Monday, October 6, 2008

Measured Improvement

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

This past weekend was the start of this year's Low-Key Hillclimb Series, which I participated in last year. I will not be able to attend as many events this time because of schedule conflicts, but I really wanted to attend the opener. Most of the routes are changed each year, but the opener is always Montebello Road, an old favorite of mine.

Because I rode the same event last year and had my time recorded, I would see how much an intense year of training has improved my conditioning. Since last time, I have lost about 10 pounds, and have a Death Ride and California Triple Crown under my belt. I was curious to see how big a time improvement this would translate into. The other nice thing about the Montebello ride is that it is close to my home, unlike most of the other routes this year.

I rode to the staging area about 30 minutes before the start time. After registering, I chatted with some of the friends I made during last year's series. I talked a while with my friend Adam, whose report on the Death Ride last year was one of my primary sources of research for my attempt at it this year. (Adam wrote his own report about this ride on his journal.) Since I was wearing my Death Ride jersey, a few other people talked to me about this year's Death Ride.

As usual, I decided to start near the back of the pack. Even though I expected to be faster than last year, I am still not nearly as strong as most of the guys (and many of the women) who do this. One psychological benefit of this is that no one passed me, yet I passed several people. I kept pace with Adam and several of the other guys of the "slower group" in the steep initial section of the road. But after half a mile I increased my effort slightly and slowly pulled away from them.

By the time we reached the flat section in the middle, the groups had mostly spread out. I was close to a couple other guys in front of me. I had slowly caught up to them on the steep part, but they pulled away on the flat part. I knew that I would again gain ground once we reached the final steep part.

It had rained overnight, but it was bright and sunny in the morning when we started. The road was still wet in places, but was not difficult to ride on. However, as we neared the top, we were hit with fog and light rain. Fortunately it was not heavy enough to make the road slick.

Photo by Josh Hadley.
Panting and struggling to reach the finish line.

With less than one quarter mile left to the finish, I passed one of the guys in front of me on a particularly steep pitch. I was able to stay in front of him, but could not catch the next guy by the time we crossed the finish line. I looked at my bike computer and saw that my total time was 40:30, which was exactly the time that Adam had predicted for me before the start.

My time this year was four minutes faster than last. This may not sound like a large improvement, but on a steep road, it is difficult to make increases this large. It was actually a bigger improvement than what I expected, so I was very happy with it.

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