I finally did my first 100-mile bike ride — aka a century. Great success, right?
Kind of. But my brain keeps dwelling on what I did wrong.
This isn’t pessimism or whatever. I just know I could’ve done a lot better, and some of it comes down to underestimating myself.
For any of you out there thinking about doing your first 100-mile bike ride, you might be able to take a few tips from my mistakes. Most of what I have to say translates well to organized and timed events. So if you’re doing an ad-hoc self-supported century ride, you probably won’t get as much from this.
Also good to know: This was the 102-mile category of El Tour de Tucson. My previous longest TdT ride was the 77-mile course, which I finished with an average speed of 17.7 mph, including both water stops.
1. I Overestimated Other Riders
We had a pack of about 2,000 riders. I got to the corral about 30 minutes later and grabbed a spot toward the back.
I figured that almost everybody willing to sign up for a 100-mile bike ride would have good handling skills and situational awareness.
That turned out to be false. During the first 20 miles or so, I had to dodge a lot of people who started way too far toward the front. There were also plenty of riders who should’ve been hugging the right side of the lane.
Next time, I’m moving much farther toward the front. My estimate is that I could’ve lost a good 10 minutes to my starting position, possibly more.
2. I Held Back Too Much
Since this was my first 100-mile bike ride, I wasn’t sure how well I’d handle 25 additional miles above my previous El Tour de Tucson rides. My estimate is that I’d get somewhere around 16 mph even if my last 25 miles came off the rails.
I was also riding expecting about 3,500 feet of climbing. Well, the final 700 I expected never came, so I’d help back a lot of energy needlessly. That’s a good note for next year. That’s just a variance in GPS units calculating. Nobody’s at fault for this.
My GPS unit and wrist-mounted heart-rate monitor were also a factor. At times, my heart rate would show as 176 beats per minute while I was at a pretty comfortable cruising speed. At other points, it would say 93 BPM while I was climbing hard. This made it hard to gauge exactly how hard I should go. My average heart rate for the event finished at 115, significantly lower than my usual 140-ish for a 75-mile ride. I don’t know how accurate that final average for my first century ride really is, though.
One thing is for certain: I crossed the line feeling way peppier than I expected. Also, I wasn’t even sore the next day. My biggest pain was in the shoulders during the event during some of the rougher sections of road. This all tells me I had a lot more to give.
3. I Stopped At A Water Stop That Had No Water
My first planned stopped between 50 and 60 miles went off without a hitch. I planned one more stop, which was just short of the highest elevation of the tour.
That stop was out of water and also out of pickle juice (this is the elixir of the gods for riding long distances).
That’s right the water stop was out of water. More was on the way, but I couldn’t wait. I tried to get as much ice in my bottle as possible (not much), which cost me time. From there, I just hoped the next feed zone wasn’t far away.
After leaving that aid station, my left leg started to cramp. I crammed as much salty stuff in my face as I could find and I eased my effort back slightly … and the cramp simply subsided. The route to the next aid station was mostly downhill, and they had everything I needed. Except a time bonus!
4. I Forgot My Seriously Salty Stuff
My packing apparently left something to be desired. I wanted to bring some extra-salty Gu drink tablets, but I left them behind. I also didn’t bring my own pickle juice. This is too bad, because I’m diligent about finding the right mix of electrolytes for my needs. I mean, I have plenty of hot months to train and experiment!
Fortunately, I did have some extra-salty Clif Bloks, which helped stave the cramp off.
But lesson learned: I’m double-checking my salt supply next time! It’s vital for a 100-mile bike ride. At least I had plenty of magnesium with me, though. Next time, I’ll probably grab an extra Gu Roctane, too.
But Wait! I Did A Few Things Right, Too!
OK, so it might sound like I was a complete turd out there. But that wasn’t so. Here are a few things I did right!
I ate right — and more than usual. I typically eat about 80 calories every 45 minutes. I usually use fig bars, Muir Energy gel and Gu Roctane to get my calories. This time, I also raided peanut butter-filled pretzels from an aid station and ate a package of Gu Bloks. Both of those supplied some much-needed extra salt. I also guzzled 2 small bottles of PickleAde.
My bike was set up well. From having all the gear I needed to components that worked well, my Lynskey Urbano was spot-on. I had a new set of Teravail tires that had just a few break-in rides on them, plus a newish set of Look pedals (this was my first big ride on them).
I made the pack work for me. Over the last 20 miles, I latched onto a bunch of younger dudes in the 50-mile category. I attached myself to their rear wheels and stayed there until the final few miles. At that point, they were pretty well spent! I also latched onto a few other groups, but none that were right in my zone.
I got a nice little pre-ride warmup. I stayed close enough to the start line that I could easily ride to it. Another mile or two away wouldn’t have hurt, either. But it’s nice to not start with cold legs.
A Few Words About The Course
First off, it’s always a treat to ride past the Aircraft Boneyard. Once, I even got to do a 10k through it, which was a silly amount of fun. No chance of getting a PR, though, because I had to stop for a few photos. Especially since I was dressed at Fabio (the race was on Halloween, so I kind of had to).
It was a lot of fun rolling south of Tucson instead of north. At one point, we were closer to Nogales than we were to Tucson.
The area near Vail had some particularly nice riding. There was also an area of orchards that was beautiful and relaxing.
The climbing section, known as The Big Loop on Strava, was interesting. That area seriously broke people down. I couldn’t ride a quarter-mile without seeing someone fixing a broken bike or taking a rest — I even saw one rider standing over another exhausted rider to give him some shade!
This part also took us through a mining area. There were giant tailings piles that looked like small mountains. It gave this part of the ride a post-apocalyptic Mad Max flavor. Such a contrast from the orchard!
Here’s something odd: The first half of the course seemed to drag by, while the last half kind of flew by. I don’t understand why, but that’s how I felt.
The Bottom Line on My First 100-Mile Bike Ride
I finished in 6:34 and change.
Better choices and better luck with the water stop probably could’ve knocked 30 minutes off my time. I just felt like I had way too much pep at the end of my ride. Sheer effort alone could easily know 15 minutes off. A better choice of starting position? Ten minutes, easy. Subtract another 5 for the water stop.
Still, it’s kind of nice to know that I can finish my first 100-mile bike ride and think “well, that wasn’t so tough.”
This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!