Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 Best of the Bay Century

104 miles traveled, 8000 feet total elevation gain, 8:40 hours total (8:00 on the bicycle)

Finally I can write a ride report without complaints. I had enough time to prepare for this ride, and I was fully healthy. The Best of the Bay Century is a ride I have not done before. It falls on an open time in my calendar, so I decided I should try it. Unlike my other centuries, this one is not a complete loop — it starts in one city and ends in another city 35 miles away. So the entry fee includes a train ticket from one city to the other.

I woke up at 4:00am, got ready, and ate some breakfast. I left home at 5:00am and drove 30 minutes to the terminus in Fremont. I met the staffer there who checked me in and gave me the one-way train ticket to the start in Orinda. After a short wait, I and about 10 other participants boarded the first train of the day. It was a 45 minute ride, which included one transfer in Oakland.

About 90% of the riders arrive in Orinda, ride the course to Fremont, then take the train back in the afternoon. These participants have the benefit of starting earlier. I was constrained because there was no earlier train than the one I took.

7:00am , 0 miles, 0 feet

There are several course options because there is a short loop at the beginning and another short loop at the end. Rider can choose to do both, skip one, or skip both. My goal was to do the first loop and probably (depending on time and strength) skip the second one. It seems most riders skipped the first loop. The second is the more interesting one because it includes a steep hill. Doing the route with just one loop still covers 100 miles. I definitely wanted to do the first loop because that part was all new for me.

The start is near the loop at the top, and the finish is the endpoint near the bottom.

There were only a few riders on the first loop, and I chatted briefly with one as we rode together for a few minutes. I asked some questions about the route, since he had done it before. I finished the loop without seeing too many other riders. I continued on the route and the steeper climbs of the Berkeley hills started.

I was surprised that I had not yet reached the first rest stop. Eventually, I sensed that something was off with the route so I stopped and examined the map closely. That is when I discovered that I had missed a turn near the end of the loop. This meant that I had cut a few miles from the route, and that I had missed the first rest stop.

Although I was a little hungry, the main reason I needed the first rest stop was for the bathroom break. Fortunately where I stopped was at a park entrance with a public restroom. I deemed this my unofficial first rest stop. I decided that I could wait for food until the second official rest stop. Fortunately I had eaten food at home before starting so that was sustaining me (plus I was carrying an emergency snack with me in case I could not last that long).

9:25am, 21 miles, 3200 feet

This part of the route was the ascent of the east side of the Berkeley hills. Here there was an option of taking a "shortcut" on a short road called South Park Drive. Although this option trims a couple miles from the route, it actually makes it harder because losing those miles of distance means it is much steeper in covering the same elevation. As I rode along I finally saw the sign for the road and decided to take it. I was puzzled because the road started downhill. I thought this was weird, but I guessed it may start downhill then suddenly turn into a steep uphill. But the road became an even steeper downhill. Then I realized that I was backtracking! I had somehow missed the road at the bottom, so I took it from the top and headed back downhill. By this time I was more than halfway to the bottom, so I decided to go all the way so I could where I missed it. I then turned around and headed back uphill. This time my route mistake resulted in adding a couple miles, so it mostly compensated for my first mistake, distance-wise.

Shortly after, I reached the summit of this part of the route. Normally there is a fantastic view of San Francisco including both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. But at this time in the morning there was enough fog that the Golden Gate was barely visible. The route then plunged downhill into a undeveloped valley (via Pinehurst Road) where I reached the second rest stop.

10:45am, 40 miles, 3700 feet

The staffers here confirmed that the majority of riders had already passed through, because they had started earlier or skipped the first loop, or both. After some food and a bathroom break, I continued on. Although the whole morning had been colder than usual, I really felt the chill now. The valley was holding the cold air, the thick tree cover blocked out the sky, my 10 minutes off the bike made me lose some body heat, and the road pointed downhill for a couple miles (meaning I did not have the option of hard pedaling to warm me up). At this point I was noticeably shivering and my teeth were chattering. I was happy to see the road turn back uphill after a couple miles.

The road continued through an undeveloped valley (via Redwood Road) that felt more like the remote Sierra Nevada foothills than the edge of a major metropolitan center. Eventually the route led into the city of Castro Valley and the third rest stop.

11:45am, 58 miles, 5200 feet

Again, the route left the city and followed a valley on the undeveloped side of a mountain ridge (via Palomares Road). For the first time today, I no longer felt cold as sky fully cleared and the day's warmth finally built up. After not seeing many of my fellow riders for a long time, I managed to pass a couple. The miles and the hills were adding up and slowing me down, but I still had plenty of reserves. As I pulled into the lunch rest stop, I finished the part of the route that was new to me.

12:50pm, 72 miles, 6200 feet

The rest of the course was all on familiar roads, mainly Calaveras Road. As I passed the Calaveras Reservoir, I noticed the high water level that was the result of an extended, rainy winter this year. There were quite a few other cyclists on this stretch of road, most of whom were not part of this century ride. The uphill sections on this stretch were not steep, but they were taking their toll and draining me. I eventually made it to the final rest stop.

2:20pm, 89 miles, 7100 miles

Now I had to decide whether to do the final loop. I felt like I had enough energy left in reserve to do the steep slope of Sierra Road at a slow pace. But considering that I had done it many times before, I decided to save the hour and a half by skipping it. I could get a few things done at home with the extra time. The final part of the route was mostly flat and a mostly uninteresting roll through the town of Fremont.

3:35pm, 104 miles, 8000 feet

The ride ended at a buffet restaurant (Sweet Tomatoes) where the dinner was included with our ride. I indulged in the food and chatted with some other riders. The train station was only one mile from the restaurant, so I was able to quickly get there, pick up the car, and leave for home.

I was glad to have the chance to ride on some new roads. I am sure I will be doing a couple more centuries this season, but I have not decided exactly which ones. There are a couple challenging ones that I want to do, but I will need to improve my conditioning. We will see if I am able to do that.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sequoia Century 2010

112 miles traveled, 9200 feet total elevation gain, 10:20 hours total (9:10 on the bicycle)

I was finally able to do my first century of the year. I expected to have done at least one other century by now (in my last report, I mentioned the Mt Hamilton Challenge). But a combination of schedule conflicts, seasonal illness, and not enough preparation eliminated several centuries that I was interested in.

The Sequoia Century is not really an ideal "first" century after a layoff. The course changes regularly, but always contains several climbs, some of them fairly steep. The total elevation is usually around 9000 feet, which is more than most hilly centuries. But it fit into my schedule, so I decided I should just do it instead of waiting for another and risking not being free or in shape.

The route started near "Stanford" and was ridden clockwise.

Another draw for this one is that I would be able to ride with my friend Gabrielle. She is the rider who crashed at the railroad tracks the first time I rode the Sequoia Century three years ago. We coincidentally met again a few months ago during the King Ridge Gran Fondo. After that we got in touch with each other. We tried to do a training ride together, but could never find common times in our schedules (mostly my unavailability). This was a great opportunity to meet again.

Not surprisingly, this one almost got skipped like the others. Four days before the ride, I came down with a cold and a slight fever. I rested as much as possible to allow myself to get back to full health. My illness lingered on with a nasty cough, nasal congestion, and a slight fever. I would have to assess my health on the morning of the ride and make the decision to do it or not.

5:05am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I woke up at 4:00am, and started getting ready. I had no fever, but still had the cough. I decided to try to do as much of the route as possible. The organizers have several support vehicles patrolling the route, so if I had any trouble, I could easily flag one down and abandon the ride.

Gabrielle and I had decided to start the ride at 6:00am. I left home at 5:05am so that I could slowly ride the 9 miles from home to the official start and have enough time to rendezvous. I could have asked Vaishali to drop me and have left home a little later, but I did not want her to get out of bed early to do that.

The sun came out during this short stretch, and I was coughing and coughing most of the time. I spit out so much phlegm which meant I was either too sick to ride, or that I was getting my respiratory system cleared enough to enable the rest of the ride. I was hoping for the latter.

6:15am, 9 miles, 100 feet

After meeting with Gabrielle and her friend Denise, we got underway. This section of the route to the first rest stop starts flat and ends with the first big climb of they day. It also contained the steepest road of the day — the short but difficult Redwood Gulch Road. This was actually fortuitous for me, since it gave me a gauge of my fitness level right at the beginning.

I knew right away that I was not at 100%. I usually feel highly energized at the start of the big ride, due to adrenaline and high food intake, but this day I was feeling slightly sluggish. We all kept a moderate pace approaching the climb. On the climb, I kept a very slow pace (just above 4 mph). It was hard but I finished the steep section without serious problems. On the shallower climb to the summit, I felt drained and was being passed by rider after rider. I finished the steep part just behind Gabrielle, but she had been waiting at the rest stop for a few minutes.

8:10am, 27 miles, 2730 feet

After resting and eating, I recovered much of my energy, and it looked like my fever was not returning. At this decision point, I decided that I should continue. I had gone from feeling that I had a 50% chance of finishing to now a 75% chance. I felt surprisingly strong on the next section of downhills and uphills. A long downhill section gave me more opportunity to rest, in addition to the rest stop at the bottom.

10:00am, 50 miles, 3750 feet

Since my energy level seemed normal, I did not linger too long at the rest stop after eating and a short rest. The next section was a long, but not too steep climb. Here again, I was feeling sluggish. Upon reaching the summit, the course had a sequence of rolling uphills and downhills. Here, again, I felt stronger than expected. Now I was realizing that I had strength to handle short uphill bursts, but not the energy to sustain a long climb well.

Fortunately, with two long climbs already done, we had covered 2/3 of total elevation gain. There was one more significant climb left, but there was a long descent before it, plus the third rest stop (the lunch stop). Surprisingly, after the long descent down towards lunch, I lost some energy. I struggled a little the final few flat miles to the stop. I guessed I needed food and rest.

12:50pm, 77 miles, 6430 feet

Here there was another decision to be made. I was feeling strong enough to do the 100 mile route, but Gabrielle and Denise were originally planning to do the 200 km route. The two routes were the same until this point, but diverge (with the 200k adding an extra loop) after the rest stop, hence the decision. Although I felt it was possible to do the extra 24 miles (and 1000 feet elevation), I though it unnecessary, considering my state. I thought it would be wiser to just stick to 100 miles. Denise had some leg problems which made her also cut back to 100 miles, and Gabrielle chose to just join us on that route.

After eating, I rested a little extra time (25 minutes total at this stop). Gabrielle and Denise left just before I did. I would not see them again until the finish. Even with the extra rest, I felt sluggish after leaving. I basically plodded along at slow pace. There was one rest stop at the base of the next climb, so I just wanted to make it there and get some more rest.

2:15pm, 88 miles, 7010 feet

I barely ate at this stop, but I rested. Again, I stopped for 25 minutes, 10 minutes of which was a short nap at a picnic table. I decided not to stay longer and risk cooling off and stiffening, so I pushed on. Still the energy had not returned as I approached the climb — Tunitas Creek Road — which is several miles and moderately steep. Although my energy level was low, it was not zero. I was able to just keep going.

Somehow in the middle of the climb, I started recharging. As the energy came back, I was able to increase my pace. I started passing several of the riders who passed me at the bottom. They were losing energy as they climbed (which is typical for a steep hill), but somehow I was gaining. There was a small drinks stop at the summit, which I just rode past. It was all downhill or flat from here, and I was feeling good.

4:15pm, 112 miles, 9200 feet

I stopped 10 miles from the finish to call Vaishali. I told her I would be done in 30 minutes and she could meet me then. I kept a strong pace and finished well. Gabrielle and Denise were still resting at the finish so I chatted with them before they left. There was a lot of food there which I indulged in while waiting for Vaishali to arrive. She brought Aasha with her, and Aasha enjoyed a cracker, a cookie, and some nibbles of pasta with me.

I felt good returning home, but had very little energy the rest of the evening. This ride was a test of my fitness level, and I passed it. I was originally concerned about my fitness level, but doing this while still ill meant that I was much stronger than I expected. Now I feel comfortable trying a couple more centuries this year.