Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Great Ghost Rider Ramble

This was my first century ride, so I really did not know what to expect. I knew it was not a race, but beyond that I had no idea.

I got to East Central High School a little before 7am. I checked in and got my wristband which allowed me access to the aid stations. The weather was clear, but chilly, in the upper 40F’s. The forecast said it would warm up to the low 60’s by about 1pm when it would cloud up and there was a chance of rain. I dressed in long tights, thermal base layer and a nylon shell. I wore full gloves and a nylon skull cap under my helmet.

I got ready with my drinks and food and pedaled around the parking lot while other riders showed up. There were groups of two or three milling around until the 7:30 scheduled start when I saw a group of about 20 riders start out. I thought there would be some sort of starting instructions or something, but this was just my first lesson in the informal nature of a ride.

I hurried out and caught up to the group. I started talking to Mark, who was also riding solo. We had a nice time at the back of the pack talking. We rode together with this group until the first aid station at about mile 31.

The first part of the ride was fairly flat and the pace was a nice 18-20 mph. The course headed out through the farm land in south eastern Indiana. It is a very pretty country. Many of the corn fields had recently been harvested. The brown stalks complimented the trees’ autumn colors. With the sun coming up under clear skies it was a beautiful morning. Once, while I was pulling up front I became engrossed in the scenery and started drifting out to the left and gave up my pull a little prematurely. Oh, well – there would be more pulls to come.

I had left my Garmin 205 at home since I knew the battery would not last for 5 to 6 hours. Unfortunately, my inexpensive cycle computer went out for a few miles right at the start. This made it hard to judge exactly where I was in the ride.

The initial group stayed together until the first significant hill at mile 26. This splintered the group and, much like in the Sunflower, I found that I was a stronger climber than many in the group. I wonder if it has more to do with my gearing, I have a double chain ring, than my conditioning. In any case, I took advantage of my climb to get out in front of the group, pull over to the side and take a pee break in the woods. That is one thing my running and cycling events have in common.

By the time I got back on the bike I was near the back of the strung out pack. I started working my way up the line and was surprised that 1) no one was waiting on other riders, even though they clearly knew each other and 2) no one latched on to my wheel as I pulled ahead. It was a little strange.

At mile 31 we had our first food stop at a church. Unfortunately, since we were the first group there, the food had not arrived. This was another clue to me that I was not in a race. Everyone stopped, used the bathroom, grabbed a snack, socialized and discussed if they would do the whole century or cut it short. I was thinking “Let’s get moving! Time is wasting! Plus, I have things to do today.”

Eventually we started out. I learned at the food stop that some riders planned to turn right at the bottom of the next big hill and only go 70 miles. When we reached that point I turned left along with Mark and two other riders. At mile 37 we hit another big hill and Mark was not able to stick with us. It was the last I would see him that day. I hung with the other two riders, Brad and Nathan for the rest of the ride. We were pretty evenly matched and worked well together. I felt bad for Mark because I did not know when anyone else would come along, but he could just not keep up.

We hit two more very significant climbs over the next 20 miles. The scenery was beautiful, but the climbs were really sucking the strength out us. By the time we hit the next food stop at mile 57 we were ready to re fuel. This stop was at a park and had peanut butter and jelly, trail mix, fluids and hot chicken soup. I would not have thought it before the ride, but that soup hit the spot.

We were the second group into the food stop and the first group left about 5 minutes ahead of us. We would wind up passing them shortly after we started again. I think they might have cut their ride short.

The rest of the course was a steady climb up to mile 87 where it leveled out. However, during those miles we would hit some rather short, but steep climbs. They would not have been so bad at mile 10, but by mile 80 they felt like a category 5. The other obstacle was the wind. We could see clouds rolling in from the west and with them came strong, gusting wind. In many ways it was worse than the hills. You would turn a corner and the wind would hit you like a 2x4 without warning. You would not see it coming and you did not know when it would end. All of a sudden I started to wish the corn had not been cut down so that we might get some relief from the wind. It was hard taking a pull out front into the wind. We started looking for a bend in the road so that the wind might be behind us or a clump of trees to give us a break.

The last food stop was at mile 90 and the three of us decide to skip it. I think we were worried that we would not want to start again if we got off the bikes. I was really starting to feel sore all over. Six hours in the saddle is a long time, but we pushed hard, everyone taking a turn pulling up front.

At mile 95 it started to rain. Just a few drops and a little off and on sprinkle. It was just enough to give us a chill, but not enough to make the riding dangerous. At this point that I got a second wind and took a good long pull up front at 20-22 mph. I don’t know how or why. Maybe I was like a horse wanting to get back to the barn.

The three of us rode into the high school parking lot together. We were the first century riders to arrive, but now I knew this was not a race. There was no sprint to the finish, no finish line, no one even there to greet us. I congratulated Brad and Nathan and they packed up their bikes and hit the road. I went to the high school and had some of the pasta they were serving up as part of the ride. That too hit the spot.

I finished the ride in 6 hours and 10 minutes. I felt tired, but not as beat up as when I had run a marathon. Riding a century was one of the goals I had set out for myself after my running was over. I am sure I will ride more centuries, though I would like one with more riders and maybe even one that has a bit more of a competitive nature. That is not to say I thought this was easy – this was tough enough for sure.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2010 Sunflower Revolution 100K

2010 Sunflower Revolution 100K

I rode down to the start of the race with Holly’s boss, Cern. He is quite the athlete and a fast cyclist. He and I had exchanged good natured trash talk for a couple of weeks before the race. There was no way I could keep up with him, but he had challenged me to go for a sub 3 hour time. Last year I had done the race in 3:08. I was in better condition this year and a little more experienced, so I thought it was doable, but I had to get into a group that was riding that pace. Cern encouraged me to ride hard at the start to find a group riding at sub 3 hour pace and then work hard to stay with them, particularly on the climbs.

The race started at 8am. It was 60F and clear skies. I started in the middle of the pack of about 250 riders. The first few miles of the course are fairly flat and the road rather wide. I hop scotched between groups trying the find one that I thought would average about 20 mph. The groups in these initial miles are very fluid as they try to establish a pace. This is particularly true for people like me that are riding without a pre-established group. Unlike less formal rides, people in the Sunflower seem to be riding for a time, especially those riding in some of the faster groups.

At mile 7, the course starts a climb that is not too steep, but fairly long at just about 3 miles. This starts to break up any groups that had formed up until that point. I went hard up the climb figuring that any group I hooked up with at the end of it would probably be one that could get me home in less than 3 hours. By the time we reached the top and turned off to a side road, I was in a group of about 15 riders that began to string out as we started a long steep descent.

At the bottom of the descent we turned left and after about a mile hit a very steep climb. This again broke up the group, but the climb was short enough that it soon formed back up. It was fun to see that people had written on the road “Allez” and “Almost There” and drawn pictures like you see at the Tour de France.

After this climb we started a long section of rolling hills. I found that I tended to be stronger on the climbs than many in the group. I think my training on hills had better prepared and conditioned me for climbing than some other riders. This was great, but it caused problems if I did not anticipate the climbs and position myself where I would not get boxed in. Twice I almost crashed when I was boxed in on the right side of the rode and the group slowed quickly on a short climb. Once it slowed so fast that it caught me in my large chain ring and I almost came to a complete stop. The group pulled away from me while I tried to get into a lower gear and recover going up the hill. Since there was no one behind me within sight, I had to work hard to get back to group or risk being left on my own.

By the midpoint of the race I was averaging 20 mph and, even though the race is billed as a 100K, I knew I was in good shape to complete the 59 miles in less than 3 hours. It was about this point when the group started to break up a little. There was one rider, in a Huntington Bank kit, that seemed to be in charge. I got the impression that he was riding with a few other people in the group. He would set the pace, drift back and then when the pace started to slow a little he would charge back to the front and increase the speed of the group once again. Eventually, a group of about 8 of us start to split the group and the Huntington Bank guy did not follow.

We were keeping a 20-22 mph pace and everyone was taking a turn to pull up front. At about 40 miles we overtook a tandem that was being ridden by two women who were obviously serious riders. We absorbed them into our group and that turned out to be a big plus. While the tandem was a little slower on any uphill, they flew down the descents and could really pull on the flats.

By this time the big hills are behind us and the course is relatively fast. It does include one long steep descent at 45 miles where I got up to over 40 mph. That was a little scary, but thankfully it is a straight descent and the road is wide and smooth.

By the time we got to about 50 miles I was certainly starting to feel it in my legs. The group was working together, but you could tell it was tiring. The girls on the tandem were a big help. It was at this time that I took a long pull at front. It was on a side rode that went through a corn field. It was full of potholes and corn cobs from the recent harvesting. I thought that all I needed now was to go down on a corn cob.

With about three miles to go the group had started to break up and I wound up in front with everyone else falling off. I decided to try and make a break for it. I went hard, but was not able to keep it up until the finish. A little more than a mile from the finish, the tandem came up next to me and I was very happy to see them. I fell in behind them and rode with them until the finish.

I came into downtown Milford and crossed the line at 2:46. I had taken over 20 minutes off my time from last year. My conditioning and weight lost had made a big difference from the year before as had my better bike handling skills. This ride gave me confidence from my upcoming century.