Finishing the Century Ride

(This is the [really, truly] the last installation of “All The Things I Should Have Been Blogging”. If you’d like to go back in time, here are the prior entries:

After wrapping up the century ride entries, I return to … running! It’s very exciting. Well; not really.)

 

At some point, one of my friends told me that miles 50-75 would be the worst of the ride. This definitely wasn’t true for me. After seeing one friend at mile 52-ish, and then another friend and my boyfriend at mile 55, I was recharged and raring to go. The road was starting to get slightly monotonous and the scenery wasn’t having the same impact it had on me earlier in the day (although I’ll never forget seeing the tandem recumbent bike, where the rear rider actually faced to the rear), but my energy levels were good and my legs felt great.

At the rest stop at mile 66, I ran into more friends: a couple people I met over the summer on regular weeknight rides with my bike club. We stood around and caught up over snacks and Gatorade before it was time to get back on the road again. I headed out while they hung out, waiting for a couple other friends to show up.

I should mention that I mostly rode alone — at least, as alone as one can be when there are 7,000 or so other riders on the road! While there were many riders from my team and my bike club out there, it just seemed like our paces didn’t match up well; we’d leap-frog each other, or run into each other at rest stops, but I didn’t spend much time at each rest stop, and didn’t luck into any of them out on the road long enough to form up a pace line. Eventually, I began stubbornly avoiding pace lines, determined that I was going to finish the remainder of the ride under my own steam, not sucking wheel.

The only time I wavered in this decision was during the later miles of the ride. I’m actually no longer sure where I was– was it after the 66-mile rest stop, or the 77-mile rest stop? I think it was after 77– when I realized I could hear someone talking immediately behind me. When I glanced back, I realized I had two riders tucked in a line behind me. I just put my head down and pulled; I didn’t begrudge them the moment of relative rest. After a few miles, though, they swung out to the left and began passing me, and one of them said, “It’s our turn to break wind for you a little bit!” I couldn’t help but laugh at his phrasing and said, “Gee, if you put it that way, I think I’ll pass!”

I tucked in behind the two of them for the next few miles. If it counts as a pace line, it was the tiniest pace line ever! I probably robbed myself of the benefits a little; since I’m not very experienced with riding in a pace line, I wasn’t getting as close as I probably should have to the wheel of the guy in front of me. At the same time, I got the impression he wasn’t experienced with the practice, either; while he was a steady rider, he didn’t hold a line very well, making it a little more challenging to stay on his wheel. The gentleman in front was definitely the more experienced rider, calling back some tips and suggestions.

As nice as it was to ride with a couple other people for a while, I ended up pulling out and passing the next time we caught up to a larger group of people; the two of them seemed ready to ease off and sit at the back of the group, and by that point, I was determined to maintain the nice, steady pace I’d been setting. I didn’t want to be trapped behind a large, slow pack of riders.

Passing riders was actually one of the more challenging parts of this ride. With so many riders out on the road — many of them riding together as a team, or with their families — there was a tendencyto bunch up a bit. Riders were often in huge packs, filling the road from the shoulder to the double yellow line, and it was often impossible to pass without crossing the yellow line — which I did more than a few times, when the road was straight and line of sight was clear.

It was somewhere around mile 82-85 that my butt decided it wanted OFF THE SADDLE. I was becoming more and more aware of some very localized soreness, and began looking forward even more to the next rest stop — where I stretched, then used the LAST of my chamois cream (newbie mistake: failing to double check how much chamois cream I had on hand the week before the ride!) and got back on the road. I think my post to Facebook at mile 88 was something like: “My butt is ready to be done, but my legs are good for it!” And it was true; I wasn’t feeling tired. I’d stayed ahead of my appetite and my thirst, and I’d moved around enough on the bike, frequently shifting my hands and moving my upper body, that I’d prevented most of the tightness I often experience in my shoulders during long rides. Save for two very specific sore spots, my body felt good and I was ready to eat up the last 12 miles.

There are two bridges in the last few miles of the ride, and long sweeping rise of each are the first actual “hill” that riders experience on these routes. It actually felt wonderful to hit the first one and stand up on my pedals, powering to the top. (Was it really necessary to stand up and attack these gentle hills? Not at all. Did it feel great to get my butt the heck OFF THE SADDLE? Heck, yeah.) The view from atop the bridges was amazing — the city ahead, the sun sparkling on the water, and the clean salt air! Many riders stopped at the top of the rise on the bridge to take pictures.

The second bridge is the larger, and many riders were struggling on that one. I cane up alongside one woman who was cursing under her breath as she went, and weaving slightly as she struggled to pedal. I offered her a push, and suggested that she might want to shift into an easier gear, and she took both the push and the suggestion with a huge sigh of relief. It was nice to be able to help another rider out, after spending the summer riding with more experienced cyclists who gave me tips and suggestions that helped me become a better rider.

The end of the ride winds through Ocean City to the boardwalk, and as I left the bridge behind and made my way into town, there were people gathered on almost every corner to cheer for the riders. As we got closer and closer to the finish line, it went from a few bunches of people at each corner, to an unbroken line of people on the sidewalk. Park Place and Atlantic Avenue were both solidly lined with people, and then people were crowded behind barricades on 5th avenue, cheering for the riders and yelling for those they knew. The energy of the crowd was amazing, and I know I’m not the only rider who sped up considerably during the last mile of the ride, buoyed by that energy.

I raced into the finish line, catching a glimpse of my friend and my boyfriend in the crowd and waving and yelling their names as I went by.

Once I was through the finish line, I parked my bike in the huge bike corral they had set up, and wandered a bit to find out what the VIP services were. I eventually decided that I didn’t need a massage, and stayed in place so that Paula and Russ could find me as they made their way through the finish line crowds.

The post-event setup was impressive; it’s such a massive event that it’s just astounding to see how well they handle everyone at the end. There were medals and t-shirts being handed out, food for riders and guests, all kinds of things. I picked up my medal and t-shirt, indulged in some ice cream, and then we made our way out of the crowd. All I really wanted was a hot shower and a nap before meeting up with a bunch of friends for dinner. The following day, while many of the MS riders headed out for a second day on the bike, I would be walking around town and cheering for my boyfriend and several other friends who were in town for the Ocean City Half-Marathon, and then I would get to spend the rest of the day (and the following day) just relaxing.

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