So I set out on my first metric century this weekend. The local bicycling club had scheduled a 42-mile ride on back roads through some moderate hills, and I figured that would be a good training ride. Realizing the start of the ride was at a school only 12 miles from my home, why not bike to the ride, and then back home, make it an even 66 miles? I was feeling pretty good, even after a volleyball tournament the previous day, and the group ride sounded like a good idea (at the time at least). I loaded up the bike with 100 oz. of water in my Camelbak, a banana, two small bags of GORP, six raspberry newtons, a 16 oz. bottle of the local Gatorade look-alike, and a packet of raspberry gel.
Headed out around noon to fairly ominous skies, 55 degree temperatures, and 17-20 mph winds out of the west-southwest. Heading basically southeast to the start of the ride, the 12 miles from home to the starting point was quite easy -- wind made keeping a line a bit challenging, but sure was no problem with speed, and I made it to the starting point with plenty of time to spare despite taking it really easy. Got off the bike and quickly realized how cold things were when you weren't moving, so I huddled in a doorway at the school until it was time to go again (and was never again cold on the ride).
Some last-minute route adjustments were made by the ride leader to avoid some heavy traffic construction areas at the southern-most tip of our route. As we took off at 1 p.m., I had initially planned to stay in the middle of the pack, but was actually having trouble going that slow up the hills, as my bike only has a compact double, and those with the triples were able to meander more slowly up the hill, while I was almost falling over and having trouble pushing my smallest gear while seated, and couldn't go that slow standing. After trying about two hills that way, I saw a group of five riders out about a quarter mile in head of us, and was easily able to join up with them thanks to a couple downhills (my bike seems to like going down hills, and I don't mind so much either).
Once we joined up, our group of six stayed together for about 6-8 miles, before one of our group peeled off to take a different route that took him near his home. Our lead rider set quite a pace, but as we were going mostly south, we weren't headed directly into the wind, so didn't have too bad a time of it. By the time we turned east a few miles later, we'd lost one more of the group, and were down to a foursome. As I we turned east with a nice tailwind, I enjoyed talking to a new friend who had been riding about 15 years. We were riding at a challenging pace, but no so hard that I was worried about burning out. A nice group challenge pace. This worked fine until we hit our next turn point, a long loop to the south and west directly into the wind. At this point, our lead rider kicked it into gear and really pushed us through the wind for the better part of 12 miles. Throw in some hills and this tough pace, and my new friend and I were starting to get worried about pushing too hard, and definitely thinking it was time to hop off the bikes for a quick stretch and something to eat from our packs for energy. Unfortunately, we didn't want to lose the group, so kept pushing. We dropped my new friend around mile 10, and I waited for him at the top of mild hill, taking the opportunity to pull a banana from my pack and start replenishing my energy, as I was worried I'd start to cramp up soon.
We joined up from there and he and I and pushed to catch the leaders, who were taking an on-bike breather and route check about a half mile down the road at a stop sign. As a group we took about two minutes to breath, I finished my banana, drank about half the sports drink, and off we went again. This break did us all good, as we were able to keep up with our ride leader (who again pulled our group of 4 well over 75% of the time, even though all of us TRIED to take our turns pulling). After about 5 miles, my new friend was again having trouble keeping up, and I could tell he was out of gas, and I wasn't very behind. At this point our route turned east again, with the wind, but unfortunately this was the hilly portion of our ride. Nothing too terrible, but each descent was followed with an even bigger hill, which gets a bit challenging on already wobbly legs. I made it most of the way up the top of the second hill when both of my legs started cramping (top of my thighs) as I had to stand to make it up the last few feet of the hill. Was quite worried about falling over while clipped in my legs were in such bad shape, but I was able to get off the ride, unclip both feet, and get my rear on the ground before I got in serious trouble. There I decided it was time I took that break I'd been needing for a few minutes. Drank some more sports drink, had a bite of GORP, two newtons, and waited for my buddy to catch up. He was in similar shape, and worried he might cramp up too, so we both took a minute breather there on the hill before completing the remaining hills. At this point my left knee started hurting. Nothing too bad, but it didn't feel quite right.
I made it over the next two hills, just barely reaching the top of the final hill (and the two cyclists who were leading our mini-group) without cramping again. Once there, we spotted the slower contingent we had pulled away from at the beginning of our ride. They'd taken a shortcut and were now back in the midst of everyone. We hopped back in the middle of the group, but somehow our group of four found itself out in front again after a few miles. I stayed with the two leaders for a couple more miles, but quickly lost my buddy again. I tried keeping both groups in site for a while, playing intermediary, but finally gave up and pulled over in a nice field for a few minutes to eat some more, stretch out, and try to regain some strength. Didn't want my new pal to get himself in trouble on his own, and I'd said earlier I wasn't going to leave him as that just didn't seem very nice. Tried out my first packet of gel -- not very tasty, but it certainly helped. Finished off the sports drink, had a few bites of GORP and a couple more newtons, then packed everything up just in time to head off with my friend again.
We only had a couple more miles before the route turned back toward our original starting point. Given that I was struggling at this point, and I knew he was too, I made the call that I was going to split off and head west toward the main route back to my house instead of east back to the school. Wouldn't cut too many miles off the trip, but in case I did get myself in trouble and started cramping again, it was a main route my wife would know how to find me on fairly easily if I did have to call in support. With the slower group coming up behind, he felt safe that he had support if he needed it, so we said our goodbyes and took off on our different directions.
As I set off on my own, I planned to take it easy, ride at my own pace now, and really "test my mettle" to just keep on going. I didn't want to have to call in support, no matter how bad I was hurting, and realized this could be a huge milestone for me -- my first metric century, and a good test for my upcoming century in June (I've heard that if you can do 1/2 to 2/3 of the 100 miles comfortable, a full century is no problem). Well, I wasn't comfortable, but I was still moving!
As I cleared the first small hill on my way to the main route, I think I cussed out loud when I saw the larger looming "double-hill" up in head of my. Darn, I'd forgotten about that sucker! Well, the hill wasn't getting any smaller by baring my teeth at it, so I got my speed up on the incoming downhill, then pushed up as best I could, standing on my way up until just before I thought I might cramp up, then setting and hitting my smallest gear again for the last 20 feet or so. Once again I thought how nice a triple might be right now. I cleared the top of the hill, pulled off to the right, and took a moment to eat my last two newtons and drink some more water before heading into the town of Fairport.
One minor hill in Fairport, then a straight shot north about 10-12 miles home (most of it flat after two bigger hills). Still fighting cramps in my legs, I wasn't so fond of being on a road with more traffic, but it had a wide berm, and other than about a quarter mile of big intersection, it'd be fairly easy to keep myself toward the edge of the road in case I had to bail. Thankfully, I made it up both hills and breathed a huge sigh of relief as I was even starting to get a touch of energy back. Now, by no means was I in good shape, but other than feeling a bit weak in the legs and my left knee starting to ping a bit more loudly, I was starting to think I really might make it home on my own.
Went about five more miles north (fairly flat), and took a pre-emptive stretch break along the side of a road near a gas station. I knew the rest of the way by heart -- flat, straight, wind abreast -- I could do this! Finished the last few miles on autopilot, then looked at my cycling computer -- only 58 miles! I couldn't go home THIS close to a metric... so I made a couple-mile loop around the neighborhood to get over 62 miles before coming to rest at the front door, completely exhausted, sore, and by now limping pretty well due to the left knee. But I made it. It was only later in the evening that I looked at my route (Garmin Edge GPS) and saw that it had turned off and cut the route over a stretch -- I must have turned it off for a minute waiting for my friend at one of my stops, and forgotten to turn it back on for a while. Thankfully, the part I missed made a right triangle, so with just a touch of help from Pythagoras I was able to determine I had actually gone 67 miles.
Looking back, I don't think the 62 miles would have been nearly as bad if we hadn't tried to keep up with our group pacer for so long (and I know he was trying to take it easy on us). Should have let myself get dropped back when I could tell I was going to burn out, but I wasn't experienced enough to realize how debilitating that effort to keep up would turn out to be, and wasn't confident enough to finish up alone that far from familiar territory. Things to know for next time. Also learned, without a doubt, when I do the century, I want to stop every 10-15 miles, eat something stretch, and in general keep my energy up. When my body tells me "hey, you should rest and stretch for a spell, and perhaps refuel a bit," I should listen to it -- it seems to be smarter than me.
I am concerned about my left knee hurting as badly as it does. I pushed on the bike a week ago and had some left knee pain that took two days to subside, and I'm definitely in worse shape now (left knee, left side of the knee cap). Hoping it comes from pushing too hard, and isn't something I'll have to fight for every longer-distance ride.
Anyhow, final ride statistics are below:
Distance -- 67 miles
Avg. Speed -- 15.4 mph
Max Speed -- 28.8 mph
Avg. HR -- 152
Max HR -- 181
Calories Burned -- ~ 4000
Woohooie, 1st Metric Century Completed!!!