Monday, August 15, 2011

The Great Century

Saturday morning was cold and rainy - a great day to sleep in, get some coffee, read the newspaper, snuggle up on the couch and love on the family some while watching movies all day.

Naturally, my alarm clock went off at 5:30 that morning so I could go ride a bike for 100 miles in the rain. I drove out there by myself and it rained the whole time so everything got drenched - no electronics, no garmin, no pictures.

I got up a bit early, ate breakfast, got dressed and drove over to Hillsborough for the Bikefest 100 mile ride. Found a decent parking space and sprinted for the line to the men's room. It was a long line, but ultimately a successful trip. The line for packet pickup was also a touch long, but not as bad. I rode over there in street clothes, so after I got the packet (which was only a wristband - no swag this year) and headed back to the car to change into my riding gear and check out the bike. I knew I was cutting it close to the start time, but last year the start was really late so I thought it would be ok.

As I'm riding my bike towards the starting line, there is a massive pack of riders coming towards me. I asked one of the stragglers, and sure enough that was the mass start. I missed it again. So no mental prep time and waiting for the gun to go off, just a good ol' here we go.

Last year I did my first century ride, and it was the most difficult thing I've ever attempted before. Really screwed me up mentally for a long time. Then last year I tried the metric century for this same ride and had the worst mechanical problems ever on the bike. So my expectations were very low coming into the ride. If the bike survived (mechanical failure or my just leaving it on the side of the road and walking away) then it would be a good day.

Of course since I started out at the very back of the 600 rider pack after missing the start, there were tons of people to pass. Knowing the conditions and how late/rushed my start was, I was riding naked with no electronics at all. But I remembered last year when I went under that bridge where I got the flat tire was about 6 miles in. I cleared that turn with caution this year.

My plan was to go out stupid easy until the first aide station, then upgrade to just "easy" for the rest of the ride. I will take the same approach to the Ironman bike leg. I found a gear/cadence that required no actual muscular exertion from my legs and held it. Turns out, it was still a pretty high gear so I made great time, and passed a bunch of people. I got to talk to a lot of people to, some that recognized me from local triathlons and others that just wanted to talk about triathlons for some reason.

The first aide station was incredibly crowded, so I think I made good time over the first 25 miles. It was still really crowded when I pulled out of there, and that's where the 35/62 mile routes split off from the 100 mile route. I went with the 100, and upgraded my pace to "easy". This is also where the hills started. There were three really steep climbs between the first two aide stations, but none were very long. The 100 route was considerably less crowded than the first 25 miles were.

At the top of the second climb, there was lots of rescue vehicles in place, apparently two bike riders collided and one ended up in a ditch with some broken ribs. Scary stuff, but that could have been much worse; I was just glad a car wasn't involved and the guy was going to be ok.

I've been trying a new strategy to get over hills recently and I really like it. These are mostly rolling hills, so there's a descent to let you build a bit of speed up before you start climbing. I'm trying to carry that speed into some easy spinning to get at least halfway up the climb, maybe more like 80% of the way up is best. Then come out of the saddle to apply more effort to the top 20% and power over the top. This should leave me with more speed for whatever comes up next, as opposed to just being out of breath. The natural tendency for most people is to stand up at the bottom of the hill or whenever the momentum starts to slow, then when you run out of gas halfway up gear down and try to spin to the top, so you hit the top of the hill with the slowest speed of the entire climb. It should give me some better course management, and a better overall finish time. The same principal applies to running as well, charge the top of the hill, not the bottom.

I really executed the third climb well, and left the top with more speed than ever. Pretty good strategy. I rolled into the second aide station at 42 miles with plenty of energy and feeling strong. I saw my friends Ray and Shannon at each of the aide stations, Ray's bike computer was still working so he gave us some updates. Turns out we were clicking along about 18 mph. For an "easy" pace, I could certainly live with that. Plus it was great seeing my friends again. Ray and I used to work together, and together with Kyle we used to go mountain biking sometimes. Kyle also did the century ride, but he was trying to break 5 hours so I never saw him at the start or the aide stations.

Between the second and third aide stations is when the rain really started coming down. It has sprinkled a lot in the first 10 miles, and again sprinkled some around mile 30. Now it was a total downpour. I was completely soaked. Big raindrops and no end in site. Luckily it was also cold. The 90 and 100 plus degree days we've had over the last week had finally given up and let some coolish temps back in. So it was in the mid 70's all morning. If the rain stopped and let 95 degree heat turn all of that rain into humidity it would have been like riding through muddy air. Instead the rain was cooling and refreshing.

The 62 mile aide station was all wet. I rolled in, ate, refilled the bottles, and rolled back out. There were still 2 more steep climbs to go. This time, I was alone on the roads. I'd see other people for a while, but there's still that time when you don't see any bikes in front of you, and no bikes behind you. I don't really know where I am in this part of the state, so I'm just out riding a country road in the middle of nowhere, totally alone in the rain. That was strange.

I'd catch up to people, talk some, then leave them behind. Then I'd take longer at the next aide station than they would and I'd get to repeat this process all over again in the next leg. One guy was really nice, doing this century on a commuter bike. He said he had 8 kids and also worked as a software developer. I always end up meeting the nicest people on these rides! I also met a guy riding in a Clemson jersey, turns out he was also from Greenville and went to a rival high school.

Rolled into the 83 mile aide station dripping wet but still feeling strong. I had re-read my first century ride race report on friday, so when I got in there I was telling Ray and Shannon about how I had stopped 85 miles in last time just to rest my head on the handlebars, and some old lady came out and started talking to me, and how I hoped she would shoot me so I wouldn't have to finish the ride. Thank goodness I didn't feel like that this time! That was so miserable. So the first concern I had about this century was put to rest. I was properly trained and ready to roll the distance. At that point, I knew I had the ride in the bag.

Again, it just rained steadily the entire day. The final aide station was at mile 93, and I rolled in there briefly and did something that very rarely happens. They had glass bottles of Coke, and I drank one. I gave up soda's back in college, so drinking a non-beer carbonated beverage is a very rare occurrence, it happens much less than once a year. But that sucker was good.

I rolled the last 10 miles back into Hillsborough and found the starting area with no fanfare. There was no finish line or greeters setup. I rode straight through there back to my car, then stood at my trunk and raised both hands in victory! 103 miles was the official distance, and I felt like I had enough energy left to run a marathon. Or at least start running. I checked my time on the cell phone, and it had been about 6 hours.

I dried off, stripped completely naked (possibly scaring a few people), threw the street clothes back on and drove away. Ok, I changed in the car and nobody saw me. But Hillsborough is a pretty deserted town anyway. ugh, I mean "quaint".

I really wanted to test out my strategy for nutrition, energy management, pacing, and anything else I could discover to get ready for Ironman day. It totally worked and I gained a new-found confidence about the Ironman bike leg. I never expected to be ready to stare that down, but now it totally seems possible.

Sunday was a rainy, coldish day; just perfect for sleeping late, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, and hanging with the fam. So that's exactly what I did. Until the sun came out, then I ran 10 miles.


Karen said...

Nice job and in the rain too! I think not having the electronics to know what mile I was on would have messed with my head a bit, especially on such a long ride. You are going to have to start getting there early so you don;t miss the start ;)

Ryan said...

Nice work and glad that no old lady had to come talk you into riding at mile 85 :)

there was a news report out of Hillsborough about some studly naked dude running around... apparently with a ghostly white ass

Wes said...

you are so much stronger now. totally deserved a taste of the "real thing". More training in the IM bank!!

Al's CL Reviews said...

Great job. In the rain, no less!

Unknown said...

Nice little confidence boost! :) Great job out there!

Oh... and coke... could possibly be the best treat during the IM run. Keep that in mind!

Michelle said...

aren't the aid stations great on these organized century rides? they're like HUGE smorgasbords!!

Lily on the Road said...

Overall it sounds like the perfect weekend, more mileage and greater confidence building...awesome!

Jess said...

Awesome job! I can't imagien riding a bike that far! My butt would probably fall right off.

Being Robinson said...

it sounds like you're ready to kick some IM ass! i can't even imagine riding 100 miles, let alone 100+ then running a marathon. go get 'em!

Katie said...

oh man, this made me so sad about the century i'm missing this weekend! so awesome.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Nice work - I remember the story of the head on the handle bars from last year and the old lady. Lol. I am gld that this race went so well for you! Def laughed at the stripping naked part. Ha.

Doign something in the rain for that amoutn of time is so mentally grueling. Good for you for biking a long race. You sure have come far since last year!

Sophie @ threetimesf said...

Wow, check you out! 'Naturally, my alarm went off at 5.30am' is not a normal sentence though :/