Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A newbie's point of view: Shenandoah 100 Century Ride

Let me preface this short story by saying I sometimes intentionally enter endurance events without training, or experience, to make it tougher. The Shenanhoah 100, not the mountain bike race, was one of those events.

Having completed numerous long distance running events , I thought it would be fun to attempt a long distance event on a bike. I don't own a bike, and hadn't ridden in one in over 8 years. More importantly, I had never been on a road bike, which I quickly learned was a very different experience.

Thus, in August, just weeks before the SVBC's Shenandoah 100, I hopped on a road bike for the first time in my life. My friend Benjamin Jacobsen, a young, faster, local cyclist, was going to let me borrow his bike for the ride, and riding gear. Well, now I've got a bike! Now let me tell you this. Learning how to simply get on a road bike took about 10 minutes, and remaining upright was a challenge during my entire first ride. The seat felt high, the stearing was shakey, and the feel was rigid. After only a few miles, my butt hurt, my neck was stiff, and my shoulders ached. I poked along at about 10mph on the flat sections and was too wimpy to go faster than 24 mph on the downhills. All in all, my first road ride ever was 16 miles and nearly 2 hours. It was more learning effort, than physical effort, but how would this compare to riding 100 miles? Would it take me 10-12 hours?

A week later I got in my second road ride. This short 14 miler would be my last ride leading up to the following week's century.

Sept 11, 2011. On the ten year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 I started my first endurance ride. It reminded me a lot of how I felt at my first ultra. There were hundreds of cyclists who looked fit, experienced, and ready to roll. Then, there was me. I wore running shoes, because I didn't own any "clip ins" which apparently help a ton. It was a cool 60 degrees, it was 8am, and we were off! And.... just like that I fell off my bike causing a small log jam of bikes behind me. Less than three seconds into my ride and I already fell! Fail. Not how I wanted to start the day. Geeze, my only goal today was to finish under 10 hours, maybe I should just try to survive! Pretty soon the hundred, or so, riders made there way into the first of four 25-28 mile loops. The course is shaped like a clover leaf, so you never repeat sections, but aid is always at the same spot.

Things were comfy early on. I talked with a few folks and told them I had just started riding. When we hit mile 17, I proudly proclaimed that it was now my longest ride ever. This was immediately followed by suggestions to slow down my pace, and take it easy. Of course, this meant I sped up. Whenever I receive sage advice like "slow down", I rarely follow it. Not much to really add other than the first 28 miles went by quick. The rolling hills and long straight aways started really working my legs in loop 2, but my confidence on the bike was growing. Here and there I would get into nice flat stretches averaging around 30mph, and even hitting 40 on the downhills. There was never an opprtunity to draft, mostly due to not having enough riders around. I was either struggling to keep up, or passing people. At any rate, I know it took up a lot of extra energy riding by myself into the headwind. So it goes.

Lap 3 was the toughest for me. My right IT band started really getting sore around the 100k mark. I stopped stretched, took a couple ibuprofen, and continued to ride with a rider named Tyler Spurlock, who happened to go to the same church as me. It was nice having company again, and we rode together for about 10 miles. Leaving for the final loop, my IT band was really throbbing, but it was a pain I had gotten used to several years ago when it really inhibited my running. I figured it couldn't get any worse, and it didn't. So, I sucked it up through the mostly flat 4th loop, enjoyed the crystal clear views of the valley, and took it easy. There were a couple odd looking "course markings" that almost sent me off route, so I waited to see other riders. Surprisingly, the course was so welled marked, I never actually made any wrong turns.

In the end, I casually rolled into the finish 101.8 miles later, in 7 hours and 40 minutes. I was a little sore, but in a good way. Considering I used completely untrained muscle groups for that long, I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt post ride. (though the ibuprofen was probably still working). I also realized around mile 70 that I hadn't use any of my small gears, which is why I kept losing time on the climbs. Many of the riders who did the century were more likely to be more experienced and faster than the less experienced folks like me. Quite a few people opted to cut the ride down to either a 75 mile, or 50 mile version. So, I am quite pleased with my debut. I will also note that I never went anaerobic during the ride. My heart rate was always pretty low, aside from a few steep hills. Due to the lack of conditioning needed for long rides, my muscles fatigued far sooner than required to to stress my cardio. In running, my legs are conditioned, so they often hold up longer than my lungs, and thus I go anaerobic. When my cycling muscles get trained, then I can finally start using my cardio to ride faster. After that, look out!


Average speed during my 102 mile ride: 14.2 mph
Average speed on my two short training rides: 9.0 mph (for 16 and 14 miles)
Highest training week: 16 miles. Other riders (150-200 miles)
Longest ride: 16 miles
Bike: 22 lb Giant
Nutrition: refilled 2 water bottles 3 times, consuming about 130 ounces
Calories: 300 pre-ride. About 900-1000 during (130 cal per hour)
Weight: before 157.5, after 156.5
Time: 7:40, time at aid and pit stops 0:30, total riding time 7:10. Finished about an hour ahead of the riders who told me to slow down during loop one :-)
Loop splits:
Loop 1: 27.8 miles (1:58) cum 1:58 (27.8 miles) time at aid: 0:12 (waited for potty)
Loop 2: 25.2 miles (1:54) cum 3:48 (53.0 miles) time at aid: 0:08 (waited for potty)
Loop 3: 26.0 miles (2:02) cum 6:00 (79.0 miles) time at aid: 0:08 (I'll pee later)
Loop 4: 22.8 miles (1:40) cum 7:40 (101.8 miles) finish (went pee pee)

Final thoughts: I think with basic experience gained from a century ride, I think I could knock an hour off this time, if I were to ride the exact same event a week from now. With regular training, maybe even sub 6 hours by next year's ride. But, that would require a bike, and a growing love for having my rear end hurt all the time. The SVBC puts on a great low key event. Very cheap to enter, and you can enter last minute. The well marked course gave me an opprtunity to see many of the beautiful back coutry roads that I rarely drive. Lastly, riding 100 mile has given me a new appreciation for Iron Man athletes who swim 2.4 miles, rode 10 miles furthur than I did, and then run a marathon. I also can't fathom how Tour Du France riders average their speed at altitude, through the mountains, for three straight weeks. No wonder so many turned to PED's, sheesh.

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