Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb

What a week it has been!  One week after completing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race I found myself at the start of the Mt. Washington Auto Road Hill climb.  Following through with the logistics of the journey between the two locations was as demanding as the recovery my body had attempted to make. My coach, Mark Fasczewski and my acupuncturist Mackay Rippey did their best work to get my body "back to normal."  Climbing this 4698 feet in just 7.5 miles would be even more of a challenge than usual.

This was my fifth race up Mt. Washington, so I knew what to expect.  I hoped that my time at altitude would extend its reported benefits in my direction and would override any of the obvious recovery and logistical issues.  The timing was not perfect, but I had been asked to represent Hammer Nutrition at the Meet and Greet, held the evening before the race.  I happily accepted, grateful for the opportunity.  Summer is short and there are never enough weekends!

The race started and I felt pretty good.  Hooray!  I did not overdo the start, but paced myself via my power meter, watching folks in my wave get ahead of me and then reeling them in again.  Eventually I was reeling in the racers who started in the waves prior to mine.   This makes for some tricky maneuvering at times, but a courteous "on your left" generally does the trick.  The most worrisome riders are those that are zig zagging up the climb, so good communication is essential. 
The temperature at the bottom was a nice 65 degrees and I soon worked up a sweat in the initial miles.  Eventually, though, the road  ascends above tree line and the reliable Mt. Washington wind becomes an issue.  This race was no exception.  The sustained winds of 30-40 mph were mild by this mountain's standards.  Combine them with the certain drop in temperature provided by such an elevation gain and, well, a sweaty body can cool off in a hurry.  Yes, my body was cooling off much too quickly.  My hands even went numb.  Yet, had I worn protective clothing in anticipation of this I would surely have ripped them all off due to the warm conditions at the bottom.

Nearing the top of this climb one can hear the distant cheers of the crowds and the whistle of the cog railway.  Clouds rush past at 30-40 mph.  Headwind, tailwind, crosswind and steep grades all conspire to tip bicyclists over.  The ground underneath moves very slowly in the carefully selected climbing gears.  The clock moves very quickly.  Still, I managed to finish second in my age group and a very pleasing 10th place overall for women.

I arrived at the finish line and the first thing I did was ask for my finisher's blanket.  My husband Phil was right there and he helped me to where our van was parked so I could put on all of the warm outer garments that I had packed.  Then I jumped onto my stationary trainer and did a ten minute cool down -- or was it a warm down?  Then it was back up to the observatory area for a warm drink and to check out the weather observation equipment.  Yep, it was chilly and windy, but I could have told you that!

This day had enough clear sky to showcase the stunning views from the top of this mountain.  Being above treeline helped sooth the feelings of missing the mountains in Colorado.  Our drive home later that day took us through the White, Green,

and Adirondack mountains.  Add that to the Rocky mountains just a few days before, and I can only say that I am truly blessed to be able to do this.

Thank you to my sponsors Hammer Nutrition, Specialized and Stan's NoTubes for all the great support.  Thank you family and friends for always being there for me.

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

Another Leadville Trail 100 MTB race is in the books for me. After over a week of rain showers and some constant pouring the day dawned clear and chilly. The first 4+ miles are downhill and on pavement so it is really a test of trying not to shiver too much while you are flying along with 2000 of your closest friends.

The speed reduces to a crawl when the dirt riding begins. All was good for me until the start of the St Kevin's climb where I was forced off my bike by a guy in front of me. With hundreds of riders streaming past I had nowhere to get back on and was reduced to walking.  I was so grateful to eventually get riding but certainly lost time.

That debacle set me back and I found I was sliding backward on my projected splits. Despite arriving at elevation 10 days prior the altitude was getting to me. I could still ride but I could not ride hard. Belt buckle dreams slipped away and total focus went toward making it past the time cuts. It was a race to each one.

The funny thing is that my climbing, while on the bike, was quite good. It was the hike a bike portions that clobbered me. On the long road climb up Columbine was passing folks all the time.  As soon as I got to the goat path portion and joined in the hike a bike my altitude difficulties started in earnest.  Emotionally I just willed myself to move forward and not quit. I just kept telling myself I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation.  Endurolytes were a huge help with the cramping I experienced.  My walking was like a death march, but I was gambling that I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation and pushed toward the top.

I reached the top and then the short descent to the aid station and timing mat. More Endurolytes and Espresso Hammer Gel propelled me forward. Climbing out of the aid area was torture, but as soon as the terrain tipped down I felt better. Wow!  As I descended I cheered on those still pushing their bikes up telling them they would feel better too.

It is a long descent back to the Twin Lakes aid station. One rides from the highest point on the course to the lowest, which is 3000 feet, without taking into account the undulations. I went as fast as I could back down, hoping to make the time cut. I did that, and then continued on to where my daughter MK was waiting for me with all my Hammer essentials. I am so grateful for her amazing help!

Climbing out of Twin Lakes I really thought I was out of the water. However, a big headwind kept my speed in check. I passed a lot of people when I was climbing, but this section took 10 minutes longer than anticipated. I thought I would never get to that last check point!  MK was also worried. As I finally got into the Pipeline aid station people were screaming at me to get over the mat. I got through just in time, with one person later telling me they closed it down as soon as I passed through.

More Hammer refreshments from MK and I was on my way again. I was hoping to get in before 13 hours and get an official finish, but was now on at least a 13:15 pace. Plus, the dreaded Powerline hike a bike and climb was ahead. Well, nothing left to do but attack it, right? 

Attack, I did. I started picking off people from the start of that long slog all the way to the finish. A couple of guys passed me back, but I got them well before the finish line. Finally, I was feeling good and racing like me!  I flew down the rocky descent from Hagerman Pass, grateful for the rear suspension on my Specialized Epic. This is why I bought this bike!  When I got to the smooth gravel a check of my watch told me I was on pace to finish at 13 hours. Good, but now I wanted better!

I raced down the gravel to the nice pavement descent and them settled in for the three mile climb to Carter Summit. I got there far ahead of my anticipated time and MK was there to share in this excitement. Now was the fun part, the fast descending of St. Kevin's. Now I could make up, at least mentally, for what I missed out on during the ride out when I had been forced to walk.

Fly I did. Wow, this was so much easier than it was for me 2 years ago. I was feeling fantastic and loving my bike. It was time to hammer!  In no time at all, it seemed, I was at the foot of "The Boulevard" which is the long gravel grind toward the finish. I had completely fallen apart there two years ago, but this year it was my friend. I had ridden it the day before and learned the line on the initial climb and memorized its landmarks   As I rounded the corner I could see at least 10 racers walking. No way was I walking that!  A glance at my watch said I could break 12:30 if I rode this like I knew I could. I went into full blown fury with100 miles under my belt. Better late than never, I guess.  I rode hard for me and for MK, who had so tirelessly taken care of me.

Up the Boulevard, over the pavement to Sixth St and up that climb. Then I could see the throngs at the finish. I was at12:26. Could I do it?  Push hard down the hill and then up, crossing the mat at 12:29 on the clock. Yippee!  MK waiting for me, jumping up and down, and then the finishers medal around my neck.

What a day, full of ups, downs and then ups.  Standing at the start with MK there to take my warm coat at the last second. Listening to Ken pronounce his mantra which soon became mine:  "You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can."  Over and over, for 12.5 hours, I repeated that to myself. It worked!

A huge thank you to Hammer Nutrition for its continued sponsorship and support.  And a huge thank you to MK Thompson for always being there for me with my Hammer Products and for motivating me to move forward -- as fast as I could.  Thank you also to Specialized and to Stan's NoTubes for all the help.  What a challenging and amazing day!