On Saturday May 7, I completed the Breathless Agony Century. The timed portion of the event, is 11,000 feet of climbing in the first 74 miles!
I’ve done this event six times now. Below you will see my previous results along with links.
2004 Time of 6:50 45th place
2006 Time of 5:58 34th Place
2007 Time of 5:40 21st Place — Previous Personal Record
2008 Time of 6:09 66th Place
2010 Time of 5:59 68th Place
2011Time of 5:24 – 21st Place out of 467 four pass finishers–New Personal Record
Today’s ride was all about redemption. If you read my report from 2010 you will see I had a very tough showing last year. I had been in a funk and hadn’t been training. My time of 5:24 on Saturday is good enough to best my Personal Record from 2007 of 5:40 and more than good enough to redeem myself from last year’s pitiful 5:59!
This year although I HAVE been training I have been getting sick more frequently. I have been sick twice in the last two months. Each cold has cost me two weeks of setback in training and/or intensity. It is interesting to mention that back in 2007 I previewed the Breathless Agony course a couple of times. I trained specifically for the Breathless Agony event. This year I have had success in a couple of races without the benefit of training specificity. I have been training at higher intensities but shorter mileage (40-60 milers) with a century or two every other week.
On February 26, I finished first at the 2011 Spring Death Valley Double Century blog report here. I then continued to ride hard and rode 500 miles within seven days. Within a week of that feat I was sick. It was the first time I had ridden 500 miles in a week since 2007 when I was training for Race Across America (RAAM). The first part of March was a wash. My son was sick, my co-workers were sick and customers were sick. I couldn’t avoid it. My immune system was suppressed and BAM! I got sick. I had to sit out of Hell’s Gate Hundred because I was sick. Just recently, after 2011 Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic, April 16, blog report here. I tried to ramp up again got up to 350 miles for the week and BAM! got sick. So I had to pull back again. That cold has lasted through Breathless Agony with a nagging cough. Oh well it is still early in the season and I have bigger fish to fry than Breathless ‘Agony namely the Furnace Creek 508. The Death Valley Double Century, Hell’s Gate Century, Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic and the Furnace Creek 508 are events put on by AdventureCorps.
Clothing— Simple Green kit, short sleeve base layer, Swiftwick 7″ Performance Socks
Bike — May I introduce you to “Felony” my new 2011 Felt F1, Shimano Di2, Standard Crank 53/39 and 11/28 Cassette, SRM Wireless Crankset with PowerControl 7 head unit, Fizik Airone Versus saddle
Nutrition– Infinit Nutrition self- supported except water from feed stations
2011 Felt F1 with Shimano Di2, SRM 7900 wireless Crankset PowerControl 7, Dura-Ace carbon pedals, Fizik Airone Versus
Breathless Agony starts and finishes in Redlands.
The call-outs are:
1. Mile 17.8 – left turn onto Jack Rabbit Trail
2. Mile 22.0- right onto Highway 60
3. Mile 26.6- Beaumont Ave checkpoint
4. Mile 43.6- Mill Creek Ranger Station
6. Mile 54.6- Angelus Oaks
7. Mile 74.2 Onyx Summit
There are three options for the ride. You can do two passes, three passes or four passes. I have always done the four pass option.
I rolled at 7am with the Santiago Cycling club. It was a nice sized group of at least 20 riders. In the group was Doug “Polar Bear” Patterson, Vance McDonald and a few other familiar faces. I chatted with them until the first little climb. Every year that first little climb gives me an indication of how I’m going to do for the event. The pace was set by the Santiago boys but when they started to fade I came to the front quite effortlessly. I rode on perceived effort and slowly ramped up the intensity. When I thought I was going hard tempo I looked down at my SRM PowerControl 7. I was surprised to see really good numbers — over 300 watts. That’s when I knew I was going to have a good day!!
Above is the graph of that little climb that comes early in the event (mile 6.5-8.5).
Data above is from the start in Redlands to the left turn onto Jack Rabbit Trail — Pass 1.
I was in various pacelines. As usual, riders sat upfront pulling along as the other riders just sucked wheel. It happens at every recreational century and most doubles. It’s a annoying to me because ALL of us could be going A LOT faster. I got to the front and rolled off instantly. I then instructed the next couple of guys to roll-off quickly as well. In a short amount of time, the riders that followed my lead in creating a more active and participatory paceline, roll off the front of the massive “paceline” behind us. We averaged 20.5 mph, my normalized power was 223 watts (3.4w/kg). The 18 mile, 1.000 feet of gain section from Redlands to Jack Rabbit Trail took me 52:53
Jack Rabbit Trail Climb Power data from Training Peaks WKO
Grade Analysis for Jack Rabbit Trail from Garmin Training Center
I hit the base of Jack Rabbit Trail at 7:54 am 54 minutes after my starting time of 7am. It’s hard for me to characterize the climb on Jack Rabbit Trail. It is a paved road with potholes that stretch across the width of the road, sand, loose rock, sand traps and so on. Sounds like fun huh? Well it would be if it wasn’t for the other 200 riders you have to weave through to get to the top of the climb.
My average speed for the Jack Rabbit Trail climb was 12.2 mph and my normalized power was 254 (3.84 w/kg). I felt really good on this climb. The 3.7 mile dirt climb with 900 feet of gain took 18:25.
Oak Glen Climb from Beaumont rest stop 10 miles 2300 feet of gain
Grade Analysis of Oak Glen Climb from Beaumont 10 miles 2300 feet of gain
I began the Oak Glen climb at 8:27 am, 1 hour and 27 minutes from my starting time of 7am. I consider Oak Glen Climb, Climb #2, the hardest of the four climbs in Breathless Agony. The last two climbs, Angelus Oaks and the Onyx Summit, are much longer but the grades aren’t steep. Oak Glen has the steepest ramps of all four climbs. There are various times when you will hit 10% grades on the Oak Glen climb. I was on this climb a few minutes when I was passed by two strong riders. I jumped on their wheel. I stayed on their wheel until that self-preservation instinct got the better of me. My thoughts were “Wow, I’m going really hard right now. I don’t know how long I can hang on.” Finally, I thought of the last two climbs and wanting to conserve energy for them. I bowed out gracefully. It took me 5-10 minutes to get back to my own climbing pace. I didn’t blow up but I was REALLY close. These two riders I know personally from the Orange County club rides. One is a former pro road cyclist that races on a Masters Elite team and the other a pro mountain biker. I was feeling good but I’m not THAT good 😉 I saw quite a few of my friends on this climb. I crested and began the high-speed descent down towards Mill Creek Ranger Station.
My average speed for the Oak Glen climb was 10.9 mph and my normalized power was 229 watts (3.46 w/kg). The Oak Glen climb from the Beaumont Rest Stop took me 55:06 INCLUDING the two minutes stopped at Rest Stop which would have taken me half that time in an AdventureCorps event.
In my opinion, the organizers need to go to chip timing like AdventureCorps. The clipboard army just doesn’t cut it anymore — not with over 800 riders and only three people per rest stop checking everyone in at each stop. This event has grown significantly in the last four years — more than double as many riders! Time to get more efficient or do away with timing the event! How stressful must that job be for those volunteers?!?!
Mill Creek Ranger Station laying Felony down – Note a member of the Clipboard Army
Felony – 2011 Felt F1 with Shimano Di2 – electronic Dura-Ace
I left Mill Creek Ranger Station at 9:39 am 2 hours and 39 minutes after my start time of 7am. I began the Angelus Oaks climb knowing that I had 30 miles of climbing with little to no respite. But what I had as motivation was knowing that I actually had the possibility of setting a new Personal Record (PR) on the Breathless Agony course. The calculations I had going through my head were these:
1. It was 9:39 am
2. Last year I totally tanked on the last two climbs (no fitness)
3. Last year I climbed Angelus Oaks in 1:17
4. Last year I climbed Onyx in 1:39
5. So if I did the same that would be 2:56 minutes added to 2 hours 39 minutes already done and that is 5 hours and 35 minutes.
6. My previous PR was 5:40
7. So worst case scenario if I rode the last two climbs at the same pathetic pace I did last year I would PR
8. BUT I was in better shape on Saturday May 7, 2011
9. Hence all I had to do was ride within my limits on the last two climbs and BAM! new PR
It was at Mill Creek Ranger Station where I linked up with my photographer and friend, Lisa. She was kind enough to come out and take some pictures so I would have something to share with my readers. I climbed through Damnation Alley and felt fine. I had a few riders pass me but less than a handful. At the left turn where there is also a turn off for Forest Falls I was expecting to see a water stop. The past few years I have done the event there has been a water stop. I timed drinking my bottle so that it would be empty by the “water stop”. I was disappointed that it wasn’t in place. It was only a temporary setback because the weather wasn’t that hot and we are already close to 4,000 feet elevation. The toughest part of Damnation Alley is all of the surrounding terrain goes up with you and you don’t have any visual clues that you are climbing…but you are!
Thank you Swiftwick for my 7″ – can you say happy feet on a climbing century?
I climbed from Mill Creek Ranger Station to Angelus Oaks in 1 hour 7 minutes 21 seconds my stop to refuel was 45 seconnds. My average speed to Angelus Oaks was 10 mph and my Normalized Power was 205 watts (3.10 w/kg)
1. I climbed to Angelus Oaks in 1 hour 9 minutes which was 8 minutes faster than last year. So I have just banked 8 more minutes!! On pace for a 5:27!
Angelus Oaks Grade Analysis 11.2 miles 3,050 feet of gain
I began the climb to Onyx Summit at 1049 am 3 hours and 49 minutes from my start time of 7am. The last climb isn’t that hard but you are fatigued and so it feels harder than it really is. Additionally, you are at altitude from 6,000 feet to 8,443 at Onyx Summit. Leaving Angelus Oaks the road has a lot of rollers and you get a chance to recover a little from the 11 mile climb from Mill Creek Ranger Station to Angelus Oaks, Climb #3. But now you have a long protracted 19 mile stretch from Angelus Oaks to Onyx Summit. I say it that way the rollers do get a tad bit annoying. You see the 6,000 elevation sign twice. You even hit 45 mph on one of the rollers- which now puts you on notice that you will have to climb that roller on the way down to Redlands. A descent of 45 mph means a climb of 7- 7.5% on your return 😦
Between Angelus Oaks and Barton Flats I was feeling flat. I had worked so hard to get to Angelus Oaks under 1 hour 17 minutes (time from last year) that I was having a tough time recovering and getting back in to a comfortable groove. I was also experiencing cramping. My right inner thigh and my left calf were sporadically tightening up. When I’m in good form I rarely cramp. But the other side of this is that Breathless Agony doesn’t really supply quality endurance fuels. They still treat this as a recreational century and provide the type of food you would eat while touring. I would prefer to see tables of that and one table for the experienced endurance athletes who prefer to go on liquid nutrition only including electrolyte capsules. End Rant!
My pace was getting slower and slower I could feel my PR slipping away. I was cramping I was fatigued and I was alone on the road. It was strange that there were over 800 riders on the event and I couldn’t see anyone behind me or in front of me as far as the eye could see. The fact is I had passed everyone on the road ahead of me. I had been passed by faster riders and now I sat in that “no man’s land” between the fast riders and the slower riders. So what did I do? Well I starting replaying in my head the events of the day. The times I felt good, the hundreds yes literally hundreds of riders I had passed in the first two climbs. I replayed my good climb up to Angelus Oaks. I thought about some of the riders that I had worked with on previous climbs and wondered where they were on the course now. While all this was happening my cramps subsided and the mileage kept ticking away.
I knew the summit was just after mile marker 39 on Hwy 38. I kept counting down each mile and then finally three riders caught me. I needed these three riders to remotivate me. I jumped on their wheel and surprisingly I found their pace comfortable considering it was faster than when I was going it alone. I rode with them. sitting on the wheels, hoping not to get dropped, for a few miles until I got back into a good place- mentally and physically. When I recovered I stepped up the pace a little and found myself riding away from the three riders. Once I saw the 8,000 foot elevation sign I knew I was only 443 feet from the summit- it was close. I thought about Newport Coast Drive back in Newport Beach which is 450 feet of gain in a 1.5 and convinced myself that I was on that climb just doing 1.5 miles. The mind is a powerful thing vastly more powerful than your body –USE IT!
Many of didn’t know my friend Dan “Crane” Crain and another link here . He was an amazing cyclist with 106 double centuries seven Furnace Creek 508 finishes including one solo with a very respectable time of 33:13. But more than that he was an amazing person. I remember running into him, quite literally, one day in March a couple of years ago. My son, Alexander, and I were just coming out of the Back Bay in Newport Beach. We turned on to the sidewalk off of Bayside heading North on Pacific Coast Highway, and here comes Dan also on the sidewalk. He was doing March Madness with the Davis Bicycle club. When we recognized each other we stopped and chatted a few minutes. He was so kind to my son. My son was not yet 5 and he sat and talked with him for a few minutes. Even though he was obviously in the middle of a ride and in the middle of a month long “competition” he took the time to talk with my son– that’s just the kind of guy he was.
I remember riding a 600km (375 miles) with Janet Christiansen and Dan. We were off the front of the bunch and chatting sparingly because the pace high. As we were cresting a climb he said “you feel that breeze? That means we are getting close to the top of the climb. You’ll always feel the wind pick up as you near the summit” I have never forgotten that conversation. I think of Dan almost every time I summit a climb. I consider it Dan’s spirit living (Dan Crain’s Spirit) on when I feel that breeze in my face. Dan was hit by a car in the Newport Beach area, on a climb, and died a week later in the hospital. I believe it was from complications from one of his surgeries. Dan was in my thoughts on Saturday. I will miss you Dan.
At exactly mile marker 39 I saw Lisa again. I hadn’t seen her since early in the climb. She misunderstood me and thought I wanted her to go to mile marker 39 instead of what I really said which was mile marker 39 is near the summit. Oh well it was good to see her again. She was still taking pictures bless her. Seeing her, seeing mile marker 39 was all I needed for that last push to finish the climb– and the event!
When I reached the summit, I checked in with the timekeeper and I heard my time as 12:25 pm. I had done it I had set a new PR! At the time I thought my time was 5:25. But later I found out that I actually started at 7:01 and so my official time ended up being 5:24– even bettah 😉
I was interviewed on Hi-Definition video by my friend Chuck Bramwell. I CAN’T wait to see how tore up I look in that video 😦 I then went to the table and was disappointed again with the food choices. Luckily, I found two hard boiled eggs — awesome good healthy protein!! I didn’t hang out at all at the summit. I still had to drive to San Diego to pick up my son. As soon as I had some food in me and fluids on board I took off down the mountain. It’s another 1 hour 40 minutes to get down so you need to eat at the top.
The food at Redlands was supplied by Bristol Farms. It was Mexican fare and it was very tasty.
Lastly a treat for my friends at Lunar Health and Wellness in Newport Beach
My friend and multi-category hall of fame cyclist John Howard, and I spent a few minutes chatting at Onyx Summit. My relationship with John began back in 2003. I had just completed my first year of Ultras. I had no clue what I was doing about bike fit, stretching and riding a bike– seriously. For those that are new to my blog here is a quick recap. In 2003, I completed the Grand Tour Highland Triple Century- 300 miles (yes that was my first Ultra cycling event– crazy yes I know) in June, the Tour of Two Forests in September, and the Death Valley Double Century in October. I suffered incredibly my first three events. The summer of 2003 was a very hot. The Did Not Finish (DNF) was more than 50% at the Death Valley Double Century where it was over 100 F degrees.
Here is an excerpt from the Event Promoter’s report:
“Hotter than hell” temps made for a tough day for everyone at the annual Fall Death Valley Century and Double Century, held October 18. With the mercury rising beyond 100 degrees, just 76 of 169 double riders completed the 200 mile distance,”
2003 Death Valley Double Century Southern Route I finished 14th, 14:42
I had only been back on the bike 8 weeks after two years completely off the bike when I did the Grand Tour Highland Triple. In 2001, I had sustained injuries when I crashed on my bike. I broke my left hand and jammed my neck as I pile-drived myself — headfirst at over 30 mph. My neck has never been the same and hurts like hell when I ride my Ultras. Dealing with that pain takes my mind off of the other things that hurt while riding 😉 By the way, before that crash and subsequent two year hiatus off the bike, I had never ridden more than 125 miles ever!!
In the winter of 2003, I called on John Howard to help me with the essentials – like BIKE FIT! Duh! He set me up very comfortably and powerfully according to the Compu-Trainer. He then gave me a hand-out with stretches but also demonstrated the proper way to perform them. We then had a discussion on nutrition which is a very important element of Ultra Cycling. After the official business concluded we talked about his achievements and my dreams. I was so inspired I couldn’t wait for the 2004 season to start.
My relationship with John has continued through the years as I have called on him for advice from time to time. In 2007, his facility along with John Martinez sponsored my two-person Race Across America team. Here’s an interesting little story. One day in 2009, on the Wednesday Camp Pendleton ride we were at Starbucks in Carlsbad getting ready to roll off. John showed up and he greeted me by saying “Hey Mr Ultra” . I looked at him and said, “John if anyone is Mr Ultra it would be you!”
Well now our paths cross again. He is a strong proponent of CVAC sessions. Here is a recent article John has written about his experience with CVAC and his success at El Tour de Tucson as a 63 year-old. I have recently stated taking CVAC sessions. I was initially interested in the performance gains I may obtain. But I also learned that my exercise induced asthma and sleeping issues might also be helped by CVAC sessions. What are CVAC sessions?
What is the CVAC™ process?
Answer: The Cyclic Variations in Altitude Conditioning™ (CVAC™) process is a patent-pending methodology that applies rhythm-based changes to pressure, temperature and air. A proprietary, high-performance altitude simulator is required to deliver the CVAC process.
Although I have just started taking CVAC sessions I may be receiving performance gains. I have PR’d a local hill climb in Newport Beach, Newport Coast Drive by 19 seconds! And now at Breathless Agony I PR by 16 minutes! I’m training a whole lot less because of my work schedule so something’s going on. Let’s wait and see how the rest of the season plays out. Meanwhile wish to thank the good folks over at Lunar Health and Wellness in Newport Beach. Thank you for helping me achieve my goals this year.
John Howard and George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas
Thank you for reading my blog. Please pass it along to your friends, subscribe to it, and post comments if you feel so inclined.
George, great rr, worth the wait.
I didn’t do as well but I’m still happy with my performance (8:01). I don’t know why I enjoy BA so much, but I do. I was amazed how fast you flew by me on Damnation Alley. Before I could get a word out you were 30 feet in front of me. I’m following your blog and I really like your tidbits of wisdom and training hints. I also was a little disappointed that the website claimed there’d be Hammer Nutrition products there but they all told me they were gone a long time ago. I didn’t bring any gel or fiz tablets because I thought there would be some there like the website said. Oh well, live and learn. I still have Davis and the Highland Triple coming up. I might get a chance to say hello next time if you’re doing either of these.
By George, it is me. Literally.
I gotta tell you, this has been as great day. Started with a really good club ride with my bros, Grant, Jared, Varton and two new riders.
When I get home, checking the internet whilst I inbibe my post workout shake, I find your awesome report and see myself. Cool.
Further reading, you’ve also included, Former Olympian and fastest man in the world, John Howard, one of my cycling idols from my younger years.
I thought I saw him at the start in the morning, but I couldn’t be sure. He was gone before I could get close enough to tell.
The recount of the ride is very familar. This kind of info is very helpful to others. And myself.
An awesome report all the way around. Keep up the good work.
Great report. I love the stories and the overall narrative of HOW you’ve developed as an ultra-cyclist over time. You prove that your cycling achievements aren’t the result of a super-gene, but of years of hard work, motivation, commitment, and dedication to long distance cycling. You make what you’ve achieved accessible to ANYONE who takes the time to follow a path similar to yours. Thank you for this!
Thank you for reading my blog. You always have a way of coming away with the message I’m trying to impart on my readers. It takes mental and physical endurance to put in the work necessary to become good at endurance events. When I was starting out in 2003 someone told me “It’s going to take you 5-7 years before you are going to be good at Ultras”. I shrugged it off thinking — nah I will do it in less because I’m driven, motivated and crazy enough to make it happen sooner. Well….I’m here to tell you that this is my 9th season at Ultras and finally the pieces are falling together. The hard fact for people to grasp is that you have to train A LOT, HARD and INTELLIGENTLY if you wish to be successful at Ultras and are not genetically predisposed like some freaks of nature I know.
Take for example the ride I did today almost 170 miles unsupported in the remote section of Hwy 39. The ride is made tough because there isn’t anywhere where to get fluids or food on the 32 mile climb and descend. Yeah that’s how you HARDEN THE FUCK UP! Just the Dawson Saddle climb is longer than most of the club rides I attend here in Orange County! But that’s what I mean about putting in the work to get better. I am the average Joe, I work 60 hours a week, I am father, coach and still have to find time to train.
Stay tuned for my latest adventure….
Great report, I was at the l’etape in Claremont on the 7th. great to know there are other rides on this date. May be back out there…it is some spectacular riding.
Your position on the bike is excellent and your pedaling mechanics are spot on – I was a little surprised and then read about your relationship with John Howard.
Keep riding and blogging, very enjoyable.
Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to make a comment.
Well we can switch events next year I will do the E’tape and you will do Breathless Agony.
Yes John Howard did my initial fit but that was back in 2003. I have had many bikes, shoes, pedals, saddles, handlebars and stems since then. I have fit myself over the years.
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