I am so happy that I completed my first 100-mile ride, the Wine Country Century (WCC), and I want to journal some of my thoughts and highlights of the experience. I felt great before, during and after the ride!
The date was May 5th, 2012, and the ride started in Santa Rosa, which is about an hour and a half from my house. In order to get a relaxed, early start, I drove up Friday night and stayed in a Motel 6 (big spender that I am). The traffic on a Friday evening along Rt. 101 north from the junction with Rt. 37 was horrible — stop and go for nearly the entire 30-mile stretch. To pass the time I found a nice jazz station on the radio: 93.7 KJZY, or “Jazzy”. I accepted the slow traffic and chilled out, enjoying the views. When at last I reached my exit, wanting a healthy meal for my pre-ride dinner, I chose Whole Foods Market instead of a restaurant and found some nice pasta and vegetables. I took it to the Motel 6, where I checked in and ate in my room. Then I drove a few miles to the registration pavilion, and it only took a minute to pick up my bib number 1371 and lunch wristband. (I did not want to have to wait in a line Saturday morning.) On the way back to the motel, I stopped at a Safeway for some milk and Arizona tea for breakfast. I spent the remainder of the evening cleaning and preparing my bike and equipment. I went to bed early and used earplugs to ensure quiet, but the room was set far enough back from the road that it was not very noisy.
As usual, I woke up before my alarm went off. I love my biological clock! I felt well-rested. Drank some Arizona and ate my typical breakfast cereal mix of shredded wheat and Cheerios with milk and strawberries. I’m sure other folks would swear by other breakfast foods or protein drinks or what have you, but whole grains and fruit seem to work for me. It did not take me long to get ready, and I was out the door by 7am. The one annoying surprise was that exit from Rt. 101 was all backed up with vehicles headed for the parking lots at the Wells Fargo Center for the Performing Arts, the start of the race. It took about 15 minutes to drive that last half a mile or so.
Not so surprising was the nip in the air — my bike thermometer said 52°F, with a bit of a breeze. Cooler than I would have wanted, because I wanted to proudly display my new short-sleeve WCC jersey!
I had intended to start at 7:30am, but since I was ready early and did not want to wait around getting cold, I put on my windbreaker and headed out at 7:23. It’s a good thing I noted the time, because otherwise I would have had no exact indicator for gauging my pace. As bad luck would have it, my bike computer stopped working (except the clock did work) about a mile or so into the ride. There is a metal thingy that attaches to a spoke on the front wheel, and when that passes a sensor that attaches to one of the front forks of the bike, the computer knows how fast the bike is going. Well, the metal thingy had slipped down the spoke and wasn’t passing the sensor, so I had no speed indicator and was not logging miles on the odometer. I stopped and tried to reattach it, but it slipped again. Stubbornly I decided to ride on. Eventually I came to a red light, so I took the opportunity to get off the bike and hand-tighten the metal thingy at the proper position along the spoke. Since it requires a phillips-head screwdriver to fully tighten it, I was sure that I was the “screwed” one and the metal thingy would slip again, but I lucked out, and it actually held for the rest of the ride. I had missed some miles, obviously, so did not know exactly how far I had gone, but there was nothing I could do about that. Also, I had lost contact with a group of riders that I was using for pace.
The organizers of the ride provided a map of the route, well-marked as to street names and such, because there are a LOT of turns along backroads. I had gone so far as to write out my own set of directions in case I got lost. The problem was that many of the backroads had no street signs. I realized that my directions were useless without street signs. Furthermore, the organizers neglected to mention one tip that would have been handy: they had painted red and yellow markings such as “WCC►” on the pavement just before turns along the route. If you didn’t know to look for them, they were not actually that obvious when going 15-20mph. Therefore, I felt dependent on other riders who seemed to know where they were going, and I spent the first half of the ride following or catching up to other riders. I was going faster than the majority of the other riders, so I was constantly trying to catch up to the next group before the next turn.
After my unscheduled stop and regaining some rhythm, I settled in and enjoyed the scenery. The route headed west through the town of Occidental, and then mostly uphill along the Bohemian Highway toward a rest stop at Monte Rio. Much of this western portion of the route wound among beautiful forests of redwoods and other species — very cool and sedate.
Overall, the ride was hillier than advertised, so my pace was slower than I had planned; however, I enjoy hills, and I like that I can pass a lot of riders going uphill. Bigger, heavier riders tend to pass me on the downhill using momentum. One tandem bike in particular was really plugging along, and I tried to keep up — I had lost them when I stopped, but caught up to them along Bohemian. Although they were ahead of me at Monte Rio, they and most others used the rest stop (approximately 25-mile mark), whereas I blew past it.
Again I found an experienced group going a pace I liked, which was fortunate, because one guy knew exactly where to go. Several riders missed a turn, but this guy called out and corrected them. I was right with him just before Guerneville at the Mays Canyon turn which took us back east toward Santa Rosa. That road plus part of Green Valley and Vine Hill included more hills — not super steep, but just enough to allow me to feel strong as I passed many riders. There were several really strong cyclists with whom I could not quite keep up, as is usually the case!
I felt fine as I made it to the second rest stop — at Wohler Bridge, northwest of Santa Rosa, about halfway through the entire route. There I made a mistake. Although I did stop and ate half a banana, I later discovered I should have eaten more food at that point. First, in all my riding I had never really felt very hungry after 50 miles; in other words, I can do that distance without eating. Second, I had incorrectly guessed that the official “lunch stop” with more substantial food would be at about the 66 mile mark — turns out it was at 70 miles, and my body struggled with those extra miles. A lot of it was mental. Third, obviously I am inexperienced, never having attempted a century, and underestimated how much food I should eat. I figured my Carbo-Pro drink and Gu chomps with electrolytes would be enough.
One “plus” was that a volunteer directing traffic at Wohler Bridge tipped me off about the pavement markings, so I wasn’t too worried anymore about where to go.
The route headed due north along Westside Road, which I thought would be very flat but is all rolling hills. I kept passing this one female rider going up hills, and then she would pass me on the downhill. This happened several times before she pulled up along side of me and suggested we ride together and draft each other. Her name was Nancy, from Mill Valley, and overall we were going the same pace. It motivated me and kept my pace up to be able to ride with her, and she appreciated the company. We took turns leading for the next 10 miles or so.
About 5 miles or so before the lunch stop, I finally realized I was feeling low on energy and had not eaten enough. It was all I could do to keep up with Nancy. She gave me a few pretzels, which helped (but I was surprised she carried them, as they seem inefficient as an energy source). Technically, I did not “bonk”, as I did keep up with her, just at a slower pace than before. Suffice it to say, I was very glad to see the lunch stop, which was just east of Lake Sonoma near Warm Springs Dam.
I was pleasantly surprised to see my co-worker Peter at the lunch stop. He had started at 8am or so and was only doing the metric century, so had only gone 31 miles. We chatted for a couple of minutes, but he was riding with a female friend, so we parted ways. I wanted to eat quickly and go in order to make up time. My goal was to finish by 2pm, and I was a bit behind schedule. I crammed down a roast beef sandwich, some fruit, and a tasty fig bar. Nancy had indicated she was not stopping long; she had seen a friend and must have taken off right away, because I never saw her again. Which was OK, because I had a feeling she would be going faster than I wanted to proceed at that point.
I never truly doubted I would finish, but based on how I felt heading toward the lunch stop, just a bit of doubt crept into my mind about how well I could finish. I decided to buck up and not worry about it — simply go slower and enjoy the scenery if that’s what it took.
The only little regret was that I had not taken any pictures yet, and I know friends always want to see pics. So, shortly after lunch, I stopped along the road and took a few shots of a really nice vineyard:
As usual, my stupid Pantech phone camera did not do justice to the true beauty of the countryside! Take my word for it, or ride/drive the route yourself — it is heavenly!
I decided to take it a bit easier for the next 5 miles and see how my body felt. I was riding east toward Geyserville, and I knew I had only 30 miles to go, yippee! But having never gone more than 75 miles in a day, I just wasn’t sure how I would do. Fortunately, as I hoped, the energy from the food kicked in, and I got my second wind. I started feeling better and picked up the pace again. I began mentally ticking off the remaining miles — 25, 24, 23…
Also, I knew there was one more rest stop in case I needed more food. There were a lot more riders from this point on, because all the riders — those doing 200K, 100M, and 100K — were sharing the road south toward Santa Rosa. I was passing quite a few riders and trying to keep up with the strongest. I knew the toughest climb of the whole ride was yet to come — Chalk Hill. At the last rest stop I ate a couple of nice little confections — slices of banana topped with peanut butter and an M&M — for good measure, but left as quickly as possible.
Chalk Hill was a decent workout. Everyone was generally going pretty slowly up the hill. My legs were a bit tired, but I felt surprisingly good. My back had hardly bothered me at all, and my neck and shoulders held up well.
I have developed a system: if pain in my lower back flares up, I engage my abs for a few minutes. If my upper back bothers me, I pinch my shoulders blades in a bit. If my shoulders and neck tighten up, I glide my shoulder blades down my back and lengthen through my spine and neck. I also wrap my arms around my chest, tilt my chin down, and give myself a hug. At any time during my ride when I feel a bit tired or as though I am losing focus, I breathe extra deeply. A minute or two of each exercise makes the pain melt away. All of these techniques I learned and practice in my yoga classes. I thanked my yoga instructor again today for the classes, because I don’t know where I would be without yoga! The pilates work she added a couple of months ago is also paying off by helping strengthen my core. Truly, the classes help me in virtually every activity I do throughout each day.
Every once in awhile I stand up on the pedals and stretch my whole body to maintain blood flow and prevent numbness. One enemy during long rides, obviously, is soreness in the bottom. My strategy for that was that I wore two padded bib shorts instead of just one; the extra layer of chamois between the legs really paid off, as I experienced very little soreness.
When I arrived at the top of Chalk Hill, dozens of riders had pulled over to the side to rest in the shade. They kind of stared blankly as I glanced at them and continued on down the hill. Not sure what the point of resting at the top of a hill is; I always feel energized from conquering a hill and want to keep my rhythm and momentum going.
By that point, only 10 miles or so remained, so I was psyched. I knew I would finish, and I was pretty close to my target time, just a few minutes behind. I kept going strong kept passing riders down the stretch. I finished at 2:07pm, a total time of 6 hours 44 minutes, only 14 minutes behind my goal, so I was happy with that. Due to my computer problem, I don’t know exactly what my time in the saddle was, but it was roughly 6 hours 20 minutes.
WCC is a fun ride, not a race. No one times you, except yourself. Photographers do take pictures they try to sell you, but all in all people ride it for the lovely scenery. Which is to say, there is no fanfare at the “finish” line, which was a simple banner just before the parking lots where it all began. I stowed my bike in the car, put on regular shoes and a hat, and strolled over to the long lines and crowded tent where the food was. I ate some green salad, potato salad, and beef. Sadly, seconds were not offered. I did not pay extra to dring beer, like many folks, because I was driving home right away. I didn’t even wait in line for an ice cream sundae.
I left Santa Rosa at 3pm and was home by 4:25. I was slightly tired, but all in all I felt great, had plenty of energy, and was not particularly sore even the next day. Oddly enough, the worst “hurt” was a small blister on my left thumb, of all places, due to rubbing against the metal part of the brake lever (need to fix that situation for the future).
WCC was a great experience I’ll never forget! I think if I do it again, I may take it easier and stop more for pictures. 🙂