I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen it — cyclists complaining that they would have had a great ride, but they set too fast a pace during the opening miles, which wore them out for the finish. Taking my cue from those experiences, I went into Saturday’s Outlaw Trail 100 in Round Rock, Texas, planning to take the first third of the ride easy, pick up the pace in the middle third, and have plenty of fuel in reserve for the last third of the ride. The best-laid plans…
I always get a kick out of meeting riding friends at or near the start of these rides. John T, who is new to biking this year and rides with me from time to time, was there. He was planning to start with the 100-milers, but do the 63-mile route. I ran into a couple of folks I’ve met on rides once before, and at the starting line I rendezvoused with Rick, my riding buddy from my bike club, and Torsten, a Twitter buddy whom I’ve met before but never ridden with.
The police car siren sounded at precisely 8 a.m. and we were off. I settled in next to Torsten, who is 6’7″ and probably the biggest guy I’ve seen on a road bike. (By the way, his new blog, “Giant On My Bike,” is worth a visit.) I knew he was a strong rider, but the pace was easy at the start, and he and I fell into a general conversation.
Rick was with us, too — unfortunately, I think we left John T. behind pretty early. I sensed that I was riding at a faster than usual pace, but I felt good, and kept up with Rick and Torsten.
In the crossroads town of Weir, the two of them got a jump on me at a stop sign. This time I couldn’t catch them, and although I continued my faster pace, they disappeared off in the distance. I caught them several miles later, when they stopped to wait for me at the second rest stop, which I skipped.
For the next 25 miles or so, I could tell that I was pushing it. They’d get out ahead of me, and I’d get down in the drops to get more power to my pedals. I’d catch them, and then they’d pull away again.
The Granger Dam marks the halfway point of the 100-mile route. I had stopped to take some pictures of the lake, but could feel the complete lack of zip when I started up again. There’s a rest stop at the far end of the lake, and I took advantage of the opportunity to unwind.
We got going again, and again I had trouble keeping up with Torsten and Rick. At about 60 miles, Torsten said, “Guys, I’m taking off. Nice riding with you.” We said our goodbyes, and in minutes, he was out of sight ahead on the road.
At the next rest stop, about 69 miles into the ride, I was spent. I seriously considered grabbing a ride in with one of the many Round Rock Park Dept. pickups that were serving as sag on this ride. But Rick said, “I”ll ride ahead of you to block the wind. If you fall behind, yell ‘I’m off!’ and I’ll slow down for you.”
Now began the slog. The 16+ mph pace we had kept up for the first half of the ride slowed perceptibly. Rick could have ridden at a much faster speed, but he stuck with me. At the 78-mile rest stop, I felt almost rejuvenated — a relative term, but at least I could keep up.
I was uncomfortable, though, because I had two hot spots on the balls of both feet. They made pedaling very uncomfortable. By now, the temperature was in the upper 80s (30ºC) and I started to slow again.
Rick suggested I put Chamois Butt’r on my feet. A small packet of the stuff came in our goody bags, and I had stuck it in one of my jersey pockets. At the last rest stop, I shed my shoes and applied the soothing lotion.
It sort of worked, but by now, it didn’t matter. The finish was in our sights, and I struggled to keep up with Rick as we passed other bikers on the way in. The wind from the south was quite brisk now, and I could feel my skin burning under the hot sun. I couldn’t figure out how Rick managed to wear his arm warmers right up until the last rest stop. We crossed the line, and met Rick’s wife, Penny, who was waiting for us after doing the 40-mile ride.
I was disappointed in my total time: 7 hours and 41 minutes. I had done this ride in 7:15 two years ago. But my computer showed the on-the-bike time to be 6:39 — only six minutes slower than in 2008. Average speed was 15.2 mph — higher than I thought it would have been, given the trouble I had over the last 30 miles.
So — what do I take away from this experience? Obviously, it’s to make a plan and stick to it. I had a plan, but instead of telling Torsten early on that it was nice to ride with him, but I’m going to take it easy, I let hubris take over. After all, I had gotten in better shape, added many more miles to my yearly riding totals, and had done more long rides to prep for the century. And now, I could hang with this big guy. If I’d stuck to my plan, I should have easily bettered my last time, especially in light of the nearly perfect riding conditions.
The other takeaway is the importance of a good riding partner. Without Rick, I wouldn’t have finished the ride at all — I would have sagged out at 70 miles. His patience let me complete my third century. Rick never spoke about his own riding plan (“I’m just looking to finish the course,” he said), but I’m sure I wrecked any thoughts he had of finishing in a respectable time. Thanks, pardner.