Mt Washington: missed it by >< that much

My 2nd attempt at the Mt. Washington hillclimb, held yesterday, didn’t go as well as the first. I had worked up about the same level of fitness as last year, but my weight didn’t quite get down to the 68 Kg/150lb mark that I reached in 2008. I made up for some of that with a lighter bike (which I should write about sometime), with slightly lower gearing. I again went with the tiny 22-tooth chainring up front, but decided on a lower 13-29 cassette, with an eye toward keeping my cadence up. When training on our local hill, I noticed that I could put out more power over a 5-6 minute interval if I could keep my cadence at about 90 RPM, compared to grinding up the hill at 70-80 RPM. I felt pretty well-prepared going into the week before the race, until I started showing cold symptoms on Wednesday.
I spend most of Wednesday moping around the house with Andrew, who also stayed home sick. I had a little nasal congestion but mostly, I just felt weak and worthless. I perked up a bit on Thursday and Friday but I don’t think I quite reached 100% by Saturday.
The promised hot, sunny and humid weather materialized for the race. Not a trace of cloud in the sky, and not a breath of wind below treeline. Summit temps hovered in the high 50s, with winds around 20 mph. That’s absolutely perfect for racing, but we had to climb through three miles of stagnant air to get there.
I warmed up with my buddy Andy and took my place with the Top Notch wave. The Top Notch consists of pros, cat 1 or 2 racers, and anybody else who finished last year’s race in less than 1 hour, 20 minutes. That’s how I managed to work my way into such rarefied company. I chatted briefly with Tom Keane, a racer from the Crack O’Dawn club whom I met at the Okemo hillclimb a couple of months ago. I just barely nipped Tom at the line at Okemo, and he and I had similar finishing times at Mt Washington last year. He wrote his mile-marker splits on the back of his race number, hoping to push himself a little harder along the way. I had considered doing the same, but figured I couldn’t handle the panic if I found myself off-schedule at the first mile marker, so I left the back of my race number blank.
The canon boomed to send us up the mountain, and I entered the pain cave, trying to find that place where I can maintain maximal effort for upwards of an hour, without overdoing it and causing myself to have to back off and recover. I knew that practically everybody in my starting wave would go faster than I would, so I let everybody go and sought out my own pace. By mile three, I knew things weren’t going too well. I felt encased in a bubble of my own waste heat, and had to back off briefly at one point when I started gagging a bit. That quickly passed, and I found some relief once we crossed the treeline and the breeze started blowing.
I spent most of the latter half of the race swapping places with Nicole Marcoe and an NEBC rider that I didn’t recognize. We hit the six-mile marker in about 1:02, which I knew was about three minutes slower than last year. At that point I knew I would be close to a Top Notch finish, so I buried myself and lost the NEBC rider, but Nicole started putting distance on me. My left calf cramped around mile 7, and I used an uncomfortable toes-down pedaling style on my left side to keep going.
I hit the final ramp and saw Elise, Andrew and Maggie standing on a rock to cheer me on. I had virtually nothing left, but came around the final bend to see the clock tick over 1:20 while I was still a few yards short of the line. I hope the kids didn’t hear what I yelled as I crossed the line in 1:20:16. I try not take bike racing too seriously, but that was a heartbreaker.
In retrospect, the lower gearing probably wasn’t a good idea. I spent a lot of time in the 22×29 and 22×26, and even though my cadence was higher I wasn’t putting out the same power. Preliminary post-race analysis of the data shows that I didn’t lose time in any particular area; I was pretty consistently slower in every sector. Maybe the cold took the edge off my fitness, maybe the heat got to me, or maybe I just didn’t have it this year. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m going to do my best to make sure I’m better prepared in 2010.

3 thoughts on “Mt Washington: missed it by >< that much

  1. Thanks, John. I’m not taking it too seriously. I’m doing this kind of thing mostly to stay fit and not turn back into the blobbier, circa-2000 version of me. But it still stings a little bit to come so close.

  2. You’ve inspired my cycling co-worker friend to sign up for next year’s race!
    He is wondering about buying a new cassette. Another co-worker, who raced this year, says she did it on a regular road bike with a chainring taken from her mountain bike. Not sure how she placed 🙂

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