Thursday, November 28, 2013

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2013: personal report

Another year of Low-Key Hillclimbs has come and gone, ready or not.

When the series began in the first weekend of October I had been riding again for two months (Aug-Sep) after missing most of June + all of July to a groin injury from a bike crash. My focus during this period was on physical therapy, however, and my ride tended to be short and low-intensity. My progress from late Aug - early Sept took a step back when I devoted riding time to watching America's Cup racing. I started ramping up again at the end of September but I was nowhere close to where I needed to be.

I traditionally coordinate Montebello, week 1 of the series, and this year was as usual. Weeks 2 and 3 I volunteered, riding climbs both weeks in advance of the participants in order to take split times along the course (Montevina + dirt week 2, Bohlman week 3). These were good, solid, hard climbs, and were a nice boost to my fitness. I added an Old La Honda Wednesday Noon Ride late October, finishing just over 20 minutes, and another early November, finishing 19:14. I rode both of these on my steel Ritchey Breakaway with Gran Bois 26 mm tires inflated to something around 80 psi. There's a boost going to my Fuji SL/1 with carbon tubular wheels and time trial sew-ups pumped to 140-150 psi. So 19:14 wasn't where I'd like to see myself on the Wed ride, a minute faster would have been nicer, but it was close enough.

Week 4 I rode Lane Parker's 52nd century of 2013 and birthday ride instead of doing the GPS-timed Low-Key that week. Getting a 100 miler in, even if it was difficult and slow, was a confidence boost. Then week 5 was a transportation challenge, so I rode to the finish to help with results, hitting the course from the north. This was another solid training ride and I followed it up with more climbing (two San Bruno repeats on Sunday, then that Noon Ride OLH the following Wed).

So I was no longer "out of shape", but I wasn't exactly in shape either. That takes longer, especially at my advanced age. But I couldn't wait any longer, I had exceeded the scoring limits of volunteering, and I had to put some real times on the board.

I started with Patterson Pass, week 6. It felt really good to go out there and mix it up again, but it was a bit frustrating being relatively uncompetitive. Our group had difficulty gelling on the early, relatively flat portion of the climb, and we lost solid time there. The rest of the way I could ride tempo but had no punch, and I got gapped toward the end. I ended up with 106.8 points. I hoped to improve in future climbs.

Lomas Cantadas was next, and I got what I was after. There I started conservatively, saving something for the steep finish to the climb, and caught two riders I've for years treated as benchmarks for a good climb: James Porter and Rich Hill. My score showed it: up to 113.2 points. That was a 4.4 point improvement in just one week. Solid.

But it would be the best I'd do in the series. The next week was Montara Mountain, and I lost rear-wheel traction twice, unclipping and walking with disastrous results, since I needed to walk all the way to the next flattish section to get back on the bike. Worse was I tried to clip back in a few times and failed, wasting more time. Additionally I just don't climb as fast on rough, loose dirt as I do on the road: I'm too distracted by line and form. My score showed the damage: only 98.6 points.

But I was happy: the climb had revealed a personal weakness, and gave me a goal for next year of improving my speed on the dirt. After all, I had been responsible for putting dirt climbs into the series, with the goal of exposing riders to a broader range of riding.

At the summit I spoke to David Collet, the winner, and he advises keeping my weight back and low on these sections. Back keeps the traction on the rear wheel, low keeps the center of mass low which reduces the likelihood of lifting the front when the front end pitches upward. Additionally, Paul McKenzie emphasized the importance of picking the good line. That I'd understood, but my problem was more what I did when I missed the optimal line. I tended to focus on that fact, rather than deal with the line I had. Indeed, I went with Cara to China Camp the next day to work more on my mountain biking, then the following day rode the mountain bike to work via Caltrain (where my rear shifter cap was knocked off by someone stacking bikes on the bike car, dammit). At work I worked on doing tight turns, as I need to learn to ride switchbacks with confidence. I will improve my mountain biking. It is a moral imperative.

With my two volunteer credits, I needed 3 "real" scores to get the five qualifying scores I'd need to place well in the series. At the end of week 8, Montara, I was in 20th place with, at that point, my two scores counting from Patterson Pass and Lomas, but Montara getting discarded. After Hamilton, which was today, I'd get that third score counted, so I wanted to do substantially better than I had at Montara. If I didn't ride at all Montara would have been promoted to a scoring week.

So Montara was Saturday, Sunday I did an excellent 8-km run (fairly slow but my longest of 3 real runs since my injury) and then did the China Camp ride with Cara, Monday I worked skill on the mountain bike, then Tuesday was an epic SF2G commute down the coast to wish riding buddy Daniel Chao a farewell to his commute down to the peninsula (he's starting work in San Francisco). So it was a solid block of riding. Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, I rode from Palo Alto to Mountain View in the morning, then went to a yoga class @ Yoga Tree in San Francisco that evening. It wasn't the best taper to Thursday, having done substantial mileage and climbing two days prior, but with Hamilton so long I wanted to acclimate my body to longer efforts, risking some fatigue.

I knew at Hamilton I'd face a challenge in scoring since, with the exception of Lane Parker's century ride, I was short on long rides going in, and Mt Hamilton is 30 km of mostly uphill. It's very easy to bonk there. A classic mistake I make there is to not take calories, and so I went against my normal policy of water-only in my bottles (sugar makes a polybotanical mess) and used some fairly concentrated Hammer Heed. This proved a smart move, as I never bonked on the climb, or even felt serious weakness.

But a bit of sugar water isn't going to overcome a deficiency in training, and my pace was simply slower on the climb than I wanted. Things went a bit south from the start, as I got stuck behind a rider who threw his chain just past the start line and unclipped. I chased back to the leaders, latching on to the tail end of the group, but then a rider two spots ahead of me let a gap open. It's really important on Hamilton to stick with the lead group on the first of the three major climbs which make up the route. I succeeded, the two riders behind me dropped, but then another rider apparently gave up and let a gap open. This one I couldn't close. I just had to dial it back and hope to find others to pace with.

And I did: it wasn't long before I was in a group of 4, and we were working well together. We crested the first climb. But here I failed: I let a gap open on the descent, and the riders behind me bridged up. I just didn't have any punch to follow, and was braking too much into the corners, which can be gravelly on this road. My Enve 250-based front wheel wheel is a bit dicey on descents, and I'm not practiced in descending with carbon rims in any case, and I ended up gapped off at the bottom of this descent and the start of the second climb.

From here my ride was mostly solo, and I ended up the whole of the third climb trailing two other riders who held a 15 second gap which I just couldn't shut down. The group of two became three, and then they opened it up a bit. There was some wind here and it was advantageous to be in a group for when the wind was a head. Fortunately it wasn't always: the road winds up the mountainside in spectacular fashion, the switchbacks providing some tailwind to partially balance the head. I rode a steady, yet unimpressive tempo here, finishing the climb in 27th place, scoring 109.5 points.

That's not terrible, however. Since I'm working on a fitness deficit I had to be happy with the fact I didn't fade too badly on the extraordinarily long, 30 km Mt Hamilton climb. For the San Bruno Hillclimb on 1 Jan, it's actually good to be a bit underprepared for the Low-Keys, then come out with an upward fitness trajectory and top off with some good climbing intensity in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. But that's not going to happen for me, since I travel for work one weekend, and will be traveling to the East Coast for a family obligations in mid-December and again for the week including Christmas. This is a classic problem for me in December: travel is terrible for cycling. When I'm traveling I'll focus more on running. It's not what I want, however, for a confidence-boosting San Bruno result. I'm not complaining: family gets the priority, and these family trips are important to me. But it's just how it is.

So here I am sort of floating in this void. I have only one additional physical therapy session for my injury, then I'm done with that. I'm dedicated to continuing my yoga classes. I'm de-emphasizing the weight room which was a major focus from soon after my injury in June until October. I definitely want to get back to trail-running shape, as it's been way too long since I raced a trail run. So I'll see where I end up. I'm definitely not planning on slacking back and slipping into any sort of sedentary purgatory. I need some sort of competitive goal.

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