Sunday, May 6, 2012

3 State 3 Mountains Challenge

I’ve mentioned my love/obsession with cycling before in my blog. I also enjoy being able to set new goals and challenges for myself. On Saturday my cycling buddy (John) and I went to Chattanooga to ride in the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge. The ride is a fairly large 100-mile long bike ride that, as the name states, covers three mountains (Aetna Mountain, Sand Mountain, and Lookout Mountain) in three states (Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia). My guess is that there were at least 500 cyclists participating. It was a very well organized ride with rest stops along the way (at 24, 53, 82, and 85 miles). Those rest stops are essential as they provide an opportunity to get some food and water. On a long ride like this one, it is important to get in enough simple carbs (sugar) to keep up with the amount you burn while riding. 

Part of the challenge of the ride was just getting there as it was in Chattanooga which is a bit over seven hours from where we live in Raleigh. In the space of 36 hours, we drove almost 900 miles and pedaled 100. Suffice to say, I’m fairly tired and cannot vouch for the contents of this blog entry! 

As always, I used my Garmin Edge 500 to gather an extensive array of data from my ride. If you look at that page, you can see a lot of information. On the upper right is a map of the ride. The Edge 500 includes a GPS which is constantly monitoring its location. When I upload that data to the Garmin Web site, it can draw the route on the map based on those data points. The Edge 500 uses a wireless protocol (ANT+) to communicate with a heart-rate monitor I wear around my chest, a detector on my rear wheel that also measures speed in case the GPS has trouble contacting the satellites, and a detector on my pedal that measures how fast I’m pedaling (cadence). Down the left side of the page is a bunch of summary information. Beneath the map you can see graphs of my speed, elevation, heart rate, cadence, and the temperature. If you click on the "Player" button above the map, you can replay the ride and watch my heart rate go up (and my speed go down) as I climb the three mountains. 

There are a few interesting things in the data I’ll point out to give you an better idea what the ride was like. The maximum speed of 97.6 mph is just plain wrong. For some reason, the Edge 500 occasionally gets spurious readings. My maximum speed was in the low- to mid-40s. It took a lot of braking on the downhill sections to keep it that slow. In fact my hands got sore from braking. You can’t brake continuously lest the wheels lock up or the brakes overheat. So, you have to do things like braking for two seconds followed by coasting for two seconds. The downhill sections on a ride like this can be harrowing and an amazing adrenaline rush. At one point the ride organizers painted on the street, “Slow Caution Dangerous Curve.” That was enough to make me brake a bit harder. The set of ambulances on the hairpin turn waiting for someone to not take the warning seriously made me brake even harder still. 

If you look at the temperature plot, you can see that it got fairly hot at a few points on the ride. Sadly, one of those points was on the toughest hill, Lookout Mountain. There was little shade on that hill and after 85 miles of riding, it was especially hard. (Once I climbed it, the need for rest stops 3 miles apart—at the top and bottom of the hill—became apparent!) If you look carefully at my speed at about 5 hours and 15 minutes into the ride, you will see that it drops to under 3 mph. At that point, the grade was 18% and I could no longer pedal. I had to get off and walk for the final .3 miles of the hill. Lots of folks were walking. Behind me I heard someone fall down and saw them lying on the ground. Apparently, the bike was going so slowly that the person tipped over. 

As the slow speeds show, the final 15 miles after that point were fairly miserable. I was totally exhausted. John was a good friend and rode those miles with me. We got showers, ate some mediocre lasagna, and drove 7.5 hours home. I arrived home exhausted, but feeling good. 

The obvious question is, why do I do this? Even a couple of good friends that I cycle with called me crazy when I showed them the data from the ride. Why I cycle is a different question and I discussed that in my previous cycling blog post. Why do I push to do hard rides like this one when from most perspectives it is not fun? I don’t have a simple answer. Maybe I like having cycling friends think I’m crazy. More importantly, I think it something about setting tough but possible goals and accomplishing them (or at least getting within .3 miles of accomplishing them). If there is no risk of failure, then what is the challenge? I don’t really know for sure. But, I’m looking for the next challenge. Maybe the Mountains to Coast ride across NC in the Fall? 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading about your experience at 3 State! Great job!
    Perhaps you'd be interested in mine as well:
    We rode it the same year!