This morning, I returned to Montebello Road for the start of the 2014 season of Low-Key Hillclimbs! Due to our touring Autumn Gem, I haven’t rode in the Low-Key Hillclimbs series since 2009. Back in 2006, I completed Montebello Road in 48:54. In 2007, fresh off of completing the Death Ride, I reached the top in 42:45. My time regressed in the rain in 2008, with me bringing up the rear with a time of 47:57. All of these were far cries from my fastest time of 39:15 / 39:30, set way back in September, 2003. Had I known about Montebello back when I started road cycling in 1997, I think I could have gotten in the mid-30s (my power-to-weight ratio was better back then). Time waits for no one, and as the years ticked by following my last LKHC appearance, the pounds had added up. Part of not attending LKHC in recent years was touring the film, but another reason was shame. I was afraid of what I had become, fat and slow, and didn’t want to see a time of 50+ minutes recorded for all to see!
Fortunately, this has been something I’ve been diligently working on rectifying over the past four months with my half marathon and marathon runs. At my peak weight, I was 166 pounds, and I reckon that I’m around 146 pounds today. The weight loss has not only been noticeable to friends and family, but to my clothes as well! Pants that had gotten to be a wee bit tight around the waist are now loose, and several of my jackets look too big on me now. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty pleased with my progress thus far! The big question today was how much my running regimen and weight loss would contribute to my ascent times. I was confident that I could beat 48 minutes, but I was unsure how close I could get to 40 minutes, let alone breaking the 40-minute mark. It was nice to reconnect with many of my Low-Key friends over the years. Race organizer James Porter recognized me during check-in. Stephen Fong, Richard Contreras, and Christine Holmes were other longtime LKHC riders that I spoke with or rode alongside today. I met with Stephen’s friends, Larry and Han, who made up our Grumpy Old Men (GOM) cycling team for the series. We missed having Jorge today, but he had a family outing to attend and couldn’t make it.
Stephen and I did a 7-mile warmup ride prior to the start of the race, and we brought each other up to speed with what’s been happening in our lives. At 10:00 am, James assembled the throng of cyclists (I reckon there were over 125 riders today) and got the race underway a few minutes later. We were ordered by relative speed; there was no way I was going to compete with the eventual winners (i.e. 26 minutes), so I hung back with the last group as we rolled out. With the exception of one run up to the Stanford Dish, all of my runs and bike rides have been flat. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of climbing, and I watched my heart rate jump up to my LT immediately (I averaged 175bpm and had a high of 191bpm).
Montebello is pretty unrelenting for the first two miles until it evens out for 0.75 miles at the school. The last two miles aren’t as bad as the first, but they are still pretty steep. The weather was hot, and most of the ride is exposed to the sun. One thing that I wanted to try differently from previous rides was not spinning on the easiest gear too much. I have a compact crank on my aging 1995-era Trek 5200 and a 12-25 8-speed cassette. I stuck with the 19, 21, and 23 cogs for the majority of the ride. I figured I’d rather spin more slowly but go faster than spin quickly but go more slowly up the climb. I also brought two water bottles, one filled with regular water and the other with electrolytes; in hindsight, I probably could have saved some weight and brought one bottle. There are a number of Montebello segments on Strava, and my climb ranged from 40:14 to 40:24. Wow! I was really pleased to see that time, which is within a minute of my fastest ascent set back in 2003. I guess it’s safe to say that all of my running and weight loss helped me to turn back the clock! I’m back!
Update October 5, 2014: The Low-Key results are in, and they gave me a time of 41:13. The extra minute was due to the rolling start. Still a very good time!
I didn’t have a bike computer in front of me (my iPhone 6 Plus was in my jersey pocket), so I didn’t know exactly how far I had gone or where I was in the ride. There are a number of teasing, false summits on Montebello, and I forgot where the end was. Had I a better sense of the last two miles, I think I could have gone just a tad bit faster and broken the 40-minute barrier. Nevertheless, I’m really pleased with my performance today! As for the rest of the Low-Key series, I don’t know how many I’ll be able to participate in. I’ve got some travel booked in the next few weeks, and will be very busy with some new and exciting projects. One thing is for sure, I promise not to let myself go again!