My first cycling century

Focus Izalco

This is an old blog post I wrote over 10 years ago. The tip-off should by my current bike (up above) that has time traveled to the past to be the header image for this blog post. Since then, I’ve done longer rides (a 126 mile ride from Arlington MA to the top of Mt Wachusett and back home) and hillier rides (an 80 mile ride of the Kankamagus Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire)

So this weekend was the CRW Fall century, a 106 Mile ride with some nasty hills between mile 35 and mile 65. My goal was to ride this at 15MPH and it was also my first century.

The food I carried

Food I carried

The ride began in Acton-Boxborough high school in Acton at 8:00am. I got up at 6:15am (which is torture for a non morning person like me), ate a bowl of granola cereal and a banana and then got on the road by 7:10am. I got there at 7:40am, registered, changed and got read. Let the ride begin

At 8:00am sharp, I left with a group (Crack of Dawn Cyclists) from Boston and stayed with them for the first 1 hour. These guys were flying relative to the speeds I wanted to do and I glanced down and realized we had averaged over 17MPH at this point. I didn’t want to burn too many candles too soon so I waited until we caught up with a group of 6-7 riders going slightly slower so I hopped off and joined them. I then realized that in my haste to leave I had neglected to put all my energy bars and food in my back pockets and instead they were still in my mini-backpack on my back. So I had to stop and fish them out and of course the group left me. I then tried to catch up with them and ended up missing a turn and getting slightly lost (only for a few hundred meters, I quickly backtracked and conveniently found the route (CRW were nice enough to have painted yellow signs in the road indicating the route). From that point on to the 52 mile first checkpoint I pretty much rode alone apart from the points where I would either pass other riders and maybe hang with them for a bit or riders going faster would pass me and I would draft for a bit.

At mile 30-35 is where I think the hills begun (its all blurry, after the first few I began getting that dejavu feeling ‘didn’t I just ride up this hill’). It was a number of steep step hills, you ride up one, there is a tiny false flat and then you ride up another one. I don’t know exactly how high they were but there was one particularly nasty one that had me in my lowest gear (though weirdly enough, I seemed to gain time on people on the hills). After the last thigh buster, you are at the top of a pretty big hill with stunning views as far as the eye can see. After that, it was a gradual downhill slope to the first rest/water stop at mile 52. At this point, I was pretty worried cause I was tired and almost out of water (2 24 ounce bottles) so the rest stop couldn’t come soon enough.

At the 52 Mile rest stop

Me at the halfway rest stop

At the rest stop, I got off my bike and stretched and used the rest-room. The volunteers at the stop had fig newtons and peanut butter crackers so I had a couple of each. I then topped off my water bottles, dumped in a pill and a half of electrolyte tablets into each and gave a couple of electrolyte pills to another cyclist who was feeling the incipient symptoms of cramping (I had more than enough electrolyte tablets to spare). I turned and asked another cyclist “Do you think all the hills are done” and he said non-commitally “I think so but I’m not sure”. That should have been a sign, the cyclist probably knew what was coming up and didn’t want to see a cyclist abandon in despair.

So, I leave the rest stop, turn left and… I see the mother of all hills (we had already ridden over the worst one but this one looked nasty and steep). I then see the crw painted sign in the road beckoning us right and I heave a sigh of relief. I then turn the road and go “Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Up ahead is a ribbon of asphalt that seems to take a dive straight into the sky. What look like heat mirages playing with my vision turns out to be cyclists tacking back and forth to get up this monstrosity. So I start tacking.

4-5 pedal strokes at an angle in my lowest gear, turn, 4-5 pedal strokes, turn, the only sound that of other cyclists around me panting. Every few cycles a drop of sweat drops off my nose, so to distract myself I begin counting drops. I lost count at 25.

Finally, after tacking back and forth endlessly we are at the top, and its a nice smooth downhill for a bit of distance until….. yes, the next hill. Once again, tacking back and forth (though this one is slightly less steep). Finally, after this hill I latch on to two cyclists (Bob and Bill) who I’ve never met but who are riding with the quiet authority and competence of people who eat centuries for breakfast. So I sit in and shamelessly draft them. We chat a bit and we get to the 2nd rest-stop at mile 75. By this point, I’m feeling pretty spent. I eat a honey nut bar at the stop (keep in mind I’ve been munching gu packets and dates all along), refill my water bottles, drop in a tablet and a half of electrolyte in both and then look around for restrooms. Turns out the restrooms are down a street and across a dirt field that turns out a bit sketchy to ride in 23 mm tires. But I make it there and back. And then we’re off.

Two of the few steel frame bikes on the ride (mine is the blue one)

Two steel road bikes

From that point on, its mostly very small rolling hills with mostly downhill sections as we shed the elevation we gained in the first part of the ride. Once again, I’m wheel sucking but I do attempt to pull for a bit. At mile 87, I get a rush of energy that lasts until mile 97. At mile 100 (wohooooo, my first century), I finally begin believing that I may actually finish this ride. We finally get back into Carlisle and turn onto Pope Road. I immediately think, yes, we’re back and almost home before the wet blanket in my mind chimes in “This is Pope rd, you’ve ridden it many times in the past, it’s a hill”. So, one more hill.

We crawl up Pope hill (by this point, my thighs are screaming bloody murder and have been since mile 60) and finally we get to the top and after that its pretty smooth sailing back into Acton-Boxborough School.

at the end

Me at end of ride

Final stats

106.18 Mile @15.2 MPH 6Hrs 58 Minutes ride time (not counting 15 minute stop at first rest stop and 15 minutes at second)

Distance Average Speed Time