Cycling, Exercise

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2015 #1: Montebello Road

This has been a very good year for completing my fitness goals. I have been able to lose a significant amount of weight, break my high school running times in the 5K and half marathon, and build good strength through pull-ups.

Until this weekend, however, I had been neglecting my cycling. Most of my Strava friends are cyclists, and I admit to a bit of jealousy when I see their rides on my dashboard. With the new kiddo at home, it’s easier for me to go out for a 30-60 minute run near my home than to pack up the bike, drive to Stanford or Canada Road, and cycle my favorite routes.

Fortunately, I have Dan Connelly and the Low-Key Hillclimbs to temporarily get me out of my running and pull-up habit, if only for a weekend. I received Dan’s email about the start of the 2015 series last week and quickly signed up for the annual kickoff event up Montebello Road in Cupertino. Last year I set a PR in the Low-Key series 41:13 (40:19 according to Strava). Since last October, I had lost an additional 12 pounds, going from 146-148 to 134-136 pounds. Would the weight loss be enough to get me under 40 minutes? Would I be able to best my all-time PR of 39:15-39:30 that I set back in September, 2003? Though I was cautiously optimistic, I knew there was only one way to find out — climb it!

Cyclists gather at the start of the ride up Montebello.

Cyclists gather at the start of the ride up Montebello.

On Saturday morning, I arrived at the parking lot off of Stevens Canyon Road shortly after 9:00 am. The air was crisp and the forecast signaled a relatively cool day compared with last year’s blistering heat. I saw my Low-Key friends, Garrett, Stephen, Han, Larry, and Christine. Dan and Richard were volunteers this week, so they were not cycling. I warmed up with a slow ride to the base of Mt. Eden with Stephen, Han, and Garrett. By the time I got back to the start-line at the second parking lot, it was 9:45 am. I filled up my bike’s tires and waited in the back of the group for the next 25 minutes, mentally preparing myself for the 40 minute, 5.3 mile, and 1940 foot ride up Montebello Road.

During the mass start events, Low-Key riders organize themselves by groups. The first group are the fast cyclists, followed by groups 2, 3, and 4. The fifth and final group are for the “slow” riders, and that’s where I placed myself again.

What I wrote last year is pretty spot on as to my gameplan:

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… 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.

Besides the cooler weather, they have paved the road near the top of Montebello and I only brought one water bottle with me on the ride.

Grinding up Montebello. Photo by Tom Everman

Grinding up Montebello. Photo by Tom Everman

Han told me before the event that he was gunning for 36 minutes. I figured if I could keep him in my sights, I would be in good shape to break 40 minutes. Within minutes of the start of the climb, I could tell from his steady and strong pace that I was not going to keep up with him. I then focused my pedaling attention on this kid who must have been 12 years old (turns out he was 14 years old and completed the climb in 34:30!). Spinning his gears so fast, the kid was also going too fast for me. So, I looked at the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy, until it was basically just me and the road all by myself for 10 meters ahead and behind. I settled into a hard yet manageable pace. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was going that much faster, and the flat section and last two miles were especially hard on me. I felt more comfortable and powerful riding out of the saddle, but I only did that on the really steep portions. Were I to ride Montebello again, I’d go all Pantani more often. Maybe it would feel more like running. I was amazed at the two participants, John Burton and Lisa Penzel, who ran up the mountain and finished in 49 and 51 minutes! I might make it a goal next year to compete in the running division; I just need someone to drive me back down, since I know my legs will be shot!

My time according to Strava was 38:43 and the Low-Key official time was 39:09. I broke 40 minutes and bested my PR up Montebello! Congrats also go out to Stephen, who confided in me that he had no climbing legs this year and thought he would be closer to 50 minutes than the 40:40 he crossed the line at. Overall, I’m pleased with my performance, and I know I can do better. I credit this ride to my improved overall fitness; were I to have more cycling miles under my belt, I think 35-36 minutes is do-able. That would put me right around the middle of the pack, which is fine with me.

I won’t be able to attend next’s week climb up Page Mill Road, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make Old La Honda on November 14. My fastest time up OLH was somewhere around 21:40 some 18 years ago. I’d be happy to get 22 minutes at this point.

Both Stephen and I were happy with our performances today up Montebello.

Both Stephen and I were happy with our performances today up Montebello.

Cyclists hang out after reaching the summit of Montebello Road.

Cyclists hang out after reaching the summit of Montebello Road.

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"Sprint" finish atop Sierra Road
Cycling, Exercise

2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Sierra Road

Saturday morning brought the second Low-Key Hillclimb ride of the 2014 season: Sierra Road. I rode this during Week 8 of the 2007 LKHC season, ascending the 3.66 mile, 1759 foot climb in 38:34. Based on my my performance last week at Montebello Road, I knew that I could beat that time; the question was by how much? I estimated that I would do about 33 minutes; if I was feeling especially strong, I figured I could make it to the top in 32 minutes.

LKHC Sierra Road: Adam, Larry, and Han

Larry, Han, and I are smiling now, but we’ll be gritting our teeth and huffing and puffing soon on Sierra Road. Photo by Alexander Komlik.

Originally, I was planning on riding from my house to the check-in point as a 8-9 mile warmup, but I ran out of time in the morning. So, I loaded the bike in the car, drove to a spot about 1.5 miles away, and slowly rode to check-in around 9:25. Stephen Fong was in street clothes and working as a volunteer for this race, along with Christine Holmes. Larry, Han, and Richard were raring to go, however, and after a quick warm-up, we all lined up in the back awaiting the ringing of the cowbell that signals the start of the race.

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Cycling, Exercise

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2014 #1: Montebello Road

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!

4 months of running have made my legs look like this

4 months of running have made my legs look like this

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.

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Cycling

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2008 #3: Quimby Road

Low-Key Hillclimbs: Quimby Road

When last I climbed up Quimby Road in San Jose, it was during training for the 2007 Death Ride. A very difficult climb it was, with 18% switchbacks! And, we still had yet to do Mt. Hamilton that day!

Today, the Low-Key Hillclimbers went up Quimby Road for race #3. I had missed last week’s climb up West Alpine because I was in San Diego for David and Audrey’s wedding. For Quimby, I had signed up to be a volunteer, as once up Quimby is enough for me!

I armed myself with my cameras and shot photos of the riders as they climbed up Quimby. Thanks to Christine’s nimble driving up the narrow roads, I was able to get some good photos of the action in the front. I wonder if I had a hybrid hub like one of the Week One riders if I could keep up with Tim, Clark, and the other top finishers. Somehow, I think I would still need a little more power to keep up with the big boys and girls!

Christine and I drove up to the top, where we waited for the cyclists to come to us. Similar to the finish at Mt. Diablo, I waited patiently in the same position, letting the cyclist come into my photographing firing zone. I’m pretty happy with the shots… out of 811 photos, I have posted 263 onto my SmugMug gallery for Quimby, a 32% hit rate. That’s out par for the course with regards to sports shooting.

Christine was protecting this cute tarantula which was trying to cross the street over and over again. We were afraid a car or cyclist would end its life! That tarantula really need to watch where it was going!

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Cycling, Exercise

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2008 #1: Montebello Road

Adam up Montebello Road

The 2008 Low-Key Hillclimbs started today with the usual climb up Montebello. Unlike the last two ascents up 5.3 mile road in Cupertino, the weather was decidedly cooler and wetter. Rain threatened the start of the race and only began to come down near the end of the ride for me.

While I have been running and swimming this summer, I have not been doing any cycling. As the weeks ticked down to the start of the LKHC series, I wondered how my fitness level on the bike would be after a steady diet of 3, 6, and 12 mile runs. Let me tell you right off the bat, running is no substitute for hill climbing on a bike!

I decided to take it “easy” up Montebello today, since I didn’t want to hurt myself seeing this was my first climb of the year. Other people, like Murali, Stephen, and Richard have been cycling throughout the year, so I knew they would do great. Murali completed the Death Ride this year and the California Triple Crown (three double-centuries). He certainly looked much fitter than last year, and I predicted a stellar time of 40:30 for him. Stephen, as always, looked very strong, and I calculated he would fly up Montebello in 37 minutes. Richard was humble about his training, but I knew the tiger was waiting to pounce on the hill; for him, I guessed 43 minutes.

As for me, I would be happy with 45 minutes, though I knew that would be difficult to accomplish. As the climb began and I saw Murali, Stephen, and Richard fading in the foreground, I knew I was in for a long, wet day in the saddle. I sat back and just chugged my way up Montebello. Once again, the false summits fooled me, as I continually thought I was closer to the end only to see another hill appear before my very eyes. As the clock ticked passed 45 minutes, I knew that a reasonable time would now be 50 minutes. Sure enough, according to my clock, I just made it under the 50-minute mark. I suspect the official time will be right at 50-minutes. That’s a far cry away from my personal best of 39:30, but hey… not bad for someone who hasn’t been riding all year!

As for Murali, Stephen, and Richard, they almost to the second hit the times that I predicted. I wish those skills would have come in handy last week before the whole stock market meltdown!

At the top, it was cold and very wet. Stephen and I took our dear time getting down to the base. My hands hurt so much as they were on the brakes nearly the entire time. I’ve never liked wet roads, and so the combination of the steep descent with the rain made for an unenjoyable descent. Before the ride, we paid our respects to the two cyclists who were killed very close to the start of the ride earlier this year. When we lived in Cupertino, Rae and I used to ride by the spot of the accident all the time. Life is precious… enjoy every second of it!

This year, I won’t be able to complete all of the climbs, breaking my two-year streak. I’m off to San Diego for a wedding next week, and I’ll be volunteering on Quimby Road the week thereafter. That said, there’s still the possibility that I can snatch the Endurance Award this year!

Photo of me finishing Montebello by Josh Hadley

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Cycling, Rants

Bike Safety – Accident in Mexico

This photo really pissed me off when I saw it this morning after waking up in Providence, Rhode Island.

An American drunk driver, apparently asleep at the wheel, plowed into several cyclists during a race in Mexico, killing one and injuring the others. The photo is absolutely terrible, but this is the reality when cars collide with cyclists. I can imagine this is what happened when a similar accident occurred near our old house in Cupertino, when a California Highway Patrol officer killed two cyclists along Stevens Canyon Road.

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Cycling

RIP, Sheldon Brown

Cycling aficionados mourn the passing of Sheldon Brown. I never met the man, but I am very familiar with his website and his cycling tips and techniques. His online gear calculator helped me understand the mystery of my road bikes gears as I went from an 11-21 to a 12-25 to a 12-25 compact crankset. Without him, I would be huffing, puffing, and pushing my bike up the Low-Key Hillclimbs.

Rest in Peace, Sheldon. You’ll be missed.

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