Finally, real climbing training. After a week off the bike, seemingly to recover from jet lag or over excitement from an awesome vacation, I finally climbed hanging rock on Friday, something I've been trying to get to since February.
Knowing how I think, I started at the top so the only way to get home was to climb up. The first time down was a little nerve wracking and I did so with a little trepidation. When I drove the car to the top, the road seemed a lot steeper and longer than Cat 3's I rode last year (3.5K @ an average of 4.4% and 5.3K @ 3.8%). As I descended my adrenaline was surging a little and my legs felt a little wobbly and weak as I thought about the climb back up.
When I arrived at the bottom I had to call Janine to put her mind at ease and let her know I safely descended. Unfortunately, cell coverage around hanging rock is horrendous and I could not get a signal. To try and find one, I went up a little hill, called and headed back to the start of the climb. On my way down this little hill, I realized just how steep the road was and was amazed at how unconcerned I was coming up. I guess I was worrying about the real climb so much I wasn't paying attention.
First climb: The first time up, I did one thing right. I made sure I did not start out too hot. However, I think I paid too much attention to my Garmin. I kept looking at my HR, % grade and cadence. It almost got myself into some mental trouble. There are were sections of 15-16% half way up where I considered quitting. I pushed through these bits and when the climb levelled out to a mere 7% it was almost like I was descenting. Pure luxury when it came. The last section to the top got steep again but the peak was in sight and nothing was going to stop my first successful ascent. It was a tough climb and I felt so spent and was breathing so hard I almost stopped after a single climb. The whole thing took 18.5 minutes to travel 3K
After a few minutes recovery at the top I couldn't let myself to only one climb. I had driven an hour to get to this thing and one ascent would have felt a tad pathetic. Besides, my recovery was quite quick and I figured I had at least one more in me. Even if it was slower. I knew the climb a little better and I should really take advantage of that while it was still fresh in my mind.
The descent was faster this time (about 6 minutes) and I was more confident (though the road still appeared awfully steep).
Climb two: On the second repeat the early slope seemed a little easier. Maybe it was familiar. Maybe it was an illusion. But it was enough to make me feel good about my decision to do it a second time. That feeling did not last long. When I got to the first steep section, it was tough but not unbearable. I was still flying high off my mental euphoria. I started to think could make it up faster. I thought I made it through the toughst section relatively unscathed. I was wrong. The hardest was still ahead of me.
As the climb leveled off to a leisurely 7% I picked up the pace and settled into a steady breathing and pedaling rhythm. Almost enjoying the climb. As the hill hit me, I again thought about quitting. Seriously. Very nearly got off the bike. I was down to 1 pedal stoke, one wobble to the left, one pedal stroke, one wobble to the right. One wobble to the left, one to the right. But I kept going. My breathing was fast, steady and hard, bordering on laboured. The problem though seemed to be in the legs. I was expecting to have lactic acid burn but that was not what I experienced. I just did not seem to have the strength to push the legs over the top of each stoke. The legs felt wobbly and weak, not burning. Once I traverse that little piece of personal hell, the rest of the climb was none eventful. Even the final section at the top was not as bad as that moment 500m earlier.
In the end I made it up twice. The second in 20.5 minutes. I figure I'll use that as a gauge. In the future I will repeat the climb until I take more than 20 minutes to get up. There was no way I would have been able to make another ascent. When I got to the summit the second time I was completely spent. My legs were weak. My breathing was ragged. My arms were cooked. I even felt a little light headed for a few minutes after I got to the top.
A good day. Compared to my previous cat 3's I went about 1/3 faster. Today somewhere between 9 and 10 kph while last year I was between 5 and 7 kph. It's true what Lemond said. It doesn't get easier. It just gets faster.