Pedal Another Mile

Bicycling, death, life after death.

Are we there yet? - a.k.a. My First Century

When I made my fitness goals for 2010 I had two cycling related ones - ride 1,000 miles and ride a metric century (100km or 62 miles).  My longest ride had been 51, so 62 didn't seem that far out of reach.  I completed my metric on July 31st.  63.5 miles by myself.  It was quite an adventure - maybe on a cold winter night I'll write about it.

Anyway, I joined the Joliet Bicycle Club in mid July and began group riding with them a few weeks later.  After several 40+ mile and a few 50+ mile rides with the club, a few members began making me believe I might be able to do something I wouldn't have imagined possible at the beginning of the year - ride an actual century.  They kept referring to "Bike Psychos" coming up at the end of August.  I began to believe the hype (or peer pressure)- that I could actually make it 100 miles on my bike in one ride.

I never actually committed, saying that if it wasn't too hot or windy I'd give it serious thought.  I still had doubts I could do it.  Just in case, I put in for a vacation day for the day after (in pencil, for if I were to go AND finish, I'd need Monday to rest).  As the month rolled on, early weather forecasts called for mostly sunny and temps in the 80s.  Not bad.  So I began researching on how to prepare for a century.  Mainly, the key in the week leading up to a century is to be well hydrated.  I already drink plenty of water, but I kicked it up a notch to be sure.

As the weekend approached, the weather started looking a little worse than I would have liked.  Upper 80s with 10mph winds from the south.  Still not a deal breaker - I was going to go for it.  Saturday morning I rode to my normal JBC meetup spot from home, a 6 mile trip.  I just wanted an easy spin to loosen up my legs - another tip I read for preparation.  I chatted with the group before they took off on the normal 44 mile ride and told them I'd look for them tomorrow.  The rest of the day I spent relaxing and carbo loading.  Double serving of oatmeal for breakfast, Thai with a lot of rice for lunch, and about half a pound of pasta for dinner.  I loaded up my truck with everything I'd need to leave at 5:40am for the trip to the start in Coal City, and went to bed at about 8pm.

5am reared its head and I got up, showered, ate another double serving of oatmeal, and headed out the door.  The morning was calm and comfortable.  Oh, if it had only stayed that way. 

I met two JBC members at the starting point in Coal City and we waited a few minutes to see if a 3rd was going to show up.  After a ride around the school grounds looking for him, we decided to head off about 7:15am.  The sun was just rising and there was little wind.  Temps were in the upper 60s.  It was a beautiful, calm, and quiet start to the ride.  Just what I needed.  The section from the start to the first SAG stop was very easy paced and uneventful.  I don't remember any hills at all.  I do remember how eerily quiet it was, and I also remember a black cat crossing the road about 100 yards in front of us, disappearing into the corn fields.  I jokingly mentioned how I hoped it wasn't an omen.  Before we knew it we had reached the first SAG stop (at about mile 12).  I needed to stop to get rid of my morning coffee and to take a hit off my inhaler.  I sometimes get a breathing issue after too much exercise and this medicine helps a lot.  I forgot to do it when we started and was just trying to prevent any issues later.  Better to do it now than NEED to do it later.  They sure had quite a spread laid out for us - and I began my impressive display of food consumption for the ride with a few chocolate chip cookies, a banana, and three slices of watermelon.  While at the SAG stop we ran into another JBC member who decided to join us.  Two other JBC members I hadn't met before joined as well.  Instantly our paceline doubled in size.

Soon after leaving the first stop we encountered the first of many hills.  I'm not too used to hills.  Sure, there's a few low rollers on my regular farm routes, but nothing too bad.  Since I began riding with JBC the Sunday ride from Channahon to Seneca has a real nasty one almost at the end, aptly named Cemetary Hill.  I had to walk it the first time but made it the second time, just a week earlier.  That hill behind us, we pedaled on.  The heat and wind picked up as the sun continued its march across the sky.  There wasn't a cloud in sight. 

It is at this time I feel I should share another tip to surviving a century I picked up online.  "Drink before you're thirsty and eat before you're hungry".  I hesitated bringing two water bottles since there were five SAG stops overall and water was plentiful at them.  To think I was debating bringing just one to save a measly pound and a half (a weight savings that would decrease with every sip) was just plain foolish. Let me be clear - there was NO way I finished that ride without both bottles. I also had five gel packs with me, and I used my second one between the first and second SAG stops.  I felt hungry and even had a growl or two from my stomach so I wasn't taking any chances.  I just made a mental note to eat a lot more at the next stop. 

At the second stop at Illini State Park in Marsielles (about mile 30) I drank and refilled my water bottle several times and began using one for gatorade.  The temps were still rising, the sun still blazing, the wind still blowing...I was going to need every calorie I could get my hands on.  I also chose this as the time to apply more chamois butt'r - a must to avoid saddle sores, which are something that could end your day (and week!) very quickly.  As for food?  Another three or four chocolate chip cookies, two pbj sandwiches, a dixie cup full of M&Ms, three more watermelon slices, and another banana.

[caption id="attachment_73" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The SAG stop at Illini State Park"]Illini SAG Stop[/caption]

Soon after leaving the second stop we encountered another hill.  This one seemed to go on forever.  Looking back at the GPS data it was a mile and a half.  Whew!  The wind picked up some more and the temperature kept climbing.  It was about this point I really started noticing that summer was rushing to an end - the corn stalks were almost all brown and the soybeans yellow.  How depressing.  Thankfully the 90 degree heat and unrelenting sun quickly snapped me back to reality.  This was starting to feel much warmer than upper 80s and it wasn't even 11am yet.

We rolled into the third stop, the halfway point!!! It was at Mathiessen State Park, a place I like to go hiking a lot.  It was here I ate like I was going to the chair- two bananas, three cookies, two large cups of pasta salad, three cups of M&Ms, more watermelon, and another pbj sandwich.  I noticed fatigue was starting to show in some faces at the stop - it was just so damn hot.  I borrowed some SPF 50 sunblock because my ears were starting to get crispy. 


Heading out of stop three, we actually had a tailwind for what seemed like the first time.  I discovered a funny thing about a tailwind on a day this hot and humid - I didn't really like it because it makes it seems 15 degrees hotter when the breeze isn't hitting your sweaty front.  Soon enough we were back in a crosswind, and headed towards a narrow, busy, potholed, and very scenic stretch of road leading to the very popular Starved Rock State Park.  Thankfully someone in our group was very familiar with the road ahead, and warned us that things were about to get very very scary, and to not take the upcoming downhill portions lightly.  Boy, he wasn't kidding.  VERY steep downhills on this very rough road was a little intimidating, and once the road smoothed out, there was a ridiculous hairpin turn that I went through at about 23mph with both brakes on.  Going wide on this turn meant one of two fates: either head-on into oncoming traffic or into the guardrail.  And if you ended up going over the guardrail it was more than a 100 ft drop to the Illinois River.  This turn had the honor of being the most scenic portion of the entire ride.  Unfortunately I was only able to take it in for about .23 seconds.  As we waited at the bottom to regroup, one fellow cyclist half-jokingly exclaimed that his rims had to be 200 degrees due to the friction of the brakes.

I found a picture online that doesn't really do it justice, but I was in no position to take one myself!

[caption id="attachment_66" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="The hairpin on Rt. 71"]Rt 71 Hairpin[/caption]

A map view (it's the second one):

The turns

About five miles later one of our group broke ahead of us about 1/8 mile or so.  I noticed a mean, nasty looking hill looming on the right.  I mentioned to one of the riders that the guy out front had better keep going straight.  A few seconds later I saw his right arm come out, indicating a right turn, straight up this hill.  I cursed, rather loudly.  It was a bitch to be sure, but I made it.  At the top of the hill I noticed we were at mile 62.  I had completed my second metric century.  Another couple of miles and I'd be on the longest ride of my life.  It was about this time an ambulance and fire truck went blazing by us.  We learned a few minutes later that a cyclist had crashed into a guardrail.  There was no more information.  I only hoped he or she was ok and it wasn't the guardrail on that hairpin. 

One in the group really started looking fatigued at this time.  We encouraged her to keep it up, to drink water, and to promise that she was ok and would tell us if she wasn't.  I felt bad, as I think I was responsible for talking her into the 100 mile route.  I think she showed up planning to do the 70 mile route.

At mile 70 we were back at the Illini State Park SAG stop.  Somehow, the temps were hotter yet, and the wind had picked up.  The weather forecasters had screwed the pooch yet again.  The winds were most definitely over 10 mph and the temps were well past the upper 80s.  The little puffs of white clouds were nowhere near the sun.  It was inescapable.  I drank at least four full 24 oz bottles of water at this stop, along with more cookies, more M&Ms, and more bananas.  Moods improved, and our fatigued rider showed very good signs of improvement, both physically and mentally.  We were going to do this thing! 

A mile out of the stop, we encountered another hill.  Do you sense a pattern here?  I exclaimed that they should consider changing the name from "Bike Psychos Century" to "Morale Crusher 100".  Oh yeah - this hill was THREE miles long.  By the time she made it up all improvement just four miles earlier was gone.  Temps were now in the mid-90s and the wind was blowing 15-25.  Apparently it's a good place for wind, as there is a wind farm at the top of this hill.  I told the rest of the group to go on and I'd stay with her.  She told me to go on as well, but there was no way I was leaving her out here by herself.  We pushed on, slowly but moving forward.  The number of other cyclists we encountered had begun to dwindle.  It was a really lonely stretch of the route.  At one point she asked that we rest under a tree up ahead, the first shade we had seen in miles.  I headed towards it, left the road, and noticed two giant dogs launch out of a garage towards me.  I ran like hell back onto the road and started pedaling as fast as I could without being clipped in.  They stopped at the road, so I still have all my flesh.  Another mile or so up I saw a bit of shade.  We pulled over, and at this point I knew she was not going to be able to finish.  She gave it her all and I was proud of her, but now she was scaring me a little.  She looked like she was suffering from heat stroke.  She asked if there was a way to contact a SAG wagon to come and get her.  I got our location off my iPhone and contacted the number on the cue sheet.  We were at mile 80.  They said they'd send someone out.  She told me to go on again, that she could wait for SAG alone.  I refused.  We were literally in the middle of nowhere.  After threatening to throw away a gel pack if she didn't take one, she had that, some more water, and electrolyte pills from a passing cyclist.  She was still dizzy but seemed to be getting better.  The SAG wagon showed up and got her bike on the rack and her in the A/C of the car.  I took off for the last rest stop.  About five minutes later I realized I made a huge mistake - the slower pace and stops caused me to drink all of both bottles save for an ounce or two of 100+ degree gatorade.  That wasn't the mistake - not asking the SAG wagon for a refill was.  I now had about 10 miles to go in 95 degree heat with no water.  I decided to chance hauling ass to get there quicker than risk a slower pace taking longer.  About halfway to the last stop I rode up next to a guy from Joliet riding by himself.  He was doing the 124 mile (200km) route.  We found each other at the right time, as the last miles into the rest stop flew by in no time due to our conversation.

As I pulled into the last rest stop the majority of my group was still there.  They waited for me to get a whole bunch of water, another two bananas, and some more cookies.  After a few minutes I exclaimed "let's get this over with!" and we rode out.  Just about 13 miles to go. 

No hills out of this stop.  Nope.  Just three miles directly into 20+ mph headwinds.  If I hadn't sweat out all the liquid in my body I would have cried.  About mile 96 my body finally realized this was almost over.  Everything started hurting or locking up.  Fingers, wrists, shoulders, upper back, quads, right foot.  When I finally did it - hit 100 miles on the odometer - I resisted temptation to call for a SAG pickup, even though there were only a few miles left.

One last right turn and I saw the elementary school where we started.  I had done it!  I noticed that my friend who stopped at mile 80 waited to make sure I got back.  We chatted for a bit and she looked MUCH better.  I was very happy about that.  I looked down and noticed my Garmin had a low battery warning.  I think I would have collapsed had that battery died before I finished. I asked the staff for an update on the injured cyclist back at Starved Rock.  He hit the support beam of the guardrail, tearing his pectoral muscle.  He was conscious and being kept overnight for observation.  Good news!

As I was loading up my truck, a little girl about 6 or 7 years old was crossing the street near me to go to the park.  She asked why there were so many bicycles there today.  I told her there was a club ride that went all the way past Starved Rock and back.  She asked how many times I did it.  I told her just once, that it was 103 miles.  Her jaw dropped open and she sadi, "WHY would you do that?!?"  I really didn't know how to answer that :)  But I'm glad I did it, nonetheless.

Backing out of the parking spot, all I could think about was getting several large Coke Zeros from McDonalds for the ride home.  So I did.[caption id="attachment_75" align="aligncenter" width="222" caption="Four Large Coke Zeros"]Coke Zeros![/caption]

So that's it.  On August 29, 2010, I completed my first century.  102.8 miles, to be exact. I did something at 39 I couldn't have done at 29.  Or 21 for that matter.  And I'm pretty damned proud of myself.



  • Elapsed Time
  • 09:25:57
  • Moving Time
  • 07:07:41
  • Resting Time
  • 02:18:16
  • Average Speed
  • 14.4 mph
  • Max Speed
  • 32.9 mph

The rest of the information can be found here.