05 August, 2015

First Century - Lessons Learned

The day before my first Century, I found myself turning to Google searches for "Tips for a First Century". I found a few ideas and pointers, but thought I'd share my reflections for others. So, here's my top ten, in no order of importance.

  1. Share the load - I quickly found a couple of guys about my age and fitness level. We all got along well, enjoyed chatting, and shared the workload in rough stretches. Made the miles fly by. This is really key.
  2. Hydrate and fuel - you're burning calories, and sweating off fluids. Drink often. If Gatorade is available to you, take advantage of it, especially on a hot day. And even if you're not hungry, eat something every hour or so.
  3. Fit is it - I had a professional fitting done by Jess Bratus of FitMI. Over the first 50 miles, I might have never noticed it. But for the last 50 it was CRITICAL.
  4. Log the miles - Training was key for me. I needed regular, increasing miles. By mid-Summer, my standard training loop was around 45 miles. General wisdom is that you can complete 2-3x what you train. I found that to be true.
  5. Beat the heat - riding a Century in August means it could be hot. And we had a generally cool Spring and early Summer here in Michigan. When the first really hot weather hit, I made sure to get in a few solid rides. This really paid off on the big day as I was more acclimated to the heat. My first hot training ride was a shit show...
  6. Move around - when you're spending over 6-1/2 hours in the saddle, making some effort to change positions, stretch, etc. really pays off. Climb some hills out of the saddle. Ride in the drops. Ride on the bar tops. At mile 80, you'll wish you did.
  7. Enjoy the view - most organized rides are set-up to maximize rider enjoyment. Don't just pedal along and suffer. Take in the scenery!
  8. Smooth is good - one thing I learned watching others, a smooth pedal stroke is efficient, and easier on your body. When you hit mile 90, you'll be glad. I've always had a pretty good pedal stroke (my fitter even complimented me on it). But, working on it on a trainer or while climbing really helps.
  9. Shit happens - on arrival I found I'd grabbed a pair of mis-matched gloves. And, of course, one was from a pair I don't really like very much. I started to get fired up about it, but then realized it didn't really matter. And, it didn't. Relax - things will go wrong. As long as you didn't forget your bike, you're good.
  10. You CAN do it - if you did #1-9 above, you can easily ride a Century. If there's one thing I've learned about cycling it's that confidence is king. Knocking off every ten mile increment always gives you confidence that enables the next one. So get your ass out there!

04 August, 2015

First Century!

On Saturday, 1 August, I achieved a personal goal I set three years ago - my first Century ride! When I re-committed to road riding seriously three years ago I got this idea in my head to complete a Century before I turned 50. Well, I'm 49 this year, so the pressure was on...

For the past three years, I've ridden and fundraised for the Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure". I do this to honor a good friend who lost her battle with this disease in 2011. You can read more on my effort here. The ride is the first Saturday in August, so it's been good timing for goal-setting and training. My first year, I rode a Metric Century (100km/62.5 miles) and was a top-five fundraiser. Last year some health issues sidelined my training, so I did a shorter 30 mile ride (but still raised more money than the previous year). This year was the big one - I increased my target to the full Century ride, and bumped my fundraising goal up a pretty good notch.

Training went well -- I had broken the 40 mile mark multiple times by the end of April and even had a Metric Century in by the end of May. Prior to ride day, my longest ride was 74 miles and the weekend previous I'd done 55-, and 65-miles on concurrent days. So, I had the miles under my legs.

Ride day start - feeling good!
Ride day weather was looking perfect, if a bit windy. That morning was a touch cool, but the wind was down for our 7 a.m. start. Definitely had some pre-ride jitters, but generally felt pretty confident. With about 25 riders for the Century we had a manageable group to tour the farmlands south of Lansing.

This crew included a wide range of cyclists - including a fit looking guy a few years older than me who planned to ride the Century on a FAT BIKE! Rock on! We stayed largely together until the first rest stop, though I'd started to ride and chat with a guy who turned out to live in the neighborhood across the street from mine! I was surprised by how quickly we got to that first stop at 25 miles. Everybody was laughing and having fun - some of us even got our photos taken in grass skirts and coconut bras (no, I don't have a photo yet...).

By the lunchtime stop at around 60 miles our group had split up a bit, with me riding with neighbor John, and gravel-grinder Nat (on a Specialized Crux 'cross bike much like mine!). For the most part we cruised comfortably at a 15-17 mph pace. When the ride turned west into the mounting wind, we formed a pace line and took turns pulling on the front without losing too much speed. I was really fortunate -- found two really good guys to ride with who were comfortable at about exactly the pace I wanted to ride.

Riding companion John - with me on the chase!
At the 77 mile rest stop, all three of us were eager to get off the bikes for a stretch, re-hydrate, fuel up, and have a little break. But it wasn't long before we set off again. The ride was set through some pretty gently rolling country. An area I would definitely return to for riding. By this time, the wind was definitely coming up, but we had some pretty good cover on the tree-lined stretches. Though heading east and south were definitely preferable. Each turn north (groan) or west (GROAN!!!) was a little less cheerful.

The last ten miles were - predictably - the Sufferfest. Not as brutal as I'd expected, but not easy. The three of us definitely took turns pulling each other along. Though the last 3 miles were BRUTAL as the wind peaked and we headed into a strong headwind for much of it. We all finished feeling happy and pretty strong - though not ready to knock off another 20!

A new favorite jersey!
So, I did it - rode my first Century at age 49! I was proud, tired, and happy. I also raised over $2,600 making me the #3 fundraiser - a nice bonus! Funny thing though, on the drive home I was thinking, "Now what?" and sure enough several friends have asked me the same thing. My guess is more Centuries are in my future, and hopefully at a faster pace (we did 103 miles in 6:40) but, stay tuned!

FYI, I'll also be following this up with a lessons learned entry for other first-timers!