I knew riding the PA 600k last Saturday could present some problems. After finishing the PA300k seven weeks earlier, I had not done more than 90 miles in a single ride. None of those rides would count as excessively hilly, either, certainly not by Eastern Pennsylvania standards. I’d missed the PA 400k three weeks earlier, which could have acclimated me to all that climbing on the 600.
I showed up at the start apprehensive. For the first 65 miles or so, I was OK. Then I hit a kind of wall in the middle of the third stage, essentially all uphill. My power numbers dropped off dramatically. Up to that point, I was averaging 163 regular watts and 197 normalized power watts (compared with 168/196 last year on a very similar course) and had one of my better efforts up Blue Mountain, averaging 271 watts for five minutes, my highest five-minute average of the entire ride.
But somewhere around the deli at Canadensis where we stopped, my legs lost their punch and I fell off the back of the group. My companions Shane B., John H. and Roy Y. surged ahead. Worse, I began to get light-headed and slightly nauseous. I simply wasn’t ready for so many miles with so many hills. I apologized to my companions, who simply said, “You’ll bounce back.” I thought, no I won’t.
I spent a lot of Saturday in a kind of haze, just struggling to get to each controle. My power numbers sagged. While last year I handled the largely downhill section from Hawley, Pa. to Port Jervis N.J. in 143/168, this year it was a paltry 120/142. That’s a hefty 15 percent drop all around.
I had finished last year’s first day of 233 miles with wattage numbers of 148/175, some of my better numbers for the first day of a 600k. Not so last weekend, as I limped back on the 251-mile course with an overall average of 128/163, my worst first-day 600k numbers ever recorded on my Powertap. Shane, Roy and John consistently were leaving me behind.
I felt like I had lost fitness, but the numbers show that I had actually gained a small amount of power over those 7 weeks, just not as much as my companions. My wattage numbers seven weeks ago for the 300k for 189 miles (129/164) were the same as my numbers Saturday for251 miles. But where I was keeping up with everybody with those numbers in early April, that power output wasn’t nearly enough in late May. People get stronger this time of year.
These numbers also suggest that the progressively longer distances of a full brevet series (200k, 300k, 400k and 600k) really prepare you for the long-distance rides. My climbing felt good in the beginning, but once you get tired and lose your climbing legs, you usually don’t get them back.
In comparison with my companions, I bounced back a little on the second day. But my power numbers, as is typical with me on the second day of long rides, were much lower than the first day. Interestingly, though, this year’s 103/142 averages closely resembled last year’s 103/147. I got about the same three and a half hours of sleep both years. I actually finished the ride feeling a little better about my riding shape.
Why was I comparatively the same as last year on Day 2, while much worse on Day 1? I think it was simply the fact that I was too tired to burn myself out so I rode by necessity more conservatively and smarter. I used my granny gear a lot, which I had not done the first day. Also, I could feel my legs riding into shape. I can’t prove this on the Powertap, but I can feel my legs getting stronger at the end of very long, hilly rides, even as I slow down. It’s as though the muscles get used to the repetitive motion of climbing. It really shows up on the next long ride.
I plan to complete my full brevet series this Saturday with a very flat NJ Hightstown 400k. If my legs are giving me accurate feedback, I will have a good ride. I actually came out of the 600k feeling pretty good. Funny the way the ups and downs work on long rides. In my experience on any long ride you will experience both.