Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Weekend on the Kancamagus: revenge of the knee

from either side, a high hill
Many of you know the saga of my left knee. 5 plus years ago I dislocated my knee cap. That incident lead to 3 seasons of increasing pain leading to surgery 2 years ago. So far this year, I had no new knee issuesl This past weekend was my last for hard training before the long hard race. Originally I planned to do a 180-200 mile road ride. But when my friend Dana said he would be back in town, and harassed me into one more team try at Crank the Kanc, I agreed. The new plan meant climbing the east side of the Kancamagus Pass on Saturday and climbing the west side of the pass on Sunday as the first climb on the Grand Tour. I would use Saturday's race as a tempo day, Sunday as an endurance race pace test, but the knee had other ideas

Saturday would remarkably be my first bike race of the year. I've been so focused on long distance training that I haven't pinned on a number in 2013. In fact my wife was surprised at my typical pre-race mania on Friday night since its been that long ago. I arrived as registration opened, but still I only had time for 20 minutes on the trainer. I did not get a proper warm up for an hour plus time trial, but since I planned to use this as a training event I was not distressed. In deed, we did this time trial practically cannibal style. We had regular shallow rim wheels, helmets, 2 of 3 rode without bar extensions, only one of us even wore a skin suit. This was quite a contrast to the full TT bikes, disc wheels, & aero booties that the individual winners used. 

Dana, Andy Havey, & I lined up with no ambitions other than a good hard ride. I planned to do extra long pulls on the flats for my training plan. Dana had been sick with the flu all week, so was uncertain as to his fitness. Andy had been climbing well, but hadn't raced in years. I had the start of a chest cold, but tried to put that out of mind. 

Crank the Kanc is a tricky event to race. The first 16 miles are a gentle up slope and flat run in. The last 4.7 miles are an average 6% grade. You need to be aero for the first 2/3rd's, light and lithe for the last 1/3rd.
We got a solid start, my tempo for the first couple of 5 minute pulls seemed manageable. Dana and Andy were taking 3 minute turns allowing me enough recovery. In the second half of the flattish part of the course, my tempo was pushing Andy a little too far into the red. But once we started the climb the rolls were reversed, my chest congestion caught up with me, and we climbed at 80% of my goal pace. None the less, we held a steady tempo up the climb, finished together strong, and did just enough to win 3rd place. My legs felt loaded, but not over strained by the effort. My right achilles tendon was sore, but no worries, right?

Moreover, I won a JetBoil in the raffle. This is the one prize I have wanted for the past 3 years of doing this entirely unsuited to my strengths race. Now I never have to go back again! 

Sunday I woke up feeling a little tired, but not particularly sore. I planned my last long day in the saddle before the really long race on June 1st. Sunday was Grand Tour Day, the big Plymouth area ride of 120 miles over the Kanc, Bear Notch, Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch. Since 120 miles was not enough for my training needs, I planned to do a dawn pre-ride loop of 25-30 miles. I also planned to extend the last part of the ride by 30 miles. Since I hate riding down the Franconia Notch Bike Path with it's narrow lumpy pavement & obstacle course of gawking tourists, I intended to head down to Easton Road, west on Rte 112 to French's Pond, south to Pike, and finally down Rte 25 to home. All in all this would give me a 170 mile day with over 9,000 feet of climbing.

The day started perfectly. It was cool, but not cold enough that I needed a thermal hat or long gloves. I rode a steady 18 mph tempo for 21 miles before stopping in town. Breakfast was a stuffed croissant & a double espresso, la dolce vita! The nice weather brought out a solid group of 17 riders for the long route at 7 a.m. from Rhino. We rode an easy pace of 19 mph up to North Woodstock. About another dozen riders joined up in Woodstock to do the petite route. The Sampson boys even rolled in after racing a UCI mtb event the day before.

We started up the Kanc out of Lincoln at a casual pace. I dropped back to shed my cap, and quickly found it hard to keep pace. Just before the hair pin turn, with 3 miles to go in the climb, my left knee started to bother me. I was feeling a weakness in my right ankle that was causing my left quad to over work my knee. My left interior knee tendons were now inflamed & crying in pain. I struggled to the top at 70% power. I knew that I had 105 miles to go and 3 large climbs. I begged a couple of ibuprofen from Dominik and hoped that spinning down the back side of the pass would help calm my knee. 
assessing my knee problems on top of the Kanc

My left knee was only a little better on Bear Notch. I was well behind the group by half way up the climb. I kept going though at the pace I could manage, knowing that the group would stop for lunch in Bartlet. The past years gave me lots of experience riding through knee pain. Once at the lunch spot, I bought a bottle of ibuprofen & downed 4. I tried to keep panic in check as I ate my lunch. I wondered, however, how much longer I could push my knee, and whether my wife would pick me up in Bretton Woods if I called, and what this might mean for a major race 13 days away. 

The group split in two rolling out of Bartlet to climb Crawford Notch. The easier pace folks left a full 20 minutes ahead of the speedier group. Since I got a late start on lunch, I was with the speedy group. I struggled to sit in on the steeper rollers heading up to Notchland. I grunted, strained, & pushed. I was able to do just enough to stick with the group until Wiley's Slide, the last big roller before the steep part of Crawford. I slowly climbed the Notch alone, but rolled over the top to meet up the group. I took 2 more ibuprofen and hoped to hold on until Twin Mountain at least. My struggle was so obvious that several guys kept asking me if I was going to make it. I appreciated the concern, but needed to try to press onward.
double pace line up Crawford Notch

Once we got going again, my knee started to feel better. Even as the Sampson boys pushed the pace up to 30 mph I was able to hold on. Finally I was feeling like myself again. No longer was every pedal stroke a trial. After a leisurely stop at Fosters General Store, we rode steady tempo up Route 3 to Franconia Notch. I even felt good enough to contest a town line (imagine that). Some of the guys seemed surprised when I said that I was going ahead with the extended finish of the ride. So at the top of Cannon, I rolled on solo for the final 60 miles of the day.
Fosters Store re-fueling

The last sections were uneventful. The descent from Cannon down to Franconia was harrowing only because the road was in poor shape. A head wind made progress on Easton Road slow. The cumulative fatigue of two hard days, plus the swollen knee meant that I was not pushing the pace I had planned. But I did keep spinning. I felt like the mental struggle, the worry of whether I could finish, was over. Now I could just ride. Once down to Pike I sat at the spring after refilling my water bottles a little longer than I had planned. Yet I was still on schedule to be home for dinner. I found my groove again on Route 25, pushed a 18 mph tempo into a head wind for the last section of hard riding, and did a few miles of cool down before pulling into home after just under 12 hours.

It was a long day, a challenging day, but in the end a good day on the bike. I kept spinning when it got tough, I kept trying even though it hurt. While I did not make the average watts or speed I had hoped, I found the calm I need to push through a bigger challenge, how to conquer my pain & fear with many miles to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment