Cycling Recon: Allegany State Park

“Where is the hill?” Hitch asked, with some emphasis, as we drove the course at Allegany State Park. We both knew this was a difficult bike course. We had seen the elevation profile. But as we drove the 25-ish mile loop, we didn’t see any huge hills. There was no big climb. Then again, you never quite know what you’re in for until you get on your bike and ride.

My next race, my last big event of 2012, is PAIN in the Alleganies, a first-year half Iron Distance event in Allegany State Park. I love Allegany State Park and it was billed as a challenging bike course. Perfect for my theme of the year — go big and go hard.

Welcome to Allegany State Park. That creature in the corner is babymussel, a stuffed toy given to participants at Musselman. She has become my traveling mascot.

Hitch joined me for this training ride, and by joined me I mean we rode in the car together and were on our bikes in the state park at the same time. I went in with two goals for the workout: 1. To practice my nutrition plan and 2. To complete a steady, solid 2-hour bike ride without regard to things like pace and speed. The previous week my body revolted with an infection and fatigue. So my coach and I knocked down my workouts for the weekend. That meant not attacking the hills during my 2 hours on the bike. That meant exploring the course and taking the road as it came.

Turns out it also meant taking my granny gear as it came. There is no big, monster hill on this course. Nope, instead the entire course is a hill. You are either climbing or descending. There is no in between. At one point on Climb No. 1 I couldn’t wait to get to the descent. Wait a minute, I thought. I’m looking forward to the descent. I hate descending. It is my least favorite thing to do on a bike, particularly on narrow roads that wind. This can’t be right. And yet, I was looking forward to going downhill, such was the seemingly unending climb in granny gear. Of course that didn’t mean the descent was fun. I was cautious since going over my handlebars did not seem like a good way to enjoy this beautiful summer day. I feathered my breaks like it was my job. And I remembered a tip I got from a solid cyclists when I was terrified of going downhill while on trip in Tuscany: Sing. Singing, I was told, would relax my upper body, which tended to have a death grip on the handlebars and breaks. And the only song that came to mind was Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.” Yeah. I think I need to update my play list.

The second climb was on ASP 3 as the route basically is a big triangle. The difficulty with this climb was the condition of the road. It was bumpy. It was my personal Paris-Roubaix only without Fabian Cancellara and Mark Cavendish as company. I was on ASP 3 for what seemed like forever, desperately thinking the road split — left to return to Red House and our transition area, right to take a jaunt into Pennsylvania — had to be up around the next corner. When the sign finally, came, I stopped for a moment to take a drink and much a strawberry Fig Newton and took off on the descent back on ASP 2. While not as uneven as the climb, this road has plenty of intermittent bumps from cracks in the roads and small pot holes making for a jarring downhill journey. At one point I saw a fox on the side of the road who looked as if he wanted a piece of me. God bless the free downhill speed!

I took a few laps around Red House Lake to close out my 2 hour ride. I took a peak at my average speed and while it wasn’t very good, it wasn’t the point of the day. I know what expect on Sept. 23. I know I’d like to ride this course again before race day. I know that I have some work to do to prepare myself physically and mentally for this particular challenge. While I moved into my recovery, Hitch continued his workout. “This course is insane!” he said, rattling off some numbers about his gearing for the climbs. “Does that mean it was hard for you?” I asked him, not in the frame of mind to fake technical cycling knowledge and cutting to the chase. “Oh my god, yes.” Good. I wasn’t alone in finding this a freaking hard course. And important note to self: this workout was about recon and and spinning and enjoying a bike on a beautiful day in one of my favorite spots. It is all good.

My new nutrition plan seemed to work well. My legs weren’t shot because of the ease with which I approached the day. I learned a heck of a lot about the course and what I want to work on this next month. And I remembered what it is I love about the challenge of the bike. Nope, not a bad at all.

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