Aug 8, 2011

Mt. Tam Double Century ride report

This was my last planned double of the year, and if you recall, the goal was to go sub 13 hours.

I got to the start/finish way ahead of schedule - because I’m just that neurotic - so I had a ton of time to get ready and get to the line. It was a cool morning and Mt. Tam was probably going to be wet, so I had on my knee warmers, arm warmers and a wind vest. When I got to the line, there were already plenty of people lined up, but I made sure to squeeze myself near the front. The plan was to start with the lead pack and hold their pace until I feel I shouldn’t. I knew that if I went to the back of the field to line up, I’d never make it through the cyclist soup to the front pack.  After some instructions …

Miles 0 – 38 up Mt. Tam

… We were clear to start the ride. I immediately made an effort to get to the front of the field and was riding top 10 riders all the way up Lucas Valley Road. Once we hit the climb, there were perhaps 10 of us in a group, with everyone else shelled off the back. I honestly didn’t look back that often (because I was blinded by all the lights), but at some point, it appeared that a huge chunk of the field caught up on the descent.

The next and slightly harder dig was going up White’s Hill from the north. We again shelled most of the field and about 7 or 8 of us made it over White’s together. If you’ve never descended White’s at night, don’t! I don’t know who was better off, the guys who don’t usually ride here and don’t know about all the cracks in the road, or those who know they are there, like I do. After a blistering descent, which Strava tells me was my PR at almost 38mph, our group made a turn up Bolinas-Fairfax road and toward Alpine Dam we went. I held the group’s pace over the first few bumps, but then I let them go. I felt that I was putting in a bit too much too soon. Soon came mile 25 and the first rest stop; I didn’t even think of stopping and pressed on.

From there I headed alone to Alpine Dam, it was surprisingly not foggy there. As I began to climb up from Alpine Dam toward Ridgecrest, I kept looking back, and couldn’t see anyone even close behind me. I figured we must have put in a good chunk of time on the whole group. I proceeded to climb at a comfortable, but far from leisurely, pace. As I came closer to Ridgecrest, the fog got thicker and began to rain from the trees. After turning onto Ridgecrest, I found a very interesting surprise – there was a gate blocking the road. I still can’t figure out how they could have not known about it to let us know. Not like some gate was going to stop me, or anyone for that matter. I crawled through the railing, then lifted my bike over it and proceeded on to climb Seven Sisters.

Ridgecrest was very foggy for most of the Seven Sisters, at one point it was hard to tell which sister I was on. However, the conditions weren’t quite as bad as they were for last year’s Mt. Tam hill climb. As I approached the parking lot before the last three-mile segment toward East Peak, I was above the fog, and blue skies and sunshine were above me. I knew that after the parking lot, it was exactly 1.4 miles to West Peak and then another 1.5 miles of mostly downhill toward East Peak. But first I’d have to do another dismount and hop my bike over another set of rails. At this point, a rider had caught up to me, and crossed the gate right after I did.

As I was approaching East Peak, having temporarily dropped the rider who caught me at the gate, I was expecting the few riders that were ahead of me to start coming back on this short out-and-back segment. However, I was pleased to see that no one was coming back until I was almost half way down from West Peak to East Peak. That meant I was only a few minutes behind the lead and making great time. I counted the riders coming back toward me, and I figured that I was either seventh or eighth at the time. There was a checkpoint at East Peak. I yelled out my number, rounded the first light pole and headed back down toward Muir Woods.

Miles 38 – 73 to Pt. Reyes

As I descended toward Muir Woods, the fogs came up and were much higher than I had just experienced, as parts of top of Mt. Tam that were sunny moments ago, were now filling with thick fog. I would not see sunshine again for almost 130 miles. I had to take my sunglasses off as quickly as I put them on because I couldn’t see where I was going in the fog. Luckily, I’ve done that descent more than once, so at least I knew the roads themselves were in decent shape.

Twelve miles of mostly downhill later came another check-point. (This was also the point where we could have dropped gear, but the last thing I wanted to do after descending 12 miles in the fog is get more naked, so I kept all my stuff on.) By this time, two riders had caught me on the descent, one passed me (the guy who caught me earlier at the gate), and another was riding with me up to the check-point. I pulled in only long enough to top off my bottles and continued going. The rider I was riding with only yelled out his number and kept going. I knew that I would probably catch him on the climbs out of Muir Woods, so I proceeded to ride nice and steady, slowly closing in on him. On my way from the checkpoint, I noticed three riders coming back and learned later they missed a turn from Panoramic and had to double back for the check-point.

Pushing a steady tempo, sure enough, by the time the final descent toward Stinson Beach came along, I caught the other rider and we were riding together. As we hit Hwy. 1, I pulled alongside him and suggested we do one-minute pulls; he agreed.

We continued this way for the next four or five miles, we caught the other fellow and briefly rode together. We were lucky, as the wind was at our back, and we were able to go 22 to 24 mph at a moderate effort. If the winds had been form the north, it may have been a different story. Soon after the intersection with Bo-Fax, Hwy. 1 begins to climb and the other two guys just started pushing a bit harder than I wanted to at the time. I knew what I needed to do and where I needed to be.

My goal was to be at Pt. Reyes by 9:30 and it appeared as if I was going to easily make that time, so there was no need for me to start climbing at someone else’s pace just yet. I hit Pt. Reyes at 9:10 on the dot, way ahead of schedule. I rode into the rest stop and found out it wasn’t a check-point, so I filled up my bottles, made a brief bio stop and on I went.

Miles 73 – 91 Pt. Reyes to Petaluma

I left Pt. Reyes alone and would stay that way until crossed Nicasio-Valley Rd. and began passing riders who were doing the other Marin Century events going on that day. It was a fairly fast jolt up to Petaluma, and I rolled into the rest stop asking where I need to check it. It took me a bit to find the gentleman in the white hat taking our numbers. I had a quick sandwich, topped off my bottles and stuffed some things into my pockets. I was told that I was the seventh rider to pass through the check-point and the first one to stop there.

Mile 91 – 148 – Petaluma to Valley Ford (twice)

As I was making my way out of Petaluma, I met up with another rider, Mitch from Sacramente, who was doing the double as well and we proceeded to ride together. We chatted along the way, which made things go by a bit faster. Other than a few rollers, there was nothing that was too challenging the first time to Valley Ford, not counting a few spots where the directions were not so clear and we had to take a pause to make sure we weren’t missing our turn or taking the wrong one.

We got to Valley Ford the first time at mile 123. I had to leave my bike outside the rest area and walk to check in. I had ridden these first 123 miles with a total idle time of 10 minutes and I was starting to feel it. My legs were starting to get achy and I had developed an annoying headache. As I checked in, I was told I was fifth, which meant that some guys who were ahead of me royally screwed up and forgot to check in – I knew there were more than four people ahead of me.

I filled up my bottles, grabbed some food and went for a brief bio break before taking off. As I was getting out of the rest stop, the road split and I was reading the signs of where I needed to go. I then remembered that I had forgotten to take my ibuprofen for the headache. I grabbed a couple pills and reached for a water bottle only to discover that I had left my bottles at the food table. I made a quick dash back as Mitch was leaving the stop. I quickly grabbed my bottles, swallowed the pills and began a 25 mile loop that would bring me back to the same stop.

After a few short miles, I caught Mitch and we continued to ride together toward the first major challenge on the remainder of this ride – Coleman Valley Road. I have to admit, I didn’t give Coleman Valley Road the respect it deserves as a climb. The first time I did that climb was during Levi’s Gran Fondo last year, which was one week after I was done racing Everest Challenge. What’s a two-mile climb after you’ve just climbed above 10,000 feet three times in one weekend by bike? Plus, I had hit it after taking about 30 minutes at the rest stop to wait for a friend.

Climbing Coleman Valley with 134 miles and over 10,000 feet of climb in my legs was a whole other thing. My legs hurt, then hurt some more and then some more again. The pitches were relentless for long stretches and I just kept thinking that I need to put one leg over the other and soon enough this would be over. It flattened out and then dipped down some and my legs were able to recover. Then came another bit of climbing and another check-point.

I’m going to back track for just one second and say that while we were coming up to Coleman Valley Rd., another double century rider caught us, he was riding a fixie! We passed him on the climb, but he was just a minute or two behind us to the rest stop.

One more short stop for a bottle refill and food, and we were back on the road (I also slammed a Red Bull here). The descent from Coleman Valley is horrible, and the road surface leaves a lot to be desired. At the bottom of the descent from Coleman Valley Rd., we somehow united with more double century riders and there was now a pack of five or six of us (fixie rider among us) heading back to Valley Ford. The pack proved helpful here as we headed south and into the wind that a few hours ago helped push us north along the coast.

My goal was to be at Valley Ford for the second time by 2:30 p.m. As our group approached the rest stop, there was a volunteer at the entrance taking numbers. Everyone gave him their number and kept rolling, but I knew that I needed to stop, even if it meant proceeding alone. I pulled into the rest stop, it was 2:27 – I was three minutes ahead of my goal time. I was now 75 percent into the ride and I was feeling fatigued, but in decent condition, considering I just did just shy of 150 miles in 9.5 hours.

It was time for my one long break of the ride and then it would be pretty much non-stop for the last 50 miles. I grabbed a coke and half a burrito (I know, I was playing with fire with that one), sat down in the shade and ate. I stretched my legs a little, grabbed a few pieces of fruit from the table, a couple bars into my back pocket and at 2:40 I was back in the saddle.

I had 3h20m to make it back to San Rafael, 52 miles away, in order to make my goal of sub 13 hours.

Mile 148 – 200.7 Valley Fort to San Rafael (finish)

As I left Valley Ford and turned south to make my way toward Marshall, I seriously started to doubt that would be able to make sub 13 hours. The winds were fairly strong from the south, and I was now heading into a headwind, knowing that that’s the way it would be until I turned onto Marshall Wall. So instead of just the climb to slow me down, the winds were doing it too. I knew that I needed to find a body quickly. Luckily, shortly after I had that thought, I saw another rider up ahead with a yellow number on his back (all the double century riders had yellow numbers and everyone else had white ones), so I tried my best to catch up to him and after a steady, but hard effort, I finally caught him. I told him that I would sit in to give my legs some rest and then would give him some help in the wind.

I noticed he was riding a Volagi bike that I had seen a demo of at Sea Otter. It is the first bike designed to be compatible with disc breaks. Frankly, I think this is the way the sport will go and in a few years discs on road bikes will the norm.

We were alternating taking pulls and tackling rollers. Rollers were not what I expected before Marshall Wall, but there they were, an insane number of them. One after the other, with steep pitches (I saw 15 percent on one). This was totally screwing up my rhythm.

Around mile 162 on my Garmin (this is important), we turned onto Marshall Wall and settled into the climb. We introduced each other - the other rider’s name was Barley and he worked at Volagi – and talked about innovation, breaking, cornering and how much the UCI sucked. As we reached the top of Marshall Wall, he got a flat, and once again I was on my own. I asked if he had what he needed and dropped down the other side of Marshall Wall.

The downhill and the flats were a pleasant reprieve as I made it toward the next rest stop at mile 168 (Garmin). It was exactly 4p.m. I asked the guy checking numbers what mile that was and he said, “175!” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this means I can actually make the cut! I can finish this under 13hours!” I new that even after 175 miles I could easily average 12.5 mph over the next two hours.

I topped off bottles, grabbed a bar and was on the bike all in a matter of a minute. I now had new life breathed into me. I was as surprised to learn I was seven miles ahead of where I thought as Phileas Fogg when he learned he actually made it to back to London on time. (“Around the World in 80 Days” allusion, for those of you wondering) I pressed on, making sure I squeezed every little bit out of my legs in the last 25 miles.

The next rest stop came at mile 183 (Garmin) and it wasn’t a check-point, so I didn’t even bother stopping. On the route sheet, the rest stop was supposed to be at mile 188 and the previous stop was supposed to be at mile 173. All of this number info, coupled with the fact that I had just passed a sign saying “San Rafael 16,” told me that I would finish the ride at mile 196 on my Garmin and I was approximately five miles off the route sheet. I was still making great time, with only one climb left I now saw that could definitely make it under 13.

My ascent up Lucas Valley Road started at 5 p.m. and I knew I had about 10 miles to go. With a slight tailwind, and knowing that I was going to come in way under my targeted time, when only moments ago I thought it wasn’t going to happen, shot a jolt of adrenaline into my legs – there was nothing to save them for. It was no longer a question of whether I was going to beat 13 hours; it was now a question of by how much.

A twisty descent from LVR and a blisteringly fast (27-29 mph) roll toward San Rafael, and I crossed the line in exactly 12 hours, 33 minutes and 57 seconds. I was the 14th rider to check in at the finish line of the approximate 300 who started that morning. I took a deep breath and reflected on this moment, and then I thought to myself, “not bad for a kid less than two years out of the flatlands (Chicago)!”


As if this post isn’t long enough, right? Below are the top three reasons I feel I managed to do this ride in such a great time for me and finish feeling strong. 

1. Weather. Completely out of my control, but the weather was perfect for me. It was cool and cloudy most of the day, which meant I didn’t have to deal with the heat, and the sun only came out the last 30 miles of the ride, but by that time the winds were already cool and it wasn’t a big deal. Had it been a 90-100 degree day in Marin, the above report would have been much uglier. And no crazy headwinds. Yes, there were some, but I know that it could have been way worse.

2. Almost no stopping. I had less than 40 minutes of rest time for the whole ride, and it made me go faster overall. My theory is that it’s mostly psychological. When riders don’t limit their break time before ever embarking on the ride, they often hammer in between rest points, knowing that rest is coming, and then take a long break. It is not a zero sum game, however. The long rest periods don’t let you recover from the increased efforts in between, and eventually it catches up to you, forcing longer and longer breaks, an slowing the in between progress. It’s one thing to pace yourself knowing you’ll be able to sit down and rest in 20 miles, it’s quite another when you’ve told yourself from the start you don’t get to sit until mile 150, and even then for only about 10 minutes (which is exactly what happened).

3. Fueling. I don’t think I have ever eaten as much on the bike as I did on this double. The first gel came out of my back pocket at around the 30-minute mark, when it was still dark, and the last bar I had I was eating on LVR going back to San Rafael. I ate so much that I wasn’t even hungry when I finished the ride. In fact, I was never hungry on this ride, so at some points I forced myself to eat. The constant flow of calories prevented the undulation of energy I have sometimes experienced on longer rides.

Number one is never in my control, but I’ll definitely keep number two and three in mind in my future rides and try to replicate the practice as best as I can.

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo! I am so impressed. Nice work, Vitaly. You are in fine fine form.