Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Assault : Aaron West

Assault on Mount Mitchell starting line
After months of training and preparation, the day finally arrived, my first attempt at the Assault on Mount Mitchell. Despite being new to the sport, I had trained well and was fairly confident of finishing strong. I had passed an earlier test and knew I could handle that amount of climbing, plus I had a detailed nutrition and fueling plan that had already worked well on other rides. Still, when looking at the elevation chart and hearing the horror stories of Highway 80 and Mount Mitchell State Park, I was not completely sure. On top of this, during the week prior to the ride, I found myself with a bit of left knee pain. This caused me to taper more than I had planned and I was concerned that that the pain could become worse when I reached the heavy climbing sections.

We left Spartanburg Auditorium in the early morning, under a cloudy sky with the threat of rain later in the afternoon. Not knowing how I would perform, I started right around the middle of the crowd and paced myself with the closest pack. There were some early mishaps, a couple crashes, some sudden stops, but it was mostly a painless beginning. My group kept at around 18-20 mph for the flat, early sections. I could have pushed harder, but I was fine with an easier ride to conserve energy for later.

The first challenge was Bill’s Mt., a short mile-long somewhat steep climb, which served as a good early way to test my legs and see how they responded. The knee had nagged a little in the early going, so I kept it conservative on the hill, spinning easily in my lowest gear. Afterward everything felt fine and I was able to pick up the pace a little bit. The group had separated after the hill, so most of my trip to Mt. Marion was either solo or with me in front.

I arrived at Mt. Marion in 4:15 and feeling good. This was towards the high end of my expectations. I was pleased with the result, but also knew I had room to push myself. At the Marion rest stop I consumed some fuel and caffeine, put on headphones, played my MP3 player, and kicked it into another gear.

Highway 80 up to the Blue Ridge Parkway
I knew that the early portion of Highway 80 was relatively fast before the steep climbing in the last few miles. Feeling great, I decided to ride the section aggressively. I picked up the pace and found myself passing a number of riders. My confidence continued through the tough switchbacks and I made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway still feeling strong, albeit a little tired. I knew that things were going well when I heard people talking about potential seven hour timeframes. At this point my competitive juices started flowing. I transitioned from thinking about completing the race to meeting a time benchmark. My goal at that point was to complete below eight hours, which seemed possible, likely even, from where I stood at the rest stop.

Things changed on the parkway. Unlike Highway 80’s switchbacks with varying grades, the Blue Ridge Parkway is just a steady, gradual incline that ranges from 6-8%, broken up only on a couple of occasions, one of which is a two-mile downhill. On the parkway I got into a grinding mentality. I let the gorgeous vistas and my music distract me as I simply moved the pedals and carried myself towards Mitchell. This climb should have been easier, but for some reason I slowed down and found a number of other riders passing me.

At some point the clouds gave way to a light, intermittent rain that was more of an annoyance than a hindrance. With a moderate temperature, I was not complaining. It could have been much worse. The rain had mostly stopped by the time I reached the downhill, which I approached conservatively because the road was wet and the temperature cold. I had heard often that the muscles tend to cool down during the downhill and cramps can set in. That wasn’t the case for me. Initially they felt stiff, but once I got them moving, I settled back into my upward grind.

Mount Mitchell State Park
When I reached Mount Mitchell State Park, I knew I was almost there. Still pushing for a good time and finding myself adequately fueled, I skipped that rest stop and made my way towards the summit. As we climbed Mitchell, an enveloping, misty fog covered us. It gave the appearance and feeling of rain, but it was more of an ever-present mist. As we climbed further upward, the temperature dropped downward into the low 40s It was a wet, cold, not very pleasant feeling. The climbing is much tougher here compared to the parkway, so it became another, slightly more painful grind of hills ranging from 8-12%.

I kept plugging along and found myself noticeably tired. When the climb leveled off, I thought I was at the summit. I gave everything I had and sprinted to what I thought was the finish line, only to be met by another, steeper hill. This one hurt, but I persisted and made it up. I crossed the finish line in 8:05, tired, weather weary, disoriented, but mostly elated.

Mitchell Accomplished!

Strava link
Google Maps link

Aaron West

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Assault 2011: Personal Record (Not the One I Wanted)

As I've posted on this blog, the Holy Grail for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell is the golden 6-hour mark--broken once by me in 2007 out of the 15 Assaults I have registered for (with the t-shirts to prove it:

The 2011 Assaults started on a cool and overcast morning, and I sat close to the front of the start nervous about the anticipated rip-roaring start motored by multiple pro teams and one of the strongest collections of top riders I have seen at any Assault. I was also concerned that the 2010 pace had wrenched me useless after rolling through the first 50 miles in two hours.

This year was no let-down for the opening pace; we were averaging 25.7 mph as we churned through Pea Ridge. Unlike 2010, however, the pack was pretty dense--not strung out--and except for a few dropped bottles, a few crossing the yellow line, and a rough bridge crossing, this year's front onslaught was safe and fairly manageable.

At the second section of harsh rollers of Pea Ridge, I made my first big decision of the day. I was displaying about 171 bpm on my heart rate--a solid 17 beats below my max--but I knew that frying myself not quite half way through the miles of the day, and less than a third of the time, was not going to be wise. So I drifted back through the pack and literally rolled over the last section as the final rider dropped at that section from the front group; I could have accelerated and re-attached, but decided to be conservative.

At that point I wasn't sure if I was being smart, but within a few miles I was joined by about a dozen riders, most of whom helped us maintain a small pack all the way to the Hwy 80 climb--this seemed ideal since the group was creating a pace well within my ability and I was taking pulls and having a safe and brisk ride into Marion.

Looking back, two things were probably really bad signs--as mile 55 I began to cramp (thus I cramped for 47 miles yesterday--the new personal record I didn't want) and I made it to the top of Hwy 80 on two 24 oz. bottles and one 20 oz. bottle. Yesterday was perfect for me, cool and damp, but I think it lulled me into underhydrating, something unusual for me because I know that cramping is one of my key weaknesses.

My secondary group navigated the dangerous curve, Bill's Mountain, and the relentless rollers into Marion, where we crossed by the campground in about 3:19--well within my target for having a good time. Most years, I ditch any group and grab some new bottles here, but this year I stayed with this group, and we picked up a few others we caught as we turned onto Hwy 80. This meant my riding the Hwy 80 climb on one remaining bottle, which I did.

I didn't hammer Hwy 80, but I kept a steady pace and felt I wasn't losing important time; according to Strava, I complete the nearly 6-mile climb, averaging 8 mph and 218 watts, well over a minute faster than last year.

I stopped at the rest stop before the parkway and talked briefly with my friend Tim Sprouse, who asked how I was doing. I looked at my Garmin and noticed I was just a couple minutes over 4 hours for the day with only the parkway and the park left--only about 16 miles to do in less than two hours. I was optimistic.

But from the parkway on, my power and heart rate data do not lie--I simply had nothing over the last 16 miles.

The 2011 Assault turned from a potentially 6-hour breaking day to a death march. I like the cool and was at least glad to have the low temps and the fog/drizzle because I had to ride just below the cramp threshold for well over two hours--even then pedalling through persistent cramps.

Being passed and dropped over and over made for a rough mental experience as well.

I finished at 6:22 (123rd), well outside my goal, but realistically at the upper end of my most typical finishes that hover about 6:10-6:25 (a nice lesson in the value of modes over outliers and averages). And for many climbing centuries over the years, I calculate my place/total starting the ride; my typical percentage is around 10-12%, and even with my struggling this year, my place is in the top 14% (trying to see the bright side).

So I was disappointed and frustrated because as with last year, I feel I am stronger and better trained than I was when I did break 6 hours.

But, as I was wallowing in my own disappointment this morning, I thought about standing at the top and watching the suffering and the ELATION. I had several of my good cycling friends walk up to me SMILING, even beaming.

Over and over, they talked about this being their first time, and I do realize that the 2011 Assault was a great cycling day--well organized, well run, and the ultimate in self-torture as recreation.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What to Expect : Part III

In an effort to guide everyone through the registration process and events with as few issues as possible, we've come up with an extensive blow by blow description of What to Expect this weekend.

The entire list is available for download at

  • Once you reach the finish line, many different things will happen at once:
  1. As you cross, Clint Davis will snap your photograph.  (He will also have a backdrop set-up after the finish line for additional photo ops.)
  2. One Volunteer will ask for and remove your timing chip.
  3. Another Volunteer will hand you a patch – only one per customer, and only to the finishers!
  4. A different Volunteer will ask you “Spartanburg or Marion?” while they take your bike from you.  Tell them where you want your bike to be shipped.   All passengers ride down to Marion and unload there.  People who are taking the journey back to Spartanburg board a second bus in Marion to return to Spartanburg – their bikes however, take a direct trip from the top to Spartanburg or Marion.
(be sure to grab your computer off of your bike, and car keys out of your bag)
  • Next, you will be guided up the stairs to the front of the Gift Shop where all of the luggage will be spread out on the ground.  Once you find your own bag, use one of the SIX Changing Rooms in the parking lot (they look like extra large porta-johns) to change clothes and freshen up.Take a moment to have a warm cup of tomato soup from the Mt. Mitchell restaurant (a long standing tradition in the Assaults.)  Hang out and watch a few finishers or wait for your friends.
  • Last, board one of the passenger buses to head back down the mountain to Marion.  Expect this to take about 1.5 hours including a few brief stops to cool the brakes along the way.  (Spectators ride the same bus as the cyclists, and buses roll once they are full.)


Once in Marion, whether you are finishing there or returning from the top, you will be greeted with a healthy lunch catered by Palmetto Palate.  All participants in both rides receive one lunch, and extra meals for family, friends, and supporters are $5/person (tickets available at the Expo and on event day).
Marion is the central staging area on the day of the ride.  There will be massage therapists, showers, bathrooms, etc.  Buses will be coming in and out of the Campground all day long, and trucks will be hauling bikes down the mountain every hour or so.  There is also a large Rest Stop for the cyclists continuing to the top.  With all of this activity, we ask that you keep your children in view and your pets on leashes at all times.

  • Once the first riders pass through, the spectator buses will begin to fill up.  These carry family and friends directly to the top of Mt. Mitchell and avoid (as much as possible) driving on the same roads as the riders.
  • Once the first riders finish at the top, they will begin to board buses that carry them down the mountain back to Marion.  Spectators ride the same buses as the cyclists, and each bus leaves the top once it is full.
  • Buses heading to Spartanburg from Marion begin to fill at about 1:00 PM and make the trip accordingly.  They will run all day and as needed.  Tickets will be for sale at the Expo and on the day of the event.

  • There are 2 kinds of trucks that bring bikes back down the mountain.  The first only goes as far as Marion whereas the second goes directly to Spartanburg.  Remember to tell the people at the finish line where you want your bike to go!
  • In Marion, the bikes will be unloaded immediately from each truck and placed in a fenced off area.  To retrieve your bike, go to the person with the clipboard and show them your bib #.  You must have your bib # in hand to get your bike back!
  • In Spartanburg, the bikes will be kept in the lower level of the Memorial Auditorium under police supervision (in the same place as was packet pickup).
In both Marion and Spartanburg, space & time are limited, so we ask that you get your bike ASAP

TUESDAY MAY 17, 2011
  • Finish times and results will be posted @
  • Lost and found will be open, please contact us directly with questions regarding missing items
  • 6:00 PM: Ride of Silence. Leaving from the Memorial Auditorium, this short course is a good recovery ride as well as a great cause.

Looking back. . .before moving ahead

circa 1988

With the VeloSocial and 1988 Assault film screening today, thought I'd post the t-shirt from that Assault, which was my first (I designed and drew the 1990 t-shirt, by the way, below).

See 14 Assaults t-shirts HERE.

I started looking through the scattered data of the Assaults from 1988 until 2010 and realized that we have many gaps, sadly in that data--several Assaults have my name listed and no time or placing (including my first "best time" of around 6:20, probably in the early 1990s). But I did scraped together this:

Year, Time, Place

1988, 7:11, 342

1989, 6:57, 352 (notice I had a better time, but worse place)

1994, 6:34, 107

2004, 7:58 (this was ugly, folks)

2005, 7:34, 88 (this was the infamous 117-mile edition)

2006, 6:09 (from memory, but can't find that year's information)

2007, 5:57, 62 (not bad at 46)

2008, DNF (a little humility after first and only year breaking 6 hours--record heat)

2009, 6:25, 93

2010, 6:10, 75

What stands out to me about Assault data is the variation in time and place; the group of riders greatly impacts both your time and your place--so having hard finishing targets can be deceiving (again, think of my last post about my 2010 ride, which I nearly quit but had my second highest placing ever).

Paul Thomas

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pro Love

Sometimes things just click.  Sometimes it's on the wrong day.  Sometimes it's on the right day.  I don't know what will happen next Monday but I had an amazing ride last Sunday.  Perfect temps all day with a very light breeze along with incredible company during the morning portion of the ride and a nice group to hang with in the afternoon followed by a quiet, ambitious, and thought filled evening made for a perfect day of cycling. 

Days like that are what it's all about.

Not many of us have pro legs or pro lungs or a pro heart but all of us have pro love for the sport.  We get out there and slog it out in the worst conditions.  Smoking heat.  Dripping humidity.  Gale force winds.  Washing machine rain.  We grimace while we're doing it.  We smile while we're doing it.  We listen intently while our friends and acquaintances reveal how they sprinted, gasping for breath, over a small hill and caught the break.  We, in turn, tell our own tales of how we barely hung on to the lead group for 18 miles at a 26 mile per hour pace, and get a clap on the back.  We are a close knit community that is somewhat unique… we live our sport every day.  The glory days are now.  Not 20 years ago.  We live for the epic rides and epic company and give the utmost hell to those who reside on the couch, cajoling them into joining us on a journey that will take us a life time to complete.  We'll ride to our graves.  We all have pro intentions.  We all have pro love.

Steve Verdell

Visualization--Positive Thinking before the Ride

Maybe you have seen a swimmer standing on the pool deck, swinging her arms, rolling her head, doing odd little pirouettes--possibly with her eyes closed.

Or a golfer tediously taking his swing in small pieces before standing behind the ball and looking intensely down the fairway.

These are athletes who understand and practice visualization--playing in their minds the results they want, living in their imaginations the positive outcomes they anticipate in the heat of action when careful thought may be not only impossible but also counterproductive to their perfromance.

With a couple weeks left before the Assaults, I found myself struggling--an assortment of ailments that seemed to shift and change, but made me feel wiped out most of the time off the bicycle. So I decided to rest and look carefully at what may be the source of my struggles (other than the very real fact that I am 50).

Once I recognized that I had logged over 1000 miles in April--including four centuries and far too many high-intensity rides--I concluded that at least part of the problem was a stress physical and mental system that was simply saying "No more." It has been hard to skip rides with my friends, and I have been discouraged by not really feeling as well as I would want now that Mitchell is a mere days away. . .And through it all, my weight has remained between 5 and 10 pounds above my goal, despite the harsh training and high mileage.

Last Tuesday, after taking off Sunday and Monday following a challenging Saturday course that I rode at a truly low effort, I looked at the forecast and saw that threatening weather could keep me off the bicycle all week so instead of heading to Jae's ripping Tuesday night ride, I went out mid-afternoon to do laps around Duncan Park, where I could ride mostly in the shade and monitor my effort during the ride.

As I pedaled calmly around the park, I began to think about last year's Assault that started out at a blistering pace. During the first 50 miles, the front pack averaged over 25 mph, and over the second roller of Pea Ridge, the front group finally splintered with some of the top riders remaining in the group I sat in as we watched a small group roll away.

This group, as soon as we turned onto Bill's Mountain, accelerated, forcing me to decide there that I was overextended. I watched that group climb away with two of my riding friends disappearing around a switchback.

It was there that my mind let me down last year. I decided that my ride was over, that my goal of breaking 6 hours was doomed. From the top of Bill's Mountain, which I crested alone, I began debating dropping out in Marion. Instead, I rode on, and even reconnected with one of the friends who dropped me on Bill's Mountain as we began the climb on Hwy 80.

But Hwy 80 and the parkway were a deathmarch for me--I had checked out of the ride mentally. This was passing through my mind as I rode around Duncan Park because when I finished the Assault last year, a 6:10 time, I realized that I had in fact abandoned the ride mentally way too easily and way too soon. A tougher mental state last year could have shaved off those 10 minutes toward my goal.

During the ride, then, around Duncan Park this week I decided to recall and even imagine riding strong and relaxed at key points of the Assault--up Hwy 80, along the parkway, the grunt section once we turn into Mt. Mitchell State Park, and the last climb toward the finish line.

These visualizations and positive thinking left me relaxed and feeling better than I have in a while.

Golfers, basketball players, and swimmers have learned how to visualize and even pantomime the key movements of their sport. For cyclists, as stressful as the physical act is, we ultimately are no better than our minds will allow.

In the days leading up to the Assaults, along with taking care of your body, be sure to prepare your minds for game day.


Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

Thursday, May 12, 2011

What to Expect : Part II

In an effort to guide everyone through the registration process and events with as few issues as possible, we've come up with an extensive blow by blow description of What to Expect this weekend.
The entire pdf will be available for download via the main site shortly.

MONDAY, MAY 16 : The Main Events!

  • 5:30 AM : Final packet pick-up and registration for Marion opens at the Memorial Auditorium.  We highly recommend picking up your Mitchell packet at the Expo the day before (in case of any registration issues), however, we understand that travel etc may make this impossible.
  • 6:00 AM : Roads will be closed surrounding the Memorial Auditorium, so please give yourself plenty of time to find a parking space and get to the starting line.
    • Parking is available at the St. John’s St. Parking garage (upper levels only), at the Marriott parking garage (lower levels), as well as limited space behind the Memorial Auditorium.
    • Parking is NOT available in the lot across the street from the auditorium, at the Second Presbyterian Church, or anywhere on Wofford’s Campus.
    • 6:20 AM : Riders will be lining up for the start in front of the Memorial Auditorium.  Please note the 3 Signs indicating where you should line up.  The fastest riders will be at the front, most riders will be in the middle, and the slower riders need to be in the back.  If this is your first time doing Mitchell, you will most likely fall into the latter two categories. 
      • Flag Set #1 
      • This is reserved for the FASTEST riders. You should only consider riding with this group if you are planning to finish AoMM in 6:15 or less OR Marion in 3:30 or less. This means you have trained for the ride for months and you have a very high level of fitness (and most likely, you have done one or both of these events before). If you have not trained for the event and choose to start here you placing yourself and those around you at great risk of injury and/or failure. Please DO NOT start here unless you are a very skilled, trained cyclist with proper equipment and preparation.  These are the top 10% of finishers, and it is DANGEROUS to illegitimately place yourself in this elite group.
      • Flag Set #2 
      • These are the serious Weekend Warrior riders. You should consider riding with this group if you have trained well, know how to ride in a peloton, are fast and fit, but not a "racer" - realistically, you know you will not be with the lead pack riding into Marion. To be certain that you have an enjoyable experience, it is best to consider your placement and preparation carefully. 
      • Flag Set #3 
      • The majority of riders should line up behind this flag: those who are out for the experience and the joy of the event; those who did not train as much as you might have liked; those who are not racing the clock; and those whose main goal is to finish.  Ask the people around you what their pace will be, and place yourself accordingly.  Remember, we must all consider the safety and enjoyment of those around us as well as our own interests!

    •     6:30 AM : MASS START              Both the Assault on Mt. Mitchell and the Assault on Marion will roll out at the same time and cover the first 74 miles together.  After the Marion riders finish at the Tom Johnson Camping Center, Mitchell riders will continue the last 28 miles alone, plodding their way to the top of the mountain.
      • For details of the course, please read Paul's previous posts on our Training Blog and the Event Page.
      • For driving directions to the Tom Johnson Camping Center, please visit our home page. 
      • Spectator Bus Tickets will be for sale on the day of the event in Marion for  $5/ea, and buses will begin as soon as the first group passes through.
      The first few miles will be some of the most challenging – both mentally and physically.  Cyclists jostle through the pack, trying to find the right place to sit in and enjoy the ride.  The leaders will push the pace, stringing out the peloton.  Several flat tires and ejected water bottles will cause alarming and dangerous changes in the pack.  This is the most difficult time to tell yourself to be calm and find your own pace.  The heat of the moment causes most riders to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, which can ultimately ruin the ride - by either burning themselves out, or causing a crash.  When someone "blew up" in front of him last year, a close friend of mine was taken down in a crash, suffering a broken collarbone.  His ride was over after only 4 miles!  Keep your head on your shoulders and your line straight & true.
    CAUTION:  While rolling out of Spartanburg, there are a few bridges to cross.  The seams in the pavement at these points can abruptly change the peloton’s pacing, or surprise riders into overreacting.  Similarly, there are a holes and cracks in the road shortly after crossing the I-85 bridge (while on Hwy 9) that can sneak up on cyclists if proper communication is not passed through the pack.
    These bumps and seams will eject water bottles and disrupt the flow.  This poses serious hazards to everyonePLEASE exercise caution, maintain your line and pace, and COMMUNICATE problems that arise. 

    • 7:20 AM : REST STOP #1 @ mile marker 22; the first cyclists will begin to pass by this rest stop manned by First Baptist of Spartanburg.  The leaders will most likely not stop, but some more casual riders will pause and refill water and snacks. 
    • 8:10 AM : REST STOP #2 @ mile marker 42; the lead pack will reach the second water stop  sponsored by Walgreens (on behalf of the School for the Deaf and Blind).  The pack will have split into several smaller groups after the hills on Pea Ridge.
    CAUTION:  Just after passing Rest Stop #2, riders are greeted with a long, seemingly straight downhill.  At the very bottom of this hill is a sharp, hairpin curve that has ended many a cyclist’s morning ride.  The newly “paved” section is now more treacherous than ever with loose stone and rough edges.  We will have it clearly marked, but DO NOT come down this hill at high speeds.  DO NOT pass other, intelligently cautious riders.  DO NOT use this brief respite to try to get back to the peloton – there is a long flat stretch ahead for you to make that catch.
    • 8:30 AM : REST STOP #3 @ mile marker 47 – the summit of Bills Mountain; the front group will come by this rest stop sponsored by our friends at Mobile Meals.
      • Many SAGs will meet their riders at this important spot, and it is recommended that family/friends/support  driving the SAG course get here before 8:15 to avoid delays (getting behind the pack)
      • Similarly, it is best that they drive down the mountain toward Hwy 64 (against the flow of the course) in order to get back onto the SAG route.  From there, SAGs can leap-frog the peloton to Marion and avoid getting stuck behind a pack of cyclists.
    • 9:10 AM : REST STOP #4 @ mile marker 64; riders will begin to make this right turn onto ,this rest stop is Sponsored by SunTrust Bank, and we are exceedingly grateful for their support again this year! 
    • 9:40 AM : REST STOP #5 @ Tom Johnson Camping Center in Marion, NC.  The head of the peloton will roll through Marion after only 3-3.5 hours on the bike.  This will be the elite riders, and it is incredible to see the speeds at which these athletes will cover the first 74 miles!


    • 10:10 AM : REST STOP #6 @ mile marker 85; halfway up the Hwy 80, volunteers from Bethel United Methodist will share encouragement and ice-cold drinks with those struggling to beat the 8-10% grades 
    • 10:20 AM : REST STOP #7 @ mile marker 87; the leaders will begin to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway at this junction.  Manned with porta-johns, tech support, and lots of fluids and food, the Spartanburg Humane Society help riders fuel up for the long, steady climb ahead. 
    NOTE: The cut-off time to reach this point and to gain access to the Blue Ridge Parkway is 3:00 PM. One must average 10.25 mph over the course of the day in order to make it here in time.

    • 10:40 AM : REST STOP #8 @ mile marker 93; the elite group will pass the approximate midpoint on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with friends from the Running Club lending support at this rest area. 
    • 11:00 AM : REST STOP #9 @ mile marker 98; the leaders should be entering the final leg of the journey .  Placed at the last turn of the day (onto the Mt. Mitchell Parkway) this stop will be manned by volunteers from the Oak Brook Preparatory School. 
    • 11:20 AM : REST STOP #10 @ mile marker 100; the first riders to enter the State Park will pass the last rest stop, also manned by the Oak Brook Prep volunteers.  With the home stretch ahead, cyclists will have a brief respite, a temporary plateau, before the final kilometer grind to the top! 
    • 11:30 AM : FINISH LINE; we expect the first finishers in roughly 5 hours, though if conditions are good, we may also see a new course record!

    Peter Kay
    Assaults Director

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    What to Expect : Part I

    In an effort to guide everyone through the registration process and events with as few issues as possible, we've come up with an extensive blow by blow description of What to Expect this weekend.
    The entire pdf will be available for download via the main site shortly.

    SATURDAY, MAY 14 : Spartanburg will be a host of activity two days before the main events take place.

    • 9:00 AM : SPACE has partnered with the Assaults this year to offer the Cottonwood 5K Trail Run/Walk at Spartanburg High School (registration opens at 8:15am).  You don’t have to be an Assaults participant to join in, making this a perfect event for friends and family members coming into town to support their rider! FREE EVENT
    • 3:30 PM : The Assaults will be showing a remixed and remastered version of the documentary of the 1988 Assault on Mt. Mitchell in our first annual Afternoon Film.  Seating is limited. Complimentary tickets are available on our website.  Come enjoy the history and the popcorn.  This is good (nostalgic) fun for everyone! FREE EVENT
    • 7:00 PM : Globalbike presents the Assaults Vélo Social.  This is our first annual cocktail party and mixer, and we hope that everyone can join us that night.  Rahsaan Bahati and Robin Farina will be there, mingling with the crowd, so come out and take advantage of this opportunity to hang out with the pros!  Plus, we will be serving RJ Rockers beer, Carriage House wines, and Palmetto Palate hors d’oeuvres. $15/person 

    SUNDAY, MAY 15 : Getting ready for the big day ahead, we will have the Expo, packet pick-up, and the Assault on Morgan Square.

    • 2:00 PM : Partners for Active Living has teamed up with the Assaults to offer our first ever Assault on Morgan Square, a kid’s ride with all ages welcome.  The event will take place downtown on Main St. between S. Daniel Morgan Ave and Spring St.  Budding athletes will “climb” the hill from the Herald Journal to the clock tower and “descend” back to the start.  Prizes & Giveaways, helmets required. FREE EVENT
    • 1:00 – 8:00 PM : Packet Pick-up at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium.  Here, registered riders can pick up their goodie bags filled with information and merchandise.What to Expect: Upon entering the room, you will see rows of tables labels such as “Mitchell (A-E)”, “Marion (F-M), Timing Chips, etc.  Begin by going to your event table that is labeled with the first letter of your last name.  There a kind volunteer will ask for your bib number, and then they will ask you to show your photo ID and sign & date a release waiver. 
    • After you have gotten your packet, please double check to make certain that you have everything you ordered (extra t-shirts, armskins, bus tickets, whatever).  If you are a Mitchell rider, you will then proceed to the Timing Chip table where you will show your bib number and be assigned a chip. 
    NOTE:  The timing chips are very expensive, and if you lose yours or fail to return it, your results will not be posted and you will be billed a $150 replacement fee. 
    • Additional BUS TICKETS and MEAL TICKETS will be for sale as well.  If you need a Sunday bus ticket (if you are planning to leave your car in Marion and need a lift back to Spartanburg), please note that the bus leaves Tom Johnson Camping Center at 4:00 sharp.  You will need to purchase your tickets by 2:15 in order to make the drive to Marion in time to catch that bus. 
    NOTE: If you purchased a ticket online or during registration but can’t make it to the Expo before 2:15, there will be someone at the Camping Center with a list of people who have purchased Sunday Bus TicketsSimply give them your name and get checked off of the list.  
    • DRY CLOTHES BAGS: Outside the Expo, there will be TWO trucks – one will carry dry clothes bags to Marion and the other to the very top of Mt. Mitchell.  Be sure to label your bag using the luggage tag in your packet (with the same number as your bib).  This will help us to identify it after you finish, or in the case that you do not finish, we will be able to get the bag back to you more quickly.
      • MOST IMPORTANT:  Pack all of your clothing into a trash bag (or water proof bag) which you then place inside your luggage bag.  In case of rain, we will do our best to keep the bags dry, but wind and sudden onset makes this job a very difficult one.  
      • Bring both warm and cool weather clothing.  It is simply impossible to know what conditions will be like at the top (or even in Marion). Don’t forget to bring shoes, and a towel is highly recommended.  
      • Many people pack a small amount of money - there is a concession stand at the top that serves hot chocolate, coke, and coffee (among other things).  As ever, we will have the traditional tomato soup freely available to all finishers.
      •  Bringing a plastic baggy with some hand wipes is also recommended.  It’s a long ride down to Marion, and you may want to freshen up before boarding the bus.  
      • Please DO NOT pack car keys or a wallet in your Mitchell bag.  If you need your keys after the ride, either put them in your saddle bag and carry them with you for the whole ride (making sure to get them out before shipping your bike back to Marion) or pack a second bag that is shipped to Marion.  Otherwise, you run the risk of being stranded if you cannot complete the event.
    • 1:00 – 8:00 PM : Once you have your packet and timing chip in hand, you will enter the Expo.  Here you can peruse the many different cycling specific booths from Quarq to Powerback to Boyd Cycling.  Several bike shops will be there, too, so you can pick up any odds and ends that you might have forgotten or may think you’ll need (nutrition/hydration goods, gloves, glasses, spare tubes, whatever!).

      Palmetto Bank will be raffling off Assaults accessories like armskins, slipstreams, and base layers.  Robin Farina will also be hanging out at the Uptown Cycles booth, and John DeLong will be hanging out at the Quarq booth.  Outside, Trek will have several demo bikes ready for anyone to ride.  It’s going to be an exciting afternoon! 
    NOTE:  we will not be having a Pasta Dinner as in years past.  Far too many cyclists have specific routines and dietary desires, and interest in the dinner has been waning.  In lieu of the Pasta Dinner however, we are hosting the Vélo Social on Saturday night (see above) in an effort to continue the tradition of bringing participants and the community together before the ride. 


    Peter Kay
    Assaults Director

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    One Week to Go...

    As I write this blog, it’s less than one week until you will all be enjoying your day suffering to the highest point in the Eastern US. The main thing to remember is that no workout you do right now is going to make you stronger for next week. Even more importantly if you are properly rested you will have much more energy and be able to ride stronger.  Yes, this means for once in this blog I am actually telling you to ride easy! Enjoy this, as it doesn’t come often and next Monday you will more than likely have one of the toughest days of the year on the bike.

    This doesn’t mean don’t ride at all this next week. I am sure that many of you know that after a few days off your first couple rides back will have that feeling of “stale” legs. Most of us that are riding at Mitchell are used to doing higher mileage rides, and riding at least 3-4 days per week. Our bodies adapt to this and we actually feel better the day after riding. So if this next week you take a bunch of days off, your legs may not be properly opened up and it may take you a couple hours to start feeling good.

    If you want to take a couple days off this week, that is fine. It is also a great week to go for a few easy rides and really let those legs rest up. This will also mentally recharge yourself from the hard training you have been doing. After going off and easy for a couple days you should be itching to go for a long hard ride again. A few days before next Monday you may want to incorporate a few smaller efforts into your easy rides. These should be nothing that will tire you out or exhaust you, just something to keep the legs awake and ready to rock it.

    The day before Mt. Mitchell is a good day to do a few leg openers. The thinking here is that you want to build up a small amount of lactic acid and then flush it out. My preferred leg opener workout is to do three somewhat hard five minute efforts. Don’t do these all out, just at a pace where you are breathing fairly hard at the end (about 85% of your climbing effort). You should rest for about five minutes between these efforts. This will build up a small amount of lactic acid in your legs. After the last effort, ride very easy at a higher cadence for at least a half hour. You will now be flushing that lactic acid out of your legs. When you can open up your legs like this, they will be better prepared for the buildup of lactic acid the next day and you will able to ride at a harder tempo. You should try and do this workout in the morning before it gets too hot out as the heat can zap your energy even for a recovery ride. Later in the day on Sunday make sure you rest your legs as much as possible. Elevate them for a while, take a nap, get a good stretch in. Basically, treat yourself like a professional cyclist as they prepare for a race the next day. There’s a reason why they go through all these steps to ensure top performance, and you should be thinking about them as well.

    Boyd Johnson
    High performance wheels and accessories

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Pre-Loading for a Big Ride

    Now that I am in taper/rest mode, with the big Mitchell ride just around the corner, it is time to prepare for how I am going to fuel the ride. Fortunately with all the century rides I have done over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to experiment and find a formula that works for me. As with anything, your mileage may vary. I know someone who eats an entire pizza the evening before a long ride, which I would never do, but it works out perfectly for him.
    Initially I did a traditional carbo-load without much thought as to what I was eating. I would scan labels of anything in my fridge or pantry. If it had carbs, I would eat it, probably an extra 1,000 to 1,500 calories worth. This would give me plenty of energy to burn, but was simply too much. I would feel heavy, bloated, and it would affect my performance. Not to mention, after burning thousands of calories on a ride and eating somewhat normally afterward, I would end up gaining weight.

    For the last few rides, I have settled on something I like to call ‘pre-loading’ rather than ‘carbo-loading’ because I am not adding much food to my diet. Instead I am shifting around what I eat so that it appropriately fuels the ride. Note that I have come to this plan through the guidance of a registered nutritionist.

    Mount Mitchell Plan
    The ride is on a Monday, so beginning perhaps Friday or Saturday, I will start to add a few extra carbs to my diet. Here I’ll start with items with a low glycemic index. You can find numerous listings on the web. Here is a good one. I will probably have some healthy legume and healthy fruits. Based on my tastes, it will probably be chickpeas, grapefruit and peaches. Foods with a lower glycemic index will store over a slower period of time, so by the time I need the extra energy on Monday, they will be waiting for me.

    Aside from these additional carbs, I will eat normal, healthy meals throughout the weekend. This will consist of around 2,000 calories per day spread over several meals a day. Usually my training diet would have 50% carbs, but with the additions, it will probably be as much as 55-60%. Most of my fats will come from healthy sources (nuts, avocado, olive oil) and I will include lean protein from chicken or fish sources. I will mix in several vegetable and fruit portions, preferably around six, and take one multivitamin and fish oil pill daily.

    Sunday night will be a little more like traditional carboloading, but without adding all the extra calories. On Sunday night I will make sure to have some sort of healthy high glycemic carb, which should be ready to hit the bloodstream first thing in the morning. Whole wheat pasta or brown rice will be ideal. Since I’m going to be eating with the Freewheelers, it will probably be pasta. In the past, I enjoyed the most success when I had Carraba’s prepare me a whole wheat version of their Chicken Marsala. It was delicious and I felt terrific the next day. Before going to bed, I will add a small carb snack. This will probably be a banana or a couple fig newtons, maybe both.

    The morning before a ride I will usually have a healthy but easily digestible breakfast. Usually a boiled egg, Lara bar and banana would work, then I will pre-fuel for the race with a Clif bar. Mitchell starts very early so I’ll have to change my plan. Instead I will skip a breakfast of any substance and just have the Clif bar and a banana. This and the food stores from the past couple days will get me going, but since I did not significantly add carb calories, I will need to make sure to eat good carbs along the way. Many of these are going to come in the form of energy gels from my dispenser as I ride. At rest stops I will pick and choose from what is available, which will probably end up being bananas and fig newtons or similar snacks. At some point throughout the day I will want something a little more substantial, probably a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This will go along with sports drink that will provide enough sugars, carbs, and electrolytes to keep me fueled and hydrated. As long as I continually fuel myself along the way, I should not run out of gas regardless how difficult the ride is.

    by aaronwest

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Mt. Mitchell State Park. . .and THE END, pt. 8

    May 8: "Mt. Mitchell State Parkway" and "The End"

    Mt. Mitchell State Parkway--Just before the entrance to Mt. Mitchell State Parkway, riders get a brief downhill, but once riders enter the park, the next two miles are steep and unrelenting. The first two miles are often 10%-plus grades with long segments and a few switchbacks. Experience is important once you turn into the park; I know how fast I should do the final 5 miles and also know what speed I should maintain through the tough first two-mile section. Riders doing this for the first time or having done the Assault on a few times should maintain focus on what sort of day they are having, how to maintain pace and effort that insures a finish, and what mental tricks are needed to avoid negative energy being spent with the end within reach. Near the top, you'll see some split-rail fencing on your right, and the crest of the worst section is close.  This is the official entrance gate to the Mt. Mitchell State Park and Rest Stop #10.

    The End--After the brutal lead-in to the park, riders get a nice flat section of about a mile or so before a pretty hard kick at the end. The final sweeping turns at the end come with a widening parking area that lets you know it is over. The end comes after about a final mile of climbing--the road is lined with trees and you see a sweeping turn to your right. The first clue that you are almost finished are the parking lanes that begin to line the road that doubles in width.

    These final cheer-filled meters of self-inflicted agony will be moments most riders will remember for years to come.

    Some key things to remember once you cross the line include listening to the wonderful volunteers who will tell you things to do and ask you some key questions, including where to send you bicycle, Marion (which requires you to claim your bicycle and transport from there) or Spartnaburg, which allows you to claim your bicycle back near the start point for the Assaults.

    Once you have finished, take a moment to enjoy the accomplishment, but don't hesitate to ask the many wonderful folks at the top if you need anything.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone at the top. . .

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    Blue Ridge Parkway, pt. 7

    May 7: "Blue Ridge Parkway"

    Blue Ridge Parkway--OK, the rest stop is nice (I choose not to stop), but the small grunt hill leading to the Blue Ridge Parkway is just cruel. Once on the parkway, cyclists have nearly 15 miles of riding, about 12 to 13 of which is steady 4%-7% climbing with a neat 2-mile respite at about mile 92; be prepared for and careful on the long descent, which can be fast, chilly, and taxing after the extended climbing. Climbing here is psychologically challenging because the sections are long and your site range is extended. Yes, it looks daunting. Rhythm climbing is key here, and most riders would benefit from finding some areas in which to practice extended climbing, which is much different than switchback climbing. The parkway is key to your total time, and riders need to concentrate and maintain their pace here because this is an extended effort unlike what many of us experience in any of our training. This section can be lonely, but also rewarding once you crest the slight downhll that leads to the turn into Mt. Mitchell park.

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Highway 80, pt. 6

    May 6: "Hwy 80"

    Hwy 80

    Once cyclists pass through Marion, they take a quick left then right (Hwy 70) onto Hwy 80 and head toward the grueling ten miles at the 80-90 mile stretch, about miles 82 through 87 include strenuous climbing with three miles that are truly taxing with switchbacks and grades of 8-10% and more. Hwy 80 is a different kind of climbing than the Blue Ridge Parkway (Hwy 80 is similar in some respects to the front side of Caesar's Head riding from SC toward Brevard), so riders will do well not to become too excited if riding well or too discouraged if struggling. I have had dramatically different "rides" on the Hwy 80 segment from the parkway segment and have come to believe that the parkway segment, since it is much longer, is way more likely to define the day you have. The top of Hwy 80 rewards riders with a rest stop, but cyclists then have to pound up a steep grunt to exit onto the parkway.

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    The Taper

    What does it mean to "taper?"

    It's crunch time and a lot of us are feeling the pressure of the deadline.  The Assaults are 10 days away, and many are beginning to question their training.

    The worst thing any cyclist can do right now is "cram."  There is simply NO way to make-up what you haven't already accomplished this spring.  The next 10 days should be "review," and recovery - not trying to get in those last few hills and mountains or trying to lose those last few pounds.

    From here on out... you work with what you have!

    Before any event that a cyclist takes seriously, there should be a period in which volume tapers off so that the body can rest, recover, and rebuild broken-down muscle tissue.  Each person is different, so there is no one way to taper.  That said, there are certainly a few generalizations that can be made:

    1.  Most cyclists do best with a 7-10 day Taper.  Some people need less time, but almost no one needs more than 10 days (after that, one begins to lose a bit of fitness).

    2.  Taper refers to "tapering off" which does NOT mean stopping altogether.  Similarly, the first few days of the taper should only be moderately easier than usual (or shorter) while the last few days of the taper may feel too easy or short.

    3.  Decrease volume more than intensity.  Short rides with a few hard blasts will keep your body's metabolism going, the blood flowing, and your muscles used to stress.  You want to keep the engine revved up without burning much fuel.  At the same time, try to avoid breaking down the muscle fibers too much.  Don't go out and do serious hill reps for an hour - but throwing in a few hills OR a few sprints during a casual spin will help keep the legs loose.

    4.  By the end, one should feel almost twitchy with excitement and energy - NOT sluggish, lethargic, or "soft."  These are signs that an athlete didn't taper correctly.  If you feel yourself getting tired a few days before the ride - get outside and pedal around a while.  It won't hurt you to change your taper along the way (so long as you don't burn up your legs).

    5. In the last two days, it is generally considered best to take Saturday completely off the bike, ride a short and easy ride on Sunday (45-75 minutes at a recovery pace with no real hard efforts).  This is a perfect combination of rest and active recovery that primes the pumps for Monday's hardest efforts.

    If needed (schedule conflicts, etc), you can also swap these two days, riding easy on Saturday and resting on Sunday, although your legs will most likely take far longer to "wake up" on the day of the event.
    Many are headed to the mountains this Saturday, and that's okay.  So long as it's a shorter ride - less volume - and slightly easier than usual (no need to take risks, bombing the descents... there's no clock and there's no prize!).

    As I said earlier, a taper could be as many as 10 days, but for some it's far fewer.  The length of time isn't based on age or experience - although, that does play some roll in the process.  Instead, it's more about genetics and lifestyle.  A 35 year old, Cat 2 racer with an active and stressful job may actually need longer than a retired man who simply cycles as a hobby.  Trial and error is still the best way to find what works for you but within the framework of the guidelines above.

    The key is to rest, eat well, and stay hydrated.

    -Peter Kay

    Tom Johnson Campground/Marion, pt. 5

    May 5: "Tom Johnson Campground"/ Marion

    About 74 miles in, riders either finish at Tom Johnson Campground or transition into the climbing sections of the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. The campground is key because of the added traffic and the likelihood that many cyclists choose to stop here for more food and water/drinks--often meeting a SAG or family member. Everyone should be careful about stopping, letting other riders know your intentions, and watching for spectators stepping into or across the road. For me, as a side note, I tend to make this my psychological transition--from Spartanburg to Marion, I am a pack cyclists; from Marion to the top, I ride alone (or pretend I am alone) in order to maintain the pace I want/need and avoid being lured into climbing too hard at an early stage and flaming out before the end. From Marion to the top is nearly 30 miles of riding, most of which is climbing. Riding smart from Marion to the top is important.

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Bills Mountain, pt. 4

    Bills Mt. and into Marion

    After turning off Hwys 64/74, Bills Mt. punishes riders from about mile 45 through 47. Bills Mt. is a sustained climb but only about a mile of challenging effort--again, like Pea Ridge, this breaks apart the group and can over-extend many riders trying to stay with a pack. After the climb, riders are also tempted to chase, another key moment for safety. From Bills Mt. to Marion is a series of challenging rollers and even grunts (steep but short hills, maybe as steep as 10-15% but usually only hundreds of yards long); in my opinion, this ignored section is one of the most physically and mentally challenging stretches. Many riders would do well to do the course from Bills Mt. to Marion, at least by car, to know what is ahead.

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Dangerous Curve, pt. 3

    May 3: "Dangerous Curve"

    After Pea Ridge, many cyclists try to catch up or reconnect with other riders after the carnage that comes with "chain-drop hill." One of the most dangerous aspects of any ride comes from over-extended riders and cyclists moving at different speeds (riders behind coming up on a group they are chasing, for example). To add danger, just before the course comes to Hwys 64/74 (where we turn left and head to Bills Mt.), you will be warned on a fast downhill section of an abrupt right hand curve. This is not an exaggeration--especially for a large pack of riders. Riders need to slow well before the curve and maintain a consistent line through the curve. Just after the curve and right before the stop sign, riders come across another bridge that has been rough in the past, resulting in water bottles being ejected and jeopardizing everyone around.

    (NOTE: Water bottles are really a dangerous aspect of the Assaults. Many riders carry extra bottles in order to avoid stopping, but water bottles carried in the triathlon-style holders behind the saddle are rarely effective and often dangerous. Riders should carry extra bottles in their jersey pockets instead. As well, all cyclists should have good bottle cages--tighten cage screws as well--and should take care over rough sections of road, such as bridge transitions.)

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Pea Ridge ("chain-drop hill"), pt. 2

    May 2: "Pea Ridge" ("chain-drop hill")

    From about mile 35 through mile 50, the Assaults course offers cyclists a variety of challenges, including Pea Ridge from about mile 37 through 42. Here, riders face a couple of significant rollers coming after fast downhill sections. The ridges, especially the second, is often called "chain-drop hill" because riders transition so quickly from a fast section to difficult grunt hills. The key, of course, is to know the sections and to shift gears early (and to have your equipment well tuned, including installing a mechanism to help prevent chain-drop on your front derailleur). Pea Ridge is often one of the first places cyclists will experience separations by ability--this section is hard and riders often need to make a decision here about managing their effort for a 102-mile challenging event.

    Tips and concerns:

    • Shifting from big to small chainrings before terrain changes.
    • Avoiding shifting under pressure and cross-shifting (big chainring while in largest rear cog).
    • Maintaining attention on the "accordian effect."
    • Standing to maintain momentum and power over grunt hills while holding your line and avoiding sudden changes in momentum.
    • Maintaining respect for NOT crossing the yellow line and endangering yourself and others on a blind hill.
    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate ProfessorFurman University

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Hill Jams for Power

         Mitchell is only two weeks away and I hate I didn't get this out earlier but there is still time to improve.  You can also use the included workouts to better yourself for events later in the season.  The last session left off with a couple of different types of intervals and I'm going to introduce you to a few more, these being in the hills and the mountains.  Over the last month I've been doing some hill workouts across the rolling terrain of Spartanburg County every Monday night.  I've been fortunate to have a few folks show up to keep me company.  The hills vary in pitch, length, and the time it takes to climb them but they all have one thing in common and that's the feeling you have when you crest the top.  Remember the first time you ever had an ice cream cone and it dripped all over your hand as you tried to rush to get it all in your mouth before it turned into a puddle and you thought "Oh My Gosh why didn't my parents get me one of these sooner how could they have not told me about this GOODNESS before now?!?!?"  Well, that's not the feeling you're apt to have.  You should feel wrenched in the gut and totally wiped out.  Like an alligator has your soul in a death roll at the bottom of a murky pool of water.  Sorta like when you turned 40 and lactose intolerance kicked in and you realized you could never have another ice cream cone again.  Yeah, more like that.  Shaky legged and vowing to never do one of these again, you soldier on at a slow recovery pace to the next one only to repeat these wonderful feelings.  These are big chainring efforts meant to increase your power and are definitely not Mitchell specific.  They will help you hang on to group rides as the local hammerheads punch it on the hills.  They may even help you win races requiring this type of kick at the end.  Regardless, big power is nice to have yet hard to acquire.  If you never practice it, you'll never get it.  I've tried to provide a place to get it while while folks can be assured they won't get dropped after the effort is over.  The efforts are less than two minutes and the recovery pace of the group is enforced so no one is put under pressure for the few miles to the next hill and everyone can focus on putting their all into the next jam.  You should focus on the effort and finish it out as your strength will come from not giving up and completing the exercise.  If you only do a few half hearted intervals then you will see only limited, if any, improvement.  Complete all 7 or 8 efforts at your maximum and you WILL see results.  Okay, maybe not Cancellara results but I've been pleased to see a couple of participants show incredible improvement in only three weeks.  Their improvement is not only in the strength they've gained but in their determination and the ability to focus on a goal.  I read a quote once that fits preparing for a cycling event like Mitchell perfectly.  "The desire to win is nothing without the desire to train."  Can't remember who said it.  I've seen a lot of people this season showing the desire to train.

         During this phase of building power I am also doing climbing intervals in the mountains.  These focus on improving recovery as well as building strength.  We have several mountains in the area to use and most are in the 6-8% range and are at least 2 or 3 miles long.  Starting at the base after a good warm up, I begin efforts lasting two minutes at about 102% of my calculated threshold and then recover for two minutes at 60% of threshold.  Most of the climbs allow for at least 5 intervals of this length.  As the season progresses, I'll increase the time at 102% and decrease the recovery.  These are called "over and unders."  For example I might be 3 minutes over threshold and one minute under.  These types of workouts are excellent for increasing the pace you can sustain on a climb. 

         Most coaching and training methods require that you calculate your threshold.  In order to do this you'll need a heart rate monitor and you'll have to do a short time trial.  Complete a 30 minute TT and take the average heart rate of the last 10 minutes and use that rate as your threshold.  It might not be as exact as getting your blood tested to create a threshold/heart rate curve but it will provide you with a good starting point and it is a lot cheaper.  Use this number to also calculate recovery ride heart rates as well as tempo rates. 

         The last type of training I've done for this year's Assault isn't an interval.  It's been just plain old long distance riding.  Hopefully you've been able to get some long mileage in this season and if you've been able to do some rides that approximate the time you'll be on the bike for Mitchell, all the better!  I've been fortunate to be able to get in five rides with our local group and a group in Charleston that have been at the 100 mile mark.  These ranged from a 4 hour ride time to a 6.5 hour time.  With these rides of varying intensity and terrain I feel well prepared for the event.  Our club rides in the Spartanburg area have been grueling steady affairs with multiple climbs that I've mostly done at a more relaxed pace.  I've been doing the short interval rides hard and the longer rides at a more relaxed pace with the odd exception to see how I feel at longer distances with a few intense efforts thrown in.  This is what works for me and as my form gets better I'm able to put out more intensity combined with longer rides.

         If you have not been able to do a century this year in preparation for the Assault, don't worry.  It's not necessary.  It might make it easier for you but it's definitely not a requirement.  You might be able to finish the ride with time to spare even if your longest ride is only 50 miles as long as you've been getting mileage in consistently and have been doing some elevated intensity.  Don't expect to pass Boyd Johnson on the climb but do expect to have a great ride and revel in the scenery and camaraderie.  Your "style", like mine, would be to have a great event and enjoy the day!  I hope to see YOU at the top of Mitchell!

    Steve Verdell

    The Assaults Routes--Key Points, pt I (and a few suggestions)

    Over the next week, I will blog the Assaults course (see schedule below):

    Part I, The Start:

    The Assault on Marion and the Assault on Mt. Mitchell challenge cyclists by both the distance of the events and the routes themselves. Along with training for fitness and cycling skills, participants in these events can benefit from knowing the courses and preparing specifically for key points along the routes.

    (REMINDER: Participants in the Assaults can sign up for unlimited Strava usage through

    The Start--The start of all mass-start large fields is always a key moment for riders. First, all riders should position themselves appropriately. The front 200-300 riders will start fast (race intensity), and riders not capable or interested in finishing in the sub-5 to 6 hour range can either get burned out keeping up (in 2010, the front pack completed the first 50 miles in 2 hours, averaging 25 mph over a challenging course) or create dangerous situations by riding more slowly than the front pack. At the start as well, all riders should be skilled at starting smoothly--holding your line, clipping into your pedals quickly (without looking down).

    The first few miles of the Assaults include rollers, creating the accordion effect (the middle and back of the large pack quickly collapses toward the front, which slows on a climb while the other riders are still descending or just reaching the shift from a descent to an ascent), and a notoriously dangerous bridge on Hwy 9 crossing over business I-85 (rough bridge crossings with gaps and holes create flats, overlapped wheels, and sudden movements by riders trying to avoid road dangers). The start and first 10-20 miles of the ride are often the most frantic and require the greatest diligence by riders, including bicycle handling, secure water bottles, and diligent regard for everyone's safety.



    Tips/Reminders for game day and leading up to the event:

    • Make some boots to carry in your seat pack. Take an old tire and cut 2-3 sections of varying lengths--1", 2", 3"--and be sure to cut off the beads on each side of the sections. Put these in your saddle pack along with NEW tubes (not patched, not tubes you have been carrying around since 1973) and CO2 cartridges with the appropriate inflator (be sure to check for matching of head to cartridge--threaded v. unthreaded). Be sure you have the proper tire tools for removing a tire as well.

    • Know how to change a tire/tube and then PRACTICE removing and changing a tube--including reinstalling a tire WITHOUT a tire tool (using the tool to reinstall invariably pinches the new tube). 

    • Install new tires and tubes ASAP. Ride and use all new equipment a minimum of two weeks before the event.

    • Check cables, chain wear, cassette wear, secure and tight bolts, BB, etc.

    • Consider installing a chain-drop guide.

    • Purchase and try out all nutrition choices before the ride multiple times and have an adequate supply set aside for the event day ASAP. Consider that a May 16 event may be quite hot--Do you need a sports drink that addresses cramping? Do you need electrolyte supplements (tablets)? I am always fighting the cramp demon and recommend highly these products, but also the calculators found here can help you determine what drinks and supplement amounts you need:


    • Check your shoes and CLEATS for wear and secure bolts. Replace worn cleats yesterday or ASAP.

    • Dedicate a kit for the event. Pack and identify all kit/clothing options you MAY need on event day. The Assaults have begun with temps at 70 degrees at 6:30 am with temps at 100 by the afternoon, and we have started several years in rain/storms with the temps remaining in the 40s and 50s all day. The one thing you must plan on is differences in weather among Spartanburg, Marion, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mt. Mitchell State Park.

    • Prepare your bag of clothing for the top. Include a wide range of clothes to change into (anticipate being COLD at the top) and pack a plastic bag for wet clothing you remove. A small backpack is ideal and be sure to include antibacterial wipes for cleaning up, a towel for drying off, and some emergency foods for post-ride recovery.
    Schedule of route postings:

    May 1: Intro and "The Start"

    May 2: "Pea Ridge"

    May 3: "Dangerous Curve"

    May 4: "Bills Mt."

    May 5: "Tom Johnson Campground"

    May 6: "Hwy 80"

    May 7: "Blue Ridge Parkway"
    (you may also want to include your ride next Saturday!)

    May 8: "Mt. Mitchell State Parkway" and "The End"

    Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
    Furman University