Monday, July 12, 2010

Newton's Revenge, A Bicycle Race Up Mt. Washington

Newton's Revenge, Climb up Mt. Washington. I set a new record for women 55-59 -- 1:24:23 and was the 4th woman overall. Stats for the auto road: base elevation 1563 feet, summit elevation 6288, length of the race is 7.6 miles, with an average grade of 12.7% and an extended portion at 18%. Highest temperature ever recorded at the top is 72 degrees, highest wind 231 mph.

The race was postponed from Saturday, due to torrential rains near the top, making the dirt section extremely rutted and slick. After that decision was announced Phil and I went back to our awesome B&B, the Nereledge Inn B&B and had a superb breakfast, then headed out to be tourists and to find a calm place to ride our bikes. Late in the afternoon the weather cleared and we drove back up to the mountain. Phil had earned a free trip up the auto road for the volunteer work he was going to do at the top on race day, so we used that voucher and drove up the auto road. I am so glad that we did, because I saw that there were some sections that flattened out just enough to give legs and lungs a small break. I figured I would need that! And, oh, it is so beautiful up there, we hated to come back down. We have fallen in love with New Hampshire.

Sunday dawned sunny and warm -- the race was ON! By race time it was HOT, which was my limiter of the day. I felt fantastic warming up and for the first three miles of the race. I had great legs and was good to go, but the heat was relentless. I kept waiting for the temps to cool on the way up or for some of that fabled wind but it never happened! The sun was full on -- clouds, where were you??? -- and what breeze we did have was a tail wind giving absolutely no relief. Like climbing in an oven...

Eventually I went into survival mode, especially once I got above tree line at 4 miles. No more dots of shade. I was just boiling by the time I hit the one mile dirt road section, "the 5 mile grade", so I stopped looking up at it while I was climbing. That part is straight along the side of the mountain and steep, and was my slowest mile, average there was well over 15 percent, probably that 18% that I spoke of earlier. Once back on the pavement I took a few seconds to regroup then hit the "Hairpin" which featured another short and very steep grade. A photographer was sitting on the yellow line (!) and I was wondering how I could negotiate that steep kicker and also avoid him at the same time. I managed to, and then it flattened out again to the "cow pasture."

Almost there, but how far? I could see the observatory and hear people yelling, but there was more steep road ahead. After I recovered a bit I went back to getting the ride completed. The last 50 yards did not disappoint. That 22+ percent grade (seemed like much more) was so hard, but thankfully short. Then a left turn and a few feet to the finish line!

The race ends at the very top, so once you cross the line you have to stop. That was equally challenging! I had two people helping me, keeping me from falling over. They put a blanket on me, which made me hotter, so we took that off and my helmet and got me to a chair. Who would think it would be this hot at the top? I was shaking like a leaf, but after some water and a Hammer Gel I was better. Eventually I got up and walked around, and after a while went to my van to ride my trainer. A wonderful person carried my bike for me while I hobbled down the stairs to the parking lot. What a beautiful place to ride the trainer, way above tree line with all the clouds and vegetation far below us. A mystical place and now one of my very favorites. Again, I did not want to leave.

OK, so I did not say too much about the climbing -- mostly because that is what it is all about. You just pedal and pedal and pedal, and if you stop you fall over, which happened to a gentleman I was catching up to who had started in a wave or two ahead of me. I was happy with my SRAM Apex gearing, 34 x 32, which would have been perfect if the heat had not zapped me. However, I just gutted it out. My mountain bike experience sure came in handy on the hairpin and the fabled finish line kicker.

What a marvelously put on race! The race promotion was right-on, with all the right stuff. We had number plates for our bikes with disposable chips that we did not need to return, we were greeted at the top with medals and beautiful souvenir Polartec blankets, we had a full fresh turkey dinner post race (yeah, they carved the turkey in front of you) and awards were prompt. There were lots of door prizes too. Mary and Kelly, their staff and volunteers did a magnificent job.

I'd like to thank my sponsors for getting me to and through this event: Hammer Nutrition, Specialized, SRAM, Terry Bicycles, and Sonne's Cycling. Thanks to my coach, Mark Fasczewski, for priming me up and keeping me going, and to my family for putting up with this! A special thank you to Phil for being support person extraordinaire. What a wonderful weekend we had.

When I signed up for this race in January I set out to break my age group record, which I did by 3 minutes and 7 seconds. By race week I had hoped to come in with a time under 1:20, the mythical "top notch" time, but the day's heat did not allow me to give this my best effort. I've got another chance, out Mt. Washington, I'll be back on August 21!

Monday, June 14, 2010

SRAM and Specialized to the Rescue -- Apex Review

The hill climbs that I have been training for are finally approaching. Whiteface is Saturday, Okemo is the 26th, and my races up Mt. Washington are on July 10 and August 21. While I had no doubt that I could race Whiteface and Okemo on my existing gearing I knew that I needed some gearing help for Mt. Washington. In April I emailed our inside rep at Specialized and he put me in touch with the kind folks at SRAM. Seems that they were ready to release a mid-cage rear derailleur, along with a 32 tooth cassette. Actually, these bits are part of a group, called Apex, that is designed for road use. Parts are interchangeable with SRAM's other road offerings, from Red on down.

Two weeks ago SRAM generously provided me with the RD and cassette combo prior to its impending release. I cleaned my Power Tap wheel and installed the cassette. Justin at Sonne's did a flawless install, replacing my Red derailleur and fitting a longer chain. I was now ready to assault the toughest climbs I could find. An Internet search lead me to some 15 minute climbs just west of Lafayette, where I could crank out 15 minute intervals which started out on 20 percent grades. My four minute intervals could be done on the famed 24+ percent grades of Potato Hill. I was ready.

Wow, climbing with a 34 x 32 is an entirely new experience! This gearing definitely levels the hills. No, I am not going very fast when I am using it. However, I actually have a cadence and can keep within the power range that I want to average for the duration of the hill climbs. Working with this gearing on the steepest of climbs has me working on balance at such unbelievably slow speeds. An added benefit is that I can ride just about any hill I want and keep my power in Level 2 on my easy days. Fun!

Of course, and happily, I am not in the 32 tooth for very long during my intervals. When the grade comes back down into the teens I need some more gear inches, and fast! The Apex derailleur shifts flawlessly, just as I would expect from SRAM, and once back into the smaller cogs my bike rides just as fast as it ever did :) With the recommended gearing for Washington being 1:1 -- this almost makes that cut -- I am thrilled that I did not have to install a triple. Instead, I can just change cassettes, as per usual, when I plan to road race.

SRAM has reminded me that I am not the first to use Apex. It was ridden to a third and eighth place in the infamous hill climb TT stage in this year's Giro. A certain famous cyclist from mountain bike races past is also racing Mt. Washington with Apex. It is fairly certain that he will cross the finish line before me! However, I will be thanking SRAM and Specialized for enabling me to get to the start line with the right equipment and thanking them too as I work my way to the top, somewhere in his wake.

I'll keep you all posted.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Two weeks ago I got outside to ride for the first time since returning home from Chattanooga on Feb. 12. In two and a half weeks I had logged over 45 hours on my CompuTrainer, while many of my friends were busy enjoying the snow -- either cross country or downhill skiing. Having skied since I was 6 years old, some folks were mystified as to why I too was not out having fun in the snow. There were times that I was wondering that myself!

My question was answered as I watched an interview of Apollo Anton Ono on the last weekend of the Olympics. He talked about the racer's desire to have the "perfect race" in an "imperfect" situation, and how critical every aspect of training was when working toward that goal. Perfection is hard to achieve, and Apollo reminded viewers that an athlete "gives up a lot" to accomplish his/her goals.

As a coach and competitor I readily identified with the "giving up" part. While my lifestyle of ride, ride, ride, might look appealing to the 9-5 crowd, I can ride that much because I continually train, train, train -- on my bike. I work early mornings and late nights, so I'm pretty ignorant about things like TV shows and movies. Well rounded, I am not! Goals in cycling demand training on the bike, training very specifically, so I am in the gloom of my basement when the white stuff is out there to play in. The payoff is pretty instantaneous as soon as the snow melts, though. That first ride outside was amazing as I rode past snow banks that towered over my head.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Professional Bio

I was asked to prepare this for the folks at Potato Hill Farm Outdoor Education Center, so I thought I would post it in case anyone else was interested.

Margaret E. Thompson

Margaret Thompson Cycling Coaching Services

Margaret Thompson Enterprises, Inc.


  • President of Margaret Thompson Enterprises, Inc.
  • USA Cycling Licensed Level 1 (Elite) Coach
  • Category 1 Mountain Bike Racer
    • Two time UCI World Championship Master Mountain Bike Silver Medallist
    • One National Championship
  • Category 2 Cyclocross Racer
    • Six bronze medals at USA Cycling National Championships
  • Category 3 Road Racer
    • Seven National Championships on single bike and tandem
    • Multiple Medals at National Championships for single bike and tandem


  • Utica College, ‘96
    • Major -- CPA Accounting
    • Minor – Speech Communication
      • Interpersonal
      • Organizational
  • USA Cycling Coaching Education Programs, leading up to Level 1 Certification in 2007


  • Assistant to Fort Lewis College (Durango, CO) coaching staff at Collegiate National Mountain Bike Championships – 1998, 1999, 2001.
  • Assistant Coach for Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO) at Collegiate National Mountain Bike Championships – 2005
  • Head Coach for Central Open Cycling Team, Empire State Games – 2005 thru 2008
  • Head Coach and head Mountain Bike Program Consultant for Potato Hill Farm Outdoor Educational Center, Boonville, NY – 2008 – present
  • Assistant Coach at USA Cycling Elite Junior Mountain Bike Camp, Mt. Snow, Vermont – 2009
  • Assistant Coach at SCV Winter Training Camp, Suwannee, TN – 2010
  • Ongoing – Individual work with new riders for the Ride for Missing Children – 2003 to present
  • Ongoing – Private Coaching Practice since 2003


  • I moved to the Mohawk Valley area when I was 4 and was educated in local Catholic schools.
  • My husband Phil and I have two daughters who have made cycling just one of the many activities that they are passionate about.
  • Although I have raced and trained in Europe, Canada, and all over the United States I consider this area to have some of the finest road riding and mountain bike terrain. The beauty of this area is outstanding.

My goals as a cycling coach are two-fold:

  • To help cyclists of all abilities formulate and then achieve their cycling goals.
  • To foster a love for sport and the outdoors through cycling, enabling the athlete to become a more fulfilled and balanced person. It is my hope that this fulfillment will provide a platform for each individual to become a better person in his or her world.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Computrainer Time Trial, March 6

We got a huge snow storm yesterday and I still got to log four hours on my bike. Yeah, I am a bit psycho because I did it all indoors, but I am very lucky with the equipment that I have to train on. I've had a Computrainer since 1997, and riding the courses on it is as close to riding the road as you will ever get.

After my ride I went onto Computrainer's web site for some info and coincidentally found that there is a time trial on March 6 for anyone anywhere to do, as long as it was on the Computrainer. Count me in! The FB40 is a 40 km TT, and I downloaded and rode the course today. Wow, it is not flat, with almost 1900 feet of climbing. The one "unroadlike" characteristic of the Computrainer is that if you decided to coast down a hill you will eventually slow down and stop. No rest for the weary! So this course looks to be a killer.

In the week leading up to this TT I will be doing my SST intervals on the course in an attempt to get faster on it. If nothing else, it will be good training for something else. Stay tuned for more of my impressions about this event, and check it out on FaceBook!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Opportunity and Preparedness

Since hearing the saying "Luck is the combination of preparedness and opportunity" I've recognized it many times, especially in the athletic world. When I sometimes hear fellow athletes wistfully wish they had the talent that some other "lucky" person has exhibited I have a hard time keeping my opinion to myself. Talent is one thing, but training that talent is another. Training it specifically is even more important, and recognizing and then making use of an opportunity can mean the difference between winning and having a so-so race.

Specificity was demonstrated in the men's cross country skiing 30 km pursuit on Saturday. The race is a mass start, with the first 15 km skied in the classic technique. At the halfway point the racers each ski into their own corral, where their skate skis await them for the second 15 km -- this time in freestyle. This transition area is similar to triathlon, and speed here is essential.

Several skiers entered the transition area at the same time, but Sweden's Johan Olsson changed into his skate skis so quickly that he was 2.5 seconds ahead of the pack in a heart beat. So he started to ski for the gold, all by himself, with 15 km to the finish line! Meanwhile, the pack gambled that he would tire out and they would reel him in. Enter Olsson's teammate Marcus Hellner. He went to the front of the pack and effectively slowed their pursuit. It was beautiful to watch, and Olsson's lead grew. Eventually, the chase began and Hellner was able to stick with the chase. He was one of a group of three that caught Olsson with only 1 km to go. Once caught, Olsson stayed with the trio and it was a hard charge to the finish line. Marcus Hellner's reward for his teamwork? A gold medal! An exhausted Olsson held on for the bronze, outkicking the Russian skier Alexander Legkov, who had started the chase with 5 km to go. Sweden had won 2 medals, and it was an amazing thing to watch. It almost made me want to come out of xc ski racing retirement!

Much of the preparedness is obvious -- physical and mental training and good ski technicians come to mind. However, the specificity of the ski change cannot be overlooked. Olsson nailed it, and with that the opportunity presented itself, and he went with it. Opportunity abounded for Hellner as well, who now was defending his teammate and in doing so he earned the gold medal for himself. Amazing!

Bottom line? Don't overlook the "small" skills when training, and keep the mind open to the opportunites that will always present themselves.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Working with New Cyclists

Last night was the first in my series of one on one coaching sessions with new cyclists who have signed up for this year's Ride for Missing Children. I have been donating this service since 2003, when I started coaching professionally, and "The Ride" and my program have evolved along the way. The Ride for Missing Children is a benefit for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as a day which honors those children and their families. The Ride is a bit over 100 miles, and riders stop at schools along the way to impress safety to the children.

This is not just any bike ride, though. There are approximately 400 riders in this event, and the entire group rides in a rolling enclosure provided by several branches of local law enforcement. The average pace within this rolling enclosure is 14 mph, so it is vital that the participants in this ride become experienced enough with their equipment to ride in a double pace line and to become fit enough to ride at this average pace. There are many practice rides along the way toward the actual day, the third Friday in May.

The community where I live is fairly small, so events like this can become big in no time. Word gets out and everyone wants to be in on the action. It only takes one viewing of a parade of cyclists, lined up two by two for two miles, to spur the watcher into considering doing this event in the future. So each year our community gains many more folks dedicated to keeping children safe who just happen to become cyclists at the same time.

So for the next ten Wednesdays I get to work with those new to The Ride and new to cycling at Dick Sonne's Cycling, Fitness and Skis. Whether they bring in an old bike or purchase a new one, new riders all get a bike fitting. During the process the athlete and I talk cycling, and it is wonderful to share my sport with such new and enthusiastic folks. While on a stationary trainer we work on clipless pedal entry and exit, and talk about shifting and descending. Athletes ask questions, I answer as best I can. The goal is to instill enough knowledge so that those first rides on the road will be safer and more enjoyable, and so that by the day of The Ride each rider will be skilled enough to be able to fully appreciate the emotional roller coaster that remembering missing children truly is.

The hour goes by all too quickly and I am on to my next new rider, but not before giving one last hug and wishing the best of luck. I've made a new friend and the community and the Ride for Missing Children have a new cyclist. Win, win, I would say!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Olympic Effect

Despite the fact that I tell my athletes to go to bed early so that they can rest up and recover for the next day's workout I have, of late, been breaking that vital rule myself. Yeah, it is the television that is drawing me in, and it is the Olympic events that are on my tube. Is it the athletics, the sportsmanship or the drama? All of the above can be blamed. However, I like to think that there is more.

As a coach and an athlete I strive to explore the connection that the brain has in actual performance. I spoke yesterday of quieting the whining part of the brain in order to embrace and complete good training. Watching Olympic competition brings to mind another brain function that is fascinating to me and is what drives so many of the athletes I know -- the ability to be perfectly in the moment while competing. While watching on my little screen (no large screen half inch thick TV's in my house) it is amazing to see the athletes who are magically transfixed into their moment. It is also hard to watch those who have suddenly been reduced to a thinking being, trying to right the wrongs that are plaguing their Olympic dream.

I've been in both places, the latter more than the former. However, having that in-the-moment race can and does happen, and when it does it has an amazing feel, no matter what the final finish says on the results sheet. It is my meditation. That magical flow is what I enter the next race for, and then the one after that. I like to say it is my gambling, not so much whether I win the race or not, but whether I had my best-feeling race ever. It is nice, though, when the two things happen simultaneously, and more-likely that the winning will come when the mind is quiet.

So I will continue to cheat on my sleep a bit here and there so that I can witness for myself the incredible focus that can be achieved by the human mind. But only a little, I have a huge week of training ahead of me to recover from too. I might just have to focus on the events that end before 10:30 :)

Monday, February 15, 2010 indoors

Now that I am back from Tennessee I am really glad that I have decided on my big goal for the year. The snow followed me back, and now that there is enough here for Phil to snowmobile on there is also enough to keep me from riding my bicycle on the roads. I am intent on getting in the proper training, though, so that means indoor cycling. I have a Computrainer and rollers at my disposal, so my indoor training needs are certainly covered. And that is the case with most competitive cyclists living in these parts. However, to make indoor training truly successful, there is another piece of "equipment" that is harder to come by.

This missing link is nothing that can be borrowed, purchased or even stolen. Instead, it is a commodity that is present only between the athlete's ears. The committed brain. That's right, it is the willpower to really embrace indoor training. My brain has given me a lot of trouble over the years while training indoors, doing things like suddenly making my feet unclick from the pedals and forcing my body to get off the bike. Pretty wishy-washy, I must say. I've been reduced to standing next to the bike -- or walking away from it -- and the training clock has effectively stopped. This brain attack can happen for any number of reasons, from imagined equipment issues to thinking about all the other things that I am "supposed" to be doing.

A recent bolt of insight made me realize that the only thing that these brain attacks were doing was wasting time -- the very time that I really needed to do all the other things in my life. If a three hour trainer ride was really taking me four, well, that was not helping my time-crunched life out at all. This weekend I mounted my indoor trainer in a different frame of mind. I rode my bike, got off only a couple of times, and had more fun in the process. I worked harder at keeping my averages up, I got in the right amount of training in much less time, and I was super happy when I got done. The "time saved" on Saturday was spent on the couch resting my worn out legs, and on Sunday I spent the time having a great Indian dinner with Phil in the Village of Clinton. Now, if I could only do that with money...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Newton's Revenge -- yikes!

As a coach and a competitive athlete I know that having a big goal event to train for can make the difference between stale training sessions and pushing one's self hard. In the snowy north -- or just about anywhere in the country this winter! -- the thought of lots of time on the stationary trainer can be less than motivating. The future goal can become an antidote for lethargy.

Keeping in mind that goals should be both a challenge and achievable, I open up my brain every spring in an effort to find something that will fit that bill. I love doing National Championships in road and cross, so any other events cannot interfere with these sacred dates. The date change for Master Road Nationals this summer, though, enabled me to look outside the box. July was now wide open!

Enter my sponsor Hammer Nutrition. As a member of Team Hammer Nutrition I am eligible to apply for any of the comped entries that Hammer receives in exchange for their generous sponsorship of these events. These entries are advertised on our member forum, and the events are all over the US and in a variety of endurance disciplines. I read them with interest and then hope that one day an event that I can race in will be offered.

That day happened three weeks ago when the call went out to anyone interested in racing Newton's Revenge. What is Newton's Revenge? It is the July bike race that climbs up Mt. Washington! I have always wanted -- maybe fantasized is a better word -- to ride up this legendary climb, but other things always got in the way. Economics, for one thing, and a conflict in dates for another. Never mind my perceived power to weight ratio problems. But with the first two items somewhat taken care of I figured that the power to weight ratio would give me and my coach Mark Fasczewski something to really work on.

So my entry is now official and training has begun. You can find me in my basement on my Computrainer for the time being, and when this snow ever melts out on the road doing LONG SST work. Keep posted for my progress!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fun in Chattanooga

I just got back home after spending two weeks in Chattanooga, TN. My good friends Kym and Mark Fasczewski (Mark is my coach too!) invite me every winter to spend some time with them training and cyclocross racing. It is always great to extend my cyclocross season, and wonderful to spend time riding on the road in January. However, Mother Nature has been rather vicious in the southeast this winter, dishing out snow for the cyclocross races and subfreezing temps for many of our road rides. I was even treated to three trainer rides, due to inclement weather. Oh, my! But misery loves company, and many of my friends in the Chattanooga area made it a point to join me on my rides there.

In addition to training I was privileged to work as a coach at the SCV (Scenic City Velo) winter training camp. SCV funded this weekend-long developmental training camp for their Cat 4 women and Cat 4 & 5 men, and Mark and Kym, as well as SCV president Steve Strain, put on a stellar show. Despite the cold temps and the intermittent flurries we rode outside on both Saturday morning and afternoon teaching a slew of racing skills. The camp was held in Sewanee, TN, at the top of a mountain, and the snow flurries and below freezing temps on Saturday night forced us onto trainers while Mark lectured and answered a myriad of questions regarding racing fitness and tactics. What a super way for a club to develop its racing team. Way to go SCV! Thank you Mark, Kym, and Steve for giving me the opportunity to work in your very finely oiled machine.