A “century” of learning…in the saddle!
H.G. Wells has nothing on me. I flew threw a century in less than a day! Like any long span of time, there were a number of ups and downs. There were moments that left me in awe of my own accomplishments and moments where I really had no interest in going on. I met some new people, got to know some friends better, ate some delicious food, and learned more than I anticipated about myself in a span of merely 9 hours (merely…hah!).
As I had previously posted, this week is RAGBRAI 2012. Although I had talked to plenty of people about the experience, heard some great stories, read blogs and looked at pictures, I still really had no idea what I was in for when I signed up. I only knew that it was an experience I hadn’t had yet, and I wanted to have it!
We trekked up to Sioux Center, IA on Saturday morning, by way of Lincoln, NE to pick up our SAG driver for the week (a friend’s daughter). We camped at a friend’s house on Saturday night, but I didn’t get much sleep. Between the rain and the anticipation, I was doomed to insomnia. We woke up at 5AM to pack up our gear and we were on the road by 6:10AM. It was a beautiful ride of town, and we had plenty of time for the mere 62 miles that the day had in store. Ironically, my previous long ride was only 55 miles, so even the shorter rides this week were long for me! The day went fairly well, and I enjoyed the stops in small towns along the way. I really had no idea how big of a deal it was for RAGBRAI to go through town until I saw everything the towns came out and did for the riders. Clearly, with 15,000 hungry and thirsty riders coming through, there is at least a small economic incentive as well 🙂 We arrived in Cherokee, IA around 11AM, and had plenty of time to get set up with our host for the night. We had the luxury of staying indoors with AC, which was vital considering the 100 degree temperatures!
The second day saw another 5AM wake-up call, and we were again on the road by 6AM. Monday proved to be a great day. I traveled with a group of friends who I mostly consider much faster and more skilled than myself, so I had no aspirations of keeping up with them during the rides, but figured I’d enjoy the company of strangers and experience everything. However, I got going on Day 2 and it was as if my legs decided to +1, because I was feeling good and rolling right along. We stopped several times, for some great cinnamon rolls and the classic slice of pie (who can say no to homemade pie served by little old ladies at a church in a small town?!). We rolled in to the state park we were staying at, 67 miles under our belt (another PR for distance), and I had averaged closed to 19 mph along the way, which was a complete shock but it certainly brought a smile to my face!
Now, we had been leaving early to try and beat some of the heat, as the highs reached around 100 degrees each day. However, camping outside in a state park (granted, it was quite beautiful and situated right on a lake in Lakeview, IA) meant still sleeping outside and enduring the heat. I don’t do well in heat, and I slept pretty poorly. In addition, the next day was a 100 mile (century) ride, so we woke up at 4AM to be on the road by 5AM. Needless to say, getting starting on Tuesday morning was a struggle.
Nonetheless, I pushed myself out and up on the bike, and I had plenty of adrenaline flowing. Riding a century meant surpassing my previous high distance from the day before by 30 miles, and really riding twice as long as I had trained for this year. I was feeling good, and my confidence carried me for about the first 30 miles. Then my back started spasming- feeling like someone is branding your lower back with a hot iron isn’t exactly motivational when it comes to cycling. Still, I pushed through it. The route itself was only 77 miles, but there is an optional “Karrass Loop” (named after the founder of RAGBRAI) which adds 23 miles and gives you the full century. In retrospect, I should have known I might be biting off more than I could chew, but I’m rather internally competitive so I went for it! Mother Nature had other ideas.
Clearly I have offended her quite a bit in the past, because I found myself riding into a 21 mph headwind, which meant I was topping out at about 9 mph on the straightaways. Then came the hills! There were two GIANT hills in and out of the river valley during the loop that were both larger than anything I’d ever gone down or up. Flying down them at 40 mph was AMAZING but painfully putting one foot in front of the other on the way up left much to be desired. Still, I made it through, and finished out the route with two more giant hills and plenty of headwind. The strawberry rhubarb pie and homemade peach ice cream definitely eased my pain (especially because I hadn’t eaten enough and was a tad dizzy at one point), but the damage was done. I finished out the century with a friend (it was both of our firsts), pedaling on shear determination and will, but running on fumes. By the time we got to our meeting location, my bike computer read 108 miles (my phone had died at 91 miles).
Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but there was still a wonderful sense of accomplishment tied up in riding that far. RAGBRAI recommends riding 1000 miles as preparation for the week, and I had done 450. On day three, that lack of training caught up to me. By the time I got home, my whole body ached, I was sunburned, badly chafed, and my back was still hurting. In the end, I had to make the tough call to bow out gracefully from the remainder of the week of RABGRAI. I had ridden a total of 240 miles in three days, made some wonderful memories with new and old friends, and learned a lot about not pushing myself TOO far. I enjoy cycling, but I enjoy running even more and the last thing I wanted to do was injury myself and inhibit my ability to reach my running goals this fall.
I have a lot of great memories ahead of me, and I couldn’t be happier to have these to add to the list. Thank you to great friends for a wonderful RAGBRAI experience!