Monday, February 24, 2014

Mountain Training

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.  - John Muir
Just a week ago we were facing record-setting amounts of snow and ice in the upstate, and trainer rides were the name of the game.  Getting out for a ride once the temperatures warmed up was a nice "change of pace", even if it was a windy and you still had to be on the lookout for remnants of ice.  

Hard to believe that this was less than 2 weeks ago

The wonderful thing about winter in the upstate is that snow melts quickly, and the ice and snow gives way to clear skies and dry roads.  Saturday the forecast was for highs in the 60's.  Time for some climb training in the mountains!  Up until now most of my training this year has been focused on trainer sessions and hill repeats at best, so I wasn't really sure what my legs were going to give me.  In fact, just two days before on my training plan I was doing 3 minute hill climbs up the back side of Paris Mountain.  A big personal goal for me this year is to train "smarter" by keeping to training plans, instead of just blasting away miles and pushing myself in haphazardly before events.  Since I've signed up for the Beech Mountain Metric this May, I need to keep myself focused on steady amounts of climbing.  

The route that was established brought us up one of the more favorite climbing spots in the upstate:  The Greenville Watershed.  This route is a gradual continual climb, and you can chose to go to Saluda or Tuxedo.  We started in Tigerville SC, a popular starting point for groups on any given clear Saturday.  In fact, as I parked at the meet-up spot I noticed the cars of several friends I typically ride with who obviously were already out enjoying the day.  We started out by climbing up Callahan Mountain, which is a notoriously steep climb, averaging around 9% grade for about 1 mile.  On the way down towards the watershed we stopped at the Poinsett Bridge and took a few pictures.  Created in 1820, it's one of the oldest bridges in South Carolina. 

Poinsett Bridge

Upon reaching "the Watershed" we met up with several groups of cyclists out for their day in the mountains.  While some were heading to Saluda, many were heading up to Tuxedo today. The Assault on Mount Mitchell training rides were even heading this direction today.  We kept the pace on the easy side, as our goal wasn't to set any personal records but rather to get in good training miles.  Regrouping at the top, we then turned off onto Mount Olivett.

This is another popular climbing area, although this is the first time that I had a chance to attempt it.  While not as long as the Watershed (3.6mi vs 6.4mi) the average grade for this section is steeper (6% vs 4%).  Adding on Mt Olivett to the climb was definitely a great test of the legs this early in the season.  What I was really pleased about was that I was able to climb it at a relatively relaxed pace, and not feel like I had to kill myself just to stay upright.  The view at the top was definitely worth the time climbing up.

Views like this never disappoint
At the top of the climb we intersected with Pinnacle Mountain Road, and made the turn to descend back to Flat Rock for our Bakery stop.  The trip down was much more technical than the climb, and I was glad to have upgraded brakes.  While this wasn't as exciting as coming down Skyuka Mountain Road, it definitely was challenging, especially at the bottom.  With no major incidents descending, we moved on to the most important part of the ride:  The Bakery!

While getting a chance to ride in the mountains is reward enough, there is something to be said about getting to stop at the local bakeries.  The stop for today was the Flat Rock Village Bakery, where we enjoyed a snack and some time off the bike to relax.  With a snack, a pit stop, and fresh water in our bottles, we were ready to head back.  The trip back was a straight shot down 225/old-US25 to the Watershed.  At the bottom we decided to go past Hotel Domestique, owned by retired pro cyclist George Hincapie.  This also adds another few shots of climbing which is always a little bit cruel, since you end up descending for  long enough to let your legs cool down prior to getting to these hills. 

What I was very pleased about for this ride was the ability to ride in a comfort zone, keeping a consistent effort for more than 3 hours in the saddle.  I'm so used to trying to "keep up" that I end up spending an entire ride in harsh heartrate zones.  Having an endurance/tempo pace was refreshing.  While I still need to work on more effective fuel strategies for both during and after the ride, keeping myself in check is important.  As I look towards the Spring, I think I'm going to be in a good place to be strong and have a lot of fun without worrying about getting dropped.

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