Thursday, June 01, 2017

How I Won the Cheaha Ultra

A couple weeks ago I did the Cheaha Ultra ride in Jacksonville, Alabama. The Cheaha Ultra is a 124 mile ride that gains ~12,000 feet in elevation. The Cheaha Challenge also offered a century ride that was a qualifier for the Gran Fondo World Championships. There were also many other shorter distances down to 25 miles on a rail to trail. Fun and suffering for the whole family... It is very tough just to finish the event. Pacing is important for endurance events like these. If you go too hard too early then you will not have legs to even finish the ride. Cheaha Mountain came about 40 miles into the ride, and there was a timed KOM competition on the climb. My goal was to conserve as much energy as possible on the way out to the mountain. I rode in a group that was riding reasonably fast, but I did not take any pulls. A few century riders went off the front of my group, but their ride was about an hour and a half shorter than the ride I would be doing, so I wanted to keep legs for late in the ride.

For the KOM climb I made sure to start at the back of the group. I knew the effort was going to take 15-20 minutes, so I parked my watts somewhere around my functional threshold power, and I kept my eye on my heart rate. My functional threshold heart rate is somewhere around 168 bpm, so I tried to not let my heart rate hover over 168 bpm most of the way up the climb. As I neared the top of the climb I let the heart rate go over 168 bpm and kicked at the top. I had to catch Michael Sencenbaugh in order to get the KOM prize, so I need to let my heart rate increase. It was important to keep the heart rate low on that climb in order to have legs at the end of the ride.

Cheaha Climb Data

After Cheaha the terrain was rolling, and I had a good partner to pace the ride with in Michael. We stopped to refuel at Adams gap and caught up to a few guys doing the century ride. The terrain was rolling, so it was more beneficial to pace with them instead of drop them because we would only go marginally faster and it would have been a lot more difficult. After we turned off from the century route we exchanged pulls, and I would pull at the top of my endurance zone (around 250-270 watts). We had two difficult climbs in both sides of Banes Gap, and I paced them at around high tempo or sweet spot power (300-320 watts). We refueled after Banes gap, and when we hit the flats we kept that high endurance pace once again.

We hit the final climb of Chimney Peak with about 5 miles to go. From there it is downhill to the finish. I gave it all I had, and that ended up being a 10 minute effort at around my functional threshold power. That effort was enough to leave Michael. I am really happy I had his company for most of the ride. It made the ride very fun. From the top of Chimney Peak I just gave it all I had to the finish.

Chimney Peak Data

The ride ended up being a little over 6 hours long with an average wattage of 218 watts with a normalized power of 262 watts. This gives an intensity factor of .74 of my functional threshold power, so it was paced right on the cusp of high endurance or low tempo power. If I did not pace the ride well, I would not have had legs to give that lactate threshold effort right at the end of the ride. If you employ similar pacing strategies at your next century you will have a great ride.

Cheaha Ultra Podium