obviously saw me and cleared the road in one leap about head high fraction of a second ahead of me. That got my heartrate going.

Then on the second to last descent of the ride, I'm hauling ass when a fat woodchuck hops out of the brush immediately ahead of me. I didn't even get my fingers to the levers when I heard and felt a bonk at the rear wheel. The wheel didn't go over it. The woodchuck either t-boned a spoke or the rim. I turned around to look and saw woodchuck four-paws to the sky out cold. A second later, it sprung back to life and scampered off. Dang, that was close. I was going close to 40mph on dirt. Had it gone into the front wheel... I don't even want to think about that. By the way, my redneck friends I grew up with in Michigan would cook those things. Mighty tasty, actually.

I added a climb I hadn't done before into this ride. It was Spring Rd/Monarch Hill. The 900ft grunt up dirt Spring Rd was quite scenic. Reminded me a bit of Glade Hill Rd in the Catskills, but not quite as steep. The descent on Monarch Hill Rd was by far the best descent of the ride. Perfectly monotonic, smooth packed gravel and nice views down the valley.

There was rarely a moment when I was out of ear shot of rushing water on this ride. It must have rained hard into the early morning hours. Everything was flowing. It left the gravel firm and tacky, hero gravel, if there is such a thing.

This ride finishes over Turnpike Rd. Why is it that so many New England roads with Turnpike in the name are roads that were abandoned before cars came along? Anyway, Turnpike Rd starts out as nicely groomed gravel, almost two lanes wide. Then it drops to one lane, still occasional houses and a power line along the way. As elevation is gained, grass appears in the middle. That would classify Turnpike Rd as doubletrack. But after the last house, the road becomes full-blown jeep track. That rain I just mentioned? Yep, the jeep track was a quagmire. It was too rocky to sink in with 38mm tires, but there were huge puddles that could not be entirely avoided. Plenty of off-camber wet granite too. I'd be surprised if I average over 4mph for this half-mile section. Only one dab though. Once through it, it is six miles of continuous downhill back to the car. The ride went 66mi with 7600ft of climbing in 4.6hrs. Here are a few pictures from my shitty waterproof camera.

Top of first climb, Bragg Hill.

Joe Ranger Rd.

Strawberries at high point of second major climb, Old Kings Hwy.
They were yummy, much more flavorful than the giant mass produced kind.

Allen Hill Rd.

Top of Foundry Rd climb from Strafford Rd.

The treat at the end, Turnpike Rd. Can't tell from photo how wet this was.
At least there was only half a mile of it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Wilmington-Whiteface "Road" Race with MTBs

Race reports are becoming pretty rare here. Probably because I must race to create race report blog fodder. I decided to commit to the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k race earlier this spring when a few teammates decided to give it a try. The race has been on my list for a couple years.

Wilmington-Whiteface is a Leadville 100 qualifier race. There are several qualifiers around the country. Interest in Leadville exploded after big-name pros started racing it and a movie was made about it. The lottery system for entry wasn't working anymore. Thus a system of qualifying races arose. Wilmington is the only east-coast qualifier.

After months of borderline over-training by riding copious junk miles, I thought maybe a break would be a good idea. Backing off is the hardest thing for me to do. Exercise is an addiction not unlike chemical addictions.

Lining up 7am, it was freaking cold and windy. There was frost on my car leaving for the race. It was supposed to warm up into the 60's. It wasn't clear if I pitched layers later on the course if I'd get them back or not. I didn't want to lose any of my brand new team items. The course starts with five miles of descending. Could I tough it out in short sleeves for 10 minutes before hitting the first climb? Few were taking the chance. I shed my long layers minutes before the shotgun start.

Single wave mass start. Myself on left, John Mosher in blue Wheelworks kit, and
teammate Mike Harris on right.

Sitting about third row back of upwards of five hundred racers, things were a bit sketchy. Speeds stayed 30-40mph for much of the first five miles. Many times I hard the load braaap of knobby tires rubbing. Keep that shit behind me and try to hold my position, I thought to myself.

My GPS recorded a low of 37F during the first minutes of the race. I was just reaching the point of shivering so badly that I was getting wobbly on the bike. The first climb couldn't come soon enough.

Not warming up whatsoever, the Bartlett Rd climb was a kick to the nuts. Just like that, a large contingent of riders split over the top and I was relegated to the chase group. Oh boy, not a good start. Drafting, I learned, turned out to be a pretty big deal in this MTB race.

I barely regained some core body temperature before rocketing down the back side. 10 miles in, I was wondering why I didn't bring an eight pounds lighter cross bike. Nothing but pavement and well groomed gravel.

Then we turn onto Styles Brook Rd. This paved, double-digit grade hurt. Interestingly, I was part of a large pack again. Did we bridge back up to the front of the race? It was quite possible. This would be short lived. I had no interest in matching the pace being set up front. The pack began to distill into many smaller packs.

After a brief respite, we turned onto Jay Mountain Rd, a seasonal forest road. This went up a lot more on rough gravel.  The grade wasn't severe. All that meant is you just had to go faster, not any easier, if you wanted to stay in the race. I had no familiarity with the course. I kind of remembered what the profile looked like. I could view the profile climbed so far on my GPS. I knew the descent was coming soon, after climbing 1600ft.

I quickly learned why very few bring cross bikes to this race. At speed, the descent off Jay Mountain is quite treacherous. I was hitting speeds of 30-40mph on what was little more than a jeep track. Touch the brakes for even an instant, five guys would come around just like that and fill gap in front of you. That was no good, so don't hit the brakes, stupid.  The only flat I passed on this descent was somebody with a cross bike. That could have been 100% of the cross bikes that were ahead of me.

After bottoming out, I found myself with about a dozen guys with big gaps fore and aft to other groups. Teammate Tom Casparis was in my group.  I did not know any of the others.  Jay Mountain did its selection job.

A bit of road work brought us to the first truly off-road section. I wouldn't go so far as to call it singletrack, but it was definitely woods riding on loam. A 500ft grunt strung us out a bit. After contouring through the woods, the gradient pointed back down. Organizers actually had volunteers out there to warn us of impending doom. It wasn't that bad actually, actually tame by New England standards. I was a bit cautious only because I was riding rock hard tires on a hardtail. On my Tallboy with 18psi in the tires, I could have ripped that descent with reckless abandon.

This little four mile lollipop loop through the woods was the turn-around point for the race. Now it was pretty much retrace the track back, including going back up that 1600ft plummet on loose gravel. Our group of a dozen riders was still intact heading into the climb. Pace was a bit leisurely for me. I figured once at the top, it was kind of all downhill to the finish from there. Yeah, right. I picked up the pace and started to roll away from the group.

Pushing hard by myself in a personal pain cave, I started to close on another two riders. One was Drew Bennett riding for Corner Cycle, the other Billy Railey from Florida. I didn't know either rider and mentioned I was 50+. Drew said I needed to worry about Jimmy. Great. I just had to open my mouth. I just put a bulls eye on my back as I pulled away from them. Jimmy had ripped, tanned legs and had snap that seemed to have faded from my legs.

I crested the top, dismayed to see Drew and Jimmy just seconds behind me. I was even more distressed by the fact that as soon as I let up, inner thigh muscle spasms struck me. The was about 2.8hrs into the race and I had upwards of 2hrs to go. This was not going to end well.

On the gravel descent, which was not nearly as sketchy as the side we just came up, Drew and Jimmy quickly overtook me. On the bright side, at least I'd have somebody to work with. We hit speeds of 50+ mph on the lower paved portion of the descent, the double-digit grades we climbed earlier.

Then it dawned on me. It wasn't all downhill to the finish. We had to climb the back side of Bartlett Rd, an 800ft gravel grunt. Now I was fighting constant spasms. I'm sure the other two thought I was feigning fatigue to get out of doing any work. Regardless, they pounced every-time I paused to stretch my hammies. Bastards! I barely got back on a couple of times.

On the way back to Whiteface, we took another lollipop off the out-and-back to hit some honest to goodness singletrack. This was the Hardy Trails. I had heard it was quite buff material. We had scooped up another younger rider, so four of us entered the woods together. I hopped on Drew's wheel as he led. The trails were indeed very nice. Drew was a bike handler and rallied the turns! It was great to have somebody to follow. Before I knew it, Billy and the other guy were nowhere to be seen behind me. Now just if I could fend off the cramp demons a bit longer.

Then really bad spasms struck. I would have been off the bike had we still been going up hill. Ironically, Drew had the same issue and did have to stop. I motored on best I could. Carving the non-stop turns on the descent, I got sloppy and clipped a tree hard with my shoulder. A centimeter further over, it would have been a fracture. It nearly threw me off the bike. Dang, did that hurt. It left a huge raspberry on my shoulder and almost tore my jersey open.

My friend Alex, who was crewing for another friend had a water bottle for me entering the Hardy Trail. I said nope, only 6 miles left, so don't need the weight. Big mistake. My small Camelbak was already empty, and I figured there was only 20 minutes left of riding. Also a mistake. I really could have used the carbs, fluids and electrolytes in that bottle.

Heading out of Hardy Trail, a couple miles of road are taken to Whiteface Mountain, the off-road finale to the finish. It was supposedly only three miles. How hard could that be? Impossibly hard if your legs stop functioning with any kind of knee bend. The cramping would not stop, and now multiple muscle groups were getting into the tortuous action. I had no choice but resort to straight leg hike-a-bike all of the climbing. Didn't matter much at first, as a couple guys I was riding with at that point did not gain on me riding the steep, rooty, greasy terrain. I could still breath hard walking my bike up.

The problem was, as soon as I got back on my bike to pedal, instant spasms. F-bombs! Eventually the trail pointed down and I could almost ride my bike. But WTF, the course went right back up a ski slope! I was coming scary close to having another Everest Challenge debacle. I could barely move anything without everything cramping on me. I kept looking down the ski slope, expecting Jimmy to any moment come flying up. At this point in the race, I still had no idea if we were competing for a podium spot, but I was pretty sure I would not be on it if Jimmy passed me. I pushed through the pain.

Eventually the course crests again, and spectators said it was for real this time. I didn't believe it. People always lie about these things. The course did start pointing down, and in no trivial manner. More brownie mix covered roots were encountered. The problem I had now was I couldn't even bend my legs to absorb bumps without cramping. I was hike-a-biking down! This sucked big time. Eventually the trail popped out on a service road I could ride down. That finish line couldn't come soon enough. Would I have another cataclysmic seize-up 200m from the line like I did at Everest Challenge?

Crossing the finishing mat, destroyed.

I rolled across the mat in 4:35:57, much faster than I thought I'd finish. After eating copious watermelon, Coke and water, the cramping finally started to subside. It took a while to for my result to show. I was shocked to see it was good for 2/62 finishers in the M50+ category, 24th overall out of 350+ 100k finishers. Dave Wiens, now 50, won my age category. Podium shot with Dave Wiens - I'll have to stick around for that!

There is a lot to like about this race. I found it to be very well organized and run. The course was well marked and marshaled. Live music and descent food. What about the course itself? Well, I have a fondness for loops, especially single big loops. Examples are the Vermont 50 or Ironcross courses. A mostly out-and-back on roads is not as inspiring. I do believe the course provides robust selectivity for the Leadville 100 in August. Nearly 8000ft of climbing in 67 miles on a mountain bike will punish the burliest of riders. If this course could be turned into a loop with a little less pavement, I'd definitely come back. I wouldn't rule out doing Whiteface again, but I think it was a check box race for me.

One of the prettier metals I've won.

I declined entry into Leadville at the awards. Not ready to commit to it right now. I almost made Gold status, which I think means first corral at Leadville.  I could always qualify another time if I wanted to give Leadville a go. I was set to do Leadville in 2010 when I broke my ankle. Since then my interest has faded. I'd rather visit the high country in Colorado at a non-race pace, as I do most years.

Friday, June 5, 2015

O2 for Free

Since the beginning of the year, I've maintained a fairly persistent volume of aerobic activity. First it was skiing, then riding as the snow gave way to bare Earth. I wouldn't go so far as to call this training. I have never been one to hold to a regimented training plan. I did try to achieve requisite amounts of specific stress levels each week when I raced more regularly. But as the motivation to race waned, so too did the desire to "train."

My riding these days has very little structure to it. Gone are the mandatory midweek interval sessions. Instead, hard steady-state rides are more likely. Mentally less taxing, yet punishing enough to suppress the mental demons that arise without a taxing workout. Weekends have become long 4-6hr mountain bike rides.  Dubious training value at best, but these junky miles are where all the fun is!

So I have a big race this weekend, the Wilmington-Whiteface 100k. Never done it. Profile and duration look a lot like many rides I've done this spring. I'm not really interested in qualifying for the Leadville 100, but this race isn't very technical (aka roadie friendly) and I need to try it at least once. I haven't been over to the Lake Placid area in a while.

Staying injury free has allowed me to ride at a fairly high stress level continuously for months. To be sure, I'm talking physical stress here. One thing I've noticed is that my head stays on a much calmer, smoother operating plane this way. I've never taken any kind of mental stability drugs. I can't help but think daily, rigorous exercise produces a similar outcome with less side effects.

Leading up to a race, I thought maybe it would be good to take a breather for once. Others implored that I should rest for a change too. Taking it easy all week, the changes I notice are profound. For one, I find myself more easily distracted. Mind gets going in too many directions. I also find small annoyances are more apt to set me off.  I have a poster up in my office that says "WARNING: I haven't had my bike ride yet today. Don't make me kill you!" There is a lot of truth to that. Regular, strenuous exercise seems to quash all of that.

The other thing I notice with rest is physical. It is no surprise that perceived effort goes down when one is well rested for exercise. But I have quantitative evidence that there is even more than just perceptions at play here.

I've learned that my active recovery pace is one that I can maintain with breathing through my nose. If I have to open my mouth to breath, I'm going too hard. On the power meter, this is around 170W. An interesting thing happens though, when I become rested. I can go harder, higher Watts, same perceived effort, while still breathing through my nose. It is like I am getting oxygen for free from some other source. It would be really cool to measure cycling economy when tired vs rested. My suspicion is that economy improves when rested, so less calories and oxygen are consumed for the same power level. Since cyclists are typically only 20-25% efficient to begin with, there is a lot of room for variation or improvement.  Using perceived effort alone as one tapers for an event is risky, as restfulness goes up, perceived effort goes down, potentially duping one into ruining a taper.

Anyway, trying not to take this race too seriously. I think Dave Wiens will be there again, and he's 50+ now! So much for a win (just kidding). Looking forward to breaking my week long fast of intensity on Sunday.