The Longest Day

AT 6:00AM on Saturday, June 5th, 38 riders total and eight from my club left the parking lot of Eastern Wayne High School in Goldsboro, NC to attempt a 200 mile ride. The plan was to do four loops: 65 miles, 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 bridge 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 NUUN. I added two more bottles of NUUN 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 had a flat. The break didn’t last long because my favorite wrench, 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 off the back. We made another unplanned stop. Two riders could not continue: a member of our club who has done the ride before and another rider who has completed at least one Ironman. We also had a few folks who wanted to finish the loop but couldn’t hold the pace. They formed an autobus and gave the rest of us their blessing.

At the parking lot I 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 and 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 bibs 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 of the day. I was hurting. My heart rate, which had been climbing since that morning 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 LT 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 loop.

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. 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.

*Footnote – I took Sunday off, rode 30 miles on Monday at TT pace and then went out Tuesday and did 100 miles by myself to make sure I still had my mojo. I did.