Monday, June 6, 2011

Ride Report: Sequoia 200K '11

I don't do a whole lot of organized rides, but one of the highlights of every year is the Sequoia Double-Metric Century (200K). This year's edition took place yesterday, when cores of riders threw themselves against some of Santa Clara's toughest climbs despite a miserable forecast and ominous-looking clouds.

My approach to this year's ride was definitely different than year's past. I'd previously targeted this ride, or at least rested my legs in the lead-up. This year, I did nothing of the sort. I probably would've, but the forecast for Sunday was so bleak on Saturday morning that I'd mentally written the ride off. "It's going to rain cats and dogs," I thought, "so I might as well get my hard ride in today instead so I can sleep in tomorrow."

I put in a hell of an effort at M2 that morning - one of my strongest showings in a while! - and tacked on 5-miler immediately after. When I got home, I was spent.

Then, some time in the afternoon, I got around to checking the Sunday's forecast again. Lo and behold, it didn't look too bad! The meteorologists who'd spent the entire week predicting a Sunday deluge had suddenly changed their story. I knew I'd never forgive myself for bailing on a perfectly good ride, so after conferring with Alex, we decided to head down and take the start. We'd deal with a little bit of rain, but any more than that and we were turning back to the car.

A big group of us gathered at the start of the ride at just after six o'clock the next morning, and we were surprised to see some blue in the sky and some dry asphalt on the ground. Our 6:30 roll-out was prompt and the pace across the first flattish (or lightly-rolling) ten miles was certainly businesslike. In retrospect, probably too businesslike. By the time we hit the first climb of the day, I was more than warmed up.

The Sequoia ride can essentially be broken up into a handful of segments, so rather than typing chapters about each one, I'll just blast through 'em bullet-list style.
  • Redwood Gulch and the climb to Skyline. RWG is nasty, and by nasty, I mean steep. And by steep, I mean there are sections approaching 18% grade. That's no fun! After the first few miles, the climb evens out. I was feeling good on this climb, especially the steeper parts, and found myself setting a pace that, like the first ten miles on Foothill, was probably faster than it should've been. (This is where Vitaly says, "I told you so.")
  • Skyline and the descent to Boulder Creek. We skipped the first rest stop and set right out along Skyline toward the Boulder Creek descent, which sucked. I don't descend well in the most perfect of conditions, and these were definitely not that. This part of the ride was cold, damp, twisty, and the road was filled with wet leaves and debris. I dropped off the back - way off the back - and crawled down that hill, shivering like crazy all the while. It was not fun.
  • Highway 9 to Skyline. I caught Vitaly and co. at the rest stop in Boulder Creek. They'd already been there a while, so I just took the time to refill my bottles and toss back a couple handfuls of trail mix before they were itching to hit the road. The Highway 9 climb is smooth and steady, and in the past, I've really enjoyed it. Not this year, though. Every time the pace clicked up a notch, my legs screamed.
  • Skyline to Alpine to La Honda. Another descent, another nerve-wracking, rim-melting downhill adventure. Alpine actually wasn't as bad as I remembered (and I'd completely forgotten about the uphill sections at the beginning), but I still crawled along. The good news about this descent? It was the last long, twisty one 'til King's!
  • Lunch. We didn't spend too long at lunch. I ate a small sandwich, a couple Oreos and refilled my bottles. In the past, we'd treated lunch as a warm, friendly break from the ride, but with the threat of rain in the forecast (and the lack of sun on our backs), it was almost purely utilitarian: consume calories, relieve bladder, resume riding.
  • La Honda to Highway 1 to Pescadero. Coming out of the lunch stop, we hooked up with a small group of twitchy cyclists attempting a paceline to the coast. I wasn't very comfortable here - something about eating food and then plunging straight into a fast-slow-fast paceline didn't sit well with my stomach or my legs. We got to the coast (and the headwind) and my legs felt fried. Beckett and I got separated from the lead group. I soft-pedaled for a few tickets and then we set about trying to reel them in. Mistake! The two of us redlined for what felt like an eternity into trying to catch, but the wind wasn't cooperating.
  • Pescadero to the Bike Hut. Fortunately for Beckett and I, the lead crew held up for us after the turn into Pescadero. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done - he and I were both toast. We took it easy through the garbage miles around Pescadero, but I was sweating buckets and my heart rate would not go down. When we hit the first roller on Stage Road, I saw the lead group start to pull away again. This time, I just let them go - and I'm glad I did.
  • Tunitas. I realized at the rest stop just before Tunitas Creek, the ride's final climb, that I'd been overheating. I removed my jacket, base-layer and shoe-covers before we set out and what a difference it made! After struggling up just about every climb since RWG, I finally felt okay - and it was because I was able to dump the heat I was generating. Interesting... Anyway, Tunitas is a good ol' climb, steep in the middle, flatter on top. Bret caught me from behind and he and I chatted and pushed each other over the top of the ridge. Conversations on long climbs go a long way toward making the miles (and feet) pass quickly!
  • King's and the end. Not much to say here. I descended King's Mountain Road like whatever the opposite of a pro would be, probably taking three times longer than Bret and Vitaly combined. Then there were six or seven miles into town that could've gone by quicker. 
My strategy failed, and this turned out to be longer than expected. Oh well! If you're still reading at this point, kudos to you!

In '09 and '10, I definitely felt great at the end of the ride. This year, I felt like I'd been put through a meat grinder. But it was over, I survived, I spent the day outside with good friends, and I didn't get rained on. So that's a win in my book!

Looking back at my data, I was faster on RWG than in both of my previous attempts, but slower on just about every other climb. Odd, considering last year I thought I was "taking it easy" almost the entire time. I must have been kicking ass in '10! On the bright side, overall ride time was only about 10 minutes slower than '09 and '10, and we spent at least 30 fewer minutes standing still this year than ever before.

So... what did I learn? Well, first, riding on fresh legs vs. riding on spent legs yield very different results. Second, I need to re-learn how to pace myself. I could do that well last year after all those slow base miles, but this year's training has been all intervals, all the time. Third, humidity is my kryptonite. I am going to have to learn to deal with heat and humidity before Vineman, and furthermore, my equipment choices are going to be super important.

Wait, did I just type that? Super important equipment decisions?! Does this mean I have an excuse to buy some NEW GEAR?!

Feel free to check out the data on Strava. I've got this year's, last year's and 2009's.