Wednesday, September 15, 2010

6 2010 Highlander Highathlon

Bike Ride : 130 miles
10,000 Ft of climbing
Ride Time : 10 hours
Day : Saturday, 11 Sept
Location : Finger Lakes, NY

Run Distance : Full Marathon
Time : 4:20 hours
Day : Sunday, 12 Sept
Location : Rochester NY

I have been away for more than a week or so from this blog mainly because of my preparation for this event, what they call a Highathlon. I did it!! Now I'm recovering from some kind of over-training symptom but I'm okay. The above video is a satellite flyby of my weekend adventure, easily one of the toughest things I ever had to do in life so far.

The bike ride is one of the most challenging in the country and few people have even heard about it. This year, the folks with the Highlander Cycle Tour team aptly called the marquee ride "Death Before Dismount", a double metric featuring over 10,000 feet of total climbing. The name is bit striking - it was perhaps telling the riders that if they were crazy enough to even think of doing something like this, they'd rather jump down a cliff and expire themselves than shamefully dismount the bike while attempting to traverse the sick inclines of the route. Was it in any fashion supposed to carry a reminder to ideals of the medieval Japanese Samurai? I don't know...

I have already mentioned last year why it manages to match (or even exceed) the difficulty of the Triple Bypass ride in Colorado. The ride features short, nasty, steep hills one after the other, all of them mostly in the range of 8-13% grade, like one giant rolling route on asphalt enhancing steroids. You are challenged constantly in finding a suitable gear and a rhythm to climb, unlike long climbs that take 20 or more minutes to complete where you can settle down at some point into a zone.

But on a full plate of luscious pain, you are served a side of some of the most beautiful views of the Finger Lakes area that you may ever see as you climb over 15 climbs in the region and visit both Canandaigua Lake and the oddly shaped Keuka Lake.

For the people who didn't think this ride was enough challenge, 10 or so folks including me ran the full marathon the very next day in Rochester. This was what they call the Highathlon.

Last year during the Highlander Century, I had painful seizures in my lower back and something slapped me in the face making me realize why its so important to build core strength to do an extreme event like this. This year, my core had no problem but I was suffering from cramps on the inside of the thighs during the last 30 miles. Some of the initial climbs were on newly chip-sealed roads so it was near to impossible to stand and pedal because of loss of traction.

At mile 90, the organizers wonderfully planted two asphalt walls before you - the initial sections of Skyline Rd followed by the infamous Yoder Hill - a climb that stands so naked and steep before you that it plays games with your mind. Most people who attempted the ride said this was the climb that took them out. Both roads are in the range of 10-12% average grade and its not unlikely to see a 18% or a 20% step here and there.

As the route unraveled itself over that day, we were constantly asking when this ordeal would be over but the roads near to the end at mile 110 were not easy either. Cold and tired, we found ourselves snailing across the last portions of 6 and 7% grades until we were back in Bristol Mountain after 10+ hours of ride time for a hearty meal and a chance to share an adventure with others who were just as tired as you were.

But in an event like this, its always the marathon that roundhouse kicks you straight in the face.

I woke up the next morning with 5-6 hours of sleep and choke full of Adrenaline with a capital A and started out the first 10 miles with 800 other people at a pace that I couldn't sustain for the complete run. 7:50 mile pace crashed down to 9 or 10 mile pace after mile 13 and all I wanted to do after then was just finish. The route was by no means flat and there were inclines along the historic East Ave as we passed sights like George Eastman House. Then there was a 2 or 3 mile section of Erie Canal trailway that featured nothing but gravel and the wretched stones didn't do good to my feet.

I guess pushing yourself like this doesn't come without some "gifts". :)

Hence, I ran my first marathon with painful blisters and a searing pain in both toes of my feet. Later, when I sprinted past the line at mile 26.2 in downtown Rochester at the Frontier Stadium, and crashed into the grass near me, I inspected my feet to find two nice black toenails on both feet. I limped over and got minimal medical attention just to make sure I wasn't going to lose my damn toes!

It was all going to be okay, said a medical staff. "Don't apply much pressure to the feet for a week, a new nail with grow and the old one will fall off." Me and a buddy who did the marathon together walked 1 mile back to his apartment with some shining medals around our necks. What a weekend!

Will I do it next year? If I have the time, you bet.

*   *   *


  1. That is pretty hard core. I've done super hilly double metrics (in the Adirondacks) and marathons but never on the same weekend. Black toenails mean you've arrived as a runner, congrats.

    If you are planning on doing it next year, maybe I'll join. Maybe!

  2. "a searing pain in both toes of my feet"


  3. peter4:24 PM

    You're insane. I'm trying to match this distance with an equivalent Tour de France route from this year. Wonder what that would be.

    Good luck in the healing process. I've had runner's toes before and usually within the first week, everything seems to be fine again and you can slip into a set of shoes.

  4. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Good work. What a great weekend.
    I am sure the ride was beautiful. The great state of Wisconsin is fortunate to have three (3!) similar rides:
    Horribly Hilly Hundreds
    Insane Terrain
    Dairyland Dare.
    All three are designed to take in as many hills as possible. The beauty of the DLD is that it offers a 300k option!!

  5. 300K sounds like a challenge. Those guys would be out there forever. The Highlander is organized in early Fall where you'll be hard pressed to find much sunlight after 7 or 7:30pm. I suppose if they wanted to offer a 300K option, they would have to shift the ride to summer. The temperature itself can induce a difficulty factor into the equation, not just the hills.

  6. Wow! Either one of those events is pretty remarkable. Back-to-back days is really impressive. Nutso even ;-) Here in WA we have the RAMROD (ride around Mt. Rainier in one day); 10kft./154mi. It's a dream ride of mine.

    A couple of questions:
    - What crank length/gear ratios did you use?
    - How did you create the flythrough and capture it to video? Very cool!


Thank you. I read every single comment.