Century: a. A period of 100 years, b. A company in the ancient Roman army, usually of 100 men, c. A bike ride of 100 miles, usually ridden by crazy cyclists.
I finally crossed that threshold in my training and as a cyclist. I biked a century. And not just any century, or just any 100mi training ride, but The Harpeth River Ride Century. A very large organized ride with a major sponsor that takes cyclists through some of the biggest, toughest, non-stop hills around middle Tennessee. I was completely terrified of it. The most I’d biked to that point was 77mi, and that was a few weeks before. Would my legs hold up? Would my mind hold up? And more importantly, would my “saddle” hold up? But, you know what, it really wasn’t that bad. Since it was such a large, well-supported race, it was broken up into several rest stops that were fully stocked.
Since this is such a massive bike ride, with thousands of cyclists, I was really nervous about the mass rollout that morning. Turns out several friends and teammates weren’t keen on it either, so several of us decided to meet very early and get a head start on the crowd. The plan was to roll out at 6am, a full hour ahead of the masses. It was great, we had the road to ourselves, we hit the rest stops early so the food was plenty and the porta potties were fresh and clean. We hit the rest stop at around mile 34, just before climbing the infamous Pulltight hill, a KOM for those in the know. I love me some hills (small, light cyclists usually do), but I was a little nervous after hearing everyone talk about how bad it is. The climb is no joke, but it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. Just drop your gear and spin, you’ll get there. Crest the top, then fly down to the other side, my least favorite part of cycling.
Turns out when you leave early, that means you also pick up everything in the road first too. As I started descending behind my teammate, I distinctly started to hear a click…..click…..click…click..click..clickclickclickclickclickclick… Someone threw out tacks on the road. I picked up a tack and when I got to the bottom, had to change my tire. Another teammate picked up one earlier in the hill and changed his at the top. While we were working on my tire, my stem broke on the new tube! ARGH! Toss that and start over….bent the stem on the second one but we were still able to get it pumped up, but not screwed back down. Now I’m down to one tube left, not a big deal unless you’re like me and ride with 650cc tubes (smaller than the standard). One more flat and I’m done for the day, the sag crew probably doesn’t have one for me to use if I flat after that. We saw so many people with tacks and flats for the next 10-20 miles. That’s so dangerous. If someone had blown a tire flying down that hill, it could have caused a serious wreck. Looks like I reached a top speed of 41mph flying down that hill (and that was with my brakes gently applied). I’m really surprised I didn’t wet my pants going that fast.
At the next rest stop, I had support check my wheel. He gave me some more air and said I’d probably be ok, but may lose some air slowly. The rest of the ride I was so nervous with every bump, rock, and pothole in the road. Fortunately, our patch job held.
I really began to struggle over miles 45-65. I think losing time to fixing all the flats and getting our group back together, getting caught up with the crowds again, the sun had finally started really coming out and getting hot, and maybe I was getting low on calories while I paid more attention to my tire instead of my nutrition. I was in a bad place, my group had long left me, and I was trying to ride my own ride, but I was struggling and getting passed. Then one of the worst hills in my opinion was at mile 60, super steep and at the turn from a stop sign. When I got to the next rest stop, my group said I didn’t look ok. But I got some ice in my water bottles, some gatorade from a cooler, more sunscreen and a couple peanut butter jelly sandwiches. A few minutes in the shade and I think I was doing better.
After that, it was pretty uneventful, just meandering through rural middle Tennessee. Once I hit about 80 miles, I was feeling much better, good even. I got stopped by a train just before the rest stop at mile 82. That’s the second time I’ve been stopped by a train this year, I really hope this isn’t a trend. When I got to the stop, we found another teammate and were able to get our picture together. I was also offered ice for my water bottles. Filled up 2 bottles, then took another cupful and poured it into my sports bra. The cheers from the onlookers were hilarious….it’s like they’ve never seen a triathlete in the heat. It felt so good. At this point we were only about 18mi from the finish. I was so glad I brought some extra “chamois butter” to apply at this point. While I was probably ok, if nothing else it helps you mentally to know that you’ve added an extra layer of protection. A couple of us reapplied our lube of choice and we were back on the road.
At this point I was mostly familiar with the rest of the route. It was nice to know I was really close to being done. My group stopped at the last rest stop, which was less than 10mi from the finish. I met them there, but said I’m feeling good, let’s go, let’s get this over with! A few more hills and were were back at the finish. And just in time. Within 15-20min of finishing, a severe thunderstorm rolled in. Fortunately I was able to get back to my car and bike loaded inside before the rain hit.
So, for my first century, this was a good one. It was hot and hilly and really pushed my limits physically and mentally. It was really well supported and the route was clearly marked with stickers on the road that were obvious and didn’t deface property. I would definitely do this race again. Just maybe not tomorrow, my legs have earned a little rest.