“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
– Ricky Bobby
This weekend will be the pinnacle of my training endeavors leading up to the Big Ride. I will not be attempting as many miles in a day as I did over Saturday and Sunday until Tuesday, the 18th of July. before delving into the weekend though, I want to talk a bit about the week leading up to it.
Great Cycle Week
Looking at the leaderboards for the Great Cycle Challenge has been a daily habit of mine since the challenge started at the beginning of June. I have been in a self-purported race for most mileage by a participant in Iowa with one other individual and although I started out strong, he has since surpassed me, putting up more miles during the week than I can usually manage.
In an attempt to close the gap, I started this week with the idea of pushing my daily commutes to the next level and keeping even with 1st place so that I could use the weekend to close the gap heading into the final week of the challenge. In that way, I started aiming for 50 miles a day in commute miles and ended the week with 221 miles. Even that was just barely keeping pace with 1st place. However, I noticed that he does not put up quite the same mileage that I do on the weekends, as I have been doing back-to-back centuries for most of the month. So, I figured now was as good a time as any to go for back-to-back 150-mile rides to try to close the gap. I’ll point out at the end of the post how my weekend miles stacked up with 1st place.
Saturday started at 1:52 in the morning when my alarm went off. After my typical morning routine, I sent a map to my wife and headed off with my watch glowing 3:17 at me. This ride consisted of looping around well-ridden areas of Iowa and for me, this ride was all about pacing. I wanted to be ultra careful in the amount I pushed myself because of the week I had pedaled (or more aptly, the month I had pedaled without an off day) and with Sunday’s ride on the horizon.
Pacing is going to be the entire game come the Big Ride. I have an ideal amount of time I want the rides to take me and will aim to average a total time of 12.5mph. That means I would finish 25 miles every two hours and be able to put up 150 miles in 12 hours. That was my goal for Saturday’s ride. I started out slow and careful, looping south for the first 40 miles or so before passing through Iowa City again on my way up to Cedar Rapids.
Nothing remarkable happened on this ride in general except that I saw a tombstone with the perfect surname on it. I have one post highlighting how I thought about the wasted acres of land used for cemeteries and I will add that I am not a big fan of rituals, especially outdated and unnecessary ones. But, with a name like Stonewall, perhaps you are the only one who should be allowed to have your name etched in marble above your remains.
Around 90 miles in is when I felt some significant fatigue. I felt myself dragging and losing a bit of pace. I refilled my fluids at a gas station and did improve my speed a bit and even hit a bit of a hot streak towards the end of the ride, powering through the last twenty miles or so. I had to do some laps around our neighborhood to get the miles up to 150 for the day.
I ate some dinner (at 3:40 pm) and got to bed by 6:45 with an alarm set to get up and do it all again Sunday.
I was a bit slow to rise this day, getting up at 2:04 am. I went through the same routine as the previous morning although I packed significantly less food. The ride for Sunday was designed to be an exact replica of Day 1 of the Big Ride in terms of map and mileage. Therefore, I wanted to try to replicate other aspects of it including the fact that I won’t be able to pack as much food as I usually do so that I have room for everything else that I need to bring. I did not, however, replicate the packing because I have not figured out exactly what I want to bring on the trip just yet. At least one ride next month will be a shorter ride with all the packing figured out to get used to the weight and where everything needs to go.
A few things that are noteworthy about the beginning of the ride:
- It was 53 degrees when I left, so I wore a jacket and pants to start the ride. It stayed cool for most of the morning, making it a tricky temperature where it was just slightly too warm to keep layers and slightly too cold to take them off, especially in the shade.
- I took an extremely slow pace to start, probably too slow. Again, the idea that pacing will be important can also be paralyzing where I begin to worry too much about that and end up going at too slow a pace.
- The start on Route 6 was about 3 hours of zero traffic. Glorious times.
Stop and Stare
Another thing I wanted to figure out from the dry run was stopping distances. I have maps for each day of the Big Ride already planned out with rest stops picked out 20-30 miles apart. The thought being that especially in hot weather, two hours will be a good amount of time between water replenishment. However, if I don’t need to stop, I shouldn’t stop. On Sunday, I stopped only three times and found that I could make the first 60 miles without needing a stop with the cool temperatures and easy pace. I am not sure if such distances will be possible on the following days because I won’t be leaving on those days with a full contingent of food stuffs. I will probably keep the 30-mile rest stops for Days 2-5, but I will modify the number of stops for Day 1.
Bridge Over Grossout Water
When I got to Davenport, the familiar sight of the creepy bridge with just a steel grate between the rider and the Mississippi greeted me. However, halfway across the bridge, I had to come to a stop. The other half of the bridge was swung out to the side to allow a barge to go through. I stood there for a good twenty minutes before the bridge moved back in place, allowing me to cross. This is where having a time goal comes back to haunt me. Now, being behind the target pace by several minutes starts to weigh on me, causing me to do yet more calculations to try to see if there’s any way to make up the lost time. At those times, I try to block out the clock and not pay attention and just deal with the hand I am dealt, but I always fail at that, too addicted to the numbers to not stay in touch with them.
Talk About the Wind!? Surely Not.
But, reach my target pace I would. The wind picked up around noon and I happened to be heading the same direction as it was. I would be able to put up decent 5-mile split times and push my terrible pace to beyond the goal pace. My average moving speed wound up 1 mph faster than Saturday’s ride (15.5 vs. 14.4 mph), pushing my total time speed to 13.1 mph.
Trails and Errors
One other benefit to the dry run was seeing if the route I picked was actually viable. A large chunk of the miles once I got into Illinois followed along the Hennepin Canal Trail. When first mapping this, I figured this would be great. Flat elevation, easy trail riding, all is good. However, I spent almost no time on this trail. I got on and it started as a complete disaster and just got worse. Poc marked and hole-ridden, riding the trail was a game in how quickly I could dodge around the holes. At one point, the path just…ended. No warning, no markers. I was looking ahead and saw some taller grass, slowed slightly, then jerked to a halt as the path just ended, leading into a ditch. I had to take this tiny, mud streaked path thing off to the side to get across the ravine (note: the author is taking liberties in their description of the precipice they faced).
In addition to nonsense holes everywhere and abrupt endings, the path was constructed of almost-gravel where it’s paved but it’s so corroded that it feels like riding over gravel. My speed was abysmal and the ride was not enjoyable so I took a look at the map and went south to get onto Route 6 where my speed jumped from 13 mph to 20 mph. I would stay on Route 6 for the majority of the ride.
At one point, I passed over the trail again and it had devolved into just two dirt tracks with grass in the middle. So glad I got off the trail when I did. The Big Ride map is already adjusted to avoid this trail.
I have never attempted anything like July’s Big Ride. I have multiple long rides under my belt, starting with the 175-mile RTYD I and 185-mile RTYD II. I even managed 264 miles in a day for RTYD III. However, it wasn’t until this month that I had ever even attempted back-to-back centuries. Since the start of the month, I now have 3 consecutive weekends worth of a 100+ miles each day. Next weekend, I plan on stringing four 100-mile trips together to get used to that as well (that’s how I take advantage of a holiday weekend #thanksindependence).
But, all of that experience doesn’t help your thought process as you sink into bed Saturday night, weary with exhaustion pooling around you. I just kept thinking as I lay there, back and legs sore and groaning in complaint, “How am I possibly going to get up and do this again tomorrow?” Similarly, laying in bed Sunday night I thought, “How could I do this four more days in a row if this was supposed to be a replica of Day 1?”
My thoughts seem to fluctuate between a slightly high level of confidence that I will be able to finish the ride with almost no problem and utter dread that I’ll fail on the second day. I find myself dreading Day 5 the most, though, which is by far the hardest part of the trip in terms of distance and climb. If I can make it through the first four days without much issue, I’ll have a full 36 hours to finish Day 5. Pacing will be thrown out by that day, the rest stops may get more frequent and longer in duration, and all focus will be on moving my legs and just trying to survive rather than form. I may wind up resorting to the classic pedal pedal coast that got me through the end of RTYD I. I just need to survive the first 4 days of 610 miles.
The Great Cycle Challenge
As I mentioned at the start, I put up my best week of biking by far this past week. I totaled out at nearly 538 miles for the week. As I mentioned in my February Month in Review, I have just recently begun putting up crazy monthly mile numbers with this training schedule. Before this year, my highest mileage total in a month was 736 in May of 2016. So, I put up two hundred less miles this past week than I did for the month of May in 2016, which included one 200-mile ride (Wedding Ride II). The only week that will break this week’s total is the Big Ride week.
However, this total was not enough to pull me closer to 1st place in Iowa for the Great Cycle Challenge. “Jac Cale” stayed ahead by almost the exact same margin, putting up great ride totals on Friday and Sunday. Given his prowess and weekly rides, and the gap being just shy of 100 miles, the unofficial contest between us is over now. I sent my congratulations to Jac via a donation thanking him for inadvertently pushing me even more than I was planning on going for the month June. I will surpass 1,500 miles for the month probably on Tuesday the 27th. Jac returned the donation with his own comment about his epic month. Kudos to him for pushing so hard this month and kudos to the Challenge for helping to facilitate this epic one-on-one competition in the first place.
One issue that I found on the two trips this weekend was that the Garmin Vivoactive HR doesn’t like to be on for a full 12-hour bike ride. The watch died with a little bit to go each day. I quickly fired up Strava on my phone to finish off the miles, which is why the maps are split into two (here’s a picture of the total mileage for each weekend day – weekend total pic here). The good thing is that when the watch runs out of battery, it doesn’t erase your progress and data. Instead, once charging, it starts back up right where it left off. I just end the ride and the data syncs as if nothing happened. I will almost certainly take over 12 hours for some of the rides (especially Day 5) so I’ll need to do the Strava trick at some point or maybe do a quick charge of the watch with my external battery during a rest stop.
At one point on Saturday’s ride, I got waved down by a stopped car on the side of the road by an elderly woman. She had run out of gas and wanted to know if I could help in any way. I like to think my mind works relatively quickly and I started processing how I could help and came up with almost nothing. I could bike to the closest gas station, but how would I get a canister for gas and lug it back for what would ultimately turn out to be a 10-mile trip? I told her where the closest gas station was and she asked about towing, which I knew nothing about. It was just kind of weird that she worked to flag me down rather than one of the 50 trucks that went past.
On my ride on Sunday, the song “Every Little Thing” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by The Beatles and “Faithfully” by Journey came on. For our wedding, I created a medley of those three songs for our first dance. The reason for the medley was because I like too much music to ever settle on one song and I have a strong, unhealthy infatuation with medleys (the original version of the medley was some 8 songs and 9 minutes worth of awesome…she made me shorten it for some reason).
When listening to certain songs at certain times, especially while biking when all you have is your own thoughts, different emotions are stirred inside. This time hearing all three of these songs, especially Every Little Thing, I thought about how my wife was driving 5+ hours round trip to pick me up from this little adventure of a bike ride. We spend time on this blog highlighting my miles and never really racking up the miles she’s put on driving around to pick me up from all around Iowa and the neighboring states not to mention the time spent worrying, which she highlighted in a previous post.
It really does seem like everything she does, she does for me. She might really very much be the whizz and such and that’s a good thing. I appreciate being able to schedule out a ride and tell her, hey I’m planning on being 120 miles away from home at 3 pm, want to come pick me up? Love and so forth, for sure. Aw, love and so forth to you too, boo. Just continue not dying and I’ll continue to pick you up, wherever you are.