My Sort-of Sub Six Hour Century

My goal on this year's Bike Club of Philadelphia (BCP) Century was to finish in under 6 hours, total time, including stops. In a way, this wasn't really my goal, but my riding partner (and sort of coach) Taylor's. For several years it has been his goal to get a 100-mile time (the BCP Century is actually 105 miles) under 5 hours, not including stops. But every year he's been frustrated, and this year he thought that it would be more fun to work with me to get me a sub-6 hour century. Originally the goal was to get under-6 rolling time (not including stops). At first I was a little leery, but then I did the calculations and realized that it wouldn't be too bad. And I realized that it might even be possible to get it under 6 hours, total time, since the BCP Century is almost perfectly flat. I mentioned this to Taylor, and his reaction was "Yeah, sure you can do it!". (Typical coach reaction.)

During our double century, we did the first 100 miles in 6:37, including stops. My previous record was 7:20 on last year's BCP Century. And during our last two training rides, our times were quite good -- a semi-hilly 64-miler in just under 4 hours, and a flat 50-miler in 2:36. So I began to kind of look forward to this. On the one hand, I didn't think that going so fast for a solid 6 hours would be all that pleasant, but on the other hand it would be nice to just do it. And then, when I called him Fri to figure out when he should pick me up for the Century, he told me that he'd met a woman (Judy) on the Wed evening BCP training ride and thought that she could do it with us, at our pace, even tho' she'd only been riding seriously for about a month. I said, OK, if she can keep up the pace, but we've been training for this, and I do want to get a sub 6 hour time, and if she can't keep it up, we'll have to leave her behind.

He also suggested some silly things. Like: since the weather's been kind of cool and dry recently, maybe we could get away with only one water stop, which would cut down on time. Also, maybe we could try to maintain 20mph rolling speed instead of the 19 or so that we decided we'd need to finish on time. Now, there actually is a sizable difference between 19 and 20mph, so I wasn't too excited about this idea either. I mean, if I felt comfortable I could do 20, but I didn't want to commit to it in advance. And taking only one water stop was just stupid. If we planned on only one stop I knew I would be rationing my water, and that's the last thing I wanted to do on a long ride.

So he picked me up at 7am and we drove to the starting point. We met Judy there, and we were signed in and on the road at 8am. The idea was that Taylor and I, being stronger and more experienced, would do 2-minute pulls and Judy would do one-minute pulls. The weather was beautiful -- sunny and cool (in fact cool enough that I was glad for the long-sleeve Thermax shirt I wore over my short-sleeve jersey), and we did just fine for awhile, maintaining about 19mph rolling speed. Then we passed a group of three going just under our speed. They asked us "Is this an organized effort?" I said, "Yep, we've been training for months" which was partly true, that Taylor and I had been training together for about 2 months, but as much for the double century that we did last month as for this ride. And Taylor said, "Yeah, you want to join us?" And all of a sudden we'd gone from a nice cozy three-person pace line to a 6-person pace line. It was unweildly. Taylor suggested forming a double pace line, which most of us (including me) didn't have any experience with. But he stuck with the idea, and then, in trying to avoid someone who didn't move over when she should have, according to the rules of a double pace line, he took a spill. And I thought, how typical of Taylor, who seems to value speed over safety (the way he runs stop signs and red lights really scares me)... Anyway, after inspecting his damage, which was not major (a scraped elbow and bruised knee) he got going again, but very slowly. I lead for a mile or two at 17mph or so, and then Taylor felt enough better that he could keep a reasonable pace, and we were doing 19-20.

At the 28-mile mark was the first rest stop (and the only one, really -- it doubles as the stop on the way back). I zipped into the bathroom and then down to the shelter where they had the food. I filled up my waterbottle with Gatorade (I'd brought some powder with me, but why use it when they have some already mixed up?), ate a handful of peanut M&Ms, stuffed a couple of bagel pieces into one jersey pocket and some apricots (in a plastic bag) in another pocket (I took off the Thermax shirt at this point, putting it in the little bag I had on my rack), and I was ready to go. Taylor and Judy took a bit longer, but soon we were on our way.

Everything went fine until about 40miles. At this point Judy began to get tired, and even drafting she couldn't keep up the the 19-20 mph Taylor and I were holding in our pulls, so we slowed down a bit. But then came a section of little hills, and she'd get behind on the hills (my approach to these little hills was to put alot more effort on them than on the flats and try my best to maintain my momentum -- they were so short that it didn't make sense to hold back and take it easy up them). So we'd have to slow down drastically to let her get caught back up after a hill. Taylor noticed that I was going a bit faster than him when I was in the lead, so he lengthed my pull time to 2mins 15sec, and shortened hers to 45 seconds.

Then came the turn-around point at 52 miles or so -- a bridge across the Delaware R, which we had to walk across. Taylor stayed with Judy, evidently doing the coach thing "You can do it!" and feeding her -- she hadn't brought any food for the ride and didn't have any place to stash food from the rest stop. Evidently the pep talk and food worked, because she kept up with us for a while after the turn-around. Also it was helped by the fact that the slight headwind that we'd been going into was now a slight tailwind. But then she slowed down again and Taylor stayed back with her again to do the coach stuff. It didn't work, and I pedalled along for a long time at about 15mph as he went on with his pep talks. Finally she said that she just couldn't do our speed, period, and it was OK if we went on without her. So we did. And as Taylor and I sped on, back up at 19-20 mph, we gradually became aware that the wind was shifting...

The second food/water stop was alot shorter than the first, since we were short on time. In fact, by the time our stop was over we had 28 miles left 'til the end and 1 hour 20 mins to do it in. And now it seemed simply impossible to do it in under 6 hours (calculating it now, it would mean keeping an average of 21mph). Well, perhaps it would be possible to do 100 miles in 6 hours, but not the rest of the course (the BCP Century is 105 miles long).

We rode on. I passed one guy a bit ahead of Taylor, and the guy asked "Do you do the Paris-Brest-Paris?" I said no, but that it was my goal to do it within 5 years... He said "The reason I asked is the fenders". And it's true that that's part of the reason I leave the fenders on the bike. I used to use my trusty touring bike as a commuter bike also, and then the fenders were very useful, but after getting the aero bars I've been reluctant to leave the bike out locked anywhere, so I've collected my Dad's old bike to use as a commuter. And so I've considered taking the fenders off the touring bike and putting them on the commuter bike. But BMBers and PBPers have fenders, and as I want to be one of them some time, it seemed sort of like cheating to train without the fenders. So even if taking them could speed me up a tad, I leave them on. Also, they're nice the occasional time I get caught in the rain while out on a ride...

It soon became clear that Taylor wasn't quite as strong as I was at this point. It seemed that the wind was from the southwest (previously it was from the northwest), since when we went south the wind was in our faces and when we went east we had a tailwind, and he wasn't doing very good at battling the headwinds on the southbound sections (and there were alot more southbound sections than eastbound sections). I'd hold back for him, and he'd tell me to go on. But I didn't, since I was getting pretty tired fighting the winds myself. But then we turned east and the wind was at my back, and I shifted to my big chainring (I usually use my middle chainring, since it's a 44 tooth, only a bit smaller than the 50 of the big one), got down on the aero bars, and flew at 22.5mph. I passed alot of people, and I lost Taylor. This time I felt good and was enjoying the speed, so I didn't wait up for him. Also, even if I wouldn't make the century in under 6 hours, I wanted to do my best.

I must say, I enjoyed passing people. Here were these people on thier fancy, expensive, new, stripped down racing bikes and clipless pedals, and here was me, with my 6 year old touring bike, with rear rack, fenders, mountain bike toe clips, flying past them. And then we all turned south again, full into the wind (there were no trees to block it), and I immediately dropped down to 16mph. But still continued to pass people. OK, so I wasn't going too fast, but the others were going even slower.

I was riding like a woman posessed. Not putting absolutely everything into my riding, but riding very near the edge of my capabilities. The road curved a bit, or some trees came up to block the wind, and I was able to pick up speed a bit. My speed varied quite a bit, from 16 to 20 mph depending on the road grade and amount of wind. I concentrated on pedalling and following the blue arrows on the road that marked the route. I got into a very strange mood, where when I saw people ahead of me, I'd think "Ah, more people to pass!" Which is very unlike me, I'm usually not nearly so competetive.

I kept an eye on my trip meter, flipping to it occasionally. I wanted to know my time for 100 miles. I didn't look at my clock. I didn't want to know until I actually hit 100... I really didn't think I'd even make the 100 miles in under 6 hours. The distance slowly headed toward 100. At one point I flipped to it, leaving behind velocity, and it was 99.7. It crept to 99.8, then 99.9, then 100. I flipped to the clock for the first time since leaving the second stop: 1:55pm. That is, 5hours 55 mins after our 8am start. "I did it" I said, out loud, tho' there was no one around to hear me. "I DID IT" I kept repeating to myself, as I pedalled on. (Calculating my speed now, I averaged 18.4mph from the second rest stop to the 100 mile mark, most of the time against a headwind.)

I didn't slow down. At least, I didn't put any less effort into the pedalling. I kept looking for a blue arrow pointing to the right that would mark the final turn before the end. I kept on thinking I'd missed it, and then I'd see a blue arrow pointing forward. Finally there it was, and then there was a steep but short uphill, and I was back. Total time for the 105 miles: 6:12. My average speed for the last 5 miles was 17.6 mph.

I grabbed an iced tea and sat down in the grass. Then I just lay in the grass, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on my tired body. I'd really worked hard since that last rest stop.

About six minutes later Taylor came rolling in, very apologetic for not doing his job. He'd kept saying "My job is to bring her in under 6 hours". And, tho' I did 100 miles in under 6 hours, I really wanted to do the entire Century route in under 6 hours, and if it had been just Taylor and me, without Judy, who had slowed us down *alot* after the turn-around point, we could have done it easily.

Still, I was proud of myself for having been able to go so fast at the end, and I knew that I wouldn't have pushed myself if I knew that we'd come in comfortably under 6 hours for the entire course. It was just me wanting to make for time lost that kept me going so strong at the end... So tho' it would have been nice to do the entire thing under 6 hours, it felt good to know that I was capable of going so fast against a headwind that was quite strong in places, at the end of a long ride. And anyway, I did do the 100 miles under 6 hours.

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