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The Wind that Shakes The Barley

Posted Apr 26 2010 12:00am
I was well trained for a metric century (that's 100k or 62 miles) when Kelley and I went to Elizabeth City, NC for the Tarwheel ride this weekend.

Unfortunately, I rode the full century - 102 miles - and was glad to finish alive.

This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. It made the two marathons and the half ironman seem like an easy day at the park. I knew going into it that the century ride was cycling's version of a marathon - "A" type event that takes a serious training plan. I keep a serious training plan. But the long rides weren't long enough. Imagine running a full marathon without ever getting longer than 15 miles in training? that's what this was like.


Before starting. I got there in time, and the damn thing started early!! Who fires the starting gun 10 minutes early? So I didn't get to check in - Kelley got my t-shirt after I was riding. I didn't get any stretching or prep time. I parked on the route, and saw the first wave of cyclists ride by.

This included my buddy Kyle from work. Now Elizabeth City was a full three hours away from Raleigh. I knew Kyle was a badass, he's the main instigator for the mountain biking group that rides every tues/thurs from the office. We've been swapping out lunchtime road rides for mountain bike rides lately to get ready for this one.

So Kyle's on the move, and I flag him down. He tells me it's going, and for me to get in a paceline already! I'm still putting Chamois Butt'r down my shorts. WTF? Get on it and ride.



And I'm off and riding. It starts off going through downtown Elizabeth City. This city is right on Albermarle Sound, which is coastal but mainland. The sound is the water between the outer banks and the mainland. So it was very scenic. It was a cool day to start, and we left at 7:50 (supposed to be 8 am dangit!) so it was overcast and mid-50's. Perfect. Time to bring some miles. The wind was pretty quiet at first.

I always end up meeting the nicest people at these rides. I got to talking with some folks in town, and then once we got out of town the scenery opened up to be all farmland. Wide open spaces as far as you could see. I fell into a paceline with some of the guys I was talking to in town. Later I found out they all knew each other, plus picked up a few other stragglers like me that wanted to keep the same speed. We were cruising along around 21 mph and I was barely having to pedal. The first 5 miles I didn't even break a sweat. By the first aide station at mile 13 I was still not breathing heavy. I did however blow plenty of snot rockets. Officially, it was a 17.2 mph average, 44:01, max speed of 22.9 mph according to the Garmin.

The SAG stops were really great. Well manned with bike repair, good food, this one had deviled eggs. As I was pulling in I noticed something funny with my right shoe. It felt kind of slippery on the pedal. When I went to unclip, the cleat stayed IN the pedal! with the screws and everything. I couldn't believe it. Luckily, the bike mechanic was there at the time and he had the tools to remove the cleat, screw it back into my shoe, tighten down the other shoe and loosen the pedals for me. I've never heard of a cleat becoming unscrewed during a ride like that, how strange? Only to me.

We fell back into the paceline and started hitting it pretty hard again. It started raining too. The rain came down hard, but didn't fall for very long. Unfortunately, during and after the rain I was stuck like this

Nothing like riding behind a guy (yellow jacket) with a fat tire on a road ride. That's me falling off the paceline, another straggler Carlo in front of me, but he had the sense to ride to the left of the guy in the yellow. I have to give that guy credit, though. He was in tennis shoes and flat pedals on a straight handlebar bike with big tires but not mountain bike fat. And he rode the same 102 miles I did. No idea where he finished. But he sure was annoying for those 5 miles or so that he was spraying water on me.

The front two guys in that pic are in the main group of friends that made up the paceline. I am so thankful to get in with those guys. They were friendly, considerate, funny... and just letting me crash their paceline made the biggest difference than anything else in the ride.



Kelley got a good close up. It's a crop, but still a great pic. She was a trooper out there. She caught us a few times, this one was around mile 20.

There was another SAG stop at mile 25. By this point the rain has let up, and the roads are starting to dry off but they are still pretty wet. The aide station had berry smoothies! This was such a well organized and well supported ride! I hit the lap button on the garmin at the aide stations, and stopped the timer while I was there. I missed a few, and sometimes forgot to restart the timer until we were riding again, but it worked out ok for the most part. So lap 2 was 13.24 miles, 43:13, 18.4 mph average, 22.8 max speed. We ate, drank, and got merry then hit the road again.

Normally 25 miles is about all we will cover during a lunch ride. So I was feeling really good about being 25 miles in and not be more fatigued. I felt really strong, actually. The course was beautiful. Ride past farmland, then past some open water, then more farmland. There were no cars on the roads. The paceline was fast, drafting was awesome (and illegal in tri's so I never do it), and we were all having fun.

Kelley caught us again about 30 miles in

That's the full paceline with Carlo sticking out to the right. I'm in back drafting again.


OK, that's a bit too far back to call it drafting. Actually there I'm trying to catch up after falling out of the line to wave at Kelley. Still, it was overcast and cool, and no worries yet. We made our way to downtown Edenton for houses like this



The next SAG stop wasn't for another 20 miles, and I forgot to hit the lap button. So according to the garmin it was 36 miles between SAG's or 58 miles total. This was about the far end of the loop. The aide station was right on the bay, with scenes like this




Just amazing waterfront houses. The whole thing was beautiful.

Unfortunately, this is also about where we stopped riding away from Elizabeth City and started heading back. The course was a loop, where we stayed mostly south and east near Albermarle Sound. Then it circled back mostly inside the mainland.

About mile 65 is where things really started kicking in. And by "things" I mean the wind. And by kicking "in" I mean kicking my ass. Lap 3 from the garmin was 33 miles, 17.3 mph average speed, 21.9 max speed in 1:55. This was the beginning of the end.

I really felt great at that SAG stop. I ate, drank, refilled the bike bottles. It was getting into the warmer parts of the day now. I was breathing quite hard and sweating a bunch. I knew I had just ridden 65 miles. If I had stopped there I would have been proud of the metric century and almost equaled my longest distance ride to date. But I still had to get back to Elizabeth City.

The wind was brutal. Riding into 20+ mph headwinds is not fun. The only thing that might be worse (but really wasn't) was turning the corner and having that headwind slap you as a cross wind. It's all cotton farms out there. Open dirt with little 1" plants don't provide any wind break. There was no shade. There was only more wind. And behind that, more wind.

I actually thought several times that the wind was going to push me backwards on the bike. I didn't worry about falling over, really. Just going backwards. I really am pretty strong on the pedals, but that wind was pushing back at me really hard.

A few of us fell back off of the main paceline. We would all regroup at the stop signs, but the main line wanted to keep a 17 mph pace and there were a few of us that just couldn't hold it in this wind. So we started just meeting up with them at the SAG stops.

I still felt OK pulling into the SAG stop at mile 77, really. I had no trouble standing, laughing at jokes, talking to the other riders, I was still there mentally. The legs were feeling it for sure. But the brain was still engaged. Garmin says 14 miles, 14.1 mph average, 19.2 top speed. Every time I looked down I told myself "11.9 - that's just fine" so I'm a bit surprised to see 14.1 average. I thought it was going to be more like 12.

I knew it was only 11 more miles to the next stop. I did something in there that I've never had to do before in any training or race event. I had to stop. Yes I've walked during marathons and sat down in transitions during triathlons. But this time I told myself that I was going to pull over at the next driveway I saw. I did, and just had to lay my head on the handlebars for a few. It was some farm, and the old lady walked out to check the mail and was quite surprised to see me there. She started telling me stories about her husband being in the war, and now he was 89 years old and still runs this cotton farm. I actually was hoping she was going to shoot me. Then I wouldn't have to finish the ride. I told her I was really ok, just 85 miles into a 100 mile bike ride and getting a bit winded.

The next and final SAG stop was at mile 88. Here, I was dead. I actually sat down in a chair. The other guys from the paceline took off right after I got there, and after a banana Tim (the only guy from our group who was behind me) came rolling in. I mean I was really gone. I couldn't put full sentences together anymore. Couldn't stand up. I was constantly yawning which is a sign that the muscles are oxygen deprived. Tim and I pulled each other along plenty from miles 70 to 77, so I was glad to see him make it there. Some other friendly folks rolled in as well.

I told myself that when Tim left to head for the finish, I was going to call Kelley to come get me. I was through. The thought of letting my ass touch that saddle again was enough to make me cry. And I cried plenty from miles 77 to 88. All of the long distance emotions crept up. I missed my grandfather. I figured 88 miles is much farther than I had ever ridden before and I should be happy to survive the PDR and be ok with it.

Tim wouldn't leave without me. His dumbass forced me to get back on the bike and put those last 14 miles in. He's a real trooper. There was about 5 of us that left at the same time, so we stayed together until the finish. When I stood up to get back on the bike I kind of stutter stepped a bit and thought I was going to fall right back down. I still can't believe I actually got back on the bike.

I limped in those last few miles. My ass couldn't stay in the seat for very long, and we couldn't go very fast. So I would pedal with 1,2,3 downstrokes and coast for a few. then pedal 3 more times and coast standing. This is incredibly inefficient and takes a huge amount of muscle strength that I absolutely did not have. But my taint was battered to the point where it was the only option I had. When I did sit down, I couldn't reach far forward enough to grab the brakes, much less hold the aerobars. It was then that I realized my body wanted to be curled up in the fetal position, not riding a damn bike anymore.

The aide station volunteers said it was about 3 miles to the next turn (all in a headwind), then only a few more miles of crosswind before the wind died down. When we got back into town the wind was gone. The worst of the wind (time of day) was the same time we were riding straight into it. If we had been faster on the first half of the course it would have been 77 miles in when the hard winds hit, not 65 miles in. I was incredibly glad to see the town of Elizabeth City again. We cruised into the finish line and Kelley took this pic


I'm surprised to still be alive here. I can't believe I actually made it. Behind me in the pic is Tim loading his bike up in the car with Rickey who had already gotten a shower. He was in the paceline too, and just had open heart surgery 6 months before! He held 17 mph the whole way.

My final block on the garmin was 24 miles, 1:54, 12.6 mph average, 21.8 max speed after we got back into town. They were right, the road turned about 3 miles in, and we had a crosswind. It died down a bit after that, and once we got near town and around some more trees it was pleasant to ride again.

My final ride time was about 6:30, with the total elapsed time being 8:07. Yes, that's 8 hours! It was almost 4 PM when I finished. Give this a try sometime. Start riding your bike at 8 AM and don't give up until 4 pm. See how you feel.

Holy shit, that was certainly harder than the beach 2 battleship. I'll take marathons any day over that. I was ready to push Roberta into the water or go straight to the dumpster. Not even going to hold out for craigslist. I am now scarred physically and emotionally. I was ready to walk away from Ironman. I won't be able to get back on Roberta for at least a month. I really need to clean her good, but it's monday and I'm still scared. That ride messed with my head. I'm still not well.

I'm all in favor of pushing out of my comfort zone. But I had to reach down to a place that I don't want to ever visit again. The pain, the discomfort, the determination. Let it all go.......

The biggest reprieve is that at the finish line plenty of other people were saying that it was by far the hardest and most challenging century they had ever done. It reminded me a lot of the marathon I ran in West Virginia. The people there were saying the same thing. Williamson WV and Elizabeth City NC have very similar populations (read: lots of poverty but everyone was friendly), and they are both places I hope I never have to go back to. Because if that's what century rides are then I'm done with century rides. I know I could have trained better. I know I should have done more long rides.

So the fletcher flyer is certainly out. Maybe I'll consider doing a fall century. I think the OBX half Ironman is still on for september. Ironman florida next year is still in the plan. But this one put some fear into me. I needed a healthy dose of respect, and it got handed to me along with my ass. The truth is I would have been upset if I had called it done at mile 88, and would have really pushed myself to train more so I could finish the next one. I started this ride with optimism and finished it with fear. I am just glad that I finished. Centuries are no joke y'all.

By the way - Kyle? The guy from work that I convinced to come ride this one? He WON the damn thing. Finished in 5:01, 20.1 mph average over the whole 102 miles. It's not a timed event so there's really not a winner. But he got in the lead paceline and held those guys for the whole freaking way. He loved it, can't wait for the next century. He's doing the fletcher flyer. He also went out for 70+ mile rides each of the last 4 saturday's with a 23 mph average speed. And he doesn't run, swim, or triathlon - so I still like to call him girly names. But being the first finisher of a century ride (it was also his first century) is seriously impressive.
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