That is a screen shot from the Google results of a question I asked. That question is “How many miles is 100K?” 62 and change. But I already knew that since I had run a 10K this summer, and knew it was 6.2 miles, and I’m at least good enough at math to multiply by 10.
Why does this matter? Well, I had signed up to do the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride on September 21st around suburbs West of Boston. If you aren’t familiar with the Soldier Ride program, you should get familiar with it. It’s pretty amazing. While it aims to raise money via charity bike rides, its main focus is actually on having Wounded Warriors – those who fought for America and were injured in the line of duty (both external, physical injuries and the unseen injuries of brain damage and emotional trauma like PTSD) – train and and ride in the event. The speaker for my ride was a veteran who suffered both kinds of injury, and spoke about how hard it is to be part of such a tight-knit, interdependent team and then coming home to such a contrasting life where your injury also makes you feel incapable. He talked about how the Soldier Ride gives Wounded Warriors that team connection and feeling of not just accomplishment but ability.
The program offers a 22 mile ride (which the Warriors and most people do), a 100K route and a century ride (100 miles). There was a barbell distribution in sign ups – I didn’t talk to a single other person who said they were doing the 100K officially, but I did talk to a few 100 milers who planned to cut out early as the ride went through their home town.
It is for this noble cause that I decided to push myself, and sign up for a distance twice what I had ever rode. I had only been riding for about six weeks when I signed up (like, ever, not just six weeks this season – I only started road biking in July, and hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly 15 years before that). I believe in my level of fitness, and see myself as an athlete, so I felt I could do it. When I saw the official, final course was set at 45 miles and change, I said, “Not good enough!” I used my commute to the ride’s start and end to get back up to 100K (actually more like 107K) because there was no way I was going to ride for people who made incredible sacrifices for us by cutting short the real goal or taking the easy way out.
|Me, MA Gov candidate Evan Falchuk and my dad, pre-race|
So, I rode to the event at a leisurely, warm-up pace in the mid-teen miles per hour on what was a very chilly September morning at about 7am. I got to the event, picked up my bib, changed into my riding gear, and met up with some family who were doing the ride, too. My cousin, who is running for Governor of Massachusetts, did the ride. Not trying to plug him, but I do really appreciate when a person does more than show up and smile, but actually gives of themselves in a real way. This actually wasn’t his first time, and his family has attempted it with him in the past, too (his wife was doing it again this year). My father was also along for the 22 miler, which was great.
|Middlesex County Honor Guard (and the GEICO Geccko)|
So I put a Gu gel, two Honey Stinger Cherry Cola gummy chews (with caffein – I was very happy with these as they were easy to eat, not messy and gave me a good boost), and a pack of Jelly Belly Recovery Beans in my riding shirt. I decided to eat a Gu about 15 minutes before the ride started, and have a bag of recovery beans so the protein had a chance to get into my system. I should have hung onto one of those, but I had no room in my pockets given that I also had a spare inner tube and a flat repair tools, plus I needed to put my cleat covers into my shirt once we mounted up.
The Middlesex County Sheriff sent the Honor Guard to open the ceremonies, and we heard from the organizers and the Warrior I mentioned above. There was a lot of cheering, and people were in great spirits. It’s hard not to be for something like this. Some companies had amazing showings with large teams they had put money behind, like this one from Raytheon (makes sense since they’re a major defense contractor and based near the ride’s start).
|The Raytheon team at the starting arch|
One of the most amazing things was to see the Warriors and their bikes. Some of the bikes were pretty standard, but others were altered in ingenious ways to work with the various injuries the Warriors have. Hand bikes were a common site, as were several variants of recumbent bikes. Here’s a little shot of the Warrior’s corral, where you ca see a couple of them plus the various different bike setups they have.
|Wounded Warrior bike corral|
So the ride started at 9:25am, and the temp was probably in the low 50s. I was actually shivering at that point from basically not moving for the last hour and a half on a brisk morning (and having very little on). I had chosen a De Marchi bib with a medium-thickness chamois, plus my Zoots Kona Iron Man sleeveless, compression, riding jersey. I was regretting the latter of those choices at that point, but my regret would flip flop as the day went on.
We started off with the Warriors leading the pack followed by their support vehicle. We did the first few miles in a controlled pack, all riding together in the high-single-digit to 10 mph range. It was really moving and positive – no one was racing, everyone was happy, and it was great to get a view of the Warriors riding.
After a few miles, we could pull in front of the Warriors and start to ride at a pace we’d set. I had never ridden in a road race or pack (or actually ever more than with one other person), so I was really just trying to figure out how to fit in, pick my moments to pull ahead, read the cues of those around me, etc. It reminded me of my second running race, which was super-densely packed and hard to navigate.
After a bit, we started to break apart more, and settle into pace packs. Those doing the 100K and 100M routes turned off onto a different course, leaving the 22 milers to their route. I waved goodbye to my father, and used the less-dense group to try to pull ahead a bit. I also resigned in my mind to be content finishing and not worrying about whether I was up front or not. I was inexperienced, and while the overall crowd wasn’t super elite or anything, there were some very serious looking riders in the mix. There was also block of four or five guys on Cervélo TT (time trial) bikes that were intent on leading. Anytime they were behind, they’d pack together, and push ahead, whizzing past us in their super-aerodymic, razor-thin frames. We were in a residential and slightly hilly area with lots of turns and street crossings – not really the place for a TT bike, but they were focused on leading.
That didn’t last long.
After about 15 miles, the TTs were a bit spent, and out of their element. A group of about 10 of us pulled to the front, and broke into two packs by the 20 mile mark. Unbelievably to me, I was in the front group with three other guys that I got to know pretty well over the miles that lay ahead. They were not just nice guys and good riders, but helped teach me (whether they knew it or not) about how to ride in a pack and handle the distance. I was the youngest in the group, but they weren’t likely more than another 10 years older than I am.
I had my Garmin bike computer tracking distance (among other things), and watched as the miles ticked by while I took in the scenery. In the back of my mind, I had this fear or missing a turn or more importantly the spot where the 100K and 100M routes split. I kept a close eye on my Garmin’s distance measurement.
As we hit the 40 mile mark on what was said to be a 45 mile route, we were definitely not within 5 miles of the ride’s end, but I figured maybe there’s some route I wasn’t aware of, so I didn’t lose faith. Also at this point, we hit a water station (the second, with the first at 20 miles – but we didn’t know this was also the last one). We asked the guy manning the station about the distance, and he had no idea how far we’d come or how far was left. I had two water bottles, but had given one to one of the 100 mile guys in my group, so I took a bottle at the water station to refill my only remaining bottle. That 100 miler split off as we were not far from his home, so he ended up doing something in the low 40s. Still, he was pushing, so he put in a good effort, and was a great guy and good rider.
|About 30 minutes until the start. Cold but excited!|
We entered a park area, and ended up riding for the next two to three miles on a mix of sand, dirt, rocks and moss. Not really what road bikes are meant for, but it was actually kind of fun. It was also a chance to recover a bit as our pace was cut in half to deal with the terrain. One of our pack slipped on a mossy spot, and wiped out, but was able to recover with some scrapes on his elbow. The path came to a fork with no markings as to which way to go, so we went with the larger, clearer route. That was a mistake, and we ended up in a model plane air field during a local gathering. The planes were really cool, but I was starting to worry about how long this ride would be, whether I had enough fuel and water to make it. We were told to stop at a gas station or convenience store if we needed something, but the mainly residential route meant we hadn’t seen either of those things in about 20 miles, so we couldn’t really bank on that.
We back tracked, and took the other part of the fork only to be joined by a large group of riders that we had previously been quite a ways ahead of. I was bummed that my sizable lead had been cut to nil as I had been feeling a bit of a high from being the lead 100K rider.
Getting through the rest of the woods, we all largely stayed together, but once we hit the road, those of us that had been leading pulled ahead again.
At this point, I was at 43 miles, and realized the map was just totally wrong, so I best ration my water and remaining fuel (one pack of recovery beans and one pack of Honey Stinger gummies) to get through the next 20 miles. I used the recovery beans, and kept chugging.
All the while, I looked down at my Garmin, and called out major miles to my pack. I also was growing increasingly concerned since I knew enough of the local area to know were actually getting farther from the end.
60 miles came and went. I got really nervous.
100K ticked by. OK, now what?
Now what was to stay calm. My body actually felt ok. I’m strong, conditioned, and the day was perfect – not too hot, not too windy in most areas – and I had great company that I was enjoying. The only concerns I had were around fuel, water and not having a clue how much was actually left to go. My wife was also feeling sick when I left that morning, and I was already past when I was supposed to be back, so that was weighing on my mind. Luckily, she was doing better and totally awesome and understanding about things when I called her, so I could put that concern out of my head.
All of the sudden at mile 80 (as in 18 miles past the 100K mark), a sign appeared directing 100K riders to the left and 100M riders to the right. I took the left, but wondered if that was a weak choice. I think I could do another 20 miles, and then officially hit 100M during the ride itself (and 120.6 for the day). That said, my concern was whether the remaining distance was 20 miles or maybe far more. Since my course was mapped at 45 miles, maybe there was another 50 miles to go or something? That I was pretty sure I couldn’t do without a major refueling, and it would put me out past dark as it was now approaching 2:30 or 3pm. I wasn’t sure about any of that since I had stripped my bike of all lighting and reflecting to save weight. Plus, we hadn’t seen a gas station in 60 miles, and hadn’t seen a water station in 40, so I didn’t want to risk doing so much distance without any additional fuel or water (since I was now out of both).
Knowing I’d at least hit 100 miles for the day (10.3 in, 80 so far, 10.3 back plus whatever I needed to get from that split back to the finish), I took the 100K route. Just past the 81 mile mark, I hit a gas station. Let me rephrase that – I hit an oasis in the desert. I knew I should get a Coke or Pepsi to get some sugar in my body as I was really feeling the bonk, and figured the caffeine would be a smart idea. I also knew I’d need to buy water – enough to fill my main bottle at the very least. Good thing I had put a $20 in my flat repair bag and had myAmEx on me, too.
When I stepped in, that’s when I saw it – the ice cream cooler. Apparently, Snickers makes an ice cream bar that’s the most delicious thing on Earth when you’ve been riding a bike for four and a half hours. I bought that, a Pepsi and a large bottle of water.
I called home and texted the ride organizer about the course issues. I was less worried about myself than anyone else out there who had paced for 45 or 62 miles and was now at mile 80, no clue how far they had to go, and was out of water, fuel or willpower.
Feeling literally energized, I hit the course and fired up Google Maps on my phone, put in the finish line’s address, and tapped for bike directions. It said I was 10 miles away. I had been checking periodically throughout the ride, and often got 10 miles as the distance, so I was a bit skeptical, but I started to recognize some of the highway signs I was seeing and what they pointed to.
I followed the course, but soon came to a sign I thought I’d seen before for a split between the 100K/100M and 22M courses. That means I must be near the finish, but is this a new sign, or the one I had seen around 9:45 that morning? With the missing turn sign and the major course mistake that had me doing so much longer of a route, I just couldn’t have faith at this point. I decided to take the 22M route in case it was the same sign, so I knew I’d only have another 10 or so miles to go. Google Map check – 10 miles from the finish. Of course it is.
Google thinks bikers go much slower than I do. That’s demotivating for someone who has been riding for about 5 hours already. Seeing “50 minutes” for something that should take less than 30 has an effect on you when it only displays time remaining. Add to that how I got it down to 19 minutes from about 40, took the turn it told me to take, and it bounced right up to 37 minutes. I’m sure the people in the homes I was passing at that moment not only heard me moan, but felt it in their bones.
But don’t worry, there’s only 10 miles to the finish according to Google Maps.
That’s when I saw it. Or him, rather. A guy I had noticed at the start wearing a red cycling jersey with Star Trek across the front. He was on the side of the road, having a drink and rest. I must be on the right path – or at least I be lost with someone else. Either way, I was happy. I took that emotional boost, and started to really cook. Google understood my pace, and now told me I was under 10 minutes away (I’ll guess it wasn’t saying 10 miles at this point).
I had veered from the course directions and was sticking to Google because I had absolutely no faith in the course at this point. Suddenly, a sign appeared with an arrow for “straight ahead” signaling I had rejoined the actual course (maybe I never left it?). A couple more miles, and I could see the finish.
As I cross under where the inflatable blue arch of the start had been (they had cleaned up most of the event setup after the 22 miler and picnic had concluded), I stopped my Garmin.
5:10. That’s five hours and ten minutes of riding versus the roughly three hours it should have been. I felt good, actually, and wasn’t worried about my ride home.
89.5 miles versus the 45 or 62 it should have been.
6,668 calories burned (not including the fuel I took in, including the big hit from the Pepsi and Snickers, but I definitely still ran a major deficit, and you need to add in my 20.6 mile commute, too).
I downed a veggie and a turkey six inch sub from Subway that they had at the finish, drank a bottle of water, talked to the organizers about the route and the risk to other riders, and hit the road again. I took a decided slower pace on the return home (about 15 mph vs the high teens and low 20s I had been cooking at much of the day).
Next stop, the shower. Then I took my son to a local Whole Foods to get some fresh made juice and tell him about the day, and that was that.
Adding in my commute, I did 114 miles. I biked for six hours and 20 minutes and burned 8,047 calories. I rode at an average pace of 17.5 miles per hour. I was not happy about the course issues and the risk it posed to people, but I was also blown away with what I had accomplished and how well I had done in that accomplishment. I didn’t just finish, I performed really strongly, outdoing many more serious bikers who certainly looked the part physically more than I do.
So what have I taken away. There’s a clear story of ability, belief, hard work and commitment. There’s also a story about trusting your body more than your mind thinks it can or should, as I learned well during the Three Peaks Challenge.
More tactically, there’s a definite lesson in fueling and hydration strategy and back up. I would definitely plan for an extra 20 miles or 2 hours of need to be safe – more if I know there’s no way out or to get help. I would definitely have taken a second water bottle at the 40 mile station – that would have been the easiest change to make, and I even debated it. I didn’t want to carry the weight, but surely it would have been worth it as I know not having to ration my water would have helped my muscles from feeling as worn as they did when I hit that split with the 100M route. I think I would have gone for the 100M if I had that other bottle.
I woke the next day pain-free save for a bit in the left side of where my neck and back meet, and a numbness in an area I’d have to write a new Rüez review to name. For that issue, I would have chosen a bib with a beefier chamois (I picked my least built up), and have since gone back to my bike fitter about my saddle, which I’ve changed out for one with a relief channel in the middle. I also found that my saddle (the standard that came with my bike) is about 10mm too narrow for my biology. So I’d have gone back in time to when I bought my bike, and ask to add saddle fitting to my initial setup.
The general lack of pain – either stiffness, sore muscles, etc – and the fact that I worked out the next morning (at a slightly lower intensity on purpose, but I think I could have done the usual) really amazed me. I’ve had back surgery, double hernia surgery, two left knee ops, right wrist surgery twice and a dislocated left shoulder. I expected to at least have back pain. Not a lick of it during or afterward. Not even stiffness. This is all a testament to the general level of fitness I maintain, the emphasis I’ve placed on balancing my musculature (this is why I think the left side of my neck hurts and the right doesn’t – imbalance somewhere that was pulling unevenly on my neck), and doing proprioceptively rich training (BOSU squats and push ups, running on grass, minimalist shoes), and actually doing all the PT exercises I’ve been given after each surgery.
If you work hard, you can achieve so much. Honestly, not doing that doesn’t interest me at all. How about your? Do you agree that hard work, dedication and belief in your abilities is the way to enlighten.your.body?