Monday, April 10, 2017

Planet Ultra Mulholland Challenge

The Mulholland Challenge is the first in a three-part King (or Queen) of the Mountain Challenge organized by Planet Ultra. When the say challenge, they mean it. The ride is posted as 106 miles and around 12,000’ of gain. It actually came in at just over 107 miles and over 13,200’ of gain. It zig zags across the Santa Monica Mountains with ascents and descents up many of the storied climbs and a few that are less so.

My goal for this race was to ride it faster than last year. While I have had a big year in terms of mileage so far my overall elevation gain is a little less than I hoped. That said I was going off a serious block of training having completed the TrainerRoad Sweet Spot Base plan. More thoughts on my plan to follow in a later post.

The strategy for the ride was to get out as early as possible. The event had a relaxed starting policy that let you start anytime between 6:30-8:00am depending on your anticipated finish time. Becca dropped me off which was great as that ensured I wasn’t hanging or driving around looking for parking. After a quick pit stop in the host hotel I was on the road by 6:45am-ish. The morning was cloudy and cool and would make for a cold start but expected to soon warm up, even more so on when I started climbing.

The majority of the riders were more punctual than me and as is my modus operandi I had missed the actual start. No worries, navigating around or within other riders was one less thing to worry about.

As mentioned the ride traverses the Santa Monica Mountains. The first section was centered around the Topanga Canyon end, south of Las Virgenes (aka Malibu Canyon). After an uneventful ride out along Mulholland Highway, I caught up with the first of the tail-enders after 10 miles. A sharp right onto Topanga and a quick climb to get our climbing legs and lungs ready we were treated the first decent into Topanga Village. Nice and steady. The next climb was up Old Topanga. I settled into a nice steady pace, quick light spinning with a high output. As I got to the top I passed a few more riders. A twisty and wet descent dictated the easy pace as we rolled back down the other side. This proved to be a wise choice as close to the bottom several fire trucks and an ambulance were dealing with, what looked to be, a nasty accident with a tandem.

IMG_3148At the bottom was the first Aid Station. With cool temperatures, all I needed was a checkpoint sticker as proof of me passing through. A rolling section took us to the bottom of Stunt. This was the first of the major climbs. I have ridden it several times, most recently with Becca. It’s not long at about 4 miles with about 1300’ of gain. My ride up took 29:28, by far not my fastest time but there were traffic signals at the bottom where a construction crew was clearing dirt off the road from the overnight rain. For reference Phil Gaimon (former Cannondale Pro has the KOM in 16:03!).


I picked up a few more riders along the way and at the top I was 2:40 in and had covered 37 miles. A little over a third in distance. The descent down Piuma was a little sketchy. The low cloud had decided enough was enough and to release its load. It was less than a minor shower but enough to make the road wet. I eased up and rolled down knowing that as the road unwound at the bottom there was a sharp right turn. The turn came and my caution proved a good move as there were plenty of cars at the bottom lining up for a local restaurant for breakfast.

Back onto Mulholland and we were riding back the way we came to the next section. Let’s call this the Rock Store section. At the bottom was the second Aid Station. Tucked away off the road there were bathrooms and water as well as some bars and bananas. I scoffed several bananas and left. This was about halfway.


A quick word on my nutrition/hydration plan. My bottles were filled with Raspberry Skratch. I like it fairly strong and so there was a scoop and a half per bottle. I have also taken to cutting it with Base Aminos. This combination has been working well in replacing electrolytes and muscle fueling. It has been working really well. In terms of nutrition I had started with a handful of bars; Rx, Lara and Clif and then I would take whatever the Aid Stations had to offer. A bar an hour and half a bottle an hour was the rough consumption level, a little more fluid when the sun came out.

The ride up Rock Store was simple. Crossing over Kanan and then a little extra climbing up Encinal to get to the top of the Mulholland descent. This section is where I completed my first Everesting and so the ride down was very familiar. At the bottom, it was a right turn onto PCH and slap bang into a headwind! Well this sucks I thought and it did for the short ride to the base of Yerba Buena. I stopped at the base and stripped off my vest. The cloud had cleared and it was warming up. Yerba is a pretty climb, the views are pretty in the canyon, the road is pretty shitty and the climb is pretty steep! A steady 3 mile climb to the next Aid Station and then, at least in my mind, the worst section of the ride; Cotharin. The road is terrible, it’s only a mile long but you gain 500 or so feet. In the end, it actually wasn’t that bad and in reality the descent down Deer Creek proved to be much more challenging with a heavy side wind trying to blow you into the middle of the road. Back on PCH I headed South and had a nice tail wind which gave me back some of the time lost pedaling North.

IMG_3150IMG_3152I was left with the final climb, Decker, back to the finish. As with all the other climbs I kept a constant pace and a light spin. I caught a couple more riders. My reward at the top was the final Aid Station that had cans of coke! I drank half of one and departed. Of course, this wasn’t the final climb but it was the last “categorized” one. What remained by comparison were nothing but rollers.

IMG_3138Finally, back at base level all that was left was a quick flat finish to the finish line.

Digits from the day; 106.7 miles. No cruising round the parking lot to round up! 13,209’ in 7:50 moving time and 8:25 elapsed.

Overall I was really pleased, I rode a sensible ride and kept a solid work output through the day. I was reduced my ride time by 25 minutes from the prior year and my elapsed time by a total of 37 minutes!

IMG_3144There is no doubt this is not an easy ride. But it’s definitely doable with some preparation and training.

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