My Hardest Hundred

In 2009 the focus of my cycling season was the month of September. In back to back weekends I planned to do four centuries, two for the MS Society and two for Easter Seals. I hit up every friend and relative for donations. I bought a new bike. I rigorously followed a Carmichael Training Systems Program. I practiced a disciplined diet. I took all the right supplements. I slept the recommended number of hours. When the time came I set a new PR on the first ride and beat that on the next one. The following weekend I did more one-day climbing on Saturday than I ever had before. Then I climbed more than that on Sunday.

The next weekend I started a one-week cross-state tour on North Carolina finishing seven days and 467 miles later. I was toast. Instinctively I knew it was going to take a while to recover.

Still, one of my steadfast ongoing goals is to complete at least one century a month. So on October 31st it was pretty much do or die if I was going to make my goal. I registered for the Habitat Halloween Hundred in Durham, NC.

The weather forecast was not friendly. It looked like Indian summer was ending that very day. Intermittent rain showers were forecast. The temperature at the scheduled start time was going to be in the 40s. As I write this in March, that sounds almost balmy but in October at the end of months of more temperate rides it seemed frigid.

The ride started in the pouring rain. I hate mass starts under the best conditions but when 800 riders are trying to clip into slippery pedals while avoiding slick painted crosswalks and manhole covers, I like mass starts even less. I’m a data weenie. I love looking over the report from my Garmin even after the most mundane training ride so when I looked down a few miles into the ride and realized I hadn’t pushed the start button, the day became even less auspicious.

The rain stopped, the temperature immediately rose and I reached that baked potato stage quickly, having to stop and come out of my rain jacket. I am not and probably never will be one of those people who can accomplish that task while riding. The one guy from my hometown who was riding with me patiently waited for me to get done and we started again.

At this point my legs weren’t feeling too bad. I was jacked up on coffee and excitement. We skipped the first rest stop. The rain started back up but not so heavy. Riding on roads new to me, I enjoyed the scenery. The rolling terrain didn’t call for any suffering. At the next rest stop we jumped off, grabbed a snack, hit the PortaJohn and we were off.

Then it started. I couldn’t get comfortable on my saddle. My back, which never bothers me, started aching. My speed dropped. I told myself I should have taken some caffeine at the rest stop. My friend couldn’t hold himself back any longer as I started struggling up the steeper and steeper climbs. The wind started blowing. It did nothing but increase in speed for the rest of the day.

At the next rest stop, I stayed off the bike longer than normal. I lay on the ground and tried to stretch out. I knew I still had 50 miles to go. By this point riders were strung out everywhere. I got back on the bike after cadging a few Advil from the first aid table. At the point where the route split for those riding a metric vs. an English century, every cyclist I saw was heading for 100k. I didn’t feel valiant for attempting 100 miles. I actually felt pretty pathetic.

Then the Advil kicked in, the sun came out. My backache went from sharp pains to a duller aching feeling. There were only gentle climbs but steep descents so my average speed started reaching almost but not quite respectable levels again. At one point I actually saw my riding buddy for a few minutes. Then, it started to rain. I never saw the sun again.

After the next stop and some more Advil the route turned South and back towards Durham right into a head wind so powerful I saw it blow a funeral tent down the road from a cemetery. I felt like crawling into the grave. At some points the wind was so fierce I had to stay in my granny gear while going downhill. I went miles without seeing a single rider.

The mud was so thick at the last rest stop it took me a few minutes to scrape it out of my cleats. Oh, and speaking of the last rest stop. It was there that I got the worst health scare of cycling life. It’s slightly graphic, so skip to the next paragraph if you are squeamish. My bladder was full at this point. Good deal. I knew I was drinking enough. As I began to relieve myself in the PortaJohn, I looked in horror, as the stream was as red as the Gatorade I’d been drinking all day. In fact, in my exhausted befuddled state, it took me a long moment to realize something different was going on.

So, of course I hopped a ride on the SAG wagon and went straight to the emergency room. Yeah, right. I just climbed back on my bike and hoped that the problem, whatever it might be wouldn’t interfere with my cycling.

The last miles were just another room in the house of pain. I finally cam upon some other riders for the first time in what seemed like hours. Wait. It was hours. I latched onto a back wheel so tightly one touch of the brakes would have caused more blood to flow, this time from more conventional places. I held the wheel right up to the last mile when I finally gapped and then lost it at a stop light. I was so disoriented I couldn’t follow the route markings any longer. Luckily the end of the ride was the giant Durham Bulls stadium, visible from nearly anywhere in the downtown area.

I rolled through the finish line from the wrong direction. My odometer read 99.4 miles. I knew I’d ridden more since it had taken me a while before I’d hit that start button, but still it was the final indignity. I didn’t even have triple digits. The ride took me 6.5 hours, well over an hour more than every one of the centuries I’d ridden in September, including the one in the middle of the cross state tour.

I went looking for food. There was none. Almost every registered century rider opted for the metric. The only thing they had to give me was a melting popsicle and some warm cheddar cheese. I took them both.

As I was attempting to get my bike on the rack my friend, who’d waited on me approached the car. After he expressed his concern, told me I looked like hell, that I should have ridden the metric and that he’d gotten a really good pasta dinner when he came in he finally asked what in the hell was wrong with my saddle. I looked at it in sudden horror.

Not only was the nose pointed up, the whole thing was canted to one side. I just stared. Oh, so this is why my back is screaming for narcotics. This is why I’m now a blood donor in PortJohns. I honestly didn’t know if I could drive home. But, I did.

I took a day off. I recovered. That’s what we do. October’s century was in the books. On to November.