That One Hurt: A Humbling Ride
Despite still recovering from an end of the month illness, I planned a Labor Day 200k ride with friends. I’ll not be able to ride September 7-17 and wanted to get September’s 200k in before having to scramble for that RUSA ride at the end of the month. Clint, Jeff, Janet, and I conspired to ride together with a 7:00 start on Gardner’s Patapsco, Patuxent & Chesapeake 200k.
The forecast was for hot with a 60% chance of scattered thunderstorms. But what do you expect on Labor Day? We pushed off a few seconds after 7:00, all of us having ridden to the start (just 0.3 miles from my house). Our mood was good. We were all experienced riders. We were prepared for the day.
The route covers very familiar territory for Severna Park Peloton riders. It winds its way past BWI Airport, through the Patapsco State Park and into Ellicott City. In Ellicott City, the route goes almost straight up (or so it can feel) and attempts to find every hill between Ellicott City and the airport. Yes, we come back to the airport, come temptingly close to home and then head south to North Beach and return to Severna Park. Here is the map of the route.
The morning ride through Patuxent State Park was absolutely gorgeous. It is a gradual uphill that seemed more like a gentle downhill. Full shade covers the trail. The Patuxent River flows steadily to our left while steep banks are on our right. We saw no deer along here this morning, although it is common to encounter a few on rides through the park. We stopped short of Ellicott City for the obligatory 20 mile potty break and to make sure we had enough fluids for the next 30 miles where services would be few or at least inconvenient. We climbed up College Avenue with hardly any effort! I was surprised. When that hill comes at the end of a ride it is almost insurmountable. Even the rolling hills back to the airport were enjoyable.
We stopped again at Waugh Chapel for fluids and food. I was feeling quite strong and had consumed about 48 oz of liquids in the first 48 miles of the ride. Although that’s pretty good for me, that was really insufficient, I would soon discover. I consumed another 20 oz of fluids at Waugh Chapel. I had also been taking 2 ecaps every hour, attempting to stave off cramping in the heat and hills of the day to come.
We pushed off again, negotiating the tricky crossing of Highway 3 without incident and again experienced beautiful conditions. It was getting warm. Humidity was high. But we had shade and cloud cover and sometimes we were riding on wet pavement that either had experienced a recent shower or was still wet from a pre-dawn rain. The wet pavement kept a lot of the radiant heat down. Fluids, ecaps, a little food, climb the hill, coast down the other side, watch the cue sheet, and enjoy the scenery seemed to be the routines of the day as we kept the pedals turning.
I will admit that I was anxious to get to North Beach for something to eat. I was getting hungry, not having really consumed the calories I should have. I felt like I was sucking down fluids at an appropriate rate. But I was feeling the fatigue and I knew what the route was like on the return with some long uphills and frequent rollers that required effort on the way up.
There were also some twinges of leg cramps that were worrying me.
We stopped at the deli just past North Beach, sat down and took off shoes, got twice as much food as we could eat, used the facilities, and soaked up the air conditioning. Outdoor temperatures had risen to over 90° F with more increases to come. We heard about Diana Nyad’s amazing accomplishment. We checked the forecast … thunderstorms were now unlikely. We lingered a little longer than usual, but soon enough we were off and started the climb up Fairhaven. Several of us commented that we really weren’t ready for that long climb right out of the food stop, but we pressed on.
I don’t know exactly where it started, but somewhere in those first 5 miles of the last 45 my legs started to cramp. It started as a a little tightness with some pain. Eventually over the next 20-25 miles it would get to the point where the front of my thighs would lock up tight and I couldn’t move my legs on the pedals. This always occurred on the uphills as I was grinding my way up an incline. Added to that was the related difficulty of some heat-related symptoms. At one spot, although I was riding a relatively flat section of road, I noted that my heart rate was 160 and my speed was all of about 14 mph. I could believe the heart rate if I was traveling at about 18-20 mph, but not 14! I stopped in some shade. Put my legs up. Dribbled ice water over my head. Anything to cool down and bring the heart rate down. The other riders were amazingly patient.
Over the next many miles (until there were about 15 miles to go) I had to stop frequently with either leg cramps or heat stroke type symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, and out of control heart rate. No one complained. What troopers!
At 15 miles to go I was convinced that I would not finish. Yes, it is only 15 miles, but the way I was feeling that could have been 115. I stopped again for an extended period of time. Clint stayed with me. He called Lori letting her know we had slowed down. I called Lori telling her to stay by the phone because I might need to be picked up. Jeff and Janet were given the go-ahead to finish their ride and Clint agreed to stay with me.
Clint developed a plan after listening to me. He would make sure that I got up the hills with as little effort as possible and would watch my heart rate. The goal was not to exceed 140. He yelled at me if I pressed too hard up the hills (I walked a couple early in those last 15 miles). He urged me to coast as long as possible. His encouraging words were always spot on without sounding made up. He assisted in every possible way he could.
With 10 miles to go, I knew I would be able to finish. I was starting to recover under Dr. Clint’s rigid direction.
We pulled into the finish before Jeff and Janet had left. They were surprised to see us.
Our time was under 11 hours, respectable on such a hot day for me.
Diana Nyad stopped swimming a couple of miles from completing her 110 mile swim, called her team around her, and gave a speech to them about how long distance swimming seems like a solo sport, but it takes a team. This ride was like that for me. It took a team to get me across the finish line.
Clearly I need to get this hydration/nutrition thing worked out better on hot rides. It didn’t help that I was still recovering from illness.
This ride was not a confidence booster. It was a painful reminder that this can be a dangerous sport and it is a physical challenge. I’ve had a motto for years that says, “On any given day … I can ride 100 miles”. Well, some days that may not be possible. I’m glad that this 130 mile day ended well.
It is now the day after. I have some lingering soreness. I’m really thirsty today which is a sign of my dehydration on this ride.
And now, the numbers:
This Ride: 129.9 miles
Malaria Campaign: 1,840.1 miles
Funds Pledged: $1,012.06
Contributed in support: $2,353.60
Total = $3,365.66