Apparently, at 50 years old, I am still naive. I have planned to climb Mount Mitchell for more than six months. I trained over the winter. I trained as much as I could this spring. I looked at the elevation profiles. I researched the climb to the top and came up with a (ridiculous) goal. I researched some more. I was confident that it would be difficult but I would make it with no issues.
Let’s just be honest here. Arrogance can help in some situations. I had a lot of arrogance about this ride. I thought “It can’t be that hard” “They only make it seem like it is difficult so that they can feel better or brag when they complete the ride.” “It’s just a bit of climbing. I do that all the time around here”. I was incredibly wrong.
When I reached Marion, approximately 70 miles in, I still had a large amount of arrogance onboard with me. I felt good. Plenty of energy and I had needed to use the restroom twice during the ride at that point so I knew I was getting enough water despite the record heat. This was going to be a cake walk. Just rinse and repeat for the next 30 miles.
That is not how it went. Those 30 miles were the toughest miles I have ever spent on my bike. There were climbs that were nearly impossible for me. I had to get off the bike and rest before continuing on. I had to put my head down between my legs so I wouldn’t pass out. I had to squeeze thick glucose gel into my mouth to continue. In the end, I was one of the last allowed to finish the ride due to the time constraints that the park service places on this ride. Many times during that relentless 30 mile climb and just shortly after, I swore that I would never do this ride again. EVER.
…and here we are, two days past the event, and I think I may want to do it again. I can do better. I can train in such a way that this won’t be as difficult. I will never make it to the top in 5:09 as the first finisher did this year but I can certainly make it in less than 10 hours….right? Maybe I really am naive but let’s see what the next year brings. Arrogance does help.
The weather and travel have conspired to hamper my training over the last week or so. Travel brings its own special challenge in that it forces me to use either the elliptical or a recumbent stationary bike…both of which I absolutely abhor. This usually means I do far less than I should. Fifteen to twenty minutes in a hotel “fitness center” is about all I can take. The weather is a crap shoot lately. Low temperatures can be dealt with by bundling up and just riding anyway but cold coupled with a snow/rain mix just makes for a miserable and potentially dangerous ride. Enter the smart trainer. This is a device that I can attach my road bike to that can emulate the resistance of riding outside – including climbing hills. It isn’t exactly the same but it is a reasonable facsimile. I use two programs to control and track my rides, TrainerRoad and Zwift.
TrainerRoad is all about straight training. There are loads of different training programs to follow depending on what you are trying to accomplish but the interface is bare bones – just a simple graph to follow with on screen prompts giving you tips and drills to improve your cadence, pedal efficiency, etc.
It’s simple and it works. In conjunction with the smart trainer, you are forced to put out the power that the training program requires because it is in control of the trainer and the resistance that is required to turn the pedals. No need to even shift gears. I have used it a lot this winter and I am happy with my ability to maintain an acceptable level of fitness when I couldn’t get out on the fat bike.
Zwift is more immersive. It is like a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Your avatar is riding on virtual roads with hundreds of other riders from all over the world. Two of the courses represent real world locations and roads- London and Richmond, VA. The third course is called Watopia and it has an active volcano to ride up (and through!), jungle, dirt roads, flat and hilly roads. Most timely for me is the latest route that has opened – Alpe du Zwift . Zwift created this route using GPS data to perfectly match the incline and distance of the famed Tour de France Alpe d’Huez climb with 21 hairpin turns and 3,399 feet of climbing at an average 8% grade. What better way to train for climbing a mountain than by virtually climbing a mountain? All I can say is that I made it. I was slow – it took me well over two hours to make it to the top – but I made it. With no real world climb in the area that can match this level of intensity and length, the plan will be to throw this virtual ride in at least a few more times before I actually climb Mount Mitchell.
*Note the above animation was borrowed from the Zwift blog
The first full week of training is complete. It has been cold and windy but at least the roads have been clear and dry. My use of the trainer this winter gave me a base to work from and I am not starting completely from scratch. Riding the road is a far different animal though and it is much tougher when you are actually pushing your weight along rather than riding in place. Speaking of which, to ease my climb up a mountain, I need to lighten the engine weight by ten or more pounds before the ride. This may actually prove to be the bigger challenge as the extra exercise comes with an increased appetite. Wish me luck.