To quote one of my favorite TV scifi characters, “Oh the pain, the pain!” (Thanks, Dr. Smith). But, yes, I did it. Maybe even more important, our charity donations exceeded the $500 goal, bringing in more than $700 to benefit veteran suicide prevention. All of this might seem pretty minor to the hardcore fitness buff and cyclist, but it was a big deal for me, and it should be for anyone who makes such an attempt at improving their health and meeting such a lofty goal. Even people close to me were skeptical. Truthfully, I had my doubts too, especially considering how quickly this all came about.
I bought my new TREK road bike on March 11, 2017, filed my registration for the ride on March 20th, and in between those dates and the day before the ride, I trained … and trained … and trained. I did core workouts, swimming, strength training, and adjusted my diet and sleep as much as I could.
I also had to adapt to a new kind of ride, the modern road bike. It bears only a minor resemblance to my old mountain and street bikes from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. It has wheels, gears, pedals and the like, but oh my, the changes in technology, positioning, and design left my head spinning at first.
Thankfully, I tend to adapt to machines and technology pretty quickly, so I took to it faster than I thought. Almost immediately, people will change the seats and pedals from the stock parts to something more “professional” or better suited to their needs. At first, the only addition I made was toe cups on the pedals for a bit of extra “up lift” on my crank. Later, I tested out a couple of different saddles for long-distance comfort and finally installed clip-in pedals for better power performance.
The hard part, I only had about a week to get used to the clip-in pedals. I’ve been pretty lucky having only hit the ground twice because I couldn’t get my foot out of the clip fast enough. The best thing was I was standing still at the time, just kind of fell over. I had to really make a conscious effort to unclip at least one foot before you even get to a stop.
Mainly training was difficult because I had so little time to prepare compared to what is recommended. Most century rides require about 10 weeks of regimented training, assuming that the rider is already 1) comfortable with the bike and equipment and 2) in proper physical condition for an endurance ride of such distance, in any kind of weather or paved trail conditions. But I did it in about half that time. I don’t recommend that to anyone, ever.
It was really hard to make the time to ride. Some days I just had to keep telling myself, “I have to ride today … any distance, I just need saddle time.” But when you’re exhausted from a full day of work or didn’t sleep well the night before, that became a real struggle. I created what I now refer to as “sunrise” rides. A five-mile ride at sunrise, for example, was a “sunrise 5,” six miles “sunrise 6,” and so on. The most I did was a sunrise 20.
In the week leading up to the ride, I was putting in about 10 miles a day, just to keep my butt in the seat and pedal, plus getting in my standard core workouts and swimming wherever they would fit in. I did my core exercises daily, to keep my strength building. It’s really surprising just how much of your body’s core is required just to keep you on your bike and balanced properly. So I made sure not to let that slide. Swimming took a bit of a back seat the last couple of weeks, however, and I only got in the pool a couple of times, but I made every stroke count.
I also took my bike in for a once-over by the experts a week before the ride. It got a “new bike” tune up and inspection, had the new clip pedals installed and gear cassette and chain checked out. All was go.
On the day before the ride, I got everything laid out in my staging area, double checked everything: helmet, shoes, two sets of Bluetooth headphones (I’d planned to listen to an audio book on the ride), two battery packs to recharge my iPhone during the ride – since I would be using it for data tracking and my audio book app – snacks (raisins and protein bars mainly), water bottles (2, to be refilled as needed at rest stations), my riding clothes (jersey, long-sleeved workout shirt and windbreaker, gel shorts, tights, gloves and socks), and a backpack carrying a change of clothes, extra snacks, replacement gloves and regular shoes. The backpack would be carried by my support crew, a must on a first time ride like this. I had only a vague idea of what to expect, despite my planning. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
So, I took it easy on on the Friday before. I attended a couple of sessions at the Miami Valley Cycling Summit at Wright State University, stopped in at a sporting good store for a new windbreaker and shirt, then lunch and home to visit with dad and take him some food. Once that was done, I did almost nothing the rest of the day and got to bed a couple of hours earlier than usual. I was out as soon as my head hit the pillow.
When Saturday morning came, I had what started out as butterflies in my stomach about what I was about to do. Those later morphed into what I can only describe as bats. Uggh. What was I thinking? I’m really going to try this? No. Im not going to try … im going to do this. I can do this, and I will do it. I kept telling myself that all the way to the fairground starting point.
I got checked in and geared up for my day in the saddle, boldly going where I’d never before even dreamed I would go. Wow, was it cold! The temperature readout on my iPhone said 36 degrees Fahrenheit but it’d feel colder once we got moving. Glad I covered my ears, among other parts! Brrr! But here we go. A quick countdown by one of the parks department volunteers and we were off!
I started out at an easy pace, some folks passed me, some lagged behind. My average speed to date was about 13MPH, so I figured that’s about where I’d be for most of the trip out, coming back would be another story.
I’ll fast forward a bit to tell you that the trip down was smooth sailing. What I had feared would be a freezing cold, very rainy day, warmed up slightly and the sunshine helped the ride be more comfortable and relaxing, to some degree anyway. At the 20-ish mile, I met up with Barbara and Julie, my support crew, who had made signs and were waving them and cheering me on. What a great feeling.
This was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. It was really nice to have the support of people who could have stayed home in bed but selflessly chose to help keep me going through this. Amazing. They met up with me again near the turn-around point for the “metric” century, a 31.2-mile mark, that gives you a full 100 kilometers upon completion.
I was doing well and felt good about where I was physically and mentally so far. With that, it was decided I’d be ok with the metric version of the ride, rather than trying to add another 40 miles to the journey. And it’s a good thing I did.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but the last 10 miles was really intense. My legs were starting to seize up on the outsides, the IT Band (Iliotibial Band) muscles, according to my doctor. They were turning slowly to iron, not wanting to work anymore and I struggled to make it back to Xenia, but I got there. I pulled in at the finish line 30 minutes ahead of my original estimate for the metric ride, and still upright and conscious, mostly.
I received my medal for the ride and many congratulations for my first long-distance cycling event. I was walking pretty slow the next day or so, but got back to the gym the next day and I’m about to hit the bike as I type these final words on this story.
I have two more century rides planned before September of this year so I have plenty of time to build up that speed and endurance before then. Thanks for following this and I’ll post more about my efforts as I go.