The good part of goal events is that they give you something to focus on during your training.

The bad part of goal events is that they arrive. It was time to do RAMROD.

As usual, I slept poorly the day before the event, so instead of sleeping in until 3:30AM, I got up at 3:10AM. After a quick Clif bar for breakfast (breakfast?), I put in my contacts, pulled on an underarmour shirt (yellow), a jersey (cannondale robot), and my favorite pair of cannondale shorts (the ones with their kickin’ new flexible chamois (amazingly less chafing)), covered, of course, with a liberal application of Chamois Butt’r

By 4AM, I was sitting in the kitchen putting sunscreen on in the dark, thinking about what was to come. 144 miles, with an elevation gain of 11,000′, it was not going to be easy. And, I was worried that my preparation was something Fatty would have done…

In the interest of proper forshadowing, my preparation was:

  • Not riding more than 60 miles at a stretch this year until 3 weeks before the event
  • Trying to show off by flying up hills on our group ride 10 days before the event
  • Catching a cold from my daughter the weekend before
  • Getting a colonoscopy 3 days before the event, resulting in a full digestive reboot

A bit unorthodox, I will admit…

I got my bag of cycle stuff and took it out to the car. Then I got my food bag and bottles out of the fridge (*both* in the fridge because I forgot my bottles last year at STP). One of the bottles had a two-hour mix of Perpetuem, another had water. In the bag was:

  • A ziploc of another two hour mix of perpetuem
  • Four ziplocs of Accelerade mix (blue raspberry)
  • One bagel
  • One package of clif bloks (cran-whatever)
  • One package of beef jerky
  • A ziploc with about 30 Succeed! S!Caps

4:30AM, I’m out in front. The truck is loaded, my bike is on the rack. The stars are out. And Franklin is late. Well, he’s not technically late, as it’s only 4:30, but – okay, now it’s 4:40, and he’s officially late. He pulls up a few minutes later, we get his bike on the rack, and we head out to Enumclaw, a small farming town at the base of Mt. Rainier.

The time is a little critical, as we have tentative plans to meet a few friends to ride with them. Joe (our resident climber and holder of the “most insane cyclist” award in our little group) will be there, Per and Shanna (two of our ride leaders) are going to be there, and Reena (a friend of Franklin’s who rode on the training ride I did a few weeks ago) has also said she’ll be there.

In our favor is the fact that at 5AM, the Seattle-area rush hour is tolerable. I drive through Renton, and then out through a series of ex-small towns that are now specializing in ugly housing developments – Maple Valley, Black Diamond, and then on to Enumclaw high school.

We park three blocks from the school, and get our gear together. I pull on my arm warmers, and Franklin complains about the cold. He calls Reena, who is parked 3 cars behind us. We stuff our pockets and ride to the start line. It’s already 6AM, and I expect that everybody else will have departed.

After a quick nature break, we get on our bikes. Franklin complains about the cold again – and it is a bit chilly – but a) I don’t want to wait any more and b) I know that we’ll be doing a lot of climbing. At this point, one of the course officials approachs Franklin and asks him how old he is. Which requires a bit of explanation (not about Franklin’s age, which is a poorly-kept secret, but about why the official cares)..

RAMROD, you see, has a problem. Because it takes place in Mount Rainier National Park, they need to have a permit from the National Park Service, and that permit limits them to 900 riders. Early in the season – when the pain of the summer is only an abstraction – there are far more people who want to ride sign up. So, when you sign up for RAMROD, you go into a lottery drawing, and if you don’t, you go on a waiting list. When riders start to regain their sanity, they cancel their registrations, and they get transferred to somebody on the waiting list. This is a *huge* pain in the ass for Redmond Cycling Club, but they do it anyway.

Franklin had gone around this, and bought a registration directly from somebody. Somebody who was much older. And RAMROD assigns numbers not on the basis of registration order but on the basis of age, with the oldest riders getting the lowest numbers. My number was in the 500s. Franklin had 75, which rightfully belonged to somebody at least a decade older than he is. Or at least, how old he *claims* to be – he’s fairly reticent about revealing his age, and for all I know he is just a nicely-preserved 62 years old.

So, there was a bit of a discussion, but we ended up rolling through the start line, where they ripped off our “on the course” tags (for tracking purposes). And we we’re off.

And my stomach starts cramping. I’m not sure of the cause – it could be the pasta I had the night before, it could be the Clif bloks I ate right before starting, it could be that I’m still stick, but whatever the cause, I’m uncomfortable.

And Franklin is still complaining in a manner which I will describe later as “like a schoolgirl”.

The description of RAMROD for this year – on a different course because of the road damage of last winter makes it impossible to ride around the mountain right now – says that there are three climbs, but that’s over-simplifying things. Yes, there *are* three climbs, but to get to the base of the first climb, you have 3000-some feet of climbing to do over the first 40 miles. After a bump at the begining of about 600′, it’s a pretty steady climb for the next 30 miles. I publicly state that I’m going to be taking on the role of Iban Mayo for the ride, wheelsucking mercilessly and then fading when things get hard. I start this by sticking behind Franklin and Reena, who take easy pulls as we ride at reasonable speeds (say 18 or so) towards Greenwater, ending up with perhaps 15 riders behind us. My stomach is getting a little better, but I can’t say that the Perpetuem is going down very well (and frankly, even in the best of times, it tastes like orange-flavored slightly rancid pancake batter, which only supports my contention that cyclists love to suffer).

We stop at Greenwater (18.1 miles) for a “nature break”, and then head back out. I take a (slow – but do I really need to mention that?) pull at the front, and we keep rolling to the next rest stop (24 miles). At that point, I down the remaining few ounces of perpetuem, which makes me feel really sick for a few minutes, and mix two bottles of accelerade. We get on our bikes, start to ride out, and get stuck behind two guys who think that it’s a good idea to weave through a tight spot at 4mph and then stop in front of the porta-potties, blocking the exit. I barely clip out in time to avoid falling over in the parking lot. They are oblivious.

And then things start getting better. The accelerade is much better on my stomach, in combination with part of my bagel and one of the salt capsules. And the cramping seems to have gone away. We ride on to the entrance of the park (37 miles), at which point we’ve averaged 15.5 MPH.

Right after you enter the park, there is a nasty 700′ climb 2.5 miles long. I hang with Franklin and Reena for the first mile, and then realize that my legs are hurting, look down, and see that I’m riding above my lactic threshold (around 145 BPM for me), which is pretty much the definition of a bad idea on a ride like this. I back off to around 140, and settle into the climb. Near the top, I pass Per and Shanna on their *tandem*. They lead the RAMROD training series, so it’s not like they don’t have the conditioning for a ride like this, but on a tandem? Shanna says something, I recognize them, drop back, and ride with them chatting for a minute or so. I then ride off, and reach the entrance white river campground turnoff, which leads to the Sunrise climb. There’s a short little 200′ hill that leads down to the ticket booth, but it’s pretty steep and I stretch out my legs a bit and wick it up to around 30MPH.

And then *WHAM* – I hit the mother of all potholes with my back wheel. And the bike keeps rolling along, without any issues. I’m amazed that the rear wheel didn’t pinch flat (nor is there any wheel damage that I could find, surprising with a low-spoke-count wheel). I ride through the entrance and stop to fill up on water (water which Joe claims is the best water in the world). As I get off the bike, I see that the bump has unlatched my topeak seat wedge. I move to reattach my seat pack, and realize that the bump has totally fractured the plastic on the quick mount for the seat pack, so I stuff the pump in my jersey pocket, flip the pack over, and hang it off the split in my seat via the pump retention elastic.

And I head off to start Sunrise (13 miles, 2956′). Franklin and Reena aren’t quite ready, but I know that they’ll climb faster than me.

Sunrise is one of my favorite places to visit. Most tourists go to Paradise, which is on the south side of the mountain, but Sunrise feels much more wild, and has some nice hikes. And you can sometimes watch climbers on the snow fields if you remember your binoculars. I do feel obligated at this point to mention that the best close vista of Rainier is from the summit of Crystal Mountain, just one valley away from the mountain.

Given the length of the climb, my goal is to try to keep my cadence around 90, and my heart rate in the 130s.

About three miles up the mountain, I come to a mechanic stop. I pull over, wait a couple minutes, and then obtain a zip-tie to hook the pack back to me seat securely. Franklin and Reena pass me while I’m there.

And the climb continues. It’s about this time that my knee starts to hurt, on the back of my right knee. I’d had a twinge there after my hard (and stupid) workout on the hills, and now it appears that I’ve got an overuse injury. And it’s a particularly annoying one at this point. I worked hard to improve my leg strength this year so that I could use strength rather than my cardio (you generally have a choice to ride at a higher cadence and use less leg strength or a lower candence and more leg strength. The fastest way is to balance the two out for whatever length of ride you’re doing). But I can’t push hard with my right leg, so I’m stuck climbing a) slower than I had hoped and b) with a higher heart rate than I wanted. Generally, I’d just ride a little slower, but I’m already in my lowest gear and my cadence is down around 75, and going more slowly makes the knee hurt more, so I try to suck it up.

About halfway up, I catch up with Per and Shanna, who had skipped the stop after the park entrance. I’m riding at around 7MPH, and they’re going at around 5MPH. I talk for a bit, and then head off up the road. And I pass the course photographer, who took a picture I might actually pay for.

Though I am hurting, I’m passing more people than are passing me. There’s a quick water stop about 2/3rds of the way up, and I get back on the bike quickly and keep heading up. I finally reach Sunrise point (6100′ elevation), and pull into the parking lot. I pull out my jerky, eat a bit (umm, salty), take another salt pill, and chat a bit with one of the amateur radio volunteers (ramrod uses HAM radio for support because there is limited cell coverage), and head out.

And wonderfully, just at that point, the slope eases out to a couple percent, and I spin up to the summit. It has taken me 1:35 to complete the climb, averaging 8.3 MPH.

And I don’t feel bad. I eat a couple of small potatoes (with lots of salt), refill my water bottles, and talk with Franklin, Reena, and Dan (who is volunteering so he gets an automatic entry next year).

Front Row, right to left: Dan, Franklin, Eric, Reena
Back Row: Mount Rainier

The descent at 25MPH average takes 32 minutes. I experiment with an aero tuck to get extra speed, but it tires my back out. The descent is technical – there are a lot of tight turns and a fair amount of crappy pavement – so I take it easy. I regroup with Franklin and Reena at the entrance, and we head up the short climb to the highway. After a quick climb, we head back down the hill that I complained about earlier, back to the park entrance, and then right onto Crystal Mountain Boulevard (6 miles, 1700′). I feel okay strength-wise (at 78 miles), but my knee is hurting a lot.

Having skied at Crystal a bunch, I know the road fairly well, but there are things you don’t notice when you drive. For example, you don’t notice how crappy the road surface is. You don’t notice the headwind on the lower parts. You don’t notice how you’re always in the sun. etc.

I settle in for the climb, but this one is definitely no fun. It’s pretty comparable in steepness to Sunrise, but I’m stuck in a very narrow cadence band (75-80 RPM), and standing no longer makes it hurt less. I take one short break on the way up, then ride on into the parking lot, for a climb time of 52 minutes. Franklin walks over as I pull up and get off my bike, and his first words are “you don’t look too good…”.

He’s a keen observer. Not only do I not look that good, I don’t feel that good – I feel very overheated from the climb and a little dehydrated, but when I get off the bike, I start to feel much better. But the only thing that sustained me on the climb up was my full, certain confidence that I was done climbing for the day. I was happy that my knee was hurting, because it gave me a great reason to avoid the last climb – not that big overall, but with a 12% section both ways. I sent Franklin and Reena ahead, and told them that I would meet at the deli stop. I sat around in the shade for about 25 minutes, read the brochures for Crystal’s fabulous lodgings, and then decided to head out.

The descent, in a word, sucked. The road that was ugly to ride up wasn’t any better at 25MPH. I spent a lot of time weaving around to try to find the better pavement (there was no good pavement), and a lot of time standing so that the bike could move around more nicely. 15 minutes later I came to the stop sign, and turned right back onto highway 410, 88 miles into the ride, and 15 miles away from the “deli” stop. I shifted down a few gears, tried to establish a rhythm, and found that my knee had stiffened up after the rest and descent- I couldn’t spin any faster than 60RPM. It took me at least 15 minutes to get it warmed up enough to be able to spin at 90RPM. Luckily, in that section you lose another 900 feet and the notorious headwind wasn’t that bad. 42 minutes later – after a fair bit of water on the way down – I rode past the volunteers who were trying to get me to turn up the last climb, and turned into the deli stop.

The deli stop is pretty neat. They have a long table, and you start at the bread guy, move to the spread guy, the meat guy, the tomato guy, and then finally, the lettuce guy. At the end you have your sandwich, and then you grab something to drink, and go sit down in the grass (well, weeds, mostly) next to the fire station helipad (Greenwater is the closest aid station to Crystal, and they sometimes need to evac people out from there).

The sandwich was good, and helped settle my stomach down a bit. My drink of choice was a Kirkland Grape soda, and the fructose did an immediate number on my stomach (I can’t deal with a lot of fructose normally). I poured it out and went back and got a diet coke. And then, I sat around, stretched, and generally just waited for Franklin and Reena to show up. It wasn’t too hot if you were sitting up due to the wind, but whenever I went to lie down, I ended up getting too hot. And without any shade to be found, I just sat around, had a cookie, a couple of more salt pills, and waited.

Approximately 12 days later, Franklin and Reena rolled into the stop and picked up their sandwiches. I sat with them for 5 minutes, and then decided to depart to get a head start back. But I wasn’t getting excited about riding by myself for the last 20 miles, and I didn’t think I was up to hanging in a paceline.

And then something weird happened. I got out on the bike, and while my knee hurt, it hurt considerably less. I could ride at 95-100 RPM, and it felt okay. And I could run my heartrate up to 135, and *that* felt okay. I enjoyed that for perhaps 7 miles, and then a beautiful thing happened…

A paceline passed me running 3MPH faster than I was riding.

I’d been passed by 4 or 5 pacelines running 7MPH faster than I was riding, but that was faster than I was capable of riding. I could probably hang o the back of one, but wouldn’t be able to pull at the front.

I grabbed the wheel of the last rider in the group, and found that I could easily hang on. The downside was that the riders were tired and several of them didn’t have much experience in pacelines, so the line wasn’t very smooth. The upside was that I was out of the wind and feeling quite good by now. I had moved forward to third wheel (following two inexperienced riders) when we turned off the highway onto Mud Mountain Road. Whenever you make a turn like that in a paceline, if you want to keep it together you need to slow down to let the riders in the back close up the gaps, but the two in front took off. I could have taken off and caught up with them, but decided that staying in the current line was a better idea, so I waited for them to regroup behind me, and then pulled for a couple of miles until we got to the final descent back into Enumclaw. I took it easy on that, and then rolled in through the finish line, where they ripped off my “back in” tag and directed me to the ice cream van parked nearby. Joe played valet and took my bike off to the side and I got a creamsicle. And another Diet Coke. And a few handfuls of pretzels. And I felt pretty good – the salt tabs definitely made a considerable difference.

And so, that was it – 124 miles, 8200′ feel of elevation gain. Not what I had hoped to do, but given the issues I had (including my lack of long rides), pretty good.

At the finish, I ran into Per and Shana, who had finished Sunrise but had come to their senses and only sampled the other two climbs before coming back.

I hanged around for a while longer, and Franklin and Reena (who had hung out at the deli stop for a long time) rolled in, and then fairly soon after that, rider #1 finished. I hope I can ride like that when I’m 70 years old…

In this picture you can see why I’m genetically disadvantaged compared to Joe when climbing…

Finally, a big thanks to the RAMROD folks, who really know how to put on a good ride. Fresh water done with food-grade equipment (no “rubber hose taste”), the great deli stop, and the food at the finish (why don’t more rides do that? That’s the time you want to eat most).

Next year? Well, it’s only three days later, and I think the answer is yes. The classic route is supposed to be a little easier than this year’s.

Ride Time: 8:21
Distance: 124 miles
Average Speed: 14.8 MPH
Calories: 5600 (though I think the polar drastically underestimates climbing calories – more on that in a later post).

I thought you might be interested in the profile for the ride. Most of it is directly from my heart rate monitor, but I had to fill in the climb I didn’t do based on what Franklin and Reena told me about it at the finish.


So, what do you think ?