Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sweltering Okemo

Pinned a number on again. Well, not on me, but to my bike. Figured I've gone far enough into this summer without pushing myself on a bike against the clock. The Okemo Mtn hillclimb event is in its ninth year. I've done it most of those years, and Okemo always seems to be hotter than the rest. Today was no exception.

I've done no specific interval work on the bike since before my April cycling trip to Arizona. That doesn't mean I only putz around on bikes these days. I get about one day a week where I hammer for 60-90 minutes, almost always on my mountain bike on trails. That can turn your legs into jelly, but it is almost impossible to get the same kind of cardio workout you can on the road. My intensity work has been primarily focused on foot, hill repeats at Pack Monadnock or a small cell tower hill by work. These efforts were 3-13 minutes in duration, so more like VOmax workouts. Then throw in 4-6hr hikes every weekend, a confused regimen of "training" surfaces. Since I embraced hiking last year, I've sensed that the one thing I didn't suck at was getting diluted. I was becoming a jack of all trades and master of none.

I used to stress out over that. My competitive drive has waned over the last few years. So why should I continue to train a certain way if I don't use it for some kind of reward? I was curious to see how Okemo would go though. I wondered how well the running and hiking would keep me tuned up for an uber intense effort on the bike like Okemo.

It was very hot warming up for the race. I did an abbreviated warmup, as I surely didn't want to go into a hillclimb with an already elevated core body temp. At these temps, I can reach dangerous core temp in less than 20 minutes. It was already over 80F lining up.

After the neutral drop down to Rt 103, a few riders bolted from the pack and draw a nice gap. Hmmm, there's no way that is going to make much difference when 30 minutes of hard climbing is just a couple minutes away. But still, two guys in my age group were with them. If they just sat in and got to the base of the climb 30 seconds before I did, that would be like a 30 second head start. But that initial attack faltered and we were almost all back together as we turned onto the access road.

The bottom is so steep and the tendency is to push way too many Watts into it. I've gotten good at blocking out those going too hard and bolting on past me. Those that are burning borrowed Watts, I'll see you in a few minutes when I pass you back.

Mid-mountain I feared my turkey pop-up timer was about to go off. So much of the climb is exposed to the sun. We had a group of about 4 or 5 of us trading place the whole way. I also feared it was going to be a slow-speed cross-eyed sprint to the line.

My pop-up timer never popped. I think I just slowly started to fade like those around me. With about half a mile to go, I figured I either had it in me to draw a gap or I was going to get out-sprinted at the line anyway, so I had nothing to lose. I inched up the pace and a gap started to grow. I crossed the line with a 14sec gap, the fifth person to finish.

I was almost a minute slower than last year. I was pretty happy with that considering lack of specific training and not tapering for this race like I would for a more important event. So it would appear that running uphill and lots of aerobic hiking volume can help maintain a pretty good base for cycling.

It would be a shame to drive 2+ hours for a 35 minute race and not take advantage of a nice hot day with additional activity in the area. I sent my sneakers up the mountain for a very short hike to the true summit. There is a tall fire lookout on the summit, which totally sketches me out. A couple other hillclimbers had the same idea as we walked up the rough jeep track to the tower. The summit is just under 3000ft, but from the lookout, you have unobstructed view of peaks from the ADKs to the Whites.

We got back to the finishing area just as race organizers were about to let us head back down the auto road. Okemo's pavement keeps deteriorating. The descent requires more care each year. Used to be you could rip 50+mph on the lower section, but I don't feel safe doing that anymore.

After a great lunch and awards hosted by the Ludlow Rotary club, I headed back out on the bike to sample some fantastic gravel roads in the area. One of my favorite gravel climbs in Vermont is the Old CCC Rd, which was destroyed by hurricane Irene several years ago and was only recently rebuilt and opened. After a 2000ft climb at race pace and a robust lunch, it is so hard to get the legs working in climbing mode again. I suffered mightily. I had a 45 mile loop planned with 4500ft of climbing but truncated the loop due to heat and time constraints to "only" 3000ft worth. Still a great day, about 52 miles/6000ft total.

Looking northeast, Whites and Mt Washington faintly visible

Looking east. Mt Ascutney left and Mt Kearsarge distant center with town of Ludlow in valley below.

The tower that swayed slightly as you reached the top. Lot of flights there.

Old CCC Rd. Second sign says Narrow Road, Steep Drop Off

One of a few switchbacks on CCC Rd

Vermont is always so green. Think that is Shrewsbury Peak center and Killington left of it. I hiked those a few weeks ago.


Anonymous said...


What kind of gearing do you use on Ascutney?


Hill Junkie said...

I generally use same gearing on all the 12% climbs, which is getting down close to 1:1. Right now my bike is set up with compact crank and MTB cassette. The small ring is a 36t Q-ring, which means the effective "big" radius is closer to 39t but the smaller radius is probably less than 34t. I have 34t cassette on back. I have used other combos in the past. For pure climbs like Washington, Ascutney and Equinox, I have used a single 24t round ring up front with standard road 23t cassette. I've also done 30t Q-ring with 27t road cassette in back. These work for me, where my finishing times were 65min/28min on Washington/Ascutney. If you finish slower, you'd want to gear lower.

I still have 9spd drivetrain on my hillclimb bike, where you could still mix and match Shimano MTB and Road groups. Starting with 10spd, that all changed and got considerably more complicated. That is one reason I don't upgrade.

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