Ascent #10 – 1:39
I’m obviously disappointed in this – I wanted nothing more than to end this season by going under 1:30 – but in no way surprised. Something wasn’t right this week. I was seriously exhausted. To the point where I became very concerned about what was going to happen on race day. If I look at the rides I’ve done over the past two weeks, I can identify a time about ten days before Wash where I was mountain biking and felt completely useless. I guess in hindsight I should have just vegged out for the next week or so, but to be honest, as far as riding goes, I actually did. If I compare it to my level of activity to the weeks preceding the practice ride (ascent #9), I wasn’t nearly as aggressive going into the race (ascent #10).
The reality is that life has just been really, really tiring in the past few weeks. I started a new job just before the practice ride, and lately it has been absolutely kicking my ass. It has required a ton of energy. In order to keep training, nearly every day at lunch I take my bike out and drill it, then back to work, then home where I typically don’t stop moving until 9pm. Add in additional complications such as taking a cat back and forth to the vet after work every week because he won’t stop pissing all over the place, and night after night of checking Stella’s head for lice because hey why not throw that daycare surprise into the mix, and boom. I’ve got nothing left. Then we went camping two days before the race. Woefully unprepared, we froze our asses off in the White Mountains and barely slept. I probably had no chance. But this is the hand you’re dealt.
I ate my usual pre-race sure-thing breakfast in the morning, after a decent night of sleep. Temps were going to be ideal; 50s. Wind speeds were to diminish to 5mph. It was looking too good to be honest. I didn’t feel terrible warming up, but I did have this kind of ambivalence. I really wasn’t sure how I was feeling. But I hoped I would hit that first pitch, crank up my iPod, and go ballistic like I did four weeks ago.
I staged really late and was mired in the back of my field, and in the commotion of trying to weave through riders en route to the start of the grade, I forgot to start my Garmin. In all it looks like I was a minute late doing that, so Strava doesn’t recognize my first mile effort (or the race in its entirety, only splits from mile 2 to the finish). I was able to calculate that I rode the first mile 30 seconds faster than I ever had before in the previous nine times I’ve put a bike up this mountain.
I find this really interesting, because I knew really, really early that I had nothing in the tank today. I was digging for that spark of energy that wasn’t there. This became apparent well inside mile one. I just couldn’t recover. My heart rate seemed completely normal; in fact my cadence was well over target, so that looked good. But I was just shot to hell. No will to want to stand up and attack. At times, turning the 25t cog no better than the 23t I had up here the last time. Knowing this, I tried to relax a little, hoping to recover somehow and build some reserves for the second half of the hill. But I could tell I wasn’t going to come out of this. And I was mad. Mad as hell. Mad at being so tired. And then I would say to myself, take that energy you’re wasting being angry and divert it into riding harder. Which just didn’t work. And before long, I was barely moving. Intermittent stretches of average effort, and then barely moving. And then brief attacks. I would liken it to charging a dead battery, waiting for it to get to 3%, and then wringing it out immediately and then waiting for it to charge back up.
Riders around me must have been confused as hell. When I would attack, I would blow right by them. Then I would die ten seconds later. Then they would pass me like it never even happened. This happened again and again; one of the most memorable times was on 5 mile just before the turn toward 6. I was in the drops, balls to the wall, weaving around riders like we were on flat land. Then we round the bend and I hit a wall, and here they come in droves, sweeping past me. This was all I could do today. It seemed more interesting than just sitting there and waiting for the end to come. It’s exceptionally demoralizing to know that you have nearly the entire mountain to go and you’re already popped.
Somewhere between 6 and 7, I was ready to quit. I was really upset. My eyes were closed a lot. Exhausted, frustrated. 45mph gusts weren’t really helping. I was starting to pause my music because I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. I figured I was going to pull this thing in somewhere in the 1:30s. That was fine. Well, I mean, what choice did I have.
I knew Keith would be near the finish, and as I neared the 22%, knowing I was cooked, I sat up and looked around a little. I figured I may as well try to take it in. I usually have my head down at this point wringing out everything I have. I take note of a few spectators plugged into the rocks. I’m just satisfied knowing it’s almost over.
Then Keith is running alongside me with a video camera, asking me questions. It was hilarious. Just the distraction I needed. In his video, I don’t look bad at all. I felt a thousand times worse. It is very, very strange how that works out.
Having cleared the 22%, this is historically where I will sprint to the line. Today I sit up. I’m all done. I just kind of noodle through the finish. I get a finisher’s blanket and pretty much want to just cry into it out of sheer exhaustion.
1:39 is ten minutes off from what I wanted to do today. I honestly can’t believe I even did a 1:39. At times, I was barely moving, fully cognizant of the fact that moving at such a pitiful pace was going to result in an awful time. Four or five years ago, riding at a pace like that would have put me ten or even twenty minutes slower. It’s kind of why I’m so frustrated with the day. All I needed was two minutes off my last trip up to get into the 1:20s, and if I felt as good as I did that last time, it was definitely going to happen. Half a minute faster in the first mile alone tells me that. I wouldn’t have had that level of improvement over every mile, but no doubt I was going to get enough incremental improvement to get what I wanted out of the day.
It’s hard to be greedy about it though. All I wanted out of the entire year going into this campaign was to PR, which happened. On aggregate, I guess this was a huge success. The mountain is so much more familiar now, which is exactly what I wanted. I actually wish we were going again. It’s borderline addiction now. The night after the race I had already torn down my hillclimb bike and changed out the drivetrain in anticipation of the next trip up.
I’m not surprised trip #3 was the fastest of the year. It was two weeks after Newton’s, and I suspected a long time ago that I would ride a little wave of fitness from Newton’s. It was going to be a lot harder to keep momentum up for four weeks between the MWARBH practice ride and the race.
The fact that I even got four successful rides up the mountain in one year is incredible. Prior to this year, 25% of the eight trips up were cancelled due to weather.
2007 practice: 1:45
2007 mwarbh: cancelled
2008 practice: 1:34
2008 mwarbh: 1:40
2009 practice: 1:49
2009 mwarbh: 1:59
2010 practice: cancelled
2010 mwarbh: 1:41
2013 practice: 1:49
2013 newtons: 1:37
2013 practice: 1:32
2013 mwarbh: 1:39
It’s so frustrating to see that 1:39. Because I know how good that could have been. I like the average over time though. It’s getting to where it needs to be. Upon a time, 1:40+ was a bad ride. Now bad rides are in the high 1:30s. In time, as life becomes more compatible with what I’m trying to do up there, I feel encouraged. One day I’m going to line up and rip off an amazing time.
That is possible now for several reasons. For one, nutrition. Allen Lim’s guidance with regard to nutrition has changed everything. It’s one thing for me that is now completely automatic. It’s funny, if I look back at some of those old times, I think about what I ate on those days. Totally random assortments of things; bars, gels, bananas, sometimes nothing. Totally clueless. Second, attitude change. And that really did not happen until the third run of this year, when I finally put aside all of the different suggestions I’ve ever heard or read with regard to pacing and strategy, and just went out and tried to smash the hill. And the funny thing about that third run, the 1:32, there was a little trepidation having never approached it that way. I wonder how just a little better that day could have been if I had the supreme confidence that day, coupled with the energy I had. Third, familiarity.
One thing that $500 will buy you, in addition to a chance to ride the rockpile four times in one summer, is familiarity. You will spend a lot of time on that road, and you will know it. On your best days, it means you will know better than you ever did before what lies ahead. Knowing minute detail is the ultimate, but even knowing in general terms what is coming changes everything. Of course on your worst days, you know all of that as well. Such as, oh shit, I’ve already cracked and it’s mile one, and I know with precision how much the next hour and a half will suck.
I spent six hours climbing that mountain this year. Amazing. Of course I wish it was exactly five hours and ten minutes.
So as I said, I tore down the drivetrain almost immediately after the race. I used a 23t Rotor Q-Ring this year for all four trips, and it was a fine experiment I guess, but I’d like to go back to a round ring. I just prefer the feel of it. It never took me long to adapt to the Rotor shape, but my glutes always felt weird. I was somehow more aware of them. Once you really get rolling up the mountain you stop noticing. This may sound completely irrational, but I feel like my legs already make a pretty decent circle when I pedal, and they don’t need this additional weirdness. Maybe the Q-Ring makes more power, maybe it doesn’t. I guess I don’t really care.
I got my hands on a 34-30 XTR cassette spider, which I am going to pair up with an old FSA compact crank I used to use. I like the 34-30 drop. Instead of standing up and clicking repeatedly to get a suitably harder gear, one click does the job. If it weren’t for the start, and a few brief-but-important places on the hill where you can really grab gears and pick up speed (yes these exist!), these two gears alone would be perfectly sufficient. To honest, to simply get to the top, you really only need one. But I need every trick in the book.
I will probably go no easier than 1:1 from here on in. If I can’t get there with that ratio, I’m not getting there. One of my biggest regrets is not figuring this out a long time ago. I feel like I wasted many trips up the hill with gearing that was far too easy, requiring way too much discipline (that I don’t have) to stay down on the cassette. Just chickenshit confidence stuff that we ironed out this year.
I may move to the Rivet frame next year. There is such a difference in how that frame feels, versus the Trek 5200. It’s definitely lighter, but more than that, it just feels more substantial. Of course it also fits properly. Maybe that translates to feeling more powerful. But it’s something I will definitely look into. My fully lightened-up hillclimb build on the Trek was only marginally lighter than the Rivet, clad in its everyday road group. That was actually slightly depressing.
I had so many problems with my R-Sys wheels this year, specifically that damn rear hub, but they are such a light setup. And the 21mm tires turned out to be fantastic. Tubular road tires are the way to go. I really notice a difference in the way the tire feels. I had a clincher powertap wheel on for the fourth trip up, and it was noticeably different; harsher, shittier feeling. Granted, there are some nice feeling clinchers out there; I own a pair. But for the lightest, sweetest feeling setup possible, it’s happening with tubular rims. Gluing was a mild inconvenience compared to the upside, which includes not having to hassle with tubes.
Enough for now; I’ve gotta get this published so I can get to some ‘cross reports.
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Next year will be the year…