Crossing the finish line

It was an ambitious goal, but I knew I needed to set something agressive to force myself to improve.  I’d heard a lot about Ride Across INdiana (RAIN), and had half-seriously mentioned a desire to do it someday,  but always with the notion that “someday” was not “later this year”.

Then Ann convinced me to sign up.  And I did.

When I signed up, I had not yet joined Team Nebo Ridge and planned on doing it unsupported and hoping for the best. Having experienced and completed the ride now, I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t experience it that way.  I would not have made it.  Here’s a recap on the ride.

It really started Friday afternoon, when I met the rest of my teammates at the shop and we loaded up our bags and bikes into a couple of trailers and hopped in some vans to drive to Terre Haute.  We stayed in a dorm at St Mary of the Woods College, where I found I had absolutely horrible cell reception.  Thankfully they did have open wifi, so I was able to communicate with Ann.

We all went to dinner where I was able to get tips and pointers from my teammates who had done the ride before.  This proved to be helpful later as it gave me an idea of what to expect.  We also discussed strategy and tactics such as regroup points, amount of time we would spend at Support and Gear (SAG) stops, and pace line.   Our plan was to do free for all to the first SAG (38 miles), where we would regroup into our different groups (race group, Agressive group, Less agressive group.   I was in the Agressive group).  Once at the SAG my group planned on doing 8 minute stops at future SAGs (20 minutes at the lunch stop) and maintain a steady 20-21mph avg pace.  Dinner consisted of chicken, chips, onion rings, spaghetti, lasagna, green beans and dessert.  I ate all of it.

After dinner we headed back to the dorm and all went our separate ways for the evening.  It was almost 10pm and I knew I needed to be up early, so I went to bed.  I woke up every hour on the hour.  Nerves suck.

At 4:30 I finally got out of bed, washed my face and brushed my teeth and got dressed.  I headed down to the dining room as breakfast started at 5am and I had a lot to do before the ride.   I ate a light breakfast with my teammates and further discussed strategy, then changed into my team kit and meeting the team.

The beginning of the ride was barely controlled chaos.  Since there are 1500 riders involved, you know that at least some of them will be ill-equipped.   Some of the bikes people were riding were rickety and falling apart.   Some of the riders were new and unaccustomed to riding in groups.  This results in a start that is chaotic and dangerous, but also fast and to some degree fun.  It’s also the reason why we did a free for all until the first SAG – trying to organize into a cohesive pace line in that environment is impossible.  I saw quite a few riders drop their water bottles (causing instant danger to everyone around them),  and experienced first hand newbies who apparently don’t realize you have to tell other riders when you’re slowing down – which unfortunately resulted in a wreck about three riders behind me (which I heard, but did not see).  It sounded bad, and sounded as if quite a few riders were involved.  I made it unscathed.

At the first SAG we re-grouped, fueled, and took off for the second SAG,  approximately 30 miles away.   We immediately got our rotating double pace line going and I had a lot of fun.  When we reached the SAG I found myself surprised – it didn’t FEEL like we had gone that far – and certainly didn’t feel like we were over 60 miles into the ride.  One of the other riders asked “do ya feel like doing a century now?”.  My answer surprised me: “Actually, yeah – I do”.  I meant it.

After a quick 8 minute stop to refill the bottles and get some food, we were off again and headed this time for lunch.  We were off the highway so couldn’t go quite as fast, but still maintained good speed.   The pace line was effective when we could keep unpredictable riders out.   We made it to the lunch stop around noon and took a 20 minute break to eat and refill water bottles.  My legs were starting to cramp up so I ate some salty foods and drank gatorade to try to replace electrolytes.   I also ate a banana hoping it would help.  We were 91 miles in, and aside from the minor cramps I was feeling ok.

After lunch we had a short 24 mile segment that would take us to the next SAG.  It started out alright, but around mile 105 my entire left leg cramped up,  forcing me to drop off the back of the group while I tried to get the muscles to relax.   The group continued on,  probably not even realizing I was gone.

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Drafting behind Phelgar heading into the finish

A few minutes later a teammate of mine – Phelgar – caught up to me.   He had been riding in the same group as I was, but had dropped off earlier than I had.  When he realized I was struggling due to leg cramps he asked me what speed I could maintain, then moved up in front of me and held that speed and allowed me to draft behind him.   We had 8 miles to go to reach the SAG and he pulled the entire way – into a 10mph headwind.

Once we reached the SAG Phelgar, and another rider I don’t know, gave me some electrolyte capsules to take.   That, combined with a refill on gatorade (I had run out) helped immensely.  Our other teammates long gone, Phelgar and I set out alone to complete the ride – we had 48 miles left.    Along the way we met up with his wife who was doing personal sag for him,  where they gave me cold watermelon (which tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten), coke (surprisingly helpful), and advil for my knee which was hurting.

We made decent time to the last SAG – it was only 18 miles from the previous one – and I was happy to find they had a misting station spraying a nice fine cold mist,  and popsicles.   Both were nothing short of amazing.  For this segment of the ride we took turns pulling and letting the other rider draft and rest.  It’s by far better than attempting to ride it alone as you end up using much less energy and getting a chance to rest without sacrificing speed.   This was especially important as there was a nasty 10-12mph headwind the entire way.  And most of it was uphill.

Me and Phelgar immediately after finishing

Me and Phelgar immediately after finishing

At this point both Phelgar and I were exhausted,  suffering from cramps of varying severity, and ready to be done.  All we had left was a 28 mile ride to Richmond and the finish line.  We set out and continued our strategy of leap-frogging and taking turns pulling.  It felt like it took forever,  but finally we saw the sign “Welcome to Richmond”,  and “RAIN FINISH LINE AHEAD”.

And then we were done.  I crossed the finish line,  my time was recorded, and Phelgar and I fist bumped.  I saw Ann (and Teddy) waiting, and she snapped a picture of us before we parted ways and headed home.

Some stats from the ride:

  • The total time on the bike was just over 9 hours.
  • The total time including stops was around 10 hours 20 minutes.
  • The east side of the state is apparently higher up than the west side, as I ascended over 5000 feet over the course of the ride and descended around 4000 feet on the downhills.
  • I burned over 9000 calories during the ride.
  • I averaged 17.3 MPH over the course of the ride,  with a maximum speed of 35.6 MPH.
  • The route was 160 miles.

It was definitely a difficult ride… but I already am looking forward to next year.

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