Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mt Hamilton Challenge

130 total miles,
8000 feet total elevation gain,
12 hours 10 minutes total time
(10 hours 20 minutes on the bicycle)

I decided to do my first century of the year. I did the Mt. Hamilton Challenge last year, and this year it fit perfectly in my schedule. The three weekends before and two after were not available due to travel. I could not pass up the chance to do this challenging ride since it fell on an open weekend.

But there were several obstacles in my way:

  1. I have not been doing long rides regularly for months.
  2. I was recovering from a sore hamstring.
  3. I had been sick with a cold since a few days before the ride.
Number (1) did not bother me too much because I have been keeping in shape riding my trainer, so I knew I had the stamina. My concern with this is since I have not given my muscles this long a workout for several months, they could cramp.

I was not that concerned with number (2) because my leg felt good the night before the ride. I do not know how I injured it. It was sore from one week before the event. I had been careful to stretch it each morning and evening to get it healed and loose, so it had been getting better.

Number (3) was the main concern. I do not get sick that often, so I was annoyed that it would happen on the date that I wanted to do a century. I did not know if it would be possible to ride while sick, so I was hoping for a full recovery before the event.

I went about my preparations with the assumption that I would be fully healthy by the day of the ride. I planned all the details, and even cooked pasta Thursday night for the ride. (We have to provide our own food for this ride — I give them one bag of food for each rest stop.)

By Friday night, I still had congestion, runny nose, and a headache. My only hope was to continue preparing as though I would be recovered by the next morning. If that happened, I would ride. If not, I would cancel.

I went to bed early, but did not sleep restfully. I woke up once with body aches, and woke up several other times to blow my nose. I woke up at 5:00 am with a sinus headache. That was not a good sign. I optimistically drank my coffee and started my preparations, even though I could not see how I could do it.

Somehow, by 5:45 am, I felt a rush of energy. My sinuses cleared and my aches went away. Maybe it was just adrenaline, but I now felt that the ride was doable. I finished my preparations and had Vaishali drop me at the start in Santa Clara (4 miles from home).

6:50am, 0 miles, 0 feet

The start ended up being a half hour later than I had planned. I had taken extra time getting ready in the morning because I was deciding whether to go or not. There was a contingency plan in case I started feeling sick again — I could decide at the top of Mt. Hamilton whether I would continue or whether I would abandon and coast back down to the start.

I was planning on keeping a relatively slow pace up Mt. Hamilton. Even though I was feeling better, I was still a little sick, so I did not want to exhaust myself early. Plus, I did not want to strain my leg in case that problem would return.

10:22am, 35 miles, 4300 feet

It was a relatively cool morning, and I expected it to be cold at the top. However, because it was completely sunny at the summit, it was not too bad. I sat in the sunlight and ate the peanut butter jelly sandwich I packed. I had also packed a small bag of cookies for each stop so I could eat them on the bike if I needed energy. I ate a few of these and put the rest in my pocket.

I was feeling still full of energy. My leg was feeling normal. This was enough for me to decide to continue with the ride. I put my jacket on for the steep descent. There have been some late rains this season, so there were many wildflowers in bloom in the meadows on the other side of Mt. Hamilton.

1:08pm, 63 miles, 7000 feet

The second rest stop is at the halfway point. By this point, the majority of the other riders were ahead of me. They either started before, or passed me. This stop was less crowded than when I did it last year because I was in the trailing group of slower riders.

Here I ate some of the pasta I made. I could tell that I lost a lot of sodium because the potato chips I packed did not taste salty at all, and neither did the V8. I also ate the croissant I packed, and was totally full. I had finished the cookies in my pocket along the way, and replaced them with a new bag.

By this point, the majority of the climbing was done. It was all downhill or flat to the next rest stop. Along the way, I started feeling some tightness in my leg. I kept this under control by standing and pedaling (to stretch the leg more), and by rubbing the back of my thigh as I rode. I kept doing this periodically for the rest of the ride and the leg never became a problem.

The final 10 mile flat stretch to the next stop were actually quite difficult. We had to ride straight into a strong wind. This slowed me down quite a bit. Last year we had no such winds, but it was hotter. Each is a different difficulty, but I would probably pick the heat if I had a choice.

3:33pm, 91 miles, 7000 feet

I pulled into the third rest stop and immediately gave Vaishali a call. The roads are so remote that there was no cell phone reception at either of the previous two rest stops. She knew that if I had any problems, she would have heard from me earlier. Still, she was happy to hear me report that I was doing great.

I had the same amount of food packed for this stop, but was less hungry at this point. I needed the energy, but did not want to overstuff myself and cause a stomach upset. I ate most of the pasta and some of the chips. I pocketed the croissant and another bag of cookies (I ate none from the previous bag on the way here). I guessed that these would make it back home untouched.

I was just a little concerned about the final 35 miles back to the start. I still had a good amount of energy, and the route was not as challenging as the first part, but last year I totally crashed here. This year I rested for at least 30 minutes at each stop to allow the food to start digesting properly.

The few small hills on this part of the route were difficult in my weakened state, but I took them slowly and steadily. I handled them much better than last year.

7:00pm, 125 miles, 8000 feet

I rolled to the finish feeling very happy with my decision to do the ride despite all the issues. When I talked to Vaishali at the previous stop, I told her not to pick me up here. Instead, I would just ride the 4 miles to home.

7:25pm, 130 miles, 8000 feet

I came home feeling triumphant and exhausted. I cleaned up, ate some dinner, and went straight to bed. As my adrenaline wore off, my illness symptoms returned. I felt chilled when I went to bed, and I woke up feeling hot in the middle of the night. I had nasal congestion again the next morning. Basically, I was still sick. I could not say if the ride made the illness worse. But it did not matter — I was willing to pay that price for the accomplishment.

This was not the hardest route I had ridden, but all the circumstances and timing made it difficult. It was a good test of my core fitness, and it felt great to pass.