Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Canyon Classic - Mt Hamilton Ride

As you all know from my last post, I was able to complete the Canyon Classic Mt Hamilton ride. In so many ways, this was a study in contrasts.
  1. Last year I drove to the ride from home but rode alone. This year I stayed in a motel but met a very nice couple I rode the first 25 miles with.
  2. Last year it was blazing hot and bone dry. This year it was cool, wet, and I was shivering on a few occasions.
  3. Last year there was no water provided before the Mt Hamilton climb. This year a whole case of water which cool weather left mostly unused.
  4. Last year there were great swag bags, Mt Hamilton pins, and T-shirts galore. This year they ran out of everything.
  5. Last year I got one just for trying so darned hard. This year they ran out of pins.
  6. Last year my gearing was woefully inadequate, and this year I had gears to spare.
  7. Last year the ride completely wrecked me, and this year if someone's life had depended on it, I could have done it again the next day.
  8. Last year I passed lots of people on the way to Mt Hamilton, and they all passed me on the climb. This year I went slow, but passed a few people on the climb.
  9. Last year ended in a DNF. This year took over 7 hrs of riding, but I finished with ease.
  10. Last year my training and preparation were woefully inadequate. This year near perfection.
I woke up at 5:00, tossed and turned, pondered waiting for the 6:00 AM wakeup call, and finally got up and started mixing my hydration mix. With the AquaRack, 2 bottles of water, a 1X Gatorade bottle on the down tube, and a 4X Gatorade bottle on the seat tube with 4X extra electrolyte to allow adequate electrolytes even if I had to dilute my Gatorade due to heat. Into the ice chest it all went.

In and out of the shower, dressed, car repacked and driving to the event by 6:45. Registered, redressed, bike assembled, last bathroom break, and last minute addition of my lime green PI wind vest before rolling out of the parking lot at 7:20. It was so cool I debated adding leg warmers, but even with dark clouds and cold winds blowing, I decided it was too much bulk to stuff in my jersey along with the vest. I also decided against the CamelBak. Two 24oz and two 21oz bottles seemed like enough on such a cool day. I was more worried about a mechanical forcing me to stop in a cold rain up on the mountain and hypothermia.

LAP 1:

My cold legs were sluggish, and by the time I made the last turn leaving town I had met up with a great pair of riding partners, Rich and Anne. We rode all the way to Frank Raines Regional Park together, with Anne leading the way. She was riding a beautiful Specialized Ruby and her wiry frame made her a good climber. Rich and I talked most of the way, pausing only to catch our breath a few times. It was raining lightly on and off until about a mile before Frank Raines, and then it really poured.

The three of us pulled in and were soon shivering. Rather alarming to me, as my core almost never gets cold, but soaking wet in high winds and cloudy skies, we were huddling together to keep warm. I ate a Powerbar, drank Gatorade, and even tried drinking half a RockStar. What a hideous concoction! Really awful, but I needed the caffeine. When we discovered we were all going to San Antonio next, we decided to stay together. Ready to leave, I inquired about water. They were OUT!!!

It was a very ugly moment as a panic spread over the crowd within seconds. The ETA for water was 20-30 minutes. The volunteers manning the rest stop got an earful and then some. It really did threaten to get ugly for a minute or two. Just about then a SAG pickup pulled up and Anne, patiently waiting, suggested I ask the SAG if they had any - just on a hunch. I walked up to the driver so as to ask quietly, and was rewarded with 3 bottles immediately. As I was walking away with my cherished booty in hand, the driver announced he had a whole case of water (24 bottles) and a line formed immediately. I poured, mixed and filled until all 4 bottles were full, thanked my new friends for their patience, and we left.

I didn't know until I got home and looked at the Garmin laps, but that stretch from Patterson to Frank Raines is one huge false flat, punctuated by some 4%, and a little 6% grade. In fact, I burned more calories on that stretch than climbing Mt Hamilton if one is to believe Garmin's caloric consumption estimates. 20 miles in an hour and a half with lots of conversation. What we all knew is a few miles after Frank Raines the climbing starts for real, and continues for about 5 miles to the Santa Clara County line.

LAP 2:

Rich wanted to talk, Anne wanted to hammer, and I wanted to conserve my energy. We hit a 17% grade, and I let them go, agreeing to catch up with them at the top. With wiry builds, I knew they would out-climb me. My 24 granny put a smile on my face immediately. Even over cattle grates I could maintain my speed, conserve my legs, and stay out of zone 5 - spinning between 70 and 90 rpms. As promised they waited up for me at the crest before we headed downhill to the San Antonio rest stop. As expected, once we pushed off and headed downhill, I passed them both in a loose tuck as they pedaled to catch up.

I pulled in a minute ahead of them and saved them a leaning post against the fence. They made a very tempting offer to join them on the 100K, but I politely refused. I have to say, I was sorely tempted because I felt very sluggish and just couldn't seem to get out of my own way. It was then I remembered I had brought along a couple of GU Espresso Love's with 2X caffeine and a maltodextrin kicker. I drained one, ate another PowerBar, and a slice of plain white bread. I wanted to load up on carbs as the next leg would be downhill enough for good digestion. I decided to focus on starch instead of sugar solids, to leave room for Gatorade without risking osmotic pressure problems and GI distress.

Finally, we parted ways and they assured me they'd wait for me back in Patterson. We'd been together 3:30 and already had formed a bond. As sluggish as I had been riding, I doubted I'd see them again, but was hoping they'd hang out. At 8.6 mph it was a slow lap, but also 1,500 ft of climbing with only 126 bpm average HR.

LAP 3:

(click for bigger pic)

Two minutes after Rich and Anne shoved off, a couple riding Cervelo and Look tri bikes announced they were headed for Hamilton too, so the three of us took the left turn at San Antonio Rd and slammed right into a 15mph headwind. I stayed behind them both until the first significant downhill, and then decided to pass her rather than ride my brakes. I drafted him loosely, using the wind to brake when starting to overtake him. I was surprised he wasn't able to stay ahead of me going downhill on the very aero Cervelo, but compact weight does have an advantage going downhill - especially into a stiff wind.

I tried to say with them, but we hit a short 8% grade, which they attacked, and I decided it wasn't worth blowing my pace to follow. I had punched firmly into zone 5 at 160 bpm staying with them on an earlier climb, and knew that would quickly fatigue me, so kept my HR in check at 145 and climbed in the drops. Funny, I hadn't ridden in the drops much at all since getting my aerobars, but on my last prep ride down to CSUS I was riding with a couple of guys from Sac Bike Hikers and didn't want to risk riding without brakes, so rediscovered riding in the drops. We all rode back to William Pond together before I continued on to Bannister Pk - most of the time riding in the drops. One of many lucky breaks training and prepping for this ride. My "Big Hard" and "Grim Reaper" rides also turned out to be well-timed and near perfect training rides done in the sequence they were.

The ride down San Antonio Rd is very scenic, and doubly so with the wet conditions of late and the heavy rain clouds blowing fast across a blustery sky. I was watching for the bottom, trying to time my fuel consumption so I would be fully fueled but with an empty stomach by the time I hit the Hamilton climb. The tale-tell sign, as always, is pooled water. Beyond that, this year, per my and many other rider's suggestions, the organizers left a case of water right at the bottom of the climb. Ironic, because if they'd done so last year, I wouldn't have ended up with a DNF, and not really needed this year with such cool weather.

Not wanting to feel like the dumbest rider who ever lived DNF-ing twice in a row, I took no chances and topped up all 4 bottles before heading for "big nasty". Ten miles in 42 minutes. I was well fueled, well watered, and not even a little tired. In fact, the GU Espresso Love worked, and I felt energized.

LAP 4:

The graphics on the last post are all from lap 4 - the Mt Hamilton climb. It's a beast. It took me 35 minutes to climb Marshall Grade. It took me 35 minutes to come DOWN Mt Hamilton. Even though my speed increased almost 1mph over last year, it still took a bit over an hour and a half of solid, no breaks climbing. The only zero cadence on the graphs is coming down the backside of the approach climb, which is about 90 seconds of rest at 30 mph, and then up an innocent looking short grade before the road bends to the left. I knew better this year and shifted down into my granny. Live and learn. It goes from -10% to +10% in 200 yards, and doesn't let up for over an hour.

The sun was out now, and the road was throwing off some heat. It felt really good on my legs. The wind was there, but not very strong on the lee side of the mountain. As the endless parade of switchbacks started to fall behind me, one after another, in an agonizingly slow procession, the scenery became truly stunning. The mountains were vibrantly green, the clouds were dark and brooding, sweeping across the landscape in a boil between sunbeams. I was kicking myself for not bringing a disposable Kodak camera. Visibility was endless. I'm sure I could have seen the ocean from Mt Hamilton's 2-quarter binoculars at the visitor's center.

Up and up and up and up and up and up and up. Solid 10% grade with lots of 12,14,15,18 and some 20% thrown in. I stayed focused on the road 10 feet ahead and did math problems in my head. I thought about old friends I used to ride with, and wondered where they were. Were they still riding? Moving every 3-4 years for most of my life there were many friends left behind to wonder about.

I listened for the sound of engines. Three semi-trucks with fresh hay still sliding off their empty beds came roaring down the mountain. I squinted behind my glasses - slid well down on my nose to keep the sweat from running down them - and hoped they didn't lose control. Sometimes I couldn't tell if the traffic was above or below me, the switchbacks carved so radically into the mountain they completely overlapped each other. Cracks appeared often in the road, and I tried to avoid them by moving over, listening intently for cars and motorcycles. The latter make a sport of blasting up and down Mt Hamilton, but tend to take the whole road and not just their lane. The danger isn't that great, but there is so much time to contemplate it.

After an hour there was one spot in the road about 120 ft long where the grade actually drops below 5%. I shifted my back gearing, stood, and climbed - just to stretch my legs. It was wonderful. My quads never complained, but my hamstrings were taking a beating and a bit sore. I barely got my gearing reset before the super-steep started again.

Somewhere in all of this I was managing to steal a few squirts of Gatorade and re-rack the bottle before losing my balance. As cool as it was, I was pressing my helmet against my forehead every 15 minutes to squeeze the sweat out of my sweat band. Being able to keep a cadence of about 60 helped tremendously. It made balance, power production, fatigue and hydration manageable. Riders would pass me only to have me pass them later in the climb. I knew why. I did the same thing last year. Your legs can only go so slow, so if your gearing is too high you go too hard just to keep your cadence high enough to make some power. For most people, it just isn't practical to climb out of the saddle for an hour and a half.

I had reset the Garmin's display at the base of the climb so I could monitor my elevation. It was a huge psychological windfall to know how much was left, because the switchbacks are so tight you can't see more than 300 yards ahead, and they go on f-o-r-e-v-e-r. With 800 ft of climbing to go I passed a very nice guy from Pleasanton who was walking. I shouted out "800 ft". He loved the sound of that, until he asked "distance or elevation". I was of course, referring to elevation. He eventually made it to the top, but got SAGed home. I saw him back at San Antonio on the return, and later ate dinner with him in Patterson. He's going to try again next year.

Finally the road flattened out, and I knew I was going to make it - and then I rounded another bend and ran right into the steepest climb of all. The Garmin was displaying 20%. By that time I was so jaded I just laughed, looked up, and implored of the big bike rider in the sky "anything else?" Even when you get to the top you have to ride all the way around the observatory to get to the rest area. It really helps to keep a sense of humor about the endless false "finally"s.

There were a couple of guys at the top in our group, and a few from the Sili Valley side who were invited to eat off our table, as the organizers had brought too much food again this year. It was overcast, and I was soaked to the bone from sweating, so we were all relieved when the sun broke through. Ten minutes later Nature called, and after a trip to the men's room I started feeling much better. A Powerbar, grapes, a slice of break, Gatorade and almost as an after-thought, more GU Espresso Love. I washed that down with water, a Hammer Endurolyte, and headed home.

LAP 5:

The two guys I had been chatting with at the top took off about 10 minutes ahead of me, and I made a goal of trying to catch up with them, but the road surface is so torn up, with scalloped craters 6-8" deep, and lots of asphalt washboard, that I kept my speed in check and rode both brakes most of the time. This descent was the reason I upgraded my brakes last year. This year I got to use them. I didn't turn my pedals for 15 minutes. The scenery was gorgeous, and distracting. I started braking just a little late going into a hairpin turn and was lucky to get through it. By the time I got back to the bottom, before the intermediate climb, my hands were starting to cramp. You can leave a lot of brake pad on that descent.

Not taking any chances on the rest stop being open still at San Antonio, I stopped at the case of water and topped up again. I had my first chain drop on the climb over that hump. The climb had loosened up the new chain and now my 24 granny was dropping the chain again. It seriously pissed me off. I have spent over 8 hours adjusting every imaginable thing trying to prevent that, and here it was, scraping up my bottom bracket again. It would happen twice more before I got home. A rare chink in the overall ride.

LAP 6:

There is some climbing on each end of San Antonio Rd, and some in the middle, but in between it's pretty flat. With what was now a tailwind of 15 mph, and feeling much better after a trip to the Men's Room, I was starting to hit my stride. I was riding mostly in the aerobars, and was really cranking out the power. The guy who had walked to the top of Hamilton was getting SAG-ed back, and he reported what I already knew when we met up - I was flying up the road at 18-22 mph. I finally had my legs under me!

The light was starting to get flat, and that added to my sense of urgency, but mostly as the miles fell behind me I was relieved. This leg, with its climbing requirement after the Mt Hamilton ride was the one variable I didn't have a good handle on. As it turned out, the slow start and moderate pace were really paying off, and the wind definitely was helping. I stopped worrying, knew I would make it home, and starting grinning and enjoying the challenge. The 4% and 8% grades done at 4-6 mph I was now doing at twice that speed. It felt wonderful.

LAP 7:

As I pulled into the rest stop the SAG wagon pulled in behind me. They were already breaking down the rest stop, so I made an expedited trip to the porta-potty, topped off my water bottles, ate a slice of bread, a Powerbar, and headed out. Three miles of rollers with 5%-8% grade lay ahead - the same stretch I had passed Rich and Anne on hours earlier. Before I got back to the summit where they had waited up for me, two SUVs pulling the lunch wagon and porta-potty passed me. I was on my own. I had missed my two friends by less than a minute, and the walker was in the SAG wagon that had just passed me pulling the lunch wagon.

I was lucky again. Having done so much of my training alone, the sight of my last support leaving me behind was sobering, but didn't panic me. I had 5 hours of sunlight left, and less than 20 miles of mostly downhill ahead. Barring disaster, I was going to make it home. Once I crested the summit and started heading down "the climb to the county line" the road straightened out enough that I could let my speed build up. I was averaging close to 30mph with spikes to 40mph. That was one fast ride!

The rest of the descent flattened out a bit, but still made a nearly constant descent back to Frank Raines - long since abandoned. The AquaRack ejected a waterbottle crossing a cattle grate at 35mph, but other than that, an uneventful and exuberant flash of thrilling speed as the trees and farms flew past with me crouched back on my seat in an aerobar tuck. It also smoothed out the chopped and chewed asphalt surface.

LAP 8:

The home stretch from Frank Raines to Patterson was mostly a shallow downgrade, with some flat and two miles of climbing right before crossing I-5. This is the same leg where I had used 1-Second record mode starting out. With 1-Second resolution that leg has 1,737 up and 691 down. With "Smart Record", coming back, that turns into 278 up and 1313 down. Nothing very smart about "Smart Record". Missing 60% of an elevation change is atrocious. If aviation instrumentation were that poor you'd be able to go for a hike stepping on piles of bodies and never touch the ground. This is serious issue when using cumulative elevation gain numbers for training.

As the shadows got longer I started adding more and more power to get home. Part of this was the sun being at my back, but there is something primal about the will to get home before dark. I came over a rise and the road wound rather flatly through a valley. The sides were planted with new fruit or nut trees, and between the drip irrigation, and the plentiful water still flowing in the stream, a bumper crop of ground squirrels had sprung up. I'm not sure if it was the heat of the road, the sound of my wheels, or just a general setting of the sun insanity, but they were running crazoid back and forth across the road all over the place, and at least one a mile had lost a race with a truck. The crows were having a feast!

Shaking my head at this swarming maze of mindless activity I stayed down in the aerobars and hammered. Then, suddenly, suicide squirrel # 7,823,941 ran right for my bike. I didn't even have time to react, or maybe I was just in that Zen state when one is a little tired and trying to get home, where short of the 2nd Coming, or a thermonuclear explosion, you just don't care anymore. I felt a little detached until I felt a thump against my feet, heard a shrill scream, and saw a brown blur rolling across the road. As best I can piece together, he hit the teeth on the bottom of my large chainring, started to spin, flipped his tail into my rear wheel's spokes, got his tail and hind end sucked under my rear wheel, and got spit out in a rolling, whirling dervish. Whatever injuries sustained, he rolled or limped off the road never to be seen again. I wondered if squirrels had the language to pass that experience on. A tall tale to tell sitting around the nut bag on a cold winter's night! :D

(California Aqueduct near Patterson with new tree plantings)

Within a few minutes of this incident I climbed the last significant grades of the ride, rode over the I-5 overpass, and coasted down into Patterson. The wind had turned on me just before my little furry freak flew into my wheel, and was now a solid 15-20 mph in my face. I just hunkered down and powered home.

I rolled up to the parking lot and headed for the registration area. Grabbing a salad, bread and a couple of ice-cream bars I sat down next to the walker and 2 guys I'd rested with on Mt Hamilton. I felt great. No leg pain, no chest pain, not much fatigue, and a nice conversation. A nice lady took my name and address so they could send me a couple of T-Shirts and a Mt Hamilton pin. I changed clothes, packed the bike and headed home. I started thinking about next year and my wild idea to return home from San Antonio via the Century route instead of back the way I came. Someone did just that this year, and uploaded the track to MotionBased. It will make a great training tool.

In retrospect, driving there the night before, getting started an hour earlier, showing up with a well-practiced nutrition, hydration and electrolyte plan, having the right equipment on the bike, having memorized the route, I felt in control and on track the whole day - even if I did have a sluggish start. Five hours after the ride my BP and HR were back to normal. I took Advil for 8 hours and had no leg pain the next day.

I had a bad day yesterday, but think that was due to a bit of food poisoning a'la a Subway chicken-breast sandwich. I have had good energy and little fatigue since, and while a bit lucky on some judgment calls, have to say, the contrast between this year's performance and last year's is quite amazing. I really think I could have done it all over again the next day if my life had depended on it. Not sure about day 3 after that, but the ride seemed easier than either of my last long training rides. Color me happy. Very happy. Redemption, for me and Kobe.


Gotta Run..Gotta Ride said...

Where to even begin…

You said: this year I had gears to spare.
I LOVE IT!! You put the training in and it showed. Amazing when you ride your “own” ride and do not get sucked into another pace how you can accomplish your goal. SMART for it!

You detail and description of this event made me feel as if I were there riding. Those grades were seriously insane. I have only tackled 14% and felt I was at my max for sure. Love the 6-8% climbs.

There are benefits riding with groups but I do think learning how to mentally tackle miles solo are just as important.

Truly an amazing event for you!!! Cheers to hammering those mountains and miles.

Anonymous said...

I would say the goods outweighted the bads here. Especially that you could have done the ride again is awesome.

So where are the pictures?
Pictures, pictures, pictures...

Grey Beard said...

Thanks for the Kudos Robin. You are so right about the need to be totally prepared - including prepared to ride alone to stick to YOUR game plan, and not end up in a DNF because you fear being solo more than failure.

Ummm, if you come ride this ride with me next year Steph I will carry your camera too! :D Hope you like the OPP punt. The bike really did look like a pack-horse as it was, so not much room for anything else.