This past weekend I rode and COMPLETED my first century ride - 100 miles!!!! Based in Wichita Falls, Texas, the HH100 is one of the biggest rides in the country. Riders must reach the 60 mile mark (aka "Hell's Gate" within six hours of the start time or be forced to ride a smaller ride). The rides are typically done in sweltering, windy conditions and it's a pretty tough ride.
I had been preparing for this ride for quite some time. Not as seriously as I wanted to, however. During the previous week, I rode a total of around 40 miles around my local area, and also put 10 miles on the stationary bike at the gymnasium. We drove up to my in-laws place, which is still about 2 hrs away from where the HH100 was being held, but my plan was to have an early night, wake up at about 4:00am and drive the rest of the way to be there in time for the 7:30 start. My plan went just fine, and I actually arrived an hour earlier than planned, which gave me time to gear up, register, and meet my riding mates at the start line.
All-in-all, there was about 11,000 riders for the event. There were different rides available, ranging from the 10mile beginner's ride through to the 100 suicide mission. While at the start line, I was still trying to determine whether or not to attempt the full 100 miles or veer off from my group and ride the "Metric 100" (100 kms). I was feeling really pumped and energized, though, and in my mind I had already made the decision to do the full 100 miles.
After a cannon blast and an awesome four-ship T-37 Air Force flyover, the ride got underway! I had read that previous starts were slow and tricky as all 11,000 riders made their way through the start gate. But this morning, the start was staggered in a very organized way, and we were off and rolling in under ten minutes! That was perfect, as I was concerned the longer I stayed on the start line, the lesser my chances of making Hell's Gate. No major incidents at the start, except a few folks losing their water bottles which caused the rest of the riders to be more cautious.
Some research I had done online indicated that riders who take on these big rides should "eat before they are hungry and drink before they are thirst". This was my mantra for the ride. The previous night I ate a decent steak dinner at Luby's, and ate bagels and bananas for breakfast with coffee and Gatorade on the drive up to Wichita Falls. Throughout the ride, I set my watch timer to a recurring 10 minute countdown, just to remind me to take a drink of water or Gatorade (I had a bottle of each on my bike). At each rest stop, I ate like a pig (lots of bananas, pickles and cookies when I could) so as to build up a decent energy store for the remaining ride.
I came upon the decision point to ride either the 100 kilometers or the 100 miles. My body felt fine, mind was focused and I just rode straight part the turnoff without a second thought. No turning back now...
The first 50 miles was relatively incident-free. We skipped the first rest stop to buy time, and stopped at the 20 mile mark for about 10 minutes or so. Skipped the 30 mile stop and got to the 40 mile stop without issues. At the 50 mile mark, however, my left toeclip came mostly off the pedal due to a screw that had somehow loosened during the ride, so I had to stop at that rest stop and get it repaired. Shortly after departing that stop, it fell off again! I borrowed my friend's knife and cut it off completely, deciding to instead ride without it (still had the clip on the other pedal, which was just fine).
We made Hell's Gate (complete with folks dressed as devils with pitchforks, spurring us on) with 30 minutes to spare. I was so excited and pleased that I got there. After making that checkpoint, our riding group decided to kick back and just relax and enjoy the ride. That was at about 12:30 or so, and the temperatures started picking up at that point. From then on we stopped at each rest stop and took it easy on the roads, trying not to overdo it.
Between the 70 and 80 mile mark was the hardest for me, psychologically. My legs were trapped in a rhythmic pedal, eager to keep moving around the comfortable pace I had set for the ride. My mind, however, started wrestling with the thought of retiring. It was getting hotter, and it seemed that there was a new gentle slope to climb with each corner I turned. When i got to the 80 mile rest stop, however, I knew I had just 20 miles to go and needed to finish the ride. Another long rest stop, more grub in the stomach and I was off with the group again.
The 90 mile rest stop was a fun stop, but between that and the end there were some chaps who had set up free beer and hot dogs in the factory that they owned. We pulled in and enjoyed some free booze, chatting about the ride, before setting off through the streets of Wichita Falls to finish the ride.
The finish line was good fun. I felt a ping of energy as I new I was finishing the ride and picked up the pace as I cruised through the streets of Wichita Falls. My wife, kids and mother-in-law were waiting at the finish line for me, and it was hugs all around. I couldn't believe I had just rode 100 miles!!! Brilliant!
The ride was exceptionally well-organized. My hat (bike helmet?) off to the volunteers and sponsors - excellent event. Would i do it again? Most likely. There is a 100 mile ride closer to home in October, and then I'd like to try for the MS150 (Houston to Austin) tide in April of next year.
They say the temperatures got to around 97 that day. I did certainly feel very hot, especially with the heat seeming to emanate from the road below us too. The winds were okay, nothing to really complain about but they did, at certain points, add to the workout.
So, my first century done and many more fun cycling miles to go...