Thursday, May 16, 2013

My First Cloudcroft Training Ride of the Year

What might be my last serious training weekend before the big ride was a resounding success.  A total of 5,719 feet climbed over the course of 79.7 miles and I feel great.  For the first time, I finished my rides without debilitating soreness or wobbly legs.  Even better, my first training ride above 6,000 feet, maxing out over 9,300 feet, felt amazing.  I was terrified about shortness of breath at that altitude, but instead, felt amazing the entire time.

My first ride of the weekend took me right out my front door to some amazing hill climbing right on the edge of the Franklin Mountains of El Paso.  My friend and cycling mentor, Alanna, showed me the route the week before and it was a lot of fun and the roads were smooth and relatively empty on the weekend mornings.  All this time I had a treasure trove of climbing sitting right out my front door, but was too nervous to navigate through a few urban neighborhoods to get there.  I woke up Saturday morning, sucked up my own misgivings, swallowed a slice of cold pizza and two watermelon wedges, clipped in and rode off into some awesome rollers and two great steep climbs that gave me over 2,000 feet in less than 2 hours.  It also provided some of the best views of El Paso on a quiet Saturday morning.  There’s nothing better than the feeling of accomplishment and immediate reward gained through struggle and determination that can be found after a tough climb to a beautiful scenic overlook.  There’s also the satisfying feeling of blowing past other riders on a steep ascent, to glance over at them on their fancy carbon fiber race bikes while you’re plodding along past them on a heavy aluminum frame roadster.

After admiring the great view of El Paso from the Scenic Drive, I cashed in and headed for home.  I wanted to take it somewhat easy in preparation for the next day’s training ride in the mountains around Cloudcroft, NM.  This was a ride that I had been looking forward to for months.  In preparation for the Death Ride Tour, I needed some riding at altitudes exceeding 6,000 feet with plenty of climbing to simulate the terrain I would be traversing in Southern Colorado.  I’ve been really worried about the 6 months I spent at sea level and the less than two months that I’ve been training at only 4,000 feet.  Jumping up to rides that will mostly take place above 8,000 feet sounded painful and I didn’t know if my body could handle it.

I met my cycling guru friend, Joe, at his house and loaded my bike next to his on the back of his Jeep.  We made the 1.5 hour drive up to Cloudcroft where the sun was still fighting to climb over the mountains and the air was a crisp 40 degrees F.  We clipped in rolled out to begin an 18.5 mile descent to the town of Mayhill.  The descent was smooth and I hardly spun my pedals as frigid air whipped across my face.  Just shy of the town we turned right across a bridge onto a back highway that climbed for a steady 20 miles past cattle and sheep ranches.  It was by far the longest climb of my life with almost no relief during the entire ascent.  It took me and hour and a half to cover the 20 miles and for the first time in a while, I resented the heaviness of my aluminum frame. 

At the top of the hill, I followed Joe for an additional 7 mile excursion that took us up and over the 9,300 foot mark and added 14 miles to our grand total.  I had ridden this portion of the road once before, almost 2 years ago, and remember the climb over this smaller hill being excruciatingly painful.  This morning, it was fun and I enjoyed every moment of it.  We zipped back into Cloudcroft, flying down the hills, spinning up the smaller rollers, hugging the turns.  I stayed in my drops for most of the descents and thrilled in the sensation of flying through the mountains. 

After 52 miles of hard climbing and screaming descents I expected to be saddle sore, legs filled with lactic acid and wobbly.  Instead, I felt a healthy muscle throbbing in my thighs and a freshness in my lungs.  I was still energetic and almost ready to hop back on the bike to do another lap around the mountain.  This was the feeling I had hoped but dared not expect after a mountain ride and it gave me hope for being able to not only finish the Death Ride Tour, but to enjoy riding it.

This was the last free weekend until just before the Death Ride, and I wanted to make the most of it.  Although I didn’t put up the 70-miler I had hoped for, I think a hard ride at altitude with climbs was better for my training.  For the next two weeks, I will struggle to put in 20-mile rides between work and traveling, but with 3 weeks to go before the big ride I think the small intervals will still help.  I will also continue to make the effort to get in the pool, as I think that’s helped build up my lungs to make the most out of less air.

I guess there’s only one way to find out.