Saturday, August 4, 2007

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge 2007

100 miles traveled, 10000 feet total elevation gained, 11:30 hours total

I really enjoyed doing the Sequoia Century (read that report here) two months ago. That was the first century I ever did. I thought I should attempt another one this year since I am still in shape for it.

I chose this one because it is more challenging. Although it is shorter, there is more total elevation gained and some steeper slopes.

The quick summary is that I finished it, but just barely. The three big hills combined with the heat were almost too much for me. And nothing unusual happened to me (unlike the last century where I had to help an injured rider who crashed at the railroad tracks).

6:25am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I woke up at 4:00am, left home at 5:30am, and arrived at the starting point, Scotts Valley High School, around 6:00am. There was no traffic at that time, so the 30 mile drive took only half an hour. I got started on the ride at 6:25. The elevation of the start is 700 feet.
The left loop was done counter-clockwise, and the right loop clockwise.

The sun was low and it still was fairly chilly. But I did not put on my jacket because I knew the first big climb (Mountain Charlie Road) was coming up soon. This was the last big hill on the Sequoia Century route and I struggled that time. But this morning it was the first, and I felt fresh and strong. I made sure to keep a slower pace than what my legs wanted so I preserved energy that I was sure to need many miles later.

Quite a few strong riders kept passing me at this point. Although I was tempted to try to keep pace with them, I was content to let them zip by. There was about 5 miles of steep climbing, and several more miles of moderate climbing to come.

7:38am, 11 miles, 2200 feet

I reached the first rest stop. It was a small stop with water and no food. I had plenty of energy at this point and almost decided to skip it like most of the other people riding near me did. But I decided that it would be more sensible to stop, stretch, and refill my water. It was only a one minute stop, so it probably was a sensible decision.

Next was the 10 miles of moderate climbing, which was okay. We passed through the highest elevation point of the route, 3100 feet.

8:30am, 22 miles, 3635 feet

I reached the second rest stop, where they had food and drinks. Here it made sense to take a break and loosen up before the upcoming downhill section, so I stopped for 11 minutes. I ate half a banana, half an orange, and a cookie.

Upon leaving the rest stop and coasting downhill, I encountered something
very unusual. The rest stop is at 2600 feet elevation, and the down grade is steep enough to reach 30 miles per hour even without pedaling. Usually that elevation, plus the wind speed, plus that time of day combine for some very cold conditions. However, I did not feel cold at all. I recognized this as a bad sign — it was going to be a very hot day.

9:33am, 37 miles, 4440 feet

The route took me into Big Basin State Park, at which point the road had both uphill and downhill sections, but nothing too challenging. I stopped that the Big Basin Park Headquarters for a bathroom break. It was not an official ride stop, but having been here before, I knew there was a bathroom I could use.

9:53am, 39 miles, 5010 feet

I reached the third rest stop where I planned to spend a little time, even though I was not particularly tired yet. I was there for 8 minutes, and ate some more orange, banana, and two cookies. This was the last rest stop before the second big climb, the infamous Jamison Creek Road. Most of the conversations I overheard at this stop were people talking about how difficult this upcoming section was. I had actually done the road before. The first time I made it up all the way with no problems, but the second time I had to stop twice to catch my breath.

I was pretty confident that I would not have too much trouble this time. I did not have as much energy as when I started, but still felt fairly strong. The beginning of Jamison Creek starts not too steeply. A couple cars passed me in the opposite direction, and as soon as they passed I smelled the acrid, sulfuric odor of burned brake pads. That is pretty common because the top of the road is about two miles of nearly 12% average grade.

I started out well, at a slow and steady pace. After entering the steep section, the difference in speeds between all riders was greatly reduced. A lot of people were keeping the same 4 miles per hour pace that I was. I passed a few, but since I was barely going faster than them, I could chat with them briefly as I went by.

As I got further into the climb, it became more difficult. I was starting to feel the heat. Besides drinking my water, I was squirting it on my back and my chest to help cool off. My heart rate was high, and my breathing was labored, although I was not yet panting. I really wanted to make it to the top without stopping, but that possibility was diminishing. Finally, I started feeling light-headed and decided that the best choice at this point was to stop. I pulled over to the side of the road where there was some shade and stood there for two minutes. After that, I was able to continue the final half mile to the top.

11:10m, 46 miles, 6460 feet

The fourth rest stop was at the top of Jamison Creek Road. Although the lunch stop was only two miles away, most people needed to stop here. I was amazed at some of the strong riders who flew up Jamison Creek and did not even stop here. I stood at this point for about 8 minutes. I recovered some strength, but not much. It was clear that this climb drained me.

The two miles from the water stop to the lunch stop had only some moderate uphill sections, but in my weakened state, I found them difficult. I was not alone. A couple other riders kept pace with me. We rode at a normal pace on level ground, but struggled on the slight inclines. Clearly, my body's accessible energy reserves were completely exhausted. This was a good time for lunch, which was held at a California Department of Forestry fire station.

11:35am, 48 miles, 6815 feet

Well, there was a problem with the timing of lunch. After pulling into the lunch stop, I felt dizzy and nauseous after parking my bicycle. This is a clear sign of exhaustion. I walked around briefly before going into the building where they were serving the food. Although I desperately needed energy, the idea of putting food in my mouth was unpleasant.

I made a cheese sandwich and took a small potato and a can of cola. I slowly ate the sandwich, taking small bites and trying not to overwhelm my system by going through it too quickly. I took a bite out of the potato, but it was not fully cooked and soft. It was edible, but I thought it may not get digested with my system in the state that it was in, so I left it. I returned to the food line for two cookies, which were easier to eat. I could feel some energy returning, but was still generally drained.

I had another common symptom of exhaustion: I felt sleepy. As long as I felt this way, I knew I would not be able to go much further. I put my elbows on the table and held my face in my hands. I closed my eyes and rested like that for about 10 minutes. I did not really fall asleep, but I did get some good rest doing that.

After that, I thought about continuing. Different people came and left the table where I was seated during lunch. I chatted with them briefly. In all, I was at this stop for one hour, which is how long I thought I needed to rest and digest the food. Now I had to decide how to continue. If I really had no more energy, I could abort the ride I planned (the 100 mile route) and do the 100 km route. That involved no more climbs, and followed a mostly downhill route back to where we started. To this point both routes proceeded together, but five miles down, they split, rejoin, and split again.

By this point I felt much better. Quite a lot of my energy had come back, but I knew that having reached this level of exhaustion meant that I could get drained again very quickly. I knew that I did not have to abort immediately. I could do the split and rejoin and decide at that point how I felt.

I pushed off and took a very slow pace. The road had very moderate inclines and declines, but more of the latter. I took the split for the 100 mile route, which added a descent and climb that I had no problem with. When I rejoined, I felt like I was strong enough to do the full course, as planned.

1:44pm, 63 miles, 7610 feet

A steep downhill ended at Covered Bridge Park, which at 250 feet elevation, is the lowest point of the route. There was a water stop here, but I decided not to stop. The 100 km route split off back to the starting point, and I headed towards the third (and last) big climb of the route.

I had been on the road (Zayante) before, so I knew that it started out fairly flat for a while before increasing in steepness, with a couple very steep sections. This was perfect for me because by keeping a slow pace, I could continue rebuilding my energy reserves before hitting the hard parts. The difficulty of this climb is comparable to the first one (Mountain Charlie), but not as hard as the second one (Jamison Creek). I felt that I had a good chance to make it.

2:30pm, 71 miles, 8440 feet

By this point in the ride, people were bunched in groups that were keeping the same speed. Earlier on, people were fresh and some kept an aggressive pace while others were conservative. Plus the 100 mile and 100 km groups were combined. But now most were on low reserves and keeping a steady pace, plus we only had 100 mile route riders. There was a water stop before the point where the road became steep. I lingered there for a few minutes. I had run low on energy again, but not fully exhausted. I thought it best to allow a little recharging.

The road got steeper, the heat became oppressive, and again I started running low on energy. The stops I made changed from preemptive attempts to maintain energy to mandatory energy recovery stops. I was able to pedal for 10 minutes before having to stop and rest for one or two. Even though the ride up Jamison Creek had exhausted me, this part ended up being the most difficult part of the ride.

3:29pm, 74 miles, 9365 feet

I finally reached the end of Zayante. I needed to continue two more miles to the rest stop. This part of the route was still uphill, but at a lesser grade, so it was not too much of a struggle.

3:42pm, 76 miles, 9545 feet

I dragged myself into the the last fully supported rest stop. My only immediate concern was to rest and recharge. Again, I was nauseous and could not really eat, even though I needed the energy.
I slowly drank a soda and sat mostly motionless and rested. With some effort, I was able to eat a cookie. I really needed the potassium, so I forced myself to eat some orange. I thought I should also have some banana, but I did not think I could stomach it.

Most of the cyclists at this stop were in the same situation as I. This rest stop was scheduled to officially close at 4:00, and the ride as a whole was officially ending at 5:00. I overheard people discussing the same thoughts I was having — whether to continue the full route, or take a shortcut that goes directly to the start/finish. There was a two-fold problem in continuing with the course. First, although it was mostly downhill, it also contained two moderate climbs (and the thought of going uphill again after the recent struggle was not pleasant).

Second, it was 25 more miles, and there was no way to keep a pace to reach the finish by the closing time of 5:00. This is only a problem because there was no guarantee of support vehicles being available to pick up riders who could not continue.

The ride crew had started dismantling the stop, but they were going to linger there longer because there were more riders on the course behind me. I ended up stopping for 30 minutes. In this time I was able to recover a decent amount of energy. I decided that I was going to do the full route. It was about 20 miles until the next climb, and most of the way there was downhill. I figured I could continue rebuilding my energy while I coasted. Several other people who contemplated abandonment made the same decision.

A pair of cyclists started from the rest stop about the same time as me, and we kept nearly the same pace. I would pass them on the inclines, and they would pass me on the descents. The remaining two small climbs turned out to not be too difficult. I did not have to stop at all, but I kept a very slow pace.

6:00pm, 100 miles, 10890 feet

I reached the finish without any problem. It was an hour after the official close, and the parking lot was sparse. I rode directly to the car and immediately put the bicycle on the rack. I walked to the setup area and found they still had some of the food for dinner available, so I ate some mushroom pasta and garlic bread. Plus another soda. I must have had 4 or 5 cans this day. It usually takes me two months to drink that many, since I generally avoid them.

It felt good to be done. I was so glad that I had not cut the ride short. It was disappointing that I struggled so much, but I think I would have been pretty unhappy to not have finished it. I was tired, and my back and neck hurt. My butt had gotten sore but not as much as the last century.

It was a long day. I woke up at 4:00am, left home at 5:30, returned home at 8:00pm, and went to sleep at 9:00. Then I got 10 hours of solid, sound sleep.

I think this is my last century this year. Most of them are organized in the summer anyway. I think I will do one or two next year. My next goal is to do some biking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is harder than biking the hills here in the Bay Area. The roads are not necessarily longer or steeper, but they are at a much higher elevation, meaning that oxygen is more scarce.

I have made a lot of progress in increasing my conditioning since I started my serious cycling a year ago. But clearly I have not come close to reaching the levels that are possible. I need to keep training to get closer to what some of the stronger riders could do.

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