"Michigan" and "Mountain" are not two words you normally hear together. There is, however, an event in Michigan called "Michigan Mountain Mayhem". Before you laugh let me show you some numbers and pretty charts.
The ride includes " . . . 50 climbs that hit at least 10% [grade] and many that reach 15% - 20%, and even an optional Super Hill that hits 29%!" (MMM site). I recommend reading Fat Cyclist's blog entry on what various climbing grades should feel like if these numbers don't mean anything to you.
So, 100 miles of hills? No problem. I just had to keep on chugging at a moderate pace. But really, I had no idea what to expect. I had no clue as to how I'd be able to pace myself for over 100 miles. I and the whole crew of about five took it easy on the first 20 or 30 miles. It was hard not hitting the hills with maximal effort. The weather was beautiful, the company was great, and we were breezing by many people. But we all knew there was a long day ahead of us and that burning out half way through would make for a miserable afternoon.
A third of the way through the ride you get the choice of doing "the super hill", which is a half mile long and goes up to 29%. That's pretty early in a century to do a real big effort, but we weren't deterred. The super hill consisted of a paved switchback hiking path that winds its way up Schuss mountain. The hill proved to be challenging, but in a way I hadn't expected. First, I've never encountered anything that steep before. So, I hadn't anticipated the problem I encountered. This was a problem of physics and skill. I had the power and stamina, but as I approached the super steep parts I was finding myself losing a balancing game. If I pedaled too hard I'd do a wheelie and nearly tip over backwards (I should mention that at this point I'm out of the saddle and leaned over my handle bars as much as possible), but if I pedaled too softly I'd teeter and nearly fall over sideways. Eventually I instinctively unclipped while teetering to one side and that ended my attempt. I had no choice but to walk the 30 feet or so around the switchback to restart. Looking back I probably should have entered that section with more speed, but I didn't because I was still thinking about the remaining 70 miles and had no idea that 29% would do that. Oh well, next year.
|Grinding up "the wall", the last major hill|
It was fun riding with a whole group of experienced people in a nicely organized pace line (when we had the opportunity). At a little over 70 miles my 100 mile path separated from the rest of the team's 130 mile path. I had contemplated riding with them for the extra 30 miles, but in the end I decided to stick to the original goal.
Miles 80 through 100 were the tough ones. That's when the body started complaining. Still, I pressed on. I was mentally preparing myself for "the wall", which everyone was buzzing about. It's the last big climb of the trip. I studied the elevation map at one of the rest stops and estimated that it was a moderate climb for 2-3 miles ending with a short steep climb. The way people were talking I expected something like a longer version of the 29% climb from the super hill. So, I decided to go ridiculously easy on the first moderate 2-3 miles of the climb and then hammer the steep part with whatever I had left. Turned out to be not as bad as I imagined. Sure, I had to get out of the saddle at the steep part, but it was only maybe 100 yards (or maybe it just felt that short).
Finally, I cruised into town and crossed the finish line with a time of 8:16. I already can't wait until next year. I'm going to conquer that super hill.
Cat 3 Cyclocross: 1/10
Cat 4 Road: 0/10
Best race ranking to date: 34/42
Century rides completed: 1
Hills on MMM walked: 1/0