Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Strawberry Fields Forever Century

100 miles total, 5000 feet total elevation, 9:20 hours total (8:30 on the bicycle)

There are many century rides in the Bay Area each year, most of them regularly recurring events.  My decision on which ones I do is based on several factors: (1) how challenging is the route (2) is the route, or part of it, new to me (3) am I available at the scheduled time (4) is it at a time when I could use the training.

I had investigated the Strawberry Fields Forever ride before but had not done it.  The route is not particularly challenging (less than 6000 feet total elevation) compared to the other centuries I do.  This year, it came at a time when I need to do more training (in preparation for the Seattle to Portland ride).  It does include some roads that are new to me, so that made it interesting.

The ride starts and ends in Watsonville, which is a one hour drive from home.  The check-in to start opened at 7:00am, so my plan was to leave home before 6:00am.  I prepared everything I needed the day before and had everything ready.  I woke up at 5:00am, got ready and left at 5:50am.  After driving for about 20 minutes, I scratched an itch on my head and immediately realized that I forgot to take my helmet with me!  I had no choice but to return home since a helmet is a strict requirement for all centuries.  Luckily this happened at a point in the road right before an exit where I could turn around.  If I had the discovery 2 minutes later, I would have started the climb over the mountains had would have had to proceed a few miles further to get to a usable turn-around point.

I returned home, ran in to get the helmet, and took off again right away.  (I texted Vaishali what I was doing so she would not be startled by hearing the garage door open and close.)  I lost 35 minutes, but was happy to have discovered my oversight well before arriving at the ride.

7:45am, 0 miles, 0 feet

I reached the starting point (at a high school), parked, and proceeded to the check-in.  There was a long line to get our rider numbers.  As soon as I got mine, I started.  There were many people doing this ride that although I was not familiar with the route, I did not have to look at my printed directions because I could just follow the pack.  I did have to pay attention at the point where the 100 mile and the 100 kilometer routes diverged a few miles from the start.

The longest climb of the route started right away.  I had ridden part of the top of the road, but never had been to the bottom, so much of it was new for me.  It was a long, but not particularly steep route.  The first rest stop was at 22 miles and at the top of the climb.  I ate some snacks there but did not rest for very long.

9:45am, 22 miles, 2100 feet

The next part of the route was from the top of the hills back towards the ocean.  That meant the next few miles were all downhill. After the descent, we were back in town and going through city streets.  The route required managing several turns at intersections.  I am not at all familiar with these roads, so I needed to navigate the route.  I could have consulted the printed route sheet, but that was too inconvenient.  Instead I chose to follow the other cyclists who seemed to be on the same ride.  This strategy worked quite well, until the small group I was following took a wrong turn.  We ended up on a frontage road next to a beach that appeared to be a dead end – clearly not part of our route.  I observed the group in front of me also look around as if searching for the actual route.  We all turned around, and returning to the previous intersection, we discovered that we needed to take a sharper turn that goes up a hill overlooking the beach.

A few miles later we reached the second rest stop near the ocean.  Although I had snacks at the first rest top, I was very hungry by this point.  I ate a lot of peanut butter jelly sandwiches and cookies.  They also had kalamata olives, an atypical rest stop treat, which I indulged in.

11:35am, 47 miles, 2500 feet

The section of the route after that rest stop is the start of the namesake of the route.  The area is a seemingly endless sea of strawberry fields.  However, farm fields just are not scenic, especially compared to the mountain roads at the start.  The route headed inland but was mostly flat.  More than two-thirds of the route was completed by the time the next rest stop was reached.

1:05pm, 71 miles, 3600 feet

This was the official lunch stop, which was set up at a local park.  The main food was sandwiches, and I made a big cheese sandwich.  There was a live band playing for our entertainment.  I sat and rested here longer than at the previous stops.

The next section of the route was again mostly more farm fields.  The next rest stop was only 12 miles, but it was the last stop before the finish.  The group I was following decided to skip it, but I decided to stop.  And I am glad I did.

2:30pm, 82 miles, 3700 feet

I did not really need the rest, but it was worth stopping for the snacks.  It was at Gizdich Ranch, which is a locally known berry farm.  They supplied an incredibly sweet fresh berry juice, and fresh apple pie.  They also had a live band here.

The final stretch of the route contained some more climbing as we headed back into the hills.  This time we did not go as high as we did in the morning, but my legs were tired and I had to go slower than I expected.  I returned to the finish and had dinner there.

4:05pm, 100 miles, 6100 feet

I changed clothes and made the hour drive home.  This route was much less challenging than my usual centuries, but it came at a good time in the calendar for it to be a useful training ride.  It is always nice to see new roads around the area.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

2014 Mt Hamilton Challenge

131 total miles, 8300 feet total elevation, 13:40 hours total (12:05 on the bicycle)

I wanted to try this ride for the fifth time.  I did not try it last year because I did not feel like I was in shape.  Well, I also did not feel in shape this year either.  This winter had only sporadic riding, and my spring training did not ramp up. But I am planning on doing Seattle-to-Portland again this year – this time in one day.  I need to increase my training to be able to do my first double century in nearly 6 years.

As usual I got up early, got ready, and got dropped off in time to make the earliest start time of 6:00am.  However, a quick inspection found that I had a loose headset.  A mechanic was on hand to tighten it for me, but it delayed my start.

6:20am, 0 miles, 0 feet  (start)

I kept a moderate pace to start, knowing that my energy level would not be as good as previous years.  It was relatively cold at the start – upper 40s.  The initial stretch was a familiar route through some of the more industrial part of Silicon Valley.  One new sight for me this year was seeing the nearly completed Levi's Stadium, which did not exist the last time I rode this event two years ago.

After riding the flat approach to the mountain and beginning the ascent, I warmed up enough to where I took off my jacket and switched to open finger gloves.  But before the halfway point of the climb,  we entered the mist of the cloud layer.  I expected to ascend out of this layer and see clear sky, so I kept the warmer clothes off for a while.  I overheard another rider state that his thermometer was reading lower 40s.  That combined with the mist and wind meant it was definitely cold.

I could not take the cold anymore so I switched back to full finger gloves and put my jacket back on.  I was surprised to find that we never left the cloud layer.  I did not see the observatory at the summit until we reached it.  I was even more surprised to see small patches of snow at the summit.  We have been having consistent Spring weather throughout the Bay Area.  We had a light rain a couple days ago, but the colder temperatures up here meant it fell as snow and stuck.

10:20am, 35 miles, 4300 feet  (rest stop 1)

I ate my snack quickly and continued on.  I did not want to linger since I was getting colder just sitting idle.

The start of the descent was cold, due to it being still foggy and windy.  I noticed that my left foot had gone completely numb.  However, after about 2 miles of the descent, I was back under the cloud layer where it was much warmer.

The route through the valley on this side of the mountains was as scenic as ever.  The recent rain had filled several roadside ponds.  Some of the meadows were seas of yellow wild flowers, while some others were a mix of yellow, orange, and purple.  The wind was a constant presence, often an annoying head-wind or side-wind.  But sometimes it was a pleasant tail-wind.

1:30pm, 62 miles, 6300 feet  (rest stop 2)

I reached the second rest stop and found it to be emptier than usual.  I asked the staff about the main pack and they said that the majority of riders had left a significant time earlier.  I tried to eat quickly and stretch.

The next route section is usually an easy gradual downhill, but here is where I experienced the most significant wind of the day.  What is usually a zero-effort, fast descent was this year a mild-effort, medium speed descent.  By the time I reached the valley floor in Livermore, the usually flat route to the next stop again turned into the wind and required more energy that I would have liked.  However, this stretch usually has a headwind, so it was no surprise.  It was, in fact, less effort than I expected considering how strong the wind was on the previous section.

4:00pm, 92 miles, 6300 feet  (rest stop 3)

Again as I reached the next stop, the crowd was thinner than I usually experience.  I noticed I had arrived only about 30 minutes before the stop closes.  This meant I really need to conserve time to be sure to finish before the cutoff.  This was the first time I had been so far behind.

I ate quickly, then gave a call home to report my status.  I headed out, knowing I should be monitoring my pace to ensure I return on time.  There was less wind on the rest of the route, and my energy level never dropped too low, so I made better time than I expected to.

6:25pm, 115 miles, 8000 feet  (unofficial rest stop)

As usual, I made a stop at Ed Levin Park.  Somehow, the distance between the Pleasanton stop and the finish is too long for me to go without a bathroom break.  The unofficial stop at Levin park is convenient since the facilities are just off the road.  It was a very brief stop.  The ride back through Silicon Valley was easy and familiar.

7:15pm, 129 miles, 8000 feet  (finish)
I arrived back at the finish and checked in.  A few riders arrived after me, and I heard one of the staff announce, "that's the last of them."  It was the first time I was among the last finishers.  Although, it was my latest finish time, it was not significantly later than previous years.  As usual, I decided to ride home rather than have someone pick me up.

7:50pm, 133 miles, 8000 feet   (home)

The ride seems to be a much-needed precursor to my later ride plans.  My legs had soreness for about a week afterwards.  That is much longer than what I usually experience, and indicates that they still need to be built up.  If felt good to do this one, but I probably need to do some more centuries to prepare for the double century.