Riding at altitude, with an attitude….

The Leadville 100 poses a unique set of challenges for a bike rider. Its long (over 100 miles), has a lot of climbing (over 12,000 ft worth) and its at altitude (between 10,000 and 12,500 ft). Of those three I have the first two covered. I feel good about long rides and I can gut out lots of climbing. I may not be fast up hills, but I can keep the cranks turning (or I can keep pushing my bike if needed). But altitude, now that’s the one thing I cannot simulate here in the relatively low conditions in the Adirondack Mountains.

Our trip to Colorado gave me the chance to live and ride at altitude for the first time. And it was revealing.

During my vacation I rented a mountain bike so that I could try my hand at riding at altitude. And I had a blast exploring a new area on a bike. But what was it like to ride high in the mountains?

I got a minor case of altitude sickness when I got there. The symptoms I had were experienced mostly when I was sleeping (or more precisely not sleeping). OK so its technically not altitude sickness, but it really stunk. I would fall asleep and wake up totally startled feeling like I was unable to breath. And that made getting back to sleep really difficult. That settled down a little bit after the first couple of days, but I would classify my sleep as poor to crappy the whole trip. (Authors note: I am still catching up on my sleep a couple of days after we got home.) Next year when I go out for the race, I will get a prescription for Diamox (and maybe Ambien ;)) before hand to help with that. I also experienced some minor headaches throughout my trip, but its hard to say if that was from altitude or from lack of sleep. I’m going on lack of sleep for now.

Riding at altitude was better than I had expected it would be. What I found was that terrain that I would find easy at home (flat and up to 6% grade) was still easy at altitude. I was able to go pretty much as fast and hard under those conditions as I would down here closer to sea level. When the hills went over about a 6% grade, then it got hard. Bike riders talk about “the red line”. That’s the point at which you are biking harder than you can sustain for even a short period of time. We do that to say get up a steep hill quickly, or put some distance between you and someone who is riding with you, or to catch up to someone in front of you. That causes you to loose energy that you may not be able to get back through less exertion or food or whatever. And you have to be very very careful when and how much you do that, or you might not be able to finish.

What I found was my “red line” level of exertion was lower at altitude than it is here at home. So what does that mean for racing in Leadville? Pretty much nothing, except it provides a caution for riding in the race. When I rode the Willmington Whiteface Qualifier I found I got excited and went out very fast. Too fast. And along with not eating enough it sapped my strength for the end of the ride. Riding last week at altitude just reinforced the need to ride my own race. I need to listen to my body and not go too fast. My race is not with the pro’s, or even the really good sport riders like Fatty. My race is with myself, to get to the finish, and to see what I can do. (Etch that into your brain Doug!)

So my goals for next year?

1. Finish in under 12 hours. If you do that, you get the buckle and you finished the race under the time limit.

2. I am going to train and shoot for being totally average in this race. That means I am going to try to finish in 10 hours and 19 minutes (the historic average finish time). Totally average would make me very happy.

3. Always keeping in mind goal #1 Doug.
If I do that, then I get to see this….

then you all will get to see this…

OK, only with me (not Lance) and probably a couple of hours later than him (if he were to ride it again!)


One thought on “Riding at altitude, with an attitude….

  1. Pingback: Where I am now | A Year of Living…humm…dangerous?

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