I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here, but Andrew and I have been training since March to do a half-century bike ride. For those of you unfamiliar with biking “lingo”, a half-century is a 50-mile bike ride. This is a huge jump from last year’s longest ride of 30 miles, so we knew we had to train for it. Previous years we’ve just noodled around, adding a mile or two to our ride each weekend, but not seriously training. As a result, the 30 mile rides nearly killed us…okay, not really, but we were exhausted after them, staying in our jammies the day after those rides.
So we decided to train for this ride, and we have trained since April. Since then, I have put in nearly 950 miles between the real bike and the stationary bike in our basement. I’ve done 300 miles on the real bike alone. We started to find that 30 mile rides were no problem…much more than that was still a lot of work. We trained up to a 40 mile ride, which we did 3 weeks ago.
From the beginning, I wanted to do the entire length of the W&OD trail for our ride, but it’s only 44.5 miles long, so we had to add a little on. The plan was to take Metro to East Falls Church, which lies at mile 5 of the W&OD. From there take the trail to mile 0, then out to 44.5. The little extra getting to the Metro and getting from the Metro to the trail would take care of the extra 0.5 miles.
After many weeks of rides in 90-degree weather, we were excited to see the forecast – high in the upper 70s and no rain in sight.
I’ll admit that I had some trouble getting it through my head that this was the ride – the one we had been training for so many months. The first 25 miles felt just like any other ride…except for a couple of added challenges. First, I’ve been fighting a cough for a couple weeks, and I think I was having a hard time getting enough oxygen, though the coughing fits only kicked in when we stopped biking (which made it really hard to hydrate and eat snacks). Second, there was a headwind the entire way. Both of these meant that I was working harder for the entire trip than normal (my heart rate was about 10 beats per minute higher than it had been in previous weeks on the same parts of the trail).
I was frustrated from time-to-time that I wasn’t going faster – I was definitely going slower than on other rides. But then I’d look at my heart rate, and repeat on of the day’s mantras: “Today is about finishing, not finishing fast.”
Andrew discovered at the beginning that his rear wheel was out-of-true – he was missing two spokes. This was the second time this had happened to him this season. We took a short pit-stop in Vienna (about 17 miles into our ride) so he could get it fixed at our normal bike shop. Unfortunately, the guy told him he really needed a new wheel, so Andrew got it fixed as best as it could be, and we continued on.
We stopped for lunch in Herndon at about 25 miles into our ride – it was already 11:30 AM by then, so it was about the right time. I was worried that lunch would make us sluggish, but I definitely felt a burst of energy afterward.
It was really the last 10 miles that were the hardest. Not that we didn’t work before that, but it started kicking in around mile 40 that this was the ride. It didn’t help that I knew there were some hills coming up around mile 43. These hills were actually on a detour off the trail, and were through a housing development, and we had come across them on our 40-mile training ride.
When we got to the detour off the trail, I was ready to break-down…I wanted to send a tweet asking my tweeps for more mojo, but my phone had died by then (it was tracking the ride, so I can’t blame it). At that point I just wanted to cry.
Here’s the two parts of the first offending hill (it doesn’t look like much in these pictures, but believe me, it was bad…especially at 43 miles in):
Then there was a downhill followed by an uphill…unfortunately there was a curve in the downhill that made me slow down so I couldn’t get as good a start on the uphill as I would have wanted.
Another frakking hill….that one was too much, so I dismounted and walked this hill. I felt a little defeated because of that, but ultimately got over it. I knew there was no way I could have biked it and still finished the last 6 miles.
Fortunately, the trail soon turned to more of a downslope after that hill. There were still a few ups and downs, but the overall downslope made me feel like I could actually do it.
The odometer on my bike computer turned to 50 miles before we hit the end of the trail (which I was expecting) – it was then that I started fighting tears. I already knew that I had done it; I had really done it. I held off the real tears, though, until we got to the end of the trail.
Andrew had gotten ahead of me so he could snap a picture; though he hadn’t quite gotten a good enough start, so he didn’t get an action shot. Instead I posed for the picture at the beginning of this post. Then I parked my bike and Andrew started to ask what we were going to do next…I didn’t really pay attention because I just started bawling. Thankfully there were people at the end of the trail who got to catch my break down (sarcasm – would have liked a more private cry, thank you very much).
But you know what? I’m crazy proud of myself. I set a goal at the beginning of this year – a goal that I wasn’t entirely sure I could do – and I did it.