My First "Real" Century

I had never ridden 100 miles in one day. I'd come close: while bike touring in Oregon one day I'd done 99.5 miles, and earlier this summer I'd done a 90mi ride, but both of these rides included long stops and rests. I had never done a ride longer than 60 miles with only minimal stops (just long enough to go to bathroom, eat something, and refill water bottles).

I did the Bike Club of Philadephia's River's Edge Century today. It was a great day for it, sunny and cool (didn't get much above 70F). The course wasn't very exciting, just flat roads on both sides (PA and NJ) of the Delaware River. Basically, we went north on the PA side, crossed over to the NJ side at 50 miles, biked south on the NJ side, then crossed back to PA at 70 miles and continued south to the starting point. They passed out a cue sheet and a map, and the roads were marked with light blue arrows. They had exactly one food stop along the route, at the 30mi mark, which also doubled as a food stop for the 70mi mark. The food was decent (bagels, bananas, cantaloupes, and, until it ran out, cookies, Gatorade, dried fruit, and very tasty cinnamon raisin rolls), but it was insufficient. You had to take food with you in order to survive the ride (I had fig bars, dried fruit, and Power Bars). I also had a bunch of film cans full of Gatorade powder, which I'd brought from home, so that whenever I filled up my water bottles I dumped in a can of the powder. I've found that one can added to a big (28oz) water bottle makes nicely diluted Gatorade. I've only started putting Gatorade in my water bottles recently. I have no idea whether it actually helps me, but I guess it sure can't hurt.

At the 50mi turnaround there was a little bakery-cafe where a bunch of the bikers gathered to buy food and bottled iced tea, refill water bottles, and go to the bathroom.

My biking partner was JR, who's pretty serious about his biking, at least as a form of exercise. He's on a training schedule that he got from some biking magazine that has him out 6 days a week, doing distances from 15 to 60 miles. I'm much more casual about things. I've been going once during the weekend, for a minimum of 50 miles, and once or twice during the week for about 30 miles each time. I try to go through hills on these rides, because I've found that as I get in better shape it's boring if I stick to flat areas. Occasionally I do other forms of exercise, like tennis, jogging, or Rollerblading.

JR has a good quality Fuji sport-touring bike, about 10 years old. I have a touring bike, with cantilever brakes, long wheelbase (made even longer by the fork, which is intended for hybrid bikes -- I got it when I crashed mine -- which puts the front wheel out even further than the old one did), rear rack, fenders, about 5 years old. JR recently got new wheels and said that his speed has increased a few mph just with this change. Maybe I'll get new wheels soon (I have the standard 27 x 1 1/4 $40 alloy wheels)... JR had a big seat bag stuffed full of tools and food, and I had a small tool bag attached to the front of my rack, and a handlebar bag stuffed with food and a jacket. The handlebar bag has a map pocket, which came in handy for holding the cue sheet.

Any time JR and I have gone biking together this summer he's been faster than I am, so I expected I'd have a hard time keeping up with him. But I didn't. Some times I had to work a bit, but it certainly wasn't killing me. I let him lead (at least up to the 50mile mark), since his normal pace is a bit faster than mine, and if I started out in front he'd soon pass me, and then I'd keep up with him. I specifically stayed far enough behind him that I wouldn't be drafting him. I tend to think of drafting as only a last-ditch thing, something I'll do if I simply can't keep up any other way. We were going about 17mph, which I could do without putting an excessive strain on myself.

When we first started out I was wearing my jacket, and my knees were quite cool. But eventually it warmed up enough that my legs felt warm, and I took off the jacket. I was wearing regular black lycra bike shorts and a lightweight long-sleeve T-shirt. JR has an amazing resistance to cold and wore just his T-shirt and lycra shorts all the time (except until about 10 miles from the end, when he took off the shirt).

At about the 20mile mark some folks passed us going about 20mph, and JR tagged onto the end of them, so I followed suit. Fun! Riding in a pack at 20mph was easier than riding by ourselves at 17mph. The advantage of drafting... We followed them until the 30mi rest & food stop. We only stopped long enough to get food and water, and then went on our way. Between 30 and 50mi we maintained about 17mph, JR still leading. After crossing the Delaware and refilling water bottles at the bakery-cafe, we rode side-by side on the very wide shoulder of NJ route 29. I think we went a bit slower here, around 16mph. There was a bit of a headwind and we were getting a little tired.

At the 70mi mark we crossed the Delaware again, got more water and food, took a bathroom break, and continued on. I started out in front, and to my surprise JR didn't pass me. In fact, he even seemed to be drafting me! Hmmm... I started going around 16-17pmh, but as we got tireder, it seemed that the headwind picked up, and I slowed down to an average of 14 or 15mph. Still JR didn't pass me, and in fact seemed to be having trouble keeping up with me, and I sometimes had to slow down to let him catch up. Occasionally we'd pass a lone person, and that person would ride behind us, catching our draft. At one point I was leading JR and two other people.

What's this? Myra leading a pace line? Very strange feeling, since I'm not a fast rider. But I think that alot of people were getting quite tired after 80miles, and were having a hard time maintaining even 15mph against the slight headwind, so when we came by they followed us (of course, we had some people in fancy clothes on racing bikes passing us as well, it's not like we were passing everyone in sight). For some reason I had an abundance of energy, and was just plowing ahead. Maybe it was the Gatorade, maybe the fact that I was eating regularly (the handlebar bag meant that I had easy access to food while riding), maybe that the training I'd done was the right thing for me, or maybe I just naturally have alot of endurance. Anyway, it was kind of cool to be leading a pace line, even if a short one, and not going very fast.

Finally, at 102miles, we pulled into the parking lot where we'd started, and chowed down on pizza, soda, and leftover fruit from the food stop. We had done the century in 7hours, 20mins, which is an average speed of 13.6 mph, including stops. Not including stops, we had (according to JR's bike computer) an average moving speed of 16 mph.

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