Sunday, May 25, 2014

So You Think You Can Climb

Even though I've lived in DC for over 10 years (!), I still consider myself a west coaster at heart. I prefer In & Out to Five Guys, natural beaches to boardwalks, and will never get used to watching the Superbowl at night. This also means I'm a mountain snob. For example:
These are mountains.

These are not.

Do I appreciate the beauty of Shenandoah National Park? Of course. But there are trees at the top, and I don't have to backpack to get there.

So when I heard about the "Mountains of Misery" century ride in southwestern Virginia,  I figured it would be a fun training day. How miserable could some hills be? Also, when the ride's registration opened in February, Memorial Day weekend seemed far enough on the horizon that I was extra confident in my ability to defy gravity.

As training progressed, I actually did start to get better at hills. How?
  • Step 1: Move into a house at the top of a hill. Decide you want to go home occasionally.
  • Step 2: Tell yourself that you're good at hills. Suddenly, training rides are an opportunity to attack some climbs (woo!) rather than grumpily mash some gears. 
  • Step 3: Reconsider gearing. For Ironman Tahoe, I upgraded to a 10-32 cassette with special derailleur. This means I have some extra easy gears when the climbing gets steep. 
  • Step 4: Learn how to descend, preferably without melting a wheel (yes, that happened). Some cyclists, such as Elliott and Cat, can naturally whiz down a mountain without a care in the world. I, on the other hand, am afraid of plummeting to my death. The biggest ah-ha moments in my descend-ucation:
    • Count out loud. To scrub speed, pull on the brakes for a count of four, then release for four. Counting not only distracts you from the whole careening off a cliff thing, but also no other cyclist will want to be near Count Brakeula and will give you a wide berth.
    • The harder you push, the more stable you'll feel. On a turn, push down HARD with the outside leg; when descending straight down, keep your feet at 9:00 and 3:00 on the pedals and push your knees into the top bar. Voila, stability!
    • Hands and feet work together. As you push down with your outside leg, also push down on the handlebar with your outside hand. This will get you around the corner safely and cleanly. Think of the hokie pokie if that helps.
    • Look where you want to go...with all three eyes. #3 is your bellybutton. I challenge you to think about your bellybutton on a descent and not crack a smile. 

Thinking about my belly button.

So, how did it go? It was definitely not the Seagull Century, where you can stay in one gear the whole time. In fact, I think I used all of my gears today. But the one constant was the smile plastered on my face. Such a fun ride! Beautiful scenery, well marked course, (mostly) good roads, enthusiastic volunteers... oh, and a four mile uphill finish with 12-16% incline. To boot, I got to hang out with my awesome coach, Kerri, and some Bike Rack Racing teammates at the top.
Optical illusion: We are actually the same height; the hill is just that steep!

Am I reformed mountain snob? Let's just say I appreciate the fact that the east coast offers plenty of challenging cycling that does not require packing an oxygen tank. But the moment United starts offering a direct flight from DC to Tahoe, you'll know where to find me!
Where you can find me now.
As always, huge shout-outs to my support crew: Elliott, my family, DC Tri and Bike Rack teammates, and Rose PT for keeping me injury free!

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