“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley” (From the poem “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns in 1785)
Well, dear readers, the reason for this blog’s existence has come to pass. My SAT and I completed my first double century yesterday after many, MANY hours of seemingly endless pedaling. Warning: this post is a LONG one, so read at your peril and/or leisure.
Training for this event began in early November 2014. I used Bicycling magazine’s 16 week training plan and scheduled the double century for February 28, 2015 (i.e., yesterday). I’ve never trained for a physical event before, so this whole experience was definitely eye-opening and challenging. The first 3 months of training went fairly smoothly and without interruptions. The month of February went extremely quickly, not only because it is a short month, but also because of major life changes and illness that popped up unexpectedly. Those changes necessitated weekends away from home and days of recuperation, all of which pushed my training down the priority totem pole. It was a little frustrating, but no matter what plans one may make, they are almost certain to be disrupted. Robert Burns knew that way back in 1785! My consolation was that I had built up a decent foundation of fitness and mileage by early February and that was probably going to be enough to see me through the double century on my originally scheduled date of February 28, 2015. I was also fairly certain that if the double did not occur on my originally scheduled date, it was not going to happen for a long time, if ever, because of all the life changes coming my way.
My SAT (“self-appointed trainer” for those of you coming to this blog now!) and I checked various weather websites religiously over the past week and were disappointed to see the forecast for Las Vegas and Death Valley (original venue of the double century) worsening as the week wore on. Rain = 50%, wind = YES and very strong, colder temperatures, etc. Should we cancel? Postpone? Celebrate the impending cancellation? Well, my SAT thought differently and had a great idea on Friday February 27 at approximately 12 noon: what if we did the double century anyway, just the two of us, in Yuma, AZ? (FYI: I was out doing errands when he had this brainwave.) He called my parents in Yuma — they are retired and spend their winters there, like many other retirees — and told them his plan. Would it be ok for us to come out there tonight and use their house as a home base (or, “aid station”) so that we could attempt the double tomorrow? The weather was supposed to be dry, sunny, and not too windy in Yuma. My SAT calls me at about 12:20pm, saying “we’re leaving for Yuma in a couple of hours and we’re going to do your double there tomorrow.”
Ok. Yikes. It was actually going to happen, but on a much smaller scale. Instead of an organized event with plenty of aid stations and support vehicles, we were going to improvise some sort of route that will equal 200 miles self-supported. This just got real.
Saturday February 28, 2015. 5:00am. Yuma, AZ.
We got up at 4:30am, after driving for 5 hours the previous day. A part of me was still in disbelief. Whose idea was this? It didn’t take long to get ready because we did the preparation and packing last night after arriving at my parents’ place (home base). Here we are just before we rolled out:
We had about 2 hours until sunrise, so we thought it may be a good idea to get some miles around town done while it was still quiet. Since we didn’t have an official route, just a vague sense of north/south/east/west, we wandered a bit and after about 25 miles, pedaled back to home base to ponder our next move. After a brief discussion, we decided to head north along SR 95 to the US Border Patrol checkpoint, which was 50 miles away. Not the most exciting cycling destination, but we would get a large chunk of miles done. All was going well so far: PERFECT temperature, dry, flat terrain….we were making good time, especially with a helpful tailwind at our back. Then, at mile 53 of our journey, I got a flat tire. Good thing I had a bike mechanic with me! The cause of the flat was a “big” thorn (according to my SAT):
Photo 1: The “big” thorn. Photo 2: my bike mechanic/SAT fixing my flat.
One challenge for me was to keep eating. Many seasoned endurance cyclists told me to eat often during the double. Normally, I’m a fan of food and eating is one of my hobbies. BUT eating whilst riding is a totally different story. My stomach was rebelling and even at this early stage in the double century, I was starting to feel some gastrointestinal distress. Since our double century was self-supported, we (or, rather, my SAT) had to carry our food, water, and clothing with us. Our food consisted of pizza, bananas, pb sandwiches, Shot Bloks, and fig bars:
We reached the US Border Patrol checkpoint and I sweet-talked the guards into letting me use their bathroom. Remember that nice tailwind I mentioned a few sentences ago? That was now a raging headwind that stayed with us the entire day. It was about 20mph and made the 50 mile return to home base difficult and long. We started taking short breaks every half hour to nibble some food, stretch, and reclaim our sanity.
Photo 1: pretty scenery. Photo 2: Tired and suffering from GI distress.
We finally made it back to home base! At this point, we were at 125 miles and 10 hours into the day. In case it wasn’t already obvious, I am not a sprinter. The wind slowed us down incredibly and my upset stomach was annoying the heck out of me. We took a longer break at home base, mainly for me to use the bathroom and to relax my tummy. Much too soon, it was time to head out to our next exciting destination: the Arizona State Prison Complex! Yes, don’t you wish you could have been there with us?
Photo 1: my parents took this of us! They drove out ahead of us specifically to take some pictures. Photo 2: pretty light on the road to the prison.
We hit 150 miles at 6:20pm (hour 13, good time for a break!).
This was when we had our Garmin disaster. My SAT wanted to recharge both Garmins (cycling computers), but 1) forgot to pack the battery packs in his trunk bag. At our last visit to home base, he brought them with us to recharge our Garmins at some point in the night…..2) when he plugged in the battery to my Garmin during our hour 13 break, he saw that it reset, losing all my data as a result. While not preferable, that wasn’t a total loss, as we still had SAT’s Garmin. He plugged in his Garmin to the battery and put both in his trunk bag, intending to take it out after a half hour or so, to give it a chance to recharge to a sufficient level of power. When he checked the Garmin, he learned to his dismay that it shut off, probably because it lost satellite contact. The good news: only the 9 miles we cycled during the half hour or so were lost. Bad news: we probably had to bike 9 miles to make up for the data we lost in order to have our Garmin record a full 200 mile ride. Not a happy thought during a double century. My SAT said that since he forgot to bring the battery packs, he would ride the extra 9 miles as punishment. [My first thought: “….and riding this double century isn’t punishment enough?” But I digress.] The AWESOME thing is that after uploading all the data we recorded to Strava, the social media site for cyclists and runners to post their rides and runs, the website interpolated the missing miles into our GPS track! Turned out we rode a few miles more than necessary. Ha, I rode a super ultra double century!
I am kind of impressed that I did this on schedule. I am very thankful to my SAT who encouraged and bullied me (in a loving way….I think….) to do this double and appreciative to him for carrying all our stuff, fixing my flat, protecting me from the wind, and just being so supportive of this whole endeavour. There MAY have been a few occasions during the double when his sunny optimism and unflagging enthusiasm were in direct opposition to my more stoic outlook on the ride. I know that at one point, he happily proclaimed that he was having so much fun and that “this is definitely the BEST day of the year!!!” I don’t remember saying anything in response. I may have grunted. In any case, we both survived and, despite our fatigue, went to In-n-Out for celebratory burgers and fries at 1am:
Nothing tastes as good as being FINISHED feels.
Cycling Lessons Learned:
- Train lots. Follow a plan and stick to it to the best of your ability (I had to modify mine a bit at the end due to life events and sickness). I was tired during my double century, but maintained a steady pace and effort. My SAT remarked that I was “riding strong” several times during the double and was really glad I stuck to the plan as well as I did.
- Stretch lots! I stood up a lot, I rolled my shoulders and neck, I twisted my upper body to each side. I’m happy to report that my soreness is minimal, my butt is totally fine, my feet are great, my wrists and hands are good. One concern I had was the soreness and muscle tension I would incur, as those things have been my constant companions during my training. I’m so glad those aren’t concerns now.
- Eat lots. This was difficult. I nibbled some food every half hour and ate something more substantial every hour on the hour. I also did my best to drink lots. I put Cytomax in my water, which has electrolytes and calories. Later in the day, I had a 50/50 mix of Gatorade and water in my water bottles.
- There WILL be tummy pain. This can’t be helped because of all the food consumed during the day. In my case, I was packing my body full of food in order to get the calories I needed to keep riding and avoid “bonking” (the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by precipitous fatigue and loss of energy). However, my body couldn’t digest — and more importantly, ELIMINATE the food — I was eating. I was getting more and more bloated and the pain I was feeling was due to gas buildup. I literally had a “food baby” — seriously, I looked like I was 4 months pregnant. Thankfully, my tummy didn’t stop me from completing my double century.
- Try to enjoy the ride. Really.
Am I glad I did this? Yes. This ride was definitely a challenge and there were a few times I would not have minded stopping. Permanently. Cycling is not my first love, and even now, I am still a “reluctant roadie.” However, I have proof that I can stick to a training plan and follow through with the plan’s goal. Would I do this again? Honestly, I don’t want to THINK about bikes or riding or events or anything related to those things for a while. (And believe me, my SAT had plenty of opportunities during the double century to “tempt” me with even sicker ultra cycling rides: “I can’t wait to do the HooDoo 500 with you! Wouldn’t that be fun to do it as a 2-person team?” No comment. At least out loud or on a public forum.
I think I’ll continue this blog to document other outdoor adventures. It has been a good experience so far and it has been fun to write reports for myself and for my vast audience of readers (thanks to all 5 of you who read this!). Until the next big adventure!