Monday, September 24, 2007

24 Hours Later...

...I feel like Guido hit me in the knees with a baseball bat, sanded my crotch with some 50-grit paper, then repeatedly punched me in the quads with brass knuckles. So I'm not moving around much this afternoon and have some time to reflect...

When we arrived for the start of Everest Challenge Day 2, the sun was just rising over the White mountains beneath a thin layer of clouds to the east. That made for a beautiful splash of light on the middle slopes of the eastern Sierra. One thing's for sure about riding your bike in this region... there's never a shortage of spectacular scenery to enjoy!

But let's talk about the Everest Challenge...

29,000 feet of climbing in two days, at altitude, with difficult weather conditions.

Having now undertaken and completed this thing, my feeling is that it isn't really a bike race in any traditional sense. Most dimensions of bike racing don't apply here. This thing is more like a test, or a... well, a challenge. Of epic proportion.

It's a physiology test. To excel at this event, you need high hematocrit and good lungs. Oxygen is sparse on these climbs; blood is critical. I get a mediocre grade in physiology, with a HCT of 43%

It's also a multi-part intelligence test. Some would argue we all failed that one simply by attempting Everest. But I wouldn't agree. Rather, the test accounts for your preparation. Anybody who attempts EC without doing some extraordinary and focused training gets an F. Fortunately, I get a marginally passing grade because I did some significant hill training just for this. However, I get marked down because I didn't do enough hard back-to-back days (see the result below) and, honestly, once I got my upgrade, I no longer had the drive to train hard. Basically, I stopped training two weeks ago.

The second part of the intelligence test applies just to race day. If you don't eat and drink properly, you will fail spectacularly. Witness C-Walk's meltdown on Day 1. I get an A on eating and drinking. I've always been a good eater and drinker! But I get an F on the other aspect of race-day intelligence, namely, staying within your limits early on so that you can finish strong. Both days I rode the early hills too hard and paid the price on the final climbs. My overall intelligence grade: C-

(Note: I tried to argue for a higher IQ, but the teacher reminded me that I missed the start of day 1 which doesn't reflect too highly on my intelligence.)

But persistence is like the final exam. Even if you're weak in physiology and intelligence, you can pull out a decent grade with persistence. When I hit the final 6 kft climb yesterday, I was with the elite group... C-Walk, Jesse Moore, GaryAnn, and a couple other freak-o strong guys. (Lindsay was a few minutes ahead, but he doesn't count.) But then I cracked big time. Within minutes I was in my lowest gear, 39x25, even though the grade was quite moderate. Each pedal stroke was a chore. I did some math: at my speed, the climb would take me at least two hours! Completing it seemed inconceivable. Guys started passing me... 3's, 4/5's, Masters, one-legged blind women on cruiser bikes, you name it. Then J-Rop caught me. Instead of dropping my sorry self like he easily could have, he stuck with me. Although he was probably hurting too, his glass was half full, while my glass was not only empty but was an endless vacuum of despair slowly sucking the entire universe into a crushing black hole. I was not happy. We commiserated. We debated the intelligence of this event. Actually, there was no debate's stupid. But we both persevered. Left, right, left, right... turning the pedals over. And then the finish line came into view. It was still a long ways off, but we knew it existed. That was an overwhelming relief because I was starting to think I had been damned to climb this mountain continually for all of eternity.

So we finished. Persistence grade: A+

A couple pictures thanks to Jon Eropkin's wife Jamie...
How many times do you have to pedal a 39x25 to climb 20 miles?

Good suffering loves good company!

Somebody saw fit to record times each day and add them together, which I think is usually refered to as the results.

Some more reflections...

* 12 hours of Garmin data tell the real story of my race...

Day 1: Missed my start by 5-6 minutes and rode easy with the Masters for 30 minutes or so, thinking I'd never see my field. Once we began climbing however, I saw remnants of the group in front and realized there might be a chance to catch some people so I started going harder. I was able to get my heart rate up nicely and climbed reasonably well on the first three climbs, catching people along the way. As it turned out, I might have over cooked it because I had a lot less power for the final climb. Avg. heart rate was 144 bpm and max was 166. Ride time was ~5:56.

Day 2: Started out better because I made the start on time. Lindsay took off solo on the first climb and we soon had a small chase group behind, all taking turns setting tempo. My heart rate would not get as high and my power was definitely below day 1. We stayed together all the way up and down both the first two climbs, but at the beginning of the third, my engine was not working on all cylinders and I could barely get my heart rate into the 140's. Avg. heart rate was 135 and max was 157. Ride time was ~5:51. On the final climb, I lost 20-30 minutes to the group I started it with!

* Thinking back on it, the training sessions leading up to the EC were really enjoyable, and it's doubly satisfying that we all finished. And my spies tell me that most of the others--Steve Weixel, Mark Be-Lukie, Jason co-Hammer, the Prof, and GaryAnn--are all doing fine today.

* Congrats to Gary for winning the 3's. He might have more upgrade points than anyone in USCF history. Glad he'll be a 2 next year, although the flirting and bickering between him and Bam-Bam Hammer during races will be a tad embarrassing.

* I left Bishop and Big Pine with two strange situations unresolved. First, after the finish, poor Jesse Moore descended the long final climb back to the start only to find his car missing. He speculated that the guy he came with didn't finish the race, hopped in the car, and went out looking for Jesse. They missed each other and had no way to get in contact. C-Walk and I took nearly an hour to clean up and get out of there, and the whole time Jesse was laying in the dirt in the desert in his cycling clothes. We gave him water and wished him luck. But C-Walk had his own crisis to deal with as his car was dead in back of a Bishop gas station. Nobody could work on it until Monday, and even then they might have to wait a few more days for parts. Being the frugal type, CW decided to sleep in the back of his car in back of the gas station. The weather report said it would dip into the 20's at night.


Anonymous said...

I think that Guido worked me over too!

Sage analysis, as always, Marco. A guy goes through all sorts of personal hell in a race like that. I thought that my hydration mistakes from last year would be avoided this year and for the first day, I did. But Sunday, I pulled a CWalk and died a long, painful death up that final climb.

But it makes me even more stoked to go back next year. I hope you will too. Epic.

Jason said...

That was damn funny. Gives me the warm fuzzies to hear you are a mere mortal as well. Guido was busy this weekend.

My plan for next year is to not train at all. I trained like a maniac this year and got dropped on the first climb, first day, not even a quarter of the way in to the climb. At some point it just becomes funny. Ha ha.

Great to see you and all hte other SB people there

Steve Weixel said...

Re: "I did some math: at my speed, the climb would take me at least two hours!"

You get no sympathy from me. My math said 3 hours.

TnA said...

Geez Marco,
Your first pic up there is awesome. That, and your description, *almost* makes we want to fail the TRUE first part of the EC intelligence test (i.e. actually signing up in the first place) :-)

It truly does sound like an "epic" event. I'm glad the weather didn't make things worse than what it least you didn't get wet.

BTW, be careful with thinking that just because you couldn't get your HR up on the second day that you weren't able to put out the same power. That's one of the problems with using HR as a gauge of effort. In multiple days of hard efforts, you end up with HR being suppressed for a given effort level. You can still put out the same power, it's just that your HR doesn't match as when you're fresh. If you try to get your HR up to where you think it should be, you end up going too hard and blowing up. For an event such as that with 2 hard days at altitude, I'm thinking that THE best gauge of your effort is going to be plain ol' PE. That is, until someone comes out with a power meter that adjusts your "threshold power" based on altitude. Just my 2 pesos.

Marco Fanelli said...

Now it's 48 hrs later, and my legs still ache!

TnA- I knew when I mentioned heart-rate and power in the same context, that I'd likely get a response from you... You're too predictable! Trust me when I say my power was down on the second day and on those final climbs. Despite not having a device to measure it, there is no doubt. Maybe not by the same percentage as the heart-rate reduction, but down nonetheless. I mean come on, does any normal person ride 100 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing and not have lower power the next day?!?

TnA said...'re NOT normal!!

Besides, I just said "be careful" when making that assumption. I didn't say it didn't happen to you. Just because you couldn't get your HR up isn't "proof", though.

Will you just go and buy a power meter already???

Actually, you can borrow my Polar unit this winter if you'd like to "play" with one for a bit...

Marco Fanelli said...


I should have put some of those little smiley faces in my response so you'd know I was just razzing you! Anyway, yeah, I know that heart-rate and power are not perfectly correlated. I've seen that enough times in climbing fresh versus tired, even though climbing rates might be comparable.

I'd love to get a power meter, and am trying to work through my pathological cheapness. I can't see paying full price, yet I'm too impatient to deal with any issues that might arise buying a used one. Such a quandry...

Anyway, for now I'll just have to use climbing rates as a surrogate for power. And speaking of climbing rates, I did the calculations to find the rates (dh/dt) for the 7 major climbs in the EC. The data suggests that initially my day-2 power wasn't as down as I thought, so perhaps I owe you an apology. Naaaa.

Climb 1, Day 1: 55.6 ft/min
Climb 2, Day 1: 52.1 ft/min
Climb 3, Day 1: 58.0 ft/min
Climb 4, Day 1: 50.5 ft/min

Climb 1, Day 2: 62.8 ft/min
Climb 2, Day 2: 57.7 ft/min
Climb 3, Day 2: 41.7 ft/min

I also just discovered that I can download the Garmin data into a file but it is xml format so I'll need to write a little decoding tool to access and manipulate it.

TnA said...

I was going to suggest you look at that...great, you've just discovered what the infamous Dr. Ferrari has defined as VAM (Velocita Ascensionale Media, or "average climbing speed") and is typically given in vertical m/hr. VAM is a great proxy for W/kg, and assuming that your weight was relatively steady, it is then basically just a measure of power.

However, VAM can be influenced by road grade. Obviously, on a steeper climb, for a given power output more, of the power is going into just lifting your mass with proportionally less going into overcoming air resistance and rolling resistance. Therefore, higher VAM is possible on steeper climbs. In fact, here's what Ferrari himself says about it:

So...using your Garmin data, take a look at the average grades for those climbs. If they're not appreciably different, then just looking at the straight climbing rates is pretty useful.

BTW, unless the first climb on Day 2 was a lot steeper than the other climbs, it appears you may have gone out a bit too hard on Day 2 (despite your HR not going as high) and paid for it later. That's exactly what I was talking about above. Then again, you were probably just trying to stay with the lead group, right? Maybe missing the start on Day 1 was a bit of a help in that you ended up doing the first climb at your own pace and therefore had more in the tank for the later climbs?

No apology necessary...just don't rip my legs off *too* hard the next time I make it out for a ride ;-)

Anonymous said...

Techno Geeks/nerds:)