Monday, September 10, 2012

Race report: Highlander Cycle Tour Corkscrew Century

Best swag ever.
Observation #1 from my first organized bike ride: Cyclists kinda speak a different language. "Hey flat handlebars, nice." "I did that whole hill in the big chain ring." There was no t-shirt involved either (just a bottle of wine, which more than makes up for it!)

I asked someone there, "where's the starting line?" "The starting line?" "Yea... where we start?" "Oh, there's no line, persay, just roll out whenever you want. Go that way."

Observation #2: After waiting in long, long, long ladies room lines before MIT and running events watching men walk right in and out of an empty bathroom, I learned that distance cycling is more men than women, sweet revenge, muhahaha.... :)"

Observation #3: Once they're done bragging about their equipment (ah-hem, Mom ;) ) they are such a wonderful community! I was lucky to not get a flat, but my chain popped out (shifting too quickly) and three people stopped in the middle of this massive uphill to see if I needed help. And everybody I saw changing a flat had others helping.

I did the Highlander Cycle Tour Corkscrew Century Saturday. I rode 101 miles in 8 hours and 7 minutes at an average of 12.5 mph.

(This will be a long post, but it was a long ride. The short version.)

It was a really great event! The rest stops were at all the right places (except for one you had to continue going uphill to get to, then turn around... I skipped that one). The course was really well marked. The food was awesome, I love oranges and watermelon slices at rest stops! SAG wagons (people driving minivans looking for people in trouble) were all over the place, I learned quickly to give a thumbs up each time I saw one :)

"Jessica, I didn't know you were training for a century!?" 

Umm, I kind of wasn't. It happened like this: I was content on doing the 41 mile route. Then I managed a 56 mile bike ride, all flat. So, wondering if I could do it, I switched my registration to the 70-mile route. But the 70-mile route was just a century cut short. My trainer tells me Friday that he thinks I could do the full thing (read... Matt, this is all your fault...) So I ask some of my running/cycling buddies on Facebook... which is just the modern day way of asking to be peer pressured into something.

But I was still on the fence and decided that I'd just make a split second decision when the turning point came.

This was no Canalway Trail, and definitely not the TJ Evans Trail in Newark!

The first five miles we horrid. The uphills were crazy. Every hill I've ever ridden has been very short. Just stand up, fight your way up, rest at the end (kind of like spin). But it just kept going and going! For five miles! I was ready to be done at that point, I'm feverishly looking for the 41 mile route and realized it was long gone. I knew it was hilly but the description took the "gentlest route possible in this hilly terrain." Just a 6,000 foot cumulative climb, nothing higher than a 10% grade ;)

But then it's six miles of downhill, and it was amazing and totally worth the killer climb! I whizzed down the hills at 25-30 mph. On the clean and empty country roads it was so freeing! 95 percent of the motorists were really cool about just going around us and even cheering when they saw the numbers on our backs. We won't talk about the other 5 percent... except for one particularly obnoxious horn-blaring redneck-yelling (yea we have those here...) truck and the five old men on bicycles and matching yellow jerseys who simultaneously gave it the one-finger salute :) There were a lot of beautiful views on the ride, but that was one of the best :)

There were a few easier uphills and then at Mile 15 we got to the first rest stop. The weather is overcast but it's not windy. I'm comfortable in my tech shirt, MIT jacket and Under Armour shorts. I'm loving the clip-in shoes my mom gave me. I'm easily riding 14-15 mph on what few flats there were, but my speed suffered on the hills.

I'm feeling great by the time I get to the rest stop, so I eat some bananas, peanuts and potato chips (that's right, for eight hours plus that day I had the diet of a circus animal), hang out and chat with some other cyclists for awhile, I took about a ten minute break then continued on my merry way.

Miles 15-50 I continued to feel great! It's all uphill and downhill, uphill and downhill. In marathoning, I learned the hard way that if a hill is so steep that to run it would take the same amount of time as walking it, swallow your pride and save your energy. It was about Mile 20 that I realized I was killing myself in granny gear (I knew at least one cycling term, thanks mom) at a snail's pace, so I hopped off my bike and walked it up. I was the only one that I could see, but I was with the same group of people the entire way, so I doubt it hurt my time. This happened four times throughout. I'll find a few steep hills around here to practice so I can ride up all the hills like a big girl next time ;)

I love small towns. I don't like living in them anymore, but I love going through. I love seeing their Main Streets, the local groceries, the diners with the counters, the old school gas pumps. One of the best parts about this ride was going through so many of them. At Mile 50 we hit the town of Prattsburgh.

Stolen from somewhere on the interwebs.

The rest stop was awesome because all the rides converged here. It was on the town common, so I took the opportunity here to take 20 minutes to rest and recover, because this is where I had to make the big decision. Do I want to ride 20 more, or 50?

The big question: Could I really do what I just did again? The worst of the worst of the worst was over (see elevation chart above) but there were still some doozies left.

Why not?

Five minutes later I was regretting that decision.

The storm hit at about Mile 55. It had been raining on and off but nothing serious, there was one short burst of heavy rain but that was it. It suddenly got really bad and I'm immediately regretting my decision! With my sunglasses on my eyes started to burn. I took them off and the rain was pelleting in my eyes so bad I couldn't see. This part of the course is mostly downhill with a few uphill jaunts. It's also all country, I was keeping my eye out for a store, a gas station, a restaurant (preferably a winery) to pull over in. Nada.

At one point I was whizzing down a hill and my vision was seriously fading in and out, I just remember the road flashing in front of me. I had to stop and recoup.

The rain is letting up by the time I'm approaching the Mile 66 rest stop. This rest stop is up a giant hill, then the course turned back down the hill, so I skipped it, pulled off and just had some of my trail mix. I'm wet, freezing, my shoes are flooded. This was like Mile 18 of the marathon, the come-a-long-ways-but-can't-say-you're-almost-there point. Why do I let myself get talked into these things?

We go down another sweet hill and not only is the rain letting up but the sun is peeping through! And the scenery is amazing.

Miles 80-88 were another climb but this one was easy and gentle. Then there was the true descent, over about four miles we dropped from 1,600 feet to 500. I have one word for this, WEEEEEEEEE! Now I see why they call it the corkscrew :) I'm having some serious fun, the rain has cleared, I'm loving leaning into the bike and watching my speed go up on my Garmin. Hands down, the best part of the ride (it was not a race, it was not a race, must stop thinking that...), I'm so glad I pushed through.

(Stop signs in the middle of crazy hills should be optional for cyclists. Just sayin'.)

At about Mile 90 the hill bottoms out and I'm in the town of Naples.

Fun fact, I just pulled up the town of Naples' website to steal a photo (couldn't find one of their downtown): These hills I'm rocking it out on were made by glaciers. Naples is the valley. And they have a grape festival Sept. 29-30, sweet! (I was just about to write -- I must go back!)

I whiz through the downtown and I'm feeling great! The sun is shining and I can't believe there are only 10 miles left!

Then I see the monster. It's short, no longer than a mile, but absolutely killer. I'm determined to ride it, but give up halfway through. Maybe next year.

Top of the monster. 
At Mile 95 we come to another rest stop on a scenic overlook. I was going to skip it, but the view was just amazing.

The last five were a gentle downhill and I felt great coming in. Aside from walking like a horse, I wasn't that sore, except strangely for my upper back and neck, probably from being hunched over the bike for eight hours.

The food after was wonderful, pulled pork, baked beans, tomato soup and WINE! (I yearned for the pasta, bread and blueberry pie though :( )

I told some guy at the end that it was my first century. "You probably should have picked an easier one." "Yea, you know, hindsight!" But the hills kept it interesting! When you're worrying about getting to the top of the next peak, you're not thinking about how many miles you have left, and that mindset is sometimes the biggest roadblock to completing endurance events. (There's nothing more depressing than running a marathon, seeing the halves turn off, and realizing you're only halfway there.)

Now that I've done this one, I think a flatter century would be boring. So I'm definitely in for next year, and hopefully I can find a good one in the region for spring, too!

I just know why they call the harder course: Quads Hilla. Best name ever. (Ok, second best. Flying Pig still comes first.)

Think I could do it someday?

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