Back in April, I came across the Big Ring Century. It’s a 100 mile ride on June 6 (my birthday!) in Laguna Niguel that fundraises to fight hunger. I checked with my cycling friends and one of them had done it the year before and he mentioned that it was well-organized and with a very good post ride BBQ. So ride for a good cause + 100 miles on my birthday + good food = I had to do it.
I checked with my regular riding friends and Chef Steve and Mark (whose birthday was on June 7) quickly said yes! Another cycling friend Ron, signed up shortly afterward.
I trained for this century by doing 20 mile time trial efforts on Sundays with my neighbor Wes who is a strong time trialist. Our rule was no drafting and we did them at 530am when it is unbelievably quiet. Wes can hold 25mph for a long time on flat roads and I knew it would be challenging for me to keep up with him. The first Sunday we rode a 17 mile loop where I rode at about 22MPH on the flats and let Wes disappear from sight because I thought I would catch him on the hill at the end. Although I rode the hill about a minute faster than him (hill took about 6 minutes in total), Wes was so much faster than me on the rest of the loop that I wasn’t able to catch him and ultimately finished 30 seconds behind him.
The next weekend we were not able to ride at the same time but we both independently did a different flat 19 mile course. Wes beat me again by about a minute!
Weekend 3 we did the 17 mile course again and it was my last training session before the Century. I decided to ride as hard as I could during the first half of the ride and keep Wes within 4 to 6 bike lengths – close enough that he was right there but far enough that I didn’t have any drafting benefit. We rode down La Costa Avenue which is flat and Wes cranked it up to 25 MPH as usual. Accelerating to 25MPH hurt my legs but once I got there I felt ok. When we got to the slight rise up to the gas station, Wes slowed. I stood up on the pedals and went by him. The loop turns onto Vulcan which is flat. Since I knew that was Wes’ strength I decided to go as hard as I could on Vulcan which I did and was able to hold Wes off. I kept looking back and he was about 20 seconds behind me at least me. I had the same feeling on Manchester that he would catch me so I kept my pace up as long as I could. On the final climb over El Camino I pulled away from him and added a few more seconds to my lead on Wes. We had a big downhill into Encinitas after the El Camino Climb where I got lucky and had a green light and made it through the intersection at 30 to 35MPH as aero as I could be. I thought I would get Wes with that light but fortunately for Wes he got a green light too and he made it through at 40MPH! I got to the end of the course still ahead of Wes and beat him by 30 seconds or so. It was a great confidence builder for me beating Wes on that course knowing he is a strong time trialist.
My next bit of preparation for the Century was a pre-birthday dinner at the Brigantine Del Mar with Chef Steve, my family and a few friends, on the Thursday before the ride. Thanks to Chef Steve we tried a few unique things with a few memorable items including octopus, scallops and a lotta PORK. The food portions were just right and we left the dinner feeling indescribably happy and satisfied. I highly recommend the Brig!
On my birthday, 2 days later, Chef Steve and I car pooled to the Century together. We agreed that our target for the 100 miles was to do it between 4hrs30 and 5hrs. Based on the guidance provided by the organizers, the Century was flat for the first 60 miles and then there was about 3000 feet of climbing between mile 60 to 80 and then there was a big downhill to the finish at mile 100. I figured we would need to hold a 23MPH average during the first 60 miles of the ride to make up for the climbing between miles 60 to 80. We planned to hold our rest breaks to a minimum to achieve our target time – we planned to stop only at mile 40 for a break and again at mile 80 if we needed to.
When the ride started, our little group got separated because there were so many people. I made my way to the front and found Steve there. I looked behind me both Ron and Mark were close by as well. Working together we kept the pace around 25 but we hit so many red lights that our average speed quickly dropped to around 21 to 22mph. The red lights also had the impact of halving the group to about 15. Around mile 20, about 5 people stopped at the rest stop and our little group of about 10 kept going with Steve, Mark and I rotating at the front and keeping the pace up. We rode on a bike path that was extremely windy and by the end of the bike path I was feeling a little fatigued from the ongoing rotations. When we got off the bike path a few of the guys helped as well including a guy on a TT bike who put in some long pulls. We had a guy in a pink jersey who had an odd pedaling style but gave us some strong pulls. There was also a guy I’ll call LT for loud talker. Every time we came to a red light LT told us about his exploits. Every time LT went to the front of the group he accelerated and gapped the group.
Around mile 40 as I was drinking some water LT accelerated through an orange light and our group of 8 was split into 2 with me being caught at the red light. Mark, Steve, LT and Pink Jersey were in the front group and they kept going. After my chase group of 4 got through the light we quickly realised that the lead group had missed a turn. I pulled out my phone and called Steve but he didn’t pick up the phone. Our chase group was now the lead group and we rode until the rest stop at mile 44 where I loaded up on water and filled my jersey pockets with PB&Js to last me the rest of the ride. As we were about to pull out of the rest stop the chase group (Mark, Steve and LT) previously known as the lead group rolled in breathing hard. They had waited for us and then realized they were headed in the wrong direction. They had ridden really hard to catch us at the rest stop and had dropped pink jersey. Since they had caught us along with a few other stragglers, a group of about 12 of us rolled out of the rest stop.
For the next 10 or so miles we rode through downtown Santa Ana and passed John Wayne airport. There were so many red-lights that our average was now a paltry 19 to 20 miles an hour which meant getting a 5 hour finish was going to be challenging. Steve continued to ride the front and kept the pace up. Remember LT or Loud Talker? Well he started to tell us how hard the upcoming climb at mile 60 was going to be. He asked us to ride slower and he encouraged us to pace ourselves on the climb. When someone made a comment that the climb was not that bad, LT reminded us that at around 200 to 210LBs he was carrying a lot more weight uphill than the rest of us. Given that most of of LT’s weight was around his midsection, he was probably right to be worried.
When we reached the climb at mile 60, I moved to the front and paced us up the climb. I rode at about a 80% effort since I knew this was going to be a long climb. When we reached the top of the first roller, I looked back and the group had been whittled down to Steve, Mark and I. Steve and Mark rotated through and we worked together on the downhills to keep the pace up. Every time the road pitched upward I went back to the front and kept a steady pace just below red that kept our group going. About 3/4 of the way through the climb we met 2 guys who looked fit but were riding casually. We passed them with as Steve and I were taking us up the climb. To my surprise they stayed with us and pulled through and started sharing the work. One of them chatted with Steve and once they realised we were off the front of a century ride they offered to help pace us up the hill and through the rollers. For the next 3 or so miles, our new friends kept our pace up and we benefited from drafting them. Around mile 80 our new friends turned off and it was back to the 3 of us and we started rotating to keep going.
Steve had run out of water and I gave him water from my bottle so we would not have to stop at the rest stop. Looking at my clock at mile 90, I realised we had to keep our pace around 26MPH+ to have any shot at coming in close to 5 hours which would have actually been possibly because of the downhills. We really pushed the pace as much as we could, so much so that I felt the beginnings of a cramp in my left gluteal muscle around mile 95. Unfortunately we hit more red lights and we ultimately finished the ride with 5 hours and 12 minutes of total time, and just under 5 hours of moving time (average of 20.1MPH). We knew we were the first finishers and Steve graciously let me finish first knowing that Susan and the kids were at the finish line waiting for us. After pulling in, we were very surprised to see Loud Talker had already finished even though we had left him behind us on the hill at mile 60. LT told us that after he got dropped on the hill he found a short-cut to get to the finish quicker. I was a mildly disgusted by that because I don’t know why anyone would sign up for a 100 mile ride and then cut it short to “finish” ahead of the people he couldn’t keep up with. Our friend Ron did the opposite – he got lost and rode an extra 10 miles retracing his steps (for a total of 110miles) because he knew that would better for him than cutting it short.
After the ride, I sat down with the family and we ate the good food the folks had there. We chatted briefly with one of the organisers of the Big Ring Century, John who told us inspiring stories about some of the projects they sponsor which are in Africa and other countries.
It was a good day to be 3-8!