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Finished: Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge

2018 Alta Alpina Challenge 8-Pass Challenge bib, complete with all 8 stickers

The Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge is the hardest double century in the country; see the notes on that page.

As Larry O'Conner of OWC / (highly recommended) might say: “onward and upward”.

Well, and downward too, as what goes up must come down in the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge Double Century.

This year’s challenges

This year’s Alta Alpina was particularly difficult for me, for multiple reasons:

  • 10 pounds heavier than in 2012, my training season having been interrupted by my concussion. Ten pounds is the kiss of death, so to speak, for 20,500' feet of climbing.
  • Nagging back pain as discussed, caused by tight gluteus medius the weeks prior, but I focused on resolving it (following the incredible overall fix by Dee Sickles), and got it sorted out prior with a day to spare. I did have to stop and stretch the gluteus medius 5 or 6 times to keep it from pulling on the lower back and causing pain, but after mile 65 everything settled in.
  • Concern about post-concussion brain fatigue as per The Terrible Two made me cautious about my pace, so I stopped much more often and longer than my wont.
  • A two-day post-concussion event (I won’t go into that here) ending only the 10 hours prior to event start; I wasn’t sure I could even do a single pass, let alone 8. It cleared up.
  • Downtime prior to Alta Alpina from the Terrible Two double century, with a full 7 days needed for my brain to recover from the , a lingering side-effect of my concussion.
  • I took off quite a bit of speed versus other riders (braking downhill), still being very cautious descending due to my recent concussion.
  • Unexpected: ongoing breathing issues due to repeated bronchospasms caused by pine pollen. Twelve (12!) puffs of my bronchodilator during Alta Alpina barely kept bronchospasms in check. I was unable to wear my N100 face mask on the higher/steeper climbs because it would collapse with deep inhalations. My lungs and diaphragm were tired and uncomfortable by the time I was done. I had similar but less severe issues back during the Eastern Sierra Double; I suspect the same pine pollen issue though it might have been something else (pines bloom earlier at lower elevations and later at higher elevations).


I didn’t know if my brain could handle one pass, let alone 8 given the two days prior; I had a post-concussion 'event' that I won’t go into here but it is/was like a storm that blows through—fortunately it blew on through by 8 PM the night before. Still, I felt the need to be cautious particularly on descents. So this was my strategy:

  • Go out at a steady pace with modest power and try to pace that way the whole time. I did not want to over-exert and tax my brain or get back pain going.
  • Descend taking off 5 to 10 mph, so my brain would not have to deal with too-fast visual input (too much visual processing is what seems to fry it, as in the Terrible Two).
  • Stop and stretch the gluteus medius any time I felt tension in my back. I did this 6, maybe 10 times (rest stops plus special stops just to stretch). After mile ~65 I did not have to do it anymore, and no back pain even at the finish.
  • Caffeinated more than usual (for brain), so I had three Mountain Dews: Ebbett Pass summit (both ways), plus summit of Monitor Pass West. This was in addition to the caffeine in the GU energy gel.

The strategy worked; I finished, which given the setbacks was a stretch goal (finishing 8 passes).

What I did not expect was the worst bronchospasms in at least a decade. I wore my N100 face mask for the first ~60 miles, but it began to collapse with the force of intense breathing up Carson Pass, and I had to stop using it. That proved an ill choice; I ended up using my bronchodilator about 12 times, which is at least 3X the daily max. But I had no other way to control the bronchospasms. How much did my lungs impede me? I’m not sure, no way to know.

2018 vs 2012 charts

My best ever finish: 2nd place in 2012 took 13:46 with roll time of 13:02.

Power output in 2012 was (normalized power) 216 watts versus 189 watts in 2018—27 watts higher, which is of course huge. Six years older, 10 pounds heavier (more stress), lungs, etc all contribute to that difference.

Power in watts, heart rate, elevation profile for Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge (2012)

Below, 2012 graph of my effort. I was ultra lean (8% body fat) and in peak condition. I finished strong as the green line for power (watts) shows.

Power in watts, heart rate, elevation profile for Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge (2012)
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