Sunday, May 17, 2009

Busting The Bald

This past Saturday will go down as one of the toughest (if not THE toughest) days on a bike I have ever experienced. The Brasstown Bald Buster Century is one of the hardest century bike rides in the US encompassing 14,000 feet of climbing over 100 miles.

The day began at 4:30am with a nice drive up to Helen, GA where the ride was to begin. I had expected it to take me 2 hours to get there but it only took 1 1/2 so I was early. Checked in, got my number on my bike and was ready to go. Greg met me over by the parking lot and we made our final preparations and double checked to make sure we weren't forgetting anything. It was a bit chilly at the start and overcast, so I elected to begin the ride in arm warmers which were very handy the first 2o miles or so.

There were about 200-250 riders total for both rides, last year there were only 47 official finishers so you can see the attrition rate over the course of the day. At 7:30am we were off and on our way to the highest point in Georgia, Brasstown Bald. Greg and I managed to get into a really good group at the beginning and we were ticking off the miles at 21-22 mph which seemed a bit fast, but the HR was staying down and honestly I was sitting in the pack freewheeling most of the time. During the first segment there were a few rollers and one short steep hill, but nothing that I wasn't able to spin up in my 27 gear. We hit the first SAG stop (21 miles) right at an hour and debated stopping at all. I scarfed down a quarter of a PBJ and topped off the water bottle while Greg fixed a brake rub on his rear wheel. We soon were able to pace back into our group and were again rolling at 20 mph+. There were a few more rollers and a couple of really steep hills (15%) but again nothing that was too hard, although it did split the group up and we had to wait to reconstitute at SAG #2. Everyone stopped here and we refilled with Gatorade and water, scarfed down a couple of PBJ's and cookies and were off again. Section 3 was IMO the flattest so far and we were able to make some really good time. Again we rolled along at 20 mph+ sitting in and conserving energy for the climbs ahead. SAG #3 came and went with more refills and more PBJ sandwiches. The volunteers at this event were outstanding, the SAG stops had plenty of food and Gatorade available and the volunteers were cheerful and encouraging. While we were stopped at SAG #3 we discussed the fact that this was the last stop before the base of Hogpen Gap for the full century riders and the last stop for the mean the 80 mile option riders. We took off and had some of the most gorgeous scenery of the entire ride between this stop and Helen. We rode through Unicoi State Park and there were several times I wished I had had my camera. I thought about taking my Iphone out to snap some pictures but rolling along in a paceline as fast as we were going it didn't seem like the brightest idea. There was one bridge that was over a lake and off in the distance you could see Brasstown and the surrounding mountains shrouded in mist. It was one of the most gorgeous sights that I have ever seen. The world looks alot different from the seat of a bicycle, as opposed to a car whizzing by at 60 mph. There are subtleties that you just miss in a vehicle. We made the turn out of Unicoi and then it was time for the mean the fine men and women of the 80 mile ride to break off and go back to Helen. After some good natured ribbing they said good bye and set off back to town while we sped on toward Hogpen. I had been sitting in all day so I took my turn up front and pulled to SAG #4. By this time we had covered 75 miles in just over 4 hours (including stops) and were well ahead of our projected time. At the beginning of the day we agreed that it would most likely be a 6:30-7 hour day out there. Being the naive soul that I am (and having never ridden Hogpen) I thought we would beat that time "goal" easily...boy was I wrong.

Part 2

I really feel like this was 2 seperate rides and therefore should be accounted for as such. Part 1 was the first 75 miles which were really like any other century you ride in North Georgia. There were hills but nothing too bad, and in some ways the first part I thought was rather easy. Part 2 is the last 25 miles and begins at the foot of Hogpen Gap and goes to the top of Brasstown Bald. Part 2 seperates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the strong from the get the idea. Like I said before I have never ridden Hogpen Gap before but I have heard it described as "the most awful thing you can do on a bike" which really didn't give me much encouragement. Now I have ridden the bottom three Gaps (Neels, Wolfpen, and Woody) many many times (on a 23 tooth cassette) with no problems so how hard could Hogpen really be right? I was about to find out the hard way.

Hogpen is an interesting climb in that it has a little bit of everything (except flat!). The climb starts off innocently enough and for the first half mile or so it really isn't that bad (around 8% or so), then almost all at once it kicks up to 12-15% and stays there for a good long time. When I hit this first steep section I was able to gear down to the 27 and remain seated spinning my way up the mountain. Eventually though the fatigue of the previous 80 miles started to catch up with me and I was all over my bike just trying to move forward. I alternated between standing in the 25 and sitting in the 27. On the super steep parts I had to stand in my 27 and was really concerned about maintaining forward momentum. I think at one point I was going 2 mph and struggling to do that. Luckily there was a SAG stop about halfway up (which we later found out was incorrectly placed) and I pulled in to let my Heart Rate recover a bit (at one point it was 176 bpm which is 2 bpm above my RUN Lactate Threshold and 12 beats above my bike LT.) I gulped down some Gatorade and set off again suffering through my own personal hell going up the mountain. There were times that I honestly wasn't sure that I was going to make it to the top. Eventually though I saw the beautiful sight of the Hogpen summit just ahead. Ordinarily I would really be looking forward to the downhill however 1)it had started to rain so the road was slick and 2) twisty, turny downhills like this one scare the hell out of me to begin with. To say the descent was steep would be an understatement, I hit 40 mph going down before I started feathering the brakes and even then I was still doing 25 mph. I managed to catch up to one lady ahead of me so I wasn't completely alone for the next few miles until the base of Brasstown. There we some leg sapping rollers between the turn off of Hogpen and the beginning of Jacks Gap which I was really starting to feel. By the time I started climbing up Jacks my legs were officially toast. I have climbed Jacks before and so when I had to do the entire thing in my small ring and 27 I knew that Brasstown was going to hurt (not that it wouldn't have hurt anyway), again the Heart Rate was through the roof and we were approaching 97 miles for the day. I arrived at the base of Brasstown and literally unclipped and fell over my handlebars. My legs were toast, Heart Rate through the roof, and I STILL had 3 miles straight up hill to finish. I felt dizzy and flush and had to sit (and eventually lay down) in the bed of one of the voluteers truck. I knew I was going to plug it out to the finish but I had to let my body recover and compose myself a bit or I wasn't going to make it to the top. I decided to wait for Greg so we could suffer to the top together. He rolled in about 25 minutes later looking about like I felt, after taking a few minutes to compose himself we were off. We rode about a half mile up before it pitched over 10 % so we got off and walked, and that is how we made it to the top. Ride the flattish parts (under 10%) and walk the steep parts. It took what seemed like forever but we eventually saw the 200 meters to go sign and then the finish right around the corner.

After the ride we were able to change into dry clothes and take the shuttle van back to Helen for our dinner at the Mexican restaurant where we started. As hungry as we both were it was hard to eat the food, it was that bad!

The stats for the ride according to my Garmin:

Total Time (including stops) 7:15
Total Elevation-13,000 (although I think when I was going less than 2 mph it didn't register)
Total Calories Burned-8210 cal

All in all it was a great ride and a great day. We only got rained on a little bit, the ride itself was very well organized and supported, and most of all I got my "mojo" back.

Train Safe!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Not A Good Day....Part Deaux

Like Austin Powers I apparently have lost my race "mojo". Gulf Coast turned into another disappointing day in a string of disappointing races. Looking back I haven't had a good multisport race since Chattanooga last year. The last 4 triathlon/duathlon races have been major disappointments in time, effort, and placing. The string started with the Steelhead 70.3 last August, and while I did nab a Clearwater slot (thank you M70-75 AG) it was a less than stellar effort. Clearwater itself was disappointing in that I fell apart on the run and was ~20 minutes off my 70.3 PR on a similar course. You can read the previous post to find out about Du Nats and read on here to see what happend this past weekend.

Race weekend started off well, I left Atlanta on Friday morning and made great time down to Ft. Rucker, Alabama where I met a good friend of mine that I hadn't seen in a couple of years for breakfast. After a quick pit stop I was off to Panama City Beach and met Courtney and Kraig at the condo (thanks for letting me stay with you). The legs felt good, the weather forecast was good, and I was feeling confident about racing strong on Saturday. The rest of Friday consisted of checking in, quick test ride on the bike, short run back from transition and a trip to Wal Mart. During the ride the wind picked up and I was a bit nervous about the 909 Disc/1080 Front wheel combination since I was being blown around quite a bit. After bike check in it was dinner, a short soak in the hot tub, and then bed time.

Saturday began at 4am with the prerace breakfast of a plain bagel with peanut butter, half a cup of coffee, and a shot of FRS energy drink in water. We strolled the quarter of a mile down to transition and waiting in line to get marked and then went over to set up our transition area. One of the things I love about Gulf Coast is that even though it is a large race you still have plenty of room to set up transition without being on top of your neighbor (unlike Steelhead where you have 6" to put out your towel and gear). After a LIBERAL application of Body Glide it was time to walk down to the beach for the start. For some reason the time pre-race seemed to go faster than in previous years and suddenly (or so it seemed) it was time to warm up and get ready to swim.

Swim-The water didn't look as rough as last year, but as we all found out looks can be deceiving. The water this year was every bit as rough as last year, sighting was tough and it was hard to get a breath without the accompanying mouth of water. I am not sure if the currents were strong or if the buoys moved making the swim long, but everyone was a good 3 minutes off of where the normal swim times are for this event. Even the Pro's were slow (of course we didn't find out about this until AFTER the event). My swim I thought was pretty good, I felt like I was knifing through the water and caught several swimmers from the wave in front of me. I have worked very hard in the pool this year and was really hoping to improve on my 33 minute swim at Clearwater, so imagine my disappointment when I saw 37 minutes on my watch coming out of the surf. I had already mentally prepared for a slower than anticipated swim (I can never tell if I am going fast in Open Water) even though I thought it was going to be a good time. I told myself that I had to hit my goal of 2:25 on the bike in order to go sub 5 for the race.

T1-In and out, no issues getting the wetsuit off.

Bike-The wind was out of the South-Southwest so it was a quartering tailwind on the out portion on the first out and back on Mystic. My HR was still jacked from the swim, but I didn't feel like I was working as hard as it said that I was so I was content just to let it settle in over the course of the ride. Once we hit the first turn around the wind was in our face, but it wasn't too bad. The next segment was a 6-8 mile leg parallel to the beach. Here the wind was almost a direct crosswind which buffeted me around a bit on the Disc/1080 combination. Once we made the right onto FL 79 it was GO time, the wind was a direct tailwind (which meant a headwind coming back in) so I put the hammer down to try to take as much advantage of it as I could. I was rolling about 27 mph through this section and feeling pretty good. The only concern was that my HR had not come down like I expected it too. My LT on the bike is 167bpm and I was rolling at 160bpm for most of the bike so that was a bit of a concern. The right turn off of 79 continued the tailwind so I kept on hammering. I hit the 28 mile mark in 1:08 so I thought I was going to destroy my bike PR, then came the turn around. Evidently the wind out of the west was stronger than I thought and I could not push my target wattage going back in. The wind going back in was a bit demoralizing and I could see my bike PR slipping away, by the time I made the left on Front Beach I saw my target time of 2:25 slipping away as well. I passed Courtney about 2 miles from transtion on the side of the road with a flat. I hit transition with a bike time of 2:33 which is 3 minutes slower than last year and 6 minutes off my bike PR here. By now my total time was 3:11 and so I knew that I would have to run a 1:40-1:45 half to go sub 5.

T2-I hopped off my bike and started to run over to my rack and my legs would just not fire. It was like I had lead around my ankles. My T2 time was 1:23 but it could have been much faster.

Run-By now I was at 3:14 total time and I knew that in the shape I was in that a 1:45 half wasn't happening. I jogged down about a half mile to see if I could bring the legs around, but they just weren't cooperating so I turned around and went back to transition to turn in my chip.

At the time I didn't feel bad about bailing on the race, I knew I could have gone out and suffered through a 2 hr Half and finished in 5:10-15 but since my goal was sub 5 and last year was 5:01 I didn't see the point. In hindsight I wished I had at least finished the race, I am not a quitter and I feel like I let myself and my friends down by bailing. I actually called my wife and told her I was retiring from triathlon (at least temporarily). In true Brett fashion (and by that I mean Brett Favre) I couldn't stay retired so I am still going to race this year.

As for what went wrong during the race, I really don't know and it bugs me that I can't figure it out. It wasn't a case of going to hard on the swim or bike, the swim was very easy and fluid and my Normalized Power on the bike was 189 watts (for those of you who don't train or know about power this is low when compared to my Threshold Power of 270 watts. I actually raced at about 70% of my FTP where I was shooting for 80%.) Having gone that "easy" on the bike I should have been able to run very well off the bike and in truth I didn't feel tired or dehydrated coming off the bike, I just couldn't get my legs to turn over. I am going to investigate all options to try and find out what is wrong, whether it be medical (getting blood work done) or training (comprehensive review of my training thus far this year to make sure I am not overtrained).

West Point is up next...let's hope this one goes better than the last few have.

Thanks for reading. Train Safe!