Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mt Hamilton Challenge

125 miles, 8000 feet total elevation gain,
12 hours total (10 hours on the bicycle)

I made a late decision to do my first century of this year — the 39th annual Mt. Hamilton Challenge. I thought that this one would be good preparation for the Death Ride, since it is the same distance although only about half the elevation. It is definitely easier than the Death Ride, but it fits into my training plan nicely and it starts and ends very close to my home.

This is one of the more low-key organized centuries. They do not provide any food. Riders bring three bags of food to the start, and they transport one to each of the three rest stops on the route.

Click for an interactive map.

6:30am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I woke up at 5:00 to get ready, eating a few cookies to get some fuel into my system. Vaishali dropped me at Wilcox High School in Santa Clara (very close to our old house). I got signed in at 6:15. My friend Ravi (who I mentioned in my last report) decided to join me for just the first part of the ride, so I waited for him.

Click to see a larger picture.
This is Mt. Hamilton viewed from Wilcox High School (the start).
The white buildings on the summit are Lick Observatory, the location of
the first rest stop. It is 35 miles away from and 4100 feet above the start.

We left at sunrise (6:30) and most of the city roads were still empty at that time. We traveled through Silicon Valley for 10 miles to get to the base of the hills, and then started the climb of Mt. Hamilton. There were quite a few cyclists on the road. Some were doing the same century, but many were just riding on their own. We encountered two guys on a training ride who were Death Ride veterans, so I chatted with them about their experiences.

9:45am, 35 miles, 4300 feet

We reached the summit faster than I expected. I had kept a faster pace than I normally would have because I wanted to push myself. Since there was food and support along the route, there was no worry of getting stranded.

We rested at Lick Observatory at the summit and ate some food (I packed an orange, banana, and a few cookies). After a 20 minute rest, we parted. Ravi returned the way we came, and I continued down the other side of the mountain. This part of the route is very scenic and feels totally remote. There is no development along the road except for a few scattered ranches.

The biggest single climb was finished with Mt. Hamilton, but this part of Mines Road has several smaller ascents and descents. Although much of the road is flat, we were going directly into a steady headwind. I had not expected that, so I was using much more energy than I thought I would be.

12:25, 63 miles, 7000 feet

The second rest stop was set up on Mines Road at roughly the halfway point of the whole route. I was pretty tired when I reached this point, though not exhausted. I was told that the rest of Mines Rd to Livermore was all downhill. This meant that I did not have to take a very long break here since I would be using less energy for a while.

Video of rest stop #2.

I had been drinking plenty of water during the ride, but surprisingly I urinated very little. The day was fairly warm, and predicted to get to the lower 80's in Livermore and Pleasanton, so I needed to make myself drink even more to avoid dehydration.

Because I was so tired, I had no appetite. Still, I forced myself to eat everything I had packed (orange, pasta, few cookies) since I knew I needed the energy. I drank as much water as I could and filled my two water bottles. This time it was a 30 minute break.

2:45pm, 91 miles, 7000 feet

Mines Rd headed downhill for 18 miles to Livermore, then the route took us east to Pleasanton and was flat. This was the easiest stretch of the whole route. I even managed to keep a 20 mile per hour pace on the flat ground. I did not expect to have enough energy for that.

Two short (and very shaky) clips of Mines Road between rest stop 2 and Livermore.

This rest stop was at a city park, so we ate our food on picnic benches. Again, I had zero appetite but made myself eat all my food (same what I had at rest stop 2). And again, I barely urinated despite drinking plenty of water. When I reached this rest stop, I, and many other cyclists, had a layer of salt encrusted on our faces; evidence of how much water and salt we were losing.

The one thing I forgot to pack was pretzels. I planned on keeping some with me so I could use them to replenish my salt. But so far I had not been feeling any serious effects of dehydration.

Cyclist relaxing in the shade at rest stop 3.

Like at the last stop, I rested for 30 minutes. Upon leaving the rest area, I felt surprisingly tired. The majority of climbing was finished, but I still had 1000 feet of elevation gain on Calaveras road in the 35 miles remaining. Considering that that was a fraction of the elevation and mileage that I had already done, I was not too concerned.

The route to Calaveras Rd was mostly flat, and Calaveras has no steep slopes — it is a mostly steady ascent followed by a descent. Once I started climbing, I began feeling the effects of exhaustion. I had burned all my available energy stores, and the food from the last rest stop was not digesting. I had a headache, nausea, and felt light-headed. Drinking water was difficult because that increased my nausea. I was tempted to stop by the side of the road, but instead I just kept a slow pace.

5:45pm, 110 miles, 8000 feet

After the gradual descent, Calaveras turns into a steep descent back to Silicon Valley. I did not feel comfortable doing this descent while still feeling dizzy. I knew there was a park at the beginning of the steep descent, so I stopped there.

I found an empty picnic table and sat down with my head on the table. I rested like this for 15-20 minutes. That made all the difference. After getting back up, I did not feel the food sitting like a brick in my stomach like I had earlier. Clearly it had digested because I had energy again.

6:45pm, 125 miles, 8000 feet

The descent back to the valley was no problem. Now I had just 10 more flat miles back to Wilcox high school. I and a small group of riders got bunched together by the timing of the signal lights. The ride back to the start was uneventful.

7:15pm, 130 miles, 8000 feet

I called Vaishali when I finished and told her not to pick me up — I wanted to ride the extra 4 miles home. I had the energy, and after 125 miles, an extra 4 on flat ground is really nothing. I felt pretty good when I got home, but I was tired. I showered, told Vaishali about the ride and showed her some pictures, and drank a can of soda (to replenish blood sugar), then went to bed before 8:30.

It ended up being a very enjoyable ride, despite the battle with exhaustion. The mistake I made was that I should have rested longer at the last rest stop to allow the food to digest, and I should have consumed salt to replenish the massive amount of sodium I lost. The exhaustion may not have hit me (or at least not hit me as hard) if I had not become dehydrated.

I think my performance indicates that I am getting close to being in shape for the Death Ride. Of course that route is harder, but I would be keeping a slower pace that what I did on this day. I have plenty of time to increase my conditioning and I feel confident that I will.


Ravi said...

Nice ride report. Good job !! You are right on track for the DR. Funny how almost everyone goes through the similar thing - when tired, losing appetite. I guess you need enough energy to digest the food as well. You can try drinking warm/hot water to sort of help the digestion. And when your system does not take in any thing solid, you need to continue to make sure you get at least some liquid calories. Too bad you had headwinds on mines. Atleast you got some draft after Calaveras.

Anonymous said...

Hey Murali,
Well done. Great job. I think deciding to take this ride was good decision. This experience has a great value rather than just reading or listening from someone. Keep up the practice foe DR.