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Orny's Cycling Journal

Ascending to 250,000 Feet


11 PMC Riding

Ascending to 250,000 Feet

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11 PMC Riding

I really don’t know what I was thinking.

Last year’s end-of-year summary included a chart of how much climbing I’d done over each of the past seven years, because after climbing 87,000 to 120,000 feet per year in Boston, my first year in Pittsburgh had tallied a record 190,000 feet. But having been forced to stop riding at the end of September, I added: “If I had ridden at the same pace for the last three months of 2016 I would have broken a quarter million feet.

You can see where this is headed, then? A quarter million feet of climbing in one year. That’s double or triple the climbing I’d done back in Boston. 76 vertical kilometers. Imagine climbing a mountain that stands 47 miles tall. That’s nearly nine times the height of Mt. Everest… Or a third of the way to Skylab’s orbital altitude!

Now take a look at the chart below (click for bigness). The pink (2016) and grey (2017) lines represent my two years here in Pittsburgh, and everything else is from Boston.

2017 climbing chart

My strategy throughout 2017 was to roughly do the same amount of climbing as I’d done at the same point in 2016. I started six weeks “behind schedule” after my exile to Maine, so I spent February through May catching up to my climbing from the year before. Once those two lines converged, I was back on track, and from June through September I mostly just kept pace with my 2016 numbers.

In October and November, my annual climbing goal was back-burnered while I focused on training for the Dirty Dozen. So although I was still doing a lot of climbing, my progress toward 250,000 feet was haphazard and untracked. And I had nothing to compare myself to once I surpassed by 2016 total…

After completing the Dirty Dozen at the end of November, I checked on my progress toward my mostly-forgotten climbing goal, and discovered that I already stood at 226,000 feet. I was still roughly on track to surpass a quarter million feet of climbing.

But I needed another 24,000 feet: an average of 667 feet per day. In the four previous months I’d averaged 905, 570, 785, and 705 feet per day, so it was certainly doable. But it would still take dedication to achieve, especially in the discouraging cold and snows of December.

Furthermore, my legs were shattered after the Dirty Dozen ride, and I was exhausted by 2½ months of hill climbing. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and spend another whole month doing hill repeats in sub-freezing weather!

But that’s exactly what I did. I spent the next four weeks burying more stupid hills beneath my wheels, accumulating the remaining vertical distance, and finally surpassing 250,000 feet on Christmas Eve. Happily, I didn’t have to endure any of those ridiculous Dirty Dozen ramps, but with much less time for rest and recovery, I did quite a job on my aching kneeballs.

If I was riding in Boston, a quarter million feet of ascent would be a huge accomplishment; but is it really a big deal here in Pittsburgh? After all, if I hadn’t been exiled to Maine last winter, I would have surpassed that threshold in both 2016 and 2017, just by doing my regular amount of riding.

Of course, that’s “regular” for years when I’m not working for a living, and thus able to spend more time in the saddle. Even here, 250,000 feet would be hard to achieve while working nine-to-five. So I’ll say that it was as a noteworthy achievement, especially in the context of my cycling career to date.

When I finished that goal-conquering ride on Christmas Eve, my overall mileage for the year stood at 3,996. Obviously, a numbers-obsessed rider like me wasn’t going to finish the year just 4 miles short of a round 4,000. So once more into the 17° weather for a final ten-mile ride to polish off the last milestone of the year.

Though noteworthy, riding 4,000 miles isn’t anywhere near a personal record; in Boston, I exceeded 4,000 miles per year three times. But the last time that happened was way back in 2010, meaning this has been the most I’ve ridden during any of the past seven years, and the most I’ve ever put on the (2013 vintage) R2-Di2 bike in any single season. So it’s worth noting for that.

Plugging those two numbers into a simple equation—a quarter million feet of climbing over four thousand miles—produces another factoid: over the entire 2017 season I averaged over 62 feet of climbing per mile ridden.

That’s a record amount of hilliness, topping last year’s 58 feet/mile. Thanks to Pittsburgh’s stupid topography, I doubled the 30-34 fpm I averaged in Boston.

All that put a nice cap on my 2017 cycling season, leaving me to take some time off to crunch some numbers and spit out my comprehensive “year in review” post. That will be posted shortly, since I’m finally declaring a belated start of my official “off-season”!

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