Sunday, October 01, 2006

Race Report: Poor Mountain Hill Climb


Today was my first run at the Poor Mountain Hillclimb

In a nutshell: What a blast! I'm coming back for sure and urge anyone and everyone to give this thing a shot.

In the days preceding this event, I've been working myself into a nervous tizzy. Having never ridden here, I had no real clue beyond reading descriptions of the course. Fear was the word of the day. But I've realized that a healthy fear is a good motivator for me and helps to really get me focused. The drive into the staging area at Camp Roanoke was so beautiful, but the mountain was ominous looking.

Poor Mountain is something I've really never thought much about. I drive by it on I-81 all the time but never knew what existed there. It's the mountain that all the TV stations use for their antennas. So you know it is for real. It reminded me of my days first starting to mountain bike back in Davis, California. We would ride up these two canyons called Mix and Gates canyons which were fire roads that took you to a ridge with all the radio towers. Long, long climbs up and up. But this was a Virginia fire road climb not a western variety. Let me tell you they were a little different from each other.

I got a little scare when registering as I pulled out my checkbook they said no checks. Um how much is it $25. Let's see. $25 in my wallet. I NEVER have $25 dollars on me. I always use a credit card or checkbook. Lesson learned, everyone speaks the language of cash.

We rolled out all together from the staging area about 2 miles to the start line at a railroad track. I didn't really do any sort of set warm up like normal, and didn't feel all ready to go when we started. It was a mass start. The first miles are a gradual upslope on paved roads. I was so proud of myself for not getting suckered into going out too fast. With so many people around and the excitement it's too easy to go too hard. I could see JB pulling a single file train way up a head, and I estimated that I was somewhere in the middle.

I am learning that my modus operandi is to start slow and get my legs underneath me and then ramp up to a steady pace. At first, I'd jump onto a draft when able, but wouldn't let it take me over my limit. My heart was feeling fine but the legs were starting to feel it a little. There were two really steep paved switchbacks out of Euro Alp.

The paved portion turned to dirt which was actually a was a little relief. At least when it's dirt there is a reason you're going slow. On pavement there is this nagging feeling that you need to be going faster. The dirt turned to some surprisingly rough sections. It's like baby head buried rocks but with the tops cut off so they are flat. At the start I was surprised that there weren't more rigid forks, but after seeing these first rough sections it made sense.

The trick for me was to go to a harder gear in these sections. It helped to stabilize me and hold momentum through them. A lot of people around me switched to a lower gear which only made them more susceptible to momentum loss. After a rough section, I'd drop back down to my regular gear. In hindsight, I think the rigid fork wasn't the best choice. A suspension fork set with higher than normal platform might have been better.

Around this time I noticed people around me were really working it. Too hard, too early. There was so much more to go. This isn't the place to be redlined.

We hit some switchbacks that were really steep. I took a really wide line around them, which allowed me to keep the same gear and not have to shift down or really push hard to get up the inside. The road had some long straight sections that allowed you to see riders up ahead. This can be a double edged sword. It provides motivation to catch people. But it's not like you just roll up on someone. It is a very slow procedure to reel someone in and pass them.

I just tried to keep a few songs going through my head (The Clash: Rudy Can't Fail, Lost in the Supermarket, Lit: In Over My Head) and go steady. Grab a higher gear through rough sections and even on the other side of switchbacks where others might go to an easier gear.

I had no idea where I was in my class or on the road. In hindsight, I've come to realize that my best performances are in these mass start situations. With these starts, I get to my sustainable pace sooner and don't get in over my head like with regular starts. Starts are something that need work, but for the next race, I'm just going to let everyone go. And ride my own race. It always ends up being the fastest for me.

The grade was pretty steady and then it started to kick up. I mean really kick up. There was a short section that I think the course web page had quoted at 21% grade. It was rideable but only if you went into it under redline. On the other side of this grade was another steep switchback then it leveled out. We took a right turn towards the radio towers. A lot of spectators had gathered here and were cheering and ringing cowbells.

My game plan of poise and control went out the window here as I got caught up in the cheering and saw a 1k to go sign. I grabbed a gear and pushed it, but realized all to quickly that this was a huge mistake. I'd forgotten that this was the part of the course that had the steepest grade for an extended period of time. It was excruciating. And I just started to put the nails in my coffin by trying to go too hard.

Thankfully, I was able to get back in control and just go steady. Slow but steady. Riders were up ahead of me but there was no reeling anyone in. One rider was coming up behind me. His breathing was out of a B horror movie. He was definitely working it. He passed me, I got on his wheel. Then I passed him and gapped. Then I started to slow and he got on my again. Finally the grade started to let up a little and there was a sign for 200m. But he wanted it more and I just couldn't bridge.

At the top,
I got off my bike to grab my bag that had a jacket in it. The pain in my legs and butt was terrible. As bad as any leg pain I'd ever had. While on the bike it hadn't been that bad, but now I was limping. If you've ever ridden a tandem or spent several hours on a flat rail-to-trails trail than you know that pain in the backside I'm talking about. You just don't stand that much in situations like this and the roughness of the road and the hardtail pounded me.

We hung out up top for a little while but it was windy and cold. But the view was spectacular:

A shout out to a BLOG reader, Chris, I met at the top. I've got some stickers for you kids if they come to Rowdy Dawg.

I rode back down the road which was a little scary for me. With good weight balance on the pedals, the rigid fork wasn't too bad, but may hands were hurting from the braking and couldn't corner for anything. I couldn't believe how long it took to get back to the staging area. I'd forgotten to put a recovery drink or food in my bag so I was hurting for certain and was just crawling.

Back at the camp I slammed a Gatorade and cliff bar and then dined on some super tasty BBQ. Even had a cookie. Surprisingly I didn't want another! I decided to stick around for the results. When they got to Vet Expert they awarded 3 deep and surprise surprise surprise the man from Blacksburg gets called up. 55:something. They gave out these little envelopes that had $20 written on it. I thought it was a gift certificate that I'd heard them talking about but a few hours later I opened it up and inside was $20-Cash money. OMG I've never won money before. Will this jeopardize my amateur status and Olympic goals? Kudos to the wonderful promoters to be able to give money out at a grass roots race. They said they had the biggest turnout yet this year.

Now to put this into perspective. The top 3 senior sports were all faster. I'm not sure how many Vet Experts there were but not that many I'm sure. But this brings up one of the wonderful ironies of bike racing. If you don't show up you can't win.

JB shattered his own record and posted 38 minutes and collected $250 for the record. It was inspring to be able to ride the same course with a world class rider. But even more inspiring was to see the beginners out there working their tails off. In our society, especially South-Western Virginia it takes a lot of guts to go up against the negative energy from co-workers, friends and family and to say I'm going to mountain bike, and I'm going to climb this here mountain on my BI-Cee-cal.

These types of events are awesome for everyone. Because even though in the end you are judged in a class of your age and skill level, it is really about you vs your demons and you versus the mountain.

This event was just awesome. I judge an event by how long it takes before I start planing for next year. After the intial pain in my legs went away I was already analyzing and strategizing what I'd do different. Thanks to the promoters for putting on events like this. Hopefully there will be even more people next year to take on the challenge.


At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got back from the Davis area.My wife has relatives out there. We rented some bikes and rode Folsom Lake trails. We had a good time, although it was very dusty.
The climb sounds brutal, congrats on your cash prize!
I am awaiting the arival of my Azure Expert frame (only). Yes!
I will need to use the shock off my Hollowpoint for now, but I scored a brand new frame off ebay.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Ashwin Amanna said...

You'll need some different shock hardware as the HP's is not the same.
I am pretty sure the Azure uses
23x8mm for the upper and
40x8mm for the lower.

How much for the frame?

I've got a 5th element coming and I'm going to send my swinger into Garageworks suspension tuning as I don't think it is working the best on the Azure.

At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just under 400 shipped. Easier for me than trying to sell parts from a whole bike.
No shock included, but I think at least the bolts are. I think it must have been a warranty replacement frame.
I will try the link for universal for the hardware. (i'm blocked from it at work)

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, considering the price of the shock and hardware, it was a fair but not great price. It would have been cheaper to buy a whole bike and part it out. I also gave up the warranty, but I have confidence in the frame.

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you dog! you come to my friggin' back-yard w/o so much as a "hello-and-git-yer-arse-on-the-bike".

of course, I could just keep my blog reading up to date.

congrats on the podium.

-capt pearl in salem

At 5:46 PM, Blogger uber said...

Congratulations - reads like a great ride!

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate the comment about the beginners. This was only my 6th MTB race. The other 5 being last year's VA Derailer Series races.
My son and I drove up from Wake Forest, NC. Since last year's series I've logged about a 1000 miles on a road bike trying to increase my fitness and felt pretty good about improving my time. I'm a little disappointed that I only shaved about 5 minutes off last year, but pleased that I rode the whole thing - no pushing.
My son's a natural. In his first try he came in 3rd in his age group.
I enjoy your blog. I read it nearly every weekday.
Since getting involved with biking, I've really appreciated the support and acceptance of new riders. My experience with the biking community, both road and MTB, has been great.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger gwadzilla said...

sounds like everyone had a sweet time

I could not see myself being very competitive at such a thing


I mean even for me

I would never expect win such a thing
but I doubt that I could even race it

chug up slowly sure
but race it no

then again

I am chugging my way through cyclocross season

guess I have fun chugging along


Post a Comment

<< Home