Monday, July 1, 2013

Tour de Cure – Century ride report

First, the important part

Thanks to those of you who read this blog, as well as all my Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and co-workers all of whom generously gave! Together, we raised $2102 toward finding a cure for diabetes. That amount is 40% higher than last year and I am both humbled and thrilled by your generosity!  All I can say is, Wow!

Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

Last year, this event was my first century ride, ever, and I learned a great deal about my body and how it behaves in a long ride. I also learned about preparation and put that to use this year.

By the time I got to Reston VA, I had already ridden about 700 miles this year. This included almost 200, two weeks prior to the Tour, and some longer routes up to 60 miles in length.  I did some hill work around my home in the rolling hills of Western Hanover County, too, and felt in much better riding shape this year.

This was important because one my pledges would double if I’d be able to finish the ride in less than 8 hours.  Since this pledge is my company president, and I wanted to be sure and get as much money out of his pocket as possible, I was focused.

Pre-ride day

MB and I drove up to Reston on Saturday in the late morning, pulling into the area early enough to grab my packet, have a late lunch of appetizers with wine, and then go find our hotel for the night. (I got a sweet deal on a Residence Inn about a mile away from the starting line.) After checking in and stowing the gear, we went to Safeway for supplies; since the room had a kitchenette, we could do breakfast there instead of hoping to find something open at 5:30 am.
$69 a night. Sweet!

We dropped off the supplies at the room and headed back to Reston Town Center for dinner at Clyde’s of Reston.  Clyde’s is a local restaurant chain that started in Georgetown and has branched out over the past 40 years or so, to include the suburbs. They now grow their own organic ingredients at a local farm so their food is fresh, delicious, and probably good for me.

The other great thing about this location is there’s a patio dining area, right on the main Town Center area, and next to the bandstand. Since this was the first Saturday of June, there was a live concert of big band music going as we had dinner.  It made for a terrific night out.

Cold beer, good food, good music....sign me up!

After the traditional loading of the carbs, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest in preparation for a long day in the saddle.  MB was going to volunteer while I was riding so she’d be busy, too.

Early to bed….

The alarm went off at 4:45. I felt surprisingly good and hit the shower to loosen up my back and wake up the rest of the way.  I put on sun block before getting dressed as the forecast was for a hot, sunny day with highs around 90 degrees. That was the one thing worrying me as I hadn’t really trained for those temps.

While MB showered and dressed, I had some breakfast and read the New York Times on my iPad.  Then, we quickly packed up, loaded up the gear and bike, and headed over to the start before 6:00.  The schedule was for a 6:15 start and I wanted to be on that.

Hit the trail

Once we got there, I unloaded the bike, changed shoes, loaded up my pockets with snacks and we walked toward the starting area. MB found the Volunteers Tent, kissed me goodbye, wished me good luck, and wandered off to help.
I looked around until I found Wes, my riding partner, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks. 

We live in different towns, a few hours apart, and only see each other at work functions.  While he finished checking in, I stretched and double checked my gear.
MJ, one of our co-workers was in town and she came out to support us. She lives in Minnesota and the winter had lasted until May so she’d been unable to train for the ride.  Next year, MJ!  

Ready to ride!
And they’re off….eventually

At 6:15 people began queuing up, pointing in a different direction than I remembered from the previous year.  Both Wes and I were confused but, like little lemmings, we lined up alongside them.  An announcer was telling everyone that we’d be led by a motorcycle group which, at that moment, began revving their engines.  When the announcer said, “Go!” the cyclists all started heading down the street. The motorcyclists all stopped their engines and watched us go past. When we got to the end of the street, we all stopped to wait for the motorcyclists but they were just sitting there watching us. We looked at each other for a couple of minutes or so wondering, what now?  Finally, someone took off heading for the trail head and we were off.

Wes and I were near the front of a large group of about fifty riders, rolling on city streets, and heading to a connection with the W&OD trail for the first 28 miles. We would stay on this nearly all the way to Purcellville, with two short stops at SAG stations for water fill ups, snacks, and a bathroom break.  As we rode, we chatted about the ride, about what we’d done in the past year. Wes also shared with me that he wasn’t as prepared as he had been the previous year and that I might be pulling him along. I pointed out that’s what had happened last year, with the roles reversed, and I was glad to return the favor.

One section of this part of the ride moved off the trail for a few miles, climbing a bit of a hill. I was feeling really strong going up and dropped Wes pretty quickly, soft pedaling until he caught up.  He looked like he was struggling a bit already but quickly recovered.

We took a 10 minute break in Purcellville for water refills, snacks and a stretch. We were slightly ahead of the pace I was working for and I was feeling much better than last year, too.  The good news on the weather was that it was cloudy and not as hot as predicted. The bad news was it was beginning to rain off and on.
Sure it's pretty but.....

We saddled up and headed off into the Blue Ridge Mountain loop for the next 50 miles.

Over hill, over dale…..

This section of the ride starts with a couple of miles on a pretty busy piece of state road with plenty of traffic and not much shoulder. I remember last year, the drivers seemed to be pretty aware of cyclists and gave us lots of room.  This year was different with more than a few drivers scaring the crap out of me during this fifteen minute section.  Once we got onto secondary roads, things were calmer and I stopped yelling at traffic.

The first half of this loop contains a number of gentle climbs, several healthy ones, and two nasty hills. I found myself rolling up all of these with a comfort I’d not had before. Not that I wasn’t suffering, I was. The difference was I got to the top, shifted up, rolled over them and almost immediately began to recover. This was a new feeling for me and I was reveling in it!

Wes, on the other hand, was suffering at least as badly as I did last year. I dropped him nearly every time and on the second nasty hill, he had to walk the last couple hundred meters.  We’ve all been there, so I felt for him.

On one of the downhill sections, it began to rain in earnest. Big fat drops hit me as we rolled downhill at about 30 miles per hour. It was very refreshing, much to my surprise.  We were treated to occasional bursts like this for the next four hours or so and the cloud cover kept the heat down. The sun broke through for good around 1:00 pm so the last hour or so was hot but bearable.

When we reached the halfway SAG station, we stopped for about 10 minutes for fluids, snacks, and another stretch. I felt great and was ready to go almost
Wes leads me into
the halfway point.
immediately but hung out to let Wes catch his rest.  MJ was there to give us a shout of support and the volunteers manning the station were cheering everyone that rode in.  It was a great place to stop.

We saddled up and headed back out, with Wes drafting me trying to conserve energy. Every time we got to a hill, he’d drop back then, I’d soft pedal to let him catch up after the climb.

This second half of the loop is similar to the first but also contains 3 hills that are just nasty. The last one is about two kilometers in length with an average grade of about 12 percent and the last 200 meters are probably close to 20 percent. (This is the hill that, last year, I was afraid my butt was going to spontaneously combust during the climb and I had to walk.) Once again, I stormed up these, feeling strong. 

I found myself able to ascend without having to go to the granny gear and came over the top sucking wind but in control. I stopped just past the top to wait for Wes.
(I realize that people out west are thinking we’re all wusses here in the east, because this doesn’t even count as a foothill out there.  All I can say is, “whatever.”)

Every person that came over the hill, and there were about a dozen or so before Wes walked over the crest, was swearing at the hill.  “Shit” was the most common phrase gasped out as people collapsed back down in their saddles, just beating “goddamit” by a nose.

Wes came over the top and immediately congratulated me for slapping the hill in the mouth, telling me how proud he was of my riding this year. That made me feel even better about it. We remounted and headed down the other side.

An hour later, we pulled back into Purcellville and headed to the SAG stop. Wes was starting to cramp and he told me he thought he was cooked. He was thinking that he wanted to load the bike back up and ride back to Reston with MJ, who was waiting for us. I told him to feel free to bag it; this ride is supposed to be fun, not a death march.

I was beginning struggle with one problem; my left hand seemed to have gone numb. I was no longer able to shift the front gears with it, reaching across with my right instead. Fortunately, I was past all the hills where I’d have to go to the smaller ring. Just the same, I was starting to worry about it. The numbness had begun around mile 30 and I’d tried stretches, shakes, and everything else I could think of to loosen it up to no avail.  Oh well, can’t bother with it now.

At the SAG stop, we got drinks and snacks, and stretched for a minute or so. Wes started to feel better but was worried about getting stuck out on the trail.  He decided to load up the bike, drive to the next SAG station and meet me there, hoping that he could recover enough in 45 minutes to finish the rest of the ride.  I headed out as he was loading the bike.

Performing a quick solo

I swung back up onto the W&OD trail and started for the finish with 28 miles to go. In this direction, the ride is a very tiny downgrade and it’s easy to maintain a good pace. With 80 miles behind me, I couldn’t believe how strong I felt! I pushed the cadence up and rolled along at around 19 mph until I got to the next SAG stop, rolling through the shaded portions of the trail, dodging runners, walkers, and slower riders.

This is the part of long rides that I struggle with mentally. It seems as though my body is on autopilot, legs pumping smoothly, but my mind struggles. I find myself looking for aches and pains (damn, my neck hurts and what the hell is it with this hand thing?) instead of enjoying the ride. I tried to focus on making eye contact with everyone I met and looking at the surrounding area instead of the trail in front of my bike, all the time. This helped but not much.

Teaming back up

I rolled into the second to last SAG stop and there was Wes, waiting for me. He was feeling much better and ready to finish with me.  After a quick break for snacks and bottle refill we headed back out with Wes hugging my wheel. We rolled to the last SAG stop at about 17 mph, keeping in a tight paceline as much as possible.

At the last stop, there was a vendor handing out free samples of coconut water; this is supposed to be a great drink for endurance athletes. It contains high potassium and mineral counts, some antioxidants and, allegedly, complex carbs. I was kind of excited to try it.

I’m sure it must be very good for you because it tasted like ass.  At first, I was thinking it might be okay with rum in it. In the end, I think anything that needs to have the flavor masked is probably not very good.  I drank about half of the serving, just to give it chance then, fired it in the trashcan.

Final push

We headed out again and, unfortunately, I dropped Wes at a spot where there was a short climb for an overpass. I was rolling along and didn’t realize it until he was completely out of sight. At that point, I just wanted to get to the finish. I could tell I was starting to run out of gas, there was no one around to hang on a wheel, and I just needed to push on. I kept pedaling.

With about 4 miles to go, the trail came to a road crossing and the signs pointed away from the trail and out onto surface streets. This was a change from last year’s course but I vaguely remembered reading something about that on the website, so I swung right and headed on up the road.

At the first traffic light, there was a group of people huddled around on the sidewalk to my right. Several were on their knees assisting a woman who appeared to have passed out. As I came to stop, one of them asked me if I had some water available. I tossed them my full bottle, keeping the half-full one on my bike for the last few miles. Since I couldn’t provide anything else, they’d already called EMTs, I rode off.

After a couple of miles the road turned dead into a wind that had sprung up.  Great. Just what I needed, a little something to challenge me.  I pedaled on.

After another mile the road turned distinctly uphill.  I knew I was getting close but taking the course this way was really obnoxious; the W&OD trail was almost flat for the last 5 miles and this was adding pain where it didn’t need to happen.  Couple that with the drivers getting stupid and I was starting to panic that I’d finish in one piece. (One clown in a minivan came tearing around me so that she could then cut me off, slam on the brakes, and turn right in front of me.)

I finally came around a corner and saw the signs indicating the last turn back into the Reston Town Center Square. I could also here a PA announcer and music. The end was near!

I rolled into the square and around the corner where I heard the announcer alerting the crowd to another arrival, me. As I crossed into the finishing area the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. I sat up and thrust one arm into the air to acknowledge the cheers with a huge grin on my face. Then I saw MB waving at me and I came to a stop next to her, unclipped, took off my helmet, and drank the last of my water bottle.

Wes and MJ walked up, too. Wes had stayed on the trail coming back and, between the odd uphill route I had taken and the stop for the downed cyclist, finished ahead of me. We high fived and congratulated each other on a great result.
We made it!

After drinking several bottles of water and eating a few snacks. MB and I said so long to Wes and MJ, and headed toward the car. We had a 2 hour drive home and traffic in northern VA is always a threat to double that.

As I placed my bike in the car rack, I realized just how damaged my left hand was when I tried to take off my glove. My fingers appeared to have no strength at all as I couldn’t hold anything with my left hand; I kept grabbing things and watching them fall to the ground. I started to giggle and then started to sob. What if my hand was permanently damaged?  I calmed down almost immediately but for a second there, I was a wreck.  I guess the endorphins were wearing off very quickly.

I walked to a restroom, took a sink bath, and changed out of my riding kit. This proved to be a bit of a challenge with only one hand and clothing sticking to me from sweat. I started laughing, then swearing, then just took a deep breath to calm down, clear my mind of impure thoughts, and got it done.

MB was at the wheel as we headed out of town.  I fell asleep again, just like last year, but only for a couple of minutes. I also ate an entire sub, a bag of chips, a Clif bar, and drank another couple bottles of water.  The heat over the last hour had obviously gotten to me and I also realized that I hadn’t done quite as much eating as I did in previous rides.

The traffic wasn’t bad and we were home in about two hours. By the time we rolled into the driveway, I felt fine with the exception of my left hand which was now hurting in addition to being numb.  MB told me if it wasn’t better in the morning, I had to go to the doctor.  I agreed. 

No one will ever call me, Lefty - Epilogue

Fortunately, it was slightly better in the morning although still wasn’t much use for anything but ballast. I occasionally suffer from this malady and my massage therapist had told me it’s caused by a cramping muscle in my back and shoulder that pinches a nerve. She had given me a stretch to do while riding that would help to keep it from happening. I had used it a number of times on the ride but it hadn’t worked or I’d waited too long before trying to fix it.

It’s amazing to me how much my left hand does, despite my being extremely right handed. I kept dropping things, like deodorant or my toothpaste, whenever I tried to use them. I felt kind of silly.

Monday morning, I called my massage therapist but she was booked all day. She recommended a place across the street from my office and I went there for a massage.  It was a tremendous help! By the end of the day, the numbness had gone away in all but my two smallest fingers and strength was returning to the rest of my hand.

A few more days went by and most of the strength had returned to my hand although my pinky finger was still partially numb. 

I was able to get to my regular massage therapist after a week and she had a horrible time loosening up my shoulder but after thirty minutes, she finally broke through and things have started to heal. A second massage from her, a few days later, provided even more relief.  Now, after three weeks, I’m finally at about 95%.
I have managed to take a few rides since and haven’t done any further damage to the hand, including one last weekend of 52 miles.  I can only hope the healing will continue until all the numbness is gone. It’s primetime for cycling these days and I don’t want to miss anything.

After all, my next scheduled century ride is in October.  The Tour of Richmond is next!