Conquering My Everest

It’s been my Everest–the elusive full Century bike ride. One hundred plus miles of cycling in a single day. I had planned to ride my first century last year after biking for about a year. Pregnancy changed that plan, and I rode the 37-mile portion of the San Diego Century instead, while six months pregnant.
I decided to make the San Diego Century my first century ride. I’ve completed the 37-mile portions of it the last two years and figured that (hopefully!) this will be the last time I’ll be able to do it as we’re looking to move up to Northern California sometime this year.
Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line!

Over these past two months, I’ve been logging 60+ miles of riding each week, including longer 35-45 mile rides on the weekend with lots of hills. The San Diego Century is known for its hills including a huge one known as the “Purple Monster.”
Since the first thing to fatigue on long rides are my arms, I added a full upper body workout that includes free weights and weight machines. I’ve been doing this three times a week since January. This training proved to be super beneficial throughout my ride. In fact, aside from my elbows (which hurt from being locked in place for so long), my arms and shoulders didn’t feel fatigued at all, even after I finished the ride.
It’s Go Time
The morning of the ride, I felt really good. I chugged down a green smoothie with kale, spinach, grapes, a banana and veggie protein before I set off. My pack was filled with 2 liters of water in a hydration pack, plus an extra canteen of water, a bottle of coconut water, three tire tubes, 3 CO2 cartridges, 3 baby food pouches, goo and sunscreen. The organizers had advised starting the ride as close to 6am as possible and to load up on sunscreen and water–the weather had forecast temperatures in the 100s that day.
I felt great for the first 45 miles, and stopped at all of the SAG stops to refuel and stretch. I made it through the smaller hills and was about to tackle the Purple Monster. And what a monster it was: looking up at it from the road, I let out an audible gasp. The road wound up a huge hill–it was like something out of Dr. Seuss! But I pedaled, even if I was only traveling at 4mph. The sun beat down on me and I was sweating like a priest in a whorehouse. Other riders offered words of encouragement as they passed me.
After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the top of the hill. After turning left onto the next road, my heart sank–there were more hills to come. These hills were smaller and shorter; however, coming after one giant hill, they seemed to suck the life from me. I pedaled as I cursed all the way to the next SAG stop. These damn hills weren’t labeled on the trip sheet!
Once I refueled and stretched, I set off back down the hills. However, I hit my wall at mile 70. Marathon runners talk about the wall–that point where your body begins to protest. My legs were like noodles and I felt like I was pedaling through molasses. Every part of my body ached–my neck, my elbows, my hands, my knees, my sitz bone. Plus, my skin was  turning pink. I began to question why the hell I was doing this. It’s ridiculously hot, I’m tired and sore. “Ugh, this sucks!” I kept saying. Feeling sorry for myself, I began to cry a little bit. I pulled off to side of the road and chewed a goo while I pulled myself together. After a few miles, I was feeling better and pedaled to the next SAG station.
I get by with a little help from strangers
At mile 82 I reached the last SAG station. After an especially delicious square of PB&J and some water, I set off to finish the ride. Throughout the race, I saw the same riders. Sometimes they would pass me, other times I would pass them. This time I left with a small group of other riders and followed them to the end. Among them was an older gentlemen who was kind enough to let me draft him toward the end. Drafting is when one rider rides behind another rider. The first rider takes the brunt of the headwinds making it easier for the second rider to pedal. Additionally, we chatted about cycling and our families, so that made the ride go much more quickly.
The San Diego Century route

The San Diego Century route

The last few miles are always the hardest. Once we reached Via de la Valle, I knew we were almost to the finish. I got my second (well, by this time it would probably be my 5th) wind and pedaled hard to the finish. My hubby and son were waiting at the finish line, cheering me on as I collected my medal.
3 things I learned from my first century ride
1. It’s all about preparation, but plan for the unexpected. While I prepared for the first huge hill, I didn’t count on the several smaller, but no less scary, hills that followed. To paraphrase my favorite children’s book, I couldn’t fly over them, I couldn’t get around them, I just had to suck it up and go over them.
2. You can go it alone…but it’s easier with the help of others. Could I have finished the ride by myself without talking to another cyclist? Sure. Would it have been lonely and made it easier to quit? Yes. Socializing with another rider made me more accountable–I didn’t want to hold him back from reaching the finish. Plus everything is easier when pleasant conversation is involved.
3. The body is an amazing machine. While I had this realization after I gave birth to my son, the century ride reinforced it. Five years ago, I never would have even dreamed of riding 7 miles so 107 was not even on the radar. With the right preparation, your body can do anything.

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