I’ll admit it, I had my doubts about whether I could do a full 100-mile “century” endurance ride, but I made it. Until February of this year I had never even heard of one. Oh, I used to follow bike racing back in the days of “Breaking Away,” because I was so heavily involved in cycling in 4-H and just because I had little else to do growing up in the middle of nowhere. But I had no idea there were people doing endurance rides or long-distance speed rides on an amateur or hobbyist level.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I needed a direction for my new fitness goals. Health for health’s sake was not going to do it. So I decided it would be cycling. Originally, it was just going to be some casual riding, 20-25 miles, something like that. But the more I got into it, the more I wanted that to have a goal as well, a real challenge. Cycling requires a great deal more than leg muscle strength.
An endurance cyclist will use virtually every part of his or her body, particularly the core muscles, an area on which I have been highly focused since the beginning. Though I didn’t exactly plan it this way, my core training was moving me in the right direction to quickly go from novice bike rider to long-distance endurance cyclist.
I also had to do some major preparation of my mental endurance. A full day on a bike seat can be pretty monotonous, especially if you’re doing it alone. I used to spend many hours on the bike as a kid, with no BlueTooth this or wifi that. Nothing but me, the road and the outside. When I was very young, my friend Alan and I would spend many hours out on the bikes in the rural area where we grew up – more on that in my original posts.
But this time would be different. I’d have to be able to mentally handle the nothingness, stay focused to keep safe, and still be able to divert myself should I experience pain or some level of discomfort that needed some mental fortitude. All in all, though, I managed to learn what I needed to for a basic start. You can read about my first experience here.
My first century attempt was made on Saturday, May 6, 2017, with barely 4 weeks of self-training, new equipment and a level of confidence that would have kept most people from riding around the block once, much less setting out for a day-long event. Despite temperatures in the mid-30s, I managed to complete a metric century ride in 6.5 hours. I was in agony that night and most of the whole next day. I barely made it back. Still, I finished. But I couldn’t stop there.
I immediately started planning my next century and this time it would be the full monty, as they say, 100 miles. This time I was able to pace myself better. I’d been riding steadily for a few months now, saddle time combined with targeted time trials and focused workouts. It’s funny how this takes up so much of my time and yet doesn’t. That’s a tough one to explain, but it seems like I just “do it” whenever the opportunity arises and that really has helped me stay focused.
It helps that I like riding. Cycling isn’t something I have to convince myself to do, unless it’s 5 a.m., then I take a little mental adjustment. But once I’m out there I’m fine. If you don’t like what you’re doing staying focused on your goals can really be a burden, that’s kind of how it is with some of my other workouts so I just keep reminding myself, “Hey, this is going to help me ride,” and I row or lift a little more.
To be better equipped for this second, century ride, I had read just about every published article on the subject of training and preparation. I used what I thought would be best for me and discarded the rest. The last week before the ride, however, I barely found time to ride and I never got to do a full 50-mile ride, as is recommended within the two weeks prior to your century attempt. Either way, I felt like I was as ready as I ever would be.
On the evening of Thursday, July 13, the night before the century, I followed a recently adopted ritual of relaxation. I had an ordinary work day but took part of the afternoon to just be calm and rest. I wanted to make sure I slept and ate properly, even planned out a sort of “pre-marathon” carb-load dinner created from leftover pizza and other odds and ends. I got the bike ready, packed my support bag, got my food and equipment set and parked the truck in the garage, bike all loaded and ready to go.
I’m still learning what works for me food wise on these rides. Last time I used a combination of protein bars and raisins and that seemed to work pretty well, so I went that way again. I put the bars and raisins into easy to manage, single-serving snap lock bags and loaded several on the bike and for my jersey pocket, and the rest into my support bag.
I usually ride with streaming news, music or audio book so I have two identical sets of BlueTooth ear phones and two recharging packs for my iPhone. This time I added a ‘tech bag’ just under the front reflector on my handlebars. This would carry the connection cable and battery packs along with the extra set of earphones. It freed up room in my top bar bag where my phone and other essentials are stored.
Fortunately, on this trip, I’d have a great support team in the form of my friends Julie Barth and Debra Bays. Even though the event had support and rest stops, it’s nice to be able to have someone carry replacement clothing and your own personal food stash – there are only so many bananas a person can eat. Debra’s car would haul my bike carrier, in the event I’d have to call it off somewhere along the trail and bring the bike home, and they also brought water, towels, and whatever else I couldn’t or didn’t want to carry because of weight.
I didn’t have a work stand for my bike then so I just set it in the carrier on the back of the truck and did my normal maintenance check – clean and lube the chain, checked the cables and made sure every nut and barrel adjustment was as it should be. It had been raining constantly all week and, although I don’t mind riding in the rain, I didn’t relish the idea of starting out with a wet seat, so I covered the seat and front carrier pouch with plastic. All done. That was as good as it was going to get. I turned out the lights, locked up the garage and went into the house. I ate. I slept.
The next morning, I woke up about 15 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, sometime around 5:15. I had my breakfast all worked out ahead of time, a special setup of my usual with some updates. I have a special rice, beans, and sausage concoction with pasta, half a grapefruit, yogurt, tea, water, and vitamin supplements. After breakfast, I showered, donned my regular riding “uniform,” and headed out to the truck.
It’s funny, I have been on stages in front of thousands, and on television in front of millions, and I’ve not once had a note of stage fright. That morning I had what I can only describe as butterflies. But I pushed on, headed to the fairground, and met up with my support team and got signed in. I was all set. There was nothing left to do. I waved to my team and headed out.
I pushed off from the fairground at 7:29 a.m. and headed across the street to follow the connecting trail to Creekside, where the ride began. At 0.9 miles into the ride, I had to go down a curved slope that emptied onto a wooden bridge. At this point, I should point out that it had rained for days before, right up until a couple of hours before the ride.
I angled down the hill, very slowly, keeping a tight control on my brakes and steering all the way to the bottom. Just as I got to the edge of the bridge’s metal expansion joint, I noticed it was full of mud and I moved to one side so I could enter on what looked like a place with less mud and water. My front tire went across the metal onto the first wooden board and I started to correct to return to the middle of the bridge and that’s when things went terribly wrong.
All at once, my front tire lost traction and all I remember is crashing hard to the surface of the bridge and sliding about a foot on cold, wet wood. The bike was on top of me, handlebars rotated 180 degrees and locked into the frame. My arm was gashed up just above my elbow, but I stood up, righted the bike and warned the riders coming behind me to slow down and hit the bridge straight, don’t try to move or correct.
I finally understood all of those memes about guys who had a bad crash and could only say, “Is my bike ok?” It’s all I could think about, how bad was it? The chain was off, the wheels felt locked. The brakes were pushed against the wheels and the rear derailleur was visibly damaged – bent inward. It was bad. And wait, what’s that feeling? My hip was apparently hurt too, I landed hard on my left side. The bike wouldn’t even roll. What’ll I do? Is all this over? I texted my team that I’d wiped out and had to come back. I picked up the bike, set it on my shoulder and started up the hill.
Back at the parking lot, I set the bike up on the car rack again to give it a full going over and find out if I was totally out of commission. Brake levers shoved over, possibly bent, gearing damage, a serious pain in my hip, wet clothes, but I wasn’t done yet. I took the bike back to the event shelter and waited for the mechanic from the local bike shop, K&G Bike Shop in Xenia.
When he arrived I explained what happened and we both gave the bike another going over. For more than 45 minutes and countless warnings by the mechanic that any attempt to bend the parts back to normal could cause more damage. Finally, he said, “That’s the best I can do.”
Wet, frustrated, a hip full of pain, a wrenched wrist, and worried about a 3-month-old bike that now may not make it through the next 7 hours and 100 miles, what else could I do? I geared up, hopped on, and away I went for take number 2!
The rest of the day went well enough. I averaged 13.3. miles per hour and a pace just over 5 miles per minute. My team was amazing, meeting me at several rest points along the first half.
My training had paid off, riding in intervals, I paced myself, made use of my food and water and getting refills from my crew as needed. It was humid but the weather cooperated otherwise. Everything went about as well as you could hope. The bike performed beautifully, although we could only manage to repair the gearing to use three speeds on each of the chainrings. But it was enough. The trail is fairly level with only long, slow grades in elevation.
At the 50-mile turnaround, near Miamiville, I picked up my official ribbon to take back to headquarters. Julie and Debra met me with a half turkey sandwich, a Cherry Coke and a new water bottle. I lost one of my two from the bike somewhere along the trail. I took about 15 minutes to rest, refuel and lay flat on a bench. I was beginning to feel pangs of the same IT Band (Iliotibial Band) muscle pain I had after my first century ride, but it was minor. Time to head back, only 49 miles to go!
On the ride back I took time for a little sight seeing and recorded a couple of live feeds on Facebook. All was as it should be. I managed a good pace coming back with minimal discomfort but I was wearing down. About 10 miles from the finish line, I decided it was time to get home. I upped my pace and decided to sprint home, with the exceptions of road crossings. I kept moving and remember laughing about how the day had started. I couldn’t believe I was almost there. I waved to my team as they waited at Xenia Station before continuing on to the fairground and the finish. Approaching that infamous bridge, I hit it square on – of course, now that it was bone dry – and not a problem did I have. Now on to get ready for the next one!
If you’re thinking of doing this, I have three pieces of advice. Ride, ride and ride some more. If I can do it, you can to! Below are the videos and a photo gallery of the ride. Thanks and rubber side down, OK?