Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010 Everest Challenge, Day 2

How flattering, people are telling me the suspense is killing them and they can't stand that I haven't posted about the second Everest Challenge Day. Okay, one person has, but I can't disappoint my fan, so here it is, Everest Challenge Day 2.

For a little course knowledge, it's important to know that historically Day 1 is stupendously hard, and Day 2 is merely tremendously hard. There's a difference. Day 1 usually took nearly 6 hours and 45 minutes while Day 2 will only take 5 hours if I hit my plan. During a heat wave, where every minute into the afternoon is another minute roasting, that's a big deal - during Day 2 I should be up at high altitudes on the final climb before things get really oven hot - and since a heat symptom related to hydration/electrolyte balance is likely what cracked me and took me off plan yesterday, I'm looking forward to today.

Before describing the day I'll talk a little bit more about preparation, since "looking forward" to a hard 5 hour day, after a 6.75 hour day, doesn't just happen.

Sports science wise, I attempted to do five big things in parallel to prepare for this event. I discussed weight last time (I dropped a bunch myself, and switched to lighter equipment), and I also discussed gearing last time (I switched to much lower gears so I could maintain higher cadence, thereby decrease peak pedal force per pedal revolution, and hopefully avoid cramps).

The three things I'll mention this time are:

1) that I altered my training program to be less focused on long endurance training and more focused on short, hard intervals. I mostly did 30-second and 1-minute intervals in the months leading up to this (with good effect), and only did a couple long rides. I think that mostly worked, but I should have done a couple longer rides at threshold I think. There's only so much time though - and I may just need another year to slowly get stronger.

2) I did more altitude training this year to make sure I was acclimatized - I spent 5 days at 7800' 2.5 weeks before the event in the hopes of triggering some red blood cell production, and I spent 3 nights at 7800' prior to the event to normalize blood plasma volume. I'm not sure if this worked or not. I think it helped, possibly 5% or so. It definitely didn't hurt, and it provided for interesting observations on just how low-pressure the atmosphere really is at 7800'. This is your snack food at altitude, for instance:

3) Nutrition - I really focused on electrolyte replacement and nutrition strategies this year so that I wouldn't start cramping despite pushing for a PR at a distance I don't normally ride. Specifically I finally figured out how to take the pill-based electrolytes you really need (drinks just don't have enough), without fumbling around a lot. Behold the "pill the dog" method of electrolyte consumption, based on Clif Bloks:

This makes it really easy to get the stuff you need.

The only problem then is getting the stuff you need when you need it, since timing is important and working out really hard has a habit of making me a wee bit stupid. My strategy there is to map out a plan the night before that has course information and when to eat what, so even when I'm an idiot I get it right. I just tape it to my top tube:

From my perspective, all this came together perfectly. I rode a really strong race, set personal records for power produced and times on this course, finished strong on the second day, and generally didn't have a lot of problems given the extreme difficulty of this race - just a little cramping on day 1. Unfortunately, more strong dudes then ever showed up, so that even though I had a great race on an absolute scale, I did worse relatively - I ended up 14th in the P12 category, and came away with no upgrade points, and only $45 in prize money. I'll admit I was hoping for more and I have a little "woulda coulda" afterwards (for instance, if I hadn't cramped I would have been around 25 minute faster on day 1...that's maybe 9th place...), but I'll have to take what I can get.

As the hardest race I do all year, and a cap to the season, it's sort of like a final exam. In that respect I'll be a little tough on myself and give myself a B+. I did cramp on Day one and I think it was avoidable. Other than that though, I rocked it and a B+ isn't bad.

Thanks to everyone that supported me as I tilted at this windmill - lots of encouragement from my teammates and fellow racers, and tons of understanding from my wife. I'm not a complete lone wolf, I can't do it without you.

For the data junkies, here's what the data looked like. I put two lines in indicating my target, and what I calculated after-the-fact based on the winning time would have been the power I'd have needed to win. I'm a fair ways off - 20%, and that explains why I got 14th GC instead of 1st for sure. If I had 10% more power I'd have been 7th or so I think. Maybe next year...One fun note is the top speed - imagine doing that on your bike. Also, you can see on the first climb I was cranking out tons of power the first 10 minutes or so. I specifically stayed with the lead group in order to see exactly how hard they were riding even though I knew I wouldn't stay there all day. Turned out to be 280-300W to start the day - or 4.8W/Kg or so. They faded by the end, but that's a stout effort. If you can do that for a couple hours, you could win...

Here's some other pictures if you're curious - they really capture the desolation out there well - luckily there's a lot more camaraderie then you can see from this lens.

One more race this year - the CCCX Fall Series where I got 2nd last time, then the season's done.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

2010 Everest Challenge, Day 1

Wow, that was hard. That's banal, but pretty much what I think after the first day of the Everest Challenge every time. I don't even stop for food or water on training rides, but I had to stop twice today (for around 5 minutes total) to work a cramp out. Tough day.

Similar to the post describing the Everest Challenge though, I'm going to try to use pictures, because words don't really describe it. And today was hard enough I'm literally dyslexic right now anyway, and I don't want any accidental malaprops.

Herewith, the things that stood out to me most today:

The heat was the story today. I actually *over* drank to compensate (it is possible), which triggered a bit of cramping, but after not drinking most of the final climb (2 hours) I wasn't feeling so bad at the top. This is what it did to me though - same story on all parts of clothing:

So with the heat, the major salt accumulation (thank you s!caps) etc, I still did okay. Here's the data - I was on steady top-10 (*maybe* somewhere around 6th) pace, reeling people in, until I just cracked. Managed to hold the same power post-crack that I had in 2007, so I can't complain too much, but oh what could have been. If I'd stayed on pre-crack pace my math says I would have chopped 25 minutes off my time. Ouch! Look at that high temperature in the sun:

So, I'm all cracked up with just under an hour and a half to go. How did I survive? Well, I built a bike with ridiculously tiny gears. I was getting a little self-conscious while test riding it the last couple weeks as everyone was quick to poke fun at a 33x32 low gear, but I stuck with it and damn if it didn't allow me to get myself together from a major cramp and finish okay:

The other saving grace was that I worked on the denominator of "power to weight" and went on a major personal remodeling project this year. I lost just about every bit of body fat I could and lemme tell ya, *much* nicer not hauling that up these hills. I do miss pizza though:

After all the data and sweaty body parts, here's your unicorn chaser - the lake at the top of the first climb near Mosquito Flats. Check out the Aspens in blazing fall color:

There you go. 120+ miles, 15000' down. 14000' and change tomorrow, and at least with prizes going 20 deep I'm still in the money :-). Since it looks like I've got about 4.5 hours of power in the legs and that's how long the stage was today, hopefully tomorrow I can claw some time back on people.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everest Challenge - what's it look like?

For most people when I describe the Everest Challenge it's like trying to explain a trillion. It's just too much, it's too far away from what they've experienced - both geographically and cycling-wise.

I think that's a shame though, because then how can I explain why I do it? I mean, it's a tough physical challenge, and no one cares how I do. I have to want to do it. Why?

One of the main reason I do it is for the geography, Inyo County and the Owens River Valley (where the EC is) is gorgeous people! You have to see it. One of these days I'm going to do a non-cycling trip this way that goes something like this: drive into Yosemite and stay in the lodge there. Hang out in the Owen's River Valley a couple days. Head to Death Valley to see the bloom and stay in the great hotel there.

Here's why that's a good thing - this is the big picture view of where this place is and generally what it looks like, relative to the Bay Area, with Bishop (the home base) and the 6 climb end points circled:

So, you go across Yosemite via Tioga Pass. You drop down the backside of the Sierras and you're in a valley (still at 7000' though!). You head South past Mono Lake, and pretty soon you pass Mammoth Lakes (where I'm staying for a couple nights, quite nice, 7800'). Keep heading south a bit more on 395 and you drop into the Owens River Valley at around 4000', nestled in between the Sierras on the West, and a ridge separating Owens River Valley from Death Valley. et voila.

Zooming in a bit, here's the 6 climbs we do. Physically each is epic, but if you look at the geography, that's the thing. Glaciers. High mountain lakes. Snowcaps. Massive ravines. Green valleys. The oldest tree in the world (no joke!). I can just about reach out and touch each one of these things on the climbs, depending on the climb.

Here's what they look like, in order:

This is a tough one. Highest point in the race, 10,100'. There's glaciers up there. Beautiful fishing lake.

Easy climb. I'd say this is filler to make sure we hit to the total climb number :-). Only a 3000' climb, to 7000+'

This is a killer - end of the day, 6000' climb that finishes just under 10,000'. Really pretty at the top though. Aspen trees all over the hillside on fire with golden leaves (I saw them today). Mountain lakes, snow packs, etc.

Starting the second day out right - climb up to just under 7800', the last climb into the Sierras, West of Owen's River Valley.

Now we're heading East - these are some moon-scape / desert conditions on the ridge in between Owen's River Valley and Death Valley. This climb is also a bit of filler really - same as the middle climb of Day 1. It's in a steep ravine though and is still pretty.

Final climb of the event - this climbs up to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest, which has the oldest living tree in it. They're scraggly little oxygen-starved, wind-blasted things, those bristlecones. Makes you think about what it takes to survive 10,000 years though, and what those years will do to you. The view all around from this point is amazing, as are the burritos cooked up by the event's support crew.

There you have it - a little bit of the visual of the event. I think that's important because it's a feast for the eyes, and makes it worthwhile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whole lotta racin' goin' on

I mentioned in the last post I had raced a bunch but hadn't posted anything.

Couple reasons for that - work has been pretty hectic (even had to travel a bit, a rarity), home has been a little hectic (we're remodeling the front-yard among other things), and cycling-wise I'm building up to the grandaddy of them all - the Everest Challenge. Updating the blog...not really a priority. I don't even make it on Facebook much.

Anyway, I have been feeling slightly guilty about it among lots of other things not getting done though, and I made a major error in a road race today so I thought I would really quickly set down all the missing races with a special focus on things attempted, and lessons learned.

Herewith - the missing races, oldest to newest

o Patterson Pass RR (8th in 35+123)

My goal here was to be active, break up the field, and finish in the front group. I think I can climb, and I'd like to test that.

Lesson learned is that I can climb (that wasn't the hard part for me, and the group did split down to 10 or so) but the rollers after the smaller climb were a killer for me. I cracked off the pack there and had to chase back on. Was blown then and didn't make it up the climb. Kept chasing though, and learned that you will keep catching people if you don't give up. I think I caught three more and finished *just* behind the main group. I need more raw power.

Not too bad. B for climbing, D for raw power, A for tenacity.

- Dunnigan Hills RR (10th in P12)

Goal here was to get a result. No wind so I bet on a sprint. It was a sprint.

Lesson learned: my read of the weather and associated strategy is pretty good, however, my selection of wheel to follow left something to be desired. I was in the wrong spot and the sprint was hellishly dangerous. Top 10 was luck, as was staying upright. So, need to get closer to the front prior to sprints and pick better wheels.

A for weather / course research, D for finishing tactics

- Suisun Harbor Crits (weak in both 35+123 and P12)

Goal was to be active and get a result. I was expecting breakaways on this course.

Lesson learned: if you half-ass breakaways you'll burn all your matches like I did in the M35+123, and suck at the sprint. And the P12 won't magically be better.

This was an F all around really. All it was good for was a workout.

- University RR (24th in P12 but got girled by Katherine Matthis - go Katherine...) and

This is a very very tough climbing race that National level pros frequently turn up for. Goal here was to finish in the first significant group.

I'm not sure what happened here. Mentally I blew up - the legs were sorta okay but at some point I just couldn't do it anymore and gave up. It was really hard at the moment, but guys I know I can outclimb stayed in when I let the group go. I was disappointed. I finished the race and kept riding really good laptimes, for what should have been 24th but they DNPd me anyway, which is frustrating.

Lesson Learned: I'm not sure here - it's a lingering problem. Mental blowup while legs still have some juice? Was I tired? I just dunno. More raw power will always solve the problem, for sure.

D for tenacity, B for endurance

- Vacaville Crit (18th in P12 but beat all the pros in the race, because...they probably weren't trying very hard on the last lap since a break was away)

Goal here was to try to get a result even though I knew it would be hard. I expected a breakaway.

There were breakaways, and I surged off the front with them. Nothing I went with was sticking though (and yes, I pulled a bit). In the end I was with the main group and I thought there was a huge group up the road so I didn't fight hard in the sprint. My mistake, there weren't that many up the road and a good sprint would have been a good result.

Lesson learned: If you're not tactically aware enough to know how many are up the road, at least ask! Duh.

F for tactical awareness, B for activity

- CCCX Circuit Race Fall #2 P123 (2nd in P123)

Goal here was to be really active/attacking and try to win the thing. This is a race that is rolling hills (which suits me), and doesn't usually draw a strong crowd (which of course suits me) - so this is actually plausible.

I figured this would be a course with a breakaway because of the hills. The Clif team and the Metromint team each had a lot of representation. So I wanted to attack and draw out 1 Clif and 1 Metromint and anyone else that wanted to play. Tried once and got a lone rider, a Clif representative but he was hurting, and no Metromint. Let it die. Tried again and got same lone rider, Clif, Metromint, and a few others. This could work. Drilled it a bunch and we broke the pack - this was the winning move. Played some games near the end, and hesitated in the last part of the sprint, so I got a strong second but didn't take it. I'm happy with that and a little frustrated at the same time - I had the chance to win but didn't capitalize. Still, great result.

A for strategy, A for tenacity, B for sprinting

- Folsom TT (almost dead last in the P12)

Goal here was to pace myself correctly, and actually post a TT where I rode my threshold power, to see how that stacks up.

What actually happened is I went out way too hard, blew up a lot, couldn't really recover, and sucked all the way back to the finish. It was horrible and I was frustrated with myself - I don't practice TTs though so I guess this is what I get. Grr!

Lesson learned: to pace TTs correctly you either need a discipline I don't have apparently or you have to practice them so it's automatic. Apparently all the people that do well at them actually practice. I'll have to practice.

- Folsom Crit (5th of a ton of P12 people, 50+)

Goal here was to be active to try to get in a move, and podium, why not? It was a course that suited me and I felt great.

I was active but the pack wasn't even letting serious gaps form. I pulled a couple times but there were literally so many strong folks from different teams that the pack never let anything gap at all, and the course was featureless. So I switched to field sprint mode. The sprint was pretty good, but right at the very very end I didn't give it full gas, and I got passed by two people. That's always upsetting.

Lesson learned: sprint right to the line every time, every muscle fiber

A for tactics, including the sprint, D for tenacity

- Folsom Circuit Race (17th out of 50+ P12)

Goal was to be active and get a result again (same goal but really this is most P12 racing for crits and circuit races). The course had two 180s and a short hill before the final 180, which then had a single-file corner followed by maybe 200m to the line, which meant the hill was the deciding moment.

I started to cramp near the end so I didn't have many bullets left and I decided to conserve up the final hill not realizing how important it was until *after* the race, so I came in a humdrum place instead of doing well. Got 15th in the full Folsom Omnium though which was good for $25.

Lesson Learned: Even if I don't pre-walk a course and really think about it, I really need to think about how the final lap will play out so I'm prepared.

D for tactics, C for endurance

- Mt Tam Hill climb (13th in the P12)

Goal: to pace myself correctly and climb quickly, duh

This is just starting at the bottom of Mt Tam and climbing to the top, with a bunch of the strongest cyclists in the state. Not much strategy to it except not to blow up at any point so you have to slow down to recover. I blew up a little at the start, but rode sensibly very quickly so it wasn't too bad. Right near the top of the hardest climbing section though I let a group I was in go because I didn't *know* we were nearly done climbing otherwise I would have held on. That was 5 places, easy.

Lesson Learned: no course knowledge usually means a bad result. Oh, and more raw power is always good. Or not weighing anything

I was frustrated with myself for not being tenacious and I needed a longer workout so I climbed it one more time even though it was blowing heavy drippy wet fog. I was nearly as fast the second time as the first time.

B for raw power-to-weight (hey, nearly top 10 in the P12...), F for course knowledge and tenacity

Finally, the race I just did this morning:

- Henleyville RR (6th out of 15? P12)

Goal: to get in the winning break, and hopefully sprint for a podium.

This was a flat 75-mile road race with no wind, but historically there is a breakaway here so I was counting on that and wanted to stay active. I do well in breaks with 5ish people though as longer rest intervals are more important to me (since I have less raw power than most). I got in the winning move and it had 9 folks for a while, so I was happy with that.

The breakaway kept whittling down but it never really eased up, which led to a problem - my food strategy was horrible. I haven't done a long race in so long I basically just blew it. I didn't have enough food I could eat while working hard and with 10 miles to go I started to bonk. No cramping at least, but this is where the real attacks were starting. With just a couple miles to go I finally bonked completely and just hung on to finish with the group shooting for 5th/6th/7th. I got 6th but maybe could have gotten 5th. Either way, my highest road race placing in the P12 ever despite a huge tactical error.

Lesson learned: food strategy, duh. And don't hesitate in the sprint.

There you have it. Lots of races, I accumulated a few more P12 points and earned some money. I had a bunch of fun, and learned quite a bit.

Recap on the lessons learned (primarily for me later):

- don't hesitate in sprints
- work on raw power
- food strategy!
- know your course
- really think how the last lap will play out, where do you need to be in front?
- sprint to the finish
- stay tactically aware or ask for help
- pick the right wheels in sprints

Seems like basic stuff, but it is hard to get right when you're at your limit. By writing them down here I'll hopefully remember it better and keep moving up the rankings