Monday, September 29, 2008

Equipment Choices

I spent a lot of time analyzing, perhaps overanalyzing our setup for Everest Challenge. In the end the bike performed beautifully with no mechanical issues whatsoever.

The Robusta is a pleasure to ride. At 29lbs and relatively stiff, it climbs beautifully. It's rigid enough to climb well out of the saddle, corner fast and descend at speed.It really feels like riding a high end single racing bike.

Gearing.. The bike came stock with 53/39/30 and a 12-27 cassette. We changed to a 26 inner chainring. The 26/27 combination was low enough to climb about anything, and allowed us to maintain a high cadence even on steeper sections.

Brakes. I went back and forth on whether to use a rear disc brake. The Dura Ace calipers clearly have sufficient stopping power. The concern was that with the very long descents, excessive heat could be a problem, with the worst case scenario being a high speed blow out. As it turned out, the rim brakes were more than adequate. Most of the descending on EC is relatively straight, and not terribly technical. We just weren't on the brakes that much. We hit a maximum speed of 52mph. We could have descended faster, however a couple of places where you would really fly unchecked were narrow one lane with other racers still coming up, or had a little bit rough surface covered in mottled shade. Thus, the risk/reward calculus kept us at or under 50mph for most of the descending.

Avoiding the weight penalty, and the setup complexities of the disc brake was definitely the right choice for us, and we gave up nothing on the descents. We would have descended just as aggresively with the disc brake.

Tires. At a team wieght of 340lbs, we debated going with 25c or 28c tires. We ended up with 25c Continental 4000's. So far no flat problems at all, and at least subjectively, the feel like they have lower rolling resistence than the 28c's that came on the bike.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Flaws in Preperation

I actually think we did about everything that we could to prepare. Recall, the distance we had to travel from where we were 7 months ago was pretty big. Deb had not ridden other than sporadically for fun for a number of years, never longer than 70 miles, and never raced. In hindsight, perhaps Everest Challenge is not the ideal first race.

Starting in February we had to get Deb a base,and then quickly start uilding both of ours power and endurance.

The one obvious thing we could have done better was to lose more weight. When I was sick for basically a month in March and added 10 lbs when I should have been losing weight, the math of my challenge became much harder.

Deb would be considered svelte by any non bike racer standard, yet she could have been 10 lbs lighter, without losing power. Surprisingly, despite of a dramatic increase in calories burned,she lost very little weight. I attribute this in large measure to the problem of having to eat enough to fuel intense workouts, and trying to lose weight at the same time.

So we started EC at a team weight of 340, when the goal was to be sub 320. According to power calculations, , that 20lb difference would have beeen worth approximately 15 minutes a climb. Multiplied by 3 climbs a day, it would have been the difference between winning and DNF.

Obviously it would have been helpful to do more climbing. However 4 trips to the Mountains (WV in May, Greenville SC in July, Brasstown/ SixGap in August, and Asheville in Septemeber was all we could reasonably do.)

I also think we should have done some longer days Our longest day in the Mountains was 7 hours. Our last long ride here in Florida was also ljust under 7 hours, and 140 miles. In hindsight, I think it would have been helpful to have done a flat double century.

Given constraints of Jobs, and Family, I think we prepared about as well as we could have hoped. Next year, with a better base, and starting lighter, I think we'll be much better prepared.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Post Mortem

I'm going to try to do a series of posts with some analysis as to what went wrong (and right) both in preperation, and in the actual race, for anyone who might care, anyone who might benefit in undertaking a similar endeavor, and to remind myself the next time we try something this stupid.

I'm going to start with the actual race day execution. The plan was to not worry about anyone else, and ride our own pace particulary on the first climb. Not having the benefit of a power meter, we paced off of heart rate and perceived effort. The idea being to stay well below threshold on the first climb, and burn no matches.

I actually thought we were doing this fairly well, with both of our HR's in the 150's for almost all of the first climb. Yet when you look at data, it's clear our speed dropped significantly at the begining of the second climb. Thus in hindsight, we should have gone even slower on the first climb, allowing us to maintain a more consistent effort for the entire race. Of course that slower pace might have still doomed us to the Broom Wagon.

We also fell short on drinking. In hindsight we made a bad decision in not stopping at the first aid station. I did not fully appreciate the amount of riding left to get to the top of the first climb. (only 10 miles, but 10 miles at approximately 8% average grade.) We ended up drinking less than we should have in that time period, and probably got us behind on both water and calories. In 8 hours we each consumed 6 large bottles, 3 water, 1 Gatorade, and 2 HEED. In retrospect, it should have been at least 8 total bottles, particularly considering how much fluid loss we had in the high desert environment.

I was starting to cramp by the top of the second climb. Fortunately drinking a bunch of HEED, and 4 endurolyte capsules, largely staved off the cramps.

I also think we might have eaten a bit more. We tried to eat one gel pack every 30-45 minutes,as well as the sports drinks, and some cliff blocks and pretzels grabbed at the aid stations. Nonetheless, we were clearly running on empty by the final climb, which I believe was in part going too hard early, and part not replacing enough calories.

Eating and drinking enough doing Everest Challenge is difficult. You're almost always going up or down. Up, you're working hard, and its difficult to eat. Down, you're focusing on keeping the rubber side down at speed and its difficult to eat. Captaining a tandem only adds to the problem.

Bottom line, our team power to weight ratio was not high enough to allow us to go fast enough long enough to maintain the aerage speed we needed. I'm not sure any change in pacing, eating, or drinking would have changed the outcome. So my next post will address what might have been changed in our preperation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


We failed. We just weren't fast enough, and ended up falling out of the time limit. We did well up the climb to Mosquito Flat (22 miles to 10,500 feet above sea level).

We began to suffer on the climb to Pine Creek, and were definitely slower on the final climb.After 93 miles,10,700 vertical feet, and 8 hours of riding, it was painfully obvious that we couldn't finish the climb up South Lake (20.6 miles, to 9835 feet above sea level, with maximum grade of 17.5%) within the alotted time. With much sadness, we abandoned.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last big weekend

This last weekend we wanted tohave a hard two days, with the ride time approaching a day of Everest Challenge.

Saturday was a group ride with some hard efforts and 75 miles.

Sunday was the Watermelon Century. We did the first 90 miles of the Century mostly with a group, and then turned around and backtracked a bit to add an extra 40 miles Ended up with 138.6 miles. We were going to roll out around the parking lot for an even 140 miles, but we were corrupted by friends in the parking lot yielding beers.

We felt surprisingly good for 140 miles.

So now it's time to taper. The studying's all done. All that's left is to take the test.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Asheville NC/ Blueridge Parkway

Asheville is a fantastic place to ride. The Blueridge Parkway passes right by Asheville. The Parkway, with 45mph speed limits, no commercial traffic, long moderate climbs, and beautiful vistas is great for cyclists. (although tourist traffic can be bad, particularly on Fall weekends.)

There are a number of tunnels on the Parkway, particularly heading south from Asheville. Most of the tunnels you can see through to the opposite side. However, some are pitch dark in the middle which can be a little unnerving. Lights, front and back are definitely required.

We stayed at the Inn at Biltmore Estate. It's a very nice small hotel on the Biltmore Estate.
Riding from the Inn worked out great. By ducking through the Biltmore Forest neighborhood, you can access the Parkway without having to ride in traffic.

Last Preperation Trip

Labor Day Weekend made a final trip to the Mountains to train for Everest Challenge. We went to Asheville N.C. Saturday, we rode south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mt Pisgah, and also did a side jaunt done to Candler and back up the Parkway. We rode pretty well, and stayed out of the small chainring all day. ( I figured we could use the work pushing a bigger gear up 8-10% grades to simulate climbing 15-17% grades in the small ring.)

Sunday, was going to be the big training day heading from Asheville north on the Parkway to Mt Mitchell, and doing a couple of repeats up Mitchell. Unfortunately, we found out, the hard way, that the Parkway is closed for 10 miles at Craggy Gardens due to a landslide. So we made do with doing repeats up to the Craggy Gardens picnic area, and adding a climb up Ox Creek from Weaverville back onto the Parkway. The climb up Ox Creek was actually much steeper than Mitchell, with sustained sections in the low teens, but it didn't have the same cache as Mt Mitchell, the highest point in the Eastern U.S.

On the whole it was a good weekend of training, but I'm concerned that both days were still substantially less climbing, and ride time, than Everest Challenge will require.