Saturday’s 100 mile group ride was an absolutely incredible experience! This was my very first century, and it was every bit as fun, exciting and challenging as I’d hoped it would be.
Almost 50 cyclists participated in the ride. I knew many of them from other group rides/mountain bike rides, but I also met quite a few people for the first time. Everyone, without exception, was super friendly, encouraging, positive and energetic. My kind of people.
The ride was extremely well organized and planned. Jeff and Laura Stephens were the primary organizers, and they did a phenomenal job all the way around. William Cruz helped with the route planning and mapping, and did a fantastic job.
The SAG stops (there were four in total) were stocked with everything from bananas to homemade hummus, and there were ample supplies of water, Gatorade and ice.
It was very nice to have Lou Ann (she’s a bus) at each SAG, as this allowed us to store bags with extra supplies on board.
Several of the cyclists’ family members helped set up and organize the SAG stops: many thanks to Karen Dybdahl and her kids Dean and Kayla, along with William Cruz’s daughter Alanis. Great job, everyone!
Let’s talk a bit about the ride itself…
I should probably start by mentioning the weather, as it was a big factor. Thankfully we avoided rain, but the heat, humidity and wind were not kind. Some branded this ride the “4 H ride” (heat, headwinds, hills and humidity), and I think that’s a fair assessment.
The ride started off at a very fast pace, and that set the tone for the first half of the ride. Everyone was feeling fresh and energetic, and with a couple different clubs participating (several cyclists out of Winter Springs joined us), there maaaaay have been a little friendly competition early on. For example, look at the “Big Mama – West Bound” segment on Strava, which is about 2.5 miles of rollers: we took over the top 11 times with average speeds of ~26-24 MPH.
As we racked up the miles, the temperature rapidly climbed and the winds picked up. The winds were unrelenting, and brutal. I don’t think there was even the briefest stretch during which we had the wind at our backs: we were either riding into it, or being blown sideways by it.
A little past mile 60 we had a welcome respite from the heat, wind and pace: the 4 Rivers Smokehouse! My original plan was to eat light, but that plan went right out the window the moment I walked into the restaurant. I was starving, and absolutely powerless against the intoxicating aroma of BBQ. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, french fries, sweet potatoes and a huge Coke (I never drink Coke, but it sounded perfect). I ate every bite, knowing that I would probably regret it.
After leaving the restaurant, a bunch of us stood around slow-roasting on the hot tarmac while we waited for the rest of the group to finish their lunches. It felt like it was 150° out there.
When everyone was ready to roll out, I hoisted my bloated ass onto my bike, and cursed myself for eating so much. As we pedaled away from the restaurant the hot wind was a blast furnace, and I had a brick in my stomach…
40 miles to go. Rule #5 (NSFW).
After about 30 minutes my food had settled, and I was feeling pretty darn good. Really the only pain I’d experienced at this point was some on-and-off again lower back pain. Of course I expected the back pain, but I knew I could work through it (and did).
I really felt great the entire ride up until about mile ~88. My back was aching, so I stood up to stretch. As I flexed forward both legs started to cramp. Notice I said “legs”, and not something more specific like quads, hamstrings or calves. That’s because all of those muscle groups started to lock up. I kept pedaling, but slipped to the back of the paceline. I switched to my granny ring for the first time on the ride, and spun lightly. Every time I tried to use even a little force I felt my legs going again.
I didn’t want to do it, but I decided the prudent move was to fall off the back of the paceline. There were still other groups behind the group I was riding with, so I knew that I could just drop back and join them if I had to. I spun lightly, drank some electrolytes and hoped my legs would recover enough to get me through the last 10 miles.
Somehow during all of this, I made a wrong turn. My Garmin Edge 500 had the course loaded, but one thing the Edge 500 does not do well is courses. I decided to stop, rest my legs for a few minutes and check the map on my phone.
As soon as I stopped my bike my legs locked up–hard. I was in someone’s front yard, so despite the overwhelming desire to cry out in agony I grabbed my legs and fell to the ground without a sound. If someone happened to be videoing me, that’s definitely on Youtube somewhere now. Anyway, thankfully my legs calmed down, and so I consumed some more electrolytes while studying the map. I figured out how to get back to the church, but the route I selected was terrible.
I got back on my bike and was spinning along, and a short time later both my legs locked up again. I tossed my bike down on the side of the road, and hobbled over to a shaded area. I was so close. I didn’t know how, but I knew that one way or another I was going to complete the 100 miles…
While I was sitting in the drainage ditch alone, off-course and with destroyed legs, I began contemplating how I was going to ride almost 10 more miles. The answer came quickly: my friend Paul Lewis spotted my bike on the side of the road, and me a short distance away giving my legs a pep talk. Paul gave me a couple mustard packets which, if you don’t know, are almost magical when it comes to providing nearly instant relief from muscle cramps. The mustard worked like a charm, and Paul–tired as he was–stayed on my wing until I was almost back to the church. I honestly don’t know how I would have made it without Paul’s help. Thank you, Paul.
Once I got back to the church I looked down at my odometer: 96.5 miles. At that point if you’d asked me to list things that I’d least like to do, riding another 3.5 miles would have ranked somewhere between being drug through broken glass and flaying my own skin with a rusty butter knife. I looked at my truck, and I looked down the road. Sigh.
One of the riders asked, “Did you make it?!”
I replied, “I’m still a few miles short, I gotta go back out.”
“Well, what are you waiting for!” 🙂
Of course there was no way I was going to stop just 3.5 miles from the century. I had to see that “100” on my odometer. I pedaled off, and went the distance. My first century, in the books. Feels good, man.
Jeff Stephens said that Dan Bennett remarked that this was the hardest ride he had done in years–and those guys did a 170 mile Cross Florida ride in April.
I didn’t get off light for my first century, and that’s fine by me. I enjoyed every second of it, even the painful moments–I’m stronger because of them.
Here’s the entire ride on Strava.
Thanks again to everyone who made this ride possible, and all the cyclists who participated. This was my first century, and I’ll never forget it!