Sunday, March 10, 2013

My First Century Ride

I got my first road bike in college, so I am not quite sure why it took until last year to attempt my first century ride. I guess the opportunity, motivation and overall fitness were never there, though I did come close a few times. Every season it was a goal, but never one I checked off at the end.

When I started at Omaha Steaks and it was discovered that I was a cyclist, I was quickly recruited by a few coworkers who had formed a team to ride in the Bike MS Nebraska event. There it was - I had an opportunity, and motivation to support a great cause, all I needed was some fitness.

The Season

Fast forward to spring of last year. Things started off strong, but work and family pulled me away from training. No complaints there, those things just take priority. The summer was extremely hot, but I still managed to get in plenty of 20 to 40 mile rides. Looking back at things now, I think this is where I could have really challenged myself by adding in some longer 60 to 70 mile outings, to really prepare for what was to come.


I am admittedly an over-planner. I double and triple check my gear, nutrition and schedule, and then once more for good measure. It is a problem, but that is just the way it is. So in preparation for the century, I was sure I had everything dialed in. I was especially concerned with nutrition and hydration during the ride, so I stocked up on Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix (orange is my favorite), Honey Stinger Organic Waffles and Cliff Shot Bloks. I had no idea that my obsession for having everything I needed, would almost be my downfall.

The Morning Of

If I could have one do over, it would be setting a second alarm clock. I woke up 10 minutes after we were scheduled to take our team picture, and I live 25 minutes away from the starting line. After a mad dash to get ready with my wife throwing me clothes and filling my bottles, I was on the phone in the car apologizing profusely to the rest of the team. I felt terrible, guilty and rushed. I forgot to eat (much) and drink (anything).

Finally on the Bike

I was so thankful to see that some of my team, including Karl Marsh whom I would ride with all day, had stayed behind to wait for me. We set out about 7:30, the air was cool and the wind was light - nearly perfect with arm warmers and a vest. We rolled into the first stop to find that we had caught up with many of the other riders who had stopped to gather their ranks and a quick bite.

Karl and I did a good job of managing our effort, pacing ourselves for the long day ahead of us. I will be the first to admit that Karl is also a much strong rider than I, and I definitely accepted when he offered most of the day's pulls. Even so, I was starting to feel some heaviness in my legs at around 40 miles and was looking forward to food and a rest at the 50 mile turnaround point. I also remember that I had consciously made the decision at the 30 mile point to skip a waffle and hydration mix refill. Not smart.

Me sucking wind and Karl's draft

Meat burritos for lunch at the turnaround point, delicious, not really

When we stopped for lunch, I was getting the sinking feeling that I had made a mistake. With salt crusted across my face and arms, I realized that I had barely tapped into my hydration mix and my food supplies had little more than a dent. My suspicions became reality at mile 70 when the cramping started and my pace slowed to nothing more than a crawl on climbs. In my haste and desire to do everything right, I had committed a cardinal sin, I didn't keep up on my own fuel intake. I bonked, hard.

The Ride of Shame

By the grace of God, Karl was able to tow me into the next sag station in Louisville, NE. There I tried to walk of the cramps, but I new my day was done. I sent Karl on and sheepishly climbed into a volunteer vehicle. Exhausted, legs throbbing, I sat back and closed my eyes. A few miles into the drive, the driver stopped to help a couple that had flatted alongside the road. I call this my Marty McFly Moment as he (definitely not a cyclist himself) proceeded to tell the other riders, "this one couldn't cut it, I'll be back to after I drop him off."Ignoring my best judgement, I asked him to drop me off a mile up the road at the final sag stop.

After three ibuprofen, a Coke and half a Gatorade, I got back on the bike and pushed on. I had luckily timed things perfectly because Karl quickly caught me. Miraculously, I felt great and we had our best pace going of the day, albeit with a friendly wind at our back. This is what I wished I had felt like all day long.

Rolling back to the start line I was of of course, only at 97 miles, so close yet so far. Karl could have quit (though he had at least 20 more in him), but instead circled the neighborhoods with me for three more miles. 100, it was finally official.

What I Learned

I was definitely my own worst enemy that day. I had enough fitness to ride well enough, but nerves and inexperience got the best of me. With these thoughts in mind both this season and  the day of the ride, I know things will be different during my next century adventure:

  • Challenge yourself with some intermediate and long distance rides, mainly to strengthen your shoulders, neck and back for the long saddle time.
  • Make a conscious effort to eat and drink on the bike, not just at sag stops. I plan to set my watch to beep every 10-15 minutes to remind myself to take a sip. Eat more than you think and don't finish with food in your pocket.
  • Be relaxed. Dont sweat the small stuff. Just show up (on time) and execute.


Unknown said...

Congratulations! You did it. The first one is the hardest. You're already much smarter. I make it a practice to do an 80-mile ride one or two weeks before each century. My first century was an interesting day, too. If interested, you can read about it on my blog.

Unknown said...

First one's the hardest - you're in the groove now!

Paul Haskell said...

Thanks for reading Gary and Jim. Gary, I'm looking forward to reading your post as well. Jim, I hope to make it at least twice a season. We'll see how that goes.

Thanks again guys,