June 3, 2014

San Diego Century Ride Recap

Sometimes it's good to dream big, train hard, and reach for a goal outside of your comfort zone. I have done that quite a few times in my life, and this past Saturday was no exception. I tackled---and completed---the San Diego Century Ride.  This ride, which has options for a 20, 33, 67, or 105 mile ride, was on my agenda for last year (as part of my "try something in each of the three sports that scares me" year), but I didn't do it, as I was trying (unsuccessfully) to heal myself from a herniated disc and excruciating sciatic pain by not biking or running for a while.  For me, tackling 100+ miles on my bike was unfinished business.  The ride would take me from Encintas to Ramona and back, with over 6100 feet of elevation gain.  No small feat.

from their website

Just signing up for this monster of a ride was huge for me.  Biking is NOT my favorite thing to do.  In fact, of the three triathlon sports, I've long called it my nemesis. But I'm slowly gaining an appreciation for it.  While I may never get excited at the prospect of spending hours on the bike, once I'm out there I usually enjoy it.  I'm still very slow, but I've become a good climber.  This point was driven home to me when I did the Oceanside 70.3 Half Ironman in March, and I was literally the only person biking up the killer steep hill San Mateo at the time I was on it.  Everyone else on that hill with me was walking.  I have discovered the pure joy of biking along the coast, with the Pacific Ocean laid out beside me. And while I am usually a solo rider, I've been joining friends here and there to ride and I have been enjoying the camaraderie.

My preparation for the ride wasn't optimal.  Yes, I had trained to bike 56 miles for the Half Ironman in March, but 56 isn't 105.  Before Oceanside, I did a longest ride of 60.  After Oceanside, life got busy on weekends. My family wanted me back, and it was hard to justify long days away so soon after the 70.3. I did several rides of 40 and 50 miles (so funny how these rides seem short now) and a month ago I did my longest ride to date---80 miles.  That 80 miler included going up and down the coast, as well as the steep Torrey Pines hill.  I was hopeful that the 80 miler, plus the other shorter rides, plus my overall general fitness would be enough to get me through 105 miles.  And, after all, it wasn't a race, it was a ride. There was no chip timing, and I would be "allowed" to take as many breaks as I needed, in addition to the scheduled SAG (rest) stops.

Best of all, my friend Steve was doing the ride with me.  An accomplished cyclist, he could have easily done the ride himself in many hours shorter, but he's a good friend, as well as the person who coached me through Oceanside (and continues to coach me) and told me he'd slow down and ride with me.  I also had two friends, D and G, doing the ride as well.

The day before the ride, I went to packet pickup. I could have picked it up the morning of the event, but I had the time to go, and wanted to alleviate some anxiety.  Very easy---all they gave me was a number for my bike (but not for my helmet, which I'm used to as a triathlete), a cue sheet listing all the turns, mileage and stops, and a goody bag containing a branded water bottle and travel coffee mug.  I went to the store and loaded up on nutrition----Honey Stinger Waffles and Gus and Chomps, etc---as I didn't know what the aid stations would have for me. I cleaned my bike, cleaned and lubed the chain, topped off the tires, and got my kit together (I opted for biking capris, my Ironman 70.3 cycling jersey, arm warmers and fingerless gloves). I also learned a lesson from my painful 80 miler and used chamois cream----I never use it, but I was hurting badly after that ride, and figured extra cream could help prevent chafing (I was right, by the way).

After  a decent night's sleep, my alarm went off at 4:45. I was out the door by 5:15. I was supposed to caravan with D and G, but they were running late, so I went up alone to Mira Costa College in Encinitas.  Easily found parking, found Steve, and started to get my bike together--filling my bottles with Gatorade, re-topping off my tires, etc.  At 6:10 we set out---me, Steve, D and G.  G quickly was ahead of us, D fell behind us, but I was just focused on myself.  It was wonderfully overcast, and I was grateful for the warmth my arm warmers provided.

Steve and I right before setting out

Sad to admit, but in the early miles I was tired! I knew it was because I wasn't really warmed up yet, but there were some early rollers that were tiring to get up. I was worried---if small rollers at mile 10 were hard, how was I going to tackle the huge mountain at mile 48? I decided not to worry about it, and to keep plugging on, one pedal at a time.  The first rest stop at mile 18 provided an opportunity to get off the bike, stretch, get a bite to eat, and use the bathroom.  I wasn't impressed by the spread they had out, either. I had only done one organized bike ride, the Senorita Metric Century in March, and that one had catered buffets at all three rest stops. I was expecting the same here, but all they had was bananas, cookies, oranges and a sports bar. Maybe some pretzels.

Back on the road, this time heading toward Rancho Santa Fe.  We hit another SAG stop at mile 30, and then I was on familiar territory---the Three Witches, which are a series of three hills that go up San Dieguito Road.  The first time I went up these hills was with Steve, over two years ago.  I couldn't do them nonstop. In fact, I distinctly remember stopping on each of the three hills, trying to catch my breath, coaxing my legs to pedal up, and almost crying with the effort.  I've ridden up the Three Witches many times since, and over time they have become almost easy.  Compared to other hills I've tackled in San Diego (including Scripps Poway Parkway, Torrey Pines, Calle Cristobol and San Elijo) these are merely babies.  I marveled to myself how far I've come in just a few years, all the while concentrating on the burnt scenery around me.  Just a few weeks ago San Diego was consumed by 9 fires, and the first one, the Bernardo Fire, was right here on this road.  The hills were blackened, the scorch marks literally coming up to the road.  The air still smelled awful with the remains from the fire.  It made me sad.

hard to tell from the picture I took, but all the hills in the background are blackened

I was feeling good at this point---warmed up and although I was tired, I wasn't exhausted.  The sun was mercifully covered by clouds, making for perfect riding weather. I was excited about the next rest stop, which would be at mile 43, as my family would be meeting me there to cheer me on.  I called them a few miles out to let them know when to expect me, and started to pick up the pace to meet them.  I saw them in the car as they were turning on to Pomerado, the street where the SAG stop was---and my heart just lifted.  Once at the stop, I got lots of hugs from my son, daughter and husband.  I was so happy to see them. I ate a little, including  half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, refilled one of my bottles with their "sports drink" (which was soooo nasty, they must have not mixed it very well), used the bathroom, and had to say goodbye to my family.  At this point the sun started to make its appearance, which wasn't a good sign, as the biggest climb was still ahead of us. I shed my arm warmers and gloves and continued on.

Turning east onto Scripps Poway Parkway, I knew the next few miles would be the most grueling.  There is a pretty steep climb right away, which I have only been able to do nonstop recently (the climb encompasses two street lengths; up until just a few weeks ago, I always stopped at the stoplight in the middle of the streets, whether it was red or not, to catch my breath.  A few weeks ago I did it nonstop for the first time ever and it was a triumph for me).  Again, I did it nonstop---yay for me!  There is then a flat section for a few miles, before going up the mountain---about 1.7 miles of brutal uphill.

At this point the sun was out in full force. I put my bike in granny gear (the easiest gear there is) and started to spin slowly up the mountain, which is what I've always done.  As I climbed, I reflected on how far I've come.  A few years ago, I NEVER would have even ATTEMPTED this climb.  I drove up this mountain weekly several years ago, back when my daughter took horse therapy lessons, and whenever I would see cyclists biking up, I would be in awe.  It is very long and steep.  Last year I attempted it for the first time. I had to stop three times to catch my breath, as I literally felt I was going to pass out with how hard I was hyperventilating with the effort.  In subsequent attempts, I had to stop twice, then once.  One time my chain fell off while I was downshifting, and I couldn't clip out in time and fell over into a patch of gravel and glass; my right knee bears the battle scar of that fall to this day.  It's only in recent months that I'm able to climb up the mountain somewhat easily and without getting out of breath.

As an aside, I wanted to share a memory. A few years ago I was driving up Scripps Poway Parkway to take my dog to a kennel which is up there.  A century ride was going on that day---I don't think it was the San Diego Century, I think it was the Tour de Poway---and riders were slowly climbing up.  As I drove up, I passed three bikers riding abreast.  The two on either side of the rider in the middle had their arms out, supporting the middle rider's back, helping her up the hill.  I cried in the car, feeling the love and support those bikers gave their friend when she didn't think she could go any further.

Anyhow, back to my recap.

This day was no different.  As I climbed I breathed normally, with not a hint of hyperventilation.  My quads were hurting a bit, but nothing awful.  The worst part was the heat; in training, I try to bike up this hill in earlier hours of the day to try to beat the heat. Moving so slowly, I had no breeze and was baking.  There was carnage everywhere---other cyclists walking their bikes up the hill, standing and taking rest breaks, even a group that had stopped to rest and was taking selfies.  I mentally patted myself on the back for my hill training and chugged up.  When I finally reached the top, and met up with Steve, I burst out in tears.  The tears were mixed---part pride, part frustration with the heat.  The cry was a good release for me.  At the top of the hill was Highway SR- 67, where we turned left and continued on our way into Ramona.

soon after the biggest climb---the summit of the ride

I've never seen this sign on a bike---only while driving!

Here's where I started to mentally break down. It was about mile 55, and I was hot, sweaty, thirsty and tired.  I was craving food---real food. Nothing I had in my pockets sounded good. I had heard that there was lunch at the SAG stop in Ramona, and was fixated on it.  In little-kid style, I kept asking Steve, "are we there yet?" I know I was probably bugging him, but I was feeling pretty awful.  Not only was I fixated on lunch, but I was craving an ice-cold Diet Coke--something that would not only cool me down, but give me a jolt of caffeine.

Finally, FINALLY we pulled into the SAG stop in Ramona. It was pretty far in, really in the middle of nowhere.  We pulled in---and I was so disappointed by what they had.  Yes, they had "lunch". I'll put that in quotation marks.  Some homemade sandwiches, most of them meat.  I was happy to see some cheese sandwiches, which I grabbed, being vegetarian.  It was revolting.  A stale roll, with one sad slice of cheese in the middle. I couldn't eat it.  I tried, but it was gross.  There was no soda. In fact, they had run out of sports drink!  All they had in terms of hydration was water, and that was being dispensed with a hose.  I only had one bottle of hydration left, and it was that gross sports drink from the previous aide station.

I sat, exhausted.  A man next to me was dropping out and calling the SAG wagon to take him home.  He had been vomiting, apparently, and was very dehydrated. I always ride with a tube of Pepto-Bismol chewable tablets in my bento box, and offered him some, which he gladly accepted.  I was so upset for this man---there was no medical help.  I didn't really see medical aide at any stops---not that I was looking---but here, in the middle of nowhere, 63 hot and hilly miles in, there should have been some.  There should have been Pepto-Bismol, there should have been sunscreen for bikers to reapply, there should have been proper food to fuel and liquid with actual electrolytes to hydrate, not tap water.  Steve and I didn't stay long. I needed to find fuel.

Steve and I at mile 63.  I'm utterly wiped out here.

The SAG stop is at the end of an out-and-back, and so we retraced our route. Steve knew of a little store we could stop at, and we couldn't have found it at a better time.  We pulled in, and I loaded up on two new cold bottles of Gatorade to refill my bottles, some donuts, some chips (ah, salt!) and an ice-cold bottle of Diet Coke.  I was in heaven. I was glad I had thought to bring some cash and my credit card with me---clearly I needed it.  Sadly, many, many cyclists also pulled into the store to refuel.  This was unacceptable---there is no reason for people to have to stop to buy their own fuel and hydration five miles out from the aide station.

Now caffeinated, refueled and revived, we continued on our way. We had to climb up out of Ramona, which is a valley, but it wasn't too bad. On our way into Ramona, when we were coasting down into the valley, I was dreading the way back, but really it wasn't bad at all.  Maybe it was because I was in a caffeine daze?  Regardless, we finally got back to Scripps Poway Parkway and had the delightful descent---the opposite of the awful climb we had to do to get up in the first place. It was a great reward.  At the bottom of the hill we turned right and hit the last SAG stop (which was the same stop as SAG #3).  This time they had a cooler full of ice---and soda! I gladly took another Diet Coke, as well as some ice the volunteers offered (which I put down my shirt to help cool off).

At this point, I was not in great shape.  It was mile 83, which meant that not only was I physically exhausted and done after those hard hills and miles in the heat, but more I was mentally exhausted. Steve pointed out that I had "only" 22 miles left.  Yes, that's a short distance for me now, but it seemed so long at the time. All I wanted to do was go home. This is where I really had to pull out my inner strength as an endurance athlete---the strength that says "suck it up, buttercup, you're finishing what you started".  So after a longer-than-planned break at the mile 83 SAG stop, we got back on our bikes. I was also having an issue with my palms--they were chafing from all the pressure I was putting on them riding--and ended up putting the padded gloves back on (I had shed them earlier because the gloves were chafing between two of my fingers, but now the palm situation seemed the worse evil).

Steve and I had some little celebrations along the way.  At mile 81, it was officially the longest ride I'd ever done.  And at mile 100---I had biked a century, even if the ride wasn't over yet!

The rest of the ride somehow went by.  Steve got a flat tire, and urged D and I to go on ahead of us (at this point D had caught up with us and rode the rest of the way in with us).  While I was sorry Steve got a flat, personally I was happy to have another break, so I waited.  He changed it quickly (in about 1/4 the time it would take me) and we were back on our way.  Onto the oh-so-familiar SR-56 bike path, onto Rancho Penaquitos Avenue.....some turns, some climbs, some descents and then we were back at the Three Witches, this time going down.  Oh, how l loved going down.

The last few miles were rollers, mostly a fun downhill that I was able to coast, going through Fairbanks Ranch and  Olivenhain.  I loved that part---so beautiful, and with it mostly flat or downhill it was actually enjoyable.  The very last part was an uphill, but it looked worse than it was, thankfully.  A right turn into Mira Costa College, through the finish line (where G and his wife were already there, waiting and taking pictures) and I was done.  I was a century rider.  The website said it was 105 miles.  My Garmin read 105.8...while Steve's said it was 106.2. I like Steve's better.  As he said, we biked a century and a 10k!

G's wife got this great shot of me about to cross the finish
I wasn't expecting a medal for this, but there was one, so I got my medal plus $5 worth of tickets for the food trucks (most of which were already closed up---it was so late!).  I wasn't hungry, so I only bought a soda and then gave my extra tickets to another cyclist.  I ended up buying an official jersey, something I wasn't planning on doing, but D talked them down from $80 to $60, and I was so proud of myself at that point that I really wanted one to commemorate the occasion.  It came with a free San Diego Century coffee mug, too. A few poses for pictures, then off to load my bike in the car and go home.

my new jersey

The ride itself took me about 11 hours.  We left Mira Costa College at 6:10 in the morning, and we got back at roughly 5:15.  My actual biking time was 8:45, which cuts out the non-riding times of traffic lights, stop signs, SAG stops and tire changing.  I've never worked out for that long before---even my Half-Ironman was about 20 minutes shorter. And never, ever, had I seen over 100 miles on the Garmin.  As I said, my longest ride ever had been 80 miles last month, so to see it turn over 100 miles was fascinating to me.

obligatory medal pose

Some final thoughts:
  • I've been biking for 4 years now, ever since 2010 when I started triathlon.  Back then, a long ride was 10 miles.  The first time I did a 25 miler I felt like a badass rockstar. I would have never fathomed completed 100+ in one day.   It goes to show what a person can do with the right motivation and training.
  • I had a revelation at mile 70.  Up until that point, cyclists always intimidated me. Unlike runners or triathletes, I had a hard time identifying with them.  I'm not talking about the casual biker---I'm talking about the people on their decked out bikes, in their sponsored race kits who whiz past me as if I'm standing still.  It took me four years of riding, and being at mile 70 of a 105 mile ride, to realize that I, too, am a cyclist.  Just as the definition of a runner is "someone who runs" (speed and distance have nothing to do with being a runner), so should cyclist be defined as "someone who bikes"---again, speed and distance be damned.
  • Speaking of race kits, I get intimidated with all the fancy bike jerseys I see out there.  That is, until Steve reminded me that I myself was wearing my Ironman 70.3 Oceanside jersey.  In fact, I got many comments on that, people riding up next to me saying they've done that race, or want to do that race, or told me I was amazing for doing a 70.3. And now I have a century jersey....so I guess I'm learning that looks can be deceiving, and that bike jerseys are just that---shirts.  I can look badass too.  Even while biking slowly.
  • I was shocked at the lack of support on the century. The volunteers were amazing---kudos to them!--but the food was subpar, especially at the Ramona SAG where people desperately needed to fuel.  To have such little food, which was stale, and to have run out of sports drink, was inexcusable.  I also never saw a SAG vehicle---I remember when I did the Senorita Metric Century I saw a van a few times throughout, circling to see if people were ok. I'm not saying there wasn't a vehicle, but I never saw one, and I was out there for 11 hours.
  • I also saw the value in always bringing food and drink with you, even on a sponsored ride like this. You never know what they will have, or if they will run out.  Likewise, I saw the value of bringing money. I usually tuck a $5 in my bento box on my rides, figuring that would pay for a Gatorade and/or candy bar if I needed it---but I was very thankful I'd packed a $20 plus my credit card on this long ride. I didn't need the credit card, but I used up almost all of my cash.  I also saw the value of bringing meds.  Not only did I have that tube of Pepto-Bismol tablets to offer the ailing cyclist, but I also had a little box with Excedrin and my migraine medications. I never needed it, but it would have been my luck to have needed it if I didn't have it.  One thing I may think about for future long rides is a small tube of sunblock. I did apply it in the morning, but 11 hours later it was gone and I could have used a re-application.
  • Also---I recommend bringing a small bottle of Purell. I wish I'd thought to pack one in my pocket or bento.  There was no Purell in the port-o-potties, or place to wash hands.  I used water to rinse my hands, but without soap that was gross.
  • I don't think I'll do a century again. Never say never, but it's a long, LONG way to go.  I think I can live the rest of my life happily without doing another one.  But, really, it was Type 2 Fun, and I'm not as dead-set against doing this again as I am against a full marathon.
  • Having now done every component of a full-Ironman (I did a full marathon, the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll, in 2003; this 106 mile ride, which is only 6 miles short of the 112 required for an Ironman; and a 2.4 mile swim in last year's Tiki Swim) I can say, without any hesitation, that I WILL NEVER DO A FULL IRONMAN. It never interested me in the first place, but now, knowing what I know, I'm not even the slightest bit intrigued.  I am in even more awe (if possible) of those that take on 140.6.
  • I would not recommend the San Diego Century.  While the route was good and challenging, and the volunteers great, them running out of food and drink was enough for me to not recommend this particular century.  Steve says this has never happened before in his experience, but personally I wouldn't chance it. If someone does sign up, I recommend bringing money!

All in all, I'm very proud of myself.  This was a monumental challenge, a bucket-list item that had been dangling in front of me for over a year, and I'm finally able to cross it off my list.  As I wrote earlier, with enough preparation, motivation and training, we---me and YOU---can accomplish any goal we wish to acheive.


  1. Great write up. You did terrific out there. I think you should do one a year. :-)

  2. "As I climbed, I reflected on how far I've come."

    I love that you took the time mentally to appreciate what you were accomplishing. I am so proud of you for setting these big goals and then heading out there with all the strength & determination you have to conquer them.

    Congratulations! 100+ miles on the bike - seriously... WOW!!!

    1. Thanks Barb! I appreciate it very much.

  3. congratulations!!!! Great job! You know what's funny, at one point on this ride and this same event 2 years ago I thought "I could ride 100 miles!" And then many miles later I think ugh, I would never want to ride that far. haha. I think around mile 50 I was so over it. So sick of biking! I was disappointed by the SAG stops too. They were totally different in 2012. I remember one SAG stop being Mexican themed and having fresh tamales! I swear all of the stops had real food. This time peanut butter sandwiches were the best I found but they got me by. I can't believe your course went all the way out to Ramona. That seems sooooo far away!!

    1. Thanks Monika! I'm glad (yet sad) that I'm not the only one disappointed by the SAG stops. And YOU rocked YOUR ride!

  4. Impressive! I recently found your blog and love how you write...very real and honest as an athlete that admits to the highs and lows. I appreciate that you write how you feel and what you think. You did awesome!!!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that feedback. I use this as a diary---no use pretending I'm never scared, right?

    2. That is so right! And then it makes the rest of us feel okay when we get scared or upset. :)

  5. Nice job finishing the century on such a warm day, too! :oD Sounds like you've been taming beasts on your bike the last few years. Absolutely awesome!


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