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A history of the SFR Healdsburg (nee Russian River) 300 from 1999 through 2022

There are only two routes that SFR currently uses that stretch back to our first year (1999) as a RUSA region, and of those two (Mendocino Coast (formerly Fort Bragg) 600 and Healdsburg 300) only the Healdsburg 300km has been held every year SFR has held brevets.

History

First run in 1999, this route and all SFR events, took a break while the region was inactive from 2000 through 2002. Once an active region again in 2003, this 300km route has then been held every year since, now through 2022 and SFR has hosted 21 iterations of the Healdsburg 300km. The name for this early season 300km was once the Russian River 300km. Other SFR routes have been named for the point furthest from the start, for example the Hopland 400km so following that convention, many SFR members, past and present refered to this route as the Healdsburg 300 and that is how it now appears in both the RUSA database and SFR website. Another problem with the old 'Russian River' name is that it wasn't unique. There is a 200km also named Russian River, and that route actually dates back much further in SFR lore, back into the 1980s when members of an East Bay recreational cycling club organized the PBP qualifiers, which was when when the International Randonneurs served as the link to the Audax Club Parisien. The route, #214 in the RUSA database, is officially named the Healdsburg 300km.

The route

The route has undergone some minor tweaking since its first iteration but is largely the same as in 1999. Riders leave the Golden Gate Bridge visitor's plaza and head out to Fairfax and then travel through Samual Taylor State Park before looping around the west end of the Nicasio Reservoir before making a bee-line toward Petaluma where the 2nd intermediate control is located. From there the route heads north through Santa Rosa and Windsor on the way to the northern terminus in Healdsburg. Riders most often make this control their main food stop. The tables outside the Safeway are no longer there, but many riders still pause for a tray of sushi before heading out through the vineyards along Westside Road to River Road on the way out to the coast near the mouth of the Russian River south of Jenner. The next control is in Bodega Bay which offers a short rest before tackling the mega-rollers on the way past Valley Ford and Tomales.

In earlier years the next control was at the Marshall Store, but this control became overwhelmed by the tourists, and the Marshall Store often closed before the control itself would so the control was moved 10 miles south to Point Reyes Station where there are many more options for riders to refuel. From there, the route back follows the well used path through Olema, over Bolinas Ridge, through the redwoods, across the San Geronimo Valley and over White Hill and on to Fairfax and then lower Marin and on back to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. With the final return being through Olema in recent years, the shortest route from Bodega Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge is the route listed so soon the Olema control will disappear. Riders will still likely pause in PRS before making the final push to cover the last 35 miles of the route.

Comparing the difficulty of this route to other routes, Ridewithgps suggests there is about 8,200' of elevation gain on this route. The 200km routes used for the rides that not preceeds this one on the calendar every year range from 7,000' to 7,500'. Given that, the Healdsburg 300km is in some ways considered a treat. On the route from the point where riders are coasting down the last big roller before Petaluma, there are no significant climbs at all until riders reach the coast south of Jenner. As well, there is often a healthy tailwind as riders head south on CA 1.

Weather and scheduling

In the early years, this 300km was always held in February, once as early in the month as the 14th. As SFR began to list more brevets the ride date moved toward the end of February and then frequently into the next month of March where it has settled on the calendar on the weekend of the annual time change. The latest it has been held was March 18th until the 2nd year of the Covid Pandemic when in 2021 SFR opened the season very late, and the Healdsburg 300 was held in late June. In 2022, the date returned to early March. Despite the date variations over the years, it is a  near constant that this brevet has been held solidly within the rainy season, and rain has factored into more than one event.

While there has been rain on several of the dates over the years, a few years stand out on the misery index. In 2007 rain began about 60-70 miles in and just kept getting worse through the day and was joined by high winds after sunset. In 2016 the rain began earlier and was also joined by gusting wind, but the difference between the two dates is that there were far fewer starters and finishers in 2016 to tell the tale afterward. The 2022 version was a chilly one, and one year riders had to watch out for black ice as late into the ride as Petaluma when the brevet was held just a day after a big rainstorm and freezing overnight temperatures. The total finishers dropped from 126 in 2015 to just 25 in 2016, just to show the difference between a fair weather year and one less than fair. Following behind on the scale of wet Healdsburg 300ks behind 2007 and 2016 are both the 2019 and 2020 editions, both of which were quite soggy.

Participants

SFR was a smaller club in the early years, so it is no surprise that the number of starters was lower. In 1999, there were 21 finishers and the total of finishers dropped as low as 13 on the 3rd running in 2004. In 2010 ridership on this event seemingly exploded and from 2010 through 2015 there were never fewer than 101 finishers, peaking with 126 finishers in 2015 (later exceeded in 2022). For a period of years, participation dwindled owing to several factors. Rain at the start and rain that begins much later in the ride have different effects. For 2007 the rain only began for most riders as they neared Windsor, close to 70 miles into the ride. Even though that is the most epic year for weather for those that have ridden multiple iterations of the Healdsburg 300, the number of starters and finishers that year (2007) is higher than in some subsequent years. 2021 may look odd with the weather having been so great but with one of the smallest starting rosters, but that was a pandemic year and turnout would only rebound much later that year.

[Editor's note: for some context, no other RUSA region has had even 100 starters for their 300km Whoops! that is wrong. Before 2008, RUSA records did not include the field for # of starters or # of DNF so for 1999 through 2007 we can only use # of finishers. In 2003 CA: Davis had 162 *finishers*. One can assume the # of starters was higher than that.]

No one rider has participated on all 21 events since 1999, and no rider is all that close. In the last few years this particular leader board has been jumbled a little and a new leader has emerged.:

Rider No. of finishes
Holmgren, John 15
HAGGERTY, Tom 14
HAWKS, Rob 14
BUNTROCK, Robert 13
CLARKSON, Bryan 13
HASTINGS, Geoff 13
DUQUE, Carlos 12
JOHNSON, Ken 12
MCCAW, Richard 12
PIERCE, Jason 11
Houck, Timothy 10
UZ, Metin 10
Haas, Stephen 9
Andersen, Gabrielle 8
BEATO, Greg 8
BEATO, Keith 8
BERG, Bruce R 8
BRIER, Bill 8
BUDVYTIS, Gintautas 8
Chun, Brian 8
EMERSON, Ken 8
KILGORE, Bryan 8
KOSS, Brian 8
NEVIN, Willy 8
TEACHOUT, Todd 8

There has been 1431 finishers over the course of the 21 versions of the event.

Ride times

In the last few years some astonishing finish times at one end of the scale have been turned in with the total elapsed time of 9:49 being turned in when the brevet was run in 2021 (In perfect June weather). Since 1999, no one has bettered the mark at the end of the scale of 19:59 however. That mark was possilby achieved with insider knowledge as it was set in 1999 by the creator of the route. You have one and only one possibility to break that version of the record.

For riders with at least 3 finishes, Andrea Achilli looks to be the most consistent with his shortest and longest finishes within 40 minutes of each other (followed by Russ Fairles' 44 minute difference). Riding the event on a particularly rainy date (2007, 2016, 2019, 2020) can easily lengthen your elapased time by over a hour, and more. Glancing at the results we can find a number of riders with three or more finishes with a four hour difference between shortest and longest ride, but Bob Buntrock's 6 hour and 13 minute delta stands out. Bob's two bookend finishes were 11:36 in 2011, and 17:49 in 2004.

Here are the groupings of finishers by hour:

Finally, here is a table of the starters per edition from 1999 through 2022, NB: RUSA doesn't have DNF numbers available to RBAs prior to 2009:

Date # of Starters # of Finishers # of DNF riders First Finishing Time Mean Finishing Time
1999/02/20 22 14:00 17:32
2003/02/15 30 13:44 16:20
2004/02/14 13 13:49 15:57
2005/02/26 33 11:46 13:52
2006/02/25 56 11:19 14:25
2007/02/24 75 12:03 16:04
2008/02/23 33 31 2 11:55 14:17
2009/02/21 71 68 3 11:20 14:38
2010/02/27 117 110 7 11:27 14:54
2011/02/26 118 108 10 11:36 15:02
2012/03/10 105 101 4 11:30 14:16
2013/03/09 111 107 4 11:03 14:36
2014/03/08 125 122 3 11:05 14:34
2015/02/28 126 126 0 11:15 15:02
2016/03/05 32 25 7 14:00 16:38
2017/03/18 58 55 3 10:40 14:18
2018/03/10 92 87 5 10:50 14:14
2019/03/09 72 61 11 13:06 16:17
2020/03/07 54 40 14 12:02 14:57
2021/06/26 26 26 0 9:49 13:27
2022/03/12 140 135 5 10:10 15:07

NB: The data used all comes from RUSA databases. SFR data is not uniformly stored (different columns, different name varients, missing rows) so was not used. Names have been normalized as much as possible, but if members changed how they submitted names as they renew memberships (including middle intial or not, spelling middle name vs. initial, changing last name) these variants need to be collected then normalized. It is possible that some variants were overlooked during this manual step.

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