“And as he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.”
– Douglas Adams
Century Rides may be the equivalent of running a half marathon. In my lab in Kent, OH, I was not surrounded by cyclists, but rather found myself interacting and discussing exercise with runners. For that reason and because of my general propensity to want to rank and operationally define things, I often engaged in trying to equate the two activities as much as possible. The timing between a half marathon and a century ride is obviously quite different. Many amateurs will run a half marathon in around two hours, which is just over an average of eight minute miles. When an amateur such as myself attempts to ride 100 miles, I am hoping for an 8-hour completion time. So perhaps the workload is different, but in terms of the most consistently aimed for milestone among amateur athletes, the century ride and half marathon may be similar.
I already mentioned in a previous post that I skipped over ever doing a century ride before attempting a near double century ride (RTYD I). Since that 175-mile jaunt, I have my total number of century+ rides at 13. My first was in 2012 with RTYD I; I had two in 2013, including RTYD II; I had four in both 2014 and 2015, including the Wedding Ride and RTYD III in 2015; and in 2016, I had two century+ rides including Wedding Ride II (link to be posted soon). At my count, I have nearly as many rides over 150 miles (5) as I have between 100-150 miles (8).
As I enter this training regimen for the long ride in July, I have myself penciled in to complete 20 100+ mile rides, including the five days of biking from Iowa to New York. In other words, I will be attempting to complete seven more century+ rides between April 29 and July 29 of 2017 than I have completed in the past five years. And that countdown started with this Saturday’s ride.
What a miserable ride it was. It reminded me of a training ride I did in May of 2016 in preparation for Wedding Ride II where the weather was gray and crusty and rainy and gross. This ride did not disappoint in that regard. Add in some 19 mph winds and I had myself a grand old time.
Again, I tried to mitigate the wind a bit, allowing my wife to pick me up at a location some 70 miles Southwest of Iowa City. I made a big mistake by not leaving sooner in the morning, heading out just after 10am, because that meant I spent the majority of the seven and a half hours in the rain, which started about 12 miles in.
Once the rain started, I was ready to go home. I spent the first 20 or so miles puttering around the general Iowa City area and I was tempted to head home several different times. Thirty miles in and I thought about texting my wife saying that was it, I wasn’t going to be able to finish the full 100 miles. The reason for such doubt was the sheer cold. Even though I went out ready for the rain, the gear I brought wasn’t enough to protect from the constant deluge.
I wasn’t just drenched. When I moved my foot in the pedal, a stream of icy cold water found its way down to my toes. If I stopped moving for a bit, the fold on my baggy rain pants would become filled with water in just a few short moments. I went through three pairs of gloves. The reason I did not go through more pairs was because I only brought three. I would change them only when the numbness in my hands was relatively unbearable.
I do not remember the mile marker when I lost feeling in my feet, each lifeless bricks at the end of my legs, but I was not able to feel them until I spent several minutes under the heater in our car.
I mentioned numb feet in another weekend training ride a few months back that was related to the 12-degree temperatures and snow rather than a consistent downpour, but the effect was about the same.
Outside of the cold and numb extremities, the only other thing I noticed during the ride were the aches in my neck and shoulders. I assume that most of that pain was just the general soreness that serves as my constant companion on any long distance ride with some bit of the pain being a testament to a potentially more hunched posture as I fought rain and wind the entire ride.
The constant desire to want to stop did not make any part of the ride all that enjoyable. Three things kept me motivated and two are directly related to this post:
First, I didn’t want to have to come back home and write about how I was planning on doing a century ride for the first time this year and crapped out instead (his wife hates a wuss).
Second, I had already looked up and written a brief snippet about century rides and the number that I have already done in my life and I am far too lazy to want to rewrite an intro to a blog post (Yes, I do have a general appreciation for the irony of avoiding doing the work required to delete and rewrite an intro to a blog post by biking 100 miles in the rain).
Third, I thought about the July ride. On day 3 of that trip, I will be heading towards Toledo, OH, nearly equidistant between the people I know in Iowa and the people I know in Ohio. No one is coming to get me if I have a bad day with crappy weather or a sore back. I will be on my own and will need to just keep pedaling no matter how heavy my legs and feet are.
Whatever the motivating factors were, I was able to finish the 100 miles and even added a bonus mile for good measure.
The most beautiful part of the ride? coasting down the final hill, heading toward a gas station and seeing my wife heading toward me, pulling into the same gas station. #perfecttiming.
The most interesting encounter of the ride? As I turned down 500th street, heading towards Route 1, I saw a contingent of cyclists in the midst of a race heading in the opposite direction, dealing with the same elements as me at much higher speeds and in larger clusters of people. The riders stretched for miles, each group or single rider broken up by a car with 4-ways flashing. I even saw a dude on a motorcycle, keeping pace behind a patch of cyclists with full helmet and zebra striped referee shirt. As I continued West, I came to an intersection where a small group of people were directing riders to turn right, blocking any of the infrequent traffic from impeding on the progress of the riders turning there. As I pedaled up, a woman ran up to me probably confused why I was headed in the wrong direction. I explained that I wasn’t part of the race and she asked if I wanted a beer anyway. I said no thank you and continued pedaling when another woman came up and said “Wait, are you just out for a ride?” in a sort of incredulous voice. She seemed to be able to understand that riding in this nonsense weather for a pre-scheduled race is one thing, but to go out of your own volition is an entirely different thing. I said “Yeah, but I only have 50 miles left so not too bad” and kept pedaling.
One issue with these types of rides is I enter Survival Mode in order to finish. Gone is any focus on efficient climbing, pedal stroke, rhythm, breathing, and routine. It becomes all about just pedaling and hoping to make it to the final destination. I had no idea what most of my 5-mile split times were, which I usually obsess over on a normal ride. I barely kept track of the total mileage because I knew anytime I looked down at my watch, the number of miles would be significantly lower than the desired triple digits.
Notably, after the ride, my bum was quite sore. I’m hoping the constant rain and the still unbroke’d saddle contributed to that and once fully broke’d, the new saddle will be quite comfortable for these long trips.
I had a big bowl of cereal with banana and a yogurt for breakfast. On the ride, I had my standard granola bars, some GU energy gels, two chocolate chip cookies, some life saver gummies, and some homemade energy bars that went down really well even though they are super heavy and very rich. I consumed 24 ounces of Gatorade as well on the ride.
One thing that I noticed during the ride was the constant feeling of having something stuck in my throat. If I had just eaten, it felt like some piece of that food was stuck back there. If I hadn’t eaten in awhile, the feeling was more like dry mouth, but deeper in my throat. No amount of fluid could fix it. I found myself spitting an inordinate amount, trying to clear the ethereal obstruction.
Overall, the ride was one of the more miserable I have ever been on. To make matters worse, the weather turned from just raining to thunderstorms that persisted throughout the night and into mid-afternoon on Sunday. My wife rightly pointed out that knowingly heading into rainfall is one thing, but knowingly heading out into thunderstorms on an aluminum bike is another. I have been caught in thunderstorms before, but we both decided that puttering around on my metal bike for 50 miles in a thunderstorm was not a good idea so I did not ride on Sunday at all.