Category Archives: Training

Catching up on some epic adventures

Life has been busy and is about to get busier, but I’ve had some pretty crazy adventures I wanted to blog about. These are ordered below based on when they happened, so you can jump to any specific one with these links:

American Flyers | Just a little commute | Grant ups and downs

March 8-9th – American Flyers – Rouge Roubaix

My all-time favorite cycling movie out of the two that I’ve seen is American Flyers. In the opening scene, the lead actor is racing a barge along the Mississippi River. Then he rides into his building and onto the elevator. I do the latter every day on my commute to work, but I’ve never gotten to race a barge on the Mississippi until my Rouge Roubaix pre-ride this year. The race itself was epic as always – read my race report, but man sometimes I think the pre-rides are more adventurous than the races themselves … see Hell of the South exception, though.

Racing a barge on the Mississippi River - I just "American Flyered" my ride.Racing a barge on the Mississippi River – I just “American Flyered” my ride.

One of the ironic things about the Rouge Roubaix race is how close the course is to the Mississippi River, but you can never see the river from any spot on the course unless it is in severe flood stage (see pic below)

Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river.Google street-view of the turn onto 2nd gravel. The Mississippi River was at flood stage when the streetview car drove by. During the race, you cannot normally see the river. For my pre-ride I parked at the store annotated in the picture.

This was my fifth year racing Rouge Roubaix, but I had never gone out of my way to see the river because my time spent there is usually so short. I wanted to include a trip out to the river in my pre-ride this year. I ended up picking a route onto Cat Island that veered off of the race course shortly after the third gravel section (Tunica Hills). My route plan was about 50 miles, which I thought would give me plenty of time to just cruise through the second and third gravel section. After a late start on the 7 hour drive from Birmingham plus a bit of a challenge figuring out where to park and not upset the locals (turns out I could have parked pretty much anywhere), I only had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Not exactly a lot of time to ride the 2nd and 3rd gravel sections plus the 2nd gravel section again on the return route.

I was enjoying a nice easy pre-ride, but as my brain ticked away at timing calculations I realized that there was no way I was going to finish before sunset. I picked up the pace and realized that I was probably going to be making it to the turn-around point of my ride sometime near sunset. Stubbornly, I decided that seeing the river this year was worth riding in the dark with no light. The next challenge was finding a way to the river. I knew that the road I picked out onto Cat Island swung close to the river, but not until pretty far into the island. The road kept getting muddier from rain and floods (pic below was from the early part of the road where it was still easily rideable … imagine entire short sections of road covered in thick mud), so I decided when I caught a glimpse of the river behind a gate with a short dirt road leading right up to the edge that I had found my entry spot.

Cat Island road - good practice for finding a good line for the rouge roubaix raceCat Island road – good practice for finding a good line for the rouge roubaix race

Dirt double track to the river - barge visible in the riverDirt double track to the river – barge visible in the river

Right after carefully climbing the fence and setting my bike over on the other side, a barge started to pass by on the river. That is when I knew I had to get a pic of the barge. Unsure whether I was going to stumble into a herd of bulls or cows, I took off like a rabbit down the double track to get to the river’s edge and get a pic. The pic at the top is what I was able to get. So in some sense the barge won because it made it past my access spot to the river, but in another sense I won because it was still close enough for me to get a pic!

As you can see from the lighting in the picture, it was near sunset by the time I had finally seen the river. I was taking a slightly different route back to skip the Tunica Hills dirt section, but I still had over 25 miles left to get back to my car parked at Fort Adams. Plus, the very last part of the ride would be the reverse direction of the 2nd gravel section (i.e., backwards down Blockhouse Hill).

Sunset happened before I even made it off Cat Island. By the time I made it out to LA-66, the main road to Angola Prison, it was dark and dangerous (from traffic). I spent most of the 5 mile stretch of road looking backwards ascertaining whether an approaching car was slowing down and/or moving over to pass me. Only twice did it look questionable and both of those happened to be near sections of the road where there was a shoulder so I moved over into the shoulder. When I finally made the turn off LA-66 onto Pinckneyville Rd, I was super relieved even though it was now way past sunset and very difficult to see. Pinckneyville Rd is an interesting chip/seal road that has some really nice sections interspersed with short rough “repaved” or “washed out” sections.

Ironically, the darker it got, the faster I went as I desperately tried to cover as much ground as possible while still able to see the rough sections with just enough time to grab the brakes and roll over them at a non-pinch flat inducing pace. When I made the turn onto the Blockhouse section, I had to rely entirely on the GPS and the fact that I could see a house up on the left to know that I had reached the turn! It was so dark that I could barely see the turn and could not even see the cattle guard. I was wondering if I had made a wrong turn when all of a sudden I bounced across the cattle guard … “yep, I’m good, this is the way”.

The Blockhouse gravel was in great condition, and I knew this from riding it on the way out at the start of my ride. Also, it was a brighter, lighter color because of the sand mixed in with the gravel. This meant that this section was a bit easier than Picneyville Rd to ride in the dark. I could see two things – black and slightly less black which I knew was the gravel road split into a double track. I tried to stay to the left side of the road hoping that I was judging the right spot to end up in the lefthand track. I stopped at one point to try to take a picture of the conditions. These are three pics that I got:

Blockhouse in the dark (with flash)
My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash)
Without flash - not even enough light to make ANYTHING out - although my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, this would have been a much better picture.Top – Blockhouse in the dark (with flash). Middle – My iBike and Garmin on Blockhouse (with flash). Bottom – the road ahead without flash, not even enough light to make ANYTHING out. Although this is partially because my Nokia Lumia 1020 with great low light photography doesn't always auto-detect its settings correctly. If I had manually set the exposure to a couple seconds, you would have been able to see the blurry outline of the road.

By the bottom of the Blockhouse Hill, the road turns from gravel to a partial pavement – which was in really bad shape. Fortunately, this was in a small community that had street lights spaced just far enough apart that I could safely make out all the potholes and slowly ride through. They were having a big party at one of the houses, and some of the kids shouted “hey biker dude” or something like that as I biked by. Epic. Adventure. Life.

March 24th – Short commute to North Georgia

Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click to enlarge and see all the annotations. This is the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!Map showing my commute from Hoover, AL to Blairsville, GA in the North Georgia mountains. Click twice to enlarge and see all the annotations. The solid red line is an approximation of my route – the dashed red line at the end is the part that I didn’t finish due to being way slower than expected. These maps are on the wall in our basement next to where I do all my work from home. I get to see some of my favorite places in the country in a raised relief map, including the highest points in AL, GA, TN, SC, and NC!

Kristine bought a groupon for three nights at the Paradise Hills cabins just outside of Blairsville, GA almost a year ago. The plan was for the two of us to go up there sometime in January or February for me to do some pre-riding of the Southern Cross course. Well, life happened and we couldn’t schedule it, so we switched to a back-up plan of going over spring break and taking the whole family. With the Heart of the South 500 mile race coming up, I decided to ride what I thought would be 300 miles from Birmingham to the cabin as a “test ride”. The route looks like it would have been about 285 miles, but I called Kristine in East Elijay and got her to meet me in Blue Ridge, GA when I realized how far behind schedule I was. The plan was then for her to follow me the last 32 miles in order for her to practice her role as support crew chief for the 500 mile race. But when we met each other at the Arby’s in Blue Ridge, there was a much more traffic than I expected. Blue Ridge was hopping. The traffic combined with me feeling tired and the kids trying to stay up until I made it to the cabin made me decide to end the ride early, hop in the car, and drive the last bit with Kristine back to the cabin. The kids were still awake and I got to see them to bed, which was definitely worth cutting the ride short, seeing how excited they were to show me things in the cabin.

That is how the ride ended, but the adventure started about 18 hours earlier at 1:30AM after having gone to bed at 10:30PM the night before. I set my alarm for 3 hours after going to bed hoping to hit two of the magic 90 minute sleep cycles, which seems to fit well with my own personal sleep pattern. By leaving this early, I was hoping to make it to Blairsville before sunset or at least before the kids went to bed. Another benefit of leaving this early is that I would be able to make it through all of Birmingham and surrounding communities long before most people had even gotten out of bed.

I started out doing essentially my normal commute route, which includes the Vesclub climb (at just over 700 vertical feet diff, one of the biggest climbs in Birmingham) so that I could compare it to later climbs on the route. Doing that climb meant I would also be in good position to blast down Hwy 31, continue through Homewood, and climb over Red Mountain on the Red Mountain Expressway without any traffic on the roads. I had two Axiom 200 watt lights, one mounted to the handlebars, and the other mounted on my helmet. I barely needed them riding through Birmingham, but once I made it out towards Trussville/Leeds on Floyd Bradford and Blackjack, lights were essential. The helmet light is great for scaring dogs – perfect for the route I had picked through dog-infested Annie Lee and Blackjack road. Simply put the helmet on highest setting, turn and stare at a dog, and it will stop dead in its tracks completely blinded by the light. As soon as you stop looking, it will normally start chasing again, but it is still better than nothing.

Hwy 11 through Springville was awesome given that there was no traffic – so awesome that as I was flying along the valley I missed the turn to take Washington Valley road towards Walker Gap. I backtracked at the next major road to get over to Walker Gap because there was no way I was not going to do that climb. On top of Walker, traffic started to pick up a bit as the farmers and really far-out commuters had to start driving at about 5AM. I flew down the waterfall descent and when I made the turn in the valley to head over to Chandler Mountain, this was by far the coldest part of my ride. The temp bottomed out around 27 degF but felt much colder given that I was dressed for the entire day with highs expected in the 50s. As it turns out, I was way overdressed for most of the ride given that temps peaked in the mid 60s. At this point of the ride, I was freezing.

80 miles into the ride, I stopped for the first time in Gadsden and ate a full breakfast at McDonald’s. The police officer in line in front of me asked me where I was heading, and later a couple other guys who had eaten breakfast also wondered where I was heading. You could tell with all the equipment I was trying to recharge and all the food crammed into my backpack that I was heading a long distance. It was cold when I went into the McDonalds and already getting pretty hot by the time I left.

I did the very first new road for me about 82 or 83 miles into the ride climbing up onto Lookout Mountain via a rough chip/seal road called “Scenic Dr”. I followed this road all the way along the north edge of Lookout Mountain with two KOM goals in mind – Keener Gap and Flanders Gap. I didn’t know if these were already segments or not, but I was hoping Strava would auto-detect both as Cat 4 climbs. Both of these climbs are from the narrow US Hwy 11 valley floor back up to the Lookout Mountain ridge line. So to get to both of them, I had to first descend off the mountain to each of them.

Keener was paved and had some beautiful rock formations, one house, and a couple of dogs. I went down the descent way too fast for them to bother with me, but on the way back up as I was trying to put in an exactly threshold effort (not too hard, but not too easy either) here they come out of the house in the middle of the one switchback. Fortunately, they were friendly dogs and let me scoot on by. At the top of Keener Gap, I turned left to continue on Scenic Dr, which abruptly turns from chip/seal to dirt and gravel. The climb still continued on for another half mile or so. I really started to get excited about the ride as I was flying up the gravel road laughing giddily at how I’m trying to KOM a climb with miles and miles ahead of gravel in the middle of what I thought at the time would be a 300 mile ride. The road stayed Alabama dirt/gravel (graded and fast) for the next 5 miles to Flanders Gap. I flew down the gravel descent partly because it was really steep and I couldn’t go much slower and partly because it was easy to see good lines. At the bottom, the dirt gravel gave way to some other kind of large gravel that was not easy to ride. I slowed way down to make sure I didn’t pinch flat. I turned around at the train tracks (low spot in the valley) and headed back up to go for the KOM. I drilled it hard and the climb reminded me a lot of the Blockhouse Hill climb in the Rouge Roubaix race.

Unfortunately, neither climb auto-detected even though they were both well within Cat 4 range. I went back and created the segments and after waiting a few days, it looks like only one other person has done the paved Keener Gap climb, and nobody else has done the Flanders Gap climb. I turned around at the top of Flanders and headed back down it again so that I could take Hwy 11 across the valley to Collinsville. I wanted to do the climb out of Collinsville because on the map it had a lot of switchbacks (somewhat rare for Alabama). I was completely surprised by what I saw when I approached the climb from the streets in downtown. The climb was a powerline cut! The paved road switchbacked across the cut 4 or 5 times, putting the grade at a fairly consistent 10% and closer to 15% in the switchbacks.

At this point I needed to cut across Lookout Mountain and down the other side to head into Georgia. If I headed any farther north on Lookout Mountain, I would have gotten back into some really cool roads I’ve ridden before – but the eastern crossing of Georgia becomes problematic as there aren’t as many roads that head across the many ridges that run north and south through that part of Georgia. So unfortunately I had to just barely brush by one of Alabama’s Hidden treasure – Little River Canyon. I ended up doing a super fun descent from a firetower down to the entrance to the canyon – a national monument called Canyon Mouth.

I took a short break here before heading on some really awesome valley roads (Co Rd 58 and Co Rd 41) northeast through Cherokee County. Somewhere through here I crossed over into Georgia and continued on a northeastern track eventually reaching Summerville, Georgia. After a quick lunch at Subway, I headed back out towards the Narrows Picnic Rd (Hammond Gap) knowing that this would be dirt – Google street view car turned around exactly at the transition to dirt. It turns out that this was the roughest road of the route. I didn’t have any problems on the climb, but on the long descent I had to go slow or run the very likely possibility of pinch flatting AND cutting my tires. We’re talking ruts and large granite rocks sticking out of the ground.

Up to this point in the ride I had felt great, but after going so slow for so long and letting my heartrate dip too low, I suddenly realized that I was tired. Looking back at my heartrate data, I never did get my heartrate back up to what it was before that descent. The route between the bottom of the descent to Dalton started to pick up some heavy traffic including after school traffic, so even though it was some beautiful scenery – being tired and dealing with a lot of cars doesn’t make for a fun ride. One highlight was a smaller road just before the start of the Pinhotti climb. That climb was very steep and VERY busy with traffic. Fortunately, there was a nice clean shoulder to ride to the top. I debated about just heading on down the mountain, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb all the way up to the towers. This dirt climb is the final descent on the Snake Creek Gap mountain bike time trial course. It was a blast to climb (and clear!) on the road bike, and not too bad coming down either.

Dalton was a traffic disaster as I hit it during rush hour. Even with a stop for dinner at Arby’s, traffic was still bad at about 6PM as I made my way over to Fort Mountain on GA-52. What a nasty road. Drivers were all pretty courteous, no honking or throwing things, but they passed you close, definitely not 3 feet. As soon as I left the town of Chatsworth, the traffic immediately disappeared. The climb up Fort Mountain was beautiful and mostly deserted. There were a few fast motorcycles, but you could hear them coming from a long ways away. I stopped and chatted briefly with three of the riders I caught up to at the overlook near the top. I did the climb pretty slowly, but was surprised that at 215 miles into the ride not to be struggling with cramps or any other problems.

I was hoping for a long 35+mph downhill for miles and miles, but instead the descent was very punchy with half-mile climbs and only lasted a few miles. After bottoming out, the road started climbing again. The sun had set a while ago so I put my lights back on and called Kristine to let her know I was running way behind schedule. This takes us back to the beginning of the post where she met me in Blue Ridge and instead of following me for the last 32 miles, I decided to just call it a day and ride in the car back to our cabin for the next few days. 253 miles instead of 285, but I got everything I needed to get out of the ride in terms of prep for the 500 mile race, and I also had quite the adventure!

After this ride, I took Tuesday off and then had two more fun adventure rides Wednesday and Thursday. Here are a few pictures from those adventures.

Family atop the Brasstown Bald lookout tower. I beat them to the top, but I did have a 3.5 hour head start.Family atop the Brasstown Bald lookout tower. I beat them to the top, but I did have a 3.5 hour head start. Wednesday.

View of the Woody Gap climb from standing below the firetower at the very top of the mountain. Click to enlarge.View of the Woody Gap climb from standing below the firetower at the very top of the mountain. Click to enlarge.

March 29-30th – Grant ups and downs – Hell of the South weekend

As I mentioned earlier, this year’s Hell of the South was extra epic, but Mark Fisher and I tried to outdo it the next day by conquering all 11 ways up the Grant plateau plus 4 additional climbs on the way back including one of the steepest climbs in Alabama for a grand total of 15 Huntsville Cat 3 climbs. Some of the climbs are rated Cat 4 based on where the segment starts, but they all have enough vertical diff to be made into Cat 3 climbs using a slightly different starting or ending point along our route. Huntsville has the perfect topography for hard training – lots of flat roads punctuated by 2-3 mile super steep climbs. This also makes for some fun descending. Check out that amazing topography in the two maps below. Double-click (or click once to load the large image and then click again to zoom your browser into the image) to see all the details and mountain names.

11 ways to climb the Grant plateau (click to enlarge, click twice to zoom really far in)11 ways to climb the Grant plateau (click to enlarge, click twice to zoom really far in). The climbs up Grant are numbered.

11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride11 ways up the Grant plateau plus the rest of our ride. All the climbs are numbered starting with the Green Mountain climb, then all 11 ways up Grant, followed by Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur Trail, and finally Cecil Ashburne. Click to enlarge. After your browser downloads the image, click it again to zoom in and see the details.

I am working on a separate blog with a catalog of the 11 ways up grant plus the bonus climbs of Green, Blowing Cave, Tony Wilmur, and Cecil Ashburne, but I have a feeling it might be a while before I can finish it. So I’m just going to put in a teaser here with the Green Mountain front-side climb, the Swearengin climb, and the Blowing Cave climb (quite possibly one of the steepest paved climbs of measurable category in Alabama).

GREEN MOUNTAIN - FRONT SIDE
Dist:        1.87 mi (0:14:36)
Climbing:     886 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow   81  270.6   391  W
Gravity   -16  231.2   354  W
Speed     5.2    7.7  13.7  mi/h
Elev      578   1026  1468  ft
Slope    -0.4   9.04  19.2  %
Caden      49   67.1   109  rpm
HR         95  143.5   158  bpm
NP:288W IF:0.98 TSS:24 VI:1.06
3/30/2014 8:06 AM 40 degF; 1022 mbar
SWEARENGIN CLIMB
Dist:        1.61 mi (0:12:17)
Climbing:     640 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow   19  246.9   385  W
Gravity   -48  201.2   372  W
Speed     4.9    7.9  14.3  mi/h
Wind      0.0    8.1  24.0  mi/h
Elev      591    887  1244  ft
Slope    -1.0   7.70  19.4  %
Caden      30   66.0    99  rpm
HR        112  142.1   157  bpm
NP:267W IF:0.91 TSS:17 VI:1.08
3/30/2014 11:41 AM 62 degF; 1020 mbar
BLOWING CAVE (COMPLETE CLIMB)
Note: I was super tired and weaved up the climb.
Dist:        1.73 mi (0:14:04)
Climbing:     751 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
DFPM Pow    0  251.5   451  W
Gravity  -387  202.8   417  W
Speed     3.3    7.4  19.4  mi/h
Wind      0.0    6.5  25.9  mi/h
Elev      725   1122  1470  ft
Slope    -7.3   8.28  23.6  %
Caden      34   60.2   112  rpm
HR        120  141.2   157  bpm
NP:282W IF:0.96 TSS:22 VI:1.12
3/30/2014 3:06 PM 65 degF; 1019 mbar
BLOWING CAVE - STEEP CAT 4 section only
From a 2013 ride when I went straight up the climb.
Dist:        0.29 mi (0:04:06)
Energy:      74.7 kJ
Cals Burn:   71.4 kcal
Climbing:     300 ft
          Min   Avg    Max
Power     187  303.6   398  W
Gravity   189  284.2   372  W
Speed     3.1    4.3   6.8  mi/h
Wind      0.0    2.4   7.1  mi/h
Elev       27    187   329  ft
Slope    13.2  20.23  26.8  %
HR        141  149.0   155  bpm
NP:311W IF:1.05 TSS:8 VI:1.02
2/10/2013 10:03 AM 51 degF; 990 mbar

iBike data for the Green Mountain front side climb (click to enlarge)iBike data for the Green Mountain front side climb (click to enlarge)

iBike data for possibly Alabama's steepest Cat 4 climb - note the >20% average slope (click to enlarge)iBike data for possibly Alabama’s steepest Cat 4 climb – note the >20% average slope (click to enlarge)

iBike data for the Swearengin climb up to the Grant plateau (click to enlarge)iBike data for the Swearengin climb up to the Grant plateau (click to enlarge)

2013 Season Summary

Veloviewer.com - 20,485 miles ridden in 2013 compared to 20,744 miles ridden in 2012 calendar year.Veloviewer.com – 20,485 miles ridden in 2013 compared to 20,744 miles ridden in the 2012 calendar year.

Veloviewer.com - total climbing elevation gain  2,594,511 ft  ... compared to 2,686,811 ft climbed last yearVeloviewer.com – 2,594,511 ft climbed in 2013 … compared to 2,686,811 ft climbed in the 2012 calendar year.

Veloviewer.com -  59days and 33 minutes spent riding my bike in 2013 ... compared to 59 days and 11 hours and 2 minutes in the 2012 calendar yearVeloviewer.com – 59 days and 33 minutes spent riding my bike in 2013 … compared to 59 days and 11 hours and 2 minutes in the 2012 calendar year

I look forward to writing this post every year, and this year I’ve got a new tool to help me – the veloviewer charts which compare stats from year to year. The three charts above show a comparison of elevation, distance, and time from the past five years. Note that I only used a Garmin in 2008 from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. This is the graphical version of the tables that I’ve been accumulating at the end of every season and which I continue to use in the rest of the post below – although the veloviewer charts are based on calendar year instead of my training/racing year.

End of the season statistics
The statistics below all run from October 29, 2012 until October 27, 2013 – 364 days worth of riding and racing. I define my racing/training season from the Monday closest to Nov 1 of the previous year to the Sunday closest to Oct 31st of the current year for all of these statistics and reports. Normally, this would include all of my racing for the calendar year. This year included an extended foray into mountain bike racing, which has more fall races, so the date range does not include two 2013 races (the November 23rd Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race and the November 30th Gravel Grovel ultracx race) and the associated training leading up to those races.

Statistics Summary
October 29, 2012 – October 27, 2013

Statistic Avg Max Min Total
Weekly training time (hours) 27:47 34:23 19:05 1445:04
Weekly distance (miles) 394.1 586.1 264.2 20,494
Ride distance (miles) 37.0 184.4 0.3 20,494
Workouts per week (#) 11 17 6 554
Weekly climbing (feet) 42,221 70,036 10,682 2,195,525

For eagle-eyed observers who note that the climbing total is lower than that reported on Strava, I will give the same explanation that I gave last year: I am generating these reports from my Polar Protrainer software. I wrote a converter that converts Garmin .FIT files and .TCX files into the .HRM format that Polar expects. The Polar Protrainer software then applies a smoothing filter when it is calculating total ascent and other statistics, but I can’t figure out how to turn it off so that the statistics match up with Strava, which doesn’t apply any smoothing filters.

Comparison to past years
All years run from the Monday closest to November 1st to the Sunday closest to October 31st. This should result in about 365 days for each year give or take a day or two.

Statistic
(per week)
2008
Avg/Max
2009
Avg/Max
2010
Avg/Max
2011
Avg/Max
2012
Avg/Max
2013
Avg/Max
Time (hours) 14.0/20.2 13.4/20.8 15.4/20.9 22.4/33.0 25.7/40.9 27.8/34.3
Dist (miles) 238/337 242/369 266/380 338/503 390/649 394/586
HR avg (bpm) 137/165 139/161 136/176 131/178 123/156 122/162
Workouts (#) 11/15 9/14 11/14 11/17 12/19 11/17
Climb (feet) 13k/20k 14k/29k 14k/23k 31k/52k 44k/89k 42k/70k
Statistic
(yearly total)
2008
Total
2009
Total
2010
Total
2011
Total
2012
Total
2013
Total
Training (hours) 726 698 798 1,167 1,336 1,445
Distance (miles) 12.4k 12.6k 13.8k 17.6k 20.3k 20.5k
Workouts (#) 560 445 546 580 632 554
Climbing (feet) 661k 677k 750k 1,598k 2,298k 2,196k

Racing Season Summary
The highlight for the racing season was winning my very first race of the year — the Southern Cross ultracx season opener in Dahlonega, GA. I knew I could do top 3 in the race, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to win, especially the way it all shook out. This win dictated my season a bit as I decided to pursue the ultracx series overall. Also, the new Southeastern Regional Series was on my radar from as soon as it was announced so I put all of those races on my calendar as well. By the time the season was all finished at the end of November, I managed to place 2nd in the overall for both series. The UltraCx series was really close, but it came down to a single point separating me from winner Mike “Simonster” Simonson. The SRS series was not quite as close with Winston David turning out a phenomenal year and me a distant 2nd. More fun was the KOM competition, which was my pre-season goal for the series, and I chased it hard but Andy Scarano was just too strong for me and I ended up starting out strong in the KOM points but fading to 3rd behind Andy and Winston. It looks like after checking the results I also ended up 3rd in the sprinter’s jersey competition as well!

Another highlight for the season was Tim Hall’s Nashville to Natchez ride. I think this really gave me the bug for ultra-endurance cycling, and I’m already planning on tackling a 500 mile race in 2014 as well as RAAM in 2015 and then possibly the Iditarod Trail Race in 2016. This led to a number of adventures this year documented in these blogs summarized below (click on each heading to go to a blog describing the adventure) -

NASHVILLE TO NATCHEZ (AND THEN ONTO BIRMINGHAM) – 444 miles on the Natchez Trace followed by another 418 miles home to Birmingham in the middle of summer. Tim Hall invited me on this fundraising ride for Team Red, White, and Blue – an organization helping veterans returning from deployment reconnect to communities through social and physical activity.

BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY AND CLEMSON FOOTBALL – I never did get a chance to write up a blog on this one, so I’ve linked to the strava activity. We had an awesome family weekend for the Clemson game against Boston College. This was my first Clemson game since graduating 15 years ago. It was my kids’ and Kristine’s first Clemson game. We tailgated, the whole 9 yards, and then Kristine and I stayed a couple extra days for me to get in a 184 mile ride from Clemson up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and take a new route across to Caesars Head. Found an awesome gravel road climb and descent a bazillion miles into the ride.

NASHVILLE TO BIRMINGHAM – a little bit of an arctic adventure in the deep south. I’ve always been fascinated with point to point rides so when the opportunity came for me to ride from Nashville back home to Birmingham after the Andrew Peterson concert, I jumped all over it. I wasn’t expecting temps hovering around 11 degF for an hour, though, and ended up having to cut the ride about 60 miles short. It still made for a 210 mile epic adventure. Technically this adventure will fall into next year’s training year but I will forget to write about it then so I’m including it in this calendar year.

RAPHA FESTIVE 500 – likewise, this adventure technically should go with next year’s season summary but since it happened this calendar year I’ll go ahead and include it. This was easily the hardest Strava challenge I’ve done and ended with one of the hardest bike rides I’ve ever done.

Finally, the graphs and charts!
CP curve - back down to 293 wattsCP curve – back down to 293 watts. Several efforts over the year caused Golden Cheetah to refit my data at a lower threshold. The black line in this pic is from my Whitewater Falls ride in October where I set the KOM on the Cat 2 climb (setting a 25 minute power record of 325 watts). (click to enlarge)

2013 - Much of my training is "distance-based" in that I aim for a particular weekly mileage. (click to enlarge)2013 – Much of my training is “distance-based” in that I aim for a particular weekly mileage. (click to enlarge)

2013 - time spent in heartrate zones ... I pay special attention to my heartrate ... ideally I'd like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It's hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend's races.2013 – time spent in heartrate zones … I pay special attention to my heartrate … ideally I’d like to be in Zone 1 or 2 or Zone 5. It’s hard to put that into practice though. It is nice to see a significant drop in Zone 3 during the racing season and corresponding increase in Zone 3 during the off season. Explanation for this is that during the racing season, I spend a lot of time riding at very easy pace to recover from previous weekend’s races.

These three graphs are the ones that I pay the most attention to both during the season and afterwards during breakdown analysis. Also, the critical power curve is very helpful for KOM efforts and time trials where you can gauge the average power that you know you can sustain for a particular duration climb. Then, the next step becomes guessing what your time will be so you can know what wattage to target and weigh that against how tired your legs feel.

And finally many thank you’s
This is probably the first season in a long time that has not been my new “best season ever”, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of support. I owe so many people so many thank you’s far more than can fit here, but here goes – first to my amazing beautiful wife Kristine who has put up with many hours away from home on the bike and traveled to many races this year. Likewise, my kids are amazing and are quite adept at making an adventure out of what could be a lot of boring times on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere at a bike race. Plus, they have all put up with many miles in the car together as a family.

If you have ever wondered what kind of bike mechanic can deal with the crazy bike situations I find myself in, there are several in Birmingham from every shop in town who are certainly up to the task (what an amazing city we live in), but Craig Tamburello at Brick Alley opened up shop a couple years ago in Hoover just a couple miles from my house, and he has been amazing finding solutions to problems caused by all the insane rides my bike components have to deal with every year.

My new teammates from FGS Cycling, John Hart, Kurt Page, and Jeff McGrane welcomed me onto their team and helped me plunge into Tennessee racing including several new-to-me races this year (Hell of the South, Berry Peddlar, Rockabilly Classic, and Roan Groan). Awesome guys … thanks and I’m looking forward to next year!

Also, a big shout out to Mark Fisher who has challenged my climbing records and pushed me to dig deeper than anyone else has ever pushed me. Indeed, he has already passed me, and this year’s state road race was quite perfect. The two of us broke away on the second lap, and then Mark dropped me a little more than halfway up the climb on the final lap. I stayed with him longer than I expected I could, but as he rode away from me I was already thinking “this is fine, I’m happy to pass the torch of ‘Alabama’s fastest climber'” onto Mark. It’s cool, though, that we are still close enough that I can give him a run for his money in the end-of-the year strava shootout. We almost tied again this year … only 1 second separating us on the final climb!

And finally, to the entire Birmingham cycling community, wow. If you were to rank cycling communities the way they do football polls, there would be at least one #1 besides Birmingham. There is very little infrastructure (but not none, e.g., CommuteSmart has done some good work) to support cycling here, but my goodness there are a lot of amazing and dedicated riders who brave the car craziness and the hills and make it fun to ride to Birmingham. It is the riders themselves who have stepped up to replace what cities and communities have not done — made Birmingham a great place to ride.