Monday, April 15, 2019

A Century Ride Attempt... Nearly Six Years Later

***I've debated for about a week whether or not I wanted to write about this, but ultimately decided to go ahead. In some ways, it feels unnecessary, but I think in the back of my mind, I want some sort of record of it and my brain seems to misremember details as time goes on. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time for photos during the ride, but here is the tale regardless.***

In 2013, I wrote about my first time riding a century. A few weeks after, Sam and I rode another one together (which was his first century). We both had big plans to do more of them as we rode into the future. For Sam, that was reality (he's ridden many more since then, all much more challenging than that first, and most on a mountain bike). I, however, haven't ridden that distance since then. When I think about it, it's difficult to believe that it's been so long since I've even attempted it -- especially because I really wanted to extend to do a 200k or maybe even a 300k.

Sometimes though, life has other plans. In my case, it started with a domino of bad bike decisions and then having to deal with more significant injuries and other things that seemed to keep popping up. Before I knew it, the only time I was riding was to get around town (not that there is anything wrong with that by any means) and I rarely if ever set out to do concentrated, longer-distance efforts. Over the last couple of years though, I've started to find somewhat of a groove again. It started out slowly, but with the addition of the tandems, I've found it easier to get out and ride like I used to do, even on my own. Though I beat myself up over speed sometimes, I try to remind myself that enjoying the ride is, in the end, more important.

Toward the end of 2018, Sam and I had talked about riding another century together but on the tandem rather than singles. I was somewhat reluctant. The idea seemed a bit much for me, but I also knew that part of having the tandem (for us) was to be able to do longer rides. While we've completed many 50-65 mile rides, I have felt that those distances were really my max for the time being. After all, I'm broken (at least that's what my mind continues to tell me), older, slower, and so on. Couldn't we just be happy with those distances together?

But, there was a part of me that did want to try to ride a 100-mile ride again. I tentatively agreed to do a century ride on the tandem, provided we could come up with a flat (or flat as possible) route. The thing is that living in Colorado it is quite difficult to come up with a route that is a hundred miles long and doesn't involve climbing. So, when we were chatting about possibilities, we came up with the idea of doing a loop-route. Basically, we would find a 20-25 mile route that was flat(ter) and then ride it 4-5 times consecutively.

It seemed brilliant. So, we planned to do the route before winter set in last year. The right time never presented itself, but when spring rolled in, we knew that we wanted to give it a try before all the events and other happenings in life begin to take over. The first weekend in April, we decided it was time.

The night before, I went through my usual couldn't-sleep routine, waking up more times than I could count. I don't know why I get so worked up over distances, especially because this wasn't an event, but rather the two of us simply going for a ride. Maybe it was the history of knowing that I'd been able to ride that distance before and the thought of not being able to do it today would be crushing. I really did wonder if I'd be able to complete the distance and I was concerned about how much discomfort and/or pain I'd have to endure. With the length of time and happenings that have transpired between the last century attempt and this one, it's not unrealistic to think I'd struggle with a long ride today.

The morning of our attempt, I couldn't eat (as is typical), but we had a plan for nutrition along the way. It is one area that I struggle with while doing longer distance rides... we have to eat - something - whether Gu or bananas or some sort of food, but I don't really want to eat actual food most of the time. However, I knew I'd have to have a time/distance plan to consume something in order to complete the ride.

My other struggle is always time. The longer we are out, the worse I feel (probably partially because I don't generally have a good refueling plan in place), so I knew that time was not going to be my friend. We needed to complete the ride as swiftly as we could, without it feeling like we were racing through an event. I had estimated that we'd likely end up around 8 hours of ride time, given that longer rides tend to be significantly slower for us; but I had mentioned to Sam that I would be thrilled if we could come in at around 7-ish hours. He agreed that somewhere around 7-7.5  hours would be fantastic. Obviously, we would not be averaging the speed of many tandem teams or single riders, but we were going to do our best to complete the ride.

We had decided to leave earlier than we normally would for an early spring ride to try to avoid the winds that were supposed to happen that day. The forecast had shown that up until around noon, the winds were supposed to be between 2-4mph, which would be very mild; however, after around noon, the speeds were supposed to increase to up to 16+mph (which means gusts would be much higher). While that's not the worst our winds can be, it's also not horribly fun for me to captain the tandem when it's extra windy, so we thought that if we could avoid the vast majority of the worst part of the wind for the day, that would be great.

As we set out on our first lap, the winds were pretty strong - much stronger than the 2-4mph predicted. We were also dealing with headwinds but figured when we turned around, we'd benefit from the tailwind. Sadly, that didn't happen. Instead, the wind (so famous for doing exactly this) shifted and became a headwind yet again when we turned to head back. It just didn't seem right, but what could we do about it?
This was the lap/loop we had planned for our ride... an out and back, with spots where we could stop, if needed. 
Our first lap went off pretty well, despite the wind trying to throw us off. Our speeds were lower than we had hoped, but I tend to warm up slowly, so I had kind of already figured that the first one wouldn't be our best, at least until closer to the end of it.

We were, however, having a lot of shifting issues. It seemed as though every gear we really wanted to be in was having difficulty, so I was spending a lot of time fussing with gears as we tried to plod along.

I think riding slower than we had wanted on the first lap kind of gave each of us a kick and we picked up the pace for the second lap, still being blasted by the wind which was only getting stronger.

One of the fun things about our route is that it's pretty much a mild climb out so we got a mild descent on the return (not perfectly up or down either direction, but as close as one could really expect). Although each lap only has a minimal amount of climbing, we did all of it during the first 12-13 miles and then got our break for the second half of each lap, which I personally found to be a good motivator. If we got through the mild climbing, then we could really push on the return.

At the end of our second lap, I was already concerned though. We were only about 51(ish) miles in and I was not feeling great. We had definitely traveled faster the second lap, but I was starting to think that I wouldn't be able to make it to the end.
I was pretty concerned about fatigue at the end of lap two. I was holding on to the bike and it just slipped out of my grasp and landed in this spot. Fortunately, I was able to hold it well enough that it didn't fall on any working parts or do any damage. It may be time to put that kickstand on it for just such occasions.
I shared my concern about potentially not being able to finish the ride with Sam but he didn't seem alarmed. On one hand, I appreciated his confidence in me, but on the other, I was a little miffed that he wasn't taking my words with any sort of seriousness.

"You'll be fine," he said.

As I've said, Sam is a man of few words. I hoped he was right and swallowed another Gu pack to try to get my head out of the foggy space it was entering.

One of the bad decisions with our lapping route is that each round we came back by our home. In some sense, it was great to come by the house every 25 miles. Since this wasn't a supported ride, if we needed something, it would be easy to stop and pick up (or drop off) whatever may be needed at home; but on the other hand, we hadn't considered how easy it would make it to give up before finishing. Each time we rounded the corner near our house, I tried to keep focused. If we didn't need to stop, there was no reason to do so.

We began lap three and I told Sam that I was going to try to tell myself that it was our last lap. I figured if I could somehow convince my brain that we were almost through, maybe I could make my body push a little harder. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest move given that I was already feeling lightheaded, but sometimes I just have to play games with myself to make things happen.

When we reached the end of our climbing for that third lap, I remarked to Sam, "Well, we've officially ridden the farthest we've ever ridden on a tandem!" It felt like an accomplishment, even if we still weren't through with the task at hand.

While we continued on, I realized that I actually felt better than I had at the end of the second lap. Weird, I thought, but I was happy that the fog had lifted and that my body was back to cooperating. If we kept up this pace, we would definitely be able to make our goal of 7-7.5 hours.

Our third lap wrapped up even faster than our second, much to our surprise. We've found in the past (at least during "real" events) that 4-lap routes tend to have a pattern... the second is usually faster than the first, the third is slower than the second, but faster than the first, and the fourth is just about getting through the pain and is always the slowest of the laps. It is, of course, what we expected for this unofficial ride too.

As we continued, my body was doing fine and my brain fog had lifted, but I was feeling quite queasy and couldn't figure out why. I had been eating as planned and drinking water, but I still had this weird lump in my throat and that uneasy feeling in my stomach that just wouldn't go away.  I tried drinking more water, but it didn't do much of anything.

We were on our last refuel stop and Sam made a comment about the caffeine in the Gu he was eating when all of a sudden it occurred to me that every Gu pack I'd consumed had caffeine in it. I have fairly high sensitivity to caffeine and try not to have much of it, so it suddenly became clear why I wasn't feeling all that great. Why it hadn't occurred to me prior to consuming half a dozen packets, I have no idea, but the nauseated feeling suddenly made sense (and the crash that happened afterward wasn't all the fun either).

Anyway, we were on our fourth and final lap and we joked briefly about continuing on for a fifth lap, but neither of us was quite ready to actually deal with that and instead just wanted to ensure we could get to the completion of the goal at hand. As we wrapped up our final mild climb and started back on the downhill portion, I realized that we were actually, truly going to be able to finish this ride.

I still felt better at this point than at the halfway point, which was shocking. In fact, we both felt pretty good. We were fatiguing, but neither of us was in pain or felt as though we couldn't carry on -- which was a far cry from the century we'd done a little less than six years ago. We stopped when/where we'd planned, but hadn't spent too much time stopped. We didn't make any unplanned stops either, which I considered a win because I was convinced I'd struggle to make it past the 3/4 point and would need to stop a lot more frequently. There was no whining or 'I can't possibly go on' type of sentiments being expressed (or felt for that matter). It was strange because I've not experienced a 100-mile ride that went this well.

As we closed in on the end of this ride, we realized that unlike what has been typical during lapping routes, we'd actually increased our pace every single lap. Why/how we're still not entirely certain, but the numbers don't lie and we got faster, even as we became more tired.

Sam has an app that tells him what percentages of a ride are headwinds, tailwinds or crosswinds after it's uploaded, and at the end of this 100-miler we learned that we never had a tailwind at any point -- something we knew even before the fancy application confirmed that we hadn't imagined the battle against the elements. Even though we had a pretty flat route, those winds sure made for some interesting moments.
We were still smiling (and upright) at the end of 102 miles, so I guess it wasn't so bad after all. 
Perhaps what I found most memorable about this ride is that it wasn't a big deal. It really did feel as though we were just going out on a typical ride and pedaling through. I expected things to go much worse than they did, I anticipated that we would be pretty slow (because of me), and I really didn't think I'd be able to complete the distance, but it was, as simply as I can put it, uneventful. We ended up finishing with a just slightly over 6.5 hour time, besting what we thought possible... and for an early spring ride, we didn't think that was too bad a job for the two of us on one bike.

We have talked about potentially doing another 100-mile ride later in the year, but we'll see how things play out. Sam has plans for a variety of events, so it may not quite be realistic. Knocking this out early in the season made the most sense and perhaps it will motivate us to do a longer distance at some point as well. We know now that we can get through a hundred miles on the tandem... and that was really the only goal.


  1. Well, I may as well break-in the comments, since there's no action. As stated near the end, my biggest surprise was the fact that we improved pace on every lap. I saw it happening, but it didn't really sink in until the end. That has personally never happend to me, and I have done a number of "lap" based century events. When I deep dive into that, it makes sense. The captain always needs to "warm up" before she get's going, so the captain leads the pace, and we get better and better. Individually, I don't warm up really, it's 100% out of the gate. In the end, no matter how I look at it, it's the fastest and least painful Century I have done.

    1. It was shocking to get faster each lap -- hadn't expected that at all, even with my need to get warmed up first. I completely agree that it was the least-painful 100-mile ride to date, which was also surprising, given that we seem to have a harder time on the tandem (or perhaps more so that it feels a little more challenging to get speed, not necessarily "difficult").

      Thanks for a fun ride! :)