Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

100 miles, 11000 feet elevation

10:05 total time (8:35 on the bicycle)

5200 estimated calories burned

I have done only one century this year, which is fewer than usual.  I just have not had the time.  But I wanted to make sure to do at least one more, and I always try to do the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge.  So I decided to do it again this year.  That makes this the fourth time I have ridden it.

Here is a video summary that the organizers published from last year.  I actually appear in it at the 0:40 mark.  We did the same route this year, so all the sights and sounds would be similar.

Route Map.

One concern I had was whether my back would give me problems.  I hurt it two weeks ago and was having back spasms for two days.  It was bad enough that I could not stand up straight.  The weird thing was that I did not know exactly how I hurt it.  Previous times when I experienced the same thing, it was after picking up one of my kids awkwardly or some similar strain.  It had been totally okay for a week, including during a couple training rides.  But this ride is much more intense and long that those, so I was apprehensive.

6:35am, 0 miles, 0 feet total

I woke up at 4:10am to get ready.  I had set my alarm for 4:15 but woke up on my own before it went off.  I prepared and left home at 5:40, arriving at the start in Scotts Valley at 6:20.  I parked, got all my things ready, registered, was under way at 6:35.  The forecast was for a warm day, but it was cool and foggy at the start.  That was okay for me because the route starts immediately with a significant climb which warmed me up. It became clear and sunny at the top as we broke through the fog layer.

After climbing to Summit Road, the view back down towards the start location shows the thick blanket of fog shrouding the valley.

About 10 miles into the route, I developed pain in my left knee, which is unusual.  But that is my bad knee, so an injury is within the realm of possibility.  However, the pain was never significant.  It was enough to be noticed, but not enough to bother me.  It was something I had to pay attention to.  If it got worse then I would have to consider abandoning the ride.

The remaining stretch to the first rest area was a relatively gradual 1000 foot climb with several up and down sections.  I had no problems, but kept a slower pace to conserve energy.

8:30am,  26 miles,  3500 feet total

I arrived at the first rest area and proceeded to consume some snacks.  I had a half bagel with jelly, two fig newtons, and a handful of peanut M&Ms.  Normally the peanut M&Ms are something I could just inhale.  But trying to eat them quickly at that time was actually rather difficult.  I heroically managed to finish them.  I wanted to keep this stop brief, and it was only 10 minutes.

The next section was a long downhill descent where I maintained 30 miles per hour for stretches.  It went into Big Basin State Park, where there is a gradual climb, a descent, and another small climb.  This led to the next rest stop.

10:10am, 42 miles, 4900 feet total

I wanted to spend more time at this stop because immediately following it was the hardest climb of the route -- Jamison Creek Road.  This time I snacked on zucchini bread, fig newtons, and Ritz crackers.  I made sure to stretch to loosen my back.  It ended up being a 15 minute break.

The first part of Jamison Creek is mostly flat.  However, once the road pitches up, it does it steeply and does not relent until the top.  I kept my pace very slow on the flat part, because I knew I needed all the energy I could muster.

Jamison Creek rises 1470 feet in just over 3 miles.  This is approximately the height of the top floor of the Willis Tower (formerly called the Sears Tower) in Chicago.  Imagine building a spiral ramp along the outside of the Willis Tower to ride a bicycle to the top.  To match the distance of Jamison Creek, this ramp would have to wrap around the building 18 times.  That means each revolution (going around all four sides of the building) on this spiral ramp would take you up 6 floors.  I managed to cover this distance/height in under 35 minutes, but most of the other cyclists did it faster.  I do not know if that helps to visualize the scale of the effort, but it was a mathematical exercise I pondered while riding up.

I had two questions as I was pushing myself on the climb: how would my knee and my back hold up?  Surprisingly, the knee felt no different.  Even though I was using all my leg strength to propel my self at only 3 to 4 miles per hour, this tremendous strain was not affecting it.

My back started out fine, but I started feeling some lower back strain.  This is normal, since the maximum effort to spin my pedals often creates some strain there.  But I was concerned given the scale of my earlier injury.  I actually felt the same strain on my last training ride.  That time I stopped as a precaution, but found that the strain went away immediately.  This time I thought I should push on, as long as I was not feeling the pain increase.  I was tempted to stop to just catch my breath, but I knew I would have been disappointed in myself unless that was absolutely necessary.

I eventually reached the top and finished with a strong push.  Quite a few riders were waiting at the top to regroup with the other friends they were riding with.  I pulled over to assess my situation.  My back felt fine, but I got hit with a sharp wave of dizziness and a sudden headache.  One of the ride volunteers was nearby and started to chat with me.  I talked to him for a few minutes, which also let the dizziness clear.  I then headed off for the remaining two miles to the lunch stop.  My leg muscles felt completely shredded, but I would soon be able to assess what sitting and eating would restore.

11:20am, 50 miles, 7000 feet total

The lunch was the same as what they usually have: make-your-own sandwiches.  I took two slices of bread, added a lot of mustard, two tomato slices, several rings of red onion, three slices of cheese, and several pickle slices.  I also took a few small boiled red potatoes and salted them well, and grabbed a cookie.  I also got a can of Pepsi to drink.  I always carry Tylenol in my bicycle and so I took that for my headache.  I rested and ate leisurely.

My plan was to decide at this point whether I had the energy to continue the 100 mile route.  If not, I had the option of truncating to the 100 kilometer route, which skips the last long climb.  My legs felt like they were getting their energy back.  My knee was feeling better.  My back was having no pain.  I decided I should finish the 100 mile route.  I sat for a few minutes after eating to make it a 30 minute stop.

The next stretch was a descent followed by a moderately long but not significantly steep climb.  My legs were clearly drained by the previous climbs.  I had to ascend at a slower pace (and lower gear) than I normally would.  Still, it was not bad enough to make me want to opt for the shorter route.

After a fast, steep descent, we reached the bottom of the final significant climb: Zayante Road.  This is a long (11 miles) climb but it is not continuously steep.  The first couple miles are fairly flat.  There are several very steep parts, but these are not too long.  In between those, it is only moderately steep.  My legs would not let me go too fast, so quite a few other riders were passing me.  I did struggle to reach the top, but I did it without having to stop.  The final rest stop was there.

2:40pm, 76 miles, 9900 feet total

Although the distance was only 75% done, all of the major climbing was done.  What remained on the way to the finish was a long descent followed by smaller climbs.  I rested and ate more boiled potatoes and drank a Coke.  It was a 20 minute rest.

Back to the same general area as the first picture, we see that all of the fog has burned off as the day warmed.

The final stretch had some short climbs to get to the final, long descent.  It was several miles down along with a significant amount of motor traffic.  The speed limit was 40 miles per hour, and I was regularly going 30.  Of course, that meant that cars needed to pass me.  There was not much shoulder, but drivers here are usually courteous to bicyclists, so there were no problems.

At the bottom, we had a couple short climbs to return to the finish.  Normally I would fly up these smaller hills, but my spent legs kept me at a crawl.  Riders continued to pass me, but there were several others that were in the same shape as me.  All along, I was passing a few riders too.  So even though most of the riders were stronger than me, there were still quite a few that were not at my level.

4:40pm, 100 miles, 11000 feet total

I reached the finish and noticed that my time was only 10 minutes slower than last year.  I expected to be even slower than that, so it felt like a victory.  I loaded my bicycle on my car, changed clothes, and headed inside for some dinner.  They had made-to-order burritos, I had one with beans, rice, and cheese.  And it was huge.  I took just a little salad with it.  Afterwards, I had some zucchini bread with a little ice cream.  After that I headed home.

My huge burrito at the finish.  I forgot to take the picture before taking the first bite.

I ate a lot of high calorie, low nutrition foods.  Normally these would be considered "junk food", but on a day with this much exercise they are better described as much needed "fuel". In the end, I burned more calories than I consumed on the day.

Normally I would be pretty tired and would get to bed early.  But this day was different because Vaishali and the kids were returning from their Illinois trip, and I had not seen them for three weeks.  I tried to take a nap but did not fall asleep, which surprised me because I had felt sleepy on the drive home.  Instead, I had some coffee and left at 9:30pm for the airport.  It took some time to get the baggage, so we did not get back home until after midnight.  I fell asleep immediately after getting home.  It was a long and tiring day for me!

I was really happy with my effort this year.  I had not done as much training as previous years, but my time was not significantly slower.  I had some injury concerns, but they did not manifest.  This ride might be the hardest century in this area, which is probably why I like it so much.  I think I will make a point to do it every year, as long as my training keeps me prepared enough.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mt. Hamilton Challenge

133 total miles, 8000 feet total elevation gain, 

12 hours 45 minutes total (10 hours 45 minutes on the bicycle)

Well this journal has been empty for quite some time.  One reason for that is that I did not participate in any bicycle events over the winter.  There are very few scheduled that season because of the cold, wet weather.

But the primary reason was a lack of time.  Now with two small children at home, time has become even more of a premium.  Although I actually have been on some rides that were worth writing about, I just could not make the time to do the actual writing.

After having done the first event of the year, I am determined to write about it, even though this report is about a month late.  I hope to be able to add some updates of my activities of last winter.  The main purpose of this journal is for me to have a log of all my bicycle activities, so I want to get that information in, even if it is minimal.

Like most years, my first century was the Mount Hamilton Challenge.  It is a favorite of mine for several reasons.  First, it is a challenging ride of 200 kilometers with 8000 feet elevation gain.  Second, the route goes on roads that I do not ride on at other times.  Third, it is well organized but yet a cheap (only $15 entry fee) and low-key event.  The cost is kept down by having the riders provide their own food.

Although I had been fairly regular in my training over the winter, I had done minimal riding the month before the actual ride.  This was, of course, due to the fact that my son was born just 9 days before the event.  I thought my conditioning was at a sufficient level, but I would find out for sure only when I tried it.

6:00am, 0 miles, 0 feet (start)

I did most of my preparation the night before.  So after I got up at 5:00am, I got ready leisurely.  The plan was for my father to come by and drop me off at the start, and to bring with him a donut for breakfast.  Unfortunately, we did not realize that the local donut store does not open so early on weekends.  So I ended up eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich instead.

The registration for the event officially opens at 6:00am, and I wanted to get there at that time so that I could start quickly and finish that much sooner.  There were already a handful of other riders there before me.  I got registered quickly since the main crowd had not all come yet.

My father was amused that out of the roughly 15 riders starting at that time, it looked like I was the youngest.  At least a couple riders were close to my father's age.  Cycling is certainly an activity that one can continue doing into advanced age.  But the real reason for this observed age skew is that the younger, stronger riders tend to start later since they are faster and do not need as much time to finish.

The temperature was in the low 50's, which is cool but not too cold for me.  I did not need my heavier jacket.  Instead it was enough to wear the light rain jacket that I always keep folded in my bike bag.  This saved me the trouble of having extra clothing that I would need to stow and carry when it got warmer.

The ride up the mountain was pleasant.  Last year is was tremendously windy, but this year it was sunny and clear.  I did notice more car traffic going uphill than I am used to.  When I got to Grant Ranch Park at half-way point of the climb, it was apparent why there were so many cars.  There was some kind of event going on there, and it appeared to be a running event.  There were banners and loud music, which faded slowly as I climbed past.

I made sure to keep a slow pace.  Sometimes one unconsciously matches the speed of the other riders in the event.  Instead, I made a conscious attempt to go slower than I normally would in an event to conserve energy for the end of day.  The climb from the valley floor to the top of Mt Hamilton makes up half of the climbing for the whole ride.

9:40am, 35 miles, 4300 feet (Lick Observatory) [20 minutes break]

As usual, I reached the first rest stop and quickly searched for a sunny spot to eat.  It was warm in the sun, but a cool breeze was blowing.  I was still ahead of most of the pack so it was not as crowded here as I had experience earlier years.  I casually ate my food, then continued on.

The next section was a six mile descent.  After going over the summit, it is not at all apparent that I am still within 50 miles of a major metropolis.  There is no development on this side of the mountains, only some sporadic ranches.  It looks much more like the foothills of the Sierra Nevada than the Bay Area.

After the descent, the road is undulating with multiple small climbs and descents.  Here my fellow cyclists vastly outnumbered any other traffic.  Although there are extended flat stretches in this valley, there was a continuous headwind which significantly increased the effort to get through this section.  Still my conditioning was holding up.

12:15pm, 63 miles, 6300 feet (Arroyo Mocho) [35 minutes break]

The second rest stop is just a bare gravel spot by the road.  Earlier years, I had to sit uncomfortably in the gravel.  But I was still ahead of the main pack so there were fewer cyclists to compete for the good spots.  I found some space on a large log, which was much more comfortable than the ground.  I ate the food I packed (potato chips, cookies, and pasta) and chatted with a couple other riders.

The next section was primarily downhill, which mitigated the headwind.  Having not done any centuries in a while, my butt started getting sore.  I knew that I just had to bear it for a while, because it usually gets better after hurting for a while.  Anyhow, it is not a severe pain; it is more of just an annoyance.

The road led to the valley floor just outside the city of Livermore.  After being on the only road on that side of the mountains, it is now necessary to navigate the city streets to stay on the proper route.

With this being the fourth time I have done this ride, I was pretty sure I could navigate to the next rest stop just by memory.  But I decided to double-check with the printed route instructions we were given at the start.  This turned out to be a good idea because I had not realized that this year the rest stop is at a different park!

The park was not far from the previous one, so the way to get there was mostly the same.  But for the last couple miles, I was holding the partly-folded paper in one hand and checking each intersection to make sure I made the proper turns.

2:35pm, 92 miles, 6300 feet (Pleasanton) [40 minutes break]

The advantage of having a rest stop at a park is that we had proper picnic tables to eat at and a real restroom.  The majority of the climbing was done, but I know that I needed to prepare for the final climbs of the upcoming part of the route.  I rested here some extra time.  Since we were back in a populated area, I had cell phone coverage, so I sent a text message home indicating that I was doing good.

I ate the same food as the last stop.  I made sure to stretch my back and neck since they had gotten a little stiff.  When I felt fully relaxed, I continued on.

The upcoming climb is actually gradual and not particularly difficult.  It was just a matter of having enough energy and muscle power to do it.  I expected to be mostly spent, but found that I was having less trouble than I thought I would cranking the pedals.  A climb can feel endless when you have run out of energy, but this time it was over faster than I expected.

5:25pm, 115 miles, 8000 feet (Ed Levin) [3 minutes break]

Although it is not an official stop, I usually stop at Ed Levin Park each year for a bathroom break and some rest.  This year, I used the facilities but did not need to rest.

All the climbing was done and the next stretch was the descent back to Silicon Valley.  After that it was the final few miles of flat ground by moderately busy roads (not particularly pleasant, but not a problem).

6:20pm, 129 miles, 8000 feet (finish)

It felt good to reach the finish.  The ride certainly was not an ordeal, but I had no guarantee that it would be easy.  As usual, I declined to have someone come and pick me up.  I rode the 4 miles back home.

6:45, 133 miles, 8000 feet (home)
I proved that I kept my conditioning level up enough over the winter to stay in shape for this years centuries.  I certainly intend to do more this year.  The challenge will be to find the time train with my limited time.  I am sure that I can manage to do at least a couple.