I rode my first century this weekend. 100 miles. That's a long trip in a car! When I told a coworker what I was doing on Saturday, he told me I needed serious help. Like a whole team of therapists to figure out why I get my jollies by riding a bike 100 miles. It was awesome! A rad group of us from San Diego made the 80 mile trip east to the start in Ocotillo to ride in the Stagecoach Century.
The route was an out-and-back along the old historic stagecoach route. I could imagine horse-drawn wagons rolling around a dirt path in the 1800s as miners searching for gold made their way west. The region was made up of a desert preserve and historical sites with mystical names like "The Well of Seven Echoes." I heard many tales of folklore from the region about ghosts of miners rumored to be running around at night. Another site was a plain with a sudden, steep drop-off of several hundred feet. I could picture tribes of Native Americans chasing herds of bison off the cliffs.
We were blessed with perfect weather. I was relieved. The year before, a storm had come through, bringing gray skies, winds, and 30 degree weather...the entire ride. I had frozen my toes, fingers, and other extremities completely off on that ride, and I had only gone 50 miles. This year, winds were calm, skies were blue, and the temps rose into the low 70s. Purrrrfect. I didn't even need arm warmers! In January!
First off, this ride was fully supported by tons of cheerful, eager volunteers, all in good spirits and amazingly stocked aid stations. Every Port-a-Potty had toilet paper (important). Some even had soap, water, and paper towels! Tons of water, electrolytes, sunblock, HED (electrolyte/calorie drink), cookies, PB&Js, candy, Cliff Bars, and my all-time favorite....Red Vines. Yea!
We started from the Ocotillo Rec Center (a gravel parking lot with a small shack) and started riding north. I couldn't figure out why we were working so hard to bust out a meager 13 mph when it hit me. Oh, right. False flat. I remember this from last year. The whole way out is a mix of false flats and hills. Dammit! I hate false flats. I would much rather just climb and work hard the first few miles to gain elevation than eek it out and suffer little by little over a long time. Oh, well. I just hunkered down, let the fast guys go, and chatted with Dean, who thankfully, decided to hang back with me.
We hit the first aid station and regrouped briefly for some water (my Perpeteum mix was too thick and nasty--I found straight water much more appealing) and Red Vines. We still were enthusiastic, smiling and in good spirits. Very cogniscent of the world around us. We took a few pics and headed on our way.
(Dean, Brent, me and Bob at the first stop).
We descended down Sweeny's Pass, a 500-foot drop in about 2 miles with some awesome views and wicked switchbacks. I loved the breather but was wary of how hard that would be on the return at mile 90 to get back up. The false flat quickly returned afterwards but I felt fresher after the aid station and the descent. I buckled down and went to work, focusing on an even pedal stroke. I took in the view of the expansive desert, opening up before me, dotted with cacti and tumbleweed. Ranches sparsely dotted the road with horses giving us strange looks from their corrals. I breathed deeply, savoring the smell of fresh hay.
After some more Red Vines and water at the next aid station, we prepared for the major climbing, waiting for us at mile 35. We passed the Butterfield Ranch General Store, the turn-around for the 50 mile ride. I felt a surge of energy as I kept going, chartering new territory. I remembered how cold, windy, and miserable it had been the year before and reveled in the gentle sunshine.
(Dean, Jason (not my Jason), Brent, Bob, and me, ready to go after refueling at the 2nd stop).
(admiring the desert views; before having to shake sand out of my shoes!)
I looked up and saw the Campbell Grade stretching up...and up....and up...before finally twisting and spiraling and snaking up out of sight. I gulped. It looked steep. I was going to climb 1600 feet in 3 miles."Okay," I thought to myself. Getting up this hill was a task that had been given to me. And I was going to do it. That was that. We started climbing. Dean called out, "This is steep!" I nodded because I was gasping too much to say much other than, "Yeah." I stood up out of the saddle to climb. Got into a rhythm, slowly but steadily inching upwards. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest rapidly like a hummingbird. I sat in the saddle and pushed to recover. Then, during the steep part of the switchbacks, stood to climb again. I rotated standing and sitting. Standing and sitting. Just when I became worried about climbing at that grade for 3 miles, I reached the crest. I hooted and hollered. I had been expecting another 2 miles of that! A cyclist resting at the top gave me a bewildered look. I eagerly ate up the false flat that stretched before me after that.
We reached the turn-around shortly after that and began heading back. I was elated. The worst of the climbing was over and all of those false flats would now be false downs. I was looking forward to that. Plus, I had been eating and hydrating well and felt fresh. Bring it....
(Bob, Dean, me, Brent, & Jason at the turn-around. Are we there yet?)
The lunch stop in Shelter Valley at mile 58 came flying out of nowhere. We stopped, and I realized I was ravenous. Those Cliff Bars and Blocks get old after awhile. We wolfed down our Subway sandwiches, chips, and iced tea.
(Lunchtime! Don't you love the eating pics? Jason is thoroughly enjoying his sandwich.)
I got back on Torch and continued on in high spirits. I began to believe I could actually do this thing. Before on the false flats, I had noticed every ache and pain, especially in my ass. I had to fight the negative thoughts some and block out the pain. Now that I was over half done and going downhill, I could really hammer and soar. Pain? Gone. Doubt? Nil. Energy? Yo! I had no more ass pain. It had disappeared. Why is it when conditions are tough, we focus on every little problem but when conditions are favorable, all of our problems disappear? This is a mental game--totally and completely.
The desert had changed again, fickle beast that it is, and the northerly winds were now blowing from the south. In addition, the winds had picked up speed. So a gentle headwind was now something I had to work against a bit. Not too bad but enough to sap my energy a bit. I hunkered down in the aeros and went to work, using the gentle descent to my advantage. It was now 1:30 in the afternoon, and the sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains, casting long shadows onto the desert. Following the shadows came a deep, unforgiving chills that, combined with the winds, motivated me to work just that much harder to stay warm. It seemed like the sun was setting and it was only a little after noon!
I soared down the Campbell Grade, leaning around the switchbacks. Wicked adrenaline rush. That rejuvenated me a bit. We stopped to regroup at mile 75. We all seemed a bit fatigued and were eager to keep going. Get to the finish. I noticed we were taking fewer and fewer pictures. Too much extra effort. I wolfed down some more Red Vines and a "Who's Your Daddy" energy drink. The caffeine worked on all of us. We jumped on our bikes and took off. Brent took off in the lead, chanting "Who's Your Daddy?" repeatedly. I hammered (a bit more slowly), enjoying the caffeine rush. I felt great. I was maintaining a steady, comfortable pace of 18 mph after 75 miles. I looked back and realized I was pulling 4 people. I was honored. Other cyclists thought I was fast enough to pull! "Yeah! Who's your Mommy?" I thought to myself.
After pulling for about 10 miles, Bob switched off and I drafted, allowing me to recover right up to the base of Sweeny's Pass, the final big climb at mile 90. I remembered soaring down this at the very beginning, not worrying too much about getting back up. Now, with tired legs, it seemed almost impossible. Almost. It stretched before me for what seemed like an eternity. The winds whistled through crevices in the mountains lining the canyon, and in my hazy state of mind, I eerily remembered that ghosts of miners were rumored to be running about. Every now and then, I swore I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Of course, when I turned to look, nothing was there. The "Who's Your Daddy" kick was officially gone. Fatigue had set in, and I was close to having a religious experience. A vision quest.
I saw cyclists in front of me walking their bikes and groaning and panting. I resolved to be stronger than that. I focused on my pedal stroke and rhythm and began climbing the steep grade. Up out of the saddle for the steep parts, down in the saddle to recover. I was happy I could still get up out of the saddle at mile 90. Plus, it felt good to change positions and give my sore ass a breather. It felt good to pass the other cyclists. Not only was I a masochist, enjoying my own personal suffering but I was now a sadist too, taking pleasure in the pain of others, using their pain to fuel me up the hill. I felt bad but at least I didn't feel that bad. Maybe I'm a bitch to admit that I felt this way but there it is.
We got to the top, and the view below was spectacular. "Look at the view!" Bob and Dean called out. "Yup. Very nice. Very good," I panted, evoking a chuckle from them. It was wonderful but I was tired and wanted one thing and one thing only right now. To reach the finish. I was worried if I paused or got of my bike or stopped pedaling, I wouldn't be able to start again.
(spectacular desert view at the top of the grade)
The final 9 miles were all downhill. Dean called out, "I could do this all day. Wait a minute. I have been!" We realized we were going to make it. I stared at the computer as it reached 99.99 and cried out victoriously when it flipped over to 100. We had made it! 100 miles. 5,000 feet of climbing. Not too shabby. I felt happy, tired but victorious.
(Okay! Let's stop taking pictures and go home. I'm ready for food and bed!)
It couldn't have been a more perfect training ride for Ironman Arizona. I got really good practice for the kind of mental tricks I will need to pack in my bag on race day. I also now realize another important piece of information....Ironman is going to be a really, really, really long day. It didn't really hit me before. It hit me on Saturday when I finished the century ride at 4:00 pm. I won't be starting that marathon until late in the afternoon when the sun is setting. Wow. Good to know. I'm glad I know that now and won't be surprised on race day.
After I got home, I went straight to bed. I was fast asleep by 7:30 pm and slept for 12 hours. I felt well-rested and not too sore when I got up Sunday morning. That afternoon, I was even able to go for a good, solid 8 mile run in Mission Bay. I was happy with that.