Readers, you are lucky that I waited two days to compose this post. Had I been writing on Saturday evening, it probably would have been composed mostly of euphoric emoticons, with a liberal use of all caps and VERY EXUBERANT punctuation marks. Because we did it!! (I guess I have a few more exclamation points in me.)
Despite it being a special weather statement sort of day.
We snapped the photo below just before lining up with the couple hundred other metric century riders for the 8 am start. In case it needs to be said, I was the only one on a 10-speed, and the only one on a vintage bike—although I did see a couple of recumbents.
After a lengthy prayer, a warbling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (during which I belatedly remembered to take off my helmet) and a reminder to share the road, there was the sound of a hundred clipless shoes meeting pedals…which Whitney and I weren’t able to join. And we were off!
The Sunrise Century route loops up into Kentucky and back, passing through the charming small town of Guthrie as well as loads of corn and tobacco fields.
From the first, it was evident that the ride was well planned: The route was clearly marked, rest stops were fully stocked and there were volunteers directing or stopping traffic at all the major intersections. Most of the roads were very lightly trafficked, and we were often able to ride abreast.
The course was so flat that I found myself on my big chain ring most of the time, mashing to build speed. My strategy was to maintain as steady a pace as possible, so I wouldn’t tire myself out. Adrenaline and fresh legs carried us through the first 29 miles in just over two hours, so there were some big grins at the second rest stop. Could we really finish the ride in 4 hours?
Answer: No. Though the course remained relatively flat, the temperature started climbing and we lost our cloud cover. Those fresh legs were also long gone.
But we pushed on.
As I pedaled, I spent a lot of time monitoring my body and planning what I would do at the next rest stop to make it as happy as possible. What body parts needed stretching? Was I hungry? Too thirsty? I was terrified of doing the wrong thing and hitting a wall before I realized it was coming.
Thankfully, it didn’t happen. I felt astonishingly good for about the first 40 miles, and pretty decent through 50. But the last 12 required increasing amounts of willpower. The sun was high in the sky, making shade increasingly rare (and treasured!). I was exhausted: Salt from sweat was crusted on my arms and legs, I was slightly sunburned despite repeated applications of sunscreen, and a weird heat rash was popping up on one of my thighs. Every little incline started making itself known, and the only significant one was, of course, right near the end! As I slowly chugged up it, a guy who’d been leap-frogging us several times during the ride passed me and said bracingly, “Almost there!” Then he promptly got tangled up in his clipless pedals and fell over. Luckily, when I asked he told me he was fine, because if I had stopped at that moment it would have been very hard to get back on the bike. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as grateful to see anything as I was to see the Rossview High School sign and know that I only had a few more yards to go.
Whitney had finished a few minutes ahead of me, and was sprawled on a bench in the shade near her car and bike. The euphoria I felt from being finished with the ride gave me the energy for a limp cheerleader stance and an exclamation of “We did it!” before I collapsed on a neighboring bench. We sat in exhausted silence for a few minutes before I thought to check the time: 1:45. We’d finished in under 6 hours! I had estimated that we would take at least 6 hours, so knowing we’d done better than our target gave me an even greater sense of accomplishment.
After a few minutes of rest, we mustered up the energy to put the bikes on the car and head inside to find Amanda and Andy and partake of the spaghetti lunch. (Garlic bread=awesome recovery food.) Despite a few minor aches and pains (and a deep desire to sit on anything that was softer than a bike seat), all of us were thrilled with how normal we felt, despite our exhaustion. It felt just a little bit miraculous, given our somewhat haphazard approach to training (Amanda, to the guy who took our picture at the start: “We’ve been training a whole MONTH for this!”).
Of course, part of that was because of the accessibility of the course. At no point did I feel aerobically challenged—party due to the terrain and partly due to my slow and steady ride strategy—so it was really only my endurance that was tested. Not that that was a small thing. Sure, bicycling is an efficient exercise, but when was the last time you did something for nearly six straight hours?
I realize this post isn’t getting into the nitty gritty of my bike and outfit setup. or what I ate the day of or night before, etc. I’ll geek out on that a little bit more in a future post. This one’s all about proclaiming VICTORY!!! :-) And, you know, getting all the all caps and emoticons out of my system. If anyone has specific questions they want answered, have at it in the comments.