Run with Eric + workout

2009 Palomar Ultimate Challenge

Endurance athletes have a twisted sense of what it means to have fun.

Mike Plumb, coach of TriPower Multisports is no exception, and his latest brainchild is the Palomar Ultimate Challenge. If you caught the 2009 Tour of California, Palomar Mountain was the featured climb of Stage 8. Rated HC ('hors categorie' or 'beyond category') by the UCI, Palomar is an 11.6 mile climb with over 4200 ft of vertical gain. The average gradient is just under 7%. It has drawn many comparisons to the Tour de France's famed Alpe d'Huez climb which is similar in length and also has 21 switchbacks.

Simply put, it's a bitch of a climb for any cyclist.

As if climbing the mountain on a bike wasn't hard enough on it's own, the Palomar Ultimate Challenge adds an out and back 9.5 mile run from the famous Mother's restaurant at the top of the climb along a 4.75 mile route to the Palomar Observatory at a elevation of 5618 ft.

Since I had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, I drug my ass out of bed early, got on the road for the 1 hr drive and showed up atop the mountain at 8:30am. Why meet at the top of the mountain, you ask? So I could have my running stuff ready to go after finishing the climb of course! A few other folks had already arrived. Despite the sunny skies, it was cold, mid-40's, so I bundled up for the descent down the hill. After 24 bone-chilling minutes, I arrived at the official start of the climb, Jilberto's Taco Shop, just east of the intersection of Valley Center Road and Route 76. I dumped my windjacket in one of the trucks that was driving up, but left on my arm and knee warmers. By 9:30, about 15 people had arrived and once we shared some encouraging words, we began our ascent.

After the descent (that's me in yellow), blowing on my hand trying to warm it up.

A few words of wisdom from Coach Mike
I've climbed Palomar 3 times previous to this attempt. Every time, it was a struggle. But this year, I've trained a lot more on the bike and after climbing Mt. Lemmon last weekend, I was optimistic that I would do pretty well. The first mile or two is not steep, but has enough pitch to it that climbing it with cold legs is tough. It took about 15 minutes of solid effort before the legs were really warm and I settled into the effort. I set a HR ceiling of 150, and on several occassions I had to drop into my smallest gear (39x26) to keep the HR below that threshold. I was toward the front of the group, two guys were way off the front... Mike passed me at about two miles in and Ray (another TCSD athlete) left me at around the 3 mile mark. Once Ray put about 100 yards on me, I matched his pace and that distance stayed pretty consistant up the rest of the climb.

As we got further up the climb, I passed a few other cyclists that were not in our group. A few short words of encouragement were uttered... but that was it, but there was not much breath to spare due to the effort.

At the 4 mile mark, after a short flat section and a very short descent (maybe 200 yards), there is a split in the road and the climb continues up the left fork (South Grade Road). This is my favorite part of the climb. The 21 switchbacks wind tightly up the mountainside and the views of the valley below are amazing. My intial HR ceiling was getting hard to manage and I revised my plan. Keep it under 160. There are markers every.2 miles up the climb and I concentrated on keeping a steady effort to each one (43.2, 43.4, 43.6... etc.).

It wasn't long before I reached the 5000 ft marker and then the final 47.8 mile marker just before the official finish of the climb (the stop sign at the intersection of South Grade and East Grade). I stopped the clock at 1:19:04. A far cry from the sub-1 hr times of pro cyclists, but certainly my best effort up the mountain.

HR/elevation chart from the ride
After a quick change into my running stuff and a stop at the bathroom, I began the run. The route follows Canfield Road to the Palomar Observatory. And it's HILLY! I knew I was in for some pain when the road descended for the first 2 miles. Which I normally wouldn't mind, except for the fact that I would have to run UP the same road at the end of the run. Then, after reaching the bottom of the descent, the road tilted up. Which is how it stayed until I reached the Observatory. After climbing the flight of stairs to the entrance and giving the building a high-five, I started back down. Oh, nearly forgot to mention, my legs were so tired from the long climb that I tripped twice on the stairs... much to the amusement of the sightseers who were wondering what the crazy runners were doing up there in the first place.

The run back was pretty much the same routine... a long descent, followed by a ridiculous 400+ ft climb the final 1.5 miles. Here's the chart, check it out.

HR/elevation chart from the run

Wow, what a workout. As close as I've come to race-level intensity during a workout. As you can see from the run chart, my HR was right at lactate threshold (165-170) for long sections of the climbs. I can't wait to do this one again.

Like I said, we endurance athletes are a little twisted.

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2009 Palomar Ultimate Challenge + workout