There are many ways to measure performance. Some are direct and quantifiable like your weight on a scale or functional threshold power, while others are more subjective like how you feel on a ride or whether or not you can get on top of the right gear. We all use some combination of these measures to assess our condition.
One of my key numbers is my time climbing the Bolton Valley access road. The 4+ mile climb averages over 10% grade and has extended sections that get as steep as 17%. In my opinion it is the toughest paved climb in the state of Vermont.
I have a long and complicated relationship with Bolton. As a collegiate racer I did several XC events there, and my results were never inspiring. The courses were littered with climbs and freshly cut, root-infested, tough, slippery singletrack.
My first attempt to ride up the access road was a tough one, and I ended up taking a very long time to get all the way to the top, grinding and standing on my 39 x 25 low gear. Two years later I would try it again and would have a much easier time getting to the top, though I did it more for the feeling of accomplishment than for a time as I didn’t take note of how long it took.
All of that changed in 2009 when Spinney called me to go for a ride "to Bolton". When I talk about a ride to Bolton it's usually just to the Bolton Town Hall on Route 2 and back- an easy 45 minute spin. "Sure," I told Spinney. "I'll go."
When we met up for the ride I realized he meant climbing to the top of the access road, not just riding to the town and tackling the roughly 200 feet of vertical gain over 14 miles. No, we were going all the way to the top, all 4 miles and all 1700 vertical feet.
I plodded, tacked, and pried the pedals for almost an hour getting to the top, but I got there without stopping. It was a turning point- I knew I could do it, and I knew if I had lower gearing I could go faster.
Over the course of that summer I made several more attempts on the climb and set a new personal record almost 15 minutes faster than the ascent earlier in the spring. Over the course of 2010 I continued to make regular efforts and set a new PR in August that was 90 seconds faster than my previous best.
Yesterday I tried again. I had already climbed it once several weeks ago when the snow was still melting off and with a 12 x 25 cassette. It went reasonably well as I established my second-best ever time, a remarkably good sign for April.
On Wednesday I'd done a short, hard ride where I rode home into the wind to avoid and oncoming thunder storm. I was only out for 90 minutes, but the intense wind and desire to stay as dry as possible made it a modest effort. With some sense of fatigue I swapped out my cassette for the hill smashing 11 x 26 and headed out.
I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t think I was going to explode either. It was hot- over 80 degrees at the start, and much warmer than I was accustomed to. At a deliberate pace I made my way up the climb and stayed seated as much as possible, standing only when necessary.
The result of my effort was a new second-best time, although I prefer to view it as my new early season record. Next month I'll try it again, and I won't burn so many matches the day before.