Sunday, August 29, 2010

King of the Mountains - Men's Division


After some incessant nagging, Kelley Noonan and David Vito invited me to ride with them. I had been used to seeing them on The Bike Lane shop rides out of Reston on Saturdays but it has been a while since I have been there. The last time I saw Kelley was when she was wiped out on our group ride on May 2. I last rode with David on April 17. I looked forward to seeing them again.

Although I wanted to bike from home to meet them, I didn't leave myself quite enough time to bike the entire distance so I drove to The Bike Lane in Burke and rode from there. I intercepted Kelley and David at Gallows Road on the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail and we rode from there to the Custis Trail to Crystal City then across the Key Bridge into Georgetown.

We met with a group of cyclists riding from Revolution Cycling. It was their shop ride. While they had two groups, and I would have preferred to ride with the faster group, Kelley and David were looking for an easy spin preparing for the Patriot Half Ironman in two weeks. Kelley had warned me that the pace would be slow as some riders were not comfortable in a group.

Kelley was right. On the route towards Great Falls (Md.) I dropped to the back to find Kelley, and she and a couple of riders, were missing. I rode back to the front and told the ride leader, Katie, that we had dropped Kelley. So we waited and had the group reform.
Once we got rolling again, we weren't far from "the hill." David and Kelley had either warned me or told me that I would like the hill up to Great Falls. One mile long, it wasn't overly steep, but enough to shed all the other riders. David had said I would win the King of the Mountains on this hill.

Just as we approached it, and it has a subtle rise, not a wall, announcing its presence, David pointed it out and we took off. David is less than half my age and I figured, even if he's not a true climber, I still had no chance. There's no way my legs could produce the power that young legs can. I did what an savvy veteran would. I let him pass and then I sat on his wheel up the entire climb.

I kept wondering when he was going to drop me, and at one point he did pull away by 10 - 15 feet (4 meters) or so but that was it. And then I got back on. I also figured I couldn't hold him off if I tried to drop him too early. One big problem I had was that I didn't know where the hill ended. I know, "at the top" but with each rise and each curve, how close were we to the top?

And then it happened. Sarah Brown, who probably weights no more than 85 pounds, came flying by us. She is a new rider, maybe 23 years old, stands about five feet tall, and has the skinniest legs I have ever seen. She has no weight or body fat on her at all. Maybe worse, she couldn't have been on our wheels when we left everyone behind and must have decided after we were gone 100-200 yards that she was going to catch, and pass us.

Sarah Brown, a collegiate runner at Princeton

I told David to go, and I think he tried, but neither of could catch her. I found out later that she ran cross country and track in college. I bet she flies.

Nearing the top of the climb, I was able to pass David and take second in the KOM - but first in the Men's Division. Or first in the Over 100 Pounds Division. Or the Over 25 Division.

Maybe at one time, when I was 25 like David, it would bother me, but I am just happy to be alive and do what I can do. I'll gladly lose to Sarah (weighs half of what I do) or David (is half my age) and still be in the top group climbing the hill.

On a day when the temperature hit 92 degrees, I ended up doing 65 miles. I loved another great day in the saddle.

Garmin Map and Stats

Note: Photograph from Princeton Athletics website,

Sunday, August 22, 2010

LIVESTRONG Challenge 2010


With very tired legs and a body to match, I arrived at the hotel shortly after midnight and was asleep by 1:00 a.m. I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed out of the hotel to Montgomery County Community College for check-in at 6:00 a.m. And no breakfast.

I went to get my ride packet and the volunteer handed me a jersey. That's all. Thankfully another volunteer corrected her and told her that I get level C (jersey) and the gifts with levels A and B too. But I didn't get the iPod and will dispute that with them afterwards.

Last year I checked in and they rang cow bells and made an announcement that I raised $2900. It was actually more.

This year I raised $5,000 and nothing. Sort of disappointing.

I returned to my car and started assembly of my jersey. I wore the new LIVESTRONG jersey and added my race bib, my honor bib, my memory bib, and my survivor bib. Before I rode I posted a picture of my bibs on Facebook with this heading "Really wish we didn't need these events." Then I made my way to the start line.

There I could hear Lance Armstrong address the crowd but could only see the back of the stage and his legs. He addressed the 3,300 cyclists and said that he looked forward to a day when we could gather and just ride. He said, "I really wish we didn't need these events."

After the comments from Lance, the ride went off at 7:40 a.m. It was announced that he would ride 100 miles but I heard he cut it short at 45. It was dry at the start but around Mile 20 it would start to rain and it rained steady and hard at times.

Some of my 3,300 Cancer-fighting friends

The start was slow, it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before I began moving even though the front of the 100-mile riders had already departed. The first 7-8 miles consisted of working my way farther and farther towards the front. I blew by the first two rest areas and reached the intersection of where the 70 mile group turns but the 100 mile group continues for 30 miles.

I was told that shortly after I went through the intersection that LIVESTRONG closed the 100 mile route. There weren't too many of us who got to ride 100 on the day. Call me lucky.

I was a little sore but not so much sore as simply without power. When I came to Landis Hill, the longest and steepest hill on the route I wanted to walk, like I saw others doing, but knew I couldn't. I had all the excuses -- Mount Washington, four hours sleep, a 12-hour drive, no breakfast -- but knew I had to keep going. And I did.

A number of people complained about the rain. My standard response was that fighting cancer isn't bright and sunny. Metaphorically speaking, I expect a rainy day.

I was most disappointed in that no one commented about my bib - FU Cancer. In a crowd of people who hated cancer, not one person. One did say "I like your bibs." And that was all.

When I saw the sign for 30 miles to go I started rehearsing what I would do when I crossed the finish line. Last year was tough. For many survivors who cross the finish line it is the end of a difficult journey. For me it was the realization that my journey was just beginning. And it was tough.
Rest stop at Landis Store, Pa.

Crossing the line as a survivor is emotional. I can't explain it but you can ride 99 miles and be fine and when you come to the finishing chute in the last mile it becomes very emotional. I wish for none of my friends to ever know what I'm talking about.

Today would be different. I was looking forward to crossing this finish line with positive emotions.

After riding all day with no power left in my legs (thanks, Mount Washington) at Mile 90 my legs came back. I started passing people. Tons of people. I both wanted this moment to last but yet wanted to get to the finish.

With one mile to go the sun came out. It would be the only time I would see the sun all day. I entered the right side of the chute for survivors. My final 200 meters went way too fast. Or I went way too fast. I hope they had photographers to capture the moment because I grabbed a rose and held it in the air and almost ran over some people who had stopped. Oops.

Must make it 100 miles

On the day the Challenge was only 97 miles. So I rode the extra distance, with the rose between my teeth, to make it 100. It had to be 100.

After I changed out of my soaking wet clothes, I went to the luncheon in the tent.  I wore my Mt. Washington Auto Road Hillclimb shirt. Strangers came up to me to ask about the race. Was I doing it? (Yes, already did - yesterday.) What gearing  did I use? (24:28)  Did you know my friend rode it yesterday? (Uh, no, I don't think so.)

Wear a bid that says "FU CANCER" and none of the 3,300 cancer fighters wanted to acknowledge it. But put on a Mt. Washington shirt and strangers come up and talk. Even with people who hate cancer, they don't want to talk about it.

Right after I got back to the car a deluge occurred. Just another day fighting cancer.

Saturday, August 21, 2010



I forgot how friggin hard the mountain can be...

It was August, 2006, after knee surgery that I first remember writing that someday I wanted to bike up Mount Washington. In 2007, Ashley and I went to new Hampshire for Newton's Revenge, one of the two bike races up the mountain. Weather forced cancellation of the race.

In 2008 we went back and I made it, albeit with a crash which meant I didn't make it without stopping, and I was using normal gearing on my bike.

I decided I had to go back to make it without crashing or stopping and I would change the gearing. But May, 2009, brought its own crash, a broken wrist, an e.Coli infection and a diagnosis of cancer. Yea, it sucked. Ultimately, I was able to ride but promised I would return in 2010 as my recovery goal.

And return I did.

I arrived on Friday morning. I wanted to do a light training ride and ran into Penny Albritton, also from Virginia. We rolled slowly through North Conway which was congested with tourist traffic. Near the end of town two riders joined us and asked "mind if we jump in?"

I was surprised to see Walker Savidge and Peter Salon, two riders for the Garmin-Transitions U23 team who had come to Mount Washington for the race. Of course they were in their full Garmin kits. Made me glad I never bought the full Radio Shack kit to wear. I would have felt so stupid.

They didn't know the roads so I agreed to take them on a short -- 60 minute ride. What fun. I turned into the wind and pulled for five miles. We talked about their gearing -- I knew it was too big for the mountain but hey, who am I to say something? It was one cool experience!

Walker and Peter signing posters.
Walker said it would devalue the poster.

As far as the race, I came to the mountain without a ride down and was determined to find one on the race forum. I contacted Ted Essenfeld who agreed to give me a ride down. I sent a bag of warm clothes to the top.

At the start line, I was soaking up the moment and ignored warming up instead walking around taking pictures. The ground was rocky and sandy. 

Although there were four age groups, the largest group was the 45+ and it was so large it was split into two. So we had five starting groups, each separated by five minutes. I was in the last group and lined up at the end of our group. I started dead last.

When the cannon sounded I tired to clip in and found neither foot would clip in. Oh boy. The rocky and sandy ground got in my cleats and prevented the springs from working.

Within 100 yards I got the left foot clipped in but couldn't get the right clipped. It would be easier to pedal a bike with platform pedals and tennis shoes than my Speedplay pedals with road shoes that don't clip in. When I stood to pedal my right foot would slip off the pedal.

At Mile 5 I approached a woman, Joan Pew from Maine, who asked if someone was running Speedplay shoes and wasn't clipped in. You could hear it. She offered to take a brush from her bag if we both stopped. I knew we couldn't get going again so I kept going. It was a kind offer though.
Joan Pew. She offered to stop and clean my shoes. 
We would have never got restarted.

The ride up the mountain is 90-100 minutes of willpower. The body says to at least take a break. Indeed, I counted 31 riders who dismounted in front of me and were stopped or walking. One guy was carrying his bike up the mountain rather than ride.

I forgot how friggin hard the mountain is. I thought there would be relief after two miles but there wasn't. It keeps going up at that 12% grade with no breaks.

I crossed the finish line in 1:43 -- just two minutes faster than last year. I thought I might have 10 minutes in me. I had ridden almost 3,000 miles this year and been "training" in France. But I'll take any improvement. I came back cancer free.

At the top I could not find Ted as his wife was forced to park in a service area so I never got into my warm, and dry, clothes. But the Polartec blanket was enough. And I accepted an offer from two different people - one to take my bike and one to drive me down.

Ted Essenfeld - My Almost Ride Down

I was pleased that I sent up my Trek Travel bag with shoes, warm clothing, food, cell phone (for updating my status). But with the missed connection at the top, it was all for naught.

At the end of the day I told Mary Power and Kelly Evans, event directors at the Mount Washington Auto Road, that I might not be back next year. Each year gave me a new reason to come back but this year left me fulfilled. Mostly. Oh well, I have six months to think about it (before registration).

Garmin Map and Stats

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Quest for 50


Back on roads safely away from vicious man and dog-eating dogs, I decided I would try to hit 50 mph today. On US Rte 30, two miles west of Stoystown, Pa. is an awesome steep hill which is straight as an arrow, hits a dip in the bottom and goes straight up the other side. In other words, a perfect hill to gain speed. No worries about curves or stopping.

US Rte 30 looking east. The grade is longer on this side but steeper on the other side.

I parked at the bottom of the hill and started my one mile ascent up the 7% grade. Much of this climb was 10-11% but there is a 5-6% section in the middle which brings the average down.

At the top I turned around, put the bike in the big gear, and pedaled as fast as I could. I got in my aero tuck and watched the speedometer creep up - to just 45 mph. I was disappointed.

I rode through the dip at the bottom of the hill and began my climb up the other side. The total climb was 0.7 mile but the steepest section was near the bottom - the last 0.4 mile. In this section the road averaged 10% grade.

Though I went all the way to the top and turned around to try it again, my speed didn't really creep up until I hit the bottom ramp. My Trek computer had me at 49.2. Close, but not quite 50. I will have to try again next week.

After a few minutes, I decided I would head over to Altoona, mainly to ride Horseshoe Curve. But when I reached Summerhill (yesterday, by bike) and saw the sign for Blue Knob State Park, I decided to follow the sign.

I parked at the park entrance and began the 4.5 mile climb to the summit. Many sections were hitting 14-15% and 16% in the last section. It was a nice workout.

There are no roads like Mount Washington but climbs like Blue Knob are helpful. Glad I came back, even if for a day.

Garmin Map and Stats - Rte 30

Garmin Map and Stats - Blue Knob

UPDATE: There will be no try next week. I have changed the gearing on my bike to ready myself for Mount Washington and have removed the "big ring" necessary to hit top speed.