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101.3 Miles: The North Fork Century Recap
Yesterday, I hopped on my little Trek Lexa and rode 101.3 miles around the North Fork of Long Island.
I rode that bike for 5 hours and 58 minutes.
And for 5 hours and 58 minutes, my stomach behaved itself perfectly.
It’s a Crohn’s disease miracle!
I don’t remember the last time I smiled as much as I did yesterday. I certainly don’t remember the last time I spent a full six hours feeling good, strong and moderately healthy. It was the best day I’ve had in so long, and now I plan to tell you every last detail about it.
Now, as you know, cycling isn’t exactly my thing. I only started riding this spring when I was injured and couldn’t run. Turns out, though, cycling is kind of fun. So in the spring, when my marathon goals seemed totally out of reach and I wasn’t spending any time in my Brooks, I decided, “Hey, I should do something cool on the bike, like a century ride!” Because when you’ve never ridden more than 20 miles at a time, you should definitely commit yourself to tackling 100 miles.
I found the North Fork Century, convinced Brian it’d be a “really fun thing for us to do,” and asked Coach Cane if I was stupid to gear up for a century in the midst of New York City Marathon training. He never specifically answered the “Am I stupid?” part of that question, but he started working a few long rides into my marathon training.
As my health began deteriorating and running felt impossible, biking was something I could look forward to because it was so much kinder to my body. I never did speedwork on the bike and I didn’t do any sort of hill training. I just rode when I could, peaking at 75 miles a few weeks ago.
Then last week happened.
Last week was so, so bad. I felt awful, I was Crohnsing at an all-time high, and by Friday — a day I spent on the couch in the fetal position — I hadn’t thought much about Sunday’s ride. I told myself it may not happen, and that was OK.
Coach Cane wanted me running on Saturday, so I attempted that.
It didn’t go well.
I made a bunch of stops early on, and then once I settled in and got going, my body felt exhausted and energetically depleted. I crawled through 11 miles and came home telling myself the century still wasn’t a sure thing.
By the afternoon, I figured I should at least prepare. If I woke up feeling well on Sunday, I’d do the ride. If not, I’d sleep. I really wasn’t stressed about it. (Not stressed? I hardly recognize myself.)
I packed up all my crap and actually started feeling OK.
And then, because I realized this ride actually might go on, I figured I should learn how to do it. Because really, what the heck do I know about being on a bike for a really long time?
Once I figured I had learned it all, I called it a night, hoping for the best.
And then, I slept through the night. I haven’t slept through the night in weeks.
My alarm went off at 4 AM and I popped out of bed.
My immediate thought: I feel OK. Not amazing, but OK.
I started getting ready and I got that “It’s race day!” excitement that I haven’t felt all year. I was really excited and I tried not to think about my stomach too much. Brian and I were out the door by 5 AM, ready to drive into the depths of Long Island.
I was nervous about the drive. I was afraid that in the two hours it might take us to get there, we’d have to stop at a million gas stations so I could use the sketchy bathrooms.
Instead, we made it to the start without a single stop. So far, so good.
The North Fork Century was an incredibly well-done ride. Things were organized, food was plentiful and everyone was very friendly.
Also, this wasn’t a race. It was a no-pressure, go-have-an-awesome-time ride. There was no mass start, no fancy finish line and not a cowbell to be heard (sad). As soon as you arrived and got your route sheet, you could start riding, and if you wanted an “official time” you had to keep track of it yourself.
I loved being around all the riders, and felt cool being one of the 100-mile riders in the pack (not that anyone knew). Cyclists had the option of doing a 25-mile ride, a 50-mile ride, a 72-mile ride or the full century.
I wanted to make myself a sign that said “I’m doing the big one!!!” but Brian said that was unnecessary. Instead I just smiled a lot.
I used the bathroom a few times, but I still felt oddly good. No pain, no discomfort. Just a happy, settled stomach. Which is good, because there were only 3 Porta Potties for 1,000 riders, and that’s just insane.
Like I said, I prepared for the worst. That meant packing baby wipes in my bike jersey and knowing that stops in the woods may be unavoidable. Awesomely, as I can’t seem to mention enough, the baby wipes went unopened and unneeded.
Finally, at 8 AM, Brian and I were ready to start the ride.
So that was it: Go time.
I took a few deep breaths, clipped in and knew I was about to spend a potentially long time straddling my Lexa.
When I first told Brian I wanted to do a century, I knew nothing about time goals or paces or anything of importance. I still don’t. But weeks ago I was all, “Brian, I want to break six hours in the century.”
I’m pretty sure his response was something like, “No. That’s a pretty lofty goal for a first century. It takes people a long time to do that. You shouldn’t have goals. You should watch more TV. You should quit endurance sports. You look really good on a couch. Stay there.”
Maybe less harsh. I don’t really remember the conversation too well.
So yeah, at one point in life I thought “breaking six hours” would be cool, even though I never bothered to look up what sort of pace I’d have to maintain in order to make that happen. It just sounded good to me. And clearly that’s the way to make goals: guess.
By Friday, though, when my body was the site of mass chaos, I decided not to have a time goal at all. I decided breaking 7:30 would be fine, but really the goal was just to get through all 100 miles. I didn’t want to spend my time on the bike watching a clock or thinking about my miles per hour. I just wanted to have a fun ride, and that’s exactly what I did.
As we started the ride, I was smiling like a fool…probably because I managed to clip in without falling. Success from the start!
But then, I just never stopped smiling.
For 5 hours and 58 minutes, I was all tooth-flashing, ear-to-ear grinning, smiling like a fool.
The route was very easy to follow, even for a blind moron such as myself. At times there were packs of cyclists on the road, and other times — like for one 10-mile stretch — Brian and I didn’t see a single other rider.
We started off taking it super easy. We blew past the first rest stop (didn’t need it!) and just cruised along.
The route was flat, with just a few hills that I thought were dull and not challenging. Because I’m so hardcore, you know?
Before I knew it, we had hit the 25-mile mark, and not long after, we were at 40 miles.
That was when I fell.
Yeah yeah, I fell. We came up to a stop light, I didn’t want to stop, Brian said “You can’t ride into traffic” (he’s so strict with his bike laws), so I unclipped my left foot, swerved to my right and then I felt the tipping begin. I managed to yell out “I’m going to fall!” on the way down, so that was dramatic. But I threw my hands down, caught myself and popped right back up. Mostly drama-free. Or I’m just getting really good at falling, which is a trusty skill to have.
My legs felt good, we were keeping a pretty decent pace from what I gathered, and it was just nice. Preachy preachy preachy, I know, but when we reached the 40-mile point, I really couldn’t believe that my stomach was so calm.
Brian and I rode next to each other when we could, and other times we’d take turns leading. I had the “Joyful, Joyful” song from Sister Act 2 stuck in my head for a solid two hours, and for the next hour Brian decided to sing the only two words he knows from that “Let’s Go” song…and the two words he knows are “let’s go.” Luckily I didn’t need entertainment. I was content just pedaling along.
There were several rest stops set up along the way, all of which were in cool areas, like in a campground and on the beach. Neither of us wanted to waste time at the rest stops, so we just pulled in, refilled our water bottles and grabbed snacks (so many mini Larabars).
The route was great and we got to see basically all of the North Fork of Long Island. We rode past vineyards, along the beach and through cute downtown areas. It was incredibly scenic and I was never bored.
I was also shocked at how quickly the miles passed. When we reached 50 miles, I could start counting backward. At 60 miles, we “only had 40 left,” which seems like nothing, and from there I just wanted to keep pushing.
So much foolish smiling.
I also managed to eat on the bike and not fall, so that’s a win.
It wasn’t until mile 80 that things started to hurt. By “things” I mostly mean my butt crease areas. I had to stand on the bike a few times just to relieve the pressure. Note to self: maybe a bit more BodyGlide down there next time.
At that point, we were riding into a pretty strong head wind, and I had no idea how long we’d been on the bike. It could have been four hours, it could have been eight hours. I wasn’t keeping track and I didn’t care.
Brian and I stopped at the final rest stop at mile 88 to refill our water bottles, and then it was on.
We exited the rest area with the wind at our backs, and Brian turned around and asked me, “Wanna hammer it out from here to the finish?”
Now, if I’ve learned anything about racing, it’s that you’ll feel a heck of a lot more pride from a strong finish than a “I got kind of tired but I still made it to the end, so that’s cool” finish.
“Hell yeah,” I told him.
So he led us out, told me to stay on his wheel (which, loosely translated, means “stay as close behind him as possible without hitting him”) and I vowed to hang on.
It was awesome.
Yes, awesome in italics. So you know it was good.
We passed so many people in those final miles and I felt like I was flying. At this point, I knew I was going to finish the ride gloriously. I’d done it.
I stayed close behind Brian, stopped looking at the scenery and just followed his butt. I didn’t mind the view and I was loving the breeze from the water.
I hadn’t touched the computer thing Brian put on my bike the whole time. It would flash our pace (21 MPH for those final miles, which is still basically slower than a car and Meb on foot) but I never switched the screen to look at our overall time.
When the clock hit 100 miles, though, I checked the screen: 5 hours and 55 minutes.
And I flipped out. I actually teared up a little bit out of sheer happiness. I was so excited and I couldn’t believe it. I hit my initial, seemingly-too-lofty time goal! Without even really knowing what I was doing! Cool!
The ride came out to more than 100 miles — 101.3 to be exact — and as soon as we reached the finish area I hopped off my bike and I think I squealed a little bit.
I’m still in disbelief. Not that I rode 100 miles — I knew I could do that, even if it took me all day (which it basically did) — but that my body cooperated so well.
Maybe riding a century yesterday was stupid. Maybe it’ll set me back. But I don’t care. Because for just shy of six hours yesterday, I was the happiest person alive.
Yesterday wasn’t about beating a time goal. It wasn’t about going all gung-ho (do people still use that phrase? I think my mom does, so I will use it, too) and crushing my body.
I’ve needed a win for a while now. Physically, emotionally, it’s been a struggle. And yesterday, I didn’t struggle. I rode and I loved it. My quads are ridiculously sore today and my butt crease area is not beautiful. And, truthfully, by last night my stomach was back to its original form. We stopped a million times on the way back to the city and I was up a lot during the night making trips to the bathroom.
I don’t know what happened to my body yesterday. I don’t know how my stomach went from crazy to chill and it seems impossible that for once my stomach actually worked with me instead of against me. I don’t care to try and make sense of it. It just happened.
I may feel like death today, and I may still feel terrible tomorrow. But I’ll take it. I had six amazing hours and I got the little victory I’ve been wanting for a long time.
It was a good day.