Thursday, June 26, 2014

Diablo Hill Climb Time Trial (NCNCA championships)

The plan: after running my 50 km race in April, the plan was that I'd do some climb workouts to find my cycling legs again, ride the Memorial Day Ride (MDR), a 4-day supported tour from San Jose to Santa Barbara, to provide the base, then top it off with some hard climbing to get my top end. Running to cycling transitions are easier than cycling to running, in my experience. And running prepares you for the sustained effort of climbing in many ways better than riding does. I'd been able to run essentially continuously for 5+ hours at the Woodside Ramble 50 km. All I needed to do was to push out my top end and I'd be in for a strong Diablo.

The truth: I had some solid climb workouts, albeit slow, before MDR. MDR left me tired, compounded by other life pressures like work, looking for a new place to live, and finally dealing with the process of organizing my life to move. My weekends were essentially dead, and my Caltrain commute is crippling to my weekdays, leaving SF2G and lunch rides as my only training opportunities.

My post-MDR preparation boiled down to 3 successive Wednesday Noon Rides, including the Old La Honda climb. These started okay, riding a decent but disappointing 19:08. I hoped for a big improvement on my next try, but only managed an 18:56 on a day with unusually strong winds on the climb. But while time was tepid, power had increased a respectable 9 watts. I hoped a more favorable wind as well as further progress on power would give me closer to my 18:30 target on week 3, but instead power dropped back to the mid-range between my first two efforts. At least the winds at diminished, and so my time was at least marginally better, 18:51.

So this wasn't nearly where I wanted to be for ripping fitness at the Diablo climb. My goal went from possible age group podium to not reverse-podiuming -- bottom 3.

Despite the pressures of moving and of flying to Santa Barbara that afternoon for a conference at which I was giving a short course the next day, I got to the start area in one piece with legs feeling pretty good. I certainly hoped to match my time from two years before, when I was at least 1 kg heavier. That would have been 2 kg heavier but my weight was up from where it had been going into MDR. Despite apparently eating considerably less than other riders I observed on the trip, I'd certainly gotten no leaner, and indeed, I came out feeling bloated. Stress can do that. But bloated or not, the truth was I was simply over race weight. This required a reassessment of foods I'd leaked into my diet, like perhaps too much hummus on my lunch salad. But at least I had the advantage on 2012.

I had time for a partial pre-ride of the 10 km climb. I was discouraged to find there was a considerable headwind on the bottom of the course, but fortunately it abated once the serious climbing began. Of course the wind was there for everyone, but since I race without a power meter, it complicated comparisons with 2012, when there was a headwind on the bottom of the course.

Then I realized I had forgotten to cover the vents on my new Poc Octal helmet. They make an aero version where the vents are pre-covered, but it's easy enough to do it on my own with tape. Actually, it's fairly easy to make one with plastic: something for my to-do list after I move.

Ah, well, I decided. Most other riders also had vented road helmets. But I didn't completely ignore aerodynamics. I put my jersey inside my bib shorts in an effort to get more of a skin suit effect.

I decided to do the climb bottleless. I was hoping for a time close to 27 minutes, for no good reason, and in the cool temperatures I could handle that without a bottle. This left an empty bottle cage on my frame. I didn't have a wrench, so I left the cage on. Honestly I didn't think marginal gains were going to be critical today, given my Old La Honda results.

When my time came, I clomped up the short stairs to the start platform, as usual just hoping I didn't biff coming down the ramp. "Relax" the starter said, and I tried to comply. The countdown went to zero, and I was off.

I tried to keep as aero as possible while riding a steady effort for the opening 1.5 km. There's a gradual climb, then a descent, then a gradual climb before the road truly begins climbing enough to reduce the emphasis on aerodynamics against the considerable headwind. I didn't have a quantitative assessment of my effort here. I'm better at judging power when climbing then when riding against the wind.

To my dismay, remarkably soon I was overtaken by my 30-second man, Joseph Foster. I glanced at my timer: 8 minutes in. That was sobering, but it wasn't as bad as I'd thought before he'd caught me. The time had flown by.

On the positive side, the guy who started 30 seconds ahead of me, Jeff Rogers, appeared up the road not long after. I decided to focus on Jeff and not on Joseph. To my goal of not finishing bottom 3, catching Jeff would leave only two more riders I needed to beat. But it turned out Jeff was in the younger age group, and so was irrelevant to my placing.

As the climb went I fatigued somewhat, but felt I was doing okay. I never felt in major distress. That feeling snapped when Kevin Metcalf quickly overtook and passed me. Kevin's number was 6 larger than mine: he'd shut a 3 minute gap! Kevin is multi-time national master's champion, so it's no shame in having him beat me, but I was discouraged by the huge gap with more climbing yet to come.

I ramped up my effort towards the finish though, never feeling I'd overdone it. When I hit the 200 meter sign I ramped it up more. The final 200 meters of hill climbs are often way longer than expected, but I finished strongly.

After slowly riding the remaining 500 meters to the junction, enough to feel somewhat human again, I descended back to the finish. After chatting with Kevin, Keiran (who had his helmet vents covered), Greg, and Chris, it was time to descend. But as I was leaving Tom Simonson, NCNCA's best hill climb timer, asked me to take the results sheets back to the S/F for posting. I was happy to help, but the look of horror on his face when I folded the sheets before putting them in the envelope which would then go in my jersey pocket was impressive. He's such a pro -- even a crease on a results sheet, something which would never occur to me to be an issue, was unthinkable to him. But I assured him nobody would mind, thanked him for his incredible work, and down I went.

Ah, the results. So I was neither in the top 3 (my original super-stretch goal) nor in the bottom 3 (the complement of my revised goal). I was smack in the middle: 7 out of 13. I was around 2.5 minutes slower. That's huge.

Here's a comparison of the two rides, showing time to a given distance traveled.


I started losing time immediately, losing a remarkable 90 seconds in the first 3.2 km. No doubt the headwind played a major role here. The time losses continued through 5.0 km, at 2 minutes down, but then the losses were more controlled. But I still lost time, losing 25 seconds over the next 4.0 km, recovering slightly from there to the finish, which appears to be at approximately 9.8 km on this plot.

As I rode BART to Pleasant Hill station for the short ride from there to the start of the time trial, I sat across from 3 guys on their way to the Best of the Bay ride: 200 km point-to-point with some amazing roads, the highlight the difficult climb of Sierra Road. Here I was riding the same train for 10 km of pain. These guys considered their ride a success just by virtue of finishing, while for me, my race was effectively an exercise in managing the degree of failure. It caused me to evaluate whether these events are worth the time and focus they demand. Maybe I should focus more on longer, more epic rides, for which the reward is so much greater.

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