Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kearsarge Hillclimb

In its third year, I finally had no schedule conflict to participate in the Kearsarge Hillclimb Race. I've climbed Mt Kearsarge many times by bike over the years, so I was intimately familiar with its undulating profile. That profile would make for some interesting race dynamics.

The night before I looked at the previous two years' results. I figured on a good day I might finish in around 36 minutes. I haven't been putting in focused intensity work this year. Just riding lots. And hiking lots. I perceive the hiking is diluting my bike time and possibly impacting bike fitness. Really hard to tell without regularly tracking things like a 20 minute FTP test with a power meter. But I'm so not into that right now.

Lining up, I didn't see my nemesis Erik Vandendries. Maybe I had a shot at a 50+ win. A friend noted that the men's 50+ age group was over 25% of the pre-registered riders! Crazy. We go off, and just up the road, in sight, is a couple-minute 12% wall to climb. I knew some people's races could be broken right there. There's a huge benefit to cresting that beast with the lead group. Riders in that group will continue to keep the power up while the grade tapers off to easy or even downhill. The young guns will kill themselves during this first half of the race going for a $150 prime at the toll gate while I sit on. The serious climbing doesn't start until after the toll gate. Then it is each man and woman for themselves.

Sure enough, I was one of the last riders to crest that initial 12% wall with the lead group. A gap opened behind me. It was bye-bye to anybody that didn't make that selection. I was on the train, and it was hauling ass.

Coming into the park entrance for the $150 prime, we had a pack of maybe a dozen riders. I thought maybe I should contest it, as my untrained VOmax still appeared to be intact staying with these guys this far. I entertained that thought for all of a millisecond. I had no chance against many of the young studs in that group.

On the summit road, a few riders gassed from going for the prime slipped backwards. The climbing got serious. We had a mile of about 12% staring us down. No more getting a free ride on that train. The train disintegrated. Most of the fragments disappeared ahead of me. A couple drifted back, but two stayed with me the whole way up. Jack Drizhal, Ben Koyle and I traded places many times on the 3.5 mile summit road. There were times I thought they were done and finally I can grow a safety gap, but no. Next thing you know, Jack puts in a surge and I'm struggling to stay with both of them. I was surely pushed to my limit during this 20 minute period.

Approaching the finish, neither Jack nor I were content in letting the other go. We drove each other into cross-eyed hurl territory.  I had no idea what place we were sprinting for. Really beside the point. It's the finish, dammit! Jack got me by 2 seconds and Ben was about 10 seconds back. So Jack falls over into the grass gasping and I hung over my bars drooling, trying not to hurl. Man, I miss those hard finishes from road racing.  I thought the lead up to the prime was fast and hard. But Ben burst my bubble, said that was quite a bit slower than the last two years. What would my time have been those years? Could have gone either way. Faster if I stayed with a faster group to the sustained climb, slower if I got popped right away and lost the draft advantage leading up to the steep part.

I finished in 35:11, a little better than my estimated time. That netted a win for the 50+ and 8th overall out of around a hundred. Pretty happy with that.  As I suggest for this climb on my website, I sent a pair of sneakers to the finish so I could hike the 0.5mi/400ft to the actual summit. It was a fabulous day, perfect temp, sunny and good visibility. Victoria Di Savino (2015 BUMPS leader) did the same and joined me. The views did not disappoint.

Post race food and awards were excellent. I scored a generous gift certificate to S&W Sports in Concord.  The Hopkington Rotary Club and volunteer crew did a superb job organizing the event. Hope I have no more schedule conflicts so I can participate in this event in coming years.

On a different topic, I head out west next weekend for a couple weeks. Ever since I built up enough hiking fitness to tackle the Presidential Traverse, I have been reluctant to let that fitness slide. I've been doing a big hike every weekend since. There's two parts to my desire to keep it going. One is I think hiking, especially with poles, will help me come ski season. I have gained considerable agility and balance on my feet, and skate ski technique is so vitally dependent on balance. The other is there may be some big fall hikes in the planning. I don't want to miss out. I can't do 20-30 mile hikes with guys that are hiking all the time if I don't maintain at least a little hiking base. I needed a hike this weekend, and after the Keararge race was the only window that worked.

Seeing I was already at a worthy hiking mountain, I saw no point in driving north. Instead, I drove around to a side of Kearsarge I had not been on to hike the Lincoln trail to the summit. If that went well, I would also drop down the north side and do a loop on the Barlow and Winslow trails. I have not been on any of these trails and didn't know what to expect.

The Lincoln trail was pretty gradual. In fact, part of it followed a logging road. But near the summit, there was a serious hands and feet section with a bit of exposure. Never saw a soul all the way up.  That 4.4 miles went by pretty quickly, so I cruised right over the summit and dropped down the Barlow trail. Where did all these people come from?! Never knew hiking up this side of Kearsarge was so popular. Almost as nuts as Monadnock. Bottoming out at the parking lot, I started heading back up the mountain on Winslow. Now this was steep, regaining what I lost in 1.8 miles in only 1.1 miles. I found I could really put some force into the poles, just like the "hang" pole when skate skiing up a steep grade. Great workout, but I was going to be so trashed for a planned long ride in Vermont on Sunday!

Back over the top, I began the long 4.4mi descent back to the car. Just like the ascent on this trail, I never saw another person. 6750ft of climbing for the day left me in shambles. At least now I reserve the option to do a big hike out west. Have my eye on an Idaho 12,000 footer.

The finishing area parking lot below from a knob en route to the summit.

Summit photo with Victoria. Saw one other hill climber make it up here.

The 50+ podium

The rock scramble on Lincoln Trail. Some of these giant rocks were loose.
Creepy, as it seemed if you moved the wrong one, 1000 tons of rocks would
crash down on you.

Heading northeast on the Barlow Trail.

Part way down the Barlow Trail looking northeast.

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