Question: Fred Matheny said that Ed Pavelka took second in his class at Mt. Washington at 6’4″ and 190 lbs. I am 74 and I weigh 200 at 6’2″. I finished way back last year and will do it again in 2018. How should I train for it? I have lots of mountains, e.g. Greylock is near.
Three years ago I finished second at Equinox (time lost in mists), then I won my class at Greylock in 67 minutes. In 2017 I was not last at Mt. Washington (14th from the end of the finishers), but I walked at least 10 times and my time was around 2 hours, 46 minutes. I was destroyed. Maybe I overtrained – I did Greylock 22 times that year. And when I did Greylock two weeks after Washington, I was last….90+ minutes.
Mt. Washington is August 18, 7.4 miles, 4,700 feet of climbing, 12% average grade with a 22% stretch at the end. No flat portions at all. Greylock is around 9 miles with maybe 2,700 feet climbing, some 19% parts, but overall average is 9%.
I am the president of our local bike club – Cambridge Valley Cycling – and ride a fair amount. Much of it is in taking care of newer and novice riders, so I get to loaf a little.
I want to redeem myself on Washington in 2018. First, I need to lose about 15 lbs. I’m working on it. I re-geared my Felt to a 28 front with a 42 in the back. I just got a power meter and have been reading various writers on hill climbing, and am trying to lay out a 30-week plan to prepare myself.
Any advice you might add would be very much appreciated. Men that were 80 left me behind last year; I know that the potential is there and I am willing to do the work. —Sandy Hackney
Coach John Hughes Replies:
Sandy, first, Ed was 20-25 years younger than you are now, and was an elite rider, having set the master’s team RAAM record with Fred and others around that time. So I’m not sure other than his size being similar to yours if he really makes for a good point of comparison.
But there’s hope! With the exception of a pro, who is at peak fitness for an event, any rider can improve with the right training! The fundamental training principle is:
Overload + Recovery = Improvement
An important corollary is: Too much overload or insufficient recovery results in a decline in performance. As we get older (I’m 68), we need more recovery.
For Mt. Washington and Greylock last year you’d done way too much riding by climbing Greylock 22 times and you hadn’t had enough recovery. Also, if you just do the same thing over and over again, i.e., climb it repeatedly, you won’t get any better. Although it feels very hard, you aren’t really overloading your body by asking it to do more than it is accustomed to doing.
In the Cyclist’s Training Bible Joe Friel writes, “An athlete should do the least amount of properly timed, specific training that brings about continual improvement.”
Your best performance will come from doing:
- The right kinds of workouts
- At the right times
- In the right amounts
- To bring about continuing progress
How does this apply to you? You should divide your season into four different phases doing the right amounts of different workouts in each phase so that you get better. Starting next week February 4 – 10 you have 28 weeks to Mt. Washington. Here’s how you should use those weeks:
Base Training (12 weeks February 4 – April 28) Build your aerobic base. I’m very pleased that you’re giving back to the sport by leading club rides for newer riders. You should be riding with them at a conversational pace so that you can easily talk in full sentences, which is in training zones 2 and 3, 69 – 84% of Lactate Threshold (LT) or 56 – 90% of Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
Because you have a power meter, use it, because power is more accurate than heart rate. Your goal for Mt. Washington is less than two hours, and hopefully significantly less than that! You need to do enough aerobic training so that you can ride in the middle of the aerobic range for a couple of hours without feeling much fatigue, but you don’t need to do long miles.
Riders in their 50s and beyond make better progress with less risk of overtraining if they alternate weeks with more and fewer miles as they ramp up for the season.
Break (1 week April 29 – May 5) Put your bike in the garage for a full physical and mental break before the power training.
Power Training (7 weeks May 6 – June 23). Because you are increasing the intensity cut back on your endurance riding so that your miles per week are fewer than at the end of your base phase.
An endurance ride of one to two hours on the weekend is enough to maintain your endurance. Once a week do a Sweet Spot power workout. The Sweet Spot is hard enough that a rider can still talk in short phrases, not gasping for air. It’s the top of zone 3 and the bottom of zone 4, 93 – 97% of LT or 88 – 94% of FTP.
You could go harder; however, you’d require significantly more recovery. It’s called the Sweet Spot because it balances the level of intensity and recovery for the optimal total overload.
After warming up, your Sweet Spot main set should be a mix of SS and EZ efforts, with the SS efforts about twice as long as the EZ efforts. Start with 3- 6 repeats of [3 – 4 minutes SS and 1:30 – 2minutes EZ].
Again, alternate harder and easier weeks. The harder weeks (#1, 3, 5 and 7) increase either the number of repeats or the duration of the repeats. You don’t have to do intervals. Pavelka never did – he just rode hard on the hills.
Break (1 week June 24 – 30) Put your bike in the garage for a full physical and mental break before peaking.
Peaking (5 weeks July 1 – August 4) Now you want to train specifically on Mt. Washington, even though it’s 4- to 5-hour drive.
The first week climb the first 1/4 of Mt. Washington at the pace and power level you plan to race it.
The second week just do easy recovery rides at home and one short hill climb of not more than 30 minutes.
The third week, climb the first 1/2 of Mt. Washington at race pace.
The fourth week do easy recovery rides at home and a short hill climb.
From your partial climbs of Mt. Washington you should have determined how fast you can climb it on race day.
The fifth week test this by racing up Mt. Washington.
Taper (2 weeks August 5 – 18) You can’t get any fitter in the last two weeks, you can only wear yourself out. The first week do a short Sweet Spot workout and a short climb. The week of Mt. Washington just do a couple of easy recovery rides.
Gauging Progress. When you can in the spring, race up Greylock. Then about every month, not more frequently, race up it again to gauge your progress.
After you conquer Mt. Washington your racing season is over. You don’t have time to recover for Greylock. Send me an e-mail and we’ll update readers on how you did.
My two-article bundle Your Best Season Ever includes:
- How to Plan and Maximize Your Training, which explains how to create a personal plan like the above.
- Planning for and Riding Your Event includes sample plans for a hill climb, a time trial, a drafting club ride or race, finishing a first 100K and setting a personal best in a century.
The 69-page bundle is $8.98 and only $7.64 for Premium members.
“28 front with a 42 in the back” – surely that is backwards!
Jim Langley says
I know that the Mt. Washington climb is in New Hampshire because I raced it both as a runner and as a cyclist in the early 80s. Interesting trivia is that for a long time, runners had a faster time to the top than cyclists did – and my times running vs cycling were close. It’s so steep I stopped running because walking with your hands pushing down on your knees was faster. On the bike, I had to stand 80% of the way up the hill to make it (keep in mind that back then we used much higher gearing than we use today). There were many dirt sections where it was hard to keep traction. The fog near the top made it impossible to see the road. Officials up there had the fans line up next to the road and stick their arms out so that riders would not ride too close to the edge. The fog was so thick you couldn’t see the people standing there next to the road – you only saw their “ghost” hands if you veered off course and were headed to the side. At the very top of the mountain it gets crazy steep. One of the motorcycles trying to drive up it, popped a wheelie, fell over sideways and the motorcycle came sliding down towards us on its side (the motorcycle riders wasn’t hurt but the bike was). Mt. Washington is famous for all these things. But, I’ve never heard of a climb called Greylock. Could someone tell us more about this climb? Thanks!
Jim Kangas says
Nope. I did Washington 5 times. The typical starting place is 1:1 gearing. But the first time I did it with that, my cadence was barely over 50. I ended up with a 25-32 combo which let me get to 70-ish cadence. A lot can depend on the weather, as 20-40 mph winds at the top are not uncommon. It’s incredibly deterministic and the calculators are uncannily accurate. Most people find that to improve (I didn’t), you need to lose a significant amount of weight.
Kevin Manning says
Mt Greylock is the highest peak in MA (northwest corner of the state). There are two roads to the top with the steeper off the two on the north side from North Adams. I went to Mt Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown in the 70s and have ridden it dozens for times. I prefer the southern route from Lanesborough (my hometown) which is a few miles longer and along a ridge line.
Terry Cowman says
One note on training, the Mt. Washington auto road, which is the course, is closed to bike traffic with the exception of two days a year – a practice ride a few weeks before the actual race. Finding other other local mountains with a similar 12% average gradient over the 7.6 mile distance is difficult. Twice up Ascutney (at 3.7 miles each and 11.7% grade) comes close enough!
Tony Mahan says
Because Mt. Washington is only accessible to bikes once or twice a year, Sandy may want to consider using Mt. Ascutney (VT) for the Peaking Phase of his training. Best of luck to him too. It would be great to hear back from him after he does “the Rock Pile”.