The Heartbreak Hundred

The peloton collects and waits for the 9:00 rollout.

Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing. Or maybe it was my relationship with my dad. Maybe I’m just defective. Somewhere, somehow, I blurred the line between suffering and fun.

Definitely defective.

Confusing suffering and fun is like confusing blue and orange or atheism and Catholicism. Truly, they don’t have much in common. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.

The upshot is that I’m at my best on rides between 60 and 80 miles but I keep choosing to do centuries and gran fondos that take me way beyond my comfort zone. And despite the fact that I’m not particularly fast, my preference is for rides reminiscent of a Yes song—long and difficult.

At certain points you could look east and see the Sierra.

This season, for the second time since it has been offered, I’ve undertaken the King of the Mountains Challenge. Three centuries and the easiest of them is the final one, the Heartbreak Hundred. At 100 miles exactly, and containing 8500 feet of climbing, it’s both the shortest and flattest of the bunch. That’s relative, of course. Finding a century with more than 5000 feet of climbing is tougher than you think.

Here in the United States there is an organization called the Bicycle Ride Directors’ Association of America. The BRDAA has a Ride Rating System that ranks rides with a six-star legend (apparently, five wasn’t enough). Rides that rate six stars are centuries that have at between 3000 and 3500 feet of climbing (maybe a bit more).

The sense of humor was unexpected and kept me chuckling for the next half hour.

So the rides I think are fun are off the chart. And I’m not good enough to ride them at a 20 mph average. Maybe set my sights lower?

And miss something like the Heartbreak Hundred? Are you high?

Every now and then you hook up with exactly the right wheel. Some angels wear lycra.

It’s easy to look at the course profile and imaging that because the sustained climbing is finished, the shorter climbs ought to be easy enough to tackle, right? That might be true if you weren’t above 5000 feet of elevation. It’s the rare rider who can hit those at full gas.

The view back down the canyon is impressive.

Amazingly, when you top the final climb at roughly mile 88, you have an unbroken descent the final 12 miles to the finish. Ride judiciously and you might pick up some riders to form a group. Between guys who caught me and other guys we caught (and dropped) I rode with a quartet back to the finish. Quick, powerful turns kept our speed easily above 30 mph.

It’s impossible to know how close you are to the top of the climb.

No matter how badly the last climb goes, a fast finish can cure all ills, can’t it?

Amazingly, the ride had fewer than 500 participants. For a ride with a course this good, this devoid of traffic (I could have counted the cars and not lost track) and perfectly supported, not to mention the RFID timing system I don’t see how every century-prone cyclist within two hours of Lebec didn’t do the ride. I don’t think any part of LA was more than two hours from the start, so that should have been thousands.

When I walked into registration I could see my time on a monitor. No wait.

One of these days I’m going to get all the details right and hit Heartbreak Hill full gas. I can’t wait.

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  1. Craig

    My favorite Yes songs: Heart of the Sunrise, Starship Trooper, Yours is No Disgrace, Survival. I can’t figure out how to order the first three, but they’re my favs. Rock on.

  2. eatiusbirdius

    UGGG! I envy you Padraig. I so wish I had the fitness to do these. Someday hopefully. Congrats on the accomplishment!

    Isn’t that the “Beauty and the Beast” of cycling: the weird dichotomy between fun and pain? It’s oddly what keeps us coming back for more. It parallels life in so many ways; peaks and valleys, pain and pleasure. Getting through a tough time in life is exhilarating; makes you feel alive. The same way conquering a huge climb (no matter how slow) produces that same feeling. I’m convinced that this parallel is the true beauty of cycling and one of the reason I absolutely love the sport.

    I love the fact that RKP continues to write articles like this where the emphasis is on the joy of cycling and doesn’t always focus on the bad press that cycling gets. Keep it up guys…great job!

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  4. Michael

    Patrick, you should come on up to sunny British Columbia next year and give this fundraising ride a crack, it would be right up your alley;

    Make sure to scroll down to the bottom of that page to have a look at the course profile!

    distance – 400km (!)
    Vertical climbed – 12,000 ft (3700 metres and change)

    I was already committed to a 2-day back to back century fundraising ride the weekend after this so took a pass for this year, I am firmly intent on knocking it off next year however!

  5. Bob Cesca

    Padraig wrote:

    >>>Rides that rate six stars are centuries that have at between 3000 and 3500 feet of climbing (maybe a bit more). So the rides I think are fun are off the chart. And I’m not good enough to ride them at a 20 mph average.

    You and 99.9% of the rest of us. I’d be thrilled to do a *half-century* with those climbs at 20mph.

  6. Michael

    Another one for you;

    Inaugural year of a new Gran Fondo, it is a 120 km ride from Vancouver to Whistler, 2400 METRES of climbing (but also 1700 metres of grin inducing descending), already sold out for this it’s inaugural year.

    I am signed up for this and am then turning around and doing the Mt. Baker Hillclimb in WA the next day! What a weekend that will be, just what the hell was I thinking 😉

  7. jonathan

    Put RAMROD on your list as well. 10,000 feet of climbing over 154 miles in and around Mt Rainier National Park.

  8. Michael

    my final contribution, not an organised ride but a ride for the more…adventurous up here in BC.

    Whistler to Lilloet (google this badboy, some folks on Slowtwitch forum have posted the ride info)

    How about 10km at 13%+ straight out of town to get you warmed up? And they say there are no Italian style long, sustained steep ramps here in North America 😉

    It does not get any easier after that!

    137k total’ish, did this ride myself with some friends last year (not this crew in the above link). If you are in town long enough and hook up with the right crew sag support is an absolute MUST. Brilliant ride though through a quiet, scenic mountain area with glacial lakes and glaciers all over the place.

    I was on a 50/34 with a 12-28 and did not regret having this one bit!

  9. Michael

    ahhhhh, in the category of entirely unnecessary but greatly appeciated, my employer just rather unexpectedly provided me with a custom made musette bag that they personalised for me specifically to use during all these rides!

    tres cool, it’s good to be surrounded by good people 🙂

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