Since its beginning in 2010, the 11.69mi, 4209-foot climb up Palomar Mountain’s South Grade has played host to the World Championships of Elliptical Cycling (AKA “The Founder’s Cup”). Elite athletes from a variety of sporting backgrounds, as well as competitive early-adopters of elliptical cycling have established this course as the ultimate measure of one’s ElliptiGO fitness.
Putting the ElliptiGO bike’s climbing and performance skills to the test, the route is comprised of three phases as it ascends at a steady, average grade of 7% from 1059ft to 5268ft at the finish. Many runners and former runners who have tackled this climb compare the duration and fatigue to that of racing a half-marathon. The only difference being that while every ounce of energy is gone at its conclusion, the aches and pains regularly associated with the cumulative impact of running a half marathon are nowhere to be found, allowing for an enjoyable and vista-filled descent back down after rejoicing and replenishing with fellow riders.
Let’s take a closer look at The Course:
Phase 1 (4.3mi/1537ft)
Phase 1 of the course begins at “the taco shop” and is made up of a 4.3mi/1537ft climb up Route 76. This section of road is made up of big sweeping turns and bends in the road with some slight pitching from time to time. The asphalt in this section is generally smooth and in good shape; however, the recent addition of a rumble strip on the shoulder throughout the first mile of the race does force riders to stay single file at the start. Once past that section, the road generally has a broad shoulder with good visibility that allows for safe two-abreast riding.
You will want to get out and get into position during this first part, but be sure to settle into a rhythm that feels comfortable. Too much effort early here and you may find yourself paying for it later. While this is arguably just as steep and hard as the remainder of the course above, it is early and the climb up Palomar can make for a long day. As the saying goes, you can’t win a race in the first few miles, but you can definitely lose one. Stay within yourself. There will be plenty of time to work hard later.
Phase 2 (.5mi/42ft)
Phase 2 of the course is short and sweet! This half-mile section is the only flat(ish) portion of the course, climbing only 42ft. Just after you pass the 4.3mi mark, the road will roll gradually straight through a small valley toward a split in the road and the beginning of the final phase of the race – Palomar Mountain Rd/S6.
Just before heading left and ascending Palomar Mountain Road, you’ll get one last chance to drop equipment, grab additional water and food from your support team and get a final cheer from spectators who generally gather at the split. If you are running low on hydration or nutrition, don’t be afraid to stop. A few seconds lost here could save a few minutes toward the top. Likewise, while a SAG crew will be driving the course, this will also be a good place to stop if you have any mechanical issues, as there will be people available to assist you with a quick repair.
Phase 3 (6.9mi/1571ft)
The final phase of the course, while not as steep on average, is arguably harder than the first phase due to its length and slightly less steady grade. This part of the course will take you up a series of switchbacks that will reveal more climbing ahead with each and every turn you make. Just when you think it must be getting close to the end, you turn a corner and see a new peak in the distance. The good news on this section is that mile markers will count you down all the way to mile 47.8 of Palomar Mountain Rd./S6 and the finish line at Mother’s Kitchen.
During the ascent, the grade will pitch back and forth between 5% and 9% as you round steep switchbacks and gain momentum between them. You will also have the task of navigating three cattle guards during this section, the first of which comes just after the split at 4.8mi.
Phase 3 will start in the nice, shaded canopy of the foliage, but with each mile marker that passes as you approach the top, the sky will open, revealing sweeping views of the valley below. Don’t worry, even if you are breathing too hard to truly enjoy the views on this pass, they will still be there for the descent back down (they’ll just be passing by much quicker on the return trip). For now, focus and continue to push toward the top. You’re almost there!
The finish line of the race is the stop sign that marks the intersection of Palomar Mountain Rd/S6 and S7, just down from Mother’s Kitchen. There, you’ll find a heap of exhausted, but invigorated, ElliptiGO athletes waiting to congratulate you on your accomplishment.
A quick group picture is taken each year and then, those who wish to actually enjoy the course, take a casual 11.69mi descent back down the same route … generally swearing to never climb Palomar again.
But they always come back for just “one more climb” …