Here are a number tips, perspectives and strategies on how some riders will prepare to assault the big mountain. I tried to choose people with different skill levels and from different cities. This is a long read. Take your time with it, and feel free to share your own game plan in the comments.
Karl Johnson - Spartanburg SC
I haven't been able to ride a lot of climbing rides due to weather and scheduling. Realizing this, I have to temper my goals to make sure I don't bonk anywhere.
My strategy is to look for certain people I ride with locally, who I know will help me get to Marion in a time that will let me conserve as much energy as possible. After Marion, I am on my own, and will climb at my own pace. I look at the climb as first Green River Cove, then Caesar's Head, and last the Saluda Grade (second half).
To fuel my strategy: this is what works for me, it may not work for others: 3 bottles with an electrolyte-carbo mix, homemade rice bars, and energy chews. I have to remember to drink and eat early and often. Ideally I want to stop in Marion or top of Hwy 80 to refill 2 bottles. Once on the parkway I don't plan to stop. If more stops are required, then so be it.
Everyone needs to stay calm at the beginning, don't get caught up in a group outside your ability level, as you may pay for it later.
I am impressed with all who come to this ride. Make sure you thank all the volunteers along the way (even if you don't stop), especially the volunteers at Marion and at the top.
Everyone have a safe ride!
Brian Curran - Columbia, SC
I did my first Mt. Mitchell in 1992. I swore I would never, ever do it again. I think this year will be my 13th or 14th time. I love it and I hate it. In the years I didn't participate, I was filled with relief and regret. It's just that kind of experience. The one thing I know for certain is that the sight of the finish line as I round the final bend is always a transcendent moment. As a bike shop owner, I have given lots of advice about Mitchell over the years and what follows is what I feel is the most relevant.
The week leading up to the ride is not the time to double your weekly mileage or go on a crash diet. You are as skinny and as fit as you are going to get. Two or three short rides with a few hard efforts is plenty. Eat lots of good food and get as much sleep as you can.
The day before the ride make sure you eat more than usual. I like a Dano's Sicilian pizza with mushrooms. No new foods or supplements. Drink water, but not to the point that you have to get up every hour. You will probably have enough trouble sleeping. DO NOT do any major work on your bike. Inspect the tires and Inflate them, make sure you chain is lubricated. Wipe it down and leave it alone.
The night before, have everything laid out, your numbers attached (not around your rear brake cable) your food in your pockets, chamois cream and sun screen at the ready. Think happy thoughts. Tens of thousand of riders have done the ride and they survived.
The morning of the ride eat a breakfast that is easy to digest. I like oatmeal and some yogurt. Don't stuff yourself. Riding with the bloat is never good. Do not be one of the people riding their bike around at 4:30 am. Sit down, think happy thoughts and relax. If you are on your bike and at the start 20 min before they say go, you're good.
During the ride pay attention. It can a bit chaotic at the start. Avoid anyone that is using aero bars. Seriously, they are bad news, they can't turn and can't stop. Eat, drink, repeat often. Don't over exert yourself at the beginning. You will be full of adrenaline and your perceived exertion will be way off. In other words, it won't feel like you are working as hard as you are and you'll regret it later. If you have been training with a heart rate monitor or power meter, trust it. When you get to Marion, figure you are halfway time wise. Once the climb starts, be prepared to run the gamut of emotions from "this isn't so bad" to "why did I spend money to do this to myself?" Keep eating and drinking all the way to the top. Enjoy the view. You earned it! Stay calm and pedal.
At the top enjoy the tomato soup and white bread. It will be one of the best meals you ever had. Bask in the glory of being done with the ride but know that the day isn't even half over. Be patient, it is a monumental logistical task to get everybody and their bikes back to Marion safely. I usually pack a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a gatorade with my clothes.
Good luck and remember to have fun.
Gregg Jowers - Chapin, SC
This will be my fourth AOMM attempt The first year I was not prepared for what was coming and suffered greatly to a 7:26 finish. My second attempt ended at the short descent on the Parkway as my rear wheel broke somewhere around mile 94. My pace was probably in the 7:00 range. Last year I trained a little harder and worked on my climbing. I came up with a better fueling/stopping strategy, and I finished in 6:36. This year I have put in more miles, but not had the time to train in the mountains with the exception of a rainy Tour de Cashiers.
This year I worked over the offseason to drop weight, and am now approximately 10 lbs lighter than last year. That should help with my climbing, and I plan to put forth more effort on the Parkway
The rest of my plan is to try and repeat my strategy from last year. I will start the ride toward the front, although not with the front group. I will carry four bottles and various gels/chews. Hopefully there will be a nice group to take me to Bill’s Hill with an average speed in the low 20's. As I finish my first two bottles, I will carefully throw them to the volunteers at a rest stop along the way. The food and drink that I carry should allow me to get to the Parkway without stopping. I will stop at the rest stop at the top of 80 to fill my two bottles, use the bathroom, and cram some food. I am not real good at the steeper sections so I will "rest' on them, and try to go harder when the grade is closer to 6%. Depending on the temperature on the parkway, I may need to stop around the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park, which will be just for a top off. I hope to have enough left in the tank to improve on my time from last year. The goal is somewhere between 6:15-6:25.
Kevin Meechan - Asheville, NC
This will be my third Assault on Mt. Mitchell. It is a very challenging but rewarding event, as all finishers can take pride in completing one of the hardest centuries anywhere in the world. My goal time this year is 6:45, which would be a slightly under last year's time and a full hour faster than my first.
I'll start with two full bottles of Cytomax, a flask of gel, and five sleeves of Shot Bloks, and refill at Bill's Hill, Marion, and top of Hwy 80 rest stops as necessary.
I think of AOMM as three main parts: 1) start to the top of Bill's Hill, 2) Bill's Hill to Marion, 3) Marion to the top of Mitchell, which is further broken down into three additional sections.
I will try to limit my effort to Bill's Hill while staying in one of the lead groups. The first ten or so miles can be quite sketchy with all the riders finding their spots in groups. Dodging at least one dropped water bottle is a given. Remember to hydrate early and often which can be easily forgotten with all the excitement, and a bit difficult with all wheels close by. Last year I barely drank on the first half to Bill's Hill and paid dearly for it with leg cramps going up Hwy 80 and the Parkway.
I'll most likely be dropped by the group I'm in by stopping at the top of Bill's Hill, but I know nature will be calling and my bottles will need filling. This second part is mostly rollers with a few short climbs to loosen up the legs for the fun to come. New groups will form and I should be able to get a bit of a draft on the flatter sections.
As we roll through Tom Johnson's Camping Center and The Assault on Marion riders peel off (their day being over), ours is about to kick it up a notch ...literally. I break part three down into three more individual sections ...Hwy 80, the Parkway, and the final climb up 128 to the finish. I find the 12-mile Parkway section to be the most challenging psychologically. You've just finished a hard climb up 80 and you might be thinking you're just a short spin from Mitchell ...don't think that way or the uphill grind of the Parkway will seem to never end. There's about 2,500' of climbing on the Parkway section and you're pretty tired at this point. I find it helps to look at the Parkway mile markers knowing that the base of Mitchell is at Mile Marker 355. It keeps me from thinking (hoping) that the end of the Parkway is just around the next bend. Once off the Parkway and on the final climb up 128 to the finish, I think it's best to build up the effort over the 4-1/2 miles. I see a lot of riders hit it too hard at the beginning of 128 only to fade a mile or so in, well before it levels off near the ranger station half way up. Building my effort throughout the climb helps me to have something for the final kick at the top. At least that's my plan ...we shall see :)
Aaron West - Columbia, SC
This is my third and most challenging Assault yet. Last year I had a solid plan and finished with a respectable 7:07. Since then I’ve endured a number of injuries, most notably a hip stress fracture that kept me off the bike for 4 months during the winter. It has improved, and I have managed to get a little bit of training in, but I’m not nearly as prepared for the ride as I was the last two years. The healing process is still ongoing. Thankfully I’ve been able to ride with it, but I would guess it is at 65-70% right now.
The plan for me will be a lot different this year. I’m not concerned about the time it takes. All I care about is finishing. I’ll still try to get in tight with a good group on the way to Marion, but I will be careful not to be in company that is above my fitness level. I’d rather back off then burn out.
Last year I didn’t stop until Marion. This year I’ll probably stop at least once, maybe twice. I’ll carry a little less food on me just to give me incentive to get off the bike some. When the climbing begins is when I’ll struggle the most. I simply haven’t put in the miles to get my climbing legs back. I’ll climb slow and will stop often, but I should still have the means to make it to the top. I will not be ashamed to pack it in and take the wagon, but knowing my personality, things will have to be pretty rough for me to end the day early.
Kevin Pearl - Louisville, KY
My game plan for AOMM is a bit of a guessing game since it is my first attempt. I will start with a healthy meal the night before, followed by rest and an early breakfast of protein, whole grain carbs, fruit, and caffeine about 2-3 hours before ride time. Then I will stretch thoroughly, and continue to hydrate. Once rolling on the bike, I will rotate my snacks between bananas, trail mix, energy gels, and energy chews, trying to eat once every hour.
I will stop at rest stops as needed, hopefully primarily to use the restroom and refill water bottles. I do plan to conserve energy by pack riding as much as possible to Marion, where I will stop for about thirty minutes to rest and eat a light meal. On the climb to summit Mt. Mitchell, I plan to stop at each rest stop, and continue the snack rotation and beverage consumption. I will rest as needed, and push on when I feel strong. This is my first attempt at Assault On Mt. Mitchell, so I may find myself looking to go to plan B or plan C as the ride or weather dictates, but both of those plans also include stopping nowhere short of the highest point in eastern United States.
Wade Otey - Charlotte, NC
After 3 times riding the Marion event, I decided that if Mitchell was to happen for me, I had to get to the task. Last year, at age 56 and weighing 240, my goal was just to make the NC80/BRP rest stop cutoff time. Even though NC80 was like an oven, I made the cutoff point with 90 mins to spare. With that incentive, I soldiered on. At the rest stop atop the big BRP descent, it began to rain. On the turn to NC128, the deluge began with Noah looking for trees for another boat! After short session of lightning at the ranger station, where the sign says "2 Miles to Summit", the hail was covering the ground and stinging everyone dumb enough to stay on the road, which of course included this idiot.
These factors only served to tick me off, which gave an intense adrenaline/energy rush that propelled me the last 2 miles. The other factor that "inspired" me to no end was the Young's bus driver that would not pass me though I was waving him past,...dude, sorry about the single finger salute. There was a tiny bit of the traditional tomato soup left in the crock pot for me with the event timer in the photo reading 11:09:00.
This year, with one additional year, and 10 additional lbs. (57/250+,...ooppps!) my goal is to finish in single digit hours, 9:59:59 or better. We'll see,...for some of us, those that are the antithesis of the usual image of cycling, AOMM is the acronym for "ATTEMPT on Mt. Mitchell".
See you at the top, by bike or by SAG.....and a quick P.S.: if you see an old fat man grinding along with his head down, don't yell out, "GOOD WORK MAN!,...it's WAY too patronizing."