Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Century of Pain!

Okay, maybe that's a bit melodramatic for a title. But I did ride over 100 km on the weekend for the first time. (What's that you say? A century is 100 miles? Aw crap, I really suck.)

Well, it did hurt. A lot. As in lying on the side of the road wimpering kind of hurt. As in good thing I didn't have my cellphone or I would have called for a ride and been disappointed with myself kind of hurt.

The day started innocently enough with the weekly Saturday long ride. The rules are show up, and be totally self-sufficient, and the starting point alternates. This week's meeting place was at the church near the intersection of Rocky Ridge Road and Crowchild Trail. I was almost late, but made it to meet up with six others. My plan was to ride to Cochrane for some ice cream, and tackle the big hill.

I slapped on some sunscreen, did a quick gear check, and we were off. I got a little ahead from the start, so I waited at the lights, and kind of led the pack for a little while, until three stronger riders blew by me. They were keeping a pace that I preferred, so I hopped on the end of the line. I took a few turns "pulling" at the front of the group, and we made quick time to Retreat Road, the top of the Cochrane hill.

At this point, one rider peeled off-- she had other plans later in the day. The other three were nowhere in sight, and I was feeling good, so when Gary told me they were planning to go all the way to the Ghost Reservoir for the start of the Calgary 70.3 course, I jumped at the chance.

After a fun cruise down the hill through Gleneagles (off the main highway, less traffic and a lower speed limit), we all took turns at the front, chugging slightly uphill and into that ever-present west wind. At the Ghost, I still felt great, had another Larabar, and bought some water.

The next leg of the trip was where the wheels fell off. Back on the highway to Cochrane, we were making great time (averaging almost 40kph)-- that is, until we turned lfet off the main highway onto the loop of the 70.3 course. The road got much, much rougher, hillier, and pot-holier. 20kph was a challenge, and by the time we made it to the high point, I was fading. A right turn made for an easy cruise, and another right turn put us onto some gloriously smooth pavement, that looked like it was mostly downhill. I hoped it would be all downhill.

On a bike, gravity seems to be perversely reversed: "What goes up, must come down" becomes "What goes down must come up"! In the foothills, rarely is there such a thing as a steady downslope- it's all rolling hills! By the second rolling hill (which, because we're on a "secondary highway" is actually pretty steep), I was whimpering and barely moving. In my bottom gear way too soon, dropped like a ton of bricks, head down and feeling sorry for myself. My riding partners kept waiting for me, I think just to make sure I hadn't passed out!

The ride back to the main highway seemed like an eternity. The smallest uphill was agonizing! My legs felt empty- like there was no energy, none of the usual power there. They weren't cramping, but rather they felt like thousands of tiny daggers tearing into the deep tissue of my thighs, and they just flat out refused to go. I started to regret not having a more substantial breakfast, and not grabbing a couple of gels on my way out the door.

By the time we rolled back into Cochrane, we were at about 3.5 hours of riding, about 4 hours trip time. I told Gary and Heather to go on ahead, I'd need to take a long break and probably a sandwich before tackling the monster hill. I have to say, for near-strangers, they were great to ride with, and almost seemed reluctant to leave me. But I'm sure they recognized that I needed a break. We stopped at the gas station, and as they refilled water and gatorade, I stayed outside watching the bikes. Right next to the payphone.

Even as I was telling them I'd take a break, then tackle the hill, I kept glancing at the payphone. I started daydreaming about making that call. I reasoned that my parents only live a few minutes away, my bike would fit in either vehicle...I'll have to go to the bank and get cash, then buy something to get change...Maybe I'll go have a sandwich first. Maybe my legs will stop screaming at me, and I'll regain feeling in my butt if I sit down on something other than my saddle. I'll probably regret it if I don't make it back unter my own power. But my legs! They've never hurt this much! Sandwich, then maybe ice cream, more water and gatorade, and then if I still feel crappy, I can make the call...

..."You've got everything you need to fix a flat?"
"Wha...? Oh, yeah, and then some."
"Okay, well, we're off then. Bye!"

It's amazing how quickly a footlong sub will disappear! Add some chips for salt (apparently it helps with cramps-- at least, that's how I justified it in my mind). Ice cream was a no-go, just because the lineup was out the door, but I was starting to feel better.

After about 45 minutes, I felt that I could probably make it. I started slowly up the hill, taking the Gleneagles route, and feeling okay. The legs weren't complaining quite as loudly. Until about halfway up, where I stopped, stretched, and kept going. Stretching did nothing. There's a point on the hill where there's no houses, just grassland between the golf course neighborhood and the houses on top of the hill. At that last intersection, there's a bit of lawn, and it just looked too inviting to my now screaming legs to pass up. I laid there for about 20 minutes, hoping the pain would subside enough to get up the hill. It wasn't.

So I started walking. Shuffling. Hobbling up the hill, pushing my bike. Half steps, really, and even those hurt. Twenty, twenty-five minutes later, I was only a few hundred metres further, but there was a bit of a respite- a dip in the hill. I got on the bike, got up as much steam as I could muster, and willed myself up the final pitch to the highway. I made it! I wanted to yell and scream!

From there, the road is generally downhill, and the morning's headwind was now a glorious tailwind, ushering me home. As much as my legs hurt, as powerless as they were, I still did 40 the whole way back to my car. The lone car in the parking lot.

Since my parents live nearby, I headed to their place for an icebath and a hot shower. After 6 hours on the road, nothing is better.

I'm glad I didn't call for a ride. I'm proud of myself for making it, and glad that I did it. I've never, ever pushed myself and hit that kind of a wall. Oh sure, when I was playing team sports, coaches always pushed us to max cardio, but I've never had muscles just tell me to stop. I've done very long hikes where I've been sore the next day, I've done runs that really hurt, I've had races that hurt... but nothing compares to that. But now I know my limits. I know how important nutrition and fuel are. I know what to prepare for, and that I can get through it.

Maybe it's a little masochistic to say so, but I can't wait for the next time.