It was 2007 and my aunt just passed away from cancer and I thought I would do something to honor her from me. I hadn’t raced a bike in years; maybe 1995 was the last time. I wanted to undertake something daunting, a real challenge that would push my limits. I heard that “they” race up Mt Washington. After some research it became apparent that this was going to be a major undertaking to be competitive. I planned a 10 week focused cycle of training that was very basic; climb about 10,000 vertical feet per week, rest for 1 week then race. I headed to New Hampshire to be greeted by inclement weather. No, scratch that, horrendous weather; the summit was 30F with 85 mph winds and rime ice – race cancelled. Fast forward one year.
I prepared in a similar fashion though I had started racing again on regular basis on the lead up. I did a couple of CAT2 races in 2007 and quickly moved up to CAT1; all on the mountain bike of course.
We head back up to New Hampshire but this time the forecast was perfect. Weather at the base was mostly sunny and 65, summit was in the clouds (shocker) and 48 degrees with 10 -25 mph wind.
I really focused on the warmup (for a change). Still a noob at racing (as far as I was concerned) I consulted with others on a warmup protocol. I’m sure they won’t remember but I received the best advice from Art and Ellen White (and will always be grateful). I did a little tempo work then some moderate hill work at the base. I finished up with a sprint uphill to get my HR up to 175 for a few seconds. I did this three times. The race went off like clockwork. I finished my warmup, rode up to line with 5 minutes to go and bam (I mean bam – they fire this canon with shogun shells – loud as hell).
After some probing the other racers I found about 75% of my group had done the ride before, so everyone went out pretty conservative. Two or three guys shot off the front right away.
Start – You roll into the climb pretty easy but it pitches upward in no time. A couple of pitches hit the 12% mark but all real short. Kept a nice cadence, felt great, HR around 170 at first 2 or 3 minutes.
1st mile – Hooked up with another guy in my group who was moving strong. We both moved through the field, until we settled in about 25 yds behind the leader. Chatted for a couple minutes, gave each other some encouragement and kept it going through 2 mile. Now the road starts to really go up consistently. HR under 170 still, just keeping a good pace.
2nd mile – Now the riding starts to get serious. The pretenders have already blown up after covering decent elevation. Consistently at 9-10% some pitches get really steep. I lose my riding partner around mile 2.5 and bridge up to the leader. I felt really good and thought I should start to ramp it up now. Mile 2 to 3 was about 10 minutes and I knew to make my mark I would have get on it some more.
3rd mile – Mile 3 to 4 is stunning. The scenery is gorgeous, the smell of the pines intoxicating. The road is fairly straight up to 4 mile with great visibility. I knew it would really go after 4 mile so I was still keeping it conservative. HR is finally up now around 180. I know the red zone for me is over 185, so I felt comfortable keeping around 180.
4th mile – Mile 4 to 5 is where you earn your wings. You make a left hand switch back with mind blowing views, the tall tree line ends and you have entered the alpine zone. Oh yeah did I mention the road turns to a hard packed clay at this point. Still keeping pace, get out of the saddle once in a while to stretch, legs feeling good. HR 180 +2/-5 through this zone.
5th mile – Having never done this ride…. So I says to the guy, “is it dirt all the way up?” He says to me, “naw it gets back to tah soon nuf” “ what??? Oh those New Englanders. It wasn’t soon enough. It must have been right around mile 6 where it went back to pavement. Then came the head wind. If you look to the left you can see the top. I think normally I would be like, “holy crap – look at that climb” It didn’t even register. I just looked back at my HR monitor and kept it going.
6th mile – Now I’m starting to wonder if I should have gone harder, I feel too good. The road flattens out (that’s all relative mind you – by flat I recall a grade of only 6% here) and I see the impending entry into the clouds. Just before the 7 mile I get passed – first time during the entire climb. Since there is a little head wind I try to jump on his wheel. Holy crap, this guy’s pace is insane. I hold on for about 30 seconds but it’s too much and I don’t want to blow. I peel off and settle back into my own rhythm. (I later find out this was Phil Gaimon, an amateur soon to be pro who later went on to ride for Kenda, Garmin and Kelly Benefit)
7th mile – Now its windy, wet and much cooler. I am beginning to see more and more people lining the roads. I can hear the cheers of the crowd; I know the summit is close. Left turn, right turn I look up and holy shit it’s a friggin’ wall (they say 20%). Fortunately I felt great still, I just jumped out of the saddle and punched it the last 100 yds. I can hear the announcer calling my name, almost shocked that some guy from New Jersey is up already.
Finish – It’s lightly raining, windy with clouds and mist blowing all around as I land on the finishing carpet. A team of people grab me, cut the timing chip off my bike, throw a blanket over me, put a medal around my neck and hand me a bottle of water. It was surreal – I was in the clouds with 25 ft visibility, I just rode up this monster and I thought I may have won my class. I didn’t know what to do. I waited two years to do this and I finally made it. I even had respectable results. I thought about my Aunt and said a prayer for her, cried a few tears and then saw my wife and son. I had ascended in many ways and I was fulfilled.
1st Place 40-44, 13th overall
I’m at 3:42 of the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7XEc7fhbmg#t=229