Beyond Category

Saturday was Mt Washington (Newtons Revenge), a special day indeed. From what I have seen the northeast has lots of climbs. I’ve done my fair share, Gonzo Pass, Kinsman, Crawford, Bear Notch rd, Long Pond, Crawford Notch, Rt 18 (Cannon mountain) and of course the Kanc! From what I’ve also seen most of these are Cat II and III in nature. This was my first attempt at a pure hill climb. Washington is categorized as a HC or beyond category climb. This bad boy is 7.5 miles at an average gradient of 12%. To make it more difficult it is also home to the worst weather on earth. Saturday it would not disappoint.

Stayed with the family at the Nordic Inn in Jackson just right down the road. Woke up at 5:15, flipped the switch on the coffee maker and started my routine. At 6:30 we headed out the door, children in tow. Picked up my race package at the tent, got the NEMBA kit on, and send the family up the hill in the 4 Runner. At this point I have about 45 minutes till start time. To my pleasant surprise I got to meet our team manager Art, he was looking buff in his other team kit from his company. We talked a bit and then lined up behind the “top notch group”.

National Anthem was sung, a nice touch prior to the start. Cannon go’s off, and it was so loud that it scared the crap out of me. I calculate an increase of at least 10 bpm (that can’t be good). We go off not sure how many of us there were, Art and I ended up front by default because of where we were standing when they lined us up. Didn’t matter anyway no whole shots needed on this day. Ride rolls out with lots of joking and conversation but that would end almost immediately. You hit the first head wall that shocks your system in an instant. At that point you know it’s game on. No drafting, no tactics, just survival. If you show for this with poor fitness this climb will eat you alive. It’s constant there’s no rest, (ok at one point I looked down and was doing 7.5 mph feeling pretty good about myself) but then the mountain smacks you in the face again. As you get higher the trees get smaller and the mountain shows you again why it’s one of the hardest climbs in North America. Winds were now gusting at 40 to 50 mph. Nowhere to hide now.   I have bladed aluminum spokes and the wind when blasting me from the side was pushing me into the mountain.  I had to make a conscious effort to keep my bike going straight at times.   Not sure at what mile you hit the dirt portion of the climb but it was one of my favorite parts. For one there was a tailwind, two it was sunny, three the road was narrow and you could see the line of riders turning the switchback and then again high above going in the opposite direction.   Once you get around the dirt switchback that tailwind becomes a 40 mile an hour headwind. Get in the drops put your head down and power up.   This may have been the hardest part of the morning.   Once past the dirt you get some choppy gravel and visibility got down to 10-20 feet at best. Riding in a constant cloud of water vapor, brutal wind, and temps of 45 degrees, but you know your getting close. You hear the cheering, cow bells, and announcer.  One spectator says your almost there. Almost to the finish?  Or to the head wall of 22%.  I guess either way finish comes exactly after the head wall.   I see the clock it says 29:21. My goal 1:30 or under. I crossed the line at 1:29:27. Happy as hell!  Immediately once to the top a volunteer asks, are you ok? Have you un-clipped? They then throw a Polartec blanket around you, and give you a finishing medal.  It’s a class act operation in my opinion.

So final thoughts and results. It’s a hard climb but doable. You will need a few things. Fitness, proper gearing (for me a 34t front, 11-32 was perfect), and the right mindset. Don’t blow up, cause there ain’t no recovery. When I saw myself pushing into my red zone, I would back it off just a bit.   Shift your position to gain access to different muscle groups.  I like to stand when I climb, but for this effort I had to continue to tell myself to stay in the saddle.

What I didn’t realize was when I crossed the line our group had started 5 minutes behind. So that put my time at 1:24:25. 5.4 avg speed. A good day indeed!

Tough day for pictures at the top. Art and I at the finish.  (Note the orange company kit)Measurements on the day

Now the other half of the story. Thursday I had a follow up with a cardiologist. All systems normal and a continuation of 1800 mg of Motrin per day.   I said to the doctor “so I’m doing Mt Washington Saturday”.   He looked at me and paused”.  “Ahh I’ll be right back”.  This can’t be good?  He would come back 2 minutes later with an older doctor.   “so I understand you are doing the hill climb this weekend”.  “in my professional opinion I recommend you refrain from participation”.  Turns out he had completed the road race some years earlier.   “This is not a training ride, you are going to put your body through a higher than average stress”.  I proceeded to ask additional questions about what could happen. “Shawn we would like you to take 4 to 6 weeks off”.  I just put my head down after that comment.   I’m pretty sure they knew I was still thinking of completing the event.   This appointment would add to my stress and nervousness right up until the cannon fired.   What if it hurts again, what if I show up as a DNS, what if I fail on the climb, what if I am forced to take the rest of the season off?   With this condition they really have no idea if the virus was gone already, in fact they said for me to stop taking the Motrin when I thought I was recovered.   There was no pain that night or the next morning.   The chest doesn’t feel at 100% yet, and I suspect without the anti-inflammatory I would have been out of commission again.


Beyond Category — 6 Comments

  1. Nice job. Coming in almost 6mins under your goal is pretty impressive. Maybe you are invincible….

    But seriously don’t blow your heart up.

  2. Oh my… Take care of yourself. What a climb! I always wanted to do something like that!

  3. Nice job Shawn! It certainly was a lot of fun. I also beat my goal but only by 2.5 min. I typically am not the best climber but this climb was a lot of fun.

    Implan on doing the NEMBA with Kevin on Thursday night this week also.