Tag Archives: mitchell

Blood, Sweat & Gears Wrap Up

Me on top of Snake Mountain.

Towards the end of the Snake Mountain climb, I saw a guy with a camera. True to form, I did not pass up the opportunity to ham it up. Remember that this was a grade in the high teens. That sly smile was all I could muster and it was for the benefit of the camera only. After the flash, I was back to my grimace.

Later I found out that the photographer was Jeff Viscount of WeeklyRides fame. I had not met him before, but we have emailed and I know him from reputation. He has done a tremendous amount for cycling in the Carolinas.

There are plenty of other images on his website. If you rode, you might find out how you looked while climbing ‘The Wall.’

Lonnie took some photos of riders going under the Parkway bridge through Blowing Rock.

You can also find a number of images at Mtn Snapshots.

Thanks also to Gary for sending the elevation profile below. It’s hard to believe he is from Raleigh since he seems to know the High Country like the back of his hand.

Thanks to Gary for sending this elevation and climb profile.

A lot of people have asked me where BSG stands up compared to other rides. Even though I said in my recap that it wasn’t as challenging as I expected, it was still a difficult mountain ride, one of the toughest around. Snake Mountain itself is brutal. The one difference about BSG compared to other rides are the small climbs. There are a lot of climbs of a mile or two. Some of them are steep and all add up. The longest climb starts in the first few miles, which is a major challenge for my slow warming legs.

Is it as tough as Mitchell? No, Mitchell is still the toughest ride I have ever done. It better compares to Bridge to Bridge. A key difference is that B2B starts with relatively fast pack riding, with the big climbs not starting until mid-way through the mileage. I would say that Grandfather Mountain is tougher than Snake, and 181 is tougher than Schull’s Mill, but there are more total climbs on BSG. Not all rides are the same, so it is tough to compare them.

The ride was also a lot more fun than I expected. From the start near the Mast store, to the finish beyond Mast Gap, there were a lot of laughs and thrills. This is already a contender for my top ride of 2012. If it was an endless sufferfest, it might not have been quite so enjoyable.

Good times. I’ll definitely be back.


Mitchell Postscript

My wife took the video below of the Mitchell start. Now that is a lot of riders!

This has been a crazy and exciting week. After I returned from Mitchell, I received an overwhelming reaction. Many people congratulated by calling, emailing, or Facebooking. Many were impressed with my time. The website also blew up a little bit. I had the top two days of traffic ever on the website, approximately 2,500 views combined (including pictures). Thanks to everyone who contacted me.

I was pleased to congratulate a lot of friends and blog readers who also conquered the mountain, many of them for the first time. Some of them did amazingly well. Others barely managed to make their way up. A couple bailed out on the climbs due to cramps. Hopefully they learned what went wrong and will give it another try. All who participated should be proud. Most people would not even be able to conceive of such an event, much less get off the couch and give it a try.

Even though I am extremely pleased with my results, especially given how much I improved over last year, I cannot help but think that I left a little on the table. I could have done better. The (obsessed) competitor in me has thought about this over the last few days. I have a good idea what mistakes I made and what can be done to correct them.

Get in the right group: This was something I was very conscious of when beginning the race. I tried to get as close to the front as possible. I was probably about 4-5 rider rows back, which apparently was not enough. The front group hammered early and I could see them get further and further away. With many riders in the way, there was no way I could catch them. Next time I will get closer to the front and try to hang on.

Ride with my group: This was a major mistake. I felt pretty good on the way to Marion and had a tendency to outpace my group on hills. After the hills, I found myself on the front, continuing to work hard. When I was just riding in the pack, my heart rate would be low. Surprisingly, I found out on Strava that I was in Zone 4 for 61% of the entire ride. A lot of that was on the way to Marion. After I burnt a few matches during the rolling hills, I fell back from my back and couldn’t hang on. That probably only cost me a few minutes, if that, but it might have added up and tired me out on the climbs.

Drink, drink, and drink more: I had two bottles in my cages and one in my jersey. I didn’t touch the one in the jersey, then ditched in Marion when I needed it most. Next time I will make it a point to drink more. I may even bring along a couple supplements.

Watch the heart: Once I got into my groove on the Parkway, I was able to control my heart rate. I think this is part of the reason I was able to finish strong. When it went above 170, I would slow my pedaling and breath deep. There was one stretch where I made myself recover, watching the heart rate drop slowly to the 160-162 range. Once I caught my breath, I could go a little harder and make up time.

And that’s it. Now that Mitchell is over, I will slow down on the intense training and enjoy riding. There are still some big events on the summer calendar, and I will ramp up my training as I get closer, but I’m not concerned with time. Mitchell is the only ride that I’ll use as a personal benchmark.


The Mitchell Plan

Last year my plan was just to complete the Assault on Mount Mitchell. This time I plan to do it faster. I finished in 8:05 last year and my first ambition was to beat that time by a mere thirty minutes. That seemed reasonable. I have since set the bar higher and am now shooting for a time somewhere around seven hours. That’s a much higher challenge and will require a plan.

I have done all of the work and all of the training. Now the outcome depends on the choices I make before and during the ride.

First, I am going to eat well. Tomorrow we’re having a Mediterranean dinner because most of those carbs are high glycemic and should be ready to burn on Monday morning. The next day we’ll be having a pasta dinner somewhere in Spartanburg. To be on the safe side, I’m going to have some ice cream on Sunday evening. Yep, I’ll be living it up this weekend.

The next decision is where to line up on Monday morning. Last year I was hesitant to jump into too fast of a pack, so I hung back a ways. That meant I was in a slower group to Marion. This year I am going to scoot my bike up a lot closer to the front and try to hang with the big dogs for awhile. There will be some separation when the hills hit, especially Bill’s Mountain, but there will be groups forming the entire way. I’ll try to hang on to whomever I can and will shamelessly try not to pull.

In total, I stopped around 20 minutes last year. It sure felt like more, but that was it. I need to cut that down drastically this year. I am hoping to only need to stop once along the way to Marion. Hopefully I can manage the way up to Mitchell with just one or two stops as well. Fortunately I have learned how to pace myself on climbs and let my heart rate go down. Rather than stop, I’ll just slow down until my mojo returns.

The problem with not stopping is I won’t be able to eat the delicious rest stop food. I learned a good bit about that from last week. I will pack some mobile food to carry with me, most of which will be Clif Mini Bars and my Hammer Gel squeezer. I’ll also carry a third water bottle in my jersey. If I have to stop along the way to Marion, it should be only to refill bottles and nothing else.

This year I have the support of my lovely wife. She’ll be waiting for me at Marion with half a Subway sandwich and a Coke. That will probably be my longest stop. There I will scarf down the sandwich and guzzle the Coke before hitting the road again.

I will carry only one full bottle up to Mitchell. Why carry extra weight when there are rest stops every few miles? If I need to top it off, I’ll stop for a refill without lingering. I remember that most of the volunteers are helpful and will refill bottles for the riders.

So far the weather looks to be gorgeous, with a low in the 60s and high in the 80s and little chance of rain. Sounds like a perfect day to ride. Hopefully I’ll make it a good one.


The Taper

(Coach Peter Kay, last years’s Assault’s Director, posted a fantastic article last year about tapering. With his permission I am republishing it here. This was written 10 days before the Assault on Mount Mitchell last year, so it is appropriate to post it today, 10 days prior to this year’s Assault. Peter is a coach, a musician, and a fellow blogger. He is a good guy and has helped me a great deal.)

What does it mean to “taper?”

It’s crunch time and a lot of us are feeling the pressure of the deadline. The Assaults are 10 days away, and many are beginning to question their training.

The worst thing any cyclist can do right now is “cram.” There is simply NO way to make-up what you haven’t already accomplished this spring. The next 10 days should be “review,” and recovery – not trying to get in those last few hills and mountains or trying to lose those last few pounds.

From here on out… you work with what you have!

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Before any event that a cyclist takes seriously, there should be a period in which volume tapers off so that the body can rest, recover, and rebuild broken-down muscle tissue. Each person is different, so there is no one way to taper. That said, there are certainly a few generalizations that can be made:

1. Most cyclists do best with a 7-10 day Taper. Some people need less time, but almost no one needs more than 10 days (after that, one begins to lose a bit of fitness).

2. Taper refers to “tapering off” which does NOT mean stopping altogether. Similarly, the first few days of the taper should only be moderately easier than usual (or shorter) while the last few days of the taper may feel too easy or short.

3. Decrease volume more than intensity. Short rides with a few hard blasts will keep your body’s metabolism going, the blood flowing, and your muscles used to stress. You want to keep the engine revved up without burning much fuel. At the same time, try to avoid breaking down the muscle fibers too much. Don’t go out and do serious hill reps for an hour – but throwing in a few hills OR a few sprints during a casual spin will help keep the legs loose.

4. By the end, one should feel almost twitchy with excitement and energy – NOT sluggish, lethargic, or “soft.” These are signs that an athlete didn’t taper correctly. If you feel yourself getting tired a few days before the ride – get outside and pedal around a while. It won’t hurt you to change your taper along the way (so long as you don’t burn up your legs).

5. In the last two days, it is generally considered best to take Saturday completely off the bike, ride a short and easy ride on Sunday (45-75 minutes at a recovery pace with no real hard efforts). This is a perfect combination of rest and active recovery that primes the pumps for Monday’s hardest efforts.

If needed (schedule conflicts, etc), you can also swap these two days, riding easy on Saturday and resting on Sunday, although your legs will most likely take far longer to “wake up” on the day of the event.

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Many are headed to the mountains this Saturday, and that’s okay. So long as it’s a shorter ride – less volume – and slightly easier than usual (no need to take risks, bombing the descents… there’s no clock and there’s no prize!).

As I said earlier, a taper could be as many as 10 days, but for some it’s far fewer. The length of time isn’t based on age or experience – although, that does play some role in the process. Instead, it’s more about genetics and lifestyle. A 35 year old, Cat 2 racer with an active and stressful job may actually need longer than a retired man who simply cycles as a hobby. Trial and error is still the best way to find what works for you but within the framework of the guidelines above.

The key is to rest, eat well, and stay hydrated.

-Peter Kay


From Cashiers to Mitchell

My 2nd Assault on Mount Mitchell is less than two weeks away.

I’m glad that I had a couple struggles at Cashiers. To me, this was like the powerhouse team that loses a big game before the playoffs. It happens often in sports. The teams lose, then have to regroup, re-focus and come out on top. Kentucky’s basketball team is a great recent example.

Most of my Mitchell training is now finished. There will be a couple more rides, including one more century this weekend, but the hard stuff is behind me. Now I have to use what I learned about myself to formulate a plan for the big ride.

Cashiers reminded me not to overestimate myself or underestimate the ride. That’s exactly what I did this weekend. I have been training hard and making great progress that I forgot some of the little things.

  • The week prior to Cashiers, I didn’t ride at all. I was due for a recovery week, but could have benefited from an easy spin or two.
  • I didn’t drink a lot of water prior to Cashiers. Most of my hydration came in the form of two cups of coffee before the ride, which is not ideal.
  • The biggest mistake was in my eating the night before the ride. I made poor choices ordering from a German restaurant. I got a small side of potatoes when I should have ordered a pasta dish.
  • On top of that, I forgot to eat something just before the ride as I usually do.

No wonder I struggled out of the gates. My tank was empty!

So I have one more (relatively) flat century to use as a testing ground. That will be at this weekend’s Tour de Midlands. The plan this time is to fuel intelligently, stay on the bike without stopping (much) and ride as fast as I can.


The Aftermath of Lake Lure

Lake Lure was quite an experience and I learned a lot about where I’m at physically. Since I am in the final phase of training, I figure now is a good time to discuss the progress I’ve made.

The Hamstring: Some people asked about this and I guess I didn’t provide closure last week. The hamstring was a mess for about 4-5 days, very sore and inflexible. I was not able to extend my leg straight out without resistance and soreness. I was worried this was a pulled hamstring, which it may have been.

The massage worked wonders. It was sore the rest of that day, then the next morning – voila! – it was fine. It has remained fine ever since. I have been making sure to warm up before attempting any difficult riding (like climbing), and it hasn’t flared up ever since. Hopefully it was a very minor pull and will not resurface. I did not bother me at all on the Lake Lure ride.

Final Phase: Since I am back in the fold, I am pushing the volume back up. I have ridden about 150 miles since the injury and will be back up to 200+ miles each week. The next few weekends will be busy — all out of town. This weekend is Assault on the Carolinas. Depending on how things go, I might get crazy and climb Caesar’s Head twice. The following weekend will be a test run to Mount Mitchell. After that will be a cycling weekend from Table Rock State Park, with lots of climbing and Isaqueena’s Last Ride mixed in. After that I will slow down my weekday riding, test out some things on Tour de Cashiers, do the Tour de Midlands, then taper for the big event.

Climbing Challenge: Taking some time off the bike was necessary even without the hamstring injury. I had pushed for a few weeks and deserved some recovery. Unfortunately that set me back on the Strava Climbing Challenge. At first I wanted to waive the white flag and not worry about it. Now that I’m back and have some upcoming climbing events, I’m pushing towards it again. Barring any setbacks, I have a shot at success, but it will be close. I am still trying to get climbs in when I can.

Lake Lure: Marathon runners will know what I mean when I say this was like doing Yasso 800s. This is a series of shorter runs one can do to get an idea of what their marathon time will be. Tour de Lure has a lot of similarities with the Spartanburg to Marion ride, including sharing a number of the same roads. Lure has some additional early climbing and Spartanburg has an early fast and flat section. The Spartanburg ride also has about 5 more miles. In my opinion, you could probably take 15-20% off your Lure time and that’ll roughly be your time from Spartanburg to Marion.

Because of the hamstring issue, I was almost fully tapered for Tour de Lure and time was 4:15, which was not at full effort and included some short stops. This would put my Marion time at 3:45, much better than my 4:30 from last year. My goal was to beat last year’s time by half an hour, which I am certain to blow out of the water. Now there’s a good chance of under seven hours.

Lake Lure always helped with the eyeball test. I got to experience the rolling hills into Marion, which is probably the toughest part of the Mitchell course. They were tough and kept coming, but I felt okay. They didn’t seem as imposing as last year.

Another good sign is that, although tired, I could have kept going on Saturday. Mitchell is now 40 days away and I’m feeling more confident with each ride. Hopefully this continues.