As a former competitive sprinter, I find that I still strive on challenges, and attempting to beat the clock.
With my GPS watch troubles on my second ascent of Pico de la Zarza two days prior that prevented not just a comparison to my previous effort but also others; and the knowledge that so far I hadn’t had perfect conditions, it was clear that there was still a challenge to be had before we were heading back to cold and wet Luxembourg.
With my first ascent on Tuesday in about 1h14 and the second ascent on Thursday in approximately 1h11, that left Saturday as the final opportunity to attack the Pico de la Zarza climb segment on Strava. Short of running a race, I suppose Strava is the next best thing to measuring yourself against other people and making sure you’re putting in a real effort. In this specific case, my 1h14 ascent time would have landed me on 6th place on the leaderboard, while my sub-1h11 time would have put me on #4. As of late March 2015 there were a handful people in this 1h10 to 1h15 range, and I figured that ascending faster than 1h10 was possible. This all pales of course to the leader of the board who is a lot faster, and ascended in just over 48 minutes. So really, the challenge for Saturday was “#2 or bust”.
Of course conditions were still not perfect – I set off at 11:24, which was both a little too close to the copious breakfast I’d had and exactly during the warmest phase of the day. I’m to blame for over-indulging on the hotel buffet, and since the wife wanted to check out the beach at the base of the climb and wanted to get going I couldn’t easily wait a few more hours. But at least the high winds from previous days had abated and there were no dark clouds in sight.
As a matter of fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all as I set off; and before I’d even covered the first two kilometers I’d already emptied most of my first bottle of water.
I still managed to be about two minutes faster on the two initial kilometers than during my first attempt four days ago. I tried to run as much as I could, but whenever my heart rate reached 170 to 175 beats I thought I’d be more prudent to power hike. Unfortunately, that meant that I hiked the majority of the steep stuff.
Compared to my two previous attempts, the trail was somewhat busier, and on the way up I passed maybe 10 people. It was a little reassuring that even though I felt that I was moving slow (walking rather than running), I was still moving faster than Joe Average. Of course those “average” people probably had some choice words amongst themselves for the crazy guy moving past them and never even stopping once to “enjoy the view”. To each their own.
After 30 minutes, I’d covered 3.7km; which translates to almost half the distance. Elevation-wise, my watch logged me at about 350m of elevation (or about 380m of gain since the start). Some quick mental calculations confirmed that I should be able to finish under 1h10. I also realized that two days prior, I couldn’t have covered 400m of elevation by this point in time; because I was moving faster today yet hadn’t reached that number. I guess barometric elevation numbers on the 910XT can be off quite a bit when heading into changing weather.
After 45 minutes, I reached the plateau where the rocky track turns into brown earth and a few green shrubs start to show. It is almost level for a bit and then descends a little. I was able to hit a nice 5:30min/km pace for a few minutes, but then of course the final ascent started.
I was feeling quite depleted, and despite wanting to push, my heart rate just wouldn’t let me. For most of the remainder of the climb, I was steadily hovering around 175bpm even when walking. I suppose doing this kind of effort three times in a week was taking its toll.
I finally made it to the top in 1h06:33; fast enough to be #2 on the segment but a humbling 18 minutes behind #1.
There were a few people at the top, including a couple sitting just next to the stone pillar that marks the highpoint. Quite why people always insist to do their food break in the prime spot that other people want to get to (to merely tag, or to capture on photo) even though there’s plenty of space around is something I still haven’t understood.
I turned around and bounded down the trail. And as I write this and deliberately choose the term “bound”, I still have a smile on my face because running down the initial kilometer was quite enjoyable. First of all because the climb was finally over and moving forward suddenly felt so easy; but also because moving fast over uneven terrain produces an exciting adrenaline rush. Too bad a full time job and a history of injuries that I need to manage mean I can’t do too much of said bounding down a mountain.
At one point, I still stopped to smell the flowers, though. Often it’s just a meaningless proverb, but with the absence of wind the smell of the flowers hung in the air, testament of the arrival of spring and the rain fall these slopes had seen lately.
I continued down trail, almost without a break this time around, and hit a few kilometers in 6min/km pace. A far cry from what real ultra runners can do on a downhill, but I’ll take what I can get.
I arrived back at the car about 1h55 after setting off, for a 49 minute descent.