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Looks fast, rides slow
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6 months ago, I began training for my first century -- the LIVESTRONG Challenge held in Orange County (CA). There were other centuries closer to where I live, but I specifically wanted to participate in this event because of all the people in my life who have been affected by cancer -- inlcuding my mother and my late grandmother.

Well the event took place this past Sunday, and I'm proud to report that I finished despite suffering from severe dehydration and muscle cramps. Final numbers: 104.35 miles in 7 hours and 9 minutes.

For those who might be interested in my experience, the following is an entry I made last night on my training journal.
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The Longest Day

At the risk of sounding like Jack Bauer, yesterday was the longest day of my life. In the 8.5 hours that I was on the course I experienced more pain, suffering, and joy than I can ever recall in a single day. Here’s the final chapter of the Journey to 100…



The start
The start/finish area was located at the Orange County Fair and Exposition Center. As I stood among hundreds of riders -- all riding in support/memory of their loved ones -- my fears & worries were replaced by hope & excitement. A board member from LAF took the stage before the start and we were told that 1,100 participants in this event have raised more than $1 million for the Foundation. Good stuff.

As the horn sounded, the song Beautiful Day by U2 blared on the speakers. It’s one of my favorite songs -- and a truly appropriate one for the occasion

The first stage
There were 7 rest stops total in this event, and the ride to the first rest stop was by far the fastest segment for me. I was aware of the fact that I needed to pace myself carefully to complete the 100+ mile ride, but I also wanted to take full advantage of the drafting opportunities in the beginning. I knew that we would all spread out as we got further into the race, so I just latched on to the back of fast-riding pack and tried to get as much “free speed” as possible. I cruised into the first rest stop after 45 min, and stuffed down a bagel to top out my fuel. So far so good.

Cruise control
Between Rest Stop 1 and 4, I felt golden. I was maintaining a good pace with a group of riders and I felt surprisingly energized. One thing I did notice though was that my heart rate was higher than normal -- I was averaging over 160 bpm even though I wasn’t pedaling all that fast/hard. At the time I figured it was just adrenaline or sudden burst of energy from the bagel I ate earlier. If I only knew it was a warning sign for something much serious.

Danger zone
At around 40-mile mark my right quad started to tighten up, and I realized that I haven’t been drinking enough fluids. Looking back I’ve only urinated once so far at Rest Stop 2, and not much came out -- which was a bad sign. So in the effort to make-up for the lack of hydration, I immediately started guzzling down my water bottles. Bad mistake. By not pacing my fluid intake I was completely out of water by mile 50 -- and I could feel my mouth getting drier by the minute. I was in the danger zone for severe dehydration and I still had 5 miles to go until the next rest stop. By the time I reached Rest Stop 4, my heart rate had shot up to 170 and I was feeling little disoriented. I immediately start downing tons of Gatorade and took a refuge in a medical tent.

The decision
As I sat on a chair under the medical tent and tried desperately to hydrate myself, I could tell that the medical staffs were worried about me. They said my face looked white, and that I should seriously consider pulling out of the ride…or at least take a shortcut back to the finish area. “The next section isn’t something you want to try if you’re not feeling well,” one of them told me. “There are lot of hills and it would be hard for us to get to you if something happens to you before the next rest stop.” I knew exactly where she was coming from -- riding a 100 miles is hard enough when you’re in optimal shape, let alone in extreme heat and humidity. And here I was pushed to the edge of severe dehydration, yet still contemplating riding ahead. “I’ll give myself 15 more minutes,” I told her. “If I’m not feeling better by then, I’ll pull out of the race”.

Fortunately I began to feel better as I forced myself to eat/drink as much as possible, and after a half-hour stay I’ve decided to continue on with the 100-mile course. I was doubtful that would make it to the end, but I knew I’d rather try to keep on going and fail than make the decision to give up on my goal now and take a short ride to the finish. So with that I began pedaling toward the toughest section of the ride.

The ascent
Back when I first saw the course profile, I thought the long ascent between 60 and 75-mile mark was going to be a breeze. The tallest point of the climb was only 1,500ft -- the same elevation I cover in 3 miles as part of my long training rides. Surely such climb spread out over 15 miles would be a piece of cake! But when you add extreme heat, humidity, and dehydration to the mix, a hill can turn into the Everest. It didn’t take long before my legs began cramping up with every pedal stroke, and as I reached the 70-mile mark my stomach began aching like crazy from the all the Gatorade I’ve consumed at the medical tent. At this point I was convinced that I would have to pull-out of the race at the next rest stop…and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of support vehicle waiting to take me back to the staging area.

The bus
As soon as I reached the Rest Stop 5, I just dropped my bike on the grass and sat down. I was feeling completely exhausted -- and looking around it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one being pushed to the limit. The beds in medical tent were fully occupied and many riders were walking around me in daze. And then I saw a bus; an air-conditioned luxury tour bus waiting to take drop-out riders to the finish line! There were already several riders inside the bus waiting for its departure, and I noticed couple more riders getting ready on get on board. It was my ticket out of this hell -- given my physical state getting on that bus was clearly the smartest choice. But then again I was never the smartest one in the family.

As tempting as it was to catch a ride on the bus, I knew I was already half way up the torturous hills…and after the climb it was all downhill to the finish. So if I could just get past the summit then maybe -- just maybe -- I might be able to finish the ride. Feeling slight sense of hope, I forced down more food and Gatorade (with Pepto-Bismol tablets) and resumed my ascent to the summit.

Gut check
There’s something about being pushed to the very edge of your physical/mental limit by no other force but your own free-will. When you subject yourself to pain and suffering for something/someone that you care deeply about, I think you discover what you’re truly made of. Well on this hill yesterday, I discovered just how strong I can be. As I inched closer to the summit all my self-doubts began to vanish…and the vision of crossing the finish line slowly began to reappear. I was still suffering physically, but mentally I was feeling strong. When I finally crossed the summit and arrived at Rest Stop 6, I was determined to finish the ride no matter what.

The long way home
With renewed focus and down hill terrain, I wish I could say that I was able to coast the final 20 miles to the finish…but that wasn’t the case. There were still some short (but challenging) hills waiting for me, and every mile seemed to pass slower than the last. Without a doubt, the only reason I was still pedaling at this point was the riders around me -- all suffering just as much as I was. Their efforts inspired me, and I would like to think that I was doing the same for them. In the final miles of the ride I came upon a rider who graciously offered to pull me to the finish…and as we made the final turn into the Fairground we were welcomed by the loud cheers from all the volunteers in yellow. What happened next I don’t exactly remember -- I was simpley overcome with emotions when I saw the finish line ahead of me. All I recall is looking up in the sky and pumping my fist in the air. I hope you were watching me grandma.

 

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Cool story dude...and great timing. I'm in the middle of studying maps, terrain, and possible places to refuel on my first solo century. Never done one without at least a few friends along (let alone an organized event) and I'm still a little vervous about the idea. It's all about mind games and convincing yourself you can do it. Thanks for sharing!
 

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great story, i enjoyed reading it. inspiration (for me) to do pan mass or something else next year once my "race season" is over. I've never gone more than 65 miles, and that was awful. Good job, and props for finishing when you were down
 

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Wow. That's almost exactly the same experience I had on the ride! Close to the same ride time too. I came down from Sacramento to do it. It was my second century, and the first was a lot flatter and cooler. This was, by far, the hardest bike ride I've ever done. I ran out of water on the way to the 5th rest stop (half way up the hill) and barely made it to that point. I spent some time in the medical tent there to get out of the sun and hydrate. Riding away from the bus, back into the 100+ degree heat (and humidity) and onto that hill was not easy. I think a lot of people had to dig really deep to finish it. Congratulations on getting it done.
 

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The Wanderer
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Congrats...My focus this season is on Centuries as well and I can fully relate. Those buses always look tempting but as you know, the finish line experience is well worth the extra effort. When's number 2?
 

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Looks fast, rides slow
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
kyler2001 said:
Congrats...My focus this season is on Centuries as well and I can fully relate. Those buses always look tempting but as you know, the finish line experience is well worth the extra effort. When's number 2?
Thanks. My friends are trying to get me to do Tour of Napa Valley (65-miler) with them in August, but right now I'm still burnt out of riding. I would like to do the same century next year...and I'm thinking of maybe picking up running again to attempt a marathon. We'll see.

K-Zero
 

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Einstruzende said:
Centuries are a battle against the mind. You could do another next weekend if you wanted. Just gotta think in that manner.
+1

I think most amateur/recreational riders are conditioned well enough to do centuries, even though they may not believe it to be the case. In my opinion finishing a typical century is mostly psychological after you have some decent base mileage in.
 

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lint picker
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Einstruzende said:
Centuries are a battle against the mind. You could do another next weekend if you wanted. Just gotta think in that manner.
+1

I think most amateur/recreational riders are conditioned well enough to do centuries, even though they may not believe it to be the case. In my opinion finishing a typical century is mostly psychological after you have some decent base mileage in. Once the basics are accounted for (eating enough, drinking enough) it's all in the head.
 

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"Cypress Gardens" Fl.
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Excellent post K-Zero. Hell, I suffered right along with you just reading it. It was great. You really dug deep to finish that century, overcoming severe dehydration, physical and mental fatigue not wanting to let your loved ones down, or even yourself.

a true warrior of the cycling wars. :thumbsup:
 

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Great post K-Zero. It captures the "desperate" moments of centuries very well - which should serve as a reminder for everyone to hydrate and eat constantly on long rides! I ride 5-6 centuries a year so I've seen many people who get caught dehydrated and have to be taken away by medical. It's great that you continued on and managed to finish.

I agree with toshi, most recreational riders are capable of riding centuries, it mainly involves careful adjustments to pace and a close eye on nutrition/hydration. The most common mistake I see is people who push hard early on, and don't save anything for the finish.

Remember that at a 17 MPH pace, you're basically covering one mile every 3.5 minutes, so if you bring your pace down to 16 MPH you'll only add about 4 minutes per hour to your time (24 minutes over the entire ride). However, bringing down your pace by that much will save a tremendous amount of energy, and keep you much fresher as you head towards the finish line. You can make that up by spending less time at the rest stops, and in the end you'll probably finish stronger than if you raced out at the start.

Keep it up, try to get on the bike this weekend and ride some. Your body will be ready for another century in 2 weeks easy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Getting back on the bike...

Maybe I'm just a wuss, but I still don't feel like getting back on the bike at all -- physically and mentally. I'm still feeling little more tired than usual (like I'm about to come down with something) and my legs still feel like they're repairing themselves. I probably did a lot of damage to my quads/calves from riding through muscle cramps.

As much as I like to think I can ride another century next weekend, I'll probably take it really easy for one more week before riding again. I hope I'll be feeling energized soon...

K-Zero
 

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I've read it only takes two weeks off the bike to lose 50% of your aerobic capacity. Don't stay off too long!

It's also a good idea to do a "recovery" ride as soon as you can. Day after even. Just spin around, avoid hills. Get the blood flowing. Believe it or not it could help you recover faster than just doing nothing.

I'm not a huge century guy, only do about 10 a year, however the above has worked for me.
 

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Einstruzende said:
I've read it only takes two weeks off the bike to lose 50% of your aerobic capacity. Don't stay off too long!

It's also a good idea to do a "recovery" ride as soon as you can. Day after even. Just spin around, avoid hills. Get the blood flowing. Believe it or not it could help you recover faster than just doing nothing.

I'm not a huge century guy, only do about 10 a year, however the above has worked for me.
Good advice, I've always found that some short low intensity rides afterwards really help recovery along with warm baths and stretching.
 

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Yes, great story K-Zero, thanks for sharing. I've been training or a big ride here in Colo this Sat, and the focus has been on nutrition and hydration as much as logging the miles. In spite of that I've had 2 near bonks out of my 5 long rides these past few weeks. It requires knowledge and discipline to get it right, but it's worth the effort. I'm sure if you review all you did in the week leading up to the race it will help you come up with the plan to overcome your energy/water depletion. It's very hard to recover and eat/drink enough once your glycogyn levels are down and you're very dehydrated. Read up, get a plan and stick to it and I'm sure you'll handle your next century with a lot less discomfort. And props for pushing through, great accomplishment!
 

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Well-written, K-Zero. A great read!

Just be careful to understand that the "mental second wind" you nicely describe can be a good thing, or a bad thing if your body ain't up to being pushed that hard. It's not an unusual story people also give just before heat stroke or a major physical melt-down event (inc. heart attack in middle-aged athletes like me). There are times when the body can be pushed, and others when it absolutely cannot. It helps to do challenging events to learn what your body is really telling you. For me right now, that "challenging effort" is around 75-100 miles.

I misread my body during an impromptu century last weekend. I have almost 2K miles so far this year (road & MTB), so I should know better! Anyway, it was supposed to be a pleasant morning metric loop on rolling hills here in the Midwest. At the venue, optional miles and road construction detours detours pushed it over 80 miles. A cool and gentle helping breeze at the start grew into a gusty 15-25 mph blast furnace of headwind on the return leg as the temp climbed & the heat index neared triple digits. I ran out of water twice. Just 3 miles from the finish I still felt full of fight mentally but finally could not keep the legs from cramping with each pedal stroke & could not keep my heart rate below 160 (20 bpm below my max) despite slowing to 12-13 mph. Stopped for 10 min, got saved by a couple fellow riders who donated some fluids & a gel. Rode in, felt better, and put in another 17 mi to finish my century.
Unfortunately, I paid for it later. Felt like CRAP the next day, inc puking a few times. My first recovery ride was 2 days later. I'm just back to feeling normal now.

FWIW- Think of the low-intensity recovery rides as treatment, not exercise. Moves the muscles/joints & improves blood flow to the muscles to aid recovery. A good massage helps, too- even if it's just working over your own quads, etc..

Trust us. You WILL feel better getting back on the bike. Just ease into it for your first couple rides.
 
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