Saturday, September 29, 2007

Low-Key Hillclimb: Montebello Road

[official results] [route map] [series description]

After some internal debate, I decided to participate in the Low-Key Hillclimb Series. At least I felt I should try the first event, Montebello Road, and decide based on the results whether I would continue with the rest.

photo by John Gale

I rode from home to the staging area to register. This was a good time/distance (30 minutes / 7 miles) to warm up. I was there by 9:30 so I had plenty of time before the official start at 10:10. There were quite a few others waiting around too. Some had driven to the start, so they pedaled around on the road to warm up. I chatted with several of the guys who were waiting.

Last year less than 40 people participated in the event. This year there were just under 100. Of course, most were experienced, strong cyclists and even amateur racers. Clearly my goals were to basically enjoy the challenge, and hopefully not finish so slowly that people would have to wait for me.

We started as one big group riding slowly from the staging area to the start which was about one quarter mile away. I made sure to ride at the back of the group because I knew most people would be finishing ahead of me. Some people started out very strong, but I decided to keep a slow initial pace. The first two miles of the five mile route are the steepest, and I needed be sure my adrenaline did not mask sensibility.

Pacing myself was very easy with the group. Pretty quickly, the faster and slower riders dispersed and I could tell who all would be keeping the same pace as me. I basically kept the same speed as those around me. Not many people passed me because I had already started at the back. I passed a few people in the first mile and a half.

The middle one mile is a relatively flat section. I usually ride this part slowly to recover my strength. But today I actually kept pedaling hard. I wanted to at least try to attempt a record time for myself.

Towards the end of the flat section, I caught up to and kept the same pace as another cyclist. We kept the same speed and chatted for about a mile. In the final mile, I increased my pace and was riding by myself. I had kept a much faster pace than I usually do and I was feeling it now.

I was almost panting by now, whereas I usually keep a pace where do not have to breathe too heavily. Knowing that the finish was coming soon, I kept the fast (for me) pace. I even increased it for a final burst. You can see me panting heavily in the second picture.

photo by John Gale

There was a big group of riders at the finish. I had seen a few descending while I was ascending, but the majority were still there at the time I finished. I stood around for a short while to catch my breath. They had some refreshments there, so I ate a banana and several small cookies.

I felt pretty good except my left hamstring started to tighten. Although I had stretched before I started, my legs probably were not used to the sustained peak output that I had just done. It start hurting more, but then it got better quickly. By the time I finished snacking, it seemed like all the cyclist had arrived at the finish. People were slowly leaving, so I also left.

My original plan was to do more riding after the event, including some more steep climbs. But that did not seem practical with my hamstring problem. It was not too bad at this point, but I could tell it was not normal and I did not want to risk injury. Not wanting to go straight back home, I decided to ride some more but not anything steep. I continued on Stevens Canyon Road until it dead-ended in the park, then turned around and went home.

I did not do any biking the next day in order to allow my hamstring to fully heal, not that I was having any serious problems with it. By Monday, it was 100% normal.

Overall, I felt the event was a great success for me. When the results were posted the next day, I found that my time was 44:18, which is about 4 minutes faster than my best time. This is an amazing improvement. Plus I had a great time and did not feel I was in anyone's way by being too slow. I think I will do the whole series for this season.