The past few days have reaffirmed my love for my bike — after Total 200, we were on hiatus — as well as my love for climbing. Which is great, since my hilly 112 miles at IMWI is just shy of nine weeks away.
On Saturday, Katie and I headed out early (and by that I mean in the car by 5am) to Hamilton, Va. to pick up part of the Reston Century course. We’re both planning on riding this super hilly event in late August and wanted to get a little preview of the pain we’re in for. Katie did this ride last year and had a few unpleasant memories of the crazy climbing involved, so we needed a little reality check. Thankfully, this isn’t going to be as painful as we expected.
We started at Hamilton Park, which serves as the main rest stop for the century course. Riders hit it on their way out from Reston and then take two loops out on the hilly country roads in and around Va. farmland. One loop is about 20 miles, rolling terrain with only a little bit of tree cover. I think we counted two or three tough climbs on this loop but nothing crazy. The other loop is a little more than 30 miles, also rolling but with one section of rough road and steep climbs. Katie recalled people walking their bikes up these hills and puking on the side of the road, so I was pretty scared, but I didn’t find it to be as challenging as I was expecting. The Half Full bike course was harder. Way harder. And I’m much stronger than I was then. There’s a portion on the W&OD, and now I can finally say I’ve been all the way to the end.
The best part? The scenery was beautiful — green fields, huge farmhouses and mountains in the distance. You also ride through a few small towns with quaint main streets. I wanted to stop several times to take it all in.
Well. We were close to the end of the second lap when I thought something was off with the Felt. I rode for a few more minutes and then pulled over, and sure enough my back tire was flat. Why is it always the back one?!? I’ve only changed a flat a few times, never on the Felt and never in the middle of a ride on the side of the road. Sigh. I was expecting this to be challenging because of my baby wheels — I’d been told they’re harder to work with — but I got the old tube out and the new one in pretty quickly. A little more practice and the turnaround time will be a few minutes max. Unfortunately, neither of us had ever used CO2 before, and two attempts didn’t inflate the new tube. Since I only brought one spare tube and one cartridge — I know, FAIL — and had already used one of Katie’s extras, we decided that she would leave me there, ride the 4-5 miles back to the car and come back for me.
At least I picked a pretty and shaded place to flat! When Katie left, I crawled over that fence, tried to wash the insane amount of grease off my hands in the little pond and then hung out in the shade. Not so bad. But I was thrilled to see Katie pull up in my car, Powerade Zero and Fritos in hand. Instead of riding more and/or bricking, we decided to call it a day, stop at Bonzai to replace the stuff we’d used and then spend the afternoon by the pool. I had a 6hr ride on my schedule and only did 3:15/50 miles, but the hills were a great workout and I know I can ride 6hrs, no problem.
After taking my planned rest day on Sunday, I decided to return to NCVC Monday Night Hills, the site of my near-panic over being dropped and lost just a few months ago. Ray has been trying to convince me to get over my fear and come out and ride with the team, and I finally managed to suck it up and do it. It’s harder and faster and a far better workout than the Contes ride and therefore great training for IM.
I met up with Ray and Nick at Roosevelt Island to ride to the start on Lee Highway (I rode from home instead of driving! Yay me!) and rolled in to a group of 15 or so, including Katie. There was one other girl there, who I later discovered I’d seen at the DC Tri because she was racing in my AG and finished not far behind me. Anyway — it was super hot and humid and my legs were angry on the ride over, but as soon as we rolled out they warmed up and calmed down and felt ready for what they had coming to them.
[Sidenote: I was wearing my Duke jersey, which is always fun in a group of roadies because most of them were on their college teams and it’s a good conversation starter.]
The Monday night ride has the same general structure each week but has various loops that are added/subtracted along the way. I know the core of the ride because it’s similar to the Contes route, but some of the extra stuff I’m just now learning. The good news is that if I get dropped, I’m much more familiar with the area and unlikely to get lost.
So, let’s be honest. I was fully expecting to get my ass handed to me and to finish way behind the pack, dragging my pride along with me. Much to my surprise, this was not what happened. There were a few times where I fell back a bit — once due to catching a red light — but for the most part I was right up with the group or at least within spitting distance. I came flying down the last stretch of Lee Hwy right on the guys’ wheels. Apparently April was a long time ago, and my climbing has improved drastically since then. [Obviously, so has the theirs, but still.] I know Monday is their “easier” ride and I’d get my ass kicked at Wednesday hills and T/Th sprints, but baby steps. And that loop is no picnic:
Observations? Forget Contes. This group is a way better challenge and fit for my training needs. Not to mention it’s ten thousand times more fun to ride with a fast group of pure cyclists than a mixed group of triathletes, as the speed and intensity are far higher and their road skills more advanced. Makes me want to be a roadie, just a little bit. And hey, would that mean I’d need a newer, lighter road bike?