On Sunday I arrived back from a nine day training camp in Tucson Arizona. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to go, as I had gotten into a good rhythm at home in my training room, and I believe momentum plays a major role in improvement. The weather was actually supposed to be quite poor, but the weather gods must have been on our side because throughout the entire time, we only experienced about two hours of rain, and mostly sunny skies. One of the major things I wanted to test out was how well my indoor biking on the CompuTrainer would transfer over to the real roads. This was the longest continuous period I had gone without biking outside. The last time I rode my bike outside was on November 1st 2014 i.e. Ironman Florida. That was just under four months ago. For the first few minutes, I was a little shaky, but for the most part, everything came back pretty quick.
My first visit to Tucson Arizona was in February 2011. A few days into the camp my coach Barrie Shepley had me ride the legendary 26 mile climb up Mount Lemmon. Before starting I asked what the fastest time to the top was. The fastest time Barrie had heard of was from my C3 High Performance team-mate Sean Bechtel. If my memory serves me right, he rode 1:52 the previous year. For those who know the climb, this record is not to Summerhaven, this is from Mile 0 to the crosswalk at Ski Valley, right beside the ski lifts. I tried my best to better that time, but I fell considerably short and rode somewhere around 1:59. Barrie consoled me though and told me that the 2 hour barrier is the holy-grail for most, and so to have broken that on a first attempt was a great feat. It was at this time that I became fascinated with the Mount Lemmon climb.
I went back to Tucson again about two months later (April 2011). In the meantime, Sean Bechtel had bettered his previous best of 1:52 and rode a 1:49. I only had an aluminum time trial bike at that time, so Sean was kind enough to lend me his carbon road bike so that I would have a better shot at riding a faster time. I created a playlist with all of my favourite tunes and rode as hard as I possibly could. I went 1:44. This was a momentous occasion for me. I really looked up to Sean as he is a great biker, posting the fastest bike split in countless triathlons throughout North America. I thought that to have bettered his time must mean that I also have some biking ability. A spark had been lit.
I went back to Tucson in 2012 and 2013 and rode the mountain on several occasions. It was always the highlight of a training camp to smash the mountain as hard as I could. Unfortunately, I was unable to better my own time on any of these occasions. In early 2014 I went to Tucson for a 2.5 month training camp. I felt that I had improved markedly on the bike. Once again, I prepared a playlist with all of my favourite songs and rode as hard as I could up the mountain. This time I went 1:42. It was at this time that I started to wonder what the fastest time anyone had ever rode up the mountain was. I knew many cycling teams and pro cyclists had trained on the mountain, so I began to do some research.
Unfortunately, many in the pro cycling realm are secretive with their training. The best I could find were two segments on Strava (a website that tracks running and biking records over particular stretches of road). There appeared to be two times that were pertinent to me. The first was from mile 0 to Ski Run Rd. In our team, you must ride to the cross-walk at ski valley in order to have successfully climbed the mountain. The reason being is that you cannot go any higher than this as there is a large gate blocking the road on the other side of the cross-walk. In order to do this, you must turn off Mount Lemmon Highway onto Ski Run Rd. If you had stayed on Mount Lemmon Highway for another 200 meters you would end up in Summerhaven, which many consider to be the end of the climb. The best time on Strava from Mile 0 to Ski Run Rd. was 1:31:17. The other time was to Ski Valley i.e. the cross-walk by the ski lifts, and this time was 1:42:10.
On my ride in early 2014 I was close to the fastest time to Sky Valley (1:42:48), but was still a long way off of the fastest time to Ski Run Rd. (1:35:40 vs. 1:31:17). I attempted to break these records just about every Friday for 2.5 months in early 2014, but never was able to. I actually started to think that perhaps the dude who rode 1:31 to Ski Run Rd. had drafted a car or something.
On March 1st Jay Prasuhn from Lava Magazine had come down to the camp to observe me train and chat with Barrie and I. As well, I had a camera crew following me around filming a Road to Kona documentary. This also happened to be the day the camp would ride Mount Lemmon. I thought to myself, if there was a day to rise to the occasion, this was it. When we arrived at the base of the mountain I could immediately tell that the conditions were right for a fast ride. It was just a gentle breeze. I had intended on doing a workout up the mountain, but deep down inside I knew I was going to trash that idea and time trial the whole way up.
I had pretty much a full race setup. My brand new custom LG TR1 all with Dura-Ace components and pedals, a brand new LG custom kit, brand new LG shoes with fresh cleats, Shimano C75s with fresh Vittoria EVO CX tires. Once I got to mile marker 0 I lapped my Garmin and began pushing 360w. My intention was to push this steadily for as long as I could. The times were good. I went through the first mile in 3:49, and then through mile 5 in 18:30. I knew I had a shot at breaking both of the records. At around 30 minutes I was still averaging 360w but I certainly wanted to ease off. Fortunately, there were cameras around me and this forced me to not wimp out. Barrie added a nice touch as well as every 5 miles he was standing with a white board with an approximation of how far under the record I was. I felt like I was on the Tour de France in one of the mountain stages.
I rounded the corner of Ski Run Rd. in 1:28:04. I knew it took about 6 minutes to climb the remaining 1.5 miles and so I figured I had a shot at breaking 1:35. I pushed as hard as I could. I ended up arriving at the cross-walk in 1:34:21. Everyone was waiting at the top and we all hugged and cheered. It was an awesome experience. I would imagine it was similar to the feeling that someone who wins a mountain stage in pure cycling gets- though probably to a lesser extent. Here are the links to the segments, followed by the power file from the ride:
Here is also a sweet video that Jay Prasuhn from Lava Magazine took right around mile 14 at a place called Windy Point:
— Jay Prasuhn (@jayprasuhn) March 3, 2015
Here is a nice little article Triathlon Magazine Canada wrote about the day:
Needless to say, it was an awesome camp. The Mount Lemmon record was cool, but in all honesty, the best part was having my mom and fiancée with me at the camp. It made the whole week that much more special. Here’s Erin and I on one of our rides:
Thanks for reading!!