Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fremont Peak VAM comparison, 2010 versus 2011

Fremont Peak last year versus this year were two very different races. Last year, it was a steady tempo on the lower slopes. I stayed with Carl Nielson as long as I could, until I felt myself going too far into the red, and had to back off.

This year, a moderate pace leading up to the steeper climbing was shattered when Kieran Sherlock launched an attack at the front which strung out the group. Most riders responded to this acceleration, but I chose instead to settle back into what I felt was more sustainable. Kieran had done the same thing on Wednesday's Noon Ride up Old La Honda: a hard acceleration right from the beginning. He's faster than me, that's all there is too it. My PR up OLH is 16:49, and that's a mediocre time for him these days.

What I'd hoped is I'd be able to pull back some of the other riders. And I did, a few, but not as many as I'd thought I would. I crested the top of the climb just behind a Dolce Vita rider, having passed another guy not long before. The guy behind me powered past on the descent, and I followed the other two across the finish on the narrow, flat finishing road.

So that was the tactical view. But with climbs, the numbers always tell an interesting story.

Here's my local VAM for the climb. I used a truncated cosine-squared smoothing function with time constant 60 seconds to generate a rolling VAM number describing, at each point of the course, my rate of gaining altitude. Here's a comparison last year versus this year for me:

VAM plot

The 9.5% portion of the climb begins around 9 km into the race (the race starts somewhat before the profile I posted yesterday). So for the undulating, generally shallow grades before this VAM numbers are naturally lower. But then you see a similarity between the two years. Last year I started the climb harder: I was following Carl. But then I couldn't hold that pace and faded until the crest at around 15.2 km.

This year I also faded. The fade was less than last year due to my more conservative start, but the fade is still clear in the data. Arguably for a bit I was actually faster this year. I caught two other riders and it got slightly tactical, perhaps slightly reducing my pace toward the top of the climb. My descents last year and this year were very similar (negative VAM). You can see I stopped at the finish line last year (the sharp dip in the red curve) while this year I kept rolling up the following climb in the park.

Honestly I'm a bit disappointed. I understand why I faded last year but I should have been able to sustain a higher VAM this year. Explanations: older and slower, sure, but also my preparation has been different. Last year I was at the tail end of training with a coach I really liked, Dan Smith. I was doing his Wednesday morning ride fairly regularly, and if not was doing the Noon Ride at lunch on Wednesdays. This year I've been mixing running and cycling, and have done only two Wednesday Noon Rides all year. I've also done Diablo three times. That's basically it for my extended climbing all year. And I've always had issues mixing running and cycling: this year it's gone better than in the past, but last year I could feel my cycling tangibly improved when I stopped running. Running not only leads to lost opportunities for specific training, but racing especially digs me in a hole from which it takes at least a week to crawl out of.

So that's that. I was slower this year, and excuses, excuses, excuses. I'll try to think more about the 1:30:56 half-marathon I ran two weeks ago. I felt good about that and still do. Hard to do well at everything all the time, even if I'd prefer to.

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