Tag Archives: power

Camp Sumatanga there and back again

The left picture is my 8 month old daughter Analise at the second 2005 Sumatanga training race. It has been framed on the window sill behind our kitchen sink for close to 15 years. This picture captures perfectly for me what cycling has always been about.

The right picture is a similar one of my son Josiah from one of my favorite crits of all time – the Crybaby Hill crit, the finale of the Tulsa Tough crit weekend. Click on the right one to see the late, great Steve Tilford (Trek, jersey open, it was such a hot race, the hoses and squirt guns soaking us on the hill itself were an absolute necessity)

These are two of many, many examples where Kristine and the kids have joined me on bike racing adventures. But even when my family and friends can’t join me on an adventure, cycling has always been about the adventure, overcoming challenges, and sharing those adventures with people closest to me.

26 – That’s, the number of times I have raced what for me I will always think of as the Camp Sumatanga training race. Don’t be fooled by the name, though. It’s no longer called that, and it has never been “just” a training race. It’s now called the Sumatanga road race series, and it has always drawn strong racers from across the South. Each and everyone of the races has always been the best way to start out the racing season, with everything that goes into bike racing – teams, strategy, survival, weather, sprinting, and drafting, all on a relatively tame course with mysterious wind and two miles of chip and seal that might as well be gravel … in fact might be smoother as gravel!

I have this note in my old Polar ProTrainer software in 2008 from one of the times I won the race – “Bike GSMR #1 1st place! Beat Olheiser and a BMC rider from North Carolina“. At the time I didn’t know Brent Bookwalter, nor did I know that he was coming back from a badly broken leg, but I did know he was racing for a professional bike racing team so I saw him as a rider to mark. We made it to that first hill at a pretty good clip, and I looked behind me to see Mike and the BMC rider immediately behind me and all 140 pounds racing weight me put in an all-or-nothing max effort attack up the hill hoping to establish a break with the two strongest riders in the peloton.

It worked perfectly, and I think we finished 10+ minutes ahead of the field. Mike did the vast majority of the work. Brent and I always pulled through, but for me at least, it was always at 75% effort saving something for inevitable attacks desperately not wanting to get dropped. But no attacks materialized, and as we rolled onto the smooth pavement, we had a bit of truce discussing everyone’s sprinting abilities. All of us were pretty bad sprinters, so it ended up being Mike attacking first on the hill, me bridging up to him, but me not pulling through with Mike saying “we had him on the ropes.” Neutralized again for just a few seconds, and then Mike led it out at the start of the downhill, I had slid to the back so Brent had to cover it and I managed to grab his slipstream perfectly and then slingshot around both of them at the end to win.

Fast forward to 2020. Yesterday. I was in another three-man group, but this time off the back just surviving the race. I was struggling a bit in the group when there was a split in the field on the second of six laps, and I was caught in the back half. One by one, people attacked and managed to make it back up to the front group until there was only four of us left. Travis Sherman and I went super hard up the county line hill on the backside of the course and bridged across onto the group just before the turn onto the chip/seal. The other two didn’t quite make it.

On that next lap, I was recovering at the back when a rider swerved over a bit when he stood up to climb on that same county line hill, clipping Jonathan Crain’s front wheel sending him head over heels but thankfully straight into the grass – the safest place to land. A few minutes later I would see and talk to Jonathan again briefly in the follow-car which caught up to me right after the chip seal where I had come off the back of the group on the downhill leading to the smooth pavement. My right leg had gone from the tingling of a cramp to a full cramp just from the rough road. I coasted and unclipped hoping it would relax quick enough on the downhill in time for me to drill it back onto the back of the pack. But with 30 miles left to race, it probably would have given out again before the end. In any case, it didn’t matter because it took until nearly the bottom of the hill before the cramp subsided and by that point the pack was long gone … certainly too far away to bridge back up with the minimal effort required to keep the cramp at bay … so I chatted with Jonathan checking to make sure he was ok before they sped up in the follow-car to catch onto the back of the race.

At this point, I thought I was in last place and was determined to finish the race. But my leg was still on the edge of cramping and did indeed lock up one more time on the 19mph lap I did – 6mph slower than what we had done on the first lap. As I crawled along towards the end of that fourth lap, I kept waiting for the masters field to catch me and was trying to remember the rules of whether or not I could sit onto the back of their pack, but instead, the two survivors from earlier – Andrew Harris and Forrest Howard – caught back up. I hopped on and told them I was cramping pretty bad. I tried pulling through a few times but in the end I couldn’t pull through every time and was on the edge of cramping so I asked to just sit on as long as I could which lasted until the chip/seal on the last lap where I came off again finishing in last place, dfl. My first dfl out of 26 camp sumatanga races. Still though, I had a blast and was impressed at Andrew and Forrests’ determination to pull hard all the way to the end.

Finishing last got me thinking back on the races to see where all I had finished, so I used Strava segments to find the ride files where I usually posted my finishing place in the ride title, plus my racing blog, plus the photo on my kitchen window sill to remember back to earlier races pre-strava, pre-blog, and figure out all my placings over the years. Here’s a quick summary and then an embedded spreedsheet with all the results. These are sorted by fastest lap time. Note, that yesterday’s first lap was my fourth fastest lap time ever out of the 101 times I’ve lapped that course on Strava.

Camp Sumatanga race results – 26 races

I have so many memories from the Camp Sumatanga race. I realized yesterday though as I couldn’t remember what number to put after 4 for my racing age that I’ve already advanced up into the old timer’s category at the ripe old age of 43 … getting hit by a couple cars and numerous, numerous bike wrecks over the years your head takes a bit of a knocking. I raced with a racing age of “4” yesterday … in the 1/2/3 field … lol.

I do want to share one more memory, probably my best from all 26 races. It was 2015, and it was the first time I had ridden to the race from my house. Here’s the first two notes I left on Strava:

Great race today … I made it into a six man break on the second lap – then attacked the break with two laps to go to make it a 4 man break. Justin Prior attacked with one to go to make it a 3 man break. I attacked on the last hill to come in for the win! I rode pretty easy on the way there, and the ride on the way home was a really fun route. The off and on rain made for a long day, but at least it was warmer than it has been!

Also, I set three personal records today – most climbing in a week 122000 feet, most riding in a week 700 miles, and also a new 40k record (58 minutes) during the race.

It was March 2015, and I was in the middle of a heavy training block for my first Race Across America. But I still managed to win the race, surprising myself very, very, very much. I still remember climbing up US-231 after the race to make it to the gas station at the Blount county line on the start of my ride back home to Birmingham. I remember just having this indescribable feeling of accomplishment and happiness with the waterfalls from the rain cascading on either side of the road. I called Kristine and told her about the race (that gas station is also the first place you can get cell phone reception). After getting some pizza and gatorade, I biked home across Pine Mountain and down through Clay, Trussville, and Birmingham. Sure, winning the bike race was a key part of that feeling, but it was more than that. I was away on my bike like I was 10 years old again racing the bus around the neighborhood, free to fly home through the clouds up on Pine Mountain and outrun all the dogs of Blount County.

Strava Shootout Week 3 – Smyer KOM

We are nearing the end of Week 3 of the second annual Birmingham Strava Shootout. Basically, we pick a different climb each week and then see who can get the fastest time up the climb. Mark Fisher has been crushing it (and crushing a lot of my KOMs along the way) so when he laid down another smoking fast time yesterday crushing by 20 seconds my KOM on the long version of the Smyer climb, I knew that I was going to give it everything I had to get back the KOM today.

The rock where I left all my stuff while I was going for the KOM

I did a new version of the endless Vestavia climb at a really easy pace to get nearly an hour of warm-up in before my KOM attempt. I came into the KOM from the top so I dropped all my stuff off (water bottles, tools, pump, food, iphone, etc…) behind the rock shown in the picture above. Then I drilled it down the descent to keep my legs loose and ready to go at the turnaround at the bottom. I forgot to look ahead of time to see what wattage I should be able to maintain for 6 minutes, but I guessed it should be around 425 watts. I made the final decision on that wattage as I was descending and kept telling myself not to go too hard at the beginning.

As narrated in the video, I started out by looking at the wrong wattage number (3s wattage which happened to be 370watts at the moment when I looked instead of the Lap wattage which was actually 470 watts at that point). After I figured out that I had looked at the wrong wattage number, I settled into a good rhythm backing off my initial pace so that the power average drifted back down towards 425 watts. The last time I looked at my wattage was near the Brookwood Metro back entrance road where the wattage average had dropped to just below 450 watts. I looked at my average speed a few seconds later as I turned onto Smyer and I had a solid 18.8mph average through that point. This gave me a ton of motivation because I was expecting to be closer to 18 flat and was afraid that I would even be under 18 based on the fact that I was trying to be more conservative through the opening part of the climb.

Up ahead I could see two other riders side by side as they entered the switchback portion of the climb. I was on them really quickly and had to pass them on the wrong side of the road because there was no time to yell and wait for them to get out of the way. Fortunately, I had a clear view through the switchback and was able to pass them very quickly and get back onto my side of the road. There was a good tailwind through the 280 overlook section so I entered the flat section before the next set of switchbacks with a ton of speed. I got a bit overconfident at this point as I tried to hammer through the next switchbacks in too big a gear leading to quite a bit of bogging down. I upshifted into an easier gear at the Hurricane Ivan landslide/washout area to try to get back on top of a gear and proceeded to nail the deepest pothole in the washout.

I happened to look down and see my time as I rounded the last turn before the straightaway leading to Shades Crest, and I saw a time of 4:00 or maybe it was 4:05. This caused a lot of mental anxiety/consternation because up until that point I felt really good about my prospects of getting the KOM, but when I saw that I was already up to 4 minutes, I wasn’t sure if that was going to leave me enough time to get to the top. I don’t normally ever look at the time through that section so I had no clue how much time was left in the climb. Those thoughts/doubts were quickly dismissed as I saw a group of riders strung out climbing up from the steep portion of Shades Crest Rd crossing the intersection that I was barreling towards at 20mph. Normally, you have to time the merger to slide into the road either in front of or behind cars that are coming up the hill. The still image screenshot in the video at the top of this post is a picture of that intersection (Shades Crest is the road coming up the hill from the left).

If I wasn’t digging so deep, then I probably would have laughed at the irony of having to time that intersection based on riders coming up the hill instead of cars. I found a hole to dive into and then passed the rider who I had slid in behind. He cheered me on as I came flying by, and that helped motivate me to push it really hard through the sharp steep turn onto Smyer Circle and then the flatter drawn-out ending of the climb. When I hit the lap timer button, I saw 5’55” and I was about ready to fall off my bike.

It’s funny, too, because I was really trying to discipline myself to maintain a 425 watt average throughout the climb instead of starting out too hard and then watching the power drift down. I ended up hitting my 425 watt target wattage exactly even though I cannot recall ever looking at my wattage again after passing the Brookwood Metro entrance. Speaking of wattage, when I loaded this ride into Golden Cheetah, I first noticed that my effort was indeed a new maximum that extended all the way to the edge of the critical power curve. But then I noticed that my CP curve had been dropped from 305 watts down to 293 watts. I’m guessing that this has something to do with a better fit to the curve. The good news is that this shift in the curve means that I theoretically have a lot of “wattage-room” to take back the shorter KOMs on Old Montgomery and Big Momma that Mark got the last couple weeks. But it seems strange that my new curve predicts a new, lower 1 hour wattage of exactly 300watts instead of the previous prediction of 315watts based on the new 293 CP wattage vs the old 305 CP wattage. Can any power/golden cheetah/critical power experts out there weigh in on how this ride would cause my curve to shift? I’ve included three screenshots below that show my CP curve before updating with the Old Montgomery KOM effort, after updating with the Smyer effort, and then one that shows the CP curve with today’s Smyer effort in black before Golden Cheetah had updated the CP curve. Thanks!

305W CP curve with the Old Montgomery KOM effort shown in black (click to enlarge)

293W CP curve updated after my Smyer KOM effort — shown in black. (click to enlarge)

305W CP curve with the Smyer effort shown in black. This is the screenshot before Golden Cheetah updated the CP curve to a 293W CP curve. (click to enlarge)

Smyer power map annotated with 30second power averages (click to enlarge)

Smyer KOM lap summary data (click to enlarge). I thought it was interesting that my xPow (normative power) was lower than my average power. I’m pretty sure I was pedaling the entire time so I’m not sure why there is a difference between normalized power and average power?

Finally, I’ve posted screenshots from the ride and also taken some screenshots from the video showcasing the beautiful fall colors. These are in the gallery below. Enjoy!