This past weekend, I successfully rode the Terrible Two 200k in Sebastapol, a sub-event of the Terrible Two Double Century put on by the Santa Rosa Cycling Club. Although the double century is infamously and ridiculously hard (hence the "terrible" adjective), the thought of riding 120+ miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing was still formidable to me. I didn't appreciate the "Tolerable Two" nickname donned by seasoned double century riders.
Admittedly, I haven't been training much on the bike. Teaching 6 classes and training for the 50K Skyline to the Sea run has dominated my training plan the last 6 weeks. I have been clinging to what cycling fitness I could by riding about twice a week, with my longest ride being 50-70 miles. And those "long" rides hadn't been going well. Three weeks prior, I had melted down a simple 45-mile ride during the last 8 miles. Yes, there had been some climbing (Geysers Road, which is about 8-12 miles with ~2400 feet of climbing, but don't quote me on that). Turns out, I broke a spoke and the last 10 miles was a false flat, but I blame my lack of training and lack of food for a ride that ended in a "Poor me" weeping session.
Last weekend (one week before the Terrible 200k), I had one last chance to push my cycling fitness up. I rode part of the Devil Mountain Double Century out in the east bay, a 106-mile loop that included Mt. Hamilton and Mines Road with about 8,000 feet of climbing. It was one of the worst rides I've ever suffered through. I felt fine until mile 42 (hmmm, same place where I had my last meltdown--notice a theme here?), at which point a strong headwind and hunger caused diabolical bonking that even a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke at the Junction couldn't cure. Miles 50 through 100 were pure torture. Everything hurt, especially my feet, my butt, my hands and wrists, etc. Turns out, I've been suffering from something called "hot foot" for awhile now, where a searing, burning pain in the ball of my foot makes pedaling excruciating. Unlike previous endurance exercises, the pain and suffering never went away. Slogging through at 12 mph on flats didn't help. Neither did the relentless headwinds. I wanted to quit. Badly. I can only thank my riding partner for not letting me. I felt so humiliated by my shameful performance, I didn't even feel victorious upon finishing the ride. I head my hung low as I drove home with lots to think about. First, there was no way I was going to do the Terrible 200K the following weekend. I just wasn't ready.
Somehow, a week later, I showed up at the start of the 200K, nervous, anxious, and prepared for a hard day of suffering. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish. I was worried about quitting and climbing aboard the SAG wagon. There were several scary climbs ahead of me: Skaggs, "The Wall", Fort Ross. Plus the distance--121 miles. Was I setting myself up for failure?
I started in the pack of about 50 very strong riders. Everyone took off, and I set my own pace in the back. I was one of the slowest riders in the bunch. Amazingly, I found a very tall rider riding about the same pace as me, and I tucked in behind him. Another rider tucked in behind me. A pack of about 4 of us drafted tightly together for the first 30 miles, which were mostly a false flat. I coasted easily at about 17 mph, a pace I could never have maintained that effortlessly on my own. At the first aid station, we all introduced ourselves, and I thanked the pack leader profusely for letting me suck his wheel. After gorging on Oreos and peanut M&Ms, I began the long climb up Skaggs. I didn't mind riding solo, preferring to set my own pace without worrying about others. I crawled slowly up the peaks for the next 12 miles, thankful it wasn't too hot (about 80 degrees) since it was open and exposed. I took in the singing of the birds that surrounded me and spotted a brightly colored garter snake and blue-tailed skink. I was working but I felt positive. Nothing hurt either. I had come armed with cycling orthotics, gloves, and lots and lots of Chamois Butter. All of these helped (especially the orthotics). I drank lots of water and popped the occasional electrolyte pill.
The aid stations were strategically located at the top of each gruesome climb. At each, I topped off water bottles and ate. I couldn't believe how hungry I was. Determined not to make the same mistake as my last several rides, I ate constantly, both on and off the bike. I couldn't believe how many calories I consumed. And, yet, I was still hungry. By the time I reached the second peak of Skaggs, I had consumed too many salt pills and my stomach was rumbling. I spotted an empty bottle of Tums discarded on the side of the road and took it as a sign. I pulled out my baggie of pills and chomped down 2 Tums. The relief was instant and magical.
I coasted downhill and rolled along for the next 15 miles or so, revving myself up for what would be the toughest climb of the day. Nicknamed "The Wall" I had heard horror stories of people breaking down on this 1.2-mile relentlessly steep climb of an average of 13% with pitches of 19%. People can walk their bikes up faster than riding. People have to stop and rest. I wasn't sure I could get up it, even walking. I wasn't looking forward to walking up a slick, steep road for over a mile in cycling shoes.
I crossed the bridge and forced myself not to hold my breath. "Time to Climb!" was chalked in the road. And then, there was no time to think. I was climbing up a never-ending road into the trees with turn after turn after turn. My breathing was fast and rapid. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears like hummingbird wings. Each time I peered around the turn, searching for a break in the climb, I was faced only with what seemed like an even steeper section. I looked down at the road in front of me. Best not to look ahead. Best not to know what's coming. Some sections were so steep that the only way I knew to get up them was to get out my saddle and climb, forcing each pedal down with my entire weight at such an agonizingly slow speed that my bike threatened to topple beneath me. Each time I stood to climb, I was punished with a maxed out heart rate that was unsustainable. Snot poured from my nose. I didn't care. My face grew hot and red, and I was forced to sit, hunched over and grinding at the pedals. I leaned forward as far as I could to keep the front wheel down, gripping the handlebars and pulling them towards me with unrecognized upper body strength. I had no idea cycling would require so much from my arms, shoulder and back. My lower back screamed in protest. Finally, towards the top, I saw a turn-out near a more mellowed-out section. I had to rest. I could take no more.Wobbling my bike towards the turn-out I peeked once more up ahead. Was that the top? I decided to give it one last push. With whatever I had left in me, I gave it one more surge and unbelievably, crested the top. I crawled into the lunch stop, breathless and uncommunicative.
Lunch was such heaven after the Wall. The volunteers were unbelievably friendly and I ate and ate. We shared stories of surviving the Wall. Most had to stop and rest. Although I was slow, the others were incredulous when I told them I hadn't stopped to rest. They asked what my secret was. "Stubbornness" was all I could come up with. As I started to get cold, I knew it was time to get back on the bike.
I headed out towards the coast, pedaling easy up and down the rollers, heeding the unpredictable wind that threw me off my balance as it came sideways and forwards. Then, I saw the great, blue Pacific. I turned left and headed south, relishing in the ocean's beauty. The wind had died down and the sky was gray. A thin mist of fogged enveloped the coast. Surprisingly, with arm warmers, I wasn't cold. I rode easily and felt calm and peaceful as I watched the undulating waves. Campers and children along the 1 entertained me as I rode by. The double century riders lapped me, and I urged them on, in awe of their speed, endurance, and leg muscles like thick tree trunks. Suddenly, the Fort Ross rest stop appeared. I felt good at mile 83 and was pleasantly surprised.
After some hot chocolate and coffee and Ramen Noodles, I headed up for the last steep climb of the day. Luckily I had ridden it before. About 11% and 2-3 miles long, I wasn't looking forward to it, especially because I had suffered so much the first time up it several months ago. In addition, the broken pavement, branches, and gravel made it extra challenging. However, being prepared and knowing it was to come helped immensely. Yes, it was hard but I just took it easy and focused on pedaling, one revolution at a time. I stopped to pop some Advil after the first big peak to soothe my aching lower back. My quads were fatigued and felt like limp noodles. Someone had chalked a skull and crossbones in the middle of the road, which didn't help. Somehow, I made it up Fort Ross, and it was easier than what I had remembered.
Ecstasy began to set in. Here I was, pedaling along at mile 90, and I felt good. Nothing really hurt, and mentally I was on a high. I couldn't believe it. I felt immensely thankful and at peace. I took in the beauty of the scenic hills around me. I couldn't believe how much I was actually enjoying this. When I reached Cazadero, the highway began flat and smooth, and I screamed along at 18 mph for the next 15 miles in pure bliss.
I rolled into the last rest stop in Monte Rio feeling loopy and euphoric. The volunteers were especially supportive. I downed a Coke and ate some more Oreos. As I rode out, I received encouraging comments like "Way to represent!" (there weren't many female riders out there), "You go, Girl!" and "Ride it like you stole it!" I kept expecting the euphoria to be replaced with suffering. They say "If you feel good, don't worry you'll get over it," but that moment never came. The rest of the ride was essentially flat with one last little climb. I didn't mind it, however, because compared to the rest of the day, it was easy. Plus, it gave me more time to take in the sights around me, including a wedding, a goat climbing up a tree for fruit, and, further down the road, a rocking blues band. At mile 120, I turned down High School Road. I realized I was going to make it. My chest swelled with happiness. I cruised into the finish, not caring that I had finished near the bottom of the pack. I had successfully finished the ride and had an amazing time doing it. This will be an experience that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I could even be talked in to doing another one of these crazy events!