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One of the Hardest Things I have Ever Done: Mulholland Challenge

The Mulholland Challenge has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It is a 108 mile cycling race through the Santa Monica mountains of Southern California involving 11,500 feet of climbing with grades often over 6% and reaching 18%. Also on this particular day, the weather peaked at 105 degrees to make things that much more exciting. Here is a great quote from the people that put on this masochistic event…

The Way of Planet Ultra
Planet Ultra is a state of mind, a way of life, a place to seek solace and inspiration, to take refuge, to find insight and inspiration. It is both terra firma and terra incognito, myth and mystery, muscle and mind. We live with the motto
“by endurance we conquer.”

Very applicable to many situations.

So prior to doing this ride I was scoping out blogs to get an idea of what I was about to do. This one gives a hilarious account of the ride. and although it made me laugh, I was half laughing from fear of this monster I was about to try and tame. This other site gives a more objective version of the ride but is not nearly as hilarious but it does show some interesting graphs that give you an idea of how much climbing is going to be involved.

Well let me help the future Mulholland challengers as well…

Pre-Race Preparation.

  1. This race is hard. In fact, it is not a race as I learned early on at about mile 14. It’s a race of survival, just looking to make it to the end. So train before hand or you will be ridiculed by all these old guys who dominate this race as you bail out. I had ridden one 80 miler before hand with at least 100 milesa week riding for a few months. I still felt unprepared.
  2. Bring full fingered gloves with a jacket. The first 30 or so minutes through the early morning canyons were agony with 41 degree temperatures. Its worth the very little extra weight.
  3. Seat bag had tube, 2 CO2 and adapter, multi-tool (which I got justin to carry, sucker)
  4. Get the compact crank setup. All the good riders had em, theres no reason not to. $140 bucks right now at performance bikes.

During The Race

  1. Don’t drink their “Sustain” powder, tastes like shit and makes you feel like your gonna yak on mile 93. Just go with the Gatorade.
  2. Take the anti lactic acid pills, just do it. I took 5 before we started and another 5 at mile 70.
  3. Don’t ride alone. Always have someone there to push you or succomb to the mountain mind games.
  4. I carried two water bottles. They recommended bringing a camel pack on the website but we have already ignored their request to change our gears so why bow to the water demands as well?
  5. In my jersey pockets I had 5 lactic acid pills, 2 cliff bars which I didn’t eat, two gel blocks bags, extra tube, camera which I got X to carry, and a banana in the beginning. I would pick up granola bars at each stop and eat them on the way as well.
  6. Drink more water than you think you need, you know your dehydrated when you are sweating salt crystals.

Ride Description
I didnt have a computer, I kneed it off one ride and have never replaced it. So this account wont give you the mile markers you are looking for but the sites I mentioned above do a good job of that.

We started at 6:32am and it was extremely cold. I opted to not bring arm or leg warmers for heat and weight reasons. Uustin, Xavier, and my self were in the 5% of people who came as poorly prepared as we did. Going through Las Virgenes road is relatively painless and most people were not going really that fast. The hill is short and easy and then you get a fantastic down hill looking over at the Pacific Ocean as the warm air hits you coming from the west providing only a small relief to my numb fingers.

You go south on PCH and we were pushing pretty hard. I considered conserving for the unknown hills I knew wer coming but competition brings out funny decisions in a person. A left turn onto Topanga Canyon and this horrible wind just smacked us in the face lowering my moral as we trudged up this slow ascent. The wind eventually subsides as we got deeper into the canyon. Apparently on the way up Topanga a guy got knocked down by someone who got a flat tire. I would have cried if that happened to me.

The first hill was a slow steady grade and I felt really good at this point and went up it quite easily. Apparently Xavier cramped at this point mysteriously. The first sticker stop (you have to collect five stickers through the race) is about 30 miles in and a welcome relief. I felt comically delirious at each of the sticker stops. From here there are just a load more hills, none are particularly difficult until you get to Cotharin. Here is where I left my impact racing brethren and surged forward to not see them again for about 8 hours. This hill was brutal and the sun just started to come out.

Eventually you get to the top and the road turns really bad with huge cracks all over it. Going down hill and hitting these things at 50 km/h and not getting a punctured tire is just ridiculous. I saw several guys pulled over on the way down, one apparently broke his steering tube and another guy went down hard requesting that he could ride to the “clinic” in Malibu. I heard of three bad crashes through out the day. at the bottom you hit PCH and then you go south again. Again we moved at pace but riding PCH with speed gazing out over the horizon is an activity everybody should do in their lifetime. Eventually we arrived at Decker Canyon and we began the hardest hill of the race. It began with 18% and probably averaged 10-12% and went on for some 8 miles. I rode well and found a group of Orange County’ians to motivate me to get to the top. I got to the top and at the sticker stop I was laughing because I really didn’t think I should have been able to climb that hill.

Next came some slow rollers through the interior peaks of the Santa Monica mountains. Beautiful scenery and on a truly gorgeous day as well. I didn’t find this section so bad as the hills never got to steep but I did have to do it on my own. At the second to last sticker spot you are at mile 79 r something. You are told that the next and last sticker spot is not that far away. But you have to go up Stunt road. At mile 90 the road goes at steady 8% grade for 4 miles. The key here is the mile 90 factor, not the hardest hill normally but different story after the day you have just had. I had to stop 2 times on the way up. I believe for over heating reasons as I felt a little dizzy. You get to the top and they were the friendliest sticker spot yet as they pretty much carried you to a chair, fed you a bottle and served you homemade chocolate chip cookies.

From here you have 1.5 miles of pretty tough climbing left and your home free. This was the one part I almost cramped on and i attribute it to the homemade chocolate chip cookie. A great downhill looking over Calabassas is next and then you have an annoying up hill on Las Virgenes to go back to the hotel where the race began and start.

Personal Reflection

This race is not attempted by young people for some reason. It is all 30+ year olds with many well over 40. My cohorts and I were the only youngsters I saw although Xavier and Justin said they sighted a 20 something rider and a few youngsters who likely did not finish the race. The only explanation for this is because young people now-a-days are bread not to be masochistic. I think the older mentality is summed up through the quote I started this blog with.

After 8 hours and 36 minutes the ride was over. For the last 2-3 hours the theme of the ride was “Just make it stop” and the thought of laying down brought me to the finish. In the end, I have no regrets and am extremely happy with my performance. I would do it again, only after the big bear climb and maybe riding from LA to SF.

Whats next, I am thinking of velodrome racing.

Published inBikesLukeSuperlative