On Saturday, April 23rd, nearly 40 Northeast Multisport members set out to ride the Kancamagus Highway in the heart of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We started out of the Loon Ski Mountain. There were several routes members could choose from. I selected the 73 mile option.
Note: These pictures that follow were totally lifted from fellow NEMS team members Mia and Lori. I was too out of it to take any pictures of my own. Read on for more.
In general, the wind and temperature were significant factors. The wind was gusting 25-30 mph. On the climb to Conway, the wind was out of the southeast (headwind). On the climb back to Lincoln, the wind was out of the northwest (also a headwind). The temperature didn’t get much above 45 degrees. And that was before descending or even moving. I wore full finger gloves, arm and leg warmers, and shoe covers, but opted to not bring a wind vest or skull cap as I often overheat on the bike and frankly didn’t want to carry that with me.
In general, I was quite comfortable for everything other than the final descent back to Lincoln. It could have been residual sweat, but I absolutely froze on the descent.
Fluid & Nutrition
After learning some valuable lessons in last year’s Timberman 70.3 on my fluids & nutrition, I decided this would be a good chance to test out some of my plans. In last year’s Half Ironman, I had nothing more than caffeinated orange Clif Bloks, Gatorade, and a gel here or there. I learned it was too much caffeine and not enough solid food.
For this event, I knew I’d finish somewhere between 4-4.5 hours. I created a basic little spreadsheet with the products I planned on consuming and their calorie content. I wanted my caloric content to be around 350 calories per hour.
I hadn’t planned on eating the Clif Bloks I brought but were there in case things got ugly. On the bike I had two bottles of Gatorade (looking to replace this with Scratch Labs in the near future) and two bottles of water with Nuun tablets in them as I’m usually a heavy sweater.
In general, I drank every 5 minutes and ate every 35-40 minutes. I tried something new here by adding four Gu packets to a Gu flask and added water up to the #5 line. This proved to make it super easy to suck down. I felt good and the stomach mostly felt fine. I could have gone for a run afterwards if it wasn’t for the fact I did not bring the right clothing to run in 45 degree weather and wind. I’ll call this a win that will continue to be refined over the next few months.
This was the first outdoor ride of the season. Yea, I like to go for broke. It was also the first outdoor ride with my power meter. Through my reading, I expected to see some higher than “normal” power numbers outdoors. I did find it interesting just how high these were on the first climb. In general, the ride starts out with 10 miles of uphill to the top of the Kanc. You then proceed to descend 22 miles to Conway. With a little rolling efforts, I resupplied a bottle of water for the ride back.
First 10 Miles – Up the Kanc
I’ve ridden the Kanc a few times before from the Lincoln side. It’s not a terrible climb, but does kick up in a few places to 10-12%. The issue with this climb is it’s just long…like 10 miles. My plan on this climb was to take it as easy as possible knowing the way back would be worse. I knew my current FTP was 224. I wanted the entire ride to be an average power of around 170 (in keeping with Half Ironman Pacing) of 75% FTP. This first climb felt really good (set a new PR on that segment too). Looking back at the data, I averaged 233 watts on that first climb…woah…damn. The data showed I set a 5, 20, and 60 minute PR for power output on the 10 mile climb. Ironically, taking 95% of that non-all out 20 minute best effort, I would have set a new FTP. But as it wasn’t a formal test, I’m not going to change it.
That said, the views are simply stunning. And, given you are on a bike and not driving a motor vehicle, you can appreciate the views a bit more.
Once I got to the top, you could see the 7% sign. These are great in that they are great beacons to show when you get to the top of a climb. The bad news about these signs is they also remind you that since this was an out and back ride, you’d be coming back up that thing.
The Long Descent
The descent off both sides of the Kanc summit have decent pavement and have wide sweeping turns. There is only one hairpin turn coming from the Lincoln side. Otherwise, you can turn loose and absolutely haul ass down the mountain. In fact, I hit 45.4 miles per hour on the way down. If it were warmer, I’d probably have hit 50. Since the roads were in such good shape, and while I totally don’t recommend it, I was descending in the aero position for most of the descent. I am quite comfortable going down hills fast.
The Way Back
Once I went over the top of the Kanc, I knew that I had one bailout spot. That was Bear Notch Road. That was the 40 mile route turnaround point. This meant that if I wanted to turn around and head back to Lincoln, I’d have 10 miles of climbing back to the top of the Kanc. Obviously, I did not turn around as the plan was for 73 miles. Instead, I continued down a moderate downhill for another 10-12 miles into Conway. This made for fast and fun riding. Again, just like the 7% grade sign, this meant I literally had 22 miles of straight climbing from Conway back to the top of the Kanc plus another 10 miles of downhill to get back to my car.
After refilling and swapping around some water bottles I was back on the return trip. I started out with another member but I broke off early to hit a restroom at a National Park Service stop along the Kanc. Note to self, finding restrooms on the Kanc isn’t that hard, but they are spaced out. Walgreens also didn’t seem to have public restrooms. I’ve ridden the section from Conway to Bear Notch rode a year or two ago and don’t remember that climb being hard, just long. I was about to double that as I had to ride past Bear Notch and continue up the other side of the Kanc summit.
Around mile 50 (once I hit Bear Notch Road), my lower back was letting me know it wasn’t happy with me. While I had been playing around with my bike setup in recent weeks, I am quite certain I know the cause. I don’t do any core work. In the past, I’ve had my best cycling when I had a strong core. I haven’t been swimming much and certainly don’t supplement with more core work. So…it’ll be core focus for a while.
The last 10 miles of the climb hurt and were most certainly not fast. I was cold and facing a decent headwind. Not to be deterred, I just kept up my hydration and nutrition and eventually managed to get to the top. I ate a Clif Bar at the top as a few of us regrouped and then began to descend back to Lincoln.
It didn’t take long for me to feel absolutely frozen to the core. Somehow, it felt like the temperature dropped from 9 am. Perhaps it was the wind kicking up and residual sweat from the climb, but the last 10 miles weren’t much fun. I’m usually in heaven on descents. Basically, I only enjoy riding up a hill for the thrill of the descent. But, it was just too cold. Everything was cold…including the fluid in my water bottles. But, mile after mile ticked off, I eventually landed back at the car. I was supposed to have a 15-20 minute Brick workout after the bike, but as I only brought shorts and a running shirt, I bailed on the run. I was a block of ice.
What I Learned
So first ride complete outside. And, it was a massive one. Even still, I learned a few things.
- Keep tweaking the nutrition. Gels worked really well in the Gu Flask
- Eating “real” and solid food was much better than just Clif Blocks
- No caffeinated food worked well and kept the belly happy.
- Riding with a power meter outdoors was interesting. Higher than I expected for power, but after the first climb, I held power steady around 75% of FTP.
- Having added fluids on the bike was a great investment.
- Triathlon bikes descend faster due to how aerodynamic they are, but they aren’t as easy to control in cross winds.
- Even after a 10 mile climb and some climbing back up the Kanc, at mile 56 (Half Ironman distance), I felt pretty strong.