Having just finished my first century yesterday, I just had to post something. Here's one person's story of how cycling changed a person--and for me, this is just the beginning.
I rode road bikes years ago, but never with much dedication or structure. About 15 months ago, after 2 years in a very stressful job without much or any exercise, my blood pressure and cholesterol were both elevated to the point where the doctor was talking "drugs or lifestyle change, or both". While the job is somewhat the same, I decided to pursue the lifestyle part without drugs and decided to get more fit via road cycling. I joined the local Hawaii Bicycling League and started riding with the group on Saturday mornings (32 miles) and several times through the week for about 200-300 miles a month. The more I rode, the more I enjoyed it! I just could not get enough, and struggled with how to improve my fitness to match my rapidly increasing desire to ride and do more.
One problem along the way was that my older road bike (1992 Trek 1000) was showing it's age (and mine), and I had virtually none of the new or semi-recent equipment (clipless pedals, HRM/computer, non-$20 helmet, etc). Over the last year, I slowly upgraded just about everything (Trek Pilot 5.2, Speedplay X5 pedals, Polar CS200cad, Bell Ghisallo helmet, Sidi Genius 5 Mesh shoes, Performance Ultra bibs, Specialized Alias saddle, etc.). Maybe I am a gadget hound, but I am now convinced that quality equipment (not necessarily the most expensive, however) is an absolute must. For example, in the case of shoes, I was AMAZED how much more comfortable the Sidi shoes were compared to my previous 'cheapies'—I had no idea how much pain my feet were in until I bought the Sidi shoes. In training I found that those accumulated differences really mattered over a certain mileage, making the century more and more viable.
After 6 months of riding, I saw rapid improvements in all areas, both in health, weight and fitness. Last April I rode my first metric century without any trouble, and set my sights on a full century the following September. But, this goal intimidated me, as 100 miles seemed like a considerable distance that you could not casually attack, not without a fair amount of pain.
With the century in mind, I upped my mileage somewhat, but was frustrated by 'not getting any better' anymore, or so it seemed. I did not want to make the century a suffer-fest, so I rode even longer distances on my Saturday rides with fellow club members. Also, several months ago I joined Carmichael Training and started working my butt off with the guidance of a coach (Coach Bill Pryor--highly recommended). I think my cycling really took off when I joined CTS, as the structure and expertise really seemed to make a big difference in the short amount of time. My monthly mileage quickly went over 500, then 600 miles a month, and the century started to look more and more doable and enjoyable despite the drain the intensive training put on me.
About a month before the century, I had my blood work redone, and my blood pressure and cholesterol were all within or well below normal limits. Combine with loosing about 20 lbs, cycling alone made a massive change to my overall health--it was working!
Yesterday was the 2006 Honolulu Century, and I finished it with my group—and it was great fun! Our pace ended up being a lot faster than in training, and I spent a lot of the ride trying to gauge whether or not I was burning my legs up by sustaining that pace. In the end, the legs were good enough, but I am feeling it today (day after). My fueling strategy worked perfectly, as I did not feel any big drop in energy throughout the ride; I bonked once on a century prep ride, and that's a painful mistake I strove not to repeat. Our group did not stop at every aid station, but got plenty of water and additional food at the ones we did. When I was all said and done, our total riding time was 5 hours 41 minutes, and total time from start to finish was 6 hours 54 minutes.
Being active duty in the US Air Force, it will be tough to reconcile my new-found love for road biking into this hectic and busy career. But, it's a change I must continue, and I hope this is only the first of many century rides for me. Who knows, maybe there's a double century lurking in the future...?! I write this story in the hopes that it helps anyone else out there. And, who knows, maybe we’ll meet on the road someday?
Safe cycling to you all,