Sunday, March 18, 2012

Riding Through the Mental Block

I made the very last minute call this year to race Battenkill in April. I've raced there once before, and remember it being hard - really hard. Battenkill usually attracts 1000+ racers to its 62 miles with 25% dirt roads and almost 4000 feet of climbing. 

Since I am not a climber, I hunkered down after plopping my $80 into registration, and got busy with training. The past two weekends, Michele and I have been out riding 60+ miles, and last weekend, a number of hills. I've been out with the boys on the short hill climb loop, and the left-for-dead rides. But what I really needed were some tougher hills and a longer ride. I bumped into a friend this week and told him of my upcoming weekend ride plan - "You don't need to do that to train for Battenkill", he said. But you see - I needed it to prove to myself mentally that I was up for the challenge.

So, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Mike and I headed north to ride the Notches. We have done this ride in the past in early March - it was epic. This year, I checked the predicted wind forecast before leaving Bedford - temps were predicted to be in the 60s, sun and very little wind. We also made sure this year to check with the rangers before departure on the condition of Bear Notch and Passaconaway Road. They looked at us like we had twelve heads, and let us know that there was no way we could pass either of those on our bicycles. Given that there was no snow on the ground in Lincoln, NH, I was skeptical of their answer, but we planned to take them at their word.

Still smiling
The ride starts off with a relatively easy section of uphill leading into the more difficult Kinsman Notch climb. I stuck with Mike to the base of the climb, and then settled in to my own pace to make it to the top. Just over six miles into the ride and we had already climbed over 1200 feet! From the top of Kinsman, through the descent, over Franconia and heading into Twin Mountain was overcast, cold and reasonably miserable. It wasn't until just before we reached Twin Mountain that we saw the sun come out again, and we were grateful for the warmth.

Almost to the top of Kinsman
Thankfully, the ride up route 3, and then heading towards Crawford Notch on 302 was significantly less windy than on our epic ride. But, as we got ready to head down over the Notch, the wind funneling up through was once again a factor (just not quite as bad as my last experience). With the Zipps on the bike, the wind tends to push me around, so I was careful to control my speed on the descent - just in case.
It was through this section of the ride that I felt bad for Mike. He had pulled the entire way from Lincoln and onto Route 3 heading into Twin Mountain. I provided only a few brief respites for him as we rode from there and on into Bartlett - working to keep up was effort for me. I thought about how if he were with some other, stronger riders, this would have been an easier (and probably faster) ride for him, but was grateful that he chose to be with me.

Happy St. Paddy's Day!
We stopped in Bartlett at our usual pit stop to fill up our bottles, and get some real food into our systems. Since it was St. Patrick's Day, we opted to share a grilled reuben and some hand-made chips. Delicious, but probably a bit much given that we were only 1/2 way through our ride.

I think I ate too much
Back out on the roads, we continued past Attitash/Bear Peak where the skiers were eking out some of the last runs of the year, and onto West Side Road to head towards Conway. The only negative traffic encounter we had all day came in Conway Center when a driver insisted on blaring their horn at two riders, clearly in the bike lane. Apparently they needed more than a lane in which to drive their big SUV.

As we made the turn onto 112 and the bottom of the Kanc, I was starting to feel demoralized. I knew we still had 38 miles to ride, and the hardest climb of the day was still to come. I was already tired (after all, we HAD already ridden over 75 miles), but also knew that I could make it through. As the road pitched up on the lower section of the Kancamagus Highway, I started to drop off of Mike's pace, and told him to just keep going - I was going to suffer my way through.

YES! Finally the top!
I also noted the good amount of snow in the woods here - the rangers had been right about us not being able to get through either Bear Notch or Passaconaway. Just past the turn for Bear Notch Road, the Kanc levels out and I was able to get a better pace going. I looked up at one point though and thought I was hallucinating - I could see something at the side of the road, but couldn't quite make out what it was. As I rode closer, I saw that it was Mike, who had waited for me to be sure I was ok. We continued together until the real climb started, and then I sent him on his way, as I settled into my 8.2 mph average pace to the top. 

It's all downhill from here
There were points where I wanted to stop. My back hurt, my knees hurt, my a$$ was killing me. I alternated sitting and spinning, with getting out of the saddle to grind up a bit further. But, I never stopped, despite wanting to. I pushed through, albeit at close to a running pace, but made it up the climb. Hooray! Mike was waiting for me at the top, so after a quick stop to don my vest, head covering and warmer gloves, we were on our way back down.

MKR's stats - It took me 6:15
We passed the spot where I had climbed in the car the last time I did this ride, and I felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that I was going to finish. We rolled into the parking lot at the visitor center after 113 miles, 6355 ft of climbing, and over 6 hours in the saddle. I was wiped, but had beaten the mental demons to finish what I started. This was a good test for me - I know now, that I can get through Battenkill, and just maybe, even do a reasonable job at it.

We ended our day at the Woodstock Inn and Brewery for dinner and beverages. A beer never tasted so good! Thanks, Mike, for a terrific day, and for dragging me around the block.