Warning: This blog is long. But the event this blog is about was also long so I couldn't help it. Enjoy.
Yesterday I survived what claims to be one of the toughest cycling events in the country, the Horribly Hilly Hundreds in Wisconsin. They offer a 100K and 200K option and thankfully I had the good sense to do the 100K, otherwise I would have most certainly been in the SAG wagon. I ended up going into the ride on minimal sleep due to the travel delays so I wasn't feeling tip top. But I was meeting a group of friends and knew I'd have a good day regardless of how good I felt on the bike.
We had a hard time coordinating a meet up before the start. I ran into my friends Jon and Phil but others were MIA. We decided to meet up at the start since parking and registration were up the super steep hill that would later be the finish. By the time I was ready to hit the start no one was around. I rode down the hill and still didn't see anyone so I figured I better get going. It was already a bit late and I wasn't going to be setting any speed records out there. A big group of cyclists came down the hill so I decided to follow them out onto the course. About 1.5 miles in Phil called so I stopped to find out where he was. While waiting on the side of the rode, Jon rode by and joined me. We waited a long time, more than 20 minutes and no Phil. I would later find out the reason he couldn't find me is because I accidentally cut the course by about eight miles - I'd gone the sheep route and followed other riders rather than looking at the course markings and missed a short loop at the beginning (that included a very nasty hill). I wasn't the only one, a few others from our group did the same thing. After the rest of the ride, I wasn't feeling too bad about missing a few miles. I was adequately challenged.
Jon and I rode together but he was faster so I was mostly riding alone and catching up when he waited at the top of the hills. The beginning of this ride is interesting. You hit a few steep, hard climbs, but are rewarded with some unbelievably long downhills so it doesn't feel that hard. The roads were challenging with a lot of loose gravel and twigs due to all the storms so you really had to pay close attention. As usual I was timid on the descents and lost a lot of free speed as a result. I'm just not ready to fly down a hill at 40+ mph on my super light carbon bike. I did allow myself to hit a maximum speed of 38.5 mph, although I'm certain I had a finger on the brake the entire time.
Heading into the first rest area was a tremendously steep climb that is cruelly located just past a major intersection and railroad tracks so we had to stop and wait for a policeman to wave us through. Tackling this climb with zero momentum was a treat and to add to my fun, I dropped my chain. I nearly went down since I was only riding about 4 mph but somehow managed to clip out and get to the side of the road. I could not get the chain back on and was totally losing my temper. I was covered in grease, sweating, and teetering like a mountain goat on a steep hillside while trying to balance my bike and fix the chain. I screamed some colorful words and just at that moment, heard someone say my name. It was fellow BTers Laura and Kelly and they graciously stopped to see if I was ok. It was really nice of them to stop on such an ugly climb that required all of us to ride back down for some momentum to get back up.
I found Jon at the rest stop and finally met up Amy, who I'd missed at the beginning. She was also having chain issues and had a rough start. Phil rode in just as we were leaving so we decided to wait so we could ride as a group. Amy ended up coming along later so she could have some work done on her bike.
The second section was much harder with a couple hills I swore I couldn't climb. There was one in particular right before the second rest stop that looked as though it went straight up. It made me wonder how the ride organizer could ever look at it and say "I think I'll put this on my course." It was brutal. People were weaving all over the road in an effort to keep from tipping over. Many riders had to stop and walk and others stopped and just stood over their bikes trying to catch their breath. On climbs like this there was total silence except the sound of people breathing. You would ride right by someone and no words or looks would be exchanged, we were suffering too much for niceties.
We ran into Laura and Kelly at the rest stop and Amy's boyfriend Craig. I felt like we stayed there forever. It was so much fun and made us forget about the pain for a bit. Amy showed up and was riding with another friend, Robert, so for the final stretch we had a nice little group that would later make all the difference in the world. I'm not sure I could have done it alone. The last section was truly punishing with climbs that went on for miles and one so steep I had a hard time driving up it in my car. The sun was blazing, it was in the mid-80s and high humidity as well, making it physically grueling.
I've never done an event where you see so much defeat. People were dropping like flies especially as it got hotter and hotter. There was absolutely no shame in having to walk a hill or needing to stop and take a rest after a brutal climb. I told myself in the beginning it would be ok to walk so I wouldn't stress over needing to if it came to that. I miraculously managed not to walk any hills, but I had to stop at the top of more than a few to catch my breath and let my HR lower from the 180 BPMs it had reached. My coach gave me an HR strategy going into this ride which included keeping my HR below 155. Ha! That was absolutely impossible, the smallest climbs pushed me to that level even when I was in the easiest gear and pedaling as slowly as I could.
But on the flip side of the defeat was an amazing spirit of being in it together and dare I say - fun. Thanks to the friends I rode with, I laughed all day even on the most punishing parts of the course. If anyone had an issue, we all stopped to make sure things were ok and we waited for each other as needed. It made the miles fly by and made the climbs a lot more manageable since we were all sharing in the same pain, the same struggle and the same desire to finish. There was a multi-mile, miserable hill toward the end that you think is just about done when you round a curve and see it goes on for what seems like forever. I was riding alongside Robert on this climb and I screamed some more colorful words when I saw there was no end in sight. We laughed about that today, it was most certainly the low point of the ride for me, but we managed to make it up somehow and even chatted a bit on the way. It's amazing the energy you can draw from others.
This ride was by far the most intense, most challenging physical thing I've ever done. I was more spent at 40 miles than I was after the entire 110 miles in Lake Placid. I was fatigued to the core and was yawning despite my effort to keep the calories up. I was dehydrated and my nutrition plan went out the window, it was just too difficult to be disciplined during something so unusually hard. But the feeling of accomplishment at the end was amazing. We were on the final climb, the famous 8% grade that destroys so many people and were out of the saddle, grinding our way up. I was with Phil and Jon and we saw Craig on the side cheering us on. I realized the top of the hill was just within reach and used a surge of adrenaline to give it a final push. I blasted off and left the guys behind, leaving Craig to joke that they got "chicked." I wasn't trying to show off, I literally just wanted to get off that bike!
We stopped after the finish and just stood for a moment straddling our bikes. I leaned on the handlebars and tried to gain some composure. I was shaking so hard I couldn't even swing my leg over my bike to get off it. We spent a few hours resting at a picnic table with some beer, food and stories about the ride, eventually catching up with other friends who had ridden separately or done the 200K (crazy). It was an incredibly fun afternoon and a nice reward for the hard work.
Distance - 59.96 miles
Time - 4:21:47
Elevation Gain - 5,700 feet!