There’s Always Something Else To Do

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Lately, I’ve been feeling like a big shot.  After all, I have recently run a marathon and I routinely cycle distances that leave most of my coworkers (and keep in mind I work for the Department of Defense) shaking their head.  This year I’m hoping to push my limits even further with a planned ride of 300 km, another marathon, and a couple triathlons to boot.  I’m an important person and I remind people of that at every opportunity.

But just when I was beginning to think I had achieved something, I was reminded that there is always somebody out there who can put you to shame.  I was asking a coworker what he intended to do for his big event this year and he replied, “I’m going to do The Death Race.”

Death Race?

Truth be told, I have no illusions of my own importance.  I know there are PLENTY of events out there more strenuous than my humble century rides and marathons.  For example, the Ironman series helps those people who are tired of century rides and marathons by combining the two events and throwing in a two-mile swim for good measure.  That’s a good day’s work to be sure.  But when Ironman races become blase, what’s an athlete to do?

Enter The Death Race.

Run by the people who organize the increasingly popular Spartan Race obstacle courses, Death Race meets once a year in Vermont to torment the few hundred people willing to take their challenge – to run an obstacle course of undetermined length for an unannounced time, usually around 60 hours.  Not only is the distance and the time unknown to the participants, but the obstacles are also not announced in advance and are known for their exceptionally high levels of deviousness, including:

- chopping wood for two hours.

- standing in a freezing drizzle, counting out 1,250 pennies, then putting $5 worth in a bag, watching an official throw your bag into a pond along with two decoy bags.  Then diving into the ice-cold water to retrieve the correct bag.

- reading a list of 10 U.S. Presidents, hiking 10 miles through the woods with a 70-pound pack, then reciting the list of presidents in the order you read them.

- organizers often tell contestants that they’ve been disqualified when they have not, just to see if they’ll quit.

There’s mud, fire, barbed wire, manure, water, and all manner of exciting challenges.  Rarely do contestants know precisely when the race will even start.  In some years, pre race meetings held the evening before turned out to be the start of the actual event.  Typically, fewer than 20% of the contestants will finish the race.  If you want to learn more about Death Race, you can visit their website site with the appropriate name of YouMayDie.com.

So, if merely competing in an Ironman is becoming a bit mundane, there is always The Death Race.  I think I’ll pass on this for now.  After all, I haven’t found a single story about the event that involves cycling.  So just how tough can it be?

And for those who haven’t “liked” my new FaceBook page, here is a gentle reminder:

There And Back Again On FaceBook

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Cycling v. Running

As I staggered into the Fredericksburg Pizza Hut at the conclusion of last weekend’s 200k ride, I was well and truly knackered (a British expression meaning exhausted, or “ready for the knacker’s yard,” meaning a worn-out farm animal ready for slaughter).  As I chatted with other ride finishers, I mentioned that this was the hardest physical thing I have done since I ran a marathon in 1993.  After expressing incredulity that I actually ran 26.2 miles (if you saw me in person, you’d understand the reaction), the conversation turned to a comparison of endurance running versus endurance cycling.  Specifically, we wondered how far must a person cycle to equal a marathon?

My answer?  It depends.

I often wonder how cycling translates to running.  When I got back into cycling, my thought was three miles on the bike equaled one mile in running shoes.  As my fitness improved, my opinion on that ratio  shifted to about 4:1.  I now believe anything approaching an ironclad ratio is not possible.  Thus my official answer – It Depends.

Cycling and Running enjoy a complicated relationship.  On the surface, the disciplines are similar enough to invite comparison.  They both involve large amounts of cardiovascular fitness, traveling/racing over an agreed-upon distance, and legs are the primary power source.  Both sports allow for large differences in abilities, meaning you don’t have to be elite to enjoy and participate.  Both have rides and races of varying distances.  For running, the most common “masters level” distance for testing endurance is the marathon.  For cycling, it’s not so clear.

Many people point to centuries as being the equivalent of a marathon.  I can’t say I entirely disagree with them.  Centuries are certainly the most common long-distance ride and the longest distance most serious cyclists will sign up for.  Centuries are almost exactly four times as long as a marathon, thus supporting the 4:1 Ratio Conversion Theory quite nicely.  I have only one problem with this comparison: my century rides, while very challenging, have never tested me the way a marathon has.  Not even close.

When I finished my marathon, I was in agony.  Every step was difficult.  I was near total exhaustion and every part of me ached.  I shuffled to a reception area where a volunteer put a medal around my neck, a shiny blanket around my shoulders and handed me an orange to suck.  I was grateful.  I recall having to climb a small hill to get to my car and just how difficult that was to do.  The next morning, I had difficulty walking downstairs.  It took me about a week to fully recover.

Not so with centuries, after which I am usually quite tired but not overwhelmed.  If there is a meal to be had, I’ll eat it.  If not, I’ll go find a meal.  Beer is always welcome.  I may be saddle-sore, but I am fully able to walk about.  I may need a nap and the next day may have some stiffness, but that is about it for long-term recovery.  The extra 31 miles in my 200k (plus 8,700 feet of climbing) definitely made me feel more like I did after a marathon.  Still, it was only close to the experience, not as bad.

So for me, the 200k distance is most like running a marathon.  Your mileage may vary.

How I Cheated Death At Lake Anna

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Yesterday was the first running of the Lake Anna Century Classic.  As with any first-time event, I expected a few hiccups.  It’s hard to work out all the little details that make up a successful event on the very first try. I was not disappointed.

The first hiccup occurred at registration, where I noticed there were only two porta-potties to service a field of over 200 riders, a very large percentage of which had a strong desire to use the facility prior to the start of the event.  I patiently waited with about 50 others to take care of my business and cheerfully joined the pack waiting to start the ride.

As we departed under the escort of the Spotsylvania County Sherriff’s Department, I brooded on two things:

  • My lengthy wait in line pushed me well to the rear of the field, thus requiring me to work my way to the front yet again.
  • I had forgotten almost all of my energy food, leaving me to nurse a single energy bar between the ride’s various rest stops.

That's a lot of people to pass

There were plenty of packs to join at the outset and the pace was typically fast – around 20 mph.  The 60 mile and 100 mile (well, actually 95.77 mile for the century – why they came up short on the distance is beyond me) riders were travelling together at this point and there was an eclectic mix of roadies and comfort bikes which were pedalling furiously to keep the pace.  There was even a fellow in one of those aerodynamic bikes you see breaking speed records on the Nevada salt flats.  It took me seven miles to catch up with this fellow, who was achieving speeds I would not have thought possible on a curvey and hilly course such as this.

Rest stops were every 20 miles and the paceline I was with disintegrated at the first one when almost everyone – about 20 riders – decided to take a break.  I was doing just fine and pressed on with two others who were a bit ahead of me.  This was actually a key part of my strategy for the day – I wouldn’t take as many breaks and would therefore be able to catch the wheels of the faster riders when they eventually caught up with me.  This worked out rather well; when these riders eventually reeled me in at Mile 33, I was able to stay with them for five miles before they spit me out the back once again.

A crowd favorite

This was the fun part of the ride.  I was relatively fresh, and the views of Lake Anna were enjoyable.  Many riders were complimenting me on my Couch Potato Cycling Team jersey and the banter was quite pleasant.  I eventually hooked up with a rider named Barry who sported a US Coast Guard jersey.  After 15 minutes of conversation, we discovered we live about five miles from each other and know many of the same cyclists.  We’re pretty sure we even went on a small neighborhood ride together two years ago – the first time I was ever in a paceline.   Small world.

Barry at one of the lake's bridges

I skipped the rest stop at Mile 40 at which point the routes for the 60 and (almost) 100 mile routes diverged.  The fast riders caught up with me more quickly than at the earlier stop, but I still was able to squeeze a few more miles in their line.  I had eaten my energy bar and I had drunk 1.5 bottles of Gatorade.  I was going to have to stop at the Mile 60 rest stop and reprovision.

Imagine my dismay when I reached the rest stop AND FOUND NOTHING.

All that was there was a porta-potty and a cheerful sign announcing it as the Lake Anna Century rest stop.  No water.  No snacks.  Just some bemused cyclists commenting on how very bad this was.  I couldn’t possibly agree more.  Somehow, I would need to nurse the remaining half bottle of Gatorade (a bottle I had already been nursing for some time) for another 16 miles and the final rest stop at Mile 76.  It would hurt, but I could do it.  Just manage the pace, stay within myself, and get to that stupid rest stop.  I would get some fruit and some water there and things would improve.

Along the way, there were more pretty sites, like the several old homes and lumber mills which dotted the landscape.  I was also entertained by riding on the delightfully named Bumpass Road.  Sadly, I do not know the origins of the name.  I can only report that it was neither more nor less bumpy than the surrounding roads and my posterior was largely unaffected by it.

This appeared to be inhabited

At Mile 65 I was grateful to make the turn towards the finish line.  We had been cycling against the wind for about 40 miles and I really needed the wind at my back at this point.  I had never ridden so far without stopping and I was becoming dehydrated to boot.  I was really looking forward to rest stop at Mile 76 and the mild scolding I would give the volunteers for abandoning the previous stop.

Imagine my horror when I reached the final rest stop AND THERE WAS NOTHING THERE!

The Tea Party is quite active in the area, with signs like this posted in several locations

The stop was at a convenience store, so I could have simply waltzed in there and purchased some goods.  That is, I could have done so if I had any money.  Stupidly, I left my money in my car.  When I was going on a supported ride, I did so under the mistaken notion that I would be supported.  I resolved I wouldn’t make that mistake again, assuming I lived through this one.  I amused myself by taking photos of the train depot at Beaverdam and the historical marker there (yes – a historical marker!) and steeled myself for the final 20 miles without food or water.

This was becoming seriously dangerous.  The temperature was well above 80 degrees at this point and I had been nursing my hydration for the past 20 miles.  I now had another 20 miles to go without anything to drink whatsoever.  I had burned well over 2,000 calories and ingested about 400.  I would burn another 1,000 calories before I was finished.  My mouth felt like I was eating handfuls of cotton.  There was nothing to do but ease myself to the end and buy something to drink at the nearby gas station.  There might be a tongue-lashing toward a ride official if the opportunity presented itself.

At Mile 82, I was given another treat.  My cue sheet stated I should turn left on Eastham Road.  What it should have said was, “Please do not turn left on Eastham Road.  In fact, ignore this instruction entirely.  You’re doing just fine on the road you are on and should remain on it.  Sorry for the confusion.”

This is what happens when you build cue sheets based on MapMyRide or some other computer program.  Roads often change names or have silly little idiosyncracies that confuse these programs and the directions get muddled.  I was on a road which would change its name from Greene’s Corner to (ever so briefly) Eastham to Arritt to Lewiston.  One road – four names.  The cue sheet reads like I would be on three different roads (oddly, there is no mention of Lewiston Road).  This is why it is critical to proof the course in advance.  On a bike.  I am proud to say that my newfound club, the DC Randonneurs does precisely this before every ride, even ones they have done many times before.

I like the DC Randonneurs.

Anyway, it took me two miles to discover my mistake and double back to the road I should have stayed on.  Oddly enough, this was PRECISELY the distance I needed to make my ride a full century.  The final fifteen miles were a great struggle.  I found it increasingly difficult to hold my line, meaning my bike would wander into the road while my mind checked out.  Fortunately, the road was not busy.  The final three miles were on Courthouse Road, which was considerably busier and I forced myself to focus on the white line near the shoulder.

Despite staying near the line, I still almost died.

A mere half mile from the finish, a line of cars approached from the opposite direction.  Third in line was a late-model Trans Am, the driver of which had lost his patience and decided to pass the front two cars in one swoop.  He didn’t see me coming from the opposite direction.  As he pulled into the passing lane (the lane I was in, heading in the opposite direction), he gunned his engine.  Then he saw me.  Then he swerved toward the car he was passing.  In the end, he missed both me and the car he was passing by less than two feet on each side.

I pulled into the parking lot, having ridden 100 miles without stopping except for the briefest of periods to take the occasional photo or consult my iPhone map.  My final time was 6:26, well short of my goal of six hours, but still quite good considering I ate almost nothing and flirted with heat stroke for the last hour and a half.  I quickly got my bike stowed and drove the short distance to the nearest convenience store where I bought the best-tasting Gatorade I have ever had.  I went on to drink about 100 ounces of fluid in the next three hours without feeling the slightest need to use the bathroom.  I was a tad dehydrated, I think.

Thus concluded the Lake Anna Century Classic.  Proceeds from this event went to Law Enforcement United, a charity which helps the families of police officers and firemen who die in the line of duty.  It’s a worthy cause.  I’m just glad I didn’t need to die to support it.  In the future, I will begin all organized rides with the assumption that I must support myself.  Yesterday, that was precisely the case and my failure to be prepared cost me.

Historical Marker Segment!

My, it’s been a long time since I’ve bagged a new marker!  This one is located in the town of Beaverdam, near the nonexistent Rest Stop at Mile 76.  It commemorates a train depot whose claim to fame seems to be that it was repeatedly destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War and John S. Mosby was captured there.  I find the notion of the Great “Gray Ghost” being captured while waiting for a train to be quite amusing.  The station is restored quite handsomely and sits in a nice park, quite fetching for this small town.

Cap2Cap

That wasn’t so bad!

I made it to the end, but please let me start at the beginning.

Prologue

5:00 AM is early to get up on a Saturday.  The night prior I had triple-checked all my equipment.  Everything except my cycling clothes was in the car, ready to go.  The forecast was for a cool start but a warm afternoon, leaving me with a clothing quandary: base layer or bare arms?  I had hoped to buy arm warmers at my LBS, but (as per usual) they didn’t have my size.  I went with the base layer and hoped for the best.  If it got too hot, I could always take it off and stow it in my jersey pocket.

They gave out jersey numbers - serious stuff!

I arrived at Rockett’s Landing without event and made my way to the check in station.  There, I received a green wristband which indicated I was on the century ride, a jersey number, my T-Shirt, cue sheet and course map.  I then went back to the car and made my final preparations: number on jersey, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, helmet, sunglasses, bottles in cages, air in tires.  I was ready to go with 15 minutes to spare.

Ready To Go

A crowd was gathering at the start line.  I pedaled around to kill some time and found a great view of Richmond.  While I was taking a picture, another cyclist came up and asked if I wanted a pic with me in it.  Absolutely!  You can see my white sleeved base layer, but you can’t see the wisps of breath that were puffing out into the cold morning.  I didn’t think it would warm up enough to bother taking it off.

The First Half

The Start Line

At 7:30 an unseen man on a public address system welcomed us and gave a few administrative announcements.  After counting down from 10, the ride started and the mass of 500+ riders in the century surged forward.  The first mile of road was closed as the pack thinned out.  Then we were on the open road.

My plan was to do as much group riding as possible so I could save my energy by drafting.  Initially, I had no choice because we were traveling as one huge group.  After about four miles, the pack had thinned out into several very long pace lines.  I got into one and settled in.

We were flying. 

As I experienced in my humble four-person paceline back in November, the pace picked up quite a bit.  We were going about 23 mph and the group was huge – about 50 people.  Soon, we were out of town and zipping through Richmond National Battlefield Park.  I was disappointed not to be able to take it in properly – I wanted to shout, “Hey, everybody!  Richmond was a significant location in the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and the 1864 Overland Campaign.  Lets stop and see if there’s anything interesting to see!”  I didn’t say that because somehow I didn’t think the group would be impressed by these facts.

My only paceline pic - things are a little too busy there for photos

So onward we went.  We moved back onto main roads of very good quality and the pace didn’t slow.  The huge group splintered  into dozens of smaller groups.  I found myself with five others, and we eventually linked up with a group of four.  We roared into the first Rest Stop (called “Feed Zones” in this ride) at Mile 27 with a 23mph pace. 

I didn’t want to stop.  There was another Feed Zone at Mile 39 and I was feeling good.  I was tired of the paceline experience and wanted to strike out on my own.  So I did.  The roads were in great condition and the terrain as table top flat, so I did a good solo pace of about 17 mph without really trying hard.  It was a pleasant morning and it was good to have the road to myself.  At Mile 35, four guys caught up with me and I latched onto them, hoping to pick up some speed until the Feed Zone four miles away.

At Mile 39, I got a surprise – there was no feed zone!  The station was only a bicycle mechanic.  This meant that I would go 52 miles without stopping.  Yippee.  It took me a few seconds to get my head around that one.  Fortunately, I had some Clif Bars with me and I made good use of them as I grabbed onto a group of 20 (or so) cyclists.  I just needed to hang on for 12 miles until we stopped for lunch at Mile 52.

It seems that every organized ride has its “brush with death” moment, and it was at Mile 48 that I saw the near-miss that could have killed several.  Astute readers will recall I mentioned in my last post that the ride starts at both ends.  We came upon a group of riders traveling from the other direction.  This group had bunched up near the front and was riding three abreast.  This is a “no-no” and our pre-ride instructions were clear on this point.  Our group of 20 was bunched up in a similar manner (note: I was not part of these shenanigans and was well to the rear, riding near the shoulder).  The space between the group was large enough to accommodate a pickup truck with a few inches to spare on either side.  I know this because just such a vehicle raced between the two groups, much to the consternation of those most closely involved.  With everyone tightly bunched, simply clipping a rider would have wiped out several.  Plowing into one of the groups would certainly have killed many.  Yikes.

Bridge over the Chickahominy River

With that unpleasantness behind us, we screamed into the Chickahominy State Park for a lunch meal, which consisted of all the PowerAde I could drink, a Turkey sandwich and some energy foods.  The sandwich was great.  I met a pleasant fellow from Richmond wearing a US Marine jersey.  Turns out he wasn’t in the Corps, but most of his family is and he wears it out of respect to them.  He was a really nice guy who told me how tough the ride was last year, when they faced 50mph winds on the return leg.   It was getting quite warm at this point, so I found a (somewhat) secluded place and stripped to the waist in order to remove my base layer.  With that stowed in a jersey pocket, I was ready to head back.

The Trek at rest during lunch

Before resuming my tale, let me share with you some thoughts on pacelines.  Clearly, they are the way to go.  They let you go 5mph faster than you would normally go with less energy.  Had I stopped my ride at this point, my 20 mph average pace would have obliterated the best of any ride I had ever been on.  But I have discovered some “challenges” with paceline rides that are worth mentioning:

- Huge groups make accordion-like movements, meaning if you are in the back, you are regularly braking and accelerating.  This is mentally taxing as well as more physically draining than a proper paceline should be.

- People understand the above point and work very hard to stay near the front of the group.  They can be rude and dangerous while doing so.

- Each cyclist in a paceline is supposed to take a turn leading the group.  It’s only fair.  I didn’t see that practice at all.  Huge lines would form behind two or three strong riders willing to pull the rest.  At one point, I tried to shame the rest of the group by pedaling past five or six people to take the lead, saying, “It’s time someone else did some work up here.”  The strong riders were very grateful and complimentary for this but nobody else ever took a turn. 

- I am hardly an expert, but I know the basics of how to get along in a group – no sudden movements, communicate constantly, and ride in a straight line.  Not everybody seems to understand these concepts, making things more adventurous than need be.  There were several riders on aero bars in groups – a major faux-pas as they are not very maneuverable in an emergency.

The Second Half

Lunch hit the spot and I was soon bike on my bike, a full 60 minutes ahead of my planned schedule.  I left by myself, but soon spied another group and labored to catch up with it.  I never really felt comfortable and this group was pushing the pace faster than I was willing to go.  I let them drop me after about eight miles.  Three miles later, I came upon the next Feed Zone and the group was taking a break there.  Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t hang with them - they were sprinting the eleven miles from lunch to the next rest area.  The stop was too soon for me and I pressed on.  As events would transpire, I would do the final 37 miles of the ride by myself.

The view at Mile 70

The quality of the roads on the return course were not as good as those on the way out.  These were “back country roads,” with a rough surface that made for a bumpy ride.  The gentle breeze was now in my face.  And I was getting tired.  Still, I was very pleased to break my personal best distance of 70 miles in good shape.  

The last rest stop

A few miles down the road, the group that dropped me before the last Feed Zone reeled me back in.  I was still pleased to see that I made it about 15 miles before that happened.  I let them go, preferring to simply cruise my way back into Richmond.  I was being passed by the occasional group/solo rider and I passed one or two folks myself.  I counted the miles before the final rest stop at Mile 87 and was very glad to pull in for a break.  They had plenty of bananas, grapes, cookies, and energy foods.  I had my fill, refilled my bottles and shoved off for the final push.  It was quite warm out and I was ready for the ride to be over.

Riders on shorter routes were intermingled with the century riders at this point.  Traffic was getting heavier as well as we approached the town.  I reminded myself to stay focused on “the little things” which my fatigue might cause me to slip up on.  I didn’t want to collide with a less experience rider, hit a pot hole, or a car through lack of attention.  There were a few stop lights, which were maddening as it broke my momentum and caused me to reaccelerate.  I made jokes with the handful of riders with me about the “great opportunity” to get some sprint work in during the final few miles of the course.  These were greeted with the chuckles that gallows humor usually inspires.

I still had some strength for the last few miles, moving at a pretty good clip.  I was very tired, to be sure, but I never “bonked” and was happy to look like a respectable cyclist on my way in.  The ride organizers mentioned in their pre-race literature that the average century is completed in 7.5 hours, so I was extremely pleased to finish five minutes over 6 hours – an average pace of 16.5 mph and a moving pace of 18.0 mph.  I did not think those numbers would have been possible.

Postlogue

One of the best beers I have ever had. The BBQ was good too!

I put my bike in the truck, unloaded the junk out of my jersey pockets, took off my helmet/gloves, grabbed some sneakers and headed to the start/finish line for the post-ride meal.  This was a neat change from my previous rides, where people finished then simply went home.  It was great to see so many riders enjoying the day and swapping ride stories.  I grabbed my meal (pork BBQ, cole slaw, a cookie and a beer) and sat down with some folks from Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team In Training.  They explained their team, which is funded by the society in return for charitable contributions earned by each rider.  It’s an interesting concept.

The Band

Everyone agreed it was a nearly perfect day to ride and the times were very fast because of it.  My Army jersey drew more than a few remarks (all of them positive) and I find it is a much better conversation starter than my plain white jersey.  A bluegrass band was playing, which completed the atmosphere.  After a bit, it was time for me to head home, which I did.  I was mildly concerned that I would be so exhausted that the hour(+) ride home would be challenging.  That was nowhere near the case.  As I write this the day after, I am not sore in the least and the only lingering effect is a touch of sunburn on my arms.  Not bad!

So that’s my Cap2Cap ride report.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!  This was the best-organized event I have attended in my short riding “career.”  Check-in was a breeze, ride marshals were at almost every turning point, the ride stops were very well stocked, the food was great, and the after-party was excellent.  I couldn’t have asked for a better event for my first century.

Breaking Down The Cap2Cap Ride

Ride Map/Stats Courtesy MapMyRide.Com

The Cap2Cap Century is this Saturday, and the time has come to focus a little bit on the route.  I realize this makes me different than many participants in rides such as this, who seem quite content to simply show up and go with the flow.  I’m not very good at going with flows, so I like to have a very good idea as to what I’m getting myself into.  This is what I’ve learned:

- Of the four organized rides I’ve participated in since last September, this will be the biggest by far with over 2,000 riders.  I’m not sure how many will be with me at the 7:30AM start for the century ride, but I suspect more than a few will be there.

- This ride has two start points – one at each end of the route.  Here’s hoping we don’t run into each other!

- With only 1,099 feet of climbing, the course is very flat.  That was actually one of my reasons for picking this as my first century.  Hopefully, I’ll ease myself into things as I get ready for the Civil War Century and 7,000 feet of climbing this September.

- The route appears to be easier to follow than the sometimes intricate routes of my previous rides.  There is also the promise of course marshals sprinkled throughout the route.  I think the probability of getting lost is about as low as it can be.

- There’s beer at the end of the ride.  Very nice.  They’ve got a lunch planned for us at the halfway point in Chickahominy Park.  Also very nice.

- I’ll be on the road to the start line at 5:30AM.  Not so nice.

I’ve done my reading.  I’ve done my training.  I have a plan that will surely be out the window by Mile 10.  All that remains is to complete the ride.  I’ve pedaled 70 miles before as well as 30 miles. 70 miles was a bit of a challenge but 30 miles is easy for me, so the question is this: does 70 plus 30 equal 100? 

I’ll let you know sometime on Sunday!

Culpeper County Ride

Many people (including commentors on this blog) advise not to try new things when embarking on a long ride.  This is good advice.  New equipment may not perform the way you expect it to.  New food may not agree with you as you had hoped.  A lot can go wrong with new things and it is best not to try them out as you attempt something challenging.  I thought about this as I put on my brand-new long sleeve compression shirt and loaded my brand new full finger gloves and my brand new sun glasses into the car.  The thought also occurred to me as I loaded my three-week old bike, clipless pedals and shoes.  I even pondered it as I drank Gatorade’s Prime drink mix for the first time, 15 minutes before the start of the ride.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

The day started off well.  Remarkably, I packed everything I wanted to bring, ate a light breakfast of toast and jam, loaded the bike on the rack and departed for Culpeper right on schedule.  It was cold out and the sun was just beginning to rise.  Light fog was burning off in the fields as I passed through Nokesville.  It’s a 45 mile drive to Culpeper and I briefly thought this was a long way to drive in order to ride a bike.  It then occurred to me that if 45 miles was a long distance to drive, how would one describe the 65 mile distance I was about to pedal.  A sobering thought, that.

I arrived at the start point – a store named The Bike Stop – precisely on schedule.  This was a bit unnerving because things were going too smoothly for me.  I fully expected something to go wrong and preferred it to occur as soon as possible so I could get on with things.  I did have a minor challenge during check-in when the volunteer briefly refused to wait on me because I have the same name as her ex-husband.  It was all in good fun (I think) and she eventually gave me my T-Shirt, yellow wrist band, and cue card.

Pre-ride instructions outside the Bike Stop

There were about 200 riders participating in the ride.  By 8:20, most of them were filling the street in front of the bike shop, where a lady from the country rec department welcomed us, thanked the sponsors, and quickly raffled off some door prizes (none of which I won – darn!).  At 8:30, a police motorcycle escort led the group out of town.  As we started, I was presented with my first challenge: clipping into my pedals in a crowd.  I slipped on the first attempt, but caused no harm to anybody.  I quickly regrouped and was on my way on a sunny cold morning, with the temperature hovering around 50 degrees.

The pace heading out of town was pleasantly slow.  Everyone was in a good mood, joking with each other and happily waving to the police officers who were blocking the intersections for us.  I was polite to the police officers, but didn’t chat with many folks.  I focused on getting a feel for the group and not slamming into anyone.  At this point, things were kinda chaotic.  Many fast riders were working their way up to the front while less experienced riders (even less experienced than me!) were weaving  erratically and generally making things harder for the rest of us.  After two miles, we were outside of town and things had mostly sorted themselves out.  It was at this point that I met Jimmy.

Jimmy, showing off his Felt Z5

Jimmy was a gregarious fellow who was cycling alone, talking up a storm to anybody who would listen to him.  When I pedaled past him, we struck up a conversation that was to last the next 25 miles.  Jimmy lives in Ashburn, where he is a network administrator for an IT company.  For years he has been an ultra marathon runner and has participated in runs over 50 miles long.  Jimmy took up cycling this Spring when his doctor informed him he had microtears in his hips that would eventually make it too painful to run anymore.    He had never done a century before and was still debating whether to go on the 100 or 65 mile route.  Apart from being a great guy, he had one interesting aspect:  he absolutely refused to believe any of the data my Garmin GPS was providing.  He was convinced that we were going much slower than the computer suggested.  I eventually took to grossly exaggerating the read out to play into this paranoia.  “Now it says we’re going 55 mph, Jimmy!”  Jimmy seemed amused by all of this.  We took turns drafting and pulling and even joined a small four person pace line.  It was all very cool.  You can definitely feel the difference – when I was in trail there were times when I was barely even pedaling.

Rest Stop #1 - Rapidan VFD

The biggest event on this first leg occurred around Mile 12, when a woman strayed into the left lane and was almost rear ended by a pick up truck flying past our group.  After that momentary scare, we reached Mile 15 and the first rest stop – the Rapidan Volunteer Fire Department.   This being my first organized ride, I have no idea if this was a good setup or not.  I can report that many of the riders were very pleased with the place, including ample supplies of cookies, PBJ sandwiches, trail mix, energy bars, water, sports drinks, and an on-site mechanic.  The volunteers even went to the trouble of placing many of the snacks into zip-lock bags so the riders could put them in their jerseys and eat on the road.  A nice little detail, I thought.  I texted my wife and informed her I had lived to see Rest Stop #1.  After refilling my water bottle, I was ready to head back out.  Little did I know that I was three short miles from making a fool of myself.

Yours Truly at Rest Stop #1

The incident began innocently enough.  A group of about ten riders were waiting to cross Highway 15.  Jimmy and I were with them.  Jimmy shouted, “Car left!” meaning to stop because there was a car (you guessed it) on the left.  So I unclipped and stopped.  Then Jimmy noticed the car had flashed its lights, so we all began to cross the road.  Then another rider shouted “Car right!”  So we all stopped again.  Except this time I didn’t unclip.  Oops.  My weight was on my left pedal, which was at the downstroke position and the bike tilted to the left.  I was going to fall and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

Shockingly, the fall was virtually painless.  I tried to roll with the fall and avoided putting my left arm out to brace myself (an excellent way to break a wrist).  I was pleasantly surprised to see my shoes come out of the clips, thereby avoiding a troublesome compound fracture, and I quickly regained my feet.  Smiling, I walked my bike to the side of the road and checked it out.  Only a few small scratches on the left pedal.  That’s it. 

Jimmy was good enough to wait for me.  I quickly caught up with him and informed him that he witnessed my first-ever fall in clipless pedals.  We both agreed this was a significant event and he probably owed me a beer.  I told him that once I realized I was going down it was my goal to do it as gracefully as possible.  Jimmy said that he didn’t see the fall, but suspected I was about as graceful as everyone else who has done the same (which is to say virtually everybody and not graceful at all).  A few minutes after this exchange, two cyclists who had seen me crash caught up to us and asked if I was ok.  After I told them I was fine, one guy said (and I am not making this up), “I got to tell you, that was the most graceful fall I have ever seen.  You never stopped moving!” 

Mission accomplished.

Prince Michel Winery

At Mile 26, we came to the turn off point for the Century Ride.  Jimmy decided he was going to go for it.  I wished him well and was once again on my own.  It was still quite chilly and I was very grateful for my new gloves and my compression shirt.  Both were keeping me warm.  I also was not feeling any ill effects from my pre-ride Gatorade drink.  It appeared that I had drawn Aces on all three new items.  The ride was becoming more hilly at this point.  I was surprised at how hard some of the riders found these s0-so hills.  I was passing several with little effort.  Morale was high as I pulled into Rest Stop #2 – the Prince Michel Winery.

The Trek at rest (shockingly on its side) at Prince Michel Winery

The fare at Prince Michel Winery was much the same as at Rapidan VFD.  The volunteers were very nice and were eager to chat about the ride, where you’re from, or just about anything.  I was a bit dismayed that sports drinks were only available in Dixie Cups.  I thought it would be a tad rude to grab 20 of them and fill my water bottles.  Instead, I drank four or five and kept one bottle full of water.  I switched my caloric intake plan to bananas, cookies, and energy bars.  After some stretching, I shoved off.

The rolling hills continued and I was still overtaking folks while the occasional cyclist passed me by.  At Mile 35, I caught up with a rider sporting a Potomac Pedalers Touring Club jersey.  I’d heard of this group and am an ocassional reader of their website.  The rider told me he was, in fact, a member and we struck up a conversation about the club, other local bike clubs, organized rides, the better centuries in the area, and a whole bunch of Northern VA stuff.  The man’s name was Sloan and he lives in Washington DC, working for the State Department as a lawyer.   He rode a steel-framed Rivendell.  About five miles down the road, I watched as Sloan almost died.  Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but I DID watch him almost get hit while standing in the road by two cyclists traveling at well over 30 mph.  Here’s how it happened:

Sloan at Rest Stop #3, shortly after the "cue card incident"

Sloan had cleverly attached his cue card to his brake cables by means of a heavy-duty paper clip.  During a steep descent, Sloan flew through a sharp right turn while a stupid minivan driver tried to pass him.  I thought this is where Sloan was going to “buy the farm,” but he got out of that jam without incident – except that his cue card came undone and flew off his bike.  Sloan didn’t realize this until I yelled this fact to him.  He turned around and pedaled to that sharp right turn, where the cue card lay in the road.  He dismounted and picked up his card.  At precisely this point, two more cyclists flew into the turn and were surprised to see the shockingly-stationary Sloan in their paths.  Both riders swerved, narrowly missing Sloan and threw a few choice words his way for their trouble.

Rest Stop #3 - Salem FD

Sloan was remarkably unperturbed by these events and we were quickly back on our way.  In a few miles, we had arrived at Rest Stop #3, the Salem Fire Department.  By now I had the drill down pretty well: dismount, take off the gloves/helmet/sunglasses, text the wife, wolf down some snacks, drink some sports drink, and stretch.  As I went through this routine, I overheard some local riders learn that the route would take us over Drogheda Mountain.  There were groans and much consternation at the prospect of this.  They were no doubt referring to the large climb I had noticed during my highly scientific and detailed terrain analysis earlier in the week.  I informed Sloan of this and we both agreed this was not a good sign.

Speaking of terrain analyses, it seems that almost nobody does this sort of thing.  Almost none of the riders (including Jimmy, Sloan, and the people all around me) had any sense of where they were going.  Most folks were perfectly happy to hop on their bikes and go.  No doubt that’s because this was just one ride out of many for these people, but it still struck me as very odd.  I guess it’s just the Army officer in me:  I don’t go anywhere without a map and if I’m in an unfamiliar area, I will definitely take the time to orient myself using said map.  This probably makes me an uptight anal-retentive cyclist, but there it is.

Sloan congratulating me at Mile 57

After five miles of mostly downhill riding, we came upon Drogheda Mountain Road.  Any road named after a mountain couldn’t possibly be a good thing, in my opinion, and I was right.  We did a little over a mile at a 13% grade, which will definitely take the starch out of your shorts.   Again, I was pleased with my ability to climb the hill relative to the riders around me.  Sloan faded back.  I wasn’t about to leave my new-found friend on the side of a mountain, so I waited for him at the top.  He closed up quickly and we set off to Brandy Station.  On the way, we hit Mile 57, a spot of significance only to me as it marked the furthest I had ever cycled.  I pulled out my camera and took a pic to commemorate the moment.

AJ's Deli and Rest Stop #4

The final rest stop was at Mile 60, in the town of Brandy Station.  In June 1863, the largest cavalry battle ever fought on American soil occurred here.  I didn’t see any remnant of that battle.  All I saw was AJ’s Deli and Rest Stop #4.  It seemed odd to have a rest stop only five miles from the finish, but Sloan and I decided to partake anyway.  Upon our departure, I told Sloan that I wanted to see how much I had left in the proverbial tank and I would therefore be leaving him behind.  We agreed we’d meet up again at the finish.

So off I went, once again on my own.  I had a lot of energy left and was ready to see how fast I could go the remaining five miles.  I rode very hard, keeping my speed around 23 mph on the flats.  I overtook about five riders, but I was quickly running out of steam.  Still, I felt I would be in good shape at Mile 65.

Imagine my frustration when I hit Mile 65 and I still hadn’t reached Culpeper!

It seems the race organizers were just a tad off in their ride planning.  As it turned out, the final length was 68 miles.  No worries.  I was able to gather myself for the final push.  This was actually a positive event as the extra three miles put me over the 1,500 mile mark for the season.  It was nice to be setting a single day ride while also breaking a signficant mileage mark at the same time.

The Bike Stop

The ride back to the Bike Stop was uneventful.  People were slowly coming in all the time, so there were pockets of riders chatting in the parking lots and putting away their gear.  I pulled up to my truck and set about putting my stuff away.  The first order of business was changing my cycling shoes for some comfortable sneakers.  After a few minutes, Sloan pedaled in.  It turns out he parked only four spaces from me!  He had pulled into the parking lot immediately behind me and remembered his bemusement at my New York Yankees and Buffalo Bills car magnets.  We walked into the Bike Stop to let them know we had safely returned.  We chatted a bit about our upcoming rides (mine is a 65-miler in Warrenton in two weeks and Sloan’s is the Sea Gull Century next weekend).  I told Sloan I greatly enjoyed his company and then we shook hands and went our separate ways.

And that was that.  I’ll write more about my impressions of the ride later, but suffice it to say it was a very nice day and it was all I could have hoped for.  I had a nice ride, finished in good shape, learned a bit about group riding, and met some very nice folks along the way.  I even have a couple good stories to add to my collection!

All Signed Up, But Not Ready To Go

 

I’ve decided to register for the Culpeper Cycling Century this October 2.  I’ll only be doing the 63 mile route, however.  This will be my first organized ride and will hopefully provide me many good lessons for the 2011 season, where I intend to do a few more events including a century or two.

Now all I have to do is get in shape.  How hard could that be?  Never mind – I already know!