Sunday, October 14, 2012

Low-Key Hillclimb: Quimby Road

Yesterday was the second Low-Key Hillclimb this year, up Quimby Road. It was the only one of the first three which I'm not coordinating, so I got to participate.

It was a gorgeous day in San Jose, perfect weather for the climb. I'd decided to run instead of ride. Low-Key Hillclimbs are generally about cycling but we've allowed runners in the past, most notably Gary Gellin, then Brian Lucido, and me on a few occasions. Runners add to the eclectic nature of the event. I still remember Gary chugging past me while I rode on the steep lower slopes of Hicks Road a few years ago. It provided added motivation to pick up the pace when the slope relented a bit, and I was able to repass him, but I think it added a lot to the "Low-Key" aspect.

There were a few issues. One volunteer was worried that riders were failing to hand in release forms. These are important because even if a rider is a close friend, riding the series for years, it's important to have a properly signed waiver because if something tragic happens (always a possibility whenever doing anything on the roads, riding, walking, or driving) we may trust the rider but we can't trust the rider's family. The Kim Flint lawsuit against Strava demonstrated the importance of that lesson: Kim Flint surely would have never held Strava responsible for the risks he was taking, yet Kim wasn't around to exercise reason when his family selfishly sued.

Another small issue was cups: I forgot to bring them, so riders were deprived of pre-ride juice which coordinator Lane had hoped to provide. I've gotta be more organized next week!

But these small hiccups aside, it was a great day. I'd encouraged Matt Allie, whom I knew from the Palo Alto Noon Ride and who is an excellent runner, to join and he did so. He started near the front, me further back, so he got probably a 10 second head-start on me as I waited for the lead riders to get moving, but this proved justified as the Strava record shows he steadily expanded that gap every bit of the way to the finish.

A nice difference running versus cycling is runners have effectively an infinite range of low gears: shorten stride, even go from a formal run to a fast shuffle, and until traction becomes a problem, no grade is too steep. It allows running tangents, including the inside line of Quimby's intimidating switchbacks, and of staying out of the red zone where many riders are forced to over-extend just to keep the bike moving forward. The steeper the hill, the better runners can do versus cyclists, and so since the initial portion of the climb is quite gradual, I found myself quickly off the back. As the grade increased to the 9% average it holds for most of its first half, however, I was able to regain the pace of the rearward riders, then close the gap.

I watched my Garmin Edge 500, which I held in my hand, initially for distance but then later for altitude gained. Really it's a combination of the two which predicts remaining effort, since I can gain altitude faster, despite running slower, when the road is steeper. But altitude is the more conservative of the two when the road's getting steeper towards the end as it does on Quimby.

I passed a few runners on this less-steep portion when I reached the brief break in the steep climbing at about half-way elevation-wise. I lost a bit of ground versus the rider near me at this point, but I knew the really steep stuff followed, so I bided my time.

The final half of the elevation gain is 13% average, but the switch-backs are much steeper. Here I tried to maximize my rate of progress, as a full run stride wasn't sustainable at my speed, so I adopted more of a shuffle-walk. I was doing well, though: breathing hard, gaining on riders on the steep slopes.

The finish is visible from a good way off, but then disappears from view before reappearing when the grade levels out slightly for the final few hundred meters. I was afraid of losing places here but I did okay, finishing well ahead of my projected time, with a VAM just on the happy side of 1 km/hour. I often climb at that VAM on my bike, so I was really pleased with that.

Low-Key finishes are always wonderfully social occasions for the participants. I often help with results after finishing, but since I was too slow to reach the top in time for crunch-time the super-excellent volunteers had things under control. The results were challenging since the riders were grouped on the run-in to the finish line, creating noise which made it hard for the volunteers to hear rider numbers. If we do Quimby again we'll need to think about how to handle this.

Anyway, I still need to finish results, which is a slight detective game since a few numbers were missed. Despite the challenges, however, the finish line volunteers did an overall excellent job, so I'll work it out. We have a video so we can check that, as well as photos of most riders crossing the line.

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