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Thoughts and photos on riding the Marin Century - One of the most beautiful century rides in the country.

Marin Century Ride Review

October 11, 2013 Leave a Comment

This was my fourth time riding the Marin Century, held on August 3rd 2013. Now in its 50th year, the Marin Century is an all-volunteer event all the way through: route planning and marking, signage, food, rest stops, organization and post-ride festivities. For this year’s event, some 2,500 riders would complete courses of 30, 60, 100 and 200 miles—6 courses in all. Fully 340 people registered for the 200 mile Double Century course (200 miles)!


For riders who have ridden a Century (100 miles) or similar ride, you know there’s typically no ceremony. There’s no fanfare to begin your day, just a start banner and some fellow riders standing about. In order to begin you simply show up, stand in line to get a bib and then roll out on the ride solo or with a group. And don’t expect any cow bells along the way–just beautiful scenery, smiles and curiosity from strangers and the open road.


This was my first time riding the Mt. Tam course, a challenging 95 miles with 9,000 feet of vertical gain. Surprisingly, that’s not much more vertical than the standard Century route, which came in at 7,000 this year. The Mt. Tam course is just more concentrated in several climbs versus being spread over multiple, smaller climbs.


What follows is a summary of my ride this year. I hope it’s helpful for anyone hoping to ride longer routes than you have in the past and for those considering signing up for a Century this fall or in 2014. These rides are both fun and challenging. You’ll meet some great people and enjoy an amazing sense of satisfaction when you finish!


Ride Summary

I rolled out at 7:20 and quickly fell in toward the back of a pack of 6 strong riders headed up a gentle slope at 19 MPH. I drafted them until the first hill of the course and was promptly dropped. I knew I wouldn’t ride the course with them anyway, and—for me—this day was about fun, recreation and the new challenge that the Tam summit offered. It wasn’t about speed.


At the top of the hill at Lucas Valley Road, the route gave way to a gentle descent and the coolness of a redwood grove. Ahhh…


The most dangerous part of the course in my opinion was this descent from the top of Lucas Valley at Big Rock down to the bottom of Lucas Valley Road—less than 10 miles into the course. On this stretch of road, it was common for groups of riders of all skill sets to bunch up, sometimes dangerously close. Traveling at 25-30 MPH always carries some risk for any rider, but doing so in close proximity to other recreational riders of varying experience levels boosts that risk considerably. When the Tam Century group broke off from the other riders I could not have agreed more when a fellow rider said to me “It’s nice to be away from the herd. I almost got bumped twice.”


From here the field spread out a bit and for much of the ride after this point there were more cows within view than there were riders.


In the first 15 miles of the ride I started to suffer from leg cramps. Despite stretching diligently the week prior to the ride, I think the tightness of my legs was due to a heavy exercise routine in the previous two weeks, including cycling—both road and mountain—and hiking. I stopped alongside the road to stretch.


First 15 miles

Hydration. Goal – 20 ounces water. Actual – 20 ounces water.

Food. Goal zero. Actual zero.

Stretch. 5 minutes.

Avg MPH 16.0


By 25 miles I was warmed up and felt very good. At this point the route had taken us through the town of Fairfax and I climbed the hill to the first rest stop on Bolinas/Fairfax Road. I had to force myself to take in my sport drink and a bar. I didn’t feel like eating but I knew I had to start. My legs were tight but feeling better.


Marin Century 1-001


Marin Century 2a-001

Rest stop at 25 miles

Hydration. Goal – 20 oz Hammer Heed Sport Drink
. Actual - 20 oz Hammer Heed

Food. Goal – 1 Hammer Energy Bar

Actual – 1 bar plus bagel and cream cheese.

Stretch. 5 min.

Elapsed 2:05


After the rest, I ascended Bolinas Fairfax Road past Alpine Lake and up through the redwoods pretty much alone and got passed by a couple stronger riders. At the top of the hill at Ridgecrest there was some precipitation and I put on my arm warmers. The temperature was near 60 and the roads were wet. The fog was thick, which is a shame because the road is so beautiful with views both to the east and the west. I rolled the hills and emerged at the road to Mt. Tamalpais to temperatures in the 80s. These microclimates can be a real treat on a ride.


Marin Century 7-001


After climbing to the east peak of Mt. Tam I was at the 40 mile mark.

At this point I was ahead on food intake, having taken down a Cliff Bar on the route, along with some additional water.


Marin Century 4-001


Unfortunately I experienced a very close call on the decent. After hearing a car honking franticly (warning me, I think), I looked up to see a car on my side of the road. This person was passing two cars in the lane opposite me and was accelerating hard coming directly for me. I quickly stopped and moved to the edge of the pavement and leaned to my right, electing not to fall down the 6 foot embankment and hoping for the best. The car buzzed me within 12 inches due to his reckless pass. I was disheartened as much as scared: Why was it necessary to pass two cars with so many cyclists on the road? It’s still hard for me to believe that on a day with so much signage and visibility that drivers can be so reckless.


Rest at Muir Beach, 49 miles.

Hydration. Goal – 20 oz Hammer Perpetuem. Actual - 20 oz Hammer Perpetuem.

Food. Took in some junk food: 2 Oreos; potato chips; ½ bagel.

4:00 elapsed time

13.6 average MPH. This was surprising since I’m seldom less than 14.0 average MPH for a ride and I had just completed the big descent from the summit. I guess the ascent was slower than usual.

Stretch 5 min. Very tight legs.


From the rest at Muir Beach, we headed north up some big rollers along the coast. Near Olema, just 4 miles south of Point Reyes Station, the fog again gave way and the sun dried the road. I hit a very challenging point at about 60 miles, which is typical for me. I just push through and it gets better.


Marin Century 5-001

Rest at Point Reyes Station, 72 miles

Hydration. Goal – 20 oz water. Actual - 20 oz water.

Food. Hammer Oatmeal Apple Bar.

5:39 elapsed


From this last stop, the road is a relatively flat, easy, beautiful return. I felt great all the way back to the finish. I didn’t take in any food or hydration after the last rest stop. This is contrary to best practice but I didn’t feel the need for anything and I had been slightly ahead of goal for the day.


Riding back to the finish, the field seemed strong past the Nicasio Reservoir and over the Lucas Valley return.


This year’s Marin Century was another great one. The surprise for me was that the Mt. Tam route wasn’t any more challenging for me than the standard Century route I had completed years before. And I actually had trained a little less this year.


For any of you considering a metric Century or 100-mile Century, I encourage you to register now and start training. There are many training plans available out there and local groups that you can connect with in order to get started. Good luck and enjoy the ride!


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Abby is the founder of Goodness and can often be found with her head buried in the water in the wee hours of the day. She loves to explore Marin and Sonoma on her bike and wander the many amazing trails. Goodness was founded to bring women together on their fitness journeys, to inspire, and to educate.

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