Sunday, January 4, 2009

The First Fifty is always the hardest

Originally posted 3 January, 2009
Today I enjoyed some great fellowship with other bicyclists at the Greenville Spinner's First Fifty. This is a ride through Northern Greenville County (SC) from Furman University to Table Rock State Park (Details here ). Although I have been riding regularly lately, this ride was going to be the furthest I had ever traveled on 2 wheels (well, on 2 human powered wheels anyway!).

I arrived at Furman University's PAC building parking area about 20 minutes before the ride started. The weather was foggy and cool. It was tough trying to decide how much clothing to wear, as of course, I'm going to be working up a sweat once I start pedaling! I decided to layer up as I HATE being cold!

I got signed in and we had the safety briefing and off we went. We followed the roads through Furman's beautiful campus, intermixed with the local YMCA's Resolution Run half Marathon. I was a little concerned about us being mixed in with the runners, as those folks are going for time, we're (supposedly) just out for a tour.

We got clear of the campus and the runners, and I was trying to get into my groove. This put me in the front 1/3rd or so of all the riders (G-ville Spinners report something close to 175 riders). I caught a real break as we approached a stop light - it was changing to red, and I was just lucky enough to be the last bike through. This kept me in the lead group.

I heard later that there was a group of 6 riders being chased by 3 riders then the massive peleton I had hooked up with - we initially had about 50 riders (give or take - I'm trying to keep up, not count the riders!;). As the miles came on, riders started dropping off. I was able to hang on the tail end, but it was touch and go for a while. I began to get my second wind at about 13 miles. By this time our peleton had dropped to maybe 20 riders. We were moving at a pretty good pace, and other riders (hanging out at the back of this group) mentioned that as well. We lost a rider here and there, but to my surprise, I was feeling well and was managing to keep with the group. Still at the back though.

We crossed Hwy 11 at about mile 21 - our peleton now down to 15 or so. This put us into a hilly section that started breaking up our little peleton further. From Table Rock Road, we got back out onto Hwy 11 for a couple of miles before our break / turn-around point at Lake Olenoy. There was a nice downhill before spitting us back onto Hwy 11, so I managed to make up a little distance on the lead riders from what was our little peleton. I pushed as hard as I could, and managed to bring another guy along with me in an attempt to reel this little group back in. He did a great job pulling us up a hill, and I took over for the downhill on the other side. We thought we'd catch those guys, but alas, we were maybe 20 seconds behind them coming into the break area. While not earth shattering, I had clocked an average of 18.5mph for the 29.5 miles. I'm pleased with that result.

I scarfed down a couple of yogurts, a chocolate pudding and a gel pack, stripped off a layer of clothing (the sun was now out and it was feeling pretty warm!). I wasn't sure who I might link up with on the way out, but I looked up and saw a small group of guys who had been in the group I had been traveling with up to that point. I rushed to hook up with them for the ride out.

Heading out of the break area we had formed as a group of about 5 and as we travelled Hwy 11 towards our turnoff, four other guys joined up in our group. We had a nice little pace line going and it was working pretty well. Everyone took a turn out front - some stronger than others pulled for a greater distance. It is really fun to ride inches from the rider in front and all I see when I check my helmet mounted mirror is the head and shoulders of the rider behind. Great Rush!

Before we made our turn, we picked up another rider in our little group - this now made us 10 strong. As we turned off of Hwy 11, we caught a glimpse of the Land Rover team out for a training ride. We pushed ourselves (or I should say the guys leading our group pushed all of us) and we managed to catch this Land Rover Team. We rode with them for a while. There was a bunch of those guys - we must have now had 25 or so bikes in our little peleton.

We had a great pace line going and our average speed was increasing ever so slowly. The Land Rover team turned right when we turned left on Hwy 288. Somewhere along Hwy 288 (~mile 40 or so?) we started dropping people - including me (I thought). This is where I started getting cramps in my quads (first time ever for that!). I managed to stay at the back of what was now 6 riders until mile 46 or so. At that point, I knew I was done, so I just dropped to the small ring and tried to keep spinning for the remainder. The 5 (or so) guys remaining from our original 10 kept moving at a good clip although I think they dropped slightly from the pace we had been running. I'm sure they finished strong.

The last 10 miles were mostly a battle to keep the cramps at bay. I was mostly by myself. One of our original 10 (who had gottten caught at a traffic light just after we left Hwy 288) caught and passed me - kudos to that guy! I passed one other rider before I made it back onto Furman's campus.

I pulled in with an average speed of 17.7mph - again, not earth shattering, but respectable based on my riding level. Obviously, I was well off the pace for that last 10 miles or so. I'll need to re-evaluate my hydration and nutrition before the next ride.

One thing I can say in my own defense - I had surgery last monday and have not really been able to eat solid food since then. This definitely held me back a bit today

Overall, it was a great ride. After packing up my bike and getting changed out of my wet riding clothes, I immediately stopped at the nearest McDonalds and treated myself to a large chocolate milkshake. I think that made the day complete!

Jonathan Pait who has his own cycling blog saw my original comments on this ride on the Spinner's yahoo group. He has published a copy of this on his website: The Fabulous First Fifty.

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