Living Out Loud

My Longest Day


#100DaysToOffload 7/100
I'm a big believer in goal setting. It's worked well for me over the years. As with most things, the joy is often in the journey, rather than the destination. The following is a report of a time when I fell short of a goal - an attempt to complete a 200-mile bike ride in a single day and the lessons I learned.

At 6:00AM Saturday morning, 38 cyclists including eight from my home club left the parking lot of Eastern Wayne High School in Goldsboro, NC to attempt a 200 miles ride. The plan was to do four loops, starting at 65 miles, then 55 miles, 45 miles and 35 miles. Riders were to stay together and keep a pace of 18 miles an hour.  The weather forecast was for a hot and humid, progressively windy day. There was to be a store stop in the middle of each loop and a short break between each loop.

A pretty spectacular dog attack made the first loop exciting. I missed being involved in the crash but received a good adrenaline rush anyway. I’d over hydrated and took advantage of the chaos to zip down the road for a nature break. The first stop came after only 28 miles. Ten minutes or so after we left the store I felt nature’s call again. Since I was obligated to stay with the group and couldn’t just pull over, I had to ride with that uncomfortable full bladder feeling for the next two hours. Since I didn’t know where I was I couldn’t even pull over and then race back to the group. Ouch.

At the end of 65 miles, all eight members of my club were ready to go again. I had some beef jerky, a bottle of Ensure and some electrolytes. I added two bottles of electrolytes to the bike and a bottle of Hammer Perpetuem to my back pocket and off we went. The heat index was over 100 at this point. Seven of the first 38 riders elected not to start. At mile 75 we had our first unplanned stop when a rider has a flat. The break didn’t last long because my favorite bike mechanic, a member of our club, had everything taken care of in about 90 seconds. Five miles later things started to get tough for us. A four-time veteran of the ride, one of our strongest lady riders succumbed to heat exhaustion. Her face was bright red. She had no saliva and was very, very weak. A doctor riding with us checked her out. We called for help and her husband stayed with her and rode back in to the school.

By the 100-mile mark we had a small group who were trailing the main group. We made another unplanned stop. Another member of our club, also a vet of the ride could not continue, along with another rider. We also had a few folks who wanted to finish the loop but couldn’t hold the pace. They formed an autobus (a slow group that rides behind the main pack) and gave the rest of us their blessing.

At the parking lot and refueled and changed clothes. When the call went out to start lap three (mile 120) I was shocked. Only 10 people elected to continue and none of them were from my club. Twenty-one riders were pulling the plug. Gulp. Within five miles two of those folks turned back. I was still feeling strong and had already exceeded my previous personal record for miles in a day (117).  We stopped at mile 140. I was having problems eating.  Although my liquid nutrition was working OK for the first half of each loop, the food I was trying to eat on the second half, Power Bars and Clif Gels, was hard to get down.

We pulled out of the store into the wind, again. Since we only had eight riders and were riding a double pace line, each of us was riding in front 25% of the time, a marked difference from the first 120 miles. I was downing a bottle of NUUN every 30 minutes and my cycling clothes were crusted with salt.  We held the 18mph pace but there wasn’t a lot of talking going on.

At about the 150th mile, I hit the low point if the day. I was hurting. My heart rate, which had been climbing throughout the day went above 80% and stayed there. During my pulls it went close to 90%. I knew that wasn’t going to be sustainable. On most long rides, I have these moments. Normally I slow down or get off and stretch. The format of this ride didn’t allow for that so I hung on and hope that I’d be able to recover at mile 165 when we got back to the school.

By the time we got there I’d reached that point where my lips were pulled back from teeth, my breathing was close to being uncontrolled and I was no longer having fun. As much as I wanted to go on I knew I didn’t have the physical ability to ride at my lactate threshold for the next two hours. We were running 40 minutes behind schedule and were going to have to race to finish before dark. So at mile 165 I elected not to start the final 35 mile lap.

I trained for this ride since December. I rode eight centuries getting ready and over 4000 miles all told. I’d pumped the brain of ride vets, Internet friends and read every ultra-cycling book I could find. To say that I was bummed at not finishing is putting it mildly. Still, I knew I had a lot to feel good about. I’d beaten several personal records and gone further than any first time rider. The vets promised me that we’d endured the worst weather in the history of the ride. “Why last year it was only 70 degrees and overcast. We even had a light drizzle the last 10 miles”.  Thanks guys.

The most satisfying part of the day was the ongoing support from my friends and family. I had a couple of dozen messages from friends on my iPhone. The folks in my club were very supportive. I got messages from members of VeloReviews. It was hard to admit I’d fallen short, it was. But, I feel OK this morning and may even go for a ride later, it’s only going to be 96 degrees today.

Afterwords: This bike ride happened on a Saturday. I wrote the report you just read the following day. Two days later I felt so incomplete from not meeting my goal that I took the day off work and challenged myself to beat my personal best time at the solo 100-mile distance. Later that day I completed the ride with a 19.1 mph average, and I had that new PR.