A Summer of Climbing, Crying, and Crashing:

Finding Happiness at the Best Shape of my Life

Intro/Recap of Events:

The past 6 months have been a complete whirlwind. March 6th I said goodbye to my roommate Ethan after we had dinner at Central, and I drove to Bristol where I expected to spend a week in the mountains recovering from the semester before the last couple SKIMO races of the season. Instead of a relaxing week in the Mad River Valley, it ended up being a mad dash of making last-minute airline tickets and sending frantic emails/text messages trying to dig for information that no one had. After the last “normal day” on the 14th, where 6 silly adults lined up to run up and down mountains in neon lycra, I returned to Virginia shocked to be facing months in a state I had planned to never return to. 

The next months were a blur of virtual workouts with the kids I coach in Burlington, PowerPoint slides, Tik Tok, and barely being able to drag myself out of bed most days let alone do any sort of productive training. I spent the rest of March and April sleeping most of the day and feeling numb to everything after having my life ripped out from underneath me. The second semester of college was the best 10 weeks of my life, and facing the idea I would not be seeing any of my friends beyond a screen until September was unfathomable. I tried to get back to running, as I was still planning on running a 50km and 100km race over the summer. But after both of them were canceled in early April, I couldn’t even crack 30 miles a week. After following Phil Gaimon train for an Everest attempt, and watching my friend Charli crush a Fixed Gear Brakeless Everesting record on Lookout Mtn, I finally felt like I had a tangible goal to train for. Getting back into training was really difficult, as after reaching some of the best numbers and fitness I had ever felt in March, it was crushing to try and get back to training and feel like I was having to restart. By the time classes had ended for the semester and final exams had been submitted, I had found some form of fitness on the bike. And, thanks to my grandparents, I had only a few more weeks of VA living before I would be leaving to spend the rest of the summer in ColoRADo.

After packing pretty much everything I owned into my Chevy and driving 1,700 hundred Bon Iver/Vampire Weekend soundtracked miles across the country with my mum, I arrived in Lakewood Colorado. This marked my 5th move already this year and the start of an amazing 11 weeks. 

Driving across the country for the first time was in interesting experience and the complaints about how boring Kansas is are certainly not an understatement. But the prospect of high altitude climbings and an escape from 85% humidity were more than enough motivation. The first few days of CO were mostly spent blindly following Strava routes through unfamiliar mountain ranges. But, thankfully after the first couple weeks passed by I was able to navigate my way from Littleton all the way up to Golden without having to check my phone or watch for help. I did, however, get very lost on the way to Golden Canyon my first time which did result in asking a stranger for directions to “the road that goes west from Golden”. Thankfully I was always able to find my way home without much issue.

In the following section, I’m going to give a quick breakdown of my training week by week and highlight some standout rides and workouts.

Week 1: Relative Effort – 322 Climb – 13,730 Time – 14h56

The second day after moving in I did my very first rep up Lookout Mtn, throughout the rest of the summer I would do it 28 more times. Looking back I’m actually impressed I slipped up the whole climb in under 30min, which isn’t too bad at all for my first 30min effort ever at altitude. The rest of the week consisted of easy spins while I began to scout out the local climbs. I also went on a hike up Plymouth Mountain and got dropped by Brony in Monument. 

Week 2: Relative Effort 410; Climb – 20,452; Time – 16h5

My Second week consisted of 7 Lookout reps and my first ride up Deer Creek Canyon. I remember feeling completely cooked on my first 4xlookout, which Charli&Scott did fixed on the same day an hour faster. Overall it was a really successful week and it was the first time I had ever done over 20k of climb all outdoors!! 

Week 3 – Relative Effort – 364; Climb – 22,112; Time 17h08

Week 3 ended up being my biggest week of training block by volume, even though my RE was fairly low. This week was probably evidence of some really good fitness that I blew by doing Mt Evans too early a couple of weeks later. During the week I did a hard, just under VO2 max, workout in GC (Golden Canyon), and Lookout 6 times where I clipped a 3rd place all-time on the Lookout x5 QOM segment. 

Week 4 (Rest Week): Relative Effort – 208; Climb – 9,463; Time 9h54

This week was well needed, my legs were absolutely fried and my bike was in dire need of maintenance. Fortunately, both were taken care of and by the end of the week, I was able to do a Lookout rep in 26:57 which was nearly 3 minutes faster than previous best from week one. I also had my second of two punctures for the training block that week, but fortunately was able to be picked up by my uncle as my CO2 cartridge ended up failing! Overall I was still feeling confident about being able to Everest come August but I knew that even though I had ridden a lot I still had so far to go. 

Week 5: Relative Effort – 377; Climb – 19,799; Time – 15h3

Mostly recovered from the previous 4 weeks of training I decided it was time to start acclimating to higher altitude. A 4-hour ride from Evergreen, to Idaho Springs, to the Echo Lake Lodge, and back to Evergreen proved that while I did have the lungs to climb over 11,000 ft, I didn’t have the watts. After smashing myself on Wednesday I made the poor decision of going to Boulder to ride up Flagstaff Mtn (the first .75m averages 11%) for over 5,000ft of climb on Sunday. This week was the beginning of overtraining as I don’t think I really understood how much rest is needed when training at 10,000 ft and still sleeping at 5,500 ft.

Week 6 (Uh Oh): Relative Effort – 579; Climb – 20,163; Time – 13h14

Thanks to a late (and lovely) text from Charli on a Friday night, I ended up riding to the summit of Mt Evans long before I was ready. On Wed I did a 6,000 ft day riding up to summit lake, as I had planned on doing Evans later in the season with Eric (which somehow happened anyway?). Regardless, I realize now that doing 20k of climb with over 550 RE was a recipe for disaster, and resulted in body/mind exhaustion that played into my crash, and certainly impacted the speed of my recovery. In my training plans for next summer, I’ve already begun trying to hash out a better plan to acclimate to altitude and stay healthy and recovered during these long training blocks. 

Week 7: Relative Effort – 531; Climb – 20,384; Time – 14h46

The true mistake in this training block was made during the Tuesday/Wednesday of this week. After cracking 2,000 ft from the summit of Evans on Sat, I then tried to turn around and put in another week of big volume without any sort of rest. Tuesday was a 3h30 ride around my usual loop, but I had forgotten to get groceries the previous day so I had to scrounge to pull together dinner. Then, on Wednesday I decided to do, what I had planned on being 1 of 3 10,000-15,000 ft climbing days, but sadly it ended up being 1 of 1. The day itself was superb, and my consistency of splits was nearly perfect through lap 7. And, if it wasn’t for waiting 5min to see if a cyclist and motorcyclist were going to fistfight, they would have all been just about dead even. The McDonald’s from Golden post-ride still remains the culinary highlight of the block, although that might be more due to my delirium than the contents of my meal. This workout took 4 days to recover enough to feel normal again from and should have been a louder wake-up call that I needed to ease off the gas.

Week 8: Relative Effort – 409; Climb 12,234; Time – 9h31; 

Whelp. This week was the crash. Stupidly both the day before and on Wednesday I decided to do both Aerobic and Anaerobic threshold workouts, which certainly did not help me on Saturday. Saturday started as a gloomy day, with rain projected for the afternoon. The overcast sky and damp pavement were probably enough foreshadowings even to be called out for being too obvious by my English prof. I had decided since both of my parents were in town that I would go for an all-out effort up Lookout since I could make them be my team car. I felt cooked on the warmup lap, which also should have been a sign to play things safe. Thankfully my effort up lookout ended up being really solid and pretty well-paced. The only part that was poorly paced was the right-hand switchback after Windy Saddle where it kicks to 11%. Because I was going so much faster than usual, I didn’t anticipate I would need to drop from the 25 down two clicks, as I usually only drop one gear to get out of the saddle. This just meant I awkwardly over cadenced my out of the saddle climbing and it probably cost me 6-8 seconds. The rest of the climb went well, but I could’ve used someone to pull for the last 3 min before the sprint. Hitting the BB Grave from the parking lot segment at 25:24 was a great feeling and hopefully, over the coming years, I’ll be able to creep down low enough to even think of touching Charli’s fixed QOM. After some pretty pictures and recovery, I was offered a ride down, which I stupidly refused. Even more boneheaded of me, I decided to start ripping the descent at a faster pace than when I did it on closed roads. In the straightaway, I was well-pushing 40mph and already had clipped some corners a little too hotly. Through the last difficult corner, I panicked at the last second, pulled the rear brake lever all the way to the bar, and dropped my left knee into the pavement. Yes I know, literally everything you’re not supposed to do in order to take corners quickly. Before I even realized what happened I was sliding on the pavement at 30mph, and slowly came to a stop in the gravel shoulder. In shock, I stood up and thought I was okay, but within seconds the adrenaline wore off slightly, and the pain and blood started. Within a few moments myself, my bike, and the road were soaked with blood. Fortunately, my parents were only minutes behind, and they were able to scoop me up and get me right into the clinic so I could be tended to. The next several hours and days were agonizing, and I didn’t sleep for the proceeding 36 hours. 

Week 9: Relative Effort – 109; Climb – 2,927; Time – 2h33

Week 10: Relative Effort – 676; Climb – 12,170; Time – 11h39

I’ve decided to combine these two weeks as 10 out of the 14 days I did nothing but sleep and lay in bed. Week 9 started with spending 3 days going hypoxic on a pullout couch in Breckenridge. Thankfully after returning to Lakewood I was able to have thoughts and use my brain again. The remainder of the week was mostly recovery, a few outings to stretch my legs, and painfully learning the lessons of how to properly change bandages. 

Week 10 was a bit of a roller coaster. On Tuesday I finally felt good enough to go for a ride, as since I had been suckered into doing Evans again the following weekend I figured I should probably ride my bike some. I ended up doing 3 hours on Squaw Rd, and although my hr was elevated by around 20bpm the entire ride, it felt good to be back in the saddle.

Mt Evans for the second time was an incredibly painful and long experience, I’ll be writing a longer trip report for that. Whenever I get around to that I will link it here! Story short, it fucking hurt but I got a really good picture out of it.

Lessons Learned/Thoughts moving Forward:

During this training block, I really experienced what it feels like to put your body into the deepest hole of your career, empty the well to the dirt, and still find a way to keep climbing. I put in my biggest day of climbing ever, as well as more hours climbing than I care to count above 8,000 ft. I suffered in the heat of the canyons and the cold winds of the high Rockies. And overall, I did it for nothing. I didn’t Everest, I didn’t win any races or even take any “important” QOMs. I only accomplish one of the goals I set out to complete before the end of the summer, yet it was the happiest training that I’ve ever done. Both during this block and the SKIMO block, I have found myself yearning to be back out climbing while eating dinner, and in the mornings I’m excited to put on my kit and head out the door. Obviously the lack of friends and contact was difficult. While I did have a wonderful time talking to myself for over a hundred hours in the saddle, it would have been nice to do even a few group rides. But internally this was the happiest I have been with a training cycle. Although I made a lot of mistakes, I also did some incredible training and found some pretty promising fitness. More importantly, I learned how to enjoy riding around a cul-de-sac with two 5 year-olds, (almost) as much as crushing 3 hours in the foothills. I also finally found a training rhythm that excites me each day. In past years there’s always been workouts and entire training cycles that I dread and despise doing. And while even though I wasn’t always the most excited to do every single ride, I found the days I was least excited for were rest days because it meant not riding or only being able to ride for a little while. 

This year has been a year of discovering how to get out and train 15h+ a week while maintaining a normal life. During the winter I was climbing over 20,000 ft a week while taking 16 credits at UVM, working at the Y, and making sure I spent fun time with friends. Over the summer it was more a game of balancing training and recovery, as staying inside was the name of the game. 

With the cancelation of racing, I’ve found so much joy in ‘playing’ in the mountains all day. While I still do my intervals and repeats to keep the legs sharp, I do them now so that when I go to ride 6 hours it doesn’t hurt so badly. Instead of dragging myself day in and out dreading workouts, I decided this year that I was done forcing myself to train in order to beat other people. Instead of training for podium spots or time cuts, I now train so that I can play in the mountains longer. During the ski season I did my treadmill intervals nearly every day of the week, but instead of feeling like I was forcing myself through 8x2min@14%@5mph so that I could try and race for a spot higher on an emailed results document. I did those workouts on the treadmill in the CWP gym every day so that during the weekends I could escape to the mountains and chase good snow for 5,000-7,000 ft of climb Sat/Sun. These were amounts of climb I once thought reserved for 10h+ long ultras, yet by February I was clicking off 6,000 ft of climb in under 3h30 twice a week. And yet, come race time in March I was still able to come within 5 minutes of Jonathan, who in the previous race finished well over 70 minutes before I did. Changing my mindset away from racing and towards playing has allowed me to train stress-free and more than ever. This summer I did my biggest weeks of training by volume&RE all time, and I never had to drag myself out onto the bike. I have been able to post some pretty high-class climbing numbers, and I did all of it without a powermeter or a trainer roads style training plan. Being able to climb 4,000-6,000 ft day in and out without much trouble is one of my favorite feelings in the world and I am so excited to convert this fitness to skis so that I can lap all that Colorado pow. 

I’d like to thank all of my gals (Emma, Georgia, Gabby, Maggie, Zoe <3) for countless FaceTime’s and thousands of texts, my grandparents for allowing me to live with them for 11 weeks, all of my Strava friends for the banter and kudos, Wheat Ridge Cyclery for keeping my bike running and all the help, Charli and Erik for dragging me up Mt Evans, and the cycling community of the front range for giving me insane QOM’s to chase and so many waves. This summer was certainly one to remember, and I’m so happy that I got to walk away with a better perspective on life/training and a few more watts in my back pocket. 

4 thoughts on “A Summer of Climbing, Crying, and Crashing:

  1. Amazing recap! Excited to see everything you do going forward 🙂 You’re also gonna kill it this semester! Good luck with your first day of lectures! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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