Thursday, January 3, 2013

OLH 17:45

OLH - only riders in Northern California commonly know the meaning of those three letters. OLH stands for Old La Honda, the most popular climb on Strava. Nearly 5000 Strava members have ridden this segment over 33,000 times, and over 500 of them are female. It's pretty cool then that both my husband and I are currently holding the male and female Strava records on this climb.
Climbing Tunitas

Here are some of its statistics:

Distance: 4.9km
Avg Grade: 8.1%
Elevation difference: 395m
Climb Category: 2

The first time I went up this climb was in 2010, when I visited California for the first time to get in a good block of winter training. Ryan convinced me to go for the QOM on OLH and on one of my last days over there I went for it. All I can remember was that it was very painful. My time was 19:24, I beat the record.

Then, last year, a Swedish ultra-cyclist (Catherina Berge) took the crown from me, improving the QOM by a full 20 seconds to 19:04. I was over in California again in 2011, but couldn't get myself into the right frame of mind to try to regain the crown (it hurts, you know!).

Now a tradition, I came over to the US again in November 2012. I had just submitted my PhD thesis two weeks before travelling. I had been three months off the bike to get the thesis finished before my submission deadline. I had become fat and unfit. And sick. I had been on a whirlwind trip involving four flights, a wedding in London, a gala dinner back in Dublin before taking an early morning flight back to London for a connecting long-haul to SFO, very little sleep and a bad cold before collapsing on a bed after arriving in California. I was determined to get my training in and suffered through it. I wasn't lucky with tropical storms making training very wet outside when I was just back in health and a 24hour stomach bug flooring me yet again. Finally, in the last week of my 3 week stay good health and good weather coincided and I could enjoy a super week of riding.

Still fat and only a little fitter, trying to regain my OLH crown this year was not really on my radar. I was also riding quite a lot in the last 2 days before we were due to fly back home (about 9 hours), so I just thought "another time". Instead I thought I might try to break the HWY 9 record - a rather long and shallow drag with the help of Ryan's draft. But then Ryan just said the night before we were due to fly: "Mel, you're not doing HWY9 tomorrow, you're doing Old la honda." And as soon as he had put that little voice in my head that I may actually be able to break the record, my mind was set. I had a good nights sleep and thought about OLH, visualizing the pain I'd have to endure to get up it. I have learned a lot the last few weeks about pain and suffering, not in an injury sense, but in a training sense (more on that in a future blog post), and was ready to take the suffering a record attempt would surely bring.

Tired, but happy
As soon as I opened my eyes the next morning I was focussed and in the zone. I had breakfast, got ready and rode to the base of OLH, doing my usual pre-race warm-up. The weather was beautiful and warm and the wind conditions favourable. I met Ryan at the bottom of the hill and purged my pockets and my bike of all unnecessary weight, leaving my bottles, saddle bag and extra clothing at the bottom of the hill. Ryan was going to be my pacer. Before we went off, he asked me if I wanted him to go conservatively or for a good time - I said as long as I see an 18 something, even 18:59, I'd be happy. And so we went off. Went off very, very easy. That easy that I was getting a bit worried after a couple of minutes: "Ryan, are you OK?" I asked, because I didn't think we were going fast enough to break the record, I didn't feel any pain! He just told me to trust him. And so we went on, slowly. I had prepared myself for all this sufferage, but none of it had manifested so far. About 9min and halfway into the climb, Ryan started to speed up. Finally a bit of pain! Now I was getting a bit more confident that I might be able to make it. But I didn't want to be distracted and only concentrated on Ryan's rear wheel. Slowly the pain was seeping into my body, but it was still very manageable. Slowly Ryan upped his pace, more and more the closer we came to the top. I was finally in a state of acceptable suffering and concentrated on being able to bear it. The meters went by and the speed kept going up and up and up. And before long we entered the last couple hundred meters and I flew past the mailboxes, just able to remember to stop my Garmin. 17:45! No way!
Got the Fred Tattoo to prove it!
I looked at my HR profile after and could see I went really high. I could not believe that I was able to go so hard and that I only needed to suffer really for the second half of the climb. Ryan later said he paced me on a really negative split, which seemed to work really well. I love being in the zone!

I was very happy with that time, especially considering my condition and recent time off the bike. Statistical estimates suggest that drafting counts for roughly 10-15 seconds. But what I think was the real advantage to having Ryan there was his pacing. It takes a lot of confidence and constraint to go into a record attempt with such a negatively paced split.

I just noticed that there's a new 2nd place on this segment - nice to see more riders testing themselves on this climb (and I'm glad Ryan paced me for a faster time than an 18:59)!


Agata Tamulewicz said...

Nicely written Mel, my HR went up while reading! Congrats on the crown, well deserved.

Lane Parker said...

Great write up Mel. Best wishes for a safe and successful race today.