I had a blast at the Hotter 'N Hell Hundred again this year. Spending time with riding friends, and looking and shopping at the MPEC show before the ride was lots of fun, too. I'm still amazed at the effort that Wichita Falls and the area puts into this ride. It's just an event that any rider in this part of the country should try to do at least a few times.
Because HHH is a relatively flat route with good traffic control, it's always a great place for riders to try for their best century time. I was especially curious to see what I could do after all my health issues since last year's ride. I knew I couldn't physically do now what I could then, but I wondered how much riding smarter could help me with my time.
I like to go for the best overall time, and compare there, but since recumbent friends on the rbent forum had discussed doing a recumbent paceline, I decided that if I rode with rbenters and spent too much time at the rest stops for an overall time comparison, I would settle for an on the bike time comparison. Last year, I had finished HHH in 5:34, with an on the bike time of 5:16, both personal bests for me for a century ride.
I had a 3 point plan for getting as good a time as I could this year:
1. I would not go out too fast this year like I did last year. Last year, I hit the wall at around mile 60, and was pretty much just turning the pedals to finish after that. I wanted to watch my heart rate early, and save some matches for late in the ride.
2. I would suck more wheels. Last year, I spent way too much time out in the wind, hammering on my own. There are 10,000 bikes to draft here; I figured I should be able to find a few to ride behind.
3. I put a coroplast wheel cover on my rear wheel this year. Last year, I didn't add one until after HHH, just before The Texas Time Trials. On a flat route like HHH, good aerodynamics does help.
As soon as the jets roared overhead, the cannon fired, and we were off at the start, I found a tandem doing a steady 21-22 mph and got on its wheel. I decided this was a reasonable speed for me, that I wasn't willing to ride much faster, and that I would resist chasing any of the many rabbits sure to race by. I waited behind the tandem to see how the rbent paceline would shake out. I didn't have to wait long. Several rbenters blasted by, at a pace way too fast for me, so I let them go, and figured I was on my own.
It turned out that the tandem I was behind was very slow on hills, and when we hit the small rollers at mile 15, I found another wheel to ride behind. And so it went. I felt good, tried to pace myself well, and changed pacelines from time to time. Several riders I knew said hi as they zoomed past me. I resisted the temptation to join any of them. I knew my water and mix would take me to mile 50, so when I didn't need to stop for any other reason, I made that my first, and as it turned out, only stop. It was a long stop. I spent 12 minutes eating, drinking, visiting mother nature, and refilling my Camelbak and mix bottle. I realized shortly after taking off again that I hadn't taken electrolyte capsules, so I downed a couple of those as I rode.
I reached Hell's Gate just a few minutes after 10:00 am, and still had a 20.5 mph average there. That's much slower than the average I had at that point last year, but I felt MUCH better. I knew there were rough roads, and a wind to face ahead, though, along with fewer pacelines at my speed to join, so I knew that speed would come down. It fell to 20.2 fairly quickly, but held there until I turned into the wind at mile 78. I had passed the paceline I was riding with on the big downhill just before that turn, but I spun an easy pace and waited for them after the turn. What had been a pretty big paceline got whittled down rapidly on the next stretch; riders were hitting the wall, it seemed.
On the hills that start at mile 88, the last of the paceline broke up, and I was pretty much on my own after that. At mile 90, my average speed finally fell to 20.0 mph, and I realized that if I could pick my speed up just a little, I might be able to finish with 5 hours of on the bike time, and a 20 mph average. Both were things I considered way out of reach before the ride. I also knew by that point that I wasn't stopping again. I downed a GU gel pack, and set about seeing how fast I could finish. I figured that even if I blew up at some point after that, I was still going to beat last year's overall time.
Although I was feeling pretty tired, things were looking good, and I was still on my 20 mph pace until mile 98, when my legs started giving me one of those "we're done, and can't do this any more" cramps. I knew I had to start spinning easy, or have my legs lock up with cramps. I eased off, keeping a good fast, but easy cadence. I was going so slow up the overpass at mile 100, I think the crickets were passing me, as they hopped along.
As I passed the finish, the loudspeaker announced the ride time, 5:18. That made my on the bike time 5:06, and my average speed 19.9 mph. My total miles were 101.8. It was a bit disappointing to come that close to a 5 hour riding time century and 20 mph on the bike average and not get them, but that overall time is 16 minutes faster than last year, which I never thought would happen. It says a lot about pacing yourself well, which I seem to be better at these days.
Several friends also finished with personal best times, so it was a fun day. I'll try to post some photos as soon as they make it online.