Activity: road cycling
Location: Newport, VA
Distance: 102.7 (rolling with two long, steep climbs)
Duration: 6:21 (6:43 with stoppage time)
Weather: warm and humid, foggy/misty in the morning, 70-86 degrees
Avg HR: 149 (max 187)
It’s been a while since I’ve written up a ride, so I figure writing this epic ride up is a fine place to catch up on things.
This season of cycling started slowly, due in no small part to the fact that DC had a lot of snow, both in December and February, with a colder-than-usual January. So the weather was great for skiing, and I managed to enjoy some of the plentiful snow up at Blue Knob, Pennsylvania, between some of the February storms.
This meant less time on the bike – at least less time that I’d use to build up to a ride like Mountains of Misery. I’ve trained a lot of hilly miles, working intervals, honing my cadence and spin, and shedding some winter weight to prepare for the climbs outside of Blacksburg, VA.
It was a lot of pain, but did it pay off? Would I beat my time from 2009?
First off, the day dawned humid and foggy. The temperature was rather mild (a t-shirt and shorts were fine just before dawn), and when Jonathan and I arrived at the Newport Rec Center, the foggy mist had just lifted from the town.
Our group of friends started in the fourth wave of riders: the ride organizers start waves of 40-50 riders every two minutes. They do this to keep the roads from getting too crowded, as this is not a closed course and they wish to keep riders safe and locals happy.
As we ride away, I’m feeling awake and ready. But my drivetrain isn’t. In fact, shifting is off: sluggish, imprecise, and markedly different from how things were the day prior. I assess things as we roll to find that my rear derailleur cable’s housing is on the verge of snapping at the frame boss: it’s bent almost perpendicular to the boss, the cable straining past the angle.
I soon learn to compensate for the shifting – adjusting the cable tension, learning to over-shift here and under-shift there – but harbor a sneaking suspicion that my rear derailleur cable could snap at any point along the course. I soldiered on, regardless, and our group made great time over the first 61 miles to the top of Johns Creek Mountain, the first major climb on the ride (and our first rest stop). I’d fallen behind the group on the climb, though not by more than 30-40 seconds from the next-slowest person.
As I pull into the stop, I get a tiny cramp adjacent to my left hamstring, but quickly stretch it out, refill my bottles, eat some food and take some electrolyte supplements. The rest of the group does the same, and we descend quickly back to the New River Valley.
Once in the valley, Joyce and Geoff ramp up the pace. This proves too much for my legs, and after two attempts to shepherd me back into the group, I wave them off. So I ride mostly solo for the remainder of the ride. Sure, I see friends along the way: Tim and Mariette, who are both having personal bests on the ride. But I knew that I had to ride my own ride, so to speak. Tim rode ahead, while Mariette wasn’t far behind me.
I had a lot of time to think along this stretch, which was good: in allowing myself to think about things other than keeping up with the paceline, I was able to allow myself to relax and save energy for the big climb of the day: the steep incline to Mountain Lake.
Two quick stops – one at mile 84 to top off on fluids, pop at Tums (for the calcium) and eat some fruit, the other at mile 94 to top off the bidons with ice – translated into increasing energy, and by the time I hit the bottom of the last, 4-mile-long climb, I felt great! I spun the pedals with a decent cadence and quite a bit of efficiency, passing many riders who had lower gearing than me (my granny gear was a 36/26, while many others were using a 34/27 or 34/28) and keeping up my pace even as the grade steepened.
By the rest stop 1.5 miles from the finish, my cadence fell a bit (the road pitches up to 16% at this point) but I was still in good shape. Just prior to this stop, the fastest double-metric rider, Scotty Weiss, passed me with a lot of speed and shouted words of encouragement (he was the only person who passed me on the entire climb). I asked the staff at the rest stop to dump two cups of ice water down my back, which brought instant cooling and a burst of energy (as did the playful pat on my butt from the very cute Virginia Tech student who applied the water).
I powered to the finish, finishing 25 minutes slower than last year, yet shaving 9 minutes off my time for the final climb – not bad, all things being equal. My derailleur cable held up (as I later learned, on two intact strands out of 16), I didn’t cramp (most of my paceline mates did on the final climb), and I still had something left in the tank. After a wonderful 30-minute massage and a recovery drink, I watched and cheered as friends crossed the line.
And after Chris finished his long, weary ride (he’d driven down from Princeton, NJ, the night before and was very tired), I hopped the van back down to Newport to claim my bike, hop in the car with Jonathan, and return to DC.
Next year, Misery – I’m aiming for a personal record.