What many people don't realize about fitness is, if you want it, you need to start far earlier than you probably prefer. If you have lofty goals, well chances are you're already behind schedule. Fitness and the process of gaining fitness is a trial and error endeavor, one that can only be tamed through decades of practice.
Cycling is an interesting sport in that you need to maintain "race fitness" for quite a while. With most disciplines kicking off their season in March, you've got until somewhere around October to hang on to some semblance of fitness. Staying motivated, making quantifiable gains, and racing well are all challenges of their own. This is why the planning and some of the actual ground work for a season begins the moment the previous one ends.
My season is over now, I won't be racing any more mountain bike races in 2013. But that means that 2014 is now in view, and there is much work to be done. Looking back on 2013, I have taken note of my failings, struggles and weak points, and will set out to sort those things out for the coming season of racing. One of those weak points was simply not having enough miles in legs to be able to compete at the end of 7-8 hours of racing. As an endurance mountain bike racer, the final hour is the only thing that matters. In races like those in the NUE series, if you get worn down before then, you're out of contention.
I am a strong believer in climbing numbers. If I have a few hours to train, I almost always default to taking the hilliest route I can find. As a guy who has a full time job and a family, I don't get 5 hours a day to go put in 100 miles. I need my legs to feel like they've gone further than they have. So, I go up.
Today was the first training day with an eye towards 2014. With bigger aspirations for next season, I know that if I'm going to be there in the final hour of my races, I need more miles and more climbing under my belt. I'm down in Roanoke, Virginia this weekend, and planned a route that would get me as much climbing as possible on some dirt roads and trails.
I set out early on my Specialized Epic and got to enjoy a golden sunrise over the mountains. I started my climbing and felt fairly good on the Cat 2 climb out of Poages Valley. I rode across the top of Bent Mountain and dropped down Poor Mountain towards Salem, VA. At the bottom, I took some Infinit GoFar to fuel up, and turned around. Climbing Poor Mountain is fun to me. All the grades are challenging but not overwhelming staying below 10% usually. Its dirt and gravel with a few rocks littered in, so you can get a nice rhythm. I churned my way up this HC climb and came over the top to some breathtaking fall scenery.
Somewhere along Poor Mountain though, I had lost one of my three bottles of Infinit. That was about 300 of my 900 calories for the ride, not to mention an extra 20 ounces of water. I was a bit worried, but given the cooler temperatures, I hoped for the best.
At the top I started down a new road I had only seen on a map, Brake Road. A very appropriate name for this old trail that had rocks and logs littering the path. Unlike Poor Mountain, this was a slow descent with all the obstacles. Checking my time I noticed I was taking a bit longer than I had hoped, so I stopped midway down Poor Mountain and headed back up. By the top, I was overjoyed that I had cut it short. The terrain was brutal. Steeper than Poor Mountain, it was a bear climbing through the rock gardens and overgrown grasses. I was moving at half the speed of Poor Mountain and was quickly running out of calories. I took in as much Infinit as I dared knowing it was a long ride back, and finished the climb.
With the sun fully up now, the mirrored lenses of my Spy Screw sunglasses provided a nice shielded view of the gorgeous mountains all around me (I tend to get unnecessarily stressed about using a mirrored or clear lens for rides, its ridiculous, but mirrored was the good choice!) At the top, I could have stayed up there and looked for hours. The views were some of the best I've seen all year. I love it down here.
I began my ride back and most of it fortunately was downhill. The Infinit had given me a good boost and I was hammering the descents, trying to make up for lost time on the slow slog up Brake Road. At the end of the day I got in a solid 4:32 ride (Strava file) with a bit over 8,000 feet of climbing over 58 miles. My Garmin 510 thinks I burned 2800 calories (debatable) and with all that effort, I only managed to average 12.9 mph! Nonetheless, it was exactly what I had been looking for. Great training route, tons of climbing, and amazing scenery to boot. 2014 is off to a good start.