Adventures in Triathlon

Multisport as art and science

My first Century Ride! The Corkscrew Century…

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(This post took several weeks to write. The ride was actually Sept 10)

Yesterday I rode my first century around the Finger Lakes region in New York. The event, called the Highlander Cycle Tour, offered two different century routes, a metric century, and a completely crazy double-metric century (called the DB4D or “Death Before Dismount!”). We opted for the “gentler” of the two full Century rides, the Corkscrew. It was plenty challenging, including about 6000 feet of climbing. It was beautiful, too. We started the day driving from my sister-in-law’s house in Rochester down to Bristol Mountain Resort where the ride started and finished. A brilliant sun rise turned into a lovely blue sky with some puffy white clouds. The air felt cool, enough so that we put on arm warmers for the start. We were glad not to have overdressed by the midpoint of the tour. It was a glorious, warm, sunny, clear day.

We had planned to get on the road right at 7am when the course opened. We arrived before 7 at Bristol Mountain and picked up our packets. The line for the bathrooms was long and it also took us a while to get all of our gear together. We bought the arm warmers from the local bike shop’s tent after spending some time thinking about light jackets and finally deciding on the warmers. I turned on my Garmin only to find out that it wouldn’t turn on. Maybe I’d left it on and the battery died, but it was completely unresponsive. So much for the data I’d been hoping to track!

When we finally mounted our bikes my gears weren’t shifting properly, so back to the bike shop tent we went. The mechanic noticed that my derailleur was bent, but without the proper tool he just did the best he could to adjust it by hand. It was “good enough” but not perfect and we finally set out… some time around 8am!

The ride immediately headed skyward, albeit gently. We tried to warm up slowly and to enjoy the morning. After the first five miles we started heading down hill and were very happy for the arm warmers. We settled in to the ride eventually and very soon we passed the first aid station. It was something like eleven miles in to the century. We opted to skip that one since we hadn’t even warmed up fully yet. Just after the aid station we hit the first major challenge. The hill, called French Hill, was incredibly steep. We could see a gentleman ahead of us swerving back and forth across the road to try to minimize the grade of the climb. What? Wait a minute… we did the Corkscrew because it was supposed to have nothing greater than 10%! This was surely much steeper than 10%, but I guess not long enough to have made the mile average that high. I headed upwards, but worried to myself that the hubs (who has had little training time) would not make it. I also hadn’t shifted into my small chain ring (I have a triple and was in my middle ring) so I was stuck in a tougher gear than I would have liked. I kept looking back to check on the hubs. This turned out to be a Bad Decision. I was so worried that when I got to the steepest part of the climb my focus was lost. I couldn’t turn the pedal, and I stopped. DAMN. I was stuck on a very steep climb. I tried over and over to get back on my bike and get my second foot clipped in. Eventually I was able to do it (once I had reached a slightly less steep section of the hill). In the meantime the hubs had passed me as well as the other two guys I had passed before my panic attack. I was very angry with myself for stopping and stewed about it for longer than I should have. I was totally not prepared for something that steep. Not mentally prepared, that is, but I think that’s the hardest part sometimes.

After French Hill we headed down a long descent and eventually another fairly good sized climb. We had started catching up with a bunch of the earlier starters. It was fun being around a bunch of people, especially as we were all working our way up a pretty long (but far less steep) climb. I felt pretty good at that point and knew we were getting close to the aid station. We took a decent break at the aid station, fueling up on PBJ, cookies, and fruit. We stripped off the arm warmers having finally fully warmed up and the chill mostly gone from the air. The aid station was at around 27 miles into the ride. The next aid station we were told would be at mile 51. I overheard some guy telling his companion that there was a very large hill right before the next aid station. I filed that information away and we took off.

We had agreed we would be taking the pace easy, knowing that the climbs and the length of the day’s ride would be plenty of a challenge. The hubs was feeling pretty good and I was finally fully warmed up and into my groove. We were chatting with each other and the other cyclists we passed. The hubs was reminiscing about his last (and only previous) Century ride – the Hotter ‘n’ Hell One Hundred, a flat century ride in Texas during August (he rode it in 2009). He rode that century in about 5 hours even with a few breaks. That was the summer we had ridden in the Alpes in France and he had been training plenty. We talked about getting back into great shape once again and how it’s more difficult as you get older to “recover” lost fitness after a long period off of riding. But the day was still young (even though we had already ridden well over 30 miles) and he was feeling good, and the road wasn’t going up when we were passed by a pair of men flying along at about 25mph. The hubs jumped on their wheel and motioned for me to jump on his. I did, and we stayed with them for a while. I knew this wasn’t a good idea for long as it was all I could do to keep up with these guys and we weren’t even halfway through the day. I could tell the hubs was enjoying the feeling of riding fast so I kept it up until I felt like I was getting tired out. That was when I fell back. When the hubs noticed he backed off as well and agreed with me that we needed to stick with our original plan. It was a good thing. That hill right before the halfway point aid station was a doozy…

The hill seemed to go on forever. It was never nearly as steep as French hill, but it was very very long. After my frustration and panic on the first hill I decided I had to climb the hill on my own and not look back or worry about the hubs. I had to get into my own zone and stay focused on turning the pedals around and around. I actually (oddly) enjoyed climbing the hills on this ride. I was not racing so I could adjust as I went, determining what was best to work my way up the hill. I stayed pretty steady and used my gears. I was glad to have the triple. I have only ever used the small chain ring once before (on a steep climb at Alcatraz) but on this ride I used it and appreciated it! At the top of the hill there were several small groups gathered waiting for their companions behind them still climbing. I stopped and waited for the hubs to reach the top and drank some water. My quads started to cramp up. Looking ahead it appeared there was a second hill coming after the descent. When the hubs came over the top he went right on down the other side and I immediately followed. The next hill turned out to be nothing (we coasted over it with the momentum of the downhill) and at the bottom of that was the midway aid station. My quads were cramping pretty strongly for a bit at the aid station so I helped myself to a banana and rubbed my legs. We recharged for a while and shared some Clif chews. We listened to a few folks talking about a huge hill close to the end of the ride. We were glad we hadn’t tried to stay with the fast guys any longer than a few miles. After a while there was nowhere to go but onward. Although I believe the hubs jokingly discussed the availability of room on the SAG wagon…

The Second Half

We left the midway aid station feeling reasonably okay (or at least I was feeling okay). We left by ourselves, which is pretty much how we spent most of the ride, although we passed and were passed by plenty of fellow riders over the course. The next few miles were uneventful enough that I don’t remember anything specific about them. There were some hills, and I know at one point the hubs confessed that if we came to the 70 mile turnoff he might just have to take it. We didn’t realize at the time that the turnoff must have been at the aid station but we hadn’t noticed it. The next aid station was just 16 miles further so we thought we were in good shape. We reached a long downhill section where the road wasn’t very nice. It was cracked or ridged every few feet. The hubs goes down the hills much faster than I do, but I catch up with him on the way back up. I remarked how bad the road was in that stretch when we got back together. Fortunately the next section was smooth and I thought we had left the worst of the pavement behind us. How wrong I was (but I am getting ahead of myself). The next down hill section plunged, yes PLUNGED for at least a couple of miles down a steep hill to Keuka Lake. As I watched the hubs disappearing ahead of me while I tried to restrain myself from riding my brakes too much I could practically hear the concern in his head because what goes down MUST come back up…

And up it went. There were other rider heading down on the opposite side of the street as we climbed back up from the bottom of the hill. We knew several routes coexisted but weren’t sure which group it was. Someone told us they looked familiar and he thought they were on the same route as we were riding. When we turned towards the aid station it became clear that this hill was a spur and we would have to back track after the aid station. And then we realized that to get to the stop we would have to go down a steep climb… and come back up the climb to return to the route. The hubs, already grumbling about the backtracking situation, and I decided to skip the aid station and turn around without this extra hill. I’m not sure whether it was the right or wrong choice. We kept riding and were in a long stretch of where our route overlapped with the harder Highlander Century route. Several more aggressive (more athletic, better trained) riders passed us, but we stayed at our own pace and moved forward. Our rears were starting to get rather uncomfortable in the saddles and my stomach was starting to growl. At one point we came upon a sharp climb. I dropped into an easy gear and pushed upwards. I tried my best to stay steady but also not get too far ahead of the hubs. I waited at the top and suggested a break but he wanted to keep riding for a while longer. After a while I finally insisted we stop and eat some of the chews I had in my Bento Box. We had no idea where the next stop would be and we were closing in on 80 miles. We were also close to running out of water since we’d skipped the previous aid stop. When we started riding again we were looking for the telltale yellow signs in leading up to the rest stop. In the distance I could see some signs and hoped we had reached one. “Get in your lowest gear NOW” the sign proclaimed. “STEEP climb ahead” read the next one. And the yellow Highlander Century arrows pointed to a sharp right turn that took the road up a crazy steep hill. We kept right on heading straight, relieved that the white arrows for our route didn’t point up that awful hill, but nervous because our arrows seemed to have disappeared. We chatted with another rider who had been behind us, agreeing that there was no way he was going to climb that hill and also hoping that we were still on the route. The hubs was fading and a few miles later he told me he had to stop. I could see what looked like a yellow sign ahead and told him that we should get to that sign and if it wasn’t a rest station we would stop anyway. Fortunately it was a rest stop, and it was just in time!

We spent a very long time at this rest stop. The hubs was cramping badly, both of our butts hurt, we were hungry and thirsty, had to take nature breaks, and generally needed some time OFF the bikes. We also looked through the course elevation profiles and could see where we were (86 miles) and where we were heading (up a bit more, then way down and then WAY UP a steep hill before headed down to the finish). We talked to a few people about the last hill and were told it would be steep and long. We were scared! We also listened to people talking and heard that ahead of us was a mile and half section of road that had been shredded to prep it for repaving. Yuck, I thought. I had no idea just how bad that would be. We finally got back on our bikes and started up the hill. I had a sharp cramp in my quad and had to back of and avoid pushing. The hubs told me that was pretty much how he had been feeling for the last 40 miles! It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty, but we made it up the hill. The hubs took off down the hill, enjoying the benefit of gravity. I knew I’d catch up with him so I just watched him disappear up ahead. Descents are always scary for me, but halfway through this one I reached the worst part of the ride for me. The shredded section of road was the most jarring and uncomfortable cycling experience I have every had. I was scared. I couldn’t see because I was being shaken so much. I rode with my hands gripping the brakes going ridiculously slow so I could see at least well enough not to crash. Everything hurt. My brain felt like it was sloshing around and hitting my skull. As I tried to make my way down the hill I started sobbing. Sobbing on a DOWN HILL section. It was that bad. A bunch of people passed me. They weren’t going fast but I was going painfully slow. It felt like it would never end. When it did, I was still upset but ridiculously thankful for (mostly) smooth pavement. Very soon after I could see THE HILL looming in front of me. As I passed a guy who had passed me down the shredded pavement he wished me luck and told me to enjoy the climb. He said “it just keeps going and going” up. As I pedaled and began to climb up out of the town of Naples I felt relief washing over me. I knew that this hill wouldn’t be a problem because the road was buttery smooth! The hubs was waiting at what he thought was the top of the hill, but it turned out to be only about a third of the way up. He joined me and we kept climbing. I felt strong and I felt good. I thought to myself that I would rather climb this hill three times than ride that shredded section again. I easily passed at least a dozen riders. At the top of the hill was the final aid station. The view of Lake Canandaigua was amazing, and we also knew we had just about 5 miles left and no more big hills! It was a great feeling! After a little while at the stop we cruised off to finish our ride. I wouldn’t say the last few miles were easy as we were both pretty much toast, but there was no question we would make it okay. We pulled into the parking lot of Bristol Mountain Resort about 8 hours after we had left (about 7 of which we had spent actually riding).

I had completed my very first Century ride. It was 103 challenging miles through scenic roads in upstate New York. I was covered in salt and smelled totally ripe. My legs were exhausted, my back hurt, and my nether regions were very angry at me. And I had a huge smile on my face and thought to myself that next year I definitely want to do the High-Tri challenge (which would mean completing the Century ride Saturday and the Finger Lakes Triathlon on Sunday morning). Yes, I hope to be back next year!

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Written by lieberwoman

September 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] lost all hope of finding ours. We started with two of them, but one disappeared somewhere after our Century ride last year, and then the remaining one is MIA after the hubs took it along with him for his cycling […]


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