by Gary Gellin
November 5, 2011
Just for fun, and hopefully for some training benefit as well, I participate each fall in one or more hillclimb bicycle races that are part of the San Francicso Bay Area "Low-Key Hillclimb" series. These events are low-key in that they are volunteer run, have no permits (usually), and cost ten bucks to enter. Naturally, there is nothing low-key about the actual race where riders try for their personal best up the local steep hills. I have ridden a number of these climbs on my bike in my former life as a bike racer, but now I like to pick the steepest climb from the series and test out my uphill running.
Week number 6 of the series was last weekend and featured Mix Canyon Road, near Vacaville, CA. This is one of the steepest roads in California with an average grade of 9% over 4.7 miles. The first mile is relatively flat, the second mile is moderately steep, but the last two miles are KILLER steep with long, extended sections of 15%.
As the initial part of the climb was a somewhat shallow grade, all of the bicycles instantly disappeared up the road. My first two miles were run in 14 minutes compared to 8 minutes for the front of the pack. I began to reel in cyclists when the grade became steep after mile 3, but the bulk of the pack was long gone. I did manage to catch and pass over 20 people, but the finish line came too soon. Average pace for the climb was 8:13 mpm.
Below is a fun photo sequence taken from one of the hairpin bends on a steep stretch of the climb. (photo credit: Jon Degenhardt)
How steep does the road need to be to justify ditching the bike in favor of running shoes? Further below is an overlay of my speed and that of my friend Chris Phipps who was 2nd on the day and is one of the top elite bicycle racers in Northern California. The percentage grade is also overlayed, so you can see what the grade is where the pace running exceeds the pace cycling.