Posts filed under ‘Off-season’

Clingman’s Dome 2x plus Waterrock Knob

Today’s ride may very well have been my toughest road ride ever (last week’s 9 hour mountain bike race at Oak Mountain may have been a smidge tougher). I’ve done rides that were much longer with twice the total climbing, but this one was particularly difficult because I was trying to go for some really long KOMs on top of the overall fast pace for the 135 mile ride. Plus, I was not quite adequately dressed for the first 4 hours of the ride in temps that varied constantly from mid 20s to lower 30s back to mid 20s to upper 30s back down below freezing again before FINALLY starting to climb up to the predicted high of lower 50s.

I got started at 6:40AM still before sunrise, and after a very short warm-up, I started out on a KOM attempt from Gatlinburg up to the top of the Clingman’s Dome tower. I set 275 watts as my power goal and ended up falling a couple watts short of that … I broke my old record by a few minutes, but it was only good enough for 5th place on Strava. When I made it to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, there were only four cars and so I was able to ride up to the tower passing two couples along the way. I made it up to the top to enjoy the view very briefly before heading back down. I was super, super careful on the descent as I passed those same two couples still walking up. See video of the tower below:

From the top of Clingman’s I started to head back down the access road towards 441. I stopped to get a few pics on the way back down since I wasn’t going for any KOMs. I also got this video below of the icicle wall melting:

The Clingman’s dome access road is on the southeast side of the ridge line for the most part so it warms up pretty quickly, but as you descend on 441 towards Cherokee you enter a narrow river canyon that is shaded by an arm of the ridge line. This was the coldest part of the ride because I was sustaining an average speed of close to 40mph at temps below freezing. My “holey” long finger gloves, which I had brought with me because I knew that it was supposed to warm into the 50s, were no match for the windchill. I think it is probably in the top 5 of the coldest I’ve ever been on the bike … #1 still belongs to another ride in Gatlinburg from about 5 years ago where it was raining in the low 30s and I had short finger gloves on … oh my goodness just thinking about it makes me shudder. Also, ironically, these gloves were “holey” from a wreck a couple years ago where I slid out on some ice on the descent from Newfound Gap back down to Gatlinbug. I ripped both palms wide open sliding along the icy road … fortunately my hands were ok, but the gloves were now “holey”.

I made it down, stopped briefly at the national park info center hoping for some free coffee and after not finding any checked my Garmin and saw that a mini-mart convenience store was only 1 mile away in Cherokee, and headed out to refuel with something hot. I got a large coffee and also a large hoagie burger that had 650 calories and 31g of protein and who knows how many grams of fat. But it was awesome. After warming up in the gas station for a good 20 minutes, I headed back out to start the climb up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Wolf Laurel Gap and eventually to the 6000ft overlook at Waterrock Knob.

The cool thing about this long climb at the very end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is all of the tunnels (about 5 of them). At the very beginning the road is potmarked with rockfall from the super steep wall immediately right of the road. It’s easy enough to dodge the small holes when climbing, and then when descending you are on the opposite side of the road which doesn’t have as much damage. It’s also easy to get paranoid that a rock is going to fall and hit you … I looked up a couple times just to make sure everything looked stable.

After the long climb to Wolf Laurel Gap, there is a 2 mile descent down to the bridge which crosses US-19 before the 6 mile climb up to Waterrock Knob. The cool thing about the Waterrock Knob climb is that the trail to the overlook area is paved … it averages probably somewhere around 18% with sections close to 25%. The paved trail climbs all the way up to the steps to the overlook. You have to unclip at nearly a 20% gradient with a rock wall to your left and a steep drop-off to your right and only one chance at getting it right. It’s the one time I actually get nervous when trying to unclip because of the consequences of not getting unclipped. Fortunately it was no problem and I was able to lean forward to keep from tipping over backwards. But I remember last year when I rode to this same point being nervous about unclipping. You climb a short flight of stairs to this overlook (see video below).

My original plan after this climb was to descend down the other side down to Waynesville, turn around and go back skipping Clingman’s Dome … but I chickened out thinking that my legs wouldn’t be able to handle a FOURTH hors categorie (HC) climb in this ride so I opted to add on the additional Cat 2 climb from the top of Newfound Gap to the Clingman’s Dome tower. Next year, I’m going to try to plan it out better and do that extra HC climb and skip Clingman’s Dome especially after what happened this year …
First, I got these videos of the climb on 441 and then the access road to Clingman’s. I was really tired by this point. Then, when I finally made it to the parking lot, it was jammed pack with easily 100 or more cars. There were people everywhere. Naturally when I started to ride up the path, the forest ranger stopped me and told me that bikes were not allowed. I convinced him to let me walk with my bike so I took off my shoes and ended up walking/jogging all the way up the super steep trail to the top (about 0.3 miles / 300 feet vertical gain). I still had to weave around hoards of people as I was jogging up the mountain in my socks … and I couldn’t help but think of the irony of me being faster 110 miles into my difficult ride, running in my socks, pushing a bike up the steep trail than most of the people who were trying to hike 0.3 miles from the parking lot. Kudos to them, though, for attempting the strenuous activity rather than just sitting in the parking lot and enjoying the view from there. Here’s the video I got from the top the second time:

After walking back down to the parking lot (again in my socks), I put my shoes back on, hopped on the bike, and zipped back down to 441 where I ended up unfortunately getting stuck in a long caravan of cars stuck behind a slow driver. The cars were still going fast enough on the flatter sections of the climb that I would briefly get dropped before catching up in the next series of turns. This meant I got to enjoy at least a few of the many corners on the descent at speed.

Gatlinburg was a bit of a zoo by the time I made it back down at 4:15 in the afternoon. Fortunately, the turn to get up to our hotel is the first righthand turn you can make as you get back into town so I was able to make it back to the hotel without the Garmin battery running out … 9.5 hours after first starting … the rest of the pics, Garmin screenshots, and videos are below.

November 18, 2012 at 9:17 am 2 comments

Gatlinburg Day 1

Do you know how much I love riding in the true mountains? We got in last night at 11:45PM, and I knew that my 700x23c racing tires would be no match for potentially slick icy roads up here so I spent another 30 minutes changing both tires and putting on some good 700x25c all-weather tires (gotta love the Strada-Ks) so that by the time I made it to bed it was 12:30AM. Nevertheless, I set my alarm for 5:30AM so I’d have a chance to do some riding before my computer conference began. Now during a quick break after lunch I just uploaded my ride and see that I ended up with the KOM on the motor trail descent … heartrate still racing a bit from ducking, diving, and sliding around corners in the half-light of dawn shaded by Mt Leconte. Here are some pics I took along the way:

November 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

Lover’s Leap, Bluff Park, Alabama

Beautiful overcast fall day today for my commute home from work. I wanted to head up to Bluff Park instead of my normal commute through Vestavia Hills. A little more than an hour into my ride, I found myself exploring the Lover’s Leap rocks up in Bluff Park with the cool inscription shown below (and narrated in the video above):

Lover’s Leap inscription. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see my best guess at what it says.

Here’s the rest of the pics from the day, plus one more video — the somewhat crazy descent from Crest Lane all the way down through the Green Valley roller coaster. I’ve put some bookmarks into the description on youtube so you can jump to specific spots of the video if you watch it on you tube and then click the timestamps in the description.

Tho W. Farrar
Seraphine F. Farrar
To sit on rock ... head and fell
To slowly trace the forest's shady scene
Where things that own not in one dominion dwell
And mortal feet ... rarely been
August 20th

“…” means I have no clue what that part of the poem says.

November 5, 2012 at 8:43 pm 2 comments

End of the season maps

Lots of fun maps from the season. All of these maps cover routes between November 1, 2010 and October 30, 2011.

Quick summary-
Flying: 3,900 mi.
Driving: 17,300 mi.
Biking: 17,600 mi.
Total: 38,800 mi.

Zoomed in view of the Birmingham routes – Hoover, Vestavia, Homewood

Biking near Birmingham

Biking in Alabama from Birmingham north and eastwards

All bike routes (racing, training, and commuting) for the year

Biking (racing, training, and commuting) all over the southeast

Biking (racing, training, and commuting) all over the midwest

Biking in Nicaragua for our June 2011 Nuevas Esperanzas board meeting

All of our driving to/from races and/or family vacation spots
Lots of fun maps from the season. All of these maps are for one year (November 1, 2010 – October 30, 2011). 38,824 miles consisting of 3,940 miles flying, 17,314 miles driving, and

Roundtrip flight from Chicago to Nicaragua in June 2011

Everything all on one map – annotated

Screenshot of my website ( for creating these types of maps.

November 6, 2011 at 1:34 am 2 comments

End of the Season Statistics and THANKS

First, a huge thank you to everyone in the cycling community and to all who have been following my racing this year. I’ll expand this thank you at the end of the post, but I wanted to thank everyone up front first.

These statistics all run from November 1, 2010 until October 30, 2011 – 364 days worth of riding and racing. This is a deviation from previous years where I have calculated statistics for what I would call my racing/training season – from December 1st of the previous year until the weekend ending close to October 15th of the current year. This strategy is somewhat less than precise and completely ignores the “off season” where I am still riding, commuting etc… So from here on out, I’m just going to stick with a full calendar year (ending on the nearest weekend, in this case October 30th) for tracking all of the stats. The Polar Protrainer software makes it easy to re-calculate these statistics over new date ranges.

Statistics Summary
November 1, 2010 – October 30, 2011

Statistic Avg Max Min Total
Weekly training time (hours) 22.43 32.95 9.57 1166.7
Weekly distance (miles) 338.4 502.7 140.3 17,597
Workouts per week (#) 11 17 4 580
Weekly climbing (feet) 30,738 52,188 6,821 1,598,333

For eagle-eyed observers who note that the climbing total is lower than that reported on Strava, the reason is because I am generating these reports from my Polar Protrainer software. I wrote a converter that converts Garmin .FIT files and .TCX files into the .HRM format that Polar expects. The Polar Protrainer software then applies a smoothing filter when it is calculating total ascent and other statistics, but I can’t figure out how to turn it off so that the statistics match up with Strava, which doesn’t apply any smoothing filters.

Some weekly milestone totals (from Strava):

  • 11 weeks with more than 400 miles of riding, including one 502 mile week
  • 8 weeks with more than 50,000 ft of climbing, including one week with 58,000 ft
  • 11 weeks with more than 25 hours of training/racing

Other statistical highlights (from Strava):

The mileage and climbing represent a substantial increase from previous years, but my heartrate average dropped by 5bpm per ride on average which is a substantial decrease in intensity. The extra easy miles mixed in with bouts of intensity from racing and Strava KOM attempts combined with “SportLegs” and wearing compression clothing nearly 100% of the time that I am not on the bike or sleeping has been the perfect formula to keep from overtraining.

Comparison to past years
All years run from the Monday closest to November 1st to the Sunday closest to October 31st. This should result in about 365 days for each year give or take a day or two.

(per week)
Training (hours) 14.0/20.2 13.4/20.8 15.4/20.9 22.4/33.0
Distance (miles) 238.4/337.1 241.8/369.4 265.5/380.3 338.4/502.7
HR avg (bpm) 137/165 139/161 136/176 131/178
Workouts (#) 11/15 9/14 11/14 11/17
Climbing (feet) 12.7k/20.3k 13.5k/29.3k 14.4k/22.8k 30.7k/52.2k
(yearly total)
Training (hours) 726 698 798 1,167
Distance (miles) 12.4k 12.6k 13.8k 17.6k
Workouts (#) 560 4451 546 580
Climbing (feet) 661k 677k 750k 1,598k

1 When I first got my Garmin in November 2008 (which falls in the 2009 year), I was leaving my commutes as one ride. In other words, I would just stop the timer while I was at work and then start it back up for the return trip home. During 2008, I was using a Polar HRM which wouldn’t let you do that so each commute was counted separately as a workout. Then at some point later in the 2009 season, I decided to just do separate workouts for each commute on my Garmin. So really, the only apples-to-apples comparison for the number of workouts is for the years 2008, 2010, and 2011.

Racing Season Summary
The 2011 season has definitely been my best ever, but there have been a few disappointments as well … so I think I’ll call this the season of “almosts”. Somehow I managed to have some of the best results of my racing career, and yet, each result was tinged with a little bit of disappointment about what might have been. For example, near the beginning of the season I won the Alabama State road race this year by being the first place Alabama rider across the line, but I narrowly missed out on winning the race outright in a two-up downhill sprint. Then, near the end of the season, I almost won an NRC race solo. After getting caught on the last lap by a chase group of three, I managed to get DFL in the sprint and miss out being on an NRC podium by exactly one spot. In the same weekend, I missed out on a top 10 in an NRC omnium by one spot – placing 11th. Don’t get me wrong, I am really, really happy with those results, but it is still a bit disappointing to come so close and still miss out. In the Six Gap Criterium, I almost won a $150 prime towards the end of the race after almost bridging to the winning break earlier in the race. In the Six Gap Century the next morning, Jimmy Schurman and I almost beat the course record – falling short by 1 minute. For the season, I have six 4th place finishes, five 2nd place finishes, and three 11th place finishes – the dreaded “almost” positions (i.e., almost on the podium, almost winning, and almost in the top 10).

One “almost” that I am very thankful for is how a crash in May turned out when it could have been much, much worse. On the next to last lap at the Sandy Springs criterium, I came into a corner too hot, over-corrected when my wheels started to slide out from under me, and ended up t-boning the metal barriers shoulder first at pretty much full speed (30+mph), and somehow came out of the wreck with only a torn pectoral muscle, separated shoulder, and broken toe. This was the first broken bone and major injury I’ve had on the bike in nearly 20 years of racing even having gone down in many different accidents throughout the years. Everything healed up great and three weeks later I was racing again.

Despite all of the “almosts”, there has been lots to be thankful for and to celebrate -

  • Strava – motivation to climb more than I ever have before – should hit 2 MILLION feet by the end of the year and hopefully win a year-long worldwide competition. Fun to compete again people from all over the world, and there have been some close months that I have lost and yet it has still been really fun.
  • Long multi-day races – I had the opportunity to race several multi-day omniums. Perhaps my favorite was the Tour of America’s Dairyland where I stayed with an amazing host family for 10 days of racing – culminating with a top 10 finish on the last day of racing in front of the Wisconsin state capital
  • Athens Twilight – I won a late race prime coming around the entire United Healthcare leadout train (although they weren’t going for the prime) and still finished in the top 30.
  • Improved time-trialing – I have moved from the very bottom to somewhere roughly in the middle of the results sheet in time trials – including one time trial that was well-attended with strong riders where I almost won money. Yes, it was one of those 11th place “almost” positions where they paid 10 deep.
  • Podium, baby! – Counting the Strava monthly competition, I have been on the podium 25 times this year!

Finally, the graphs and charts!

2011 Critical Power. The red dashed line is the predicted power I should be able to sustain for the given time period. The solid colored area is the best I have ever attained for a given time period. The black line is the data from the Six Gap Century.
Time spent in heartrate zones. This bar chart is the report that I look at most often throughout the year. I want to make sure at certain times of the year that I am spending enough time in the “red zone”, and at other times of the year I want to make sure I am not spending too much time in the red zone.
Total training time. This graph is a display of my weekly total training time. Can you guess which week I crashed at Sandy Springs??? I still managed 9 hours that week riding with one of my arms in a sling!
Distance and heartrate average. This graph plots the weekly distance and the heartrate average for each individual ride for the entire year.
Weekly climbing. This is my weekly climbing for the year (with Polar smoothing filter that can’t be turned off applied). Can you guess which week was spent up at the Tour of America’s Dairyland in Wisconsin?
Number of workouts. Note the distinct drop in the summer when I am not commuting.

And finally, finally, some more thank you’s
I am deeply appreciative to so many people who make it possible for me to ride and race my bike as much as I do. First of all my @beautifulwife, Kristine Toone, and my kids Analise and Josiah, my parents and all of my teammates, friends, and family. I’m working on a separate post with a map of all the places that we have travelled and all the places where we have stayed for races. In that post, I’ll thank people by name who have helped out so much. I’ll leave this exceedingly long post with just one more thanks – thanks!

November 1, 2011 at 8:41 pm 7 comments

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Quick reference stats

Anaerobic Threshold:
Power:315 watts
Heart rate:180 bpm
Power:1097 watts (5s)
Heart rate:198 bpm (5s)
AT power estimated by critical power curve in Golden Cheetah, which predicts I should be able to maintain 315 watts for 1 hour.

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