I did my first Century ride on May 20, 2006.
I didn't mean to, specifically - I had another 5 hours charted for the day, and the day's agenda had nothing to do with mileage. I went to a race preview hosted by the Minnesota Triathlon Club (of which I am not a member and know nobody who is, in case that matters) of the Liberty Triathlon Half Ironman I'm racing in 3 weeks. That experience superceded anything else on the day - familiarizing myself on the course first, and putting in 5 quality hours second. We rode what turned out to be about a 29 mile loop - some people quit after one, most quit after 2, and I think some hung on for more, but after about 70 miles I was about through seeing anybody else on course.
The course is beautiful - Minnesota at its finest beautiful. It starts off in a park reserve, and winds through farmland, forest, lush prairie, the whole spectrum. It's a pretty technical course - lots of turns and windings, before finally settling into a long out and back stretch. It's also pretty hilly - which is just what I wanted. It's not quite the caliber of Ironman Wisconsin, but there are significant ascents and descents, and I really got a chance to practice both. The wind picked up throughout the morning, and the rain mostly held off - we started in sunshine and I ended in thunder clouds and overcast skies, but for a few sprinkles it was, for once a dry ride.
Lo' and behold, maybe all these hours on my bike with a 20 mph wind in my face through every kind of imaginable miserable weather have served a purpose - hardened up my legs and my mental strength; I really felt pretty great out there all day. I took the first 25 miles really easy, gearing down and using little energy to climb and coasting whenever I could going downhill. It was REALLY nice to have a day when one could honestly assess himself at long distances without either a huge headwind or tailwind manipulating his efforts and the Wrath of God in his face, and I was really pleased that my first 25 miles I was averaging 18.4mph. To hit 100 miles in 5 hours, it'd require me to ride 25 miles in 1:15 - a 20mph average, which I dont right now consider realistic for me over that length of time. I did my first 25 miles in 1:20, and then picked it up and tried to get into some kind of "race" mode.
The group I was with was really great. Everyone was very nice, not too chatty but up for an encouraging word. We never really rode peleton style - everybody kind of found their own space soon enough - but there were, especially the first 40 miles or so, times when you had to sit up in the handlebars for safety. My pace, for one reason or another, was generally affected by others in the first 40 miles - the last 15 because I was intentionally staying behind some dude because I hadn't memorized the loop yet. There was also an aid station, which I only used once but was great to have - it was nice to be able to step off the bike and reload with fresh Gatorade and all kind of food...though I had Ol' Blue loaded up as usual, so I was well fortified for my entire ride.
I rode my second lap in 1:17 - 19.4 mph. This was the first time it occurred to me that 100 miles might be within reach - if I maintained this pace, I'd ride 100 miles between 5:10 and 5:20. I decided to let it declare itself - if I was over 93 miles at the 5 hour mark, then I'd finish it up.
I felt good my third lap - through to the 75 mile mark - and was surprised when I was about 4 minutes off of my lap 2 pace - a full mph slower, at 18.4. Still, I was really consistent overall, staying within 1 mph for the ride to that point. Incidentally, I crossed the half Ironman mark of 56 miles at 2:56 - easily a P.R., if Personal Records could be counted in practice, which they aren't (or at least, mine aren't) - and who knows what variables might present themselves come race day on this course, but if I wrapped up the bike leg in sub 3 hours, I'd be one happy dude.
By the last 25 miles, the wind had picked up enough to be something of a factor, but moreso my legs just stopped going. It was like when you hit mile 20 of a marathon - they just don't want to go. They didn't feel too bad, and I didn't feel like my effort was significantly less than it had been all day, but my pace was noticeably slower. By this point I had mentally committed to 100 miles - or rather, I had mentally committed to having reached 93 miles in 5 hours to justify going 100. I crossed 93 in 4:58, and from there it was just 7 short miles to wrap up. Still, it took me over half and hour to finish those last 7 - my legs were wiped out. I finished the last 25 mile lap at a 16.4mph pace.
For the 100 miles, I averaged 18.3mph. A very satisfying speed, and I'd be overjoyed for something like that at Ironman.
When I returned to the parking lot, my car was the only one left - there were probably 15 cars and 30 of us riders when I started. I stopped for a minute to take a few pictures and enjoy the digits on my computer...and then got organized for a 2 mile run. My legs didn't feel as weak on the run as I'd expected, but they weren't particularly strong, either. When I went home, I laid in bed the rest of the day. My fatigue the last 2 weeks after these long rides has been remarkable.
What I learned: My strategy at Ironman will be to take the first 40 miles as easy as I took the first 25 yesterday. Doing that would hopefully help me to avoid the fatigue I experienced in my last 25 miles. But in training, I'll probably keep this kind of pace, trying to build and strengthen my legs to be fatigue-proof. I also need to make a training objective out of losing weight: to this point I've really just lost weight as a by-product of training, and not with strategic effort. I couldn't believe yesterday how quickly the women and smaller men were flying by me up the hills. It wasn't because they were particularly stronger rides - I inevitably caught them (without "catching them" being my motive) on the descents or level sections - but having less weight to haul up hills, they could do it more quickly, and with less effort - and so less leg strain. It's going to be really important for my marathon that I try and shed some more baggage on the bike, to keep my legs more fresh. I also need to do more brick workouts - a run immediately following the bike - probably every time I ride my bike now, even for an hour. It's well and good that my run times have improved as they have over the season, but that's in a vacuum. The true test exists in performance off the bike, and so that's how I'll need to start training seriously.
I won't ride a 5:30 ride again until late July...until then I stay pretty much at 5 hours, every workout. It's possible I'll tap into 100 miles again then, but otherwise, I won't push the distance again like I did yesterday. If I hit 90 miles in 5 hours, I'll stop. 93, I'll stop. 95...well, maybe we'll have to see then. But in general, my focus will be on strength and leg conditioning, and not particularly on how far I can go. This will mean riding in harder cadences and harder-efforts up hills - in fact, I'll try and fatigue my legs into my run right after. Ideally, then, I'll train a lot harder then I'll race, and in the course of doing that will really strengthen up, and prepare my legs for running after such a long time on the bike.
Memorial Day Weekend next weekend, and my first training ride on-course at Ironman Wisconsin. Can't wait.