Sunday, August 1, 2010

2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

100 miles, 10225 feet total elevation,
9:45 total time (8:30 on the bicycle)

I did this century three years ago, and I have wanted to do it again ever since. I was barely able to finish that time due to exhaustion. I wanted to redo it and finish strong, but each year I had a schedule conflict. This year my weekend was free, but I did not think I had the necessary training.

This is probably the hardest 100 mile ride that I have ever done, due to the total elevation and the steepness of the hills. The Death Ride is comparable since it has a similar ratio of elevation to miles. The Death Ride is 40% longer, but the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge has steeper hills.

In spite of my lack of training, I decided to give this ride a try. I have a good familiarity with the roads in the area, and there are options for cutting the ride short if needed. I knew it would be difficult, but my goal was simply to finish without too much struggle.

6:45am, 0 miles, 0 feet total

I woke up at 4:45am and left home by 5:45am. I made the 45 minute drive to Scotts Valley, the start of the ride, which is near Santa Cruz. It took extra time to get registered because they did not have my name on the list of riders. Because I registered online and paid with Vaishali's PayPal account, they had her name on the list instead of mine. Once that confusion was cleared, I started.

The route was counter-clockwise, starting and ending in Scotts Valley.

It was distinctly cold at the beginning. Scotts Valley was shrouded in a thick blanket of fog, and the early morning sun was not heating up anything. Although my teeth were chattering, I was happy to experience this. One of the main reasons for my struggles three years ago was the heat. We have been having a cold summer this year and today was typical. A cool day meant it was less likely for me to overheat on the climbs. As soon as I started uphill on Mountain Charlie Road, the first major climb, I warmed up. By the time I reached the summit, we were above the fog layer and the bright sun was warm. (Usually the mountaintop is colder than the valley, but not today.)

There was a water stop at the summit, but I had no need to break there. I immediately began the descent to the town of Boulder Creek, and back to the chill. I did not rest long because I did not want to cool down too much. I made sure to eat some high calorie food (cookie, bagel, banana bread) in preparation for the two steep hills coming up.

8:20am, 21 miles, 2225 feet total

After a couple relatively flat miles, I reached the second major climb of the route -- China Grade Road. Although it is exceptionally steep, it is mercifully short (relatively). The steep portion is only 1.25 miles. I knew I would have little problem with it. My goal was to not push myself too hard and use up too much energy. Several cyclists passed me but I found myself behind one who was going between 3.5 and 4 miles per hour. I was averaging slightly more, and I had an urge to pass him, but I decided to let him pace me and preserve some strength. I reached the summit and immediately continued downhill. This was a mini-loop which took me back to the base of China Grade, and to the next rest stop.

9:50am, 34 miles, 4100 feet total

Again I minimized my rest time and made sure to eat. Now I was to tackle what I expected to be my biggest challenge of the day -- Jamison Creek Road. Last time I did this ride, I could not make it to the top without having to stop. This road is ridiculously steep. The grade is comparable to China Grade, but it is nearly three times as long. My previous effort was hampered by the high temperatures, which totally drained me. This time it was much cooler. To my surprise, I kept a steady pace and was not wiped out when I reached the top. The ride organizers measured everyone on this stretch, and my time was 319 out of 470 riders. Although this is not an impressive percentile, it is better than I thought possible. I was in good spirits when I arrived at the lunch stop.

Reaching the top of Jamison Creek Road.

11:00am, 43 miles, 6000 feet total

I decided to rest here more than I had at the earlier stops. I ate slowly and chatted with some other riders. It was nice knowing that most of the elevation has been done and the two steepest roads were past. I headed out 3o minutes after I arrived. The next portion was a long descent to the Pacific coast. This essentially was continued rest time since I did not have to expend much energy.

After reaching the coast, we headed north along Highway 1 and then turned around. This involved some smaller climbs, and I could tell that my legs were not as fresh as earlier. I pulled into the last rest area. Even though I wanted to eat to fuel up, I had no appetite. The only thing I could manage to consume was a can of soda.

1:15pm, 66 miles, 7125 feet total

We then headed back from the coast on the fourth big climb of the day - Bonny Doon Road. It was my first time on this road, and I had wanted to try it for a long time. For the past two years, this climb was part of the Tour of California (professional bicycle race) route. I did not realize how difficult it was. The three miles of consistent 9% grade was not as steep as China Grade or Jamison Creek, but having used up most of my energy on the previous climbs, this one was hard for me.

Actually my core energy was fine. I did not feel weak or dizzy. The problem was that my leg muscles were fully used up and I could not push myself beyond a slow crawl. I simply kept it in low gear and accepted the slow pace. I could tell that I would have no problem finishing, but that any remaining hills (even the small ones) would slow me down. After this climb, we again headed back to the coast, this time into the town of Santa Cruz. Now my energy level did finally crash. But because I was in the city, it was not an issue. I stopped at a corner store and bought a chocolate bar. I felt the effect almost immediately, and I knew the final moderate hill to the finish would be no problem.

4:30pm, 100 miles, 10225 feet total

I reached the end with great satisfaction. The last time I did it, I was dazed and energy-less. This time I felt good. I ate the dinner provided and then headed home. I usually recover quickly, but the next day my legs were much more sore than usual. I expected this since I really shredded my leg muscles. It was a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that I am still capable of riding strong.

This could be my last century of the year. The remaining ones on the calendar are either too far out of town, or are familiar nearby routes that are not interesting or not challenging enough. Still, there are a couple that I could possibly work into my schedule. I will definitely try some more long rides with friends.