Iron Horse ClassicThis year's Iron Horse road race, a 6000 ft climb from Durango to Silverton, was epic! A pack of 83 women in the combined age categories 45+ and 55+ rolled out at just before 8 am. This time I wasn't too quick to judge cycling fitness based on hair grayness or other superficial observations... I knew these ladies were tough. My plan was to stick with the group for as long as possible, but if they attacked the first hill too fast I would ride my own pace, rather than blowing up. I actually had a note taped to my frame that told me how long each section of the course was, how fast I should be going, and what time I would reach each landmark. Sounds ridiculous I know, but it sets some goals, provides something to think about (other than pain), and is remarkable accurate.
The biggest challenge we faced this year was the weather. Driving into Durango on Friday evening, the sky was tinged brown with dust kicked up from strong wind and gusts of 60+ mph. Saturday began calm, but as we approached the two higher passes, wind was definitely a factor. There were moments of elation, as a powerful gust shoved me forward; other times I was pelted by pine cones or nearly stalled in the headwind.
Early in the race I identified a woman who pedaled at a steady, fast cadence that I was able to stay with. She looked to be about 30 from behind, but when I saw her from the front I realized she was one of "us", the older ladies. I later learned that she was in the 55+ group. We switched places off and on all day; she led the climbs and pulled me on the flats, and I usually slipped away on the descents. Had the wind not been so scary, I might have been able to stay ahead. As it was, my descents were tempered, as I thought about how fast I wanted to hit the pavement if a gust knocked me over. Luckily that didn't happen, but at one point I was pushed sideways with my wheels literally off the ground.
I managed to finish the race 10 minutes faster than last year, which was exactly my goal (I have the piece of paper that was taped to my bike to prove it!). However, I did learn how important fluid and calories are. It's not like I hadn't realized that I would need to eat and drink, but I didn't appreciate the degree of energy expenditure required for this 3+ hour event. In 3 hrs 21 min and 6000 ft, I only ate 2 energy gels and drank only 2 water bottles for a whopping consumption of about 400 calories (and my Garmin indicate a total expenditure of 1400). I should have consumed at least 900 calories and at least 3 bottles of fluid. So how do I know this was even a problem, especially since I bested last year's time? It happened at the finish, or rather just before. As I was pounding my way to the line, a girl from my group appeared out of nowhere and pulled ahead. My counter-"sprint" got me no closer to her; she was too well-rested from drafting me (excellent strategy, by the way). Anyway, in dealing with her plus another couple of citizen riders, I barely heard this guy standing in the middle of the road say "Racers, left". My mind did not comprehend who he was or what he was saying... and by the time it sank in, I was already corralled in the right side lane.... and I missed the finish! Definite brain drain... Lunch after the race was also interesting, as my friend JB and I tried to carry on a conversation, but neither of us could hang on to a thought for more than a second or two.
The brain problem was evidence of an energy shortage, but more importantly, the Garmin data shows that on the last climb my pace and heart rate kept dropping off. The inability to maintain power on each of these climbs illustrates an important deficit in my training... the lack of a deep aerobic base. Obviously, quite a few my fellow "pushing or pushed" 50ers did not have this deficit, as my result was around 23rd place, middle of the pack. In fact, quite a few of the 55+ ladies cleaned my clock. These ladies from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico were amazing, and definitely an inspiration! So, beginning now and for all of June, I'm working backward to a base training regime... endurance block, here I come!