Well, this weekend I completed century rides #3 and #4. In one day.
I signed up for this double century back in March thinking it would be great training for IM. Sure, it’s almost double the 112 miles I’ll be riding on Sept. 11, but once I complete 200, anything less will be easy, right? About a month ago I panicked that my longest ride of the season was only 80 and promptly rode two hot and hilly centuries as preparation. Still, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
5am on Saturday. I leave my apartment and head to Anacostia Park, tri bike and road bike in tow. My brakes were squeaking on the Felt and I didn’t want to get to the start and not be able to ride. Thankfully, the mechanic on site fixed me right up, and after packing all the nutrition I could carry, pinning my number on my jersey and checking a bag for the halfway point with a change of clothes and the second half of my calories, I was ready for the 6am start.
A bunch of HC folks were riding, as were a few DC Tri friends and Katie. Most were doing the 200K option (which had me a little nervous about being alone for an entire day in the saddle), but we all started together and headed out as the sun rose across the Anacostia for a loop around the Capitol before heading into Maryland.
Total 200 (the miles option), takes riders from SE DC down to Point Lookout at the very southern tip of Maryland. The ride is split into eight legs of more or less 25 miles with rest stops and lunch at the halfway point. The 200K option splits off about 55 miles or so in and cuts the over to the back half of the route. Leg #1: Miles 0-22
The cue sheet takes you from Anacostia Park on the south side of the river into DC, around the Capitol, back out Pennsylvania Ave SE and onto the highway headed east toward the coast. The view of the Capitol is beautiful with the sun rising behind it, but then you have to climb up a major hill on Penn to head out of the city. You get a nice downhill, sure, but the road is all torn up and hurts the butt in a major way. It’s a little terrifying to fly down into potholes and gravel, and Katie was quick to comment that the whole thing was a flat tire waiting to happen.
Well. We got a few hundred yards out onto the highway and Katie’s back tire blew out. We stopped to change it (actually, I watched) as everyone else rode by and off into the distance. Katie is a pro at all this, but when SAG support rode up she gladly allowed them to help out.
Unfortunately, the new tube she put in blew as soon as they put the wheel back on her bike. At this point, I was panicking a little bit. My objective for the day was to practice executing an actual plan in terms of pacing and nutrition — since IM is all about careful execution — and that basically meant latching onto a group going 18-20mph, taking it easy with minimal pulling for the first 100 miles, picking it up with what I had left on the back half and keeping my nutrition steady and in check. As I watched everyone ride 10 minutes ahead when we were just 8 miles in, I knew I’d end up working harder than planned from the get-go. [Fortunately, this turned out to be less of a concern than I expected b/c so many people took long breaks at the rest stops, but it was the first little hiccup for the day.] The guy offered to drive us to the first checkpoint to catch us up, but I was determined to ride the full route. I headed out on my own, planning to meet up with Katie at the rest stop. This meant I was alone for 14 miles with no help, but early on I decided that any time I spent alone all day would be a test of my physical and mental strength — because in Madison, I’ll be on my own for 140.6 miles. So I got going, a little faster than I should have, in hopes of recovering some of the time we’d lost. I passed a lot of carnage along the way — flats and such — and realized one of my biggest enemies would be mechanical trouble. SAG can only do so much and so fast. Reached the first check at a gas station lot, found a number of people still milling around, grabbed Katie and headed out.
Leg #2: Miles 22 to 48.7
Katie and I rode this leg more or less by ourselves. We latched onto one or two groups but couldn’t quite hang with them, so we did what we could on our own. The area was beautiful — farmland, shaded roads — and only gently rolling, and I think at this point we were both feeling great and ready for more. I was still a bit nervous about having to pull for the entire 200 miles, but when we reached the second check at a 7-11 and found a ton of people still there, including a few people I knew doing the full miles option, I calmed down a bit. We hung around long enough to grab a few Oreos (my saving grace for the day) and refill water bottles, then I said goodbye to Katie — the 200K option was splitting off shortly thereafter — and headed out with James and Mike for the next check.
Leg #3: Miles 48.7 to 76.8
This part of the route was one of the less interesting ones. It was basically a straight shot on a four-lane highway with lights, some traffic and small rollers. It was unshaded, so sunny and hot, but we were averaging around 21-22mph and passed a few of the groups that blew by us on the earlier routes. We made it to checkpoint #3 in a bike shop parking lot — which was great, as they let us use the bathroom — fueled up and waited for an escort over the Solomon Island Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay.
At this point I was really thinking I needed a Powerade and maybe a Dr. Pepper, but I figured at lunch I would be able to find a convenience store with one or the other. No chance. This was the last checkpoint close to a gas station without making an unscheduled stop, and I regretted this for the rest of the ride.
Leg #4: Miles 76.8 to 107
We had three other guys join our group to head over the bridge, and an event organizer drove behind us to block traffic from flying up and hitting us from the back. The view over the side was BEAUTIFUL, and if I could have stopped to take a picture I absolutely would have.
This was another leg on which we didn’t make many turns. We were on a semi-major road for a few miles and then turned off onto the smaller country rode that would take us all the way into Point Lookout State Park. More farms and a little bit more climbing. At this point I was pretty happy about keeping up with a group of six guys, taking my turn pulling and still feeling strong. Mike got a flat around mile 92, so we all stopped for a few minutes while he made the change. I think we all were ready for lunch and a little nervous about having a limited amount of time before the stop closed for the day — each checkpoint had set hours you had to meet in order to make the final time cutoff — so we moved right along.
100 miles — century #1 for the day — in exactly 5:19 of moving time. Nearly 40 minutes faster than any I’ve ever done.
When you get to the park, you ride right along the water and it is gorgeous. There were lots of people hanging out, fishing and drinking beer and enjoying the sun. We pulled into the lunch checkpoint as a few of the faster groups were pulling out, but there were still plenty of riders left laying around in the shade. More than a few looked like they were struggling.
At this point I was feeling great. My legs were in good shape, my butt didn’t hurt and I absolutely could have gotten off the bike and run without too much of a struggle. At 107 miles, I was at a distance PR and close to my IM total, and I knew I could continue on. It was a huge mental boost. I ate half a turkey sandwich, a brownie and a piece of watermelon, changed into a sleeveless running tank and new socks (I also included a second pair of bibs in my checked bag but didn’t need them), loaded up nutrition round #2 and hung out enjoying the break and the shade.
We left the park with the same group we entered with — minus Mike, who wasn’t feeling well — and picked up Ellen and a group of DC Tri guys in the process. She and several of them also are training for IMWI, so it’s likely I’ll be doing some rides/runs with them in the future. In any case, they were moving at a good speed and willing to pull, so we hopped on.
This was another less-than-interesting part of the route. It was straight out on the same road we entered on with absolutely no turns, and this is where some of the more serious rollers began. There was little shade and we were riding on the shoulder of the road interrupted by the occasional traffic light. I was still feeling strong and could more or less keep up with the group, though I was starting to realize I still had nearly 70 miles left to ride.
We stopped at checkpoint #5, which was in the parking lot of Southern Maryland College. I grabbed a few more Oreos, sponged off, refilled my aero bottle and tried some strawberry Heed. I’m not a huge fan of electrolyte drinks besides Powerade, but I was getting nervous about how much salt I’d sweated out. The volunteers at the stop told us that it would be closing shortly, but that we weren’t even close to being the last people to show up. A lot of riders were being SAG-d between stops and to the finish, which made me feel pretty good about still being in the saddle and capable of riding. At this point I wanted a Dr. Pepper — a real one — and probably would have killed someone for it, but unfortunately a gas station stop would have dropped me off the back of our group.
Leg #6: Miles 135 to 160.6
This is where things start to get hazy. There were only a few turns, a number of tougher rollers and some tree-lined roads, and I started having a tough time staying on with the group. I remember looking down at my Garmin at mile 144 and thinking “PAIN CAVE.” My lower back was hurting, my left hamstring and knee were tight and I kept having to shift in and out of aero to stretch. The road was far from flat and I was getting frustrated with every bit of elevation. All I could think was that 1) I had to keep moving and finish the damn thing and 2) IM is going to be hard, and mental toughness will be my best friend.
We reached checkpoint #6 — in a church parking lot — which was the lunch stop for the 200K ride. This meant they had PB&J, soda and all kinds of snacks, and a few sips of Pepsi, while it wasn’t Dr. Pepper, definitely were what I needed at that point. I stretched, got a lot of ice for my bottles and tried to motivate myself to move beyond my angry body. A LOT of people were sprawled in the grass at this stop, icing muscles, sucking down fluids or just laying around. The U-Haul truck was there, and I know a lot of people dropped out at this stop. Ellen, James and Co. were pulling out, and I wanted to try and stay with them, so I rallied every last bit of energy to get back on the Felt and go with them.
Leg #7: Miles 160.6 to 178
Wow. This HURT. This leg was beautiful, with winding, tree-lined roads, farms, gorgeous views of hills and valleys etc., but damn, was it hilly. It got harder and harder to hang onto the group, and I got dropped descending around a fast corner. I was frustrated on the climbs and even cursed out loud on one tough one that required standing. I knew that most of the rest of the ride would be on my own. It was all I could do to get to the next checkpoint in one piece.
Checkpoint #7 was at a playground/park on the side of a country road, and I was unpleasantly surprised to find you had to ride over either gravel or grass to get to the stop. Sigh. The group I had been riding with was already there. I made my first bathroom stop of the day — always challenging in bibs — got my final bottle refills and headed out on my own, determined to get to the finish in one piece.
Leg #8: Miles 178 to 202.4
This was both the hardest and the easiest leg of the whole day. Hard because I was exhausted, hurting and ready to be off the bike, but easy because I knew I was going to make it.
There was one other guy I was kinda leapfrogging with for part of this leg, but I was more or less alone. It was starting to get dark, the route was complicated in terms of directions and I knew it was going to take us through the worst parts of Anacostia. There were more hills, one of which nearly brought me to tears, and I was so ready to be off the bike. Around mile 90, I got my last little bit of energy — half due to the fact I was almost done and half because I wanted to ride quickly through the ghetto. I mean, I was legit nervous about my safety, and every light I stopped at had me tapping my foot and waiting for green. But I was attacking the hills and feeling strong and as soon as I got onto the smooth road of Suitland Parkway, past National Harbor and back into Anacostia Park, I was flying. The sun was setting behind me as I came rolling into the parking lot at exactly 202.4 miles (unfortunately I came in the wrong side, so I missed the cheering section and the photographer). I DID IT.
Total time — 10:57:10. The first 100 was 5:19, making the second 102.4 a solid
5:28 5:38 (I’m bad at math). Two sub-5:30 centuries with some serious rollers? Yes please. In addition, I was the second girl to finish the full thing, which I realize is fairly meaningless since everyone took different amounts of time at the rest stops and a LOT of people were SAG’d to the finish, but given how behind I was to begin with it was a pretty solid accomplishment.
So — first, the route was advertised as being “gently rolling to flat overall.” Whoever came up with this LIED. Any route that involves 6,500ft of elevation and standing climbs is not flat. I realize the definition of “rollers” is very broad, but I would have liked to have been prepared for how much rolling was going to occur.
One thing I did pretty well was execute my nutrition plan. I was going to eat about 100 calories every half hour (on the :15 and :45) and drink a few sips of water every 15 minutes. I stuck to this for most of the ride — lost it a little bit at the end — but for the most part I was pleased with the fact that I managed to open my Gus/bars with my teeth and eat them while moving at a decent speed. For the first half of the day, I had an Uncrustable, 2 Clif bars, 2 Gus, half a pack of Shot Bloks and two Oreos at each rest stop. After the halfway point (and lunch), I had an Uncrustable, a Clif bar, a Stinger waffle and a Gu, as well as a few snacks at the stops. So, I was slightly under my necessary calorie intake and definitely close to bonking in the last two legs, but I did a much better job of sticking with the plan and eating while riding. This bodes well for future training rides and races.
I did not execute my overall pacing plan quite as well. I wanted to go easy for the first few hours, but I got caught up in sticking with certain groups and the overall need to stay on pace for the day. I still felt decent at the end — I didn’t want to die — but I was definitely tired and a little sore (my left knee/IT band are ANGRY) and probably would have been a little less so had I taken it easier.
On the other hand, this was a huge victory in mental toughness. I don’t think there is anything that could prepare me better for IM. Being out there alone in the hardest parts of the day, hurting, wanting to quit and having to work through it on my own got me ready for the darkest moments I know I’ll have in September. You can’t race for 12 hours without at some point wondering why the hell you’re still putting your body through all this pain. If I didn’t get anything else out of Total 200, it wouldn’t matter. This was the ultimate reward.
All in all, I’m glad I did this. I’m not sure I’d do it again, but it was just what I needed. A huge shoutout to the volunteers, who were absolutely fabulous for the entire day. The finishers’ medal was great — a piece of a bike cassette — the support was fantastic and the overall organization well-executed. Thanks, all!
When I got to the finish, I took a few minutes to stretch and grab some water, but I was ready to just head home rather than hang out for pizza. And I wanted a burger. Badly. I got home, unpacked my bike(s) — the road bike I DIDN’T ride had a flat tire — and headed straight to Stoney’s to get a burger and fries. The waitress thought I was nuts, as I was still dressed in my bibs and dirty and with a raccoon sunburn, but since I just rode 200 miles I didn’t care. So I iced, foam rolled, showered and ate every last bite of that burger. Then bedtime. And a complete rest day on Sunday spent by the pool.
BY THE NUMBERS
Miles Ridden: 202.4
Calories Burned: 3,534
Hills Climbed: Unsure. A Lot.
Number of Friends with Flats: 2
Compliments on the Felt: 2
Nutrition Calories Eaten: 1810
So…how was your weekend?