Friday, October 11, 2013

A Century that felt like a Millenium

Flashback (Cue the harp music and gimme a little Vaseline around the lens, will ya?)

A couple of weeks ago, I took at look at the long range weather forecast on to get a feel for the temperatures I’d be facing in the Martin’s
Tour of Richmond Gran Fondo on October 5th.  Accuweather actually predicts up to 30 days in advance and, from what I recall, is usually fairly close to being correct about 50% of the time.  (In other words, 50% of the time it works every time!)
I was very glad to see that the temps for that day were forecast to be in the 60s and 70s during the daylight hours. Awesome! My favorite riding weather was coming and I could take a shot at my lowest time for a century ride.  I was psyched! (Harp music again. Thanks!)

Ride Report

The Tour of Richmond has just completed its second year of existence, put on by the SportBackers of Richmond as one of the signature events for the public to enjoy. I rode in the inaugural event last year, my second century, and it was really outstanding!  The venue, support stations, traffic control by 8 local law enforcement agencies was all top notch. I figured with another year and lots of feedback (they sent participants a survey to get suggestions for improvement) this one would be even better.

In some ways, it was; in other ways, not so much.

The Good

The Century ride begins and ends at Richmond International Raceway, known locally as RIR. Two shorter distances also end there but begin along the loop of the century course. Since everyone finishes in the same place, and at about the same time, there is a pretty big party atmosphere. They’ve got live music, good BBQ, a vendor fair, and acres of parking of course.
aerial view of RIR

Last year I, along with many other participants, mentioned how cool it would be to finish on the actual race track. (I realize we aren’t NASCAR, we’re cyclists for goodness sake but you don’t often get the chance to do something like this. And I just rode 100 miles, how about a little something for the effort?!) The organizers apparently decided it was a great idea because anyone that completed any of the three rides got to take a victory lap around the actual race track before heading back out of the tunnel and across our own finish line.  (Just so we wouldn’t think we were actually racing, our lap was in the opposite direction.  Former NASCAR champ Alan Kulwicki (RIP) used to do the same thing in his car when he won a race, calling it a “Polish victory lap.” He drove the Hooters car for years and was quite a character.)
Alan Kulwicki - RIP

The course this year was rerouted in a couple of places to account for some construction that was taking place out near my neighborhood. This resulted in an increase of distance for the two longer routes, of an extra 4 miles. When you’re riding that far, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference and I also felt like there was a pretty good hill that was getting cut out, too, so I was kind of happy about it.

Support was, once again, awesome! All of the intersections were staffed by the aforementioned law enforcement groups all of whom went out of their way to keep us safe. I always thank these folks as I pass them and every single one responded back with very pleasant words and a smile. Thanks for all you do, guys, every day of the year!

The course was beautifully marked and signed. I can’t imagine missing a turn anywhere along the route and there were multiple spots where electric message boards were out, warning drivers of the dearth of cyclists on the road for the day.  As a result, drivers were incredibly pleasant to the riders although I did get one guy ticked off at me for not moving far enough to the right so he could pass with traffic coming the other way. (That’s why I did it, dude. It’s called taking the lane.)

There were lots of aid stations, placed about every 10 – 12 miles apart. They were stocked with plenty of cold water and Powerade; at least half were staffed by high school kids and they were very quick to offer to fill up bottles, get a snack for you, and help you with any problem. There was also a mechanic at each one, too, ready to help with any issues on the bikes. I was lucky enough not to have any mechanical problems and that makes four completed century rides without one. (You just know it’s coming though, don’t you?)

Finally, the riders were terrific! At this event, everyone is happy and encouraging. While queuing up at the start, I started speaking to guy who asked about my RABA jersey. He asked who I was riding with and when I told him I was solo, he immediately grabbed someone from his circle of friends and paired me up so that I could get some relief and we could help each other with the wind.  (Unfortunately, I lost him at the start when a pileup occurred and we were separated.)

Cyclists have a common bond regardless of how fast or slow we are. All of us know the suffering that we sometimes have to endure on the bike, know the joy of overcoming it, and celebrate that in each of us. It’s one of the things I love about this ride!

The Bad

Aid station snacks didn’t really do anything for me this year. They seemed to have an abundance of Goldfish, Ritz Bits (peanut butter or cheese) and some really dry snack bars. Everything else was kind of spotty; I could really dig a PBJ every 15 miles or something like that.  Not much of that around, though. Bananas were available and I also saw some Oreos Minis along with another cookie that I can’t remember. 
Fortunately, I’d prepared for the worst and brought my own stash of Clif bars, Honey Stinger Waffles, and some power gels, too.

The heat was really tough on everybody. (Based on my calculations, about 8% of the century riders didn’t complete the course.) Accuweather was correct that the day was bright and sunny but they undershot the temperature by about 20 degrees. It actually reached 96 about the time I finished the ride. Yeah, it was warm.

The Ride

At 7:30, they sent the riders off for the century ride.  At the front were several professionals from United Healthcare’s team and a number of the local amateur studs. They were planning to ride in the 20+ mph category. Behind them was the 18-20mph class, then the 15-17mph group (that’s where I was) and the “under 15mph” folks. I believe that was 543 starters, in all.

And, they're off!

Having lost my “teammate” at the line, I settled into an easy pace just riding along with everyone else as we headed south towards downtown Richmond. There seemed to be a lot more people around me this year than last and I was very wary of all the people. Not everyone is used to riding in a large group and some people aren’t as good on the bike skills as they could be so I ride very defensively.

Heading toward downtown

About a mile before coming into the Shockoe Bottom area, there was a really bad accident. Two female riders had evidently bumped wheels and gone down at over 20 mph. As I rode past, one was still on the ground being attended to and the other was sitting nearby with blood pouring down her face from a head wound. I never did hear how they fared but I hoped they weren’t too badly hurt. An ambulance passed me in seconds, heading to the site to assist so I know they were well looked after. (These two were skilled riders. This is why I’m very defensive.)

I rolled past the 1st aid station after crossing the Manchester Bridge
Manchester Bridge view
and headed up onto Riverside Drive, feeling strong. (I was hoping to beat the 7 hour mark on this ride and my pace was really good so far.) This part of the ride has a bunch of rollers along with one of the most beautiful sections of road in Richmond. For about 5 miles, we rode alongside the James River. This morning, it was smooth as glass with a mist hanging over it in the shadowed areas but already burned off where the sunlight had punched through.
Riverside Drive descent

We climbed out of the river valley area for the next couple of miles before turning away from the river and out into the suburbs of Chesterfield.  I made my first stop at the 2nd aid station, refilled my bottles with water, opened a Clif bar, stretched a bit and then saddled up for more. I had come 25 miles in just less than 90 minutes, well ahead of schedule and still feeling good!

Paceline Riding

A few miles up the road, I was grinding along at my usual 17-18 mph pace. In my mirror, I could see some riders approaching and the person riding the point was on a trial bike and down in the aero position.  As they pulled alongside, I could see that she was a very fit looking rider as was the guy behind her, also in the aero position.  Riding third and fourth were two guys on road bikes. As the last one passed, I jumped up on the pedals and sped up to catch the last wheel.  Just like that, I was flying!

My bike computer showed me at 22.1 mph and I didn’t feel as if I was working any harder, either. My pedal cadence was a bit faster, about 90 rpms instead of my usual 75, but there was no strain. It’s amazing to me how drafting makes such a difference in performance. It would save my butt later in the day, too.

We continued along at this speed for about 9 or 10 miles, passing slower riders along the way and going up and down some low, rolling hills. They rider ahead of me looked to be about my age and was a bit over weight; his riding looked somewhat strained, particularly on any upward grade. Eventually, he lost the wheel of the rider in front of him and I had to push to pass him and catch back up with the train which I managed to do quickly.

Finally, we started up a fairly long grade. It wasn’t steep but it had enough of rise to cause me to lose the wheel of the rider in front of me. As soon as I did, I noticed that there had been some strain after all; I didn’t have anything extra available to chase and I was spit, out the back. I grinned and settled back down to my pace again, hoping to recover from the last 30 minutes and getting another chance to catch a wheel.


I pulled into the aid station near the mid-point of the ride, still ahead of the pace I’d set for myself but feeling a bit more tired than I expected. I chalked it up to the higher output of riding in the paceline. I refilled bottles, grabbed a snack, and then stretched for a few minutes.  My legs felt okay and I was pleased that neither of my hands had experienced any numbness. That was a big problem during my last century and the effect had hung around for a painful couple of weeks.

As I took my break, I fell into a conversation with a couple of guys who I had seen several times so far. One was fairly large, often referred to as the Clydesdale
Clydesdale Paceline
category, and the other looked to be of Indian descent and may have weighed 125 pounds. Evidently, they had been riding together for a good part of the ride. The smaller one was asking if all of the hills were finished, as he was feeling pretty gassed.  When I heard the other say that, “this is the highest part of the course and the worst is behind us” I had to stick my nose in and tell him the truth.

There were several healthy climbs ahead, two in particular heading into Hanover County that I avoid when I’m riding in that area because they are really steep and they come in quick succession, too. I wasn’t looking forward to these, although my pre-ride preparation had focused on better climbing and I’d done really well back in June at the Tour de Cure.

I let the guys know what was ahead; the Clydesdale sneered and his buddy slumped a little bit. He said he was suffering from cramps already and this was his first century ride, ever. I told him to be sure and keep hydrating, and wished them both well as I threw a leg over the bike and rode off.

Third Quarter

The next 25 miles or so were kind of a blur. I’m very familiar with these roads as they wind within about a mile from my house and I’m on them frequently.  As a result, my mind just kind of went blank and I kept spinning the cranks, holding my speed between 15 and 17 mph.

At the aid station near my house, mile 70 or so, I took a quick break to refill bottles and grab a snack and a stretch.  I also started my RoadID app on my phone.

RoadID is a company that was started a few years ago by a guy who was injured while out on a ride and wasn’t carrying proper identification at the time. He started a company that makes ID bracelets for cyclist and runners. They’re smart, light weight, incredibly well made and have all the needed info. I bought one last year and always wear it on my rides.

The RoadID app, is in beta right now (I think) and it’s designed to be one more link in the ID chain for cyclists. It works with your phone’s GPS capability. When I use it, I create an “ecrumb” or trail of my ride, along with the projected time I’m going to be riding and it sends a text to whomever I choose to let them know. There’s also a link that the receiver clicks and it shows my position on the map, on their phone! That way, they can follow along with the ride. (I’ve been using this for several months when I commute to work by bike and it lets MB know when I’ve left and how I’m progressing on the ride home. Traffic being what it is at that hour, it’s helped keep her calm during my ride.)

All this to say that RoadID makes a great product and, if you are a cyclist or runner and hate to carry identification (or worse, you don’t!) you should go their website and buy! is the website.  Go. Now!

Cramps, cramps, and more cramps

With about 30 miles or so to go, I was suffering badly. I’d gotten a hint of cramping in my calves about the halfway point but they had left after a few minutes. Now, they were back with a vengeance and were migrating to other locations, as well.
When your calf cramps on a bike, you can usually ride it out by locking your ankle and utilizing the big muscles in your thighs and glutes to take up the slack. That worked for the first hour but now, the thighs were starting to cramp as well.

I knew I was in trouble when I stopped pedaling for a few seconds on a slight descent. I typically ride with my left foot up and right foot down (I don’t know why, it just feels right) and I happened to look down at my left thigh because I noticed a dull ache in it.  The quad muscles were in spasm and making all kinds geometric shapes under the skin while I watched.

I remember thinking, “Maybe that’s why it hurts.” Very calmly, as though it was someone else's limb, I pushed that leg out straight with my left foot down and the spasm went away but the pain was still there. I tentatively began spinning the pedals slowly. Every time the foot would come up, I’d feel the muscles start to grab and then, as I extended the leg they would subside.

At that point, I was thinking I’d have to not stop the rest of the way or risk being doubled over in spasm.

The next aid station appeared, at about the 80 mile mark, and I figured I’d need to stop and figure out my next move.

I make a new friend!

I pulled in and climbed off the bike. I killed the last of what was in my bottles and then spent about 10 minutes stretching, really focusing on the calf and thigh muscles. They seemed to be okay but I knew that as soon as I climbed back on the bike and started the repetitive spinning, the cramps would start again. I was seriously considering calling MB and telling her to come get me because I didn’t think I could finish.

(By the end of this ride, I consumed at least 15 liter bottles of water and/or Powerade; in some cases I was mixing it 50/50. It appears that I didn't drink enough. It's hard to believe that 4 gallons of fluid isn't enough. And I never once had to pee. Yeah....)

I refilled my bottles, had several snacks including 2 bananas, and continued to stretch.  As I came up out of a deep bend, I spotted the Indian guy I’d spoken with a couple of hours before. He was also stretching and looked as bad as I felt. We made eye contact and he walked over.

He was still suffering from cramps just as I was and was also thinking about bagging it. We continued to talk while we stretched and realized that, since we had been riding almost exactly the same pace all day, it made sense to hang together and help each other out the rest of the way.  He introduced himself as Sonny; we shook hands and mounted up.

For the next hour and a half, we took turns pulling each other along. We stopped at every aid station to stretch and re-hydrate, and generally to push each other to the finish. At the 100 mile mark, I rolled up to give Sonny a high five for having completed his first century ride. He seemed startled at first until he realized what he’d done.  His grin said it all!

While the cramps never went away completely, we managed to hold them at bay and drag ourselves back to RIR for the finish line.

Victory Lap

Sonny and I made the left turn and rolled down the last hill before turning at 7 and heading onto RIR grounds. Once there, we followed the line of cones and yellow tape that directed us through the tunnel and up onto the race track.
While taking our victory lap, I was struck by how huge the place seems when there is no one in the stands. It’s like a football stadium on steroids (I know, ironic, huh?) and just seems to go on for a long way.  And RIR is really a small track compared to about half the ones on the NASCAR circuit at ¾ mile in length.

We rode up pit road and turned right to go back to the tunnel and, finally, to the finish line.


Outside the raceway, we followed more of the yellow tape around the perimeter until we could see, and hear the finish line. The PA announcer was amping the crowd noise up, announcing each rider’s number as they crossed the line.  About 20 yards away, I sat up and through my arms up in the air to cross the line in the victory salute.  (Hoping for a photo op!)

The finish funneled everyone to an area where volunteers with large trashcans full of iced down Gatorade and cloth towels were waiting. As I came to a stop, a girl handed me a full quart, wrapped in an ice-soaked towel.  I slowly pulled off my helmet and Headsweat and hung them on my bars. Then I put the towel on top of my head and felt the cold, icy water pour down my face, ears, neck, and shoulders.  

(I can’t come up with words to tell you how good this felt.  Truly. Thinking about it, right now, I tear up. It was that good.)

With the cloth still on my head, I opened the drink and chugged it.  Evidently, I was going to live.


I stowed my bike in the guarded parking area and walked toward the food/banquet hall for the after-party. I pulled out my cell, and called MB to let her know I’d survived and would be home in an hour or so. My friend Greg, who had ridden the 30 mile course, had sent me a text letting me know he’d just sat down to eat so I responded that I was on my way.

I got a beer ticket and went to get it, so I’d have something to drink while waiting in line for BBQ. The line for food was short, fortunately, and I piled my plate high with pork and chicken BBQ which was delicious.

I sat down with two friends, one of whom rode with me the prior year, to discuss the ride. It was determined that anyone riding the two longer distances had a tough time of it with cramps running rampant throughout the field. It had been a tough day, no question!

I finished my food, said goodbye to Sonny and thanked him for his teamwork, and went to pickup my rider goodie bag and my medal for completing the 102 mile,
Pay off
but actually 106 mile, course. I slipped it over my head. Yeah, I’m a dork.

The truth is I was proud of myself for completing the course.

Final Thoughts

It’s now been a week since the ride.  Looking back, this ride doesn’t seem as hard as it was at the time. (This short term memory for pain is one of the reasons the human race still exists. If women really remembered how painful it is to have a baby, gorillas would be in charge because humans would have died out long ago.)  I’m already thinking about the next century ride that I’m going to do.

Sick bastard.