That which does not kill us, makes us stronger. - Nietzsche

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What it's like to ride 63 miles on a bike

First of all, I managed to get back on my bike the Wednesday before Ride Cincinnati. I wasn't absolutely terrified of biking, but I was maybe more nervous than I was letting myself believe. I realized that day how much I really had been putting off another bike workout. I ran, heck, I SWAM, but I was coming up with reasons not to ride my bike - too hot, too busy, too tired - when usually I barely think of biking as exercise. I'll jump on my bike for the complete heck of it.

So I came to this realization, and had a small slice of daylight left, and I realized I just had to do it. Had to make sure I could get back on a bike without being paranoid about falling. So I did, and I went fast, and I didn't fall, and it felt great. End of story.

My longest rides have all been around 25 miles. Somehow, I decided that the 62.8 mile Ride Cincinnati was a great idea. When I ride 20-ish miles, I do always feel like I could ride much more, maybe even all day. There were shorter versions of Ride Cincy, but I wanted to do the big one. Bike coach told me I should be able to feasibly triple my normal ride. So I signed up.

That morning, I was seriously nervous. I'm always nervous before a race, but that was the first time I think I've ever felt nervous because I seriously considered that I couldn't physically do that distance. There's gotta be a point where my legs just won't pedal anymore, right? Choked down breakfast, got there with plenty of time, two water bottles (one water, one gatorade) and a brand new flat repair kit. At least I felt like I LOOKED like I belonged. Found the Running Spot group and hung out with them, somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The first thing I was seriously nervous (ok, terrified) about was the start. To me, it looked like it had the potential for all sorts of accidents. I purposely didn't clip in either foot, but it went pretty smoothly. It was slow, and at one point I was afraid everyone was going to slow down so much that someone would crash and we'd all go down like dominoes, but once we were over the bridge, people were moving. Rode with Steve from the group for a little bit, until we hit a hill and he lost me. I suck suckity suck at hills, much like running. I know that just means I need to do them more, but I haaaaate them. Anyway, I was riding right behind others in the group until they, too, got ahead of me on a hill. Actually, for a while I felt like EVERYONE was passing me and that I should change my name to "on your left". It was a bit discouraging, but I was happy with my speed FOR ME, I wanted to make sure my pace was super comfortable, and I reminded myself that it was probably the pack evening out. Some people looked like they were trying to be Lance Armstrong, for sure.

Then I was alone for a while. There were people behind me, there were people ahead of me, and there was me and a lot of open space. I got a bit bored. Plus, I had no protection from the wind. When I found myself starving for human companionship, I managed to match pace with a guy who had done a few bike endurance events. That made me happy. We talked for a bit, but he decided to pull off at a rest stop, and I was feeling good enough that I didn't want to stop.

I had told myself that I could turn around at the 21 mile stop if I really felt like I couldn't make it 62 miles, but I felt great. I even felt like I could go more than 62. And then.....mile 25. A steep effing hill. I tackled the hill at a whopping 6 mph. Thank God that I had done some hill practice, on a bigger hill, because remembering that chased all the "I can't do it" thoughts away. For the next 5 miles, the hills were bigger, kind of rolling but it felt like a net uphill. That's all right, I figured, 'cuz it'll be downhill on the way back. Mile 31 was pretty much all downhill, but not steep. It was kind of deceptive; I almost didn't realize we were going downhill until I saw people struggling a bit coming back.

Stopped at the turnaround and decided to take my time there. I had done 31.4 miles in 2:02, and I was pretty happy with that. I topped off the gatorade (mixing fruit punch with lemonade; pretty good actually) and ate a slice of bread with peanut butter, half a banana, and animal crackers (!!!) I was ridiculously excited that they had animal crackers. I mentioned my theory, that after that first mile back it would be a net downhill, and someone told me that it was actually deceptively rolling. Gulp. When I felt good and ready, I got back on the bike. Oh man. It was so hard to get used to riding again, especially when that first mile was uphill. But after was still a lot of uphill. There were some small downhills but it pretty much felt like I kept going uphill over and over. WTF? I felt like I was stuck in the MC Escher painting with the endless staircase, except this was a road that went uphill in all directions. How was that even possible????

Stop the madness!!
Finally, I hit the mile 25 hill again, which turned into a wickedly fun downhill. My eyes were stinging and I wondered why, until I realized that I had taken my sunglasses off at the turnaround and they were still hanging off my shirt. Post-hill, though, I was pretty worn out. I realized that there was a pretty decent headwind that didn't help matters at all. I was all by my lonesome again. I was tired. I wasn't having fun. I didn't need any food or hydration, but I pulled off at the next rest stop just to regroup and to see some other human beings. I idled there for a few minutes, sipping a little water. I heard other people talk about struggling and I felt a little better. Back on the road. I entertained the thought of pulling off the side of the road and lying down in the grass. I probably wouldn't have the energy to unclip, so I'd just plop over with the bike on top of me and take a little nap there. I came up with a new mantra: "Just effing pedal!" I repeated it over and over. There was a large truck behind me on an uphill, and I thought to myself, "Sorry man, I can't go any faster" and hoped it wouldn't run me over. A pickup truck passed and I thought pretty seriously about grabbing on to the back end. I tried to distract myself. Counting miles was painfully slow, so I started singing. One somewhat-little-known fact about me is that I looove singing. It's stress relieving. For whatever reason, Whitney Houston popped into my head. So I was chugging along, singing just loud enough that only I could hear it. "And Iiiii (pant) eee-iiii (pant) will always love yoooo (pant) ooooou..." An older guy passed me with a cheesy grin and said, "Looks like we've got a little wind, huh??" He looked so insanely happy that I cracked up. I also saw a guy wearing normal athletic shorts. OUCH. My butt was killing me in padded bike shorts. I couldn't imagine the world of pain he was in.

Mile 50. Another rest stop and I was craving animal crackers. I had killed off the rest of the gatorade, and after 32 oz, I was sick of it, so I filled up with water. They had vanilla gel, too, so I had one to compliment the animal crackers. I tried to stretch a bit, but my hips and glutes and quads were pretty much stuck right where they were. I asked a volunteer if they had a taxi service and he said, "Only if you're unconscious!" Back on the trail, I heard a "There you are! We wondered what happened to you!" It was two older gentlemen that I'd been chatting with pre-race. I think they were worried when I told them I'd never ridden even half today's distance. I stuck with them for a while and we chatted. I felt infinitely better. I considered breaking off because I felt like I could go faster, but I decided the comeraderie was helping. Plus, there were more cars passing now, so it was hard to pass anyone else. At times, we just had to ride in one straight line.

They stopped eventually and pulled over to stretch, so I kept going. I felt good and sped up, but a couple of miles later, I was back to "just freaking finish this thing" mode. More singing. I saw the marina 4 miles from the finish and my mantra changed. "I'm gonna make it! I'm gonna make it!" the voice in my head kept singing. Started meeting up with some of the riders from the shorter rides. I don't want to be a bike snob....but there was an obvious disconnect between the 63 milers and the 8 milers. Cotton t-shirts, tennis shoes, and weaving all over the road while chatting were pretty common themes. I passed quite a few people. Got into Bellevue; got annoyed with some of the aforementioned people completely disregarding traffic rules and lights. The couple in front of me ran a red light as a car was about to turn into the intersection. No wonder drivers get frustrated with cyclists. Arrgh!

I've never been happier to see Newport and the bridge. Kept riding to my car, dismantled my bike and put it in my backseat (I have mastered the art of putting a bicycle in a subcompact car, although my seat is covered in grease), thought about hitting up the afterparty but decided I was done standing or walking for a long time.

At home, I took my first ever ice bath. I used to think the ice bath devotees were crazy. To me, a bath/shower isn't hot enough unless my skin is neon pink when I get out, even during the summer, even after exercising. I didn't think I could even tolerate an ice bath, but I felt SO MUCH BETTER afterwards and I wasn't sore at all the next day. I was exhausted, but not stiff or sore. I will make this a regular thing, even though my husband raised his eyebrows at the sight of me, in shorts and a hoodie, sitting in ice water. Nothing much surprises him anymore, though.

Oh yeah, my ride back was 2:24, for a total of 63 point something miles in 4:26. I would've liked to average 15 mph for the whole thing, but I'm thrilled that I did it and finished it!

Random things I learned from this experience:
  • I'm getting better at drinking while riding
  • Proper snot rocket form is an art
  • The human body can create seemingly impossible amounts of mucus
  • Sneezing while riding uphill and breathing heavily is scary
  • Cyclists are pretty nice people
  • I can do anything I decide I want to do!
Oh yeah - no more falling. :)


  1. WAY TO GO.

    To get out there and do something like that is just fantastic. I don't know if I would have the guts to do what you just did. Congratulations!!!!

    "I should change my name to "on your left""
    That made me go AWWWWWWWW! And made me think I should do that too!!!

  2. Naaaw....I just have this insatiable urge to try things when they're presented to me. :) It was actually lots of fun, and I still need to meet up with you and BDD at some point!! :)

  3. Awesome job! I can't believe you rode that kind of distance. I'm super impressed.

  4. Totally!!! We would love to have you come ride/swim with us!!