Monday, October 7, 2013

Sea Gull Century

Sea Gull Century
I know I haven't been keeping this blog up to date.  But it's been a busy year.

At the (almost) last minute last Sunday, I decide to sign up for the Sea Gull Century Ride.  It's a 100 mile ride on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  There were three courses available: Assateague, Snow Hill and a Princess Anne Metric Century (100 km/62 mi).  I did the Assateague ride since it went out to the ocean.

I spent last week ping ponging back and forth between confidence that it would be no big deal to high anxiety worrying that I would be able to finish the ride.

Since I registered for the ride so late, when I tried to get a hotel, many of them were sold out.  So, I went on Priceline and found one close to Salisbury University (where the ride starts and ends).  I should have known that I didn't get lucky.  It was a dump and I had a smoking room...  that stale stench... Yuck.

But, I was only in the room for a few hours and around 7 AM on Saturday, I got up and headed in to SU to pick up my number and get started.  I was number 6601.  I got the numbers affixed to my jersey, helmet, and bike and headed over to the starting line.  I got my music ready and pushed off around 8:30.

I really wasn't sure what to expect so I decide to pay attention to what the people around me were doing.  None of them were pushing it and were going a steady pace (around 16-18 mph).  So, I went with the flow.  After a little bit, the other two courses broke off and some of the more experienced riders let go and took off.  I kept my pace at around 18 mph.  It seemed reasonable and as I started doing the math: it felt like a good time to finish at just over 5 1/2 hours.  But really, I had no idea what to expect time-wise.

I had brought several packets of Gu in my "food pouch", three granola bars in my under the seat bag, two bottles of Gatorade G2 (the blue stuff) in my back jersey pockets, and four bottles of water in the cages on my bike.  I had my first packet of Gu after about an hour and had other ones about every 45 minutes after that.  About 2.5 hours in, I started adding sips of Gatorade in-between the Gu breaks.  Gu is convenient because I can use my teeth to rip into the packet and then squeeze it into my mouth without slowing down.  Being a good citizen of Earth, I don't rip the top completely off of the packet and then I put the empty packet back in my food pouch.  It disgusts me to see all of the Gatorade bottles and Gu packets on the side of the road.  Don't people even care?  (Sadly, I know the answer)

They had rest stops around every 20 miles.  It wasn't clearly marked what was going on and I really didn't want to stop at 20 miles.  But, I turned right and realized I was headed to the rest stop and not towards where the course continued.  So, I followed those that had already rested back out.  For the next 40 miles, I felt good.  I got passed by faster riders.  I passed slower riders.  I had some people who seemed not to know what pace they wanted and would pass and be passed by them often.  The 40 mile rest stop wasn't a turn off from the course -- you basically had to ride through it even if you didn't want to stop... and that caused a bit of confusion.  I didn't feel the need to stop and didn't want to deal with the crowds.  So I pushed on and kept my 18 mph pace until I got to Assateague at just over 60 miles.

Approaching Assateague was the first "climb" of the day.  I had just passed my previous record (set only the Saturday before) of 54 miles and the climb was the bridge over to the island (is it an island?) where the rest stop was.  But, it wasn't too difficult, even though nobody seemed to fly over it.  At the rest stop there were venders, bike repair tents, riders' family members, places to get food, and probably regular tourists.  I wanted to refill the 3 empty water bottles (of my four), eat a snack, stretch, and get back on the road.  But it was pure chaos.  I stood in line for what seemed like forever for water.  And nobody really seemed to know what they were doing or what line they were supposed to be in.  But, except for a long-ish wait for water, it was pretty uneventful.  I finished my first bottle of Gatorade (which was about half full) and had two granola bars.

I got back on my bike after stretching and immediately noticed something: my knees were screaming!  It took a few minutes for the arthritis in my knees to calm down a bit and I was back to pedaling.  There was a bit of automobile and bicycle traffic for a while coming out of Assateague, so I really didn't get back up to 18 mph for a bit.  At that point, I had considered riding straight through to the finish, but I wasn't sure yet.  Somewhere around 70 miles, I noticed that my pace had fallen off a bit.  I was going somewhere between 15 and 16 mph.  But, I figured that was OK.  It seemed like the pace of the riders around me was consistent: the fast riders were still passing me and the slower riders were still getting passed.  So, I kept it up.  Again, not having done this before, I really didn't know what a good completion time for me was.

At some point around 79 or 80 miles (about 3 miles before the final rest stop), I had to pee.  And, I was getting sort of stiff.  So, I stopped at a convenient place where I could go into the woods and conclude my business.  I stretched some more, too.  Then, I got back on my bike and started riding.  I figured that if I still felt kind of bad, I'd stop at the rest stop, but I felt REALLY good.  After being frustrated at the 60 mile rest stop, I decided to skip the one at 80.  As I did, some guy coming out of the rest stop said, "You're not going to stop?  They have pie and ice cream!"  I thought, "who the hell wants to eat pie and ice cream in the middle of a 100 mile bike ride?"  But instead I said that I had just taken a break to stretch and eat a snack, so I was fine.  Then he took off.

Throughout the whole ride there were families by the road with signs, water, lemonade, brownies, ...  Many of them had bells and would ring them and say inspirational things as the riders passed.  It was really nice to see.  One group had a sign that said "Ice Cold Beer", but it didn't look like anyone took them up on it.  I guess over 25 years, the people there are used to this event (there were at least 6601 riders, right?  I actually saw some numbers in the 6700s) and came out to support it.  The event is a fundraiser for Salisbury University and I guess what's good for the University is good for the town.  It was really nice to see them out there.

For the next 10 miles or so, I could tell both my physical energy level and my emotional energy level were draining.  I started to worry if this "100 mile" ride was actually going to be more like 105 miles.  And whether you've got either 10 miles to go or 15 miles to go, that's significant at 13 mph or so.  So, I was starting to panic a bit and wonder if I would be able to finish.  I had seen my pace drop off by 5 mph and I wasn't feeling all that good.  I wanted to make it until about 95 miles, take a break to eat a granola bar and stretch.  But, I didn't make it that far.  I had to stop at around 92 miles.  I stopped at the side of the road, had my last granola bar and the rest of my Gatorade.  That left one bottle of water for the rest of the ride and "Gu Chomps".  So, I had a Gu Chomp, too, and a little bit of water.  I stretched for a few minutes and tried to get my head back in the game.

I got on the bike and started riding towards the finish.  I was still very anxious worrying if it was 8 miles to go or 13.  But, then at just over 94 miles, I saw possibly the best thing ever.  There was a family outside their house in lawn-chairs cheering on the riders.  And they had a huge poster-board sign that read: "Congratulations!  You're almost there!  6.05 miles to go!"  And in that sign I got the inspiration to finish strong.  All of a sudden, I got extra power in my legs and went from about 14 mph to 18 mph and raced the last 6 miles to the finish.  Six miles is easy.  I can do that.  And I did.

I got back to the town where the ride started and there were people waving us on and cheering, "Way to go!"  "You did it!" "Congratulations!" as we made our way through the last little bit.  They had us ride through a tunnel that went under the main road in front of SU and the finish line was on the other side.  It was such a great feeling to ride under that "FINISH" banner!  Some people screamed as the crossed.  I just rode under and quietly felt pleased at the accomplishment.  While I passed 100 miles at just under 6 hours (according to my bike computer), I rode under the "FINISH" banner at 06:02:07.  That's an average of 16.8 mph.  I'm very happy with that time.

I had bested my previous longest ride by 47 miles (54 -> 101).  Given where I was a year ago (~290 pounds with no physical activity) to where I am today (~200 pounds playing tennis, taking Krav Maga, and going on pretty long of bike rides), I'm really pleased with the whole thing.

I was pretty sore immediately after the ride and pretty tired.  My neck and shoulders were stiff and my butt was quite sore from 6 hours in the saddle.  But, I rode my bike back to my car, got my gear loaded and drove the 2.5 hours home.  When I got home, I knees were really sore, but I felt good.  Holly and I went out to Victoria Gastro Pub for dinner (I ate 2/3 of a small poutine, two entree salads, 1 1/2 bowls of onion soup, a burger (with a side salad) and had a bottle of root beer.  Then I had popcorn and ice cream when I got home).  Then, I slept like a baby.  I woke up on Sunday, late (10 AM), but felt pretty good overall.  I even did some yard work.  And, I even woke up early today (Monday) to play some tennis.

So, what's next?