Monday, August 5, 2013

Musings from My First Century Ride

Typically, writing posts comes fairly easy for me. This post is a bit different. I cannot begin to express how many times I've imagined what I would say in a post after completing my first century. The problem has been that I've struggled in the aftermath determining what it is I want to share, and perhaps even more so, what someone would want to read. I had a lot of self-reflection time during my many hours in the saddle, and it's almost as though I worked through things that I cannot describe in words. I cried (more than once), I laughed at things that seemed amusing, I buckled down and focused when needed, and actually enjoyed most of the ride. 

To some cyclists, perhaps a century ride has become of little significance, and to those people I can understand not wanting to read some random individuals' report on her first century. I can also appreciate that there are those who are waiting for the blow by blow recounting of what took place. I am quite certain I will be unable to please either side of the aisle, so I have decided to just go with what feels right. If you are up for reading through it, please feel free to do so, but I am writing this post for no one other than myself... mostly as a future reminder to self that I (spoiler alert for those continuing) was able to accomplish something I never truly thought I would or could do...

It was a beautifully clear, blue morning. Not a single cloud in the sky. On any other day I would have been rejoicing to see such a gorgeous summer morning, but this was one day I was hoping for cloud cover. I was already starting out an hour and some change later than originally planned, and the heat was making itself known. Not quite the hottest of summer days, but still warmer than I'd prefer (especially being somewhat heat sensitive).

The night prior, I had told myself the morning would bring the start of my first century ride. I didn't tell a soul. It's easier not to feel so bad if I couldn't actually complete the goal if no one knew about the plan at all. I told Sam and a couple of others that I was planning a "long training ride" the following day, but I knew I was gunning for the "big" goal. Perhaps it was a bit early in the training process. After all, the longest ride I'd been on to that point was just over 60 miles. Was it asking too much to jump to 100 so quickly? I was simply ready to get it "over with" and wanted to make it happen. In truth, I needed it to happen because it was causing undo stress to have this seemingly huge goal looming over me.  It's funny. When I say I'm going to do something, people seem to expect that I am going to complete it. It almost felt as though if I couldn't finish this I would be a complete failure in the eyes of all who were aware of the goal. In truth, I have no doubt everyone would be accepting of whatever reality came about, but I don't enjoy disappointing others (nor myself), so I began to feel manufactured stress from the situation. Finishing the 100-mile ride was no longer optional.
There were, of course, some issues throughout the day. It started with getting approximately three hours of sleep the night before. I woke feeling extremely sleep-deprived and my body was not doing well. My hip was aching from a kickboxing class a couple of days prior, my knee was throbbing, and I honestly wasn't feeling up to the ride. I continued to get things underway, however, and prepped what I'd need for the day. Wow! The day. Yes, this was going to take the day to complete.

Early on, I passed by the kickboxing studio - just as class was about to start. I considered not riding at all and instead stopping for class. I longingly looked at the window of the building, mentally waved to everyone, but kept pedaling. There are plenty of days to do kickboxing... this day was about accomplishing another goal.
Fairly flat for this portion (though that didn't last long)
If you read my early summer post about the plan to ride a century before the end of August, you may recall that I wanted to do a flat route. Living at the base of the Rocky Mountains, this is about the least likely scenario one can possibly imagine. Anywhere I ride, there would be climbing involved, but I hoped to keep it to a minimum. Not planning the route didn't exactly help this goal though. I am surprisingly adept (often without even trying) at figuring ways to keep climbs to a minimum, but today I told myself I was just going to go and deal with what arrived in front of me.

As I began to warm up, I felt a little better, but somewhere around mile 18, I began to second guess my decision to not stop at the kickboxing class. I was preparing to climb a small hill when all of a sudden my knee cap felt as though it might fall out (I realize this is highly unlikely - but it's the best way I can describe it). Unbelievable pain went shooting through my body. "Great," I actually spoke aloud. "Just what I need." I shifted to a super-spinning gear and made it up the brief climb. I was convinced I wouldn't make it to mile 25 at this point. The knee continued to ache for several miles, but I was going to keep going. I continued to repeat to myself on every climb, "Take it easy on the knee," meaning that I had to spin, whether I liked it or not.

Probably one of my worst decisions about this ride was that I had absolutely no idea where I was heading. I hadn't pre-mapped a route, so I figured I would just ride until I hit 100 miles. It seemed somewhat reasonable when I started, but as I continued, I realized how bad an idea this really was. I rarely know where I'm going when cycling alone, but I think on a ride of this length, it would've been a good idea to have an idea of some sort of direction. Ah, well... que sera sera.

Mentally dealing with the idea of the 100 miles seemed the biggest challenge. As I started out I was attempting to figure out how to break the ride down so I wouldn't be thinking the entire time, "I still have fill-in-the-blank miles left to go." I had decided I had two different break-downs: 10 mile increments and 25 mile increments. I also reminded myself that I could stop when I needed to and that there was no prize for finishing without stops. This would cause its own sort of battle toward the end of the ride, but it worked fairly well to keep me motivated.
My goal was to complete the ride in 10 hours. Ten hours seemed reasonable with climbs, and I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain any sort of speed, so the goal was simply to finish - even if it took longer than 10 hours. When I stopped at the 40-mile stop, I couldn't help but think another 7 hours on the bike might kill me. I had to remind myself that I was 2/5 of the way completed, and almost to the half way point, so there was no reason to get discouraged.
I continued to hold out hope for cloud cover. The weather forecasters had promised clouds and showers, but they never came. Early in the afternoon I started seeing big, white, cumulus clouds coming over the mountains, but somehow they never quite managed to cover the sun. As long as I kept moving though, the heat didn't really seem to be too much of a bother.
There was nothing horribly eventful to report until I hit just over 75 miles. I had done as large a distance as I could think of and was re-entering town. Now what? I still needed to complete nearly 25 miles. Should I just go to the local multi-use path and trudge back and forth until I had done the miles? I was starting to feel the tiredness sneaking in at this point, and I knew I needed to avoid severe climbs, but the idea of going back and forth on a trail system with people walking dogs, skating, running, and so on didn't appeal to me. Instead, I chose to take a loop route that I ride frequently. I knew it was only about 8-10 miles, but I thought I could probably complete it twice and be close to done. The ride home from the end would still be about 5 miles, so it was worth a go.

Fatigue was definitely setting in at this point. I found myself needing to stop more and more frequently. They weren't long stops, but they were becoming closer together which concerned me. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was more of a head game than an actual, physical tiredness taking place. Yes, I was tired, but I knew I had more in me.
Just as I came around the corner of a small climb, I had to stop. It just so happened to be directly in front of a small church. I couldn't help but say a silent prayer. All I wanted was to finish. My pace had slowed (I could feel it), and I knew my hands and feet were simply done, but I believed that there was nothing stopping me but my own mind. Truly, I was almost done anyway. I repeated that I could complete a 15 mile ride in my sleep, got back on the bike, and continued on.
I will admit, I cried for a brief moment when I saw the GPS turn to 100.00. I was almost home, but the emotion of realizing I had actually completed a goal that seemed so monumental was exciting and overwhelming. I had actually done it, crazy as it seemed just a few weeks prior. Even stranger still, I had done a century ride on an aluminum bicycle - again, something I never thought I would ever, ever be able to do.
I wish I could say this ride felt epic, or at least that it was so painful I would never want to do it again (I in fact uttered very similar words at one point toward the end of the ride, stating that I could not understand why anyone would do this more than once in their life). The reality is that the entire day felt pretty normal, and in the end, very anti-climactic. I left for the ride quietly, saying just a few words to our dogs who were lounging around the house. I returned to a quiet home and a very much appreciated cold bottle of water and a smile from Sam. It was as though I had gone to work for the day and returned home as normal and expected.
Somehow, I kept climbing fairly low considering the terrain in this area - I ended at just under 2,000 ft climbed
Frankly, I'm not sure what I expected. Balloons? A banner and giant megaphone announcing my success? A confetti-filled parade? I suppose I hadn't really thought that far ahead, but it really did feel like any other day. In the end, I can say my body wasn't really hurting - at least not in the ways I anticipated. I expected my backside would be in dire straits and that my legs would be completely worthless, but both areas were actually fine. I was experiencing fatigue and some numbness in my hands, as well as soreness in my feet (it was only the second time I had worn new cycling shoes - Note to self: BAD IDEA!), but overall, I didn't feel miserable. I definitely didn't want to be on the bike anymore that day, but I certainly didn't hate cycling at the completion.
True, it was not the prettiest, the best, or the fastest century ever, and I had many thoughts throughout during which I believed I should have pushed myself to go a bit faster or harder, but for a first round attempt, I do think it was respectable. I had the opportunity to see what I am capable of accomplishing and to have yet another realization that I actually am stronger and more capable than I often believe. Perhaps it could have been more enjoyable to ride with another person or group of people, but I think this was the perfect way for me to experience my first 100-mile ride.

24 comments:

  1. Really, really brilliant effort. I would have picked up balloons, had I known it was really happening..

    Seriously, right at this moment I can't imagine going that far, and particularly on my own. Seriously tuff, on a tired day, 96 degrees, and on an aluminum bike, all things I would not have imagined, have come to pass!

    Great work, the next one will have more fanfare : ).

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    1. Perhaps I should clarify... I certainly didn't expect any fanfare in the least. I suppose it was more reflective when I speak about what I thought would happen at the end. I think what I did expect was to be broken, and I wasn't... which was odd, but good! :O)

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  2. True, even your 8th degree burns from the sun healed seriously quickly. You are becoming the Lance Armstrong of our street, without the PED's!

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    1. LOL... the burns weren't that bad... just the spots I missed with sunblock... which were several, I know.

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  3. Congratulations! Now you have me thinking of doing the same... :)

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    1. Thank you, and you should! I highly recommend the experience. :O)

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  4. That is really great! There is no limit to what you can accomplish when you allow yourself to say two words - I can.

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  5. Hooray! I wish I had something more eloquent to say to mark such a momentous occasion, but Hooray! seems to be all I can come up with.

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    1. Hooray works for me! :O) Thanks, Cecily.

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  6. Congratulations on your first century, and for pushing through the difficult moments!

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    1. A double century... hmm... that might take a bit more training. I'm open to it though. Who knows what the future will bring?

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  8. Congrats! What an awesome goal to accomplish!!

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  9. Oh, sweetie, that is FANTASTIC! I am so proud of you for getting out there and just doing it. Way to go! You're a rock star!!!

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    1. Thanks, Melanie! Hope you're doing well.

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  10. Riding a solo century takes serious inner strength and conviction. It's oh so easy for any of us to pack it up halfway in, when the couch is calling our name. Big time congratulations!

    P.S. That's the most unique century route I've seen in these here parts!

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    1. Sam said it looks like a sick octopus, but I agree, it was kind of an odd route (this is what happens when there's no plan, I assume).

      Thanks for the kind words, Pete.

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  11. I found your site via a google search for Trek Lexa SLX. I bought my first road bike (the SLX) yesterday. I'm thrilled and terrified to be starting road biking. Reading your story-the initial aluminum bike fitting and adjusting and then this wonderful century ride post has me excited and thinking that I can do it (one day) I think I had better try 10 miles first-lol.

    Congratulations and all the best!

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    1. How exciting! I'm sure you'll enjoy the Lexa. It has become my go-to bike, and I'm quite happy with it now. Don't be afraid to make adjustments as you go.

      Good luck to you as you start a new cycling journey, and enjoy. :O)

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  12. Thank-you so much for sharing this journey. Congrats on achieving your goal. I love that you did it in your own way, in your own time. Very inspiring. I haven't ridden a century yet - only a metric century so far - but I hope to one day.

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    1. I am happy to share, CJ, and thank you. I think I needed it to be on my own terms the first time, so I'm glad I didn't do an organized ride the first go at it, but I'm looking forward to my organized century in just a few weeks. :O)

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