Reston Century

This one did not go easily for me.

I arrived at the Reston Town Center without event and picked up my cue sheets.  There was no line at the registration tent, which was nice, but it was also an indication of how few people were leaving at 7:00 AM.  This was a “rolling start,” meaning people could leave as early as 6:30 and as late as 9:00.  Generally, people riding the century would start earlier and those riding shorter routes would head out later in the morning.

Check in at Reston Town Center

On its surface, this is a very convenient way to start a ride.  There are no lines, no “crush of humanity,” and people can start as they deem best for them.  It also means the field is dramatically spread out, which means pace lines are unlikely to form.  In my first century last May, I was in a paceline for much of the first 50 miles.  I was about to find out how painful it would be to ride 106 miles on my own.

In short, it was very painful.

I didn’t see another rider for the first 2.2 miles.  I eventually happened across a small group, all riding casually.  I closed with these folks and mingled amongst them for a bit.  It was here that I picked up a “friend,” who decided to sit on my rear wheel without so much as a “Good morning,” for the next seven miles.  He was riding a hybrid with flat pedals and was wearing gym shorts, so I took pity on him and let him pedal away in my wake.  While I was willing to put up with this cycling faux pas for a while, after seven miles he was still sitting there and I began to feel like a potential stalking victim.  There was a rest stop at Mile 10 and ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered to pull in after such a short distance, but it was an opportunity to lose my leech and ingest some calories – a strategy which I had decided would be important.

The first cyclists I saw (note the lack of pacelines)

The next 20 miles were a leisurely ride around the city of Leesburg.  I met a man who had just completed RAGBRAI for the sixth time and he regaled me with stories of that epic event, where 20,000 riders descend on small Iowa towns as they spend a week traversing the state.  We stopped to render assistance to a rider who flatted and couldn’t figure out how to make her pump work for her presta valve system.  For a moment, I was concerned I would have to give up my one and only CO2 cartridge in the name of chivalry when my RAGBRAI friend got the pump working properly.

A few miles down the road, I met a lady who was cycling the 60-mile route with her teenage son.  Amazingly, they TOO had just completed RAGBRAI.  I guess I should get myself out there.  It seems to be the thing to do.  I also met a fireman who was laboring under a rather significant set of muscles and some people with neat jerseys, like the one pictured below.

Very nice!

After a brief spin through Old Town Leesburg, we traveled over some significant hills, including a nasty haul up Woodburn Road, known by the locals as “Thigh Burn Hill.”  At 15% grade for half a mile, it was an apt description.  The hills took their toll and when I rolled into the next rest stop at Mile 30, I was mildly concerned at my level of fatigue.  I was nowhere near spent, but I shouldn’t have been this tired so soon.  The rest stop was very well supplied and I helped myself to several orange slices and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I refilled my bottles and set off on a 30-mile loop that would eventually take me right back to the rest stop at Hamilton.

The Trek at rest - Hamilton Rest Area

At this point, the early morning haze was burning off and the sun was shining brightly.  It was warming up quickly.  The country roads were great to ride on and I was once again traveling in a very loose knit group of five or six people.  Imagine my dismay when all of them broke off when we arrived at the turning point for the shorter 60-mile ride.  We weren’t exactly drafting one another, but it seems rather silly to sign up for a large group ride and not actually ride with other people.  I do that every weekend from my own driveway.  There was no need for me to pay a registration fee and drive 40 miles at 6:00 AM for the experience.  Still, the scenery was nice and afforded pleasant views of the Blue Ridge, the gateway to the Shenandoah Valley.  I pedaled along and watched my GPS thermometer climb to 91 degrees.

This is when I met Carol, who saw me pedaling on my own in the distance and sped up to catch me.  Carol came down from Maryland for the ride and found herself alone like me.  She’s hoping to do a century in Moab, Utah, later this year which features a large climb known as “The Big Nasty.”  I have since learned that this hill features 3,000 feet of climbing in seven miles at sustained grades of 19%.  Yikes.  I found that to be interesting, since Carol (by her own admission) is not very good at climbing hills.  Climbing mountains in Utah – which is thousands of feet above sea level on its flat lands – can be quite arduous.  She’s already done a century at Lake Tahoe and seemed to be quite experienced, so I guess she knows what she’s doing.

Farm Houses nestled against the Blue Ridge

I must have been looking a little ragged, because Carol became very interested in what nutritional supplements I was using in my drinks.  When I told her it was just Gatorade, she suggested I try one of her Nuun tablets, which supposedly offer all the key vitamins, minerals, narcotics, or whatever that you can’t find in Gatorade.  I happily took a tablet from a total stranger and dropped it into my water bottle, where it fizzed like Alka Seltzer.  Alka Seltzer is good for you, so this must be as well, right?

I can happily report that I suffered no ill effects from the tablets (Carol eventually forced a second one on me at the Mile 50 rest stop).  They may have even helped me as I seemed to get a fresh bit of energy around this time.  This could also be attributed to the friendly company of another rider or the rest stop at Mile 50.  In any event, I did not become worse off and there is a lot to be said for that.

Loyal readers will recall that it was at Mile 50 when I expected to encounter two Category 5 climbs after leaving the town of Lovettsville.  I pedaled onward with a sense of excitement and foreboding, knowing that at any moment I would hit the first climb.  Sadly, MapMyRide let me down again.  Rather than two somewhat significant ascents, I was greeted with ten miles of multiple smaller climbs, each one at about 12% for a third of a mile.  These were taxing but not nearly as eventful as I had hoped.  Still, the cumulative effect of these climbs were beginning to stress me and altitude totals were building up.  As I rolled back into the Hamilton rest stop, I had climbed over 3,000 feet in 63 miles.  The sun was blazing.  I was beat and in trouble.

Pulling into Hamilton again

I took an extended break.  After eating another PB&J, a banana, and restocking my bottles, I felt a little better and was off again.  My next task was to complete a 20 mile “South Loop” which would deposit me once again back at the Hamilton rest area.  While turning onto Silcott Springs Road (west of Purcellville), I noticed very dark clouds approaching from the west.  This was not good.

Not good at all.

Four miles later, I was engulfed in a thunder storm of biblical proportions.  The rain was incredibly hard – almost like hail – and it was coming down in torrents.  Lightning (some of it close) streaked across the sky and thunder (some of it loud) boomed over the valley.  I began to contemplate my mortality and looked for shelter.

Note this expression - this is how a horse looks when he's trying to tell you that, for the love of God, you should turn around due to the approaching thunder storm that may kill you.

There was absolutely no shelter.  No country store, no barn, nothing.  So I did the one thing that every five year old is told not to do in a thunder storm.  I stood under a tree.  A few minutes later, two cyclists joined me.  We all agreed this was not the brightest of ideas, but we had no idea what else we could do.  Riding was too dangerous.  We could barely see where we were going and therefore there was no chance a passing car would see us.  I waited about 10 minutes and the storm abated somewhat.  My fellow lightning poles-in-waiting were still eating a snack so I pressed ahead without them.

Let me just say that it was physically impossible to be more wet than I was.  If I was pedaling underwater, I wouldn’t be more wet.  As I looked down, I could see small streams running off my arms and helmet.  Little gushers would erupt out of each shoe on my downstroke.  The temperature had dropped 25 degrees in about 30 minutes.  I was now freezing cold, especially in my feet.

I had 30 miles to go.

For me, this was no longer a pleasant bicycle ride – an attempt to test myself and perhaps reach some sort of personal best.  This was now a matter of survival.  I needed to somehow stay ahead of another line of thunder storms that I could hear approaching from my rear while not getting hypothermia or getting hit by a passing motorist in the poor conditions.  In 30 miles, I could find my truck, some dry clothes, and some heat.  That was my goal.

Self-portrait, after The Deluge

I believe it is now necessary to discuss the indelicate subject of chafing.  If one soaks oneself in water and then executes a repetitive motion, the clothes one is wearing (no matter how form-fitting) will wear on the skin.  This will result in chafing.  If one does this for the better part of three hours, there will be dramatic amounts of chafing – trust me.

Cyclists have discovered this condition long before I did and thus the invention of chamois cream, which can lubricate key areas.  Often with witty names such as “Nubutt” and “DZnuts,” many cyclists swear by this stuff.  I have never had a use for it and always considered myself some sort of blessed soul who was somehow immune to the condition of chafing while on a bicycle.  At 2:30 PM on Sunday, I decided that was no longer the case and that all I wanted for Christmas was a 50 gallon drum of chamois cream.

Onward I pedaled.  Alone.  I believe many people had abandoned the course at this point.  As I approached Hamilton for the third time (Mile 83), I saw some folks leaving the rest stop.  With the storm fast on my heels, I skipped the rest area and pressed on with them.  I was completely spent at this point and this group of four soon dropped me on a moderate hill.

Pedaling around Leesburg’s southern side, I came across a glorious stretch of road that was essentially a five-mile long descent.  Manna from heaven is what it was.  I was able to get the Trek up to 25+ mph, outrun the storm (which was still drizzling on me) and build up some energy.  At the bottom of the descent I jumped on the W&OD Trail and began the gentle climb back to Reston.  By the time I reached the final rest stop (Mile 96), the sun was out.  The volunteers could see I had been through some sort of travail, but I don’t think they quite believed my descriptions of the storm.  No worries.  They had free food and Gatorade and for that I was grateful.

I cruised the final ten miles and eventually made it back to the Reston Town Center, where a somewhat sedate party was underway.  I was greeted by a cyclist who said in a surprised voice, “Are you just getting in?”  When I told her that I was, in fact, just arriving, she said “Oh, I guess you stopped to get out of the rain.”  That  was apparently the only explanation for my late arrival.  I shook my head, told her that I did not break for the rain, and that there were a great many people still behind me.  She seemed confused by this information.  She awkwardly smiled and said, “Well, welcome back!”  Hooray.

After Party

There was some tossed salad and pasta salad, which I didn’t care for.  There was free ice cream and soda, which was delightful.  I wandered into a tourist information center which doubled as the ride headquarters, filled out a short survey, grabbed my T-Shirt, and headed to the car.  It was time to go home.

Messages at the after party

Thus concluded the Reston Century.  I did this 106-mile ride (4,300 feet of climbing, no pacelines, baking heat, and a near-death thunderstorm) in 8.5 hours.  By way of comparison, I knocked out the 101-mile Cap-2-Cap Century (1,600 feet of climbing with extensive pacelines and ideal weather) in 6.5 hours.  It was not my greatest moment, but I still am pleased that I persevered.  I also learned a great many things, from the potential fun of RAGBRAI to the criticality of chamois cream.  It was just about all I could handle on this day and I look forward to some more sedate pedals around my neighborhood!


32 thoughts on “Reston Century

  1. Just proves you can hack it mate. Really well done, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Squaddie!

    My 2 Centuries last year were solo so I can sympathise with the travails that permeate your brain when your alone.

    An enjoyable write up as always!

    • You should keep the typos to yourself. I would probably attribute them to trans-Atlantic language differences. I kinda like the nickname, Squaddie. I’m going to try to spread that around over here and see if it catches on!

  2. Well done, I always think long hard events such as this always seem more enjoyable after you have finished. I could relate to your tail of the friend who sat on your back wheel early on. I had a similar experience with a guy on a mountain bike with flat pedals who was 20 stone (280 lbs) and wore sandles on his feet. No matter how fast I went he was sat there. At one point he came along side to ask me how fast we were going, as he was making the most of the first part because he would be down to 8mph in the second half of the ride. Turned out to be a nice guy but I never saw him again after about 15 miles.

    • It wasn’t too long ago when I looked very much like my wheel sucker, pedaling away on a flat pedal hybrid with sneakers, a t-shirt, and my lone pair of cycling shorts. I therefore give them more leeway than a hardcore roadie, but this guy was too much for me. He never even spoke a word for seven miles. Not cool.

  3. Full marks for perseverence Steve. I wish it could have been a better day for you but the adverse conditions make it even more of an achievement.

    • There aren’t any Alpine mountains to climb like you have, Brian, so I have to find my adventures in other ways. Dodging lightning bolts was my method for this ride.

  4. First off, well done! Awesome achievement especially taking into consideration the miserable weather at one point. I think we have all been there. The pain and the aching. You wonder why you’re doing this when you could be sitting at home in your favourite chair relaxing. But you find it in you to keep going and the high at the end makes up for it all. Sorry to hear about the chaffing issues. I am like you in that it happens to be only very rarely that I have issues down there. When it does happen though, man that’s a burn!

    • You’ll be very amused to learn that we had an earthquake today and we are expected to have a hurricane hit us on Sunday. It’s been an interesting summer, to be sure. However, when you are suffering through a miserable October’s sleet, I shall regale you with stories of our gorgeous autumn and when you are patiently waiting for winter to let go of its grip, I will inform you of the glorious spring we are enjoying. 🙂

    • The saying, “Pain is temporary and chicks dig scars,” comes to mind, but I’m not sure that’s true for scars in the places I’m concerned about! Still, pain is usually temporary, which is nice.

  5. Way to hang in there man. Sounds to me like you need to find a permanent riding partner for stuff like that.

    As for the chafing, yeah, that’ll sneak up on you at the worst of times. I’ve gotten to the point where I start off with creme on just about any ride of 50 miles or more just to be safe.

    I’ve managed to ride 100 miles in the rain before, but it was one of those light rains that just lasted all days. They’re not nearly as bad as the deluges you had. I got stuck in one of those for about 60 miles a few years ago in Oklahoma and that still stands out as the most miserable ride I’ve ever had.

    Give yourself a good rest this week….

  6. Possibly your best write-up ever, and congrats on finishing. Riding in rain is not fun – riding in the type of downpour you described seems horrendous.

    I know how it is riding in giant charity rides, but being out there alone. It’s a weird feeling. When I did the El Tour de Tucson last year, I rolled off with 4,000 others, but I was riding alone for at least half of it.

    I would have been freaked out out there under that tree. Storms don’t bother me… unless I’m out in one without proper clothing and shelter.

    Now my nick-picky stuff cuz I’m that type of guy… the “Big Nasty” in Moab is not sustained grades of 19%. There is 3k of climbing in 7.3 miles, but the pitches top out at 17% and those only last a hundred meters or so. Most of it is 9-11%.

    And Gatorade… NO! You might as well be downing pixie sticks! No cyclists worth their salt drink that stuff. You are making your rides way more difficult than need be downing all that high fructose corn syrup.

    Don’t know if you’ve been watching the Tour of Colorado (excuse me, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge), but today they were “behind the scenes” with Dave Zabriskie (DZNuts) of Garmin-Cervelo and he was searching for some water after a ride. Well one of the camera people pointed him to their car which was full of Gatorade. Zabriskie kept calling it “corn syrup” and refused to touch it, let alone drink it. He was appalled they were even offering it.

    There are great products out there that can really improve endurance. GU makes the best, imho. No need for tablets or concoctions like Nuun or Hamer – everything you need is in one gel or drink mix, without any of the bad stuff. I was just telling a fellow rider the other day how I was able to drop guys in Cali that were lighter and more fit than me – all because I ate and drank properly on the rides and they did not.

    Lastly, you might find this interesting: my bike club in Cali did an independent test of 3 map sites – Strava, MapMyRide and RideWithGPS. They took some sort of high-tech survey and GPS equipment (a couple of members are Naval engineers – insert swabbie joke here) and mapped out 5 different rides of varying distances and elevations. Then they mapped those rides into the sites to compare accuracy.

    Turns out all 3 sites were way off, but MapMyRide was the most egregious – being as much as 20% off on elevations and gradient. Strava was about 10-12% off, and RideWithGPS was the most accurate, but still 7-8% off reality.

    But again, congrats on making it to the end of another century. Well done. Fantastic post and you contributed to EPIC AUGUST!

    • Ah, the Gatorade debate. I remember when Gatorade was first marketed in the 1970s. It was nasty stuff, but it worked. In order to increase sales, the company sweetened the drink with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Fructose is “bad sugar” that gives you a quick rush but causes you to crash quickly as well. This is why Mr. Zabriskie looked upon the drink with such disdain and referred to it as “corn syrup.” Last year, in response to this criticism, Gatorade changed its sweetener to a sucrose-dextrose solution. Sucrose is “good sugar” that doesn’t have the negative effects that fructose has. Did that solve the problem? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so. I’ve suffered no ill effects with Gatorade in the past and find it to be superior to simply drinking water. I have read many posts on the topic with interest and have learned that there are strong opinions on both sides.

      Did Gatorade cause my fatigue on Sunday? Perhaps it was a contributing factor, but I believe the high temperature on the first half, torrential downpour and extreme temperature drop on the second half, climbing at rates I am not used to, and traveling 30% farther than what I normally travel were more significant factors.

  7. I don’t think Gatorade caused your issues on the century, I just think one can improve ride performance by not drinking it.

    As to the sugar thing, what the marketing dept at Gatorade doesn’t tell you is that sucrose IS fructose. You cannot have sucrose without fructose. Sucrose is made of two monosaccharide rings — one is dextrose, and one is fructose.

    So it is really not a “good” sugar as they advertise. It is simply less of the bad, but still the bad.

    Dextrose is simply glucose, which is the sugar found in most all carbs – it is the “sugars” that are in the higher end performance foods/drinks that don’t contain sucrose and/or fructose.

  8. Congrats on your finish, in spite of the rain! You “missed” the 2 big climbs because they were not on the route this year. Search ride sites (ridewithgps, garmin, strava, etc.) for Taylorstown & Stumptown. But we got Mountain Rd back, and there was no overbearing LEO presence in Lovettsville.

    A lot of the faster century riders left well before you – I saw groups leaving a bit before the official 6:30 start. I tagged along with a possibly adhoc group to Ashburn & a 2nd group into Leesburg; did rest of that leg solo. Met 3 friends @ Hamilton and we did rest of ride together. I must have been a bit ahead of you – we saw the weather deteriorating as we got back to Hamilton, and cut short our stop after getting weather info from the nice folks at the ham radio table. Pushed hard to get home ahead of the rain, almost made it – stopping at Ashburn again was not necessary and ensured we got thoroughly wet.

    Descending Dry Mill Rd is one of the fun parts of the ride; although I’d hate to do it soaking wet (hypothermia in mid summer? Yep). I rode Seagull Century the year remnants of a hurricane came through – 95 miles soaking wet (figure 1st 5 were the get-wet part) is no fun, but makes for epic stories.

    • Hello, Steve (great name, by the way!). You seem to be an old hand with this ride. It was my first time cycling in this area. Thanks for the “inside baseball” perspective!

      • You’re welcome! I think I first rode the metric (on a mountain bike with road slicks as my sole attempt at conversion) in 2003 and have done the full century (with the Taylorstown + Stumptown climbs until this year) every year since. I had some problems with pushing too hard & cramping on the South Loop and way back the last 2 years; finally fixed it (I think) with better hydration (water + EFS powder), hourly Gu gels, and a lot more miles (mostly commuting but every little bit helps).

        FYI, Oxon Hill Bike Club has a good list of most of the upcoming area rides.

  9. Oh goodness. I am so glad we were done by the time the downpour started. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to continue. Way to stick it out though — it’s a great story!

  10. Steve, I was just about to skip my afternoon ride because I thought I heard thunder in the very distant distance. I am now too shamed by your ‘biblical’ ride to even contemplate it. Good job on finishing and great job on the entertaining article. Don’t you have one more Century coming up? I seem to remember one with even more ‘verticality’ than this one.

    • Your memory is excellent, unfortunately my ability to register for a ride in time is not. The Civil War Century (7,400 feet of climbing) filled up before I could get my name in.

      As you have discovered with my sudden appearances in Canberra, London, Tampa, etc… my job has a habit of creating business trips on short notice. I therefore try to wait as long as possible before registering for an event. In this case, I misjudged.

      Maybe I’ll try an unsupported century in October. That might be interesting!

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  12. Steve, love your blog. I just found it a couple of weeks ago, and really enjoy–and relate to–your writing. For example–I’m one of those people who likes to research my routes before I go out. Sometimes when I can’t ride, a decent substitute is to plan future rides 🙂

    Congratulations on the century ride! It was clearly full of challenges and you surmounted them all. I did my first century only 2 weeks ago in Washington County, MD–just over the hill from me here in Frederick–although mine was just a metric. It was plenty, though, and a great start.

    One thing that occurred to me as I read about your century experience was allergies. This time of year, I run into them (mostly ragweed) and it saps me like nothing else. No runny nose/watery eyes symptoms, just no energy. I wonder–any possibility this could be a contributing factor to your tiredness? I know that ragweed is out in full force down your way if it’s out here (and it definitely is). Last year on August 21 I did a 30 mile ride, and about halfway through I realized that I was just completely done. Kept going, but I was dead tired, for no good reason. Only after I got back did I put it together, that the ragweed was fully out. I upped my meds a little this year (OTC Claritin) and have done better, but I can still feel it. Rode down to the Potomac today and am fairly fuzzy right now.

    Anyway–great blog, like your writing a lot, and look forward to more. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the very kind words, Chris! I’ve got hay fever but it hasn’t been acting up very much this year. I don’t think there is a big mystery to my fatigue. In the three months since my last century (done on a nearly flat course, mind you) I haven’t completed a ride over 63 miles in length. In addition to that 63 miler, I had three other rides over 50 miles in length. That simply wasn’t enough conditioning, especially for the hillier than normal (for me) route. I just need to log more miles, is all! 🙂

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