Now that I'm starting to do some F2 workouts (force 2 - long hills; up to 8% grades that take at least 6 minutes to climb), I've started heading back out to Mt. Palomar.
For those not familiar with this ride, it's about 3700 continuous vertical feet of climbing. Mt. Palomar is north east of San Diego. It's about a 40 minute drive from my place out there, but the drive is well worth it, as Palomar is one of the best road cycling mountains you're going to find around here. This thing is no minor hill, Floyd Landis includes it on his regular training ride from his home in Temecula. There's even been a lot of talk of having the Tour of California use it as the finish to a stage next year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one.
June 14th was the first time I'd been up the mountain since February of 2007. Prior to heading out there on Saturday, I was feeling pretty confident in my fitness. My left leg strength has been getting better and better. I've also seen my power numbers get a lot closer to some of my pre-injury levels of late, so I was thinking that I'd just head up the mountain at a good aggressive pace and see how things worked out. My goal being to keep my heart rate no higher than my lactate threshold (around 182 bpm). What I found was that I wasn't really physically ready or prepared for the sort of fitness and nutrition that this climb demands.
First off, about 3/4 of the way up the mountain I started running really low on blood sugar. This is the infamous bonk; not enough glycogen left in one's blood stream to keep things functioning at a high level. So, rather than the 60 rpm cadence I had going the first 3/4 of the climb, I was struggling to keep my cadence above 35 or 40. Regardless, I wasn't going to stop climbing. I didn't drive all the way up there to quit without getting to the top. By the time I got to the top of the mountain I was beat. I stopped to eat half a banana and honey sandwich and then headed back down.
What I discovered when I started to ride back down the mountain was that my hamstrings were so wasted that I couldn't even pedal. They hurt so much that I could barely sit on my saddle. Basically I coasted the entire way down the mountain, barely able to turn my pedals such that I could even take the corners safely. When I got back down to my car, I had to get off my bike and walk up the small hill to where my car was parked, my legs were that dead. It took a day or so of recovery for me to be able to walk properly after this experience.
The next Saturday, June 21, I headed back to Palomar determined to put some of the lessons learned from the previous week (more re-learned I guess, as I learned many of these lessons last year) into action. First off, I put some dextrose into my water bottles so that I'd have more sugar going into my system during the climb. Second, I got started much earlier in the morning so that I could avoid the 100 degree temperatures that are typical for inland San Diego county this time of year. Finally, I resolved to climb the mountain a little more smartly, namely go at my threshold for 10 to 20 minutes, then take it easy for 3 minutes to recover, then go back to threshold, etc. This approach has worked well for me in the past. I still worked my ass off getting to the top of the mountain, but at least I got there in one coherent, functioning piece.
For the purposes of comparison, here is my power output for a trip up Palomar in February 2007:
Here's the June 14, 2008 climb:
And here's my power output from last Saturday:
A few things are pretty obvious here:
1. The June 14th image shows how my power (the yellow line) was reasonably consistent for the first 60 to 75% of the climb. Then it slowly fades lower and lower.
2. If you compare the June 21, 2008 and 2007 output, you can see that back in 2007 I was able to keep my power closer to 300 watts on most of the hard efforts. In 2008, the harder efforts were closer to 250 to 275 watts. So, I'm definitely not as strong as I was back in 2007. No real news here; a guy with one leg that is only half as strong as what it used to be, and who can't really pull up on one of his legs when he pedals isn't going to be as strong as he once was.
I'm still really happy however. I can still remember when I was lying in a hospital bed thinking how great an accomplishment it would be if I could ever even ride a bike again. Being able to climb one of the highest mountains in Southern California wasn't something that even entered my thoughts at that time. Being able to climb a mountain like Palomar validates that all the hard work I've put in to my recovery over the past year or so has been well worth it.