i was not yet a mile in when i became certain that i would learn something this day. over the last four months i had been training for this on my own, riding 50 to 70 miles of gravel most weekends, averaging just over 13 mph. now a mile into a 100 mile group ride i was in a pack of 12 holding just over 20 mph. the moment it took to swallow water was enough to push me into panic breathing, but my legs felt ok, and i couldn’t stop hearing the advice of a friend “as bad as it feels to hang on to the wheel of the guy in front of you, it will feel worse not to” more than that, there was my goal for today. sure, i signed up for this ride as an excuse to train, but really it was an opportunity to test my capabilities. riding 100 miles was a step on the path, but not the absolute goal; being part of something was. the feeling of support, and of supporting others – of pushing and being pushed. while i knew pacing my effort would be smart, i wasn’t here to be smart, i was here to grow.
so i hung on. i let the group know that i was new, that i had never ridden in a group. accepted my role as a liability, and accepted that the best i could offer was to listen, to trust, and to be predictable.
i hung on as long as i could, even took a few turns pulling from the front before the inevitable happened. i had been cramping off and on for the 10 or so miles leading into the final aid station, we were 68 miles in and i was still with the group – we had averaged 17.8 mph. i tried to fill the hole with some food and gels, but it was either already too late or i simply overdid it, what did happen is i added nausea to the cramping, and a few miles later we stopped to let some traffic pass and as my foot touched the ground to post my leg cramped so bad i nearly fell over. after a panicked little dance i managed to get back on my bike and tried to close the gap, at this point each push of the pedal caused a feathery twitch in my legs that was only getting worse. i was holding over 18 mph and barely closing the gap – one of the other riders had hung back to help pull me back into the group, but every time he looked back to check on me, i tried to dig a little deeper and just smashed into the bottom of a dry hole…
“if i hold on like this, it will just be another two hours..”
i was toast.
i had already told the others to carry on. i think it was down to 8 at this point, but i can’t be sure. for the past few hours my entire world was comprised of the wheel in front of me and the snacks in my back pocket. i dropped down to a pace that didn’t set off the cramping, and actually was able to enjoy riding for a moment between waves of nausea. i had overreached, and now i had to pay. my legs and guts dictated the pace, at one point i thought of just giving in and puking for tactical reasons, i knew i couldn’t stop but i figured i could just do it off the side of the bike. a few deep coughs put an end to that idea, my neck and back spasmed hard enough to make me certain that throwing up would be accompanied with a full body cramp and total wipeout, so i resigned to simply keep grinding it out, breathing through my nose, and fantasizing about how good it would feel to lie down after this was over.
the last 10 miles was nothing but wind in my face. “death march” is probably an overstatement, but it is the first description that comes to mind. more than once i saw my speed dip below 8 mph. as i pulled into town people in their yards spoke to me, and while i was certain they were speaking english, the noises they made carried nothing resembling meaning to my ears. i watched the mile counter roll over from 99.9 to 100, and a couple blocks later saw the parking lot and my truck. as gently as i could i laid my bike down, popped the bed, and splayed out in the back using my helmet as a pillow. 6:40 moving time. 7:10 overall, and an extra hour lying in the back of my truck.
someone asked me if i wished i would have paced better, or had a slower group to ride with – and to be honest i dont think so. i wanted an experience, and i have never learned much from everything going well. new experiences are, by definition, outside our comfort zones. the further we stray, the more we risk, the greater the potential reward. i started late, but i have been deliberate in my cultivation – i am familiar with my edges, and was comfortable with my wager.
i aim to learn. i have worked for years to build my accounts and to understand the market.
now, i spend.