“Your going to bike 50 miles? Glad it’s not me! Good luck with that!”
This was the common reaction I heard from many people when I told them what I would be doing.
A few months ago, my sister asked me to participate in the Cache Gran Fondo. There are two options, 100 mile or 50 mile. I thought it would be wise to start with the 50 mile race. She told me up front that she just wanted to complete the race, she was not interested in racing for time. This took off a lot of pressure to really train hard. I had good intentions to get out on the road and ride more than I did, but I did put in 2-3 days a week on the Real Ryder bike while teaching my morning class. Going into the race, although I felt I had prepared well nutritionally, I had not done well with getting proper sleep. The lack of sleep worried me as I knew this could cause me to fatigue much more quickly and easier. Race day came much quicker than I expected. As we approached the start line, I was equipped with a bottle full of water and a camelback of diluted coconut water (since Chris had a positive experience with this for his Spartan race the month before) and the package of electrolyte chews they had provided with the race registration. Now our start time was 6:35 AM or after. When we arrived at 6:40 AM, we were the only riders at the start line. We had seen waves of riders as we drove in to the start line, but we were shocked that there were not riders waiting to start. However, I was relieved that I would not have to start out in a pack of riders.
As we began our ride, it was perfect weather, nice and cool and the sun was just making it’s way over the mountains. The first 20 miles was pretty uneventful. We passed riders that probably started at 6:35 and then we were passed by more experienced riders that started behind us. I was amazed and impressed with the amount of food (bagels, what looked like homemade cupcakes, fresh fruit, water and gatorade), and volunteers at each rest stop. While we did not utilize any of the food at the rest stops, it was great that they were so generous with fueling the riders throughout the race.
As we made our way into Trenton, we saw the Trenton Hill that we would be climbing in a few miles. That first view was definitely daunting as it appeared that the climb was pretty steep. However, as we approached from the side, it did not appear that the hill was as terrible as it first appeared. It was just a long steady climb. As we made the turn to start toward the hill, I looked up at the other riders making their way up the hill. I watched as a bike flipped to the left, what must have been a rider who had been unable to unclip from the pedals and went down with their bike. They must have been okay – because moments later they got up.
It was at that point that my sister noticed a funny noise on her bike, so I dropped behind her to see if I could figure out what is was. One side of her back brake was riding on the wheel, creating constant drag and resistance. We stopped to try to fix it, but needed proper tools. She made an effort at the hill, but quickly decided it would be better to walk her bike up. So she told me she would meet me at the top.
I was on my own to climb the long steady hill. This is where my lack of sleep from the week really hurt me. I found that as I looked up to the crest of the hill, it seemed so far away and I began to doubt my ability to make it up the hill and allowed myself to think I was too tired to be able to make it up the hill. At that point I knew I needed to have a different focus. So I looked down at the road right in front of me and told myself to focus on where I was. I knew I just needed to keep pedaling. At that point, I realized what I needed was a hill climb song from one of my spinning playlists. The first one that came to mind was Beyonce’s Halo – so that was what was going through my head as I kept pedaling and eventually made my way to the top of the hill. I continued to climb until the road leveled off.
While I waited for my sister to join me, I called my husband to bring tools to help us with her brakes. Luckily, he was only a few miles away. As he arrived, one of the race helpers noticed we needed help and came to our aid. When we realized we did not have the right tool, he kindly took my sisters bike back to his car and was able to tighten up her brakes. Luckily, that was our only real mishap.
It was about this point of the race, that I began to notice the ache and fatigue of my forearms and shoulders. This is where longer rides on the road with the road bike would have been more beneficial for developing that endurance. The only other place that I noticed soreness was in the quads around the knee. Again, this was my mistake. When we stopped a few times, instead of getting off the bike, I would remain straddling my bike on my toes – creating tension through the quads that would cause great soreness later that afternoon.
The second half of the race we experienced increased car traffic. As we left Mendon on the Mendon Road, teams from the 100 mile race (remember they did have a half hour start on us) began to pass us in the last few miles to the finish line. I loved the sound of their bikes as they would pass us in one fluid body. Their energy was awesome and it made me want to pick up my speed and follow them in. However, we continued in our pace until we had the finish line in our sites and then we “sprinted” to the finish. As we sped into the finish line, we were greeted with cheers from all gathered there, the ringing of a cow bell, and many onlookers waiting for their racer to finish the race. We received a very large medal and a nice towel. But all I wanted at that point was some “real” food. The last few miles of the race I began to physically feel empty and began looking forward to lunch at the finish line. Overall, it was a really good experience and I plan to do it again. What did I learn?
1. Training is important and while I had a good foundation, I definitely could have done so much more in preparation. Specifically spending more time on the bike I would ride allowing my body to build endurance in that position.
2. Nutrition and Hydration is extremely important to fuel the body and keep the body functioning properly. I felt I did pretty well with this, however, I probably could have taken advantage of the great spread of carbs at the last rest station in Mendon when I began to feel “empty” and ready for some real (meaning more than just the glorified sport “fruit snacks” and diluted coconut water). But was grateful for the free lunch provided to us at the finish line.
3. Proper rest. I knew this would affect me, fortunately since we were not pushing ourselves for time, I don’t think I noticed how much it really did affect me, except for the hill. I believe had I taken better care of myself the week leading up to the race and gone to bed earlier each night, I don’t think the hill would have been as challenging for me as it felt. 3. Get off the bike when I stop (or I need to buy a bike that is appropriate for my size so I am not one my toes when I straddle the bike). This resulted in a painful ache above my knees later that afternoon which made it really difficult to rest. However, rest really does make a big difference. The next day (and days following) I have not experience any pain or soreness from the ride. I honestly expected stiffness and soreness in my forearms and wrists as well as my quads. But with the exception of that same day, I have not had any.
4. Stay focused on the moment. At different points, I appreciated how far I had come which positively reinforced that I could do it – completing the 50+ miles was doable. My greatest challenge in the race was the “Hill”. What kept me on the bike and successfully riding to the top was to keep my head down and focus on what was right in front of me, knowing I had a hill to climb, but staying focused on just the couple feet in front of me. It is easy to get lost in the big picture of the ultimate destination, but that can be daunting and then it can be easy to talk yourself out of it or make excuses for why you can’t finish. However, it is really hard to tell myself I couldn’t keep climbing just a few more feet. So I kept going.
Now that we have each completed a competition on our own, Chris and I look forward to completing our next competition together.
Kristine Clark Wellness Associates