Monday, May 24, 2010

The Assault - 2010

There it is - the 2010 edition of the Assault on Mt Mitchell is in the history books. What can I say other than Wow! It was an incredible ride. As proven to me last year, the Mountain does not surrender - it is a battle all the way to the top.

Perhaps this is why they call it the 'Assault'? I was wondering that as we drove home from Marion this evening. Those who come to make the Assault are ready for this battle. For all it is a physical battle, for many it is as much mental as physical. It is that way for me.

A number of times today the Mountain played with my head - psy-ops (short for psychological operations). It all started at the very beginning.

The way the line-up was supposed to work was those who were targeting 6.5 hours or less were to line up in the front, the hard-core recreational riders behind them followed by the increasingly less hard core riders. Like many running races I have entered, it sounds good on paper, but seldom works in reality.

This was the mountain's first play - The clock released us and I immediately started chasing. I probably passed over a hundred people who I probably should have lined up in front of. There was a number of riders playing the same strategy as I, working their way through the crowd chasing after the lead group. That lead group fired off the line like a round from a howitzer - they immediately launched their attack - no warm up necessary.

As we began to clear the slower riders, a second group began to form. I got out with many others to do the work trying to reel the lead group back in. We busted our tails launching our own attacks, but alas after 10-15 miles, it was obvious that we weren't going to be able to reel them in. Our pace was at 24 mph and we were just keeping them in sight.

I think it dawned on the group about the same time - we needed to settle down and do our best to hold a steady pace so we would be able to fight back when the Mountain began it's attacks later in the ride. We began to get a little more organized and our pace started dropping - slowly at first, then more as we began to get into the rollers.

As we continued to roll through the country, one of the lady riders called to see if anyone wanted to take a nature break. I was ok to stop if there would be others who I could work with to reel the group back in. So, I stopped, but only about 5 other stopped with me. Oops, that may have been a mistake.

I did my business as quickly as possible and started riding again. I chased down a couple of other riders and we started to get in a rotation, but I left them when we got to a roller. I was actually very happy to see the rollers - I was catching the group, and I knew the downhills would be my chance to reel them back in

There is a wicked downhill with a super sharp hairpin turn that is always well marked. I was beginning to reel the group in, and I took full advantage of this downhill to make the final bridge. I was alone when I flew through the hairpin, and sprinted to catch the tail end of the pack. I was quite relieved to have bridged back up.

On Bill's Hill the group fractured. Two small groups went off the front while a group containing me, Jim Cunningham, several of the Lady riders from Headstrong (including our own K. Wienaker (sp?)) and a number of Cyclists against Cancer riders continued at a steady pace.

We kept this pace, and actually reeled in the 2nd of the two groups. We were about 15 miles from Marion and I found my self at the front quite a bit. After a number of pulls where it seemed I would rotate back only to find myself in the front within a few minutes, I decided this was not for me. I dropped back in the pack and decided I had done enough work for a while.

Jim Cunningham did some major pulls for us during this period. Another who did some major pulls was a blonde woman riding for the Headstrong team. She was on her way to Marion and all these guys just kept doing token pulls while she would be out there rocking it for some super strong pulls. I believe she was the first of the Marion Riders to finish.

As we made the final turn alongside the Tom Johnson Camping area, I pulled off the pack and stopped to say Hi to Yukie - my friend who is Married to Kip who was also riding today. She is awesome! She dropped us off in Spartanburg, watched the start, then drove to Marion to meet us and provide us with a water refill and some of the most awesome cookies I have ever eaten (I saved mine for the summit). I made a brief stop with her, then filled my other water bottle at the official SAG stop.

I was now pretty much on my own. It was me against the Mountain and I was as battle ready as I could be. My quads were talking to me a little - I think the early effort to reel in the lead group was a bad idea - especially because I spent a fair amount of time at the front of the pack. Each time I stood up, they would talk to me a little and I had to use a very deliberate pedaling motion to keep the cramps at bay. No problem really, I just had to be conscious of them.

It was here that the Mountain started playing with my head. I had though we would arrive at the switchbacks relatively quickly, but in fact it is about 7 miles from Marion before you hit the Hwy 80 switchbacks. It is a beautiful 7 miles however.

When I started the switchbacks, there was markings on the ground every half mile starting at 3 miles from the parkway. At first, I didn't like that, but in fact once I got to the 2 miles to go point, I decided it was showing me progress. The Mountain was relentless in her attacks - now I had some muscles talking to me that I have never felt before - on the upper quad. Perhaps some of my flexor muscles? I don't know. Also, my inner thighs began to talk. This is the Mountains strategy of course - slowly wearing your body down bit by bit.

As I ascended the switchbacks, I came upon Jim with his client Gene stopped on the side of the road. Jim had worked really hard on the way to Marion, and when I stopped to see if I could do anything for them, he said that both his hands and his face had gone numb. He needed water, but I only had powerade or whatever the SAG stops were offering. It was a little scary, but after 30 seconds or so, he said he felt better and for us to continue. I was glad to see him at the summit later in the day.

I was quite happy to see the SAG stop at the parkway. I decided to stop as I had drank all of one bottle and most of the 2nd in that (short?) 10 miles since Marion, and I needed food. I had consumed about 5 of the go packets but thought it would be good to have some other food. I also wanted to get my muscles working in a different motion so I set my bike off a ways away from the tables and walked around a little to include a nature break.

I took off from the SAG stop and began my Assault on the parkway. The Parkway is an incredibly beautiful ride, but the ascents are continuous. There are a few spots where it lets up a little, but mostly it is climbing. I was generally riding between 7 and 10mph on these long ascents on the parkway. I felt pretty good about that - certainly faster than last year's assault.

I was passing folks and folks were passing me. We got some light rain, but it got heavier as I approached the SAG stop before the 2 mile descent. I stopped again at this SAG stop and had (for the first time ever!) one of the 'uncrustables' PB & J sandwiches. This is a food that will now be a 'must have' for all future rides! That sandwich made me feel better than any other food item I took in. I should have had two of them. I started the descent in a driving rain, another volley from the Mountain - looking this time to weaken my spirit. However, I was in 'Peanut Butta Jelly time' mode. I mean seriously, that PB&J put a huge smile on my face as I made that very cold and very wet descent.

After the descent, you are something in the range of 8 miles (give or take) from the summit. In looking at my ride time, I felt sure I could beat 7 hours clock time. The problem was I had no idea how much time I had spent in my several stops. Not quite my revised goal of 6.5 hours. Was this another volley by the Mountain?

I did some calculations in my head and thought I could actually get pretty close to 6.5 for ride time. All I had to do was maintain a 6mph average pace. At this point, 90 something miles into the ride 6mph on some of those climbs was about all my body could take.

I knew I had an opportunity once inside the actual park to pick up some speed, and there was one other chance just before making the turn onto the park access road. I put my head down and concentrated on my cadence. Occasionally I would shift up a gear or two and get out of the saddle to work the muscles in a different way. It helped a lot. I kept drinking lots of water as well.

When you make the right turn onto the Park Access road, it gets steep. Perhaps not as steep as Hwy 80, but pretty damn steep. Again, I concentrated on maintaining as close to 6mph as possible. I started to feel the Mountain's final blows - the altitude. Last year, I had to stop several times on this section of the course. Mt Mitchell had really weakened me, but that was last year. This time I was prepared for this volley and I fired back with some mental games of my own - yes, the Eagles were rocking Hotel California in my head the entire time. If any song can get me up a mountain, that one can. Mt Mitchell was no match for me and the Eagles!

I managed to keep my strong pace up this steep section and was very happy to see the park entrance. I knew there was a faster section coming up, so I geared up for it. More psy-ops from the mountain - this section was much longer than I remembered! It started to weaken me and I fought for the discipline to maintain my pace. It was clear now that I was going to be pleased with my ride time results. However, I was quite sure my clock time would not be meeting my goal.

As I made the final turn, and the clock came into view, I was actually very surprised! It was showing 6:31 (ish). I tried to make a final push, but I'm not convinced I really gained any speed. I crossed the line with the clock showing 6:33:11 (this should be the published results as they had them up back in Marion).

I knew there were many of my friends coming behind me- fighting their own battle against the mountain. I waited anxiously for them and was pleased (and not at all surprised) to see Courtney leading Kip across the line in 7:48 (ish - their final results were not posted when we looked in Marion).

Courtney called me a little while ago and said her computer showed a ride time of 7:14! This is a great result for her. I'm very proud of her. Another friend John had a great day, coming in just a few minutes after Courtney and Kip to show a Sub-8 hour ride. Great results for my friends. There were many others out there, but I was not able to chat with all of them.

So, now the question remains - with a clock time of 6:33:11 - did I meet my goal of 6:30? One could argue that I did indeed meet my goal if you count only the ride time. However, technically the goal is for the clock time. In considering all of this, I can only say one thing - 6:33 - I'll take it!.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Assualt on Mt Mitchell - 2010

Last year I did a lot of writing and not a lot of training for the 2009 edition of the Assault on Mt Mitchell. Here's a chronological list of the several posts I made about it:

Have you been training?
Getting Psyched for the Assault
Who Conquered Whom? The man or Mt Mitchell

It is interesting to go back and read those posts a year later. I was in such a different place last year. This year is a little different. I have been doing a lot of riding and not a lot of writing - especially about such a big event! The Assault and meeting this year's time goal is one of the big ones for me this year. I'm a little surprised that I haven't written something about this year's assault, but based on my post count for the year I shouldn't be.

To date, I have ridden a total of 1898 miles on my road bike. That is nearly double the mileage I had completed leading up to last year's Assault. It is an interesting number - with the 102 miles for Mt Mitchell, that will put me right at 2000 miles on the year at the summit of Mitchell.

Yes, despite the fact I currently show 1898 miles, I may not have an opportunity to ride my road bike again before the assault starts on the 24th. This week is a busy week for me at work, and I will have to substitute running in place of riding for the week.

Next Saturday (22 May) I won't be able to get on the road bike either - I'll be helping out with a charity ride to raise money for a flow park in Travelers Rest ( That will be a mountain bike ride in Dupont State Forest - a really great place to ride. Come out and ride with is - meet at Sunrift Adventures at 9am to purchase raffle tickets for a 10am drawing, or meet us at Guion Farms Parking area (off of sky valley road) at 1130am (directions to Dupont Forest found here).

With the Assault just over a week away and with all of the riding I've been doing, I've had a lot of time to think about my goal this year. It started out that I wanted to trim an hour from last year's time of 7:55 (In all honesty, I would have been happy with anything less than 7 hours). However, with the riding I've been doing, and the climbing I've been doing, I've revised my goal for the year.

A few things went into this decision. My time for the 3 state 3 Mountain century was 5:13 (ride time 5:07). I rode wheel to wheel with my new friend John for the Saluda Grade Repeats. We finished the 84 miles and (approximate) 8400 feet of climbing together in under 6 hours (5:40ish I think) total time. A few weeks ago, on the Grey Ribbon Ride, I managed to crest the summit of the Green River Cove Road climb to take the KOM honors. I felt strong on that ride and we finished in just a couple of minutes over 4 hours for the 76 miles.

So, what is my new goal? John finished both of the last two years in around 6 hours (one year was about 5:55 and the other year was about 6:05). He (and many of my friends) are convinced I am going to be at the summit in less than 6 hours. I feel confident that I will do much better than my last year's time, but I am setting my goal for 6:30. I think this is a goal that will push me quite a bit. The key is going to be keeping with the lead pack until Marion.....

Because after that, it's all uphill.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More great riding in the upstate

Too many great opportunities to get out and ride and not enough opportunities to sit down and write about it. Since the 3 state 3 mountain ride, I've now done two tuesdays at SCTAC (formerly Donaldson) and one ride this past weekend called the 'Grey Ribbon Ride'.

The Grey Ribbon Ride was a great route set up by my P3C3 team-mates Keith and Tedd. This was a ride put together by Keith for the first time last year. It is one of the ways that he raises money for the Palmetto Peloton Project. For the first two years of the Challenge to Conquer Cancer, Keith rode along as support - working as the team medic.

This is one of those jobs that does not get the credit it deserves. While the riding teams were 'on' for 6 hours and off for 24 hours, the medics (Keith and Ruben) were 'on' for 12 and 'off' for 12. What does that really mean though?

What it means is these guys were awake when everyone else (except the riding team) was sleeping - these guys worked their tails off. The amazing thing is that Keith has signed up again for the 3rd installment of the Challenge to Conquer Cancer.

Another amazing thing about Keith is that he is both a brain cancer survivor and a testicular cancer survivor. I'm sure these are the reasons he is so dedicated to the cause. He's a tireless worker, and with Tedd's help, he put together a great route for the 'Grey Ribbon Ride'.

A very cool thing about Keith's ride is there is a little built in competition - the King of the Mountain. For this year's installment, there was three routes available. The KOM was only available for the two longer routes (53 and 76 miles). Both distances shared the same route for the first 21 miles.

The 53 mile route KOM challenge ended at the state line on the climb up the watershed. This is a very well known route to those of us local to the Greenville area. It is a great climb of reasonable grade for about 7ish miles. All I can say is we hammered it, and my Greenville Spinners Team-mate Tim hammered it to cross the KOM line first.

Unfortunately, it didn't really count for him because the state line was only counted for those riding the 53 mile route. It came down to my good friend Taylor and my team mate David. Unfortunately, I'm not sure who actually took the KOM for the 53 mile route.

Tim and I had a huge gap on all the others who were riding the 76 mile route, but we kept pushing the pace nonetheless. When we came up to the Green River Cove Road switchbacks, it was me and Tim. No-one else was even close to us. At the top of the green river cove road switchbacks, I managed to pull a small gap on Tim. In doing that, I was able to bring home the KOM for the Spinners.

The other opportunities I've had for riding is at the Tuesday night SCTAC (formerly Donaldson) country rides. Last week was a great ride, but tonight was the best (and fastest) ride I've had out there.

Tonight we started with about 8 peeps and at the end we had four. Everyone pushed the pace in a huge way tonight. It didn't take long before our pace was up above 21 mph. I think we were up above 21 within the first 5 miles.

We pushed the pace for the entire ride. We had a great dynamic in the group. Everyone was getting out and working as much as possible and our pace kept increasing. We peaked at 22.2 mph as we crested the hill on Holly road.

As we rolled along Reedy fork road, we dropped a couple others, leaving us with only 4. The four of us pulled hard, but we couldn't get the average up above the 22.0 mph that we had sustained for most of the ride.

The most difficult part of keeping that pace is the loss of speed when slowing and then re-accelerating from the stops. We lost 0.3mph (from our average) when we stopped at the Michelin Road stop sign.

That doesn't sound like a lot of speed, but trying to re-gain 0.3mph is a hell of a lot of work. What I'm really trying to say is the crew we had tonight did a superb job in keeping the pace. When we pulled back into the parking area, there was four of us. It was a great feeling to arrive in a group with that kind of average. That is some awesome team work.

It is really great to have such an active cycling community here in the upstate.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Three state, three mountians in Chattanooga, Tn

Today was an awesome day for a ride. A HUGE group of peeps from Greenville headed up to Chattanooga yesterday to participate in today's 3 state 3 mountain challenge. This ride is a metric or full century put together by the Chattanooga Bike Club. It was a very well put together event and a great route.

Today was my first time on this route, and I have to credit my friends Nikki and Bo for suggesting the weekend get-away. Nikki did a great job hooking us up at the Doubletree hotel in downtown Chattanooga. We all drove out yesterday. Some arrived earlier than others, as some of us had to get some work done before heading out. Regardless, my friend Jeni picked up some awesome chow from Tony's and I happened to be pulling into the parking lot when they returned from the restaurant! Perfect, I just had to find a place to sit down to eat.

This morning, we all met for breakfast before heading out for the ride. Because I'm such an idiot at times, I left the hotel before our guides (Nikki and Bo) came down from their room. I went the completely wrong direction and ended up about 2.5 miles from the hotel with only about 15 minutes before the ride started. Thankfully, I realized my mistake and turned around immediately.

I retraced my steps and found myself pulling up to the starting line just a few moments before they released the riders. Since everything was so packed at the front of the group of riders, I decided to simply go forward on the route about 2 blocks. Once they released the riders, I pulled out and started riding. I was pretty surprised that the peloton was not going harder - I ended up leading the entire ride for about 3-5 miles. No problem really, I wasn't trying to do a breakaway, I just wanted to be near the front.

They finally ramped up the pace and caught me just a short distance before we started up the 1st main climb. I did my best to hold their pace, but wasn't surprised when a pack began to pull away from me about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain. I hooked up with a couple of other guys who fell off the lead pack's pace and we worked together to get up the mountain.

On the descent, we managed to reel in some others who had also fallen off the lead pack's pace, and I had an awesome time maximizing my descent skills to make that happen. It was a lot of fun. The descent was pretty straight, so I had to minimize my distance by trimming every corner. I had three or four guys in my sight, and by riding the white line for right hand turns and the yellow line for left hand turns, I was able to pull them right in.

What was the coolest, about the time I caught them, we entered a section with some tighter turns. This is where my motorcycle road racing experience came in handy. I actually managed to pull a gap through these turns. It was a blast, but of course, they brought me right back when we hit the base of the mountain and got into the flats.

Shortly after hitting the flats, we ended up with a group of maybe about 15 riders. Maybe 6 or 7 of these guys were from the local racing team Krystal. These guys were great riders and they really deserve the credit for keeping the pace high. The Krystal team came up on us like a freight train, and I simply jumped on to the caboose.

We rocked the flats between the bottom of the first hill and up until about mile 45 or so when the 2nd mountain began. Again, I did my best to hold the pace, but there was some really strong riders in this group and they began to pull away as we made the ascent. I made the decision to stop for a nature break about 2/3 - 3/4 up the hill, and thought I'd seen the last of them.

After that very short nature break, I got back on the bike and found myself reeling the pack back in. I worked as hard as I could and just managed to reach the tail end of this pack when we came upon the 60 mile SAG stop. I checked my computer and found that we had averaged exactly 20mph for that 60 miles. Of course that means we pulled into that stop at just about 3 hours. All of the guys who I had been riding with also pulled in for that stop.

After refilling my bottles and grabbing a half banana, I started off again. I expected this crew to catch me, so I just wanted to spin and keep the blood flowing.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before the Krystal team came by like a freight train. They still had a half dozen or maybe more other guys riding with them, so I pulled into the line and we started making rotations. We kept the pace high but started dropping some guys as the miles clicked away.

As we approached the 80 mile mark, which happened to be just before the final climb of the day. We still had about 6 or 7 Krystal guys, several others and me. As we turned onto the final climb, I actually thought I'd seen the last of them. Although I'm a pretty strong climber, those guys were stronger and I thought they would be pulling away from me.

The final climb was very tough. It was steep for about 2 miles, then it got even more steep in the last 3/10ths of a mile. I somehow found some strength to pull back a few guys in those last tenths, but was very glad to see a SAG stop at the top of the climb. We all stopped to refuel, and again, I headed out before the pack.

As I expected, here comes the freight train again. The Krystal team had a guy who I started to call 'Locomotive'. He was a bigger guy, so he was wicked fast on the downhills AND he had some killer bike skills on those downhills. However, so many times I saw him, he was out in front on the flats or the rollers pulling those guys along like a big diesel locomotive. He is a wicked strong guy. Once again, I latched onto the back of this freight train and tried to fit into the rotation.

About mile 88, my right inner thigh started to cramp. Unfortunately, it happened to be when I was in 2nd position with my pull rotation coming up. I had to get out of the line and let those other guys pull through. I dropped back a little while I tried to work out the cramps. By mile 89, I found myself pulling up to the back of the pack again.

We kept our rocking pace, which on average I found had dropped a little on that last climb to something about 19.3 or 19.4 mph. We were trying to pull that pace back up, and succeeding ever so slowly.

As we pedaled through the rollers, two riders had formed a break from our small pack. Although I had cramped a little before, I tried to keep a strong pace to stay with the pack. I found after a while that I had started to reel those two guys in. What I was most stoked about was I caught them just before we started on the last descent. I pulled out my descending skills and led these two guys down the hill. I even pulled a gap up to the point when we were back into town. At that point, we formed a small group and rode in together. The other Krystal guys were a little back from us - especially after that hill.

The three of us rocked the pace into town, and came in pretty much together. I crossed the line at 5:13 total time. My computer showed 5:07 ride time. I knew I wasn't going to beat 5 hours, but I feel really good about this ride today. My goal was to ride as hard and as long as I could. In the end, I managed to reel in the 2 man break and put a gap between me and the pack I had been riding. We averaged 19.5mph for the 100 miles.

It is probably the last hard and long ride I'll do before Mt Mitchell. I'll begin my taper, although, stay tuned, there is another ride scheduled for next week. That one is going to be a fundraiser for one of my P3C3 peeps.