Monday, April 25, 2005

A View of the Century-Part 1

There are many types of sporting events that one can participate in. I have done several of the largest participant events in the United States. I have run the Dam to Dam in Iowa, the largest 20k race in the world. I have run the Chicago Marathon twice, with over 35,000 runners. And of course, I have run the Peachtree Road Race, with it's 55,000 participants(they are certainly not all runners).

Yet, the Century ride is such a different creature than any of those races. Yes, it certainly pays to be prepared, and to have trained. One hundred and six miles on a bike, as was the ride in Madison, Ga was, is well, one hundred and six miles on a bike. Trust me when I say that the seat does not get any softer the longer you sit on it. I was looking for excuses to stand and pedal towards the end of the ride.

Before you ever get started, you have to find where the event takes place. Unlike major running events, century rides take place in far off places, with the objective being to keep the cyclists in as little traffic as possible. And because they are in such out of the way places, lodging is far different than runners would ever tolerate. Unless you drive to the event on the day of the ride, odds are that you are sleeping in a tent with a sleeping bag. Not in a campground, mind you, but on some athletic fields in the host town. For some of these rides, the use of the word town might even be an exageration.

The cyclists arrive and then pitch their tens. Tent City comes to life as tent after tent goes up around the perimeter of the field. The smart campers have brought their own motor homes. Bathrooms are the port0johns, and the food is usually served in a communal gathering place. Can you imagine asking marathon runners to spend the night before their big event in a tent on the lakefront in Chicago? It just would not happen.

But the biggest differences that I found are the day of the actual event. For starters, there is no start time. You rise and start when you want, with whom you want Need a little more time for it to warm up? You got it. Wanna just be sure the bathroom will not be needed again. Take your time. Want a second breakfast burrito before pedaling out of town? Go for it.

Then, the actual starting point of the ride is sometimes a mystery. There are usually cyclists going in all sorts of directions, and you won't be able to discern the actual "line"by watching them. Knowing where this line is important, for who would want to cheat themselves out of a tenth of a mile on a 106 mile ride? Certainly not I.

Century rides are not timed events, except on the individual level. That is left entirely up to you. From the pace you ride to the length of your breaks, you are on your own. This does not mean that you are not competitive, or that you will not try to push yourself. You will. But I dare you to try and remember to start and stop your watch at each long light, or rest areas. Good Luck! If you do not miss at least one or two starts and stops, then you must not have really been there.

The equipment you get to see on the ride is a site to behold. What happens mentally to someone when they grab the old Raleigh out of the garage and decide to go for a ride? You can hear chains so dry and needing oil, that you can hear them ahead of you even when they are hundreds of yards away. You approach riders on bikes so small for them, that their legs are at 45 degree angles to the bike. Your knees hurt watching them peddle. You see parents with not one but two or three kids on their tot bikes. You hope they are not going the 100, and cannot imagine what a parent will do to keep the kids motivated for even 20 miles.

Then there are the tandem bikes. Two riders sharing a frame seems to be the ultimate test of any relationship. When one rider is a child and the lead an adult, you can be sure that the parent knows they are going to be most of the power for the day. But what happens when the second rider is a date, or a wife? What happens when the going gets tough? It was hard enough for me to conquer the last series of hills after mile 60. I cannot imagine feeling responsible for the rider behind me at the same time. And did I mention the bikes for three that were also riding that day? Many a couple could save themselves a lot of grief later in life if they did a tandem century ride on their first date. There would be few personality defects left hidden after that.

A Century ride is not even certain to be in the cards for you until you make that last turn that points to the route for the 100 plus miles. On the Madison ride, I did not have to decide until I came to that fork in the road. And I did not decide until then. As I sat at the corner, waiting for the friend I was riding with to appear, and to see if I had convinced him to go the distance, a tandem bike approached and the rear rider was on cell phone. I could hear her half of the conversation as she approached "I am not sure how far we are going", she said as they approached. At the intersection, he turned left, and I heard "guess we are doing the century".

A while later I passed them. As I was passing, the front rider must have literally fallen asleep and tilted to the left and swerved into my path. The female in the back, no longer on the cell phone, shrieked, waking the guy at the last minute, and he regained control of the bike. "Sorry about that", I heard as I pedaled away. I never saw them again, and can only imagine what they were like in another 30 miles.

Having gotten a late start because of the cold morning temperatures, and because there was no start time, I thought that I had plenty of time left to finish my ride. But around mile 65, a Hummer pulled up beside me. A lady asked me how I was feeling. "Great", I responded.

"This is the last SAG vehicle", she informed me. "Good Luck!"

"What?", I thought. I have forty miles left to go. Feeling good now does not mean much an hour from now. Oh well. I have no choice but to pedal on. So I did.

Arriving at the next rest stop, an older man and woman were sitting there, relaxing in small town America. I do not kno what town it was, but it did have a four-way stop. "You are number 85 to come through", I was informed.

"Eighty-five", I thought, "I still have a shot at the coveted bandana". It's a funny thing how these century rides give away near-nothings as some item to show you rode that far. I call them near-nothings because they cost nearly nothing, and are worth nearly nothing. Yet for some reason, this gave me motivation.

The funny thing was that not one rider actually passed me while riding all day. That could have been because the serious riders had all started early, or the smart riders all went a shorter distance. But that did not matter, for I was not going to have 15 riders pass me and have me lose the chance for a bandana.

"Only five riders behind you", the lady said. I felt my motivation slip as I did the math. There were not even 100 riders doing the century.

And that was the last of the rest stops. For the rest had closed down and were gone. With 25 miles to go, that could be an issue.

(To be Continued)


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