The heat is my KRYPTONITE.
I tend to die a quick and early death when it’s super hot. So, it makes sense that my choice for a ride this summer was Hotter’n Hell 100, in late August in Wichita Falls, TX, where the temperatures can climb to 105+, right? I knew it was a stupid idea, so I did stupid things like ride outside for 3 hours at 5pm on the hottest day of the year in feels-like-110 temps and bike commute two days a week in the heat for the last month to prepare.
Then came hurricane Harvey last week. The devastation in the Houston/Galveston area is terrible, and I would not have wished that on anyone for any reason. However, a teeny silver lining, the effects up north made for some really unseasonably cool and still dry temperate weather.
We stayed up too late on Thursday night because we are dumb and I have determined that we need an adult sometimes to tell us to go to bed. Friday morning, we finished final packing and drove our Turtle Home to work for a half day. Showing off the trailer to a coworker, we realized that we had a tire about 10 miles away from blowing out (ack!), so we took time to fix that and got on the road later than expected. We stayed just a little ahead of the storm the entire time and found Wichita Falls a little wet but sunny!
We didn’t get into town until after 6pm, got a little lost trying to find packet pickup (but got to see some awesome fast boys crit racing which was exciting!), and then by the time we got camp set up and cooked a very quick dinner it was after 9pm. After falling asleep around 10, our propane leak sensor starting wailing at midnight. We fixed it pretty quickly, but… crap. Two pre-race nights full of sleep fail. Not optimal.
Let me step in here and give a shout out to the KOA campgrounds in Burkburnet, TX. They. were. awesome. They offered free shuttles to the race… which was 14 miles and a few towns away. Instead of stressing about parking (and with 12,000 people racing, I’m sure that would have been a NIGHTMARE), they dropped us off at about 6:30 AM (45 mins before the race) a block away from our corral and gave us a number to call to be picked up whatever time we finished, bikes and all. They were all also super nice and it was family owned and the vibe felt good. If I do this race again, I would ABSOLUTELY stay there.
12,000 people with bikes looks about what you would expect it to – we swarmed this downtown area. I have never seen or experienced anything like it. I was terrified of that many people that close together with bikes, but they know what they’re doing with the start. I was able to get across the line with minimal space invasion and freaking out.
The first 10 felt easy, but I had to stop at the first aid station. Normally I would hate to stop so early, but I felt like I couldn’t drink because I had to peeee, and not hydrating could have been a HUGE problem later. There was a HUGE porta potty line, but it was necessary, so I waited. After that, I consumed some redbull and some fruit and then we got back on the road and I could drink again had a gel and life was good.
We met a guy who used to work for REI and we spent about 10 miles talking about Novara bikes and the store and all sorts of other randomness. The temperatures were cool and apparently I was overhydrating, I had to stop again for the second aid station potties. I think I waited for about 20 mins that time. Sigh. In my face went more redbull, watermelon, and a bunch of cookies. The bottles were filled, we let the cookie monster jersey people know that this was their aid station because they had cookies, and we rolled out again.
In the 30s, riding started to feel a little tedious. This is my least favorite part of any long ride – when you have enough miles down where you feel like you’ve ridden bikes (achy arms and hands for me before anything else), but you’re not even halfway yet. Mentally, I felt like I was starting to slip, and we had turned directly into the wind, so I asked my husband if we could take turns every mile or so pulling. He agreed that it was a better idea than riding side by side so we did that.
That made all the mental difference for me. I had something to count down to, and alternated the effort of pulling (harder) and recovering (easier) was better for me than riding a flat pace. I felt so (hahaha) pro actually coordinating our efforts to conserve energy vs just riding. We skipped the next but hit the fourth aid station around 40 miles with a little more of a quickness. Pee, stuff face with PBJs, fill bottles, and hop back on.
At this point, my pulls started to pull away from my husband. Something wasn’t completely right but I figured he was just having a moment and he’d be pulling me later.
To do the full hundred miles, you have to get to Hell’s Gate (mile 60) by 12:30pm. We laughed about this earlier and said no problem. Well, we started calculating times and it was looking like it was starting to become a potential problem, not because of our riding pace (over 15 mph at that point), but our really long stops. There was debate at that point whether it was at 60 or 62 or 66, so we picked up the pace a little to make sure we didn’t get diverted.
We passed by the next aid station to stop instead at camp, since our route went DIRECTLY by it. It was our quickest stop yet, hitting a real bathroom with no line, eating some chips, putting some gatorade in our bottles, grabbing some 303s, and we got in and out and on with our lives in about 7 minutes.
Zliten seemed refreshed after the break and feeling better, and we turned away from the wind, so we enjoyed riding side by side a bit again. Sadly, mile 59 had the aid station I was looking most forward to – bbq sliders (real food!) – but we had 20 minutes to make Hell’s Gate, so we stopped for some cliff blocks instead and put in one more good effort to gain insurance if the gate was more like 66 than 60.
And then, it was indeed mile 60, and we were through with 15 minutes to spare. My husband let me know that riding that effort definitely burned a match for him and he needed to slow a little. We started comparing heart rates – he was in the 160s and spiked into 180s and I’d hear him panting and complaining about the heat (it did reach 90 and sunny but still…) while I was leisurely pedaling with a 130-140 heart rate and feeling fine while pulling. I wasn’t going to leave him, but the slower pace was KILLING ME.
When we got to the 70 mile aid station, I told him that we were stopping, and for a good while, until he felt better. We sat under mister tents for at least half an hour. The guy next to us was taking a nap. I ate probably a jar of pickles and a power bar and some fruit. Nothing at the aid station was either palatable or wouldn’t cause an allergic reaction for Zliten so I went and grabbed him some blocks out of his bike bento box and gave him some of my gels because he had left his on the table in the camper.
We started out and got a mile before he went to take his turn to pull and just immediately stopped pedaling and started wincing in pain. I had to block a bunch of cyclists that were drafting off us from running him over as he pulled over to the side. We waited for the cramp to pass and I said, “look – we’ll go whatever pace we need to finish and if we have to stop and stretch every mile, so be it.” I don’t know who this person is who was so rational and kind and positive 70 miles into a bike ride, but I’m thankful that was the version of me that showed up that day.
I’m also thankful that we didn’t have to get off the bike that often. We took turns pulling, me for 2 miles, him for 1 mile, and got to the next aid station. We almost didn’t stop, but we pulled in to top off the bottles and heard tell of hot dogs, and sure enough… real food he could eat (and FRITOS, which *I* pigged out on). Later, he said it tasted so good he almost cried while eating it. We thanked those volunteers profusely and then headed back out fairly quickly.
Another mile out… and another cramp. Same deal, block my husband from getting run over by wheel suckers, stop, let it pass, and then get going slowly. I didn’t have one damn person besides Zliten pull for me but I was constantly trailing between 3-7 people who never took a turn at the front. One mile before the next stop, another really bad cramp hit him in a different spot and he got off the bike and sat down on the side of the road and I had to talk him out of sagging out. At 89 miles. With 11 to go.
I convinced him to get to the next aid station, a mile up ahead, and figure it out from there. There was an ice bath, which may or may not have helped him, but it was something to do. There was an annoying kid that kept throwing ice at us, but it was late in the day and he was probably super bored so I cut him some slack. Zliten said he was going to medical but instead he just sat down for a bit until he was prepared to tackle the last few miles.
We took it really slowly the rest of the way. It wasn’t windy anymore, so I just let him pull so he could pace us to his comfort. It worked until about mile 99, riding up an overpass, which he ended up doing with one leg while the other was cramping, and we pulled over one more time to wait it out before we made the final descent into the downtown and through the arch at about 4:45pm. 7:16 riding time, 9:20-ish total with ALL the stops.
Here’s probably my second complaint about this ride – at the finish, there was no water, there was one booth handing out cups of coke or sprite but no gatorade, the beer tent was closed, and all the food cost money. They hyped the finish line village and said it was open until 6pm, but nowhere on the website did it say that there wasn’t any thing freely available for athletes. We drank our sprites and called the KOA people for the ride, and we were so thankful they were there to shuttle us to Turtle Home instead of driving.
After a shower and getting changed and shoving about half a bag of popcorn and some strawberry cake in my face and using the recovery boots, I felt pretty great! We grilled up chicken, potatoes, corn, and had some pre-made salads for dinner, which is incredibly healthy compared to the normal gluttony that would ensue after burning about 4000 calories riding bikes. We sipped our beers (and a flask of fireball) and relaxed and watched a beautiful sunset.
While this is already “longer’n hell”, I liked the race enough that I would consider going back if it fit into my plans (doing a back to back 100 mile ride/13.1 mile trail run would be EXCELLENT Cozumel training next year). So, here are things I learned and what I’d do differently next time.
- I’m stingy with my PTO usage but it would have been worth it to take a quarter day Thursday and a full day Friday and stay an extra night. It would have been amazing to have an extra day Friday to relax, leisurely pick up the packets, hit the pool, watch the crit racing, etc. Only two days camping made it feel rushed.
- CHECK YOUR BIKE AT EVERY STOP. Zliten’s front tire pressure the next day was under 40 PSI (and it’s supposed to be about 100-110). While I don’t know if it was the entire problem, it can’t have helped to have a under-inflated tire.
- I would totally stay at this KOA campground next time. The free shuttle to and from the race was awesome. It was convenient to have access to it at mile 56 as our own “aid station” and it was wayyyy cheaper than a hotel.
- I’m usually the one that effs up my nutrition, but I’ve been training myself to be a hoover on the bike and fueling with burgers, fries, pizza, etc. I can now ride at a sub-maximal effort fueling on damn near anything. I went back and tracked and I am estimating that I ate/drank over 2000 calories on the ride and had ZERO stomach issues. I’m going to look into some portable food options that work for both of us that can supplement gels and provide something savory. And I’m going to start trying to train Zliten to eat pickles on the ride. I’m pretty convinced the jar or two I ate over the course of the race saved my life.
- Having a pulling rotation was actually pretty great. I thought it would feel more like work than a fun bike ride (which, really, was the intention for this one, I had no pace goals). It helped with the mental management of everything.
- A pocket sized sunscreen. Because after the ride, my face matched my drink.
Overall, I’m really thrilled with this ride. My legs seem to handle about 80 miles before they start to complain, and I would put their decibel level at the end of the race as politely protesting instead of screaming bloody murder. I’m excited to see what potentially cooler weather and two more months of riding will do, especially because we need to be faster than this (our riding time is fine, just less than the ridiculous 2+ hours of stops) to make the 8h30m cutoff for Livestrong 100.