Wish You Were Here

Gainesville, July 18 2010

Facing up to my third century ride so far this year I was, uncharacteristically, filled with dread.  I was very tired from recent racing and training and memories of the last 100 mile sufferfest were still all too fresh.  And to cap it all off, it looked as if it was going to be pretty much the same conditions as the last 100 miler: relatively humid, with temperatures rising into the 90s by midday.  For that reason Coach Ed moved the start time for the ride back to 6 am, which puts it into the “I only ever get up this early to race” category of time.

Today also required almost as much coordination as the Normandy Landings.  It certainly required more gear.  I packed the equivalent of 8 bottles for the ride, a recovery bottle, and a bottle of water for the ride home.  Because there were two ride start locations (one for the century riders and one for everyone else) Mary was leading one ride and then helping out with the SAG drivers for the century ride, so she had to pack all her bike stuff plus water, ice, cold towels and food for the riders.

The sky was gradually lightening by the time we arrived at the parking lot just after 5:30.  So great was the dread of the coming heat that there was no formal start and people were starting in ones and twos as soon as they were ready.  Suddenly, a brilliant light splashed across the parking lot, an angelic radiance that washed everything into stark definition: Mike had opened his car door and stepped out wearing a day-glo jersey that actually hurt my eyes to look at it.  (Seriously though, given the early hour it was a great idea; I’d meant to bring a light for the back of my bike but that had been the one thing I’d forgotten).  Once I’d recovered my eyesight I went through the familiar rituals: pumping up the tires, setting my bike computer, cleaning my glasses.  I’d fixed an extra bottle cage on my bike so I was carrying three bottles in addition to the bottle between my aero bars.  Because of the aero bottle I couldn’t use my standard cue-sheet holder, so I had to jury-rig one out of a zip-loc bag and the cyclist’s faithful friend, duct tape.

I was wearing my Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here jersey as a kind of ironic statement on the day, although I knew no one would get it but me.

Jason and I hit the road bang on 6am.  Today’s ride was two loops, one of 62 to bring us back to the parking lot to refill and then another of 40 or so.  Although I’d been dreading this ride, it was hard not to feel the love in the first part of the day.  With the sun just coming up, the air relatively cool, hardly any traffic around to obscure the sound of birds singing, and the steady hum of your tires on the road, it was everything road cycling is supposed to be.  Despite feeling crapulous yesterday I did feel good at least to start with, and we steadily passed team-mates who had started earlier.  We overtook Rich and Mike about five miles up the road.  Mike had stopped for what cycling commentators Sherwin and Liggett refer to as a “natural break,” undertaken as discreetly as it was possible to do when wearing safety-vest yellow, which is to say they might as well have erected a lighthouse by the side of the road.

Jason rode like a rock star all day, keeping a steady tempo and a high speed, undeterred by the annoying, but not mechanically serious, creaking of his bottom bracket.  This route, apart from one rolling section and a stretch of false flat climbing is basically flat, so it is great for time trial bikes.  We both rode the first loop cautiously, slowing and watching our HR on the rises and then making hay on the downhills and flats.  After 20 miles or so we picked up Jonathan as a third rider just before the rollers on Snickersville Pike.

Before I realized it, I was having fun, the three of us laughing and talking.  There’s something about long endurance rides that seems to invite lunatic conversations.  I remember Mary recounting last year how she and Heidi had begun to compete with one another to count roadkill, with extra points if you could positively ID the pulverized bits and pieces.  Today, I began expounding on my theory that certain HR zones were associated with particular religious dispositions.  Zone 2?  Long, sustained, unspectacular suffering?  Obviously Protestant.  Zone 4?  More flashy obvious suffering for which you pay later?  Catholic, of course.  Zone 5?  Definitely more of  Puritan/Evangelical thing (the body is evil and must be punished!).  Zone 3?  Neither one thing or another?  Probably Anglican (that would be Episcopalians, for all you US folks).  Oh, and Zone 1?  The phase where you are barely doing anything at all (often termed “active recovery” which for me is the same as a particularly twitchy night’s sleep)?  Unitarians.

Jason: So who knew that Mark would find religion on a 100 mile ride in mid-90s temperatures!

Mark: Well, doesn’t seem like just the sort of day when you should have a religious revelation?  If I start seeing the face of the Virgin Mary in a crushed gel packet on the road someone slap me.

I was drinking steadily, supplementing the liquid nutrition with a little solid food.  One thing I had learned from the last woeful 100 miler was just how deceptive the temperature can be when you are biking.  We were moving along at a good clip, and I felt cool and relaxed.  Yet every so often I would look down and notice sweat dripping steadily off my arms and chin; cycling can be really deceptive that way: you can feel cool but the ambient temperature is working on you just the same, which is why you need to force yourself to drink regularly even if you don’t feel like it.  So I kept pouring the liquid down my throat.  I was riding with a mixture of Sustain and Heed (since I’d discovered at 9pm the previous night that we’d run out of Sustain) to which I’d added Nuun (this actually worked really well with the Sustain, taste-wise, and it even improved the Strawberry Heed (a race freebie, not my first choice!) so I was taking in more electrolytes than the last 100 miler and taking them in more continuously.

We took a brief break at the Safeway parking lot in Middleburg; one of the Team Z SAGs was there and people were taking the opportunity to replenish bottles.

I don’t remember how this got started, but at some stage on the second part of the loop Jason and Jonathan decided between them that the day would have gone a lot better if instead of riding for myself I’d worked as their domestique, carrying ice for them, food, etc.  Somehow this idea gradually expanded (see my comment above on lunatic/possibly hallucinatory states of mind on long rides) to the point where I was towing a small trailer, with a fridge powered by a generator in my cranks, stocked with beer.  Jonathan thought that we could improve it even further by adding a sprayer so that I could bike in front of them and keep them doused with water.  I assured them that if they were that keen I could probably ride in front of them and hose them down with the equipment I had.  Today was probably as good a time as any to learn to pee on the bike!

After the apparently never-ending uphill on Hopewell Road we hit the final glorious five mile downhill (where you can easily cruise along at 23-25 mph) and were soon back at the school parking lot.  Mary was there dispensing nutritional goodness from the back of the wagon: Oreos, home-made walnut and fig bars, Cheetohs. . .but the big and surprising favorite was frozen grapes.  It was the perfect thing for such a day, and Jason in particular fell in love with them.

From the last ride I remembered that even though the second loop was shorter I had drunk as much as I had on the first loop so I replaced every bottle and refilled the aero bottle.  Jason had mentioned on the first loop that he was going to push it a bit on the second loop and sure enough he and Jonathan took off like a bat out of hell.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t stay with them, and soon I was riding by myself.  I felt OK for the first 10 miles but then I began to feel like crap.  My legs were tightening up, and the road that we were on (that cut out one of the extra legs off the 60) was rough as guts.  Finally, I just pulled off the side of the road and stretched out my legs.  It was a short stop, not more than a couple of minutes, but after I got back on the bike I felt like a completely different rider.  My legs felt stronger, my attitude was more positive.  I’ll have to remember that for the Ironman; rather than continuing to suffer a small break like that might make all the difference (it’s not like I’m chasing a Kona slot or anything!).

There was a rest stop at the same Safeway but I was feeling good so I continued on my way.  About the 80 mile point I saw Mary coming toward me; she pulled over and I grabbed some cool water to tip down my back and a fistful of cheetohs (isn’t that the title of a Sergio Leone film?) which are SO going in my special needs bike bag for Ironman.  I’d been there a couple of minutes when Jonathan and Jason pulled up.  Jonathan told us that they’d stopped at the Safeway where Jason, missing the grapes, had kept saying “Oh, I wish Mary was here” and then just a few miles up the road he’d caught sight of us, unclipped, and veered across the road in his haste to get to us.  If he could have proposed to and married those frozen grapes on the spot I think he would have.  That’s why I married Mary after all; she’s always had lovely grapes.

We resumed our ride and they soon dropped me.  The next stage of the ride was being sagged by Coach Ed himself.  He would stop ahead of us, and then stand there looking mildly put out when we would just ride by him.  Certainly after the ride a couple of weeks ago (was it really only that long ago?  Did I really race a half Ironman since then?) he’d be completely justified in expecting me to be a miserable wreck.  Finally, just to give him something to do, I stopped about 500 metres from the top of the Hopewell Road climb and let him stick ice down my back.

The same glorious downhill finish and before I knew it I was back in the parking lot with 103 miles under my belt.  Kai and some of the early riders were already there, hanging out next to a cooler filled with beer and ringing cowbells like it was a race finish.  Total riding time was just a shade over 6 hours and 14 minutes, with maybe about 25 minutes of stops all told (most of that in the changeover between the loops).

My body felt pretty much as you might expect, but I felt completely exhilarated.  There were definitely some environmental factors that had helped to make the day a little less horrendous than expected.  There in the parking lot you could feel how baking hot the day was when the sun was out, but there was a lot more cloud cover today which was very unlike the blistering cloudless blue of two weeks ago.  This ride was also considerably less exposed than the one up in Monocacy, with some long shaded sections.  But I also felt as if I’d successfully applied some of what I’d learned the hard way on that day.  More electrolytes, a better balance of fluids, taken continuously, and with much more carried toward the end (I was carrying the equivalent of 4 hours of fluid under normal conditions for what proved to be a little over 2.5 hours of riding on the second loop, and I drank it all).  And the insulated bottles on the second loop were definitely a good decision!

I hadn’t ridden a lot faster than the previous century but I had ridden a lot more consistently (helps that I wasn’t chasing Mary Klima on this ride!).  My overall HR was solidly in the middle of zone 2, my cadence was similar for both loops, both things that had skyrocketed and fallen, respectively, on the last century.  Especially given how trashed I felt yesterday, I was bordering on feeling jubilant!

I felt sorry that we couldn’t stick around to welcome all the riders back (although we stayed to see quite a few home), but we had a date to go and see DC United play the LA Galaxy and revel in our divided loyalties.

And sleep.  Lots.

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