I’ve got so many friends who are tremendous athletes that I worry this article may seem silly to them. We all have to start somewhere, however, and this was my start.
A couple months ago, I picked up a really nice bike — a Cannondale — and I’ve had a good time getting outside and riding. When I bought the bike, I happened to pick up and innocent-looking piece of paper with the title, "St. Michael’s Historic Century." When I asked what it was, I was told that, in biking, a "century" means 100 miles. What a cool thing… a 100-mile ride.
After a few rides of increasing distance — 10, 15, 20, and even one day getting up to about 35 miles — I thought… why not? So I signed up my son and me for what I thought would be a nice "bonding"day. My daughter and a friend also decided to take part in the 25-mile part of the day.
We got to the start point pretty early, signed in, and had the guys from Bike Doctor give our bikes a final once over. I inquired where the start was going to be, and was told, "rolling start, here’s your directions… see you in a while." I saw people hitting the road, and ran to the kids. WE WERE GETTING BEAT ALREADY!!! Everything’s a race… right?
Once I made sure that Sammy and Patrick knew to follow the RED or WHITE arrows on the road, Kyle and I said good bye to them and got moving. We locked our eyes on the road and on our bike computers. Our goal was to average about 16 mph for the entire ride, so we didn’t want to go TOO fast at the start. At 16 mph, we figured we could finish in less than 7 hours. Seven hours… ughhhh. What was I thinking? But we got started.
It was a fitting day for swimming types to be riding bikes — rainy and windy. I initially LOVED the weather, but Kyle was a bit cold. I told him I didn’t think that would last long. We were both tempted to push the pace to get warmed up (and to stay ahead of the packs that would no doubt pass us), but I knew the goal was to FINISH the race, not "win" the first 15 miles, so we kept looking down and stayed on our planned pace. The first part of the course had a U-turn, and on the way back we saw Sammy and Patrick. We all smiled and waved… "Doesn’t the rain feel good?!"
The first rest stop was at 19 miles. This was pretty uneventful. We quickly went to the bathroom, grabbed a couple handfuls of breakfast bars, filled our water bottles, and got back on the road. Like a Formula 1 pit stop, we were in and out of there SO fast that we re-passed some of the groups that had screamed by us on the road. We checked our directions… 10 miles on this road before we had to turn… and settled in.
The wind really started kicking up, and it seemed that no matter which direction we were headed, the wind was coming right at us. I had learned from the Bike Doctor that this course is designed to take advantage of the long peninsulas on the eastern shore of Maryland, with open sights to water at just about every stretch. This means wind is going to swirl and come from all directions. GREAT! Now I find out. Somewhere in this segment, we passed Sammy and Patrick again… we kinda waved, gave some words of encouragement, but said nothing about that stupid rain.
The 2nd rest stop was around 37 miles. We did pretty much the same thing as at the first stop, just a little slower. Eat, drink, but no bathroom break though, because we figured EVERY ounce of liquid we were putting in was being used. We rechecked the directions, and saw that we had 20 miles to our next break, which was a ferry ride across a river, which took us to the point of no return… and the final 57 miles (yeah, I also learned it was 104 miles… I think that’s known as a baker’s century!).
During this stint heading to the ferry, the wind was blasting so hard that at one point I heard the words coming out of my mouth… "YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!" I couldn’t believe how huge that wind thing was. For years I’ve been teaching triathletes, and making fun of how much money they spend on ridiculous things like aerobars, Zipp wheels, sleek helmuts, and titanium whatevers when they should be cleaning up their strokes. Here is my public apology. I was simply ignorant.(You still should clean up that swimming though.)
As we got close to the ferry, I was able to tag on to a couple of riders, and figured we could draft off them for a bit. I mean, they had really cool shirts on, they matched and everything. Their bikes looked REALLY sleek… and we were hanging right with them. But then I heard a voice behind me… it was Kyle… saying, we just passed a red arrow." I yelled ahead to the two riders but they kept going. It was major decision #1. Should I listen to my 14-year-old son, or follow what looked to be a break-a-way group from the Tour de France. I listened to Kyle, and we turned around and watched the two bikers ride off, disappearing around a group of trees. Two miles later, we were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drinking Gatorade, and sitting down waiting for the ferry to pull up. WAY TO GO KYLE… GOOD EYES, BUDDY!
Our lunch conversation was about how PERFECT a 60-mile ride would be. Major decision #2: Pick up our ferry passes… or ride about 8 miles back to St. Michael’s and call it a day. I got up and walked over to ask for our ferry passes… the point of no return. On the ferry ride across, we listened to the other riders talk about their training. "I’ve been going about 200 a week getting ready." "I’ve been busy, only able to get in between 100 and 150." Kyle looked at me. "How far have you been going, Dad?" "I did 20 this week," I responded. We both kinda chuckled.
Checking our directions, we knew that our next and final rest stop was at mile 82. This was the long stretch, so we wanted to hang with some other riders and get into some sort of rhythm. We hooked up with a couple, a man and a woman, who learned quickly how raw we were at this thing. As we rode, he instructed us where to look at the rider in front. "Look at her lower back, when you feel comfortable, look just below her seat, when you get REALLY good, you can look at her tire, and start to close up." He was making sure we weren’t going to crash anyone. I appreciated it. We all traded off the lead for a while and were having a pretty good time… and then it started.
As I dropped from the lead and fell to the rear to grab the back wheel of my new-found team, my left knee started to hurt. Not a little, but a lot. With each peddle stroke, it got worse and worse. As this was going on, I watched the other three, including my son, start to move ahead. I didn’t want to yell… I figured I could get through it… but my knee kept hurting more and more. I tried different gears, a different rate, a different position… nothing was working. Kyle looked back and slowed a bit. I guess he saw the look on my face and asked if I was OK. The other two slowed, and asked the same. I told them I was hurting a bit, and they should just continue their pace… we’d be ok. They wished us luck, and started to pull away.
I can’t remember hurting that bad. My joint was really bugging me, but I was also hitting the wall — bonking they call it. Kyle and I were approaching a road sign that said, St. Michael’s – 10 miles. He said, "It’s OK if we just go back." The situation had just gotten worse. I was in pain and now I was emotional, too. I knew we had a rest stop at mile 82. I looked down to see how far it was. We were at mile 72 and I wanted to stop.
Major decision #3: Ride 10 miles to relief (but failure)… or ride 10 miles deeper into this thing and see what happens (and have someone pick me up in a car if necessary). I figured if it was 10 miles either way, I’d at least give it a shot. How could I get three quarters of the way through it and quit now? Trust me, this was NO heroic decision. It was more to make sure Kyle would finish. He was having no problems, and the only reason he wasn’t going to make it, was going to be me.
The reason we made it to mile 82, and now have a story to tell, is this: We just kept going. We took a small, slow step in the right direction. With no announcement or fanfare, Kyle took the lead from mile 72 through 82. He was breaking the wind for me, giving me a wheel to watch so I didn’t have to lift my head so high. My son was carrying me through the wall.
At mile 82 we got a little rest, a little food, and headed into the home stretch. The last 20 miles didn’t seem that bad. Kyle and I were completely alone, riding through the woods. My knee wasn’t hurting as bad (but something else was chiming in). We were laughing, and kept watching behind us for people closing in. We had been passed, then repassed, the got passed again, then repassed again. We figured some of the groups would roll by us again soon, but then we started to get a little fire in us again… trying to keep the pace higher… looking for those red arrows.
There were still a couple surprises in store. There was the wooden bridge at mile 97, which shook us to the core (as if we weren’t sore enough). And there was the steep bridge at mile 101, where both thighs decided to cramp on my LAST TWO peddle strokes to the summit. (All I could think was "NOT NOW!") On the glide down… it subsided.
We saw traffic lights ahead of us, kept looking back for other riders… but there wasn’t anyone coming. We actually joked about how WE were the break-away, and were going to steal the stage. We were actually having fun at this point, and the end was in sight.
As we rolled into the parking lot, we were all alone except for a man sitting in a chair. When he saw us coming he got up, walked to his set spot, and snapped a picture. That was it. This was truly a victory line for the self. We walked our bikes to the car, strapped them to the rack, got in and drove away. Very little was said, mostly because we were so tired, but then Kyle turned and said, "I’m glad we did this." Man, 104 miles, pain worse than I had felt in as long as I could remember, and that was all I needed.
As we pulled out onto the road and drove back along the course, we saw riders coming down the road. I saw the bright green jacket of the friend who had helped us. We rolled down the window, honked, and waved. Their smiles, now that they knew we had finished, were genuine. We saw the pack that had rolled by us with so much steam in the first 20 miles… still riding. Then we saw what we needed to… the two elite riders we were following when Kyle saw that little red arrow. They were still riding.
Great eyes Kyle. My hero.
104 miles — 6:35.