It was June 16, 2009 when I last posted here and declared publicly that I was going to do the Seattle Century—my first. It seemed like a good first ride, benefiting our local, wonderful, Columbia City bike shop called BikeWorks. (Kent Peterson, famed Seattle cycling personality, had assured CurioRando that it was a good one and he even marked the course.)
It’s hard to believe that it was just five and a half short weeks ago. I said then that the problem with words on a page is that they are permanent—you can’t pretend you didn’t say them because they will just stare up at you from the page. So putting down what seemed like a bit of a wild wish at that point—no training, no previous ride longer than 75 miles and that was almost 3 years ago—was risky at best.
I had five weekends to train, which was slim. Unfortunately, I hadn’t calculated for travel. I had done only a few 25 mile rides during the week after work in the week and a half before I had to leave for Colorado. During the following week, I rode a few times to work—a grand total of about 7 miles roundtrip each time—before I had to leave again for Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, I developed allergies to the cat which triggered my asthma. We got back from Pittsburgh on a Tuesday night, now only two and a half weeks left before the century. Given that conventional wisdom said you shouldn’t do a long ride the weekend before the actual ride, we realized that coming Saturday was the ONLY time we could do a long ride.
The days after our return from Pittsburgh were ridiculously busy with several very public events for me, early starts and late endings each day with a total of four or five hours of sleep. The night before our ride, I had the honor of being on a panel with Gloria Steinem and a number of other wonderful women and an audience of 900 people. It was a wonderful and also tiring event, and it was well past midnight before I finally got to bed. We scrapped the idea of leaving early and decided we would start our training ride around 11 AM the next morning.
The next day dawned hot. We had been joined by our good friend, Vesteinn, who was also doing his first century ride. (What I didn’t know at the time is that he had been biking to and from work about 30 miles each day for the several weeks before we rode together so he was in far better shape than I was.) By 11 AM when we started riding, it was in the high 80s. Our ride started in Redmond and traced some of the very same hills we would do on the century. I was tired from the moment we started and I could tell. We did 65 miles that day and for the last 20 or so miles, there were several times I thought I wouldn’t make it. It didn’t help that Vesteinn, who I thought might be in a similar state to me, had done perfectly well, riding up the hills with little problem. It was just me in the back, slowing everyone down the whole ride. I felt exhausted, wheezy, dehydrated and completely discouraged. I simply could not have gone a mile further. I was spent, completely spent.
I started thinking seriously about whether or not I could do the Century. I got grumpier and grumpier the more I thought about it. My shoulders and back got tense. Any words of encouragement that CurioRando tried to give me were met with sharp stares and perhaps a “you don’t understand” look. A few days after the fateful ride, I started to think about still going for it and just deciding that it would be okay to not finish. Not finish? I’m not really good at being okay with not doing something I’ve set out to do. Maybe, I was beginning to realize, this ride was going to teach me something whether I finished or not, willingly or not.
The weekend before the ride, we went out for another 55 mile ride around Lake Washington. We took it very slow, laughed and joked for a good part of the first half, had competitions to see who could go up the hills the slowest (Vesteinn won). I had decided not to feel guilty about being the slowest, and to measure myself only relative to me. I had hydrated well the week before and had good sleep the whole week. Even though the ride had more elevation than the week before and in less miles, it seemed far easier. When we arrived back at home, CurioRando asked us if we could do another 50. Vesteinn said yes, without hesitation. I stopped, thought and said I thought I could do 25 if there weren’t any hills. And if I could get to 75 on the century day, I hoped adrenalin would carry me through.
In the remaining week, I tried mostly to calm myself down. I was honestly terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t finish, that I would embarrass myself, that I would be sick, that I would have to walk up hills. It was the hills that worried me the most. The distance didn’t seem so daunting, just the hills. But here we were, registered with purchased t-shirts and jerseys. I switched from thinking that I needed to be okay if I didn’t finish to visualizing myself finishing (CurioRando’s advice). Everyone offered advice and most of it was good. My physical therapist (a superb athlete and runner) asked me what the worst thing that could happen was and when I said, “Not finishing” she shrugged. “Well, that’s not so bad, is it?” And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t. But dammit, I was still going to finish! My son’s piano teacher, also a fine athlete and previously competitive swimmer, told me to get angry any time I started to get discouraged and to just keep pedaling one rotation at a time no matter how bad the hill was. CurioRando plied me with powdered vitamins and minerals and water. My assistant at work made sure my water glass was always filled and my finance manager at work shared her ultra-runner-daughter’s tricks for how to stay hydrated.
The weather was predicted to be unbearably hot, in the 90s. I sat and stewed before it even got hot.
The day before the Century, I was the grumpiest I had been in a long time. I got annoyed for no reason at work and at home. I had to give a speech in front of a few hundred people and couldn’t put myself into it. CurioRando had gone to pick up our numbers and course booklet at pre-registration. We spent the evening getting ready for the ride, with him trying to make me smile without any success. It wasn’t until after dinner when I sat down to look at the booklet that I realized the hills seemed easier than the rides we had been training with, even though the whole course was obviously still significantly longer than anything I had ever done. There was one hill that seemed to be about 1,000 feet of elevation and that scared me. But other than that, it actually seemed manageable. On top of that, the weather forecast for Saturday was far better than it had been, with highs in the upper 80s.
I smiled, even laughed! CurioRando was thrilled to see teeth. We calculated what time we should leave each stop to finish in about 10 hours—we weren’t going for speed, just trying to finish. This kind of analytical exercise helped me see that we should easily be able to do the ride in time. I went to bed more relaxed and ready to say that I had done whatever I could do, now I just needed to ride.
Saturday morning, we were up at 4:15, out of the house by 5 and at the starting point at Magnuson Park by 5:30. We saddled up at 6 and set out in the cool morning air. The sun was just beginning to ride high enough that it cast golden ripples on the lake as we rode by. The first 20 miles were flat, along the Burke-Gilman Trail and we rode mostly in companionable silence, not pushing too much, just getting our bodies warmed up. The stops were spaced about every 12 miles and we skipped through the first one and stopped at the second just before the climbing started.
Novelty Hill and Cherry Hill—both went by quickly, slowly up and then racing down with the satisfaction of having climbed another hill. We landed at the 50 mile mark at Remlinger Farms around 10 AM or so and I realized half the ride was done! I felt good, the beginnings of confidence that perhaps I could actually do this thing. I doused my head with a bottle of water—the heat was starting to rise up—and boldly declared to CurioRando: “I can do this thing.”
“What?” he said, almost not believing his ears.
“I can do this thing,” I repeated firmly.
He planted a giant kiss on me—“that’s my lovey!” he said exuberantly.
The next stretch might have been my favorite of the whole ride, through the Carnation Marsh. Giant trees filtered out sunlight and dappled the road. Swampy green on either side, rustling wind, wheels whirring, companionable riding in twos. We had been joined by another friend, Steve, a strong cyclist who had just completed the STP the weekend before. On the rolling hills, I had a little fun, boxed the guys in and sprinted up the hill, throwing my arm (only one—I would have fallen if I had tried both like the pro-racers!) up in the air for a victory sign. They goodnaturedly complained and then nicely didn’t tease me as I spent the next five minutes recovering,
The next leg was the big hill I had been dreading. We told Vesteinn to go ahead and CurioRando stayed back with me, even though I kept telling him to go ahead. He insisted he was fine staying back with me. As we twisted and turned, I kept preparing myself for more and harder. When we suddenly got to the rest stop and realized the hill was over, I turned to CurioRando and said, “That’s it?” in disbelief. He laughed. “Not so bad, right?” he asked. I nodded. Now I definitely felt I could make it.
Now we were at around 66 miles and the next stop was a good 18 miles or so at the Mercer Lid, which would put us back in familiar territory we had ridden numerous times. If there was a stage that was the hardest, it was that one. I had determined I could make it, finished the stage that seemed the hardest according to the book, and temperatures were at their highest, probably around 87 degrees or so. The stage went on forever. There were plenty of climbs, big and small. And though not one was as big as the one before, there were more of them, and it was hotter and later. My back, hands and seat were starting to hurt. I was tiring and could feel it. When we finally reached Mercer Lid, I gladly sank into a chair, threw another bottle of water over my head and rested for a few minutes—the first real stop beyond a bathroom break and water refill we had taken the whole ride.
But now on the last stretch and on familiar ground. We curved around Lake Washington, up and down through the Arboretum neighborhood and back around to the University. We realized the ride would only be 94 miles as the course was written. A Century that isn’t a Century? We weren’t going to have it! We determined to ride an extra 6 miles so that we could really do a full century and tried to convince some of the riders waiting with us at the light to do the same. They looked at us like we were crazy. And maybe we were—Century crazy!
We did our extra 6 miles and rolled into the finish line, a full Century completed in right around 9 hours, one hour earlier than we had planned to finish. I felt good, all over good, body, mind and spirit good. I was tired, yes, but not exhausted. I wasn’t sure I could have done more hills, I had lots of bruised spots from my seat not sitting quite right, and my left hand had gone weak enough from gripping the handlebars that I couldn’t muster up the strength to push my gear shift levers in. But all in all, I was remarkably good.
I treated myself to a 15-minute heavenly massage and let Kathy work out the knots in my upper traps. We retired to the beer garden, then got silly on endorphins, a few beers and a lot of sun and then went home.
When I woke up this morning, I felt good all over again. I’ve already started researching what other centuries there are, or even when there is a 200 km brevet that I can do. CurioRando is looking at me with a gleam of pride in his eye, but careful not to push because he sees that I am doing all the pushing myself that is necessary.
So, as I finish up this lengthy post, I’m raising a glass to a few things. First, to bicycling, for the freedom and the glory and the adventure that is possible on bike. Second, to our friend Vesteinn, for his companionship and inspiration. This was a bonding experience for sure and I’m already looking to ride with him again. Third, to CurioRando. If it weren’t for his obsession, his belief in me and his companionship, I wouldn’t have done the ride. Truth is, he had far more confidence in me on this one than I did. And his willingness—no, real desire—to ride with me, even though he could have torn ahead made it just so much more fun. He pushed me to push myself—and I am grateful for that. And finally, I’m raising a glass to me. I did it—my first Century.
Boy, do I feel good.