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Where I ponder if I’m ready for a century ride

by John on September 14th, 2012

This Sunday, I have a 100 mile bike ride. When I describe this, I’m very careful to use the word “ride” and note “race.” While I tend to use the word “run” instead of “race” to describe a marathon, well, at the end of a marathon, there is a winner — it is a race, it’s just a race that I don’t ever expect my time to be anywhere near competitive. This ride on Sunday, though, is a ride — there are no clocks. There are no timers. And I’m scared shitless.

My entry into endurance cycling was a brutal one. I had ridden a 25k from time to time for charity, and I was able to complete them without incident. In fact, at the end of any of these 25k’s, I was ready to ride another one, and I figured that was a great sign for signing me up for a 100k – it’d just be four times the distance, right? Well, something like that.

I rode the 100k because Duffy‘s uncle was riding with us, and he wanted to ride the 100k. And, my 20-something brain was cocky. If a 60-something man can ride it, so could I. In the preparation for the ride, I rode nearly an hour, nonstop. The night before the ride, I went to a party and drank a whole lot of beer (that’s called carb-loading, right?) I figured I would be fine.

The ride started out easy enough – I knew most of the roads we were on, as they traced through much the 25k route that I had ridden several times prior. But, then things started to turn . . . I remember powering over an early hill, using every last ounce of my energy in a higher gear, because I wasn’t all that good about down-shifting at the time. I remember Duffy’s uncle coasting away in a pace line on a straightaway with a nasty headwind, as I concentrated on keeping my bike upright. We hit the first rest stop and I pulled over immediately. I was just starting to feel the twinge of a cramp in my left leg, and, quite frankly, I was done at this point.

But I kept going.

Actually, during the rest stop, I got some calories back in my system, rehydrated myself, and I managed enough for a second wind. And the second leg was relatively flat — the hills were nothing compared to the hills of the first leg. I figured that I had gotten through the worst of things, and I’d just have to take it easy, until we got to King’s Gap.

As a parent, I love King’s Gap — it’s a park with a ton of hiking trails. As a cyclist, though, well, King’s Gap is a mountain, so I’m really not all that much of a fan. For 4.2 miles, on your cycle, you head up . . . most of the climb is a gradual 2-3%, but, every now & then, you’d see a climb as high as 12%. I was out of shape. Whatever energy I had, previously, was spent. In short, I was a hurting boy.

However, I made it to the top of King’s Gap, and I stopped1. I caught my breath. I had some water. I reached into my shorts (not my bike shorts, mind you, my shorts . . . at this time, I did not actually own cycling apparel) and extracted my testicles, which were trying to hide deep inside my body.

I figured that climb must be the worst of the ride – and I had done it, so I’d be just fine.

In reality, that climb was actually the worst part of the entire 100k. But, the climb was early, and I had another 70% of a far-from-easy ride to go. While that first leg might have left me drained, this left me for dead.

The thing is, 4.2 miles up a mountain means 4.2 miles down a mountain. But, I hadn’t been riding a lot, and heading at speed left me a bit uncomfortable (in other words, my brakes got a really, really good workout). And that twinge of a cramp resurrected again. In fact, I tried to stand up for a little while, let “the boys” get some breathing air, but, as soon as my situpon got out of the seated position, I felt like I needed to sit down right away.

There was another rest stop immediately after the end of the descent (while I may have stopped at the top of King’s Gap, it wasn’t an actual, manned stop), and I met up with my wife’s uncle, who admitted that he was a little worried about me for the rest of the trip. Basically, from this point forward, Bill would ride ahead, at his own pace, and then wait for me at the rest stops, just to make sure that I was still alive.

When I had ridden the 25k, there were some hills – but, at the time, I called them “hills,” where I’d not call them “baby hills.” The remaining climbs might have paled in comparison to the mountain climb, but they were more brutal than anything I had ridden, up until this day.

Eventually, I made it to the 80k mark. I still don’t know how, but I did. At the 80k mark, I looked around and realized that I was very, very close to my house. Sure, it was “only” 20k to the end, but I was at my house. I gave serious thought to abandoning the course and just working my way back home, but my truck was at the course, and I “only” had 20 left. So I continued.

Almost immediately after I made that decision, however, that twinge in my left leg turned into a full-fledged cramp. I needed to stop cycling and get off of the bike – but, as soon as I did that, my right leg started cramping. Both legs cramping together? It’s an awesome experience.

I don’t remember how long it took me to regain my composure, but at least a half-dozen cyclists passed me, asking me if I was ok. “Sure, just cramping, go on ahead,” I’d respond, again and again, until Aerosmith started playing on my MP3 player and I found myself Back in the Saddle Again. The thing is, fearing another cramp, I walked my bike up the next hill2.

Eventually, I made it to the finish line — Duffy drove back home because, simply, I didn’t trust myself to press the pedals of the truck without cramping. I went home, and decided I needed to take a nap. And the bedroom was upstairs.

If you’re new to cycling, well, your legs feel kind of funny immediately after you’ve gone for a long ride. Going up or down stairs makes this “funny feeling” worse. When I hit the halfway point of the stairwell, I found myself stuck. I cried. Eventually, I decided that my man-card had already been invalidated, and I crawled the rest of the way to the bedroom, where a nap awaited me.

I guess you can say that I learned a few things from this ride:

  • First, make sure you have the right equipment — I rode a metric century on beat up hybrid bicycle without proper cycling gear. The chafing was legendary.
  • Next, when you’re setting out to do something new, train for it. I can tell you that I remember attempting to tackle a big hill or two, and aborting the attempt because I figured that I wouldn’t see anything near the climb that I was trying. I, obviously, was wrong.
  • And that brings us to this weekend. I have not trained for this 100 mile ride. Between work, and the kids, and my stupid ankle injury, and my feeling that I need to mow the lawn, and my broken bicycle (seriously, the last time I went out for a ride, I blew the front tire on my road bike — not the tube, but the actual tire . . . the tire had given me several thousand miles, so I shouldn’t complain, but I’ve been without a cycle, even if I had the time to cycle, which I didn’t), I haven’t been out on the road. And I have this 100 mile bike ride . . . much of which matches the path of the 100k. In reality, it’s three rides – a 50 mile loop, and then a hilly 25 mile loop, and then a relatively easy 25 mile loop. I’ve ridden this all before, and I really enjoyed it . . . but I’ve never been so long without getting on the saddle. So, I’m nervous of a repeat of this day from years & years ago.

    I realize I’m in better shape now. In all honesty, my worst case scenario is that, after the 50 mile loop, I’ll figure that I’ve done enough (but there is cake and cookies and peanut butter & jelly at the rest stop, so, even if I think I’ve “had enough” after 50 miles, I’d figure out a way to keep going, if only for another go at the spread).

    1 Every time I climb King’s Gap, today, I still stop at the top — not always because I feel that I need to, but because I feel like I owe it to this past version of myself to stop & catch my breath for a bit.
    2 To this day, I start to worry as I approach this same hill, knowing that I couldn’t make it up it on this fateful day, but, in all reality, this is a pretty puny hill that I had to walk my way up.
  1. So does that mean you’re doing it without training? Yikes. I’ll be honest. I learned to ride a bike as adult. I did, like 4 years ago. I still barely ride. I only learned because I was convinced that if I went to Europe one day, I may need to ride a bike around some European country side. I have not yet ever rode my bike and thought “this is so fun.”

    I keep asking people-When does it get fun?

    • I did the bike century without training, yeah. 🙂

      When did things get fun? I can actually answer that . . . because I only found bike riding fun as an adult (I learned to ride as a kid, but I’ve only ever ridden seriously as an adult).

      It got fun when heading a distance on the bike wasn’t a labor . . . when the bike ride became as much about the journey as the destination. That means that my legs & lungs are in good-enough shape that I don’t have to worry about endurance, and I’m traveling along a place that is worth seeing.

  2. Oh good luck! I’d be scared too, but not to be a complete bitch (just mostly) I can’t wait for the recap. This one had me in hysterics. I’m not a cyclist, but I’ve gotten stuck on those stairs after attempting an untrained endurance run before. Usually that’s where the downstairs bathroom tile suddenly starts too look reeeally cozy. Or, you know what, just that fourth stair there. I’ll just go ahead and curl up in the fetal position.

    • So I’m way behind in my comments, so I’m just seeing this, but I survived the ride with minimal injury . . . though, I just ran a half marathon on Sunday and, upon coming home, I very nearly did the fetal position on the fourth stair (though, after running, I have little problems going up stairs, but can’t make it down stairs to save my life)

  3. You are a crazy person, but it’s really, really awesome.

  4. Oh the mental games of endurance sports! Granted there is no ignoring cramps but wow. I wanted to kick you for half of this post (while wearing protective armor, thank you, i have my own demons).

    I’m so glad you’re doing another century. It’ll be good for your soul, and your butt.


    • The biggest mental game of any endurance event, though, is the event itself . . . it’s amazing what you can do, once you tell yourself that you can do it.

      I’m actually getting back on an Iron Man kick, which means I need to start getting my ass to the pool.

  5. I’ve been pondering the same thing, if you saw my post yesterday. However, I don’t believe for a minute that either of us are going to stop after 50 miles!

  6. I’m chafed and exhausted just from reading this.
    I really really hope it went well.

    • It did go well — I lost some steam on some of the hills . . . but, like they taught us in Finding Nemo “Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling…”

  7. I hope it went well! Can’t wait to hear about it. It’s been awhile since you’ve posted – good to see you back!

    • Yeah, I’ve been struggling to have the blog as a regular part of my routine lately . . . but I’ll be back, eventually. Silly, silly work is getting in the way.

  8. This is obviously the fault of your lawn. The only logical, proportional response is to salt it.

  9. Believe me, with the bs I’ve been through over the past two weeks, I’m all for salting the green beast.

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