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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The Century Ride: MS City to Shore

(This is the fourth and final penultimate 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 this, I’ll try to get back on a more regular update schedule, instead of letting months go by with nary a word.)

The day of the century dawned … early. Oh, so very early. The alarm went off before 4am, and we headed out in the wee (and dark) hours for the hour drive to Cherry Hill, NJ. I’d been repeatedly warned to get to the start location as early as possible to avoid traffic backups getting into the parking lot — and I’m glad we took heed of those warnings! Other friends thought they would be there early enough, and ended up sitting in traffic for so long that they were late getting out on the course, and missed the cut-off time to stay on the century course.

Once we arrived, we headed across the lots of the PATCO Woodcrest station to locate my team. We had a tent set up, and had been told our packets would be at the tent — but mine wasn’t. I knew I had missed the cut-off date to have my packet mailed to my home, but my team didn’t know where my information was. They sent me to the VIP tent (for all riders who raised over $1,000) and they didn’t have my packet, either — but quickly assigned me a new rider number, gave me a VIP pass, bib and a commemorative jersey.

One thing I learned this summer is that I get pre-ride jitters. And the longer or more challenging the ride is, the earlier I get jitters. For the Odell ride, I had jitters starting a full week ahead of the ride. For the MS Ride, my jitters were more easily dismissed: there were so many other riders! There was so much more road support! But my nerves kicked in full-force when my team didn’t have my packet, and I was still jumpy even after I got everything I needed.

One downside to getting there so early was that we didn’t have much to do but stand around and wait. All I could think about was the massive amount of people gathering, which would lead to one of my least favorite things: the mass start. While I gained much better handling skills and confidence over the course of the summer, being bunched up in masses still makes me nervous; there’s a point at which your own control of the bike becomes moot, and you’re dependent upon those around you to also be in control. Shifting your balance wrong at exactly the wrong moment, brushing too close too close to someone who then over-corrects in an attempt to avoid you — it doesn’t take much for one rider to take out another (or several others). All that was running through my mind as I waited and tried, distractedly, to make conversation with those around me.

Eventually, however, it was time. We gathered for a team photo, then filed into loosely organized corrals to get ready to roll out. I’m not sure how many people started out from this location — but there were somewhere in the range of 6,000-8,000 people registered, and many of them were registered for the two longer routes (75 and 100 miles) that started at this location. We went out in waves, and it was amazing. There were definitely some slightly nervous moments — someone would slow down too much, someone would put a foot down, people would yell back, “Slowing!” or “Stopping!” to prevent a pile-up — but, for the most part, it was just … jaw-dropping. Winding through pre-dawn streets, headlights blazing and tail-lights blinking as far as the eye could see, both ahead of me and behind me. A seemingly endless flow of riders, calling out to each other and cheering with pent-up excitement.

The morning started out rather cool; as an admitted temperature wimp, I had layered up on my upper half: a jersey, arm-warmers, and a lightweight jacket. I learned pretty early on in the Spring that my legs really aren’t bothered by the cold when I’m pedaling. By the time I was about 15 miles into the ride, I was warm enough to strip off the jacket, roll it up and tuck it into the straps on my Camelbak. Several other riders pulled over at the same time to do the same thing, and I lost count of how many passing riders called out to make sure we were okay.

The weather was simply perfect for the entire day; clear skies, mild breezes, low humidity. Cyclists dream of this sort of weather for long rides — I couldn’t have been luckier. I passed the first rest stop at about 20 miles in; it was already a mob scene, and I didn’t need anything. I quickly started questioning that decision — having never ridden 100 miles before, I felt like I should be taking short stretch breaks whenever possible to prevent soreness and excessive tiredness later on in the ride. After passing the 20-mile rest stop, I decided I’d stop at each rest stop, whether I needed anything specific or not. Even if all I did was take a two-minute break to stand, walk and stretch, I was sure it would be worth it later in the ride.

I’m glad I stopped at future rest stops. The spirit and energy of the volunteers was amazing. At one stop, I thought I was hearing a drum line before I got there; when I came around the corner, it was a double line of people holding plastic gallon jugs partially filled with gravel, and shaking them in rhythm as they cheered for incoming riders. At every rest stop, there were people serving out food, running to fill water bottles, checking on riders, sending them for mechanical assistance — the amount of support provided was really impressive. I’ve done plenty of supported rides, and several charity rides, but I’ve never seen as many SAG vehicles and mechanics as I did throughout this ride.

The first 50 miles went by fast — faster than I had expected. I was posting a brief update to my Facebook feed at each rest stop — I had one friend who said she’d be near the 55-mile rest stop, and FB updates were a quick way to let her and other friends know how I was progressing. I wasn’t really looking at time until I saw that she had posted a reply to my “30 miles in” update, and was rushing to make it out to her planned spot on the course. That’s when I looked at the time and realized I was going faster than I had originally expected — but I felt amazing. I had predicted my times based on my average speeds for prior long rides, and most of my long rides had more elevation gain than this ride would.

It seemed like I was at the halfway point before I knew it. I actually didn’t even really mark the actual halfway point — I stopped at the rest stop at 45 miles, and then suddenly I was at 52-ish miles, and there was a black SUV parked on the side of the road, and there was a sign with my name on it, and my friend and her kids waving. She had come out loaded for a potentially exhausted rider: she brought water, Gatorade, and a variety of snacks (raisins, Cliff Bloks, Honeystinger waffles) and I was surprised at how little I needed. I had made myself eat a few bites at each rest stop, but was well ahead of my appetite, and I was well hydrated — the only thing I was missing was the bottle of Gatorade I’d forgotten in the fridge when we left the house at our ridiculously early hour. I stood and stretched, chatted with her and the kids, and eventually took the bottle of Gatorade (it fit in my bottle cage!) and pushed on.

The next official rest stop — at mile 55 — was only a few short miles later, and this is where one of my friends was volunteering. Surprisingly, it was also where my boyfriend was able to stop — after dropping me off, he had waited for riders to clear out of the start zone and then hit the road himself. I thought there would be way too many riders on the road for him to be able to catch me at a specific rest stop, but I found both him and Paula (of Keep Smiling, Keep Moving) within seconds of pulling into the rest stop.  I was excited to see both of them, and still couldn’t get over how good I felt.

… and I think I’ll pick up the second half of the ride in my entry, as this one is getting lengthy.