Huge thanks to everyone that offered advice and encouragement, and to those that offered skepticism. It really helped me refine my training and strategies, and they worked very well.
I left Seattle a little early, about 4:30 instead of 4:45 when the first official waves left. I found a small group that let me in about 2 miles in and rode with them for a while. Just after the first mini stop is a short, relatively steep uphill. The group split up there, and one of their riders threw their chain off the big cog, but the rest of the group didn't hear her and rode ahead. I stopped and helped her untangle a massive chain suck. I adjusted her limit screws and we were on our way after 8-10 minutes. After we caught up to the rest of the group (who had pulled over to wait) they were happy to let me "formally" join their group.
All was well for another 10 miles or so, then I had a flat outside of Kent. I quickly got it changed, but was now in a time deficit; not where I wanted to be 15 miles into the ride. I skipped the first main stop, and just a mile or two past the same group passed and invited me to join in. I was able to keep a strong 17-18 mph pace while still keeping my heart rate well under 150, so I was happy. I made up a fair bit of time over the next few hours and rolled into Centralia (the half-way point) after about 7 hours. I was a little concerned that eating was going to become a problem, although I was able to keep down everything I threw in at a rate of about 100 calories every 20 minutes. Nothing really tasted good, but I wasn't sure if that because I was overdoing it or just because of nerves.
I had a quick lunch in Centralia, put some chamois creme on my big toe and achilles tendons (lesson learned in training; worked like a charm) and headed out. I joined another group headed out of town, and then quickly split off when one of the riders fell asleep and almost crashed. He did not get hurt, but was "scared awake" and it scared his teammates as well. I did not want to ride in a "nervous pack".
I rode off and on with one or two other rider until the 130 mile mark, when my wife and kids met me with a drop bag. I traded out one old tube for a new one, hit the foam roller for a couple of minutes, then filled up my handlebar bag with food and my heart with encouragement, and headed out. At this point things started to get hard. I had dumped all of my honey stinger waffles with my family, which worked great in training, but my stomach did not want them today. The only food I was able to eat without some discomfort was carrot sticks. I also choked down several shot blocks. I was not concerned about having enough calories in my stomach, but by that time, it had gotten hot, and despite efforts to drink lots of water, I realized that I had not had to stop for a bathroom break in quite some time. I had the calories, but not enough water to digest them. I continued to force down water a little bit a time, very frequently, which did not seem to help much, but prevented me from getting any worse
I hooked on to a couple of groups that I had ridden with off and on for the better part of the day, but was dropped outside Longview, around mile 150. Coming into Longview, I was fighting a headwind, and had another flat. This was a good time to start getting frustrated. I was hot, tired, slightly nauseated, with the long, stressful ride up the Lewis and Clark Bridge ahead of me. The next 30 miles were a long grind, and my overall average pace took a big hit on that stretch. I wasn't terribly interested in eating, but the 20 minute timer on my GPS nagged me into forcing down food, water, and electrolyte pills. I stopped once for a banana, Gatorade, and a chance to soak my head and top of my jersey with water. I felt better after sitting on a bench in the shade for a few minutes, so I kept plugging on with about 30 miles to go.
By this point, the tailwind promised by the weather forecast had finally kicked up, and was a god-send. Almost 7-8 mph of pure tailwind allowed my to ride at my own pace without riding in a group. I was able to stretch, coast, eat and drink whenever I needed to, which was often. At this point, I kept passing groups on the side of the road where someone was bonking, cramping, or dehydrated. This was not good encouragement. The last stop in Scapoose (about 20 miles out) was my low point. I almost threw up when an electrolyte pill got stuck in my throat, and I could no longer eat anything. I decided it was best to concentrate on drinking, and forced down as much cold water as I could (I could not drink warm water by that point).
I texted my wife what time I thought that I would make it to the finish, and I knew that I had an hour to spare, so I was confident I would finish. I rode tenderly to the last climb - the rise from highway 30 to the top of the St. Johns bridge. I geared down and ground it out. By the time I got to the top, the excitement of no more climbing and knowledge of the finish 7 miles away overcame my fatigue and I rode a brisk pace to the finish line. My wife and kids greeted me at the finish line at 7:15 with two bottles of ice water; the best water I have ever had. We took a couple of pictures, skipped the rest of the festivities and headed home. I drank a lot of water and showered, but still could not eat anything substantial. I slept 11 hours, and woke up this morning feeling much better, and able to eat or drink whatever I wanted to.
One big help to this whole journey was that commuting and riding nearly every day helps get everything totally dialed in. The fit of my bike is perfect. I have no after-effects in my hands, wrists, feet, or neck.
Total mileage 201.3
Elapsed time: 15:08
Total moving time: 12:40 (Boy, all those ten minute stops and stoplights add up)
Moving average: 15.9 mph
Average HR: 145
Overall average speed 13.3 mph
Here are a couple of the tips I got that served me best:
Originally Posted by pdlamb
Start off part of the way back through the pack, not all the way at the back, and start riding at a pace you can sustain for several hours. Your 14-15 mph solo pace is a good starting point.
You'll probably get passed by a good number of packs. If a paceline goes flying by you, let it go. Wait for one that makes you think, "I could catch up to that one pretty easy," and latch on to that group. It'll probably be rolling at around 16-18 mph. If you start thinking, "Wow, I'm going to wear myself out at this pace," let it go and wait for the next likely candidate. OTOH, if you start thinking you're riding with a pretty slow group just as you see another group going by just a little bit faster, try to jump on that pack.
Try to practice your paceline skills ahead of time -- especially the part that goes: Keep pedaling and don't coast.
This was a huge help. I was able to increase my average speed riding with groups at a comfortable pace, which gave me a comfortable margin that I knew I was likely to rely on in the final 50-60 miles.
Originally Posted by mprelaw
It's a two-edged sword. A group can pull you along, but trying to hang with a group that's considerably faster can cause you to run out of gas long before the finish. Don't over-extend yourself early in the ride.
A 7:40 moving time century is slower than 14-15 mph. It's in the 13-13.5 mph range, if my arithmetic is correct. I doubt you'll be able to sustain 14-15 for a double, even with groups pulling you along. Wind and hills tend to break up groups. Once you're 100' off the back of a group, it's a lot harder to catch back onto it. Your goal is to finish, and have fun. Play tag with the groups that come along, and if they drop you, wait for the next group.And avoid the temptation to try to latch onto a group going 16+.