Exhausted and hungry after completing 103 miles.
Last year I got semi-serious about cycling – putting in a lot of time in the saddle and completing some rides that were challenging at the time. I pushed myself ever further and faster. I did a winter training program to keep in shape over the winter, and earlier this year I took up running as a cross training sport to help further strengthen my legs and knees – completing a half-marathon in the process.
On Saturday I took part in Tour de Cure with my cycling team. We were doing the 100 mile “Track Challenge” route, which was 40 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We fielded two groups of riders – a group doing a 25+ mph avg pace and a group doing a 20mph average pace. I went into the ride planning on doing a 20mph avg pace, but got talked into attempting the 25+mph pace. The fast group had a goal of sub-4-hour finish time (counting only ride time – not SAG stops). The slower group was shooting for sub-5-hour finish time.
Excitement mounting as we wait for the start
As we all got lined up near the starting line I could feel the excitement in the air – hundreds of riders all anxious to get out and put in some miles on one of the smoothest and fastest courses we’ll ever ride on. When the time came and the starting gun fired we were off in a flash and quickly formed up into a pace line at a blistering 27+ mph pace. I found myself (unintentionally, and probably detrimentally) at the front of the pack in the first 4 riders – which meant that on lap three it became my turn to pull the group. And I did – I pulled probably 60 riders at a pace I was not prepared to ride, and I lasted much longer than I expected I would… but it was 3 laps into a 40 lap event and I burned a good chunk of my energy and stressed my legs a lot more than I should have. When I dropped out from the lead the pack quickly passed me (many offering encouragement and telling me it was a good pull – my teammates are pretty awesome guys), and I missed an opportunity to swing back in at the end of the pack. About half a lap later another slower moving pace line passed me and I was able to merge in and ride with those guys for quite a while. Eventually we merged with the larger fast pack until a wreck took out a few riders and – upon seeing one was a teammate I stopped to make sure he was ok (he was not at the time, but was released from the hospital later that night with no major injuries).
I got back into a pack and rode with it for a while, but found that they were not being consistent in speed – accelerating to 30+ mph out of the turns, causing very wide gaps to open up after every turn and making me work very hard to close the gap. Eventually my legs just couldn’t do it, and I saw a group from my team at a SAG stop so I pulled off to join them. At this point I was 42 miles into the ride and it was the fastest 40+ miles I’d ever ridden. I was sore and low on energy, but some nutrition gel, a banana and a refill on water and gatorade helped. We got back out and linked up with another group for another few laps.
Around mile 66 I was struggling. I had used up too much energy at the start of the ride, and abused my muscles. I was mad and frustrated at whomever was leading the pack and keeping such inconsistent paces (causing the gaps out of the turns). I found out later from one of my teammates that it was a rider who didn’t have a cycle computer and couldn’t keep his pace consistent and he kept surging ahead of everybody. That rider was told that if he did it again they’d let him go and wouldn’t chase, and the speeds became more consistent. Too late for me.
Some other riders I knew grouped with me and we took turns pulling around the track for a few laps, and we eventually joined another larger group. I did a number of laps on my own after another SAG stop forced me to drop off the group I had been riding with. I was finding it more and more difficult to join a larger group, as my legs were just not cooperating – it takes a lot of energy to catch up to the group as you have to go faster than them, without the benefit of a draft.
Two laps left to go – my teammate insisted I needed a picture to commemorate completing my first Century.
With two laps to go I noticed one of my teammates stopped off the track near a SAG point, but far enough away that I thought maybe he was having bike trouble. I pulled off to see how he was doing and we chatted for a minute. I told him it was my first Century and he told me to give him my phone so he could take some pictures of me – that I couldn’t complete my first century without having pictures to show for it. I’m glad he did – at the time I didn’t realize how happy I’d be to have those pictures. He also gave me advice on nutrition for longer rides that I’ll be trying on my next few.
And then I did it – I rode the last two laps. The excitement I felt at being nearly done helped immensely on the last lap and my pace picked up to around 22mph, and spiking up past 25mph as I came out of turn four and rode through to the finish line. I got a little emotional upon crossing the finish line.
Proof (as if I needed it) of my accomplishment.
I made several mistakes in the opening laps of the ride that made things extremely difficult for me later in the ride. At several points I was not sure I could do it – I didn’t think my legs would hold up. I was frustrated, exhausted and in pain for the last 30 miles. I wanted to quit. I probably would have quit, too… except every time I passed pit row I heard a cowbell ring, and Ann’s voice telling me I could do it. And then a teammate would ride by and tell me I was almost there and to keep going. Then a guy who was in my winter training program would hop in front and let me draft for a while or help me get into a group where I could draft. And a teammate would take my picture and congratulate me on doing my first Century. The support I got from the people around me was staggering – and something I didn’t fully appreciate until after it was all over and done and I could reflect. That cowbell ringing, and people telling me I could do it, and my teammate’s support made all of the difference in the world.
I completed the ride in 4:57:38, successfully meeting my goal of a sub-5-hour century ride. I shattered my previous records for every distance I’ve ever ridden (beating my previous best time for a 50 mile ride by over 30 minutes), and averaged 20mph for 100 miles. Despite the pain and frustration, I absolutely killed this ride. By all rights this was the best ride I’d ever done. It was also the hardest physical accomplishment I’ve ever done. It was harder than running a half-marathon. It was not just combating physical exhaustion (5 hours of high intensity cycling is a new level of exhaustion that I’ve never experienced before), but mental exhaustion, and emotional turmoil as well. Now that I know what to expect I can better prepare myself to deal with it. I learned lessons and know what not to do and what to keep doing next time.