Human Interest Prologue – In the days leading up to the race it appeared that our 4th child was joining us as my 9-month pregnant wife had a number of false labor episodes. The night before the race my always-supportive wife gave me the blessing that if things were calm the following morning I should drive up for the race. The next morning I was up at 3am, on the road by 4am for the three hour drive, and gave a last minute phone call to make sure things were still OK before the race started. I was given the go-ahead to climb.
Mt Washington Hill Climb Race Report
1:06:33, 370 avg watts, 18th overall, 2nd 35-39 age group, 1st place Clydesdale (190+ lb).
I made the promises to myself about losing a few pounds after Newtons Revenge, but after 6 weeks of good training mixed in with summer fun I weighed the same on race day. 202 lbs, 219 lbs with bike and full race day setup (clothing, shoes, helmet, full bottle).
I was excited to start in the Top Notch wave since I went under 1:20 at Newtons Revenge. In hindsight this was a great experience but may not have been beneficial to my finishing time since after a good long warm-up I ended up stuck in the back of the 100-person narrow corral. I found out later comparing power files that all the congestion at the start cost me an extra 15 seconds to reach the hill after the cannon fired compared to last time.
I hit the climb and settled right into my target power of 400 watts. I learned a lesson about going out too hard at Newtons Revenge (adrenaline blazed a 415 watt trail for the first 15 minutes), so the plan this time was to use this power output as a ceiling and then gradually back off later on as altitude kicked in. For the first minute of the climb I felt like I was going backwards as people blew by me on both sides like they were awarding Green Jersey points just ahead. Then nearly as quickly as they passed me, they all seemed to put it in reverse at the same time and I spent the next 5 minutes weaving through what must have been 50 riders. I felt really good at my target power the first 20 minutes as I continuously had to remind myself not to push harder based on my tough 2nd half experience at Newtons Revenge.
There was zero wind today and plenty of sun, so unfortunately I starting suffering a bit more in the heat compared to last time and had to gradually start adjusting my power down to a more sustainable level for the rest of the climb. While I put myself in a better position by pacing the early section more conservatively than last time, there was no cool 30-40mph breeze when we broke the treeline this time around. I was annoyed since my legs felt good yet my heart rate and breathing went through the roof as my body struggled to cool off. I was sweating buckets with no relief in sight. Without the wind, I can only compare this to sitting on a trainer in a paved driveway on a hot sunny day and trying to perform a one hour power test. Insane right? At least we had some scenery to pass the time going up the mountain!
I had recently caught up and passed a couple guys that were out of sight earlier in the climb, but as the heat kicked in things reversed and now I was the one yo-yo’ing off the back of their wheels. By the time we got into the dirt road section to begin the 2nd half I found myself riding alone again. I feel that by this time in the climb everybody is simply riding at the best sustainable pace they can and there’s little you can do to react or try to keep up with other riders.
There’s a relatively flatter section about 7 minutes from the top that I used to spin easy in an attempt to get some power back for the final climb. I was falling back so fast that I had nothing to lose. This seemed to actually help as I then felt good for the next couple minutes. I caught and passed one of the guys who dropped me after the dirt road, and then stood up and hammered as hard as I could the last 22% grade to the finish line which was surrounded by a corridor of cheering spectators and cowbells. I learned to stand up for this section after pulling up my front wheel and getting blown over last time.
I was happy with my race and especially to PR when many other frequent climbers I talked to seemed to fall 1-3 minutes off their previous times. The bigger guys especially seemed to suffer as is typical in the heat. I wish I could have knocked a few minutes off my time and maintained a higher power output as I’d hoped, but given the conditions I feel I handled things as well as I could have.
Pacing – Power splits were 400 watts for the first 21 minutes, then 356 watts for the final 45 minutes. The 370 watt average ended up being the same as Newtons Revenge, but I didn’t lose 25-30 seconds falling at the top this time around so interestingly my times would have been about the same – 1:07:05 at Newtons Revenge compared to 1:06:33 this time around. It’s tough to determine how much of the power drop off was caused by overheating versus altitude. Bottom line is I can maintain a higher power output at sea level with a 25mph cooling fan than I can riding up this mountain.
Gearing – I used a SRAM XX 11×36 cassette this time (34-tooth chainring in front), versus 11×32 last time. I was really thankful as I felt like I spent 10-15 minutes in that 36-tooth cog. My time spent with cadence under 70rpm was cut from 17 min at Newtons Revenge to 5 min at Mt Washington. Given the conditions, I’m certain this allowed me to maintain a higher power output than I would have in the face of the hot windless conditions.
Altitude – I dug up a rule of thumb that for every 1000 feet of elevation you can expect a 1-2% drop-off in power output. Depending on the person, this means a power drop-off of 5-10% as you approach the summit simply from the thinner air at altitude.
Next Time – I’m already excited to climb it again next year. I’ll likely sign up for both climbs again, and if nothing else that gives me 2 chances for a cooler day. I feel my gearing is perfect, but I just need to fine-tune the pacing plan based on the wind and heat the day brings. Of course the big diet starts this winter too. I didn’t see many other 200+ pounders in that top 20, so maybe these lighter guys are on to something. 😉
Last, but certainly not least the report couldn’t end without mentioning that we finally welcomed Drew Young Phillips on Tuesday, August 23rd…His big sisters Ellie and Amelia, and big brother Will are excited to welcome their little brother to the family and show him the ropes.