No Pain, No Gain
– by Willis W.
This was my third year into this race, and perhaps best chance at finishing in under one hour. armed with the knowledge gained from previous attempts, and a whole new training discipline, the odds were in my favor to meet my long-sought-after goal.
Upon analyzing my previous race attempts, I typically would ride too hard in the first half of the mountain, passing slower riders, expending a lot of energy, and then having nothing left for the top half, which is considerably steeper in grade, and generally toughter. This type of burnout technique never felt good to me, and last year even gave me leg cramps, which is the worst feeling of failure. I was not going to let that happen again.
How to prevent leg cramping.
1) Not to go too hard in the first half, where it is less steep, instead conserve energy, necessary for the second half.
2) Hydration – Maintain a regular drinking frequency, all the way to the top. With one full bottle of water at the bottom, I should drink water often enough to completely empty the bottle by the time I reach the top.
3) Take supplemental electrolytes before, and during the race. Also to prevent cramping and bonking.
Pull out the scale
Instead of trying to save every ounce of weight this year, I decided there were going to be some things I needed to carry for my own mental sanity. I carried a spare tube, tire levers, patch kit, pump. Even though this adds about a pound of weight, I could never feel truly comfortable riding without these essentials. And pre-race anxiety is bad enough worrying about performance, why add the fear of a flat? This feeling of security was especially important since my plan this year was to ride a longer warmup than in the past. And if I would have flatted during the warmup, that would have decreased my chances of even starting the race on time, if I had no tools to fix a flat.
If you have been following the blog so far, you know I have been experimenting with the Cambiatta data logger. By recording speed, cadence, and heart rate information over time, I figured it would be nice to keep a record of how my body reacted to the strain of the race. If I was triumphant, the data graph would serve as a trophy. If I failed, then it would show where things went wrong. Either way, I was looking forward to having some data to show for this ride. In the weeks before the race, I struggled to get the system to work right, because it’s a very picky device. But I knew it would be worth the effort in the end, because even though I know how I’m riding, afterwords the numbers won’t lie. The extra weight of these electronics I deemed as a fair trade for the data. To further enhance the experience (or complicate) I used a polar heart rate monitor (thanks, Kevin) instead of my usual Timex brand, which I had lost just a week prior. The Polar has a little more confusing of an interface, but I read the manual and got it to work properly (or so I thought).
Having the luxury of staying at my parents’ house the night before, we were able to shorten our travel time considerably before the race. Jeff and I rode straight down the hill from my parents’ house, following Alicia in the car. The plan was to leave the car somewhere in the neighborhood that was at the bottom of the hill, because we would probably not want to ride back up it at the end of the day. Alicia rode in with us the rest of the way, and we had somehow missed Don at the meeting point. I was sure we would see him along Diablo road, on the way to the race, though. We got to the start, said goodbye to Alicia, and while Jeff hit the porta-potties, I went back out on Diablo road to look for Don, and keep warming up.
The problem with this race is that there is a long line of riders at the starting line, and the later you get there, the farther back in line you start. This has multiple effects on your race, becasue once the gun fires, the clock is ticking, and it may take a few minutes to even pass the start line. There is no accounting for this lost time, so you either lose the time, or get in line really early and wait there. The disadvantage to this is standing in the cold morning air does no good for your muscles when you are about to do a 100% effort right out of the blocks. So it was my decision to ride up and down Diablo Road to stay warm and loose, while sacrificing time and position in line, but also to try and find Don. I went up and down for several miles looking for Don, but to no avail. So when I got back to the start, Jeff and I got in line about 40 minutes prior to start, and we were about 200 meters from the start, so that was a decent position.
40 cooling minutes later, the starting horn went off (no guns are allowed in the park) and almost instantly, we were rolling. The announcer was singing his usual “Ride Mt. DIablo…” song and for a brief moment, I felt like a very important person, off to do a very important job. It was the fastest start I’d been in yet. Nobody was blocking me, and I actually let a gap open up in front of me in the first section, which is rough and a steep turning downhill. The gap was good, because someone yelled out “bottle!” and I had time to swerve around someone’s dropped water bottle. After about 2 minutes I had already lost Jeff in the crowd, and then we started to climb. I couldn’t get over how smooth that start went. I usually get so frustrated in the first part, this was going to be a good race! I looked at my heart rate monitor, which had gone to sleep or lost it’s signal. Ugh with the unfamiliar equipment! I pushed all the buttons I could find on that watch, and prayed that something would tell me what my heart rate was. My entire plan for this race depended on me knowing exactly how close I was to my aerobic threshold, and not going over it. I’d tried to do it before in the past without a monitor, but the human feedback loop is a little slower than a watch, and it’s easy to go over the limit without a real number to look at. Still no signal and to top it off, I had no idea what my elapsed time was. Despite my technology woes, I thought I should probably concentrate on riding at this point. I took a sip of water, then settled into my low gear and spun at high cadence, visualizing that the hill was surmountable, and that I was on pace to finish in under an hour.
This technique worked quite well, as I found myself averaging 9.8mph and feeling good. I just had to conserve my energy and drink, I would tell myself, and take a swig from the bottle. I noticed that I wasn’t passing many people. Actually, people were passing me. Were we THAT far up in line that I wasn’t stuck behind the slower riders? Apparently so.
A mile later, I hit the watch buttons again, and the monitor sprung to life. I was relieved to see that my heart rate was well under max, and it confirmed that I was feeling good. So I increased my cadence and ramped my heart rate up to 168 bpm. My target for the race was right below 170, so that was perfect. Every now and then someone would pass me, but I would look at my heart rate and feel comfortable knowing that I didn’t need to keep up with them, I was going at my best pace. I almost felt too easy to keep at that level. But if I pushed it any harder, and went into anaerobic territory, then I would be wasting valuable energy that I needed to use for the second half of the course.
One third of the way through, and we hit the “break” which is a slight downhill section passing through a campgrounds called “Rock City” I pushed the speed and cadence up here, hoping to make up some time, but really, it’s such a short section that I doubt it makes much difference. drink gotta stay on that hydration schedule.
This was a water zone. I had planned to take an electrolyte tablet at this point (more steps to prevent cramping) and so figured it would be exciting to grab the paper cup of water from the volunteer’s hand as I sped by, kinda like a marathon. They make it look easy on TV, because I spilled half the water grabbing that thing. Then I popped my pill, took a swig, and threw the cup to the ground, because It was allowed. It still felt wrong to litter. I must have lost twenty seconds in time doing thiese acrobatics, ah well.
Two thirds of the way up, I came upon the familiar barber shop quartet singing “Hello, Mary Lou”. It’s a catchy tune, really, and I decided to snap my fingers in appreciation as I rode by. I got a wave back from the tenor, so iit was nice to connect with humanity amidst the emotional turmoil of it all. Where would I be without the barbershop quartet? Thee same thing happens everytime; the song gets in my head for a good mile or two until I can’t stand the tempo. I think at one point, I sang it aloud.
The second half
In this steeper section of the course, I would quite often find myself beyond 170 bpm, and so I’d have to mentally slow down to bring it back down. It was all about conserving, and drinking. drink There was a little bit of suffering, and still being passed by faster riders. At one point I heard someone say jokingly “Man, I just got passed by a girl!” and a corresponding “hey!!” as the speedy girl buzzed by me. I felt no shame of my own, as she surely wasn’t the first, and surely isn’t the last, girl to pass me. And I don’t even think her name was Shirley.
I even got passed by a guy on a full suspension mountain bike. WHAT? All that extra weight and he’s still smoking me? No. I resisted. We traded positions for a good mile, but I’m sure I lost position to him in the end, because I was watching my heart rate like a hawk. and drinking water drink . Plus he deserves any glory he gets for keeping up with people on lighter equipment than his.
At about 1 mile left to go, I got passed by a rider who gave a look, and I asked him how we were doing on time. He said “1:04”, and I thought to myself, oh. Well THAT’s not what I was expecting. It was a shock to me that I wasn’t doing any better than before. But I did feel good. Considerably better than previous years. But still, my TIME… oy vey, what does it take to conquer this mountain?? Anyways the guy said “Good job” and I said “yeah uh huh” .
I was in no position to worry about it, I was feeling good and just had to finish this race. So I drank again and wound out the rest of the course, and with about 500 meteres to the wall, I checked my water bottle, and sure enough it was empty. My hydration schedule worked just right, and I had no cramps.
Hitting the WALL
I had so much energy coming into the wall I didn’t know what to do with it. I caught a few people in this last section, and even coherently heard Alicia call out my name at the very top, which as you can see by the picture, did wonders to my mood.
My Official finish time was 1:08:56 with an average speed of 9.4 MPH, my best time ever, by about 30 seconds. I’m not super proud of it, but it is my best time, and for what felt like very little suffering…. But still very far off from the target. How am I ever going to trim off 9 minutes??
Thankfully, the Cambiatta did it’s job and logged some data. The graph shows speed and cadence, but no heart rate data (bummer!) and it shows my progress through the race. I see that in the first half of the race, my cadence was very high, in the 85-90 rpm range, which is ideal, and my speed was just under 10mph. Then in the second half you can see my cadence varies a bit as the grade got tougher in spots. Then the speed is noticeably lower than 10mph. This is where I lost my time, and it’s an area where I always start to hurt.
But this time it didn’t really hurt, I was just afraid that it would, so I kept things in check, conserving for something that never happened. I never did use my anaerobic capacity, which is good for about 2-3 minutes at a time, and probably could have gotten me through some of those rough spots at a faster rate. I wasn’t willing to push myself to the limit for fear that I would cramp up, lose power, and fail again. It’s such a classic story of no pain, no gain, I feel stupid to admit it. But that’s what it felt like when it was over. I was as fresh as morning dew at the end, and wished there was about 1 more mile to take care of business. But there wasn’t, and I was saving myself for miles that never came.