Artie Levin Century Ride
October 17, 1998
The day didn't get off to a promising start. I had slept fitfully, partly due to my neighbor two doors down suddenly blasting his stereo at 1:30 in the morning. After convincing him to turn it off, I slept off and on. Then I woke up with a bit of a sore throat. A lot of people around me were coming down with the flu. But I thought to myself, since I hadn't been sick for so long, I wasn't about to start.
In cycling terms, a century is a 100 mile ride. This one also had a metric option of 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). I was bent on doing the full 100 miles. When I arrived there were only 32 people entered, and only 11 had opted for the full distance. Anyway, we started off on a cool, foggy morning from Clifton Forge, Virginia. I started chatting with the other riders and tried to learn as much as I could about what it took to complete 100 miles. This was my first, and even though I had been training very well, nothing can replace the experience of actually having completed one.
Everyone was given a laminated card with a course map on one side, and written directions and distances on the other. So it was up to us to follow the course, rather than having people point us which way to go. That was a great idea, very useful.
I was feeling pretty good by then so I rode with two others who were moving to the front of the group. Eventually we found ourselves well ahead of the pack, just the three of us drafting off of one another. It's much easier to ride in a group than individually. I only train by myself, so this was a lot easier. Coupled with the cycling jersey and pants I was wearing (I don't wear them while training), and my average speeds were up about 4 to 5 mph. After 22 miles we arrived at the first check point. I decided to stop and eat a snack, and refill my water bottle while the two others continued on.
And that made a huge difference. I only stopped for about 2 minutes, so I figured I'd be able to make it up over the next 80 miles or so. We never found out. I pushed rather hard after that stop, only to find at the next check point that they had gone by before the course worker arrived. Now I was wondering how they could have put 15 minutes on me in the space of twenty miles, 7 of which were up a mountain. Climbing is probably my greatest strength, so it seemed unlikely. Still I pushed trying to catch them.
I never did. When I got to Warm Springs Mountain, I was sure I would catch them. Seven grueling miles later, still no sign of them. This was nearly 80 miles into the ride. The road up Warm Springs Mountain can only be described as pure torture. Simply put I have never in my life had a more difficult climb. Imagine grades so steep, that even in my lowest gear I could manage no more than 3 to 4 mph in some sections. Eleven miles per hour was the fastest I went anywhere up the mountain.
It didn't look good. Somehow they were still pulling away even though I was going as fast as I could. But the scenery, when I was able to look, was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was bright blue, not a cloud in sight. Coupled with mountains and the autumn foliage, it was a perfect day. And with all those climbs, inevitably I got to go down some very fast and fun descents. At one point I came down over a small bridge at over 40 mph and, without even trying, the bike just left the ground briefly. It was a blast!
It seemed the closer I got to the end, the better I felt. The secret is to keep yourself well fed, well hydrated, and focused. I ate and drank a lot along the way. I'd never done anything as tiring. Except for getting chased by 8 dogs on 3 separate occasions it was very rewarding.
Anyway, in the end it turned out that the two cyclists I was trying to catch the whole time had missed a turn and gone a bit out of the way. So all the time that I was trying to catch them, they were actually trying to catch me. Well I know what it's like going the wrong way while leading (see here), though they did have very clear directions on note cards with them. So I finally finished 'first'.