I’ve considered riding a century (that’s 100 miles in one ride for my non-biking buddies) for a few years now. There are metric centuries, 100km or about 62 miles – but I’d done that during the Ride Across California. 100 miles as a goal has loomed out there, beyond the edge of what I thought I was capable of. I held that fear until about mile 65 of the ride this weekend. In fact, I wouldn’t even buy the ride jersey before the ride because I seriously questioned if I could finish.
A barcampLA buddy, Jeremy Kitchen, tweeted something out a few months ago about getting ready for the Tour de Palm Springs, an annual bike ride made up of a number of routes. Here’s Kitchen:
The timing was pretty good for me to start thinking about training for their century ride. I ride nearly every weekend, but usually only 20 to 40 miles, mostly with this crew:
Jen, Grace, Peter, Brad, and moi.
I’d need to ramp that up to get ready for the century. I didn’t know if I could do the 8-10 hours on the bike, and I’d never ridden that terrain before. Tracey from work had ridden the course last year and got me some route and elevation info. Here’s the official Tour de Palm Springs route map:
The scary part of any ride is the elevation and how much effort that will take to climb. Here’s the elevation profile for the ride, taken from the awesome Veloroutes site:
So, a lot of climb at the beginning of the ride when my legs will be fresh, followed by a lot of downhill, then a gradual climb to the finish. I was having a hard time comparing it to my hardest regular climb, the 1.6 miles and 440 ft. at the Torrey Pines grade, because the distances are so different, so I started plotting out rides around San Diego with a lot of sustained climb. I combined my regular run from Penasquitos (PQ) and up the coast with a leg inland to Escondido to form a box back to PQ.
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I rode this route the first time just to see if I could do 50 miles without much prep, and it went well. I was dog tired after, but I really didn’t eat or hydrate well. I rode the route again with Peter from work a few weeks later, and it felt good, even with a stop at Churchill’s Pub in San Marcos for a beer and a sammich in the middle!
The thumb is Peter’s. He likes to get into the shot a lot:
That was a ride we did up to Pt. Loma – a fair amount of climb. Peter has a lot of experience with long rides and gave me great advice on ibuprofen and caffeine use to make the ride a lot more tolerable.
I realize I’m writing a lot about the pre-ride, rather than the ride itself so far, but I think that’s appropriate because the only way I survived this ride was because of the preparation beforehand. But, let’s get to the ride itself!
Elaine and I took Friday off to make it a super long Ride, Valentine’s, and President’s Day weekend. Nathan kindly agreed to come home from SDSU and keep an eye on Erin (or vice verse?), so we were free to take off. It’s nice getting old and having kids who can watch each other! Kitchen was arriving on Friday too, so we got together for a beer and plotted out the ride. Kitchen and I had never ridden together, so I was stressing about slowing him down. I’m a big dude and it takes some time for me to get up hills. He also had another buddy, Mike, who I’d never met, which added another variable to the mix. Elaine and I were staying in Palm Desert, about 30 minutes from the start of the race. Kitchen had gotten a room less than a mile from the start, so we decided to meet in his parking lot in the chilly, 46F morning of the ride.
I had the bike in pieces in the trunk, so I got my pretty hands dirty:
You can see Kitchen has a much heavier, touring bike. He’s getting ready for Ragbrai, a week long ride in Iowa, so he carried a pannier too. Mike also had a heavy bike, so this helped us all keep pace on the initial climbs. We bid farewell to Elaine and biked over for the 7am ride start. There were thousands of riders at the start, so we were let go in waves. We met up with Mike and got released to start at about 7:30a.
I set my trip odometer to zero:
and off we went!
We worked our way out of Palm Springs, crossed the 10, then started climbing and climbing and climbing… Actually, I train on hills a lot in San Diego, so I felt pretty good. I quickly shed my long gloves, outer shell, and thanked Kitchen for talking me out of wearing the Under Armor shirt I was planning on. I got down to just a jersey and was very comfortable for the rest of the day. Jeremy took a great shot as he passed us at one point:
There were 5 SAG support stops on the ride, and we arrived at the first at the end of the initial climb, at about 15 miles. The support was great on this race! They had water in bottles and big coolers, Chex Mix, peanut M&Ms, fig bars (this IS date country, after all), and an electrolyte drink. Each station was run by very nice people who took great care of us.
I’d been training to continuously eat on a ride this long (ok, I’ve been training for that all my life, but HERE it was appropriate… ). I’d brought a bunch of gel blocks, both regular and with caffeine, to keep me going. I’d also broken up 8 Trio bars (nuts, fruit, cane juice) into two bags, one of which I put in my newly acquired Novara Quick Draw Bike Pack (it’s just like the Bento Boxes that some of my friends have):
This bag turned out to be great! I wasn’t fishing around in my back pockets for food, and having it in my line of sight kept reminding me to grab a bite every 10 or 15 minutes. I packed WAY too much food, eventually only going through one bag of Trio bar pieces, one normal gel block, and one caffeinated. I kept refilling the Novaro bag at all of the SAG stops with Chex Mix and guilt free M&Ms and this was enough to keep me going. The SAG stop at 50 miles had simple sandwiches so I grabbed one of those and felt no hesitation in slathering it with mayo!
There were a number of routes in the tour, including a 55 miler that my friend Kevin was riding. We met up at the second SAG and I gave him trouble for taking the easy way When I finally finished my ride a long while later, he was already home in San Marcos!
I tried to get 10 or 15 minutes of rest at each SAG stop. I was very worried about running out of steam all of a sudden, so I kept fighting the urge to join fast pelotons as they sped by. I did my best to stay with Kitchen and Mike to make sure my pace didn’t wear me out, but I have to admit that the downhills were too enticing to hold back. I zoomed on ahead as we neared the 50 mile mark and waited at that SAG station for Kitchen. Mike was still fighting a cold, so he’d faded back a bit and arrived just about as we were to take off again. He hung out at the SAG and we got moving. Mike’s in the back left filling up his water bottles:
I got Jeremy to shoot me being cute:
At the 70 mile SAG, we met up with Elaine in La Quinta and she shot a few pictures:
Mike caught up and then we were off again!
I had 30 miles left and was feeling pretty good. I was dropping ibuprofen every four hours, and I think I’d had half of a caffeinated gel block package. I was feeling almost no fatigue and I wanted to see what I could do. My average speed was about 11 miles per hr so far, but I knew I’d been holding back out of the fear of bonking. After about 5 miles, Mike and Kitchen seemed to be doing great at their pace and I decided to punch it up. We were on a relatively flat part of the route and I started pushing at about 19mph. I got to the 90 mile SAG point,
stopped for a few minutes for water and electrolytes, then zoomed on without stopping until the trip meter on my bike computer said exactly 100.0 and snapped a picture.
Then I wound my way through the rest of Palm Springs to the finish line!
Kitchen joined me soon afterward, and talked some group out of a beer:
Then Mike made his triumphant appearance!
Elaine met us at the finish and got a nice shot of me with the ride tshirt:
Average Speed: 14.1 mph
Max Speed: 36.9 mph
Time in Motion: 7h 10m
Actual Time on the Ride: 9h
Don’t overdress. It’s so easy to overheat.
Don’t carry so much food. Or rather, become very familiar with exactly what will be provided on the ride.
Don’t be intimidated by scary elevation charts. Ok, this ride isn’t all that strenuous in terms of climb, but I almost let the chart scare me out of trying.
Top-tube-mounted bags are awesome, even if they look kinda dinky. I kept my engine running at top speed from just nibbling out of the bag every 10 – 20 mins. It scares me to think how often I’ve done that riding a couch rather than a bike.
Get a room closer to the start of the race. The morning logistics meant I had to get up 45 minutes earlier than needed.
If a ride has thousands of riders, don’t sweat the 7a start time. It’s ok to be a little late.
Unless you’re going for performance, don’t be at the front of the pack. I was amazed by how many people I saw pulled off to the side, changing tubes. I was also happy there was a huge crowd ahead soaking up road debris
Tweet out your progress. I got wonderful support in real time from Twitter and Facebook as I was riding! Thanks folks!!!
Get a small camera that can go on the bike. I should have more pictures, but the iPhone camera mechanisms are a joke when you’re on a bike.
If the ride is in Palm Springs, bring your own beer. Man, that town suffers from the lack of craft brews. Babe’s BBQ is a notable exception, and the Tap Room had Dogfish Head 90 Minute and Spaten Optimator. Their parking lot was impossible tho.
Ibuprofen is your friend. Before, during, and after the ride.
One more picture!
There was a rogue photographer (Stevesphotos.org), my favorite kind!, on the ride who got this image: