I had an epic day on the bike yesterday. I’d go so far to say it was my best day ever. It was long and that was part of it. Mostly, though, what made it special was execution. I set out with a plan and was able to do exactly what I wanted to. More on that in a minute.
For those who don’t know, Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic is a 205 mile gran fondo between Seattle and Portland. It’s one of the biggest cycling events in the country with 10,000 riders. Most of them cover the distance in two days, but 1,000 or so complete it in a single day. I have a good friend in Seattle who rode it last year and he invited me to ride with him this year. It was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
There’s just one problem. I’ve never cycled anywhere near 200 miles in a single day, and so my training this spring has been geared towards getting home. I’ve ridden more miles than ever before. I’ve ridden more long rides (30 days of 50 miles or more) than ever before. Still, I’ve never gone much longer than 100 miles.
So the plan yesterday was to cover 2/3 of the distance, roughly 130-140 miles. I know from years of distance running earlier just how important this is. You don’t train for a marathon by running marathons. That would break your body down. Instead, you train by running a lot of relatively controlled 15-20 milers. This builds the base necessary to finish. It also builds confidence and that’s what will get you home when the body is ready to quit.
So back to the plan. I knew I wanted to go at least 130 miles. My two centuries this year have both been sub-six hours, so I decided I wanted to ride this at six hour pace or roughly 16.8 miles per hour. I wasn’t at all sure I could go quicker, and I didn’t want to even if I could. The day was about riding under control and sticking to the plan, not setting personal records.
I’m also a firm believer in negative splits, which is to say that the second half of the ride should be faster than the first half. Every time I ride, I try to come home quicker than I go out. The longer the distance, the harder it is to pull off. It’s important. Psychologically, there’s nothing better than negative splits. The body wears down over long distance, and if you can hit your marks when you’re tired and not able to think as clearly as when you’re fresh, well, it means you have rock solid discipline and that will only help you down the road.
So now you know what I was thinking. How did I do?
- Hour 1: 15.1 mph
- Hour 2: 16.6 mph
- Hour 3: 17.3 mph
- Hour 4: 17.3 mph
- Hour 5: 15.7 mph
- Hour 6: 16.8 mph
- Hour 7: 18.1 mph
- Hour 8: 18.2 mph
Hour 5 stands out. It’s not that I slowed down in terms of effort, but more in terms of geography. I got caught in flood waters along the Des Moines River and had to crawl for awhile. It probably cost me 10 minutes. There were also some traffic challenges and signal delays in the city. What I’m most proud of is that I didn’t feel compelled to make up the time I lost. It just sort of happened. Discipline! Stick with the plan. I had a bit of a tail wind the last two hours, maybe 6-8 mph but I don’t think it contributed much…maybe 1 mph. I just felt really good coming in. I don’t think I was pushing the pace. Sometimes on long rides, finishing is a real slog. Yesterday was not a slog.
I left at 5:00 AM and told my wife that if everything went well, I’d be home at 1:00 PM. I actually got home at 1:01 PM, but then I looked at the Garmin and realized I started one minute late. There was still more than a little gas left in the tank. Nice.
Why am I sharing this? Mostly because I find it so empowering. It’s ludicrous, really. Four years ago I was 80 pounds overweight. Now I’m in the best shape of my life. It didn’t require surgery. It didn’t require much of anything at all. I love riding the bike. I ride it every single day. That’s all this was. Today I’m going to ride the bike. I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
Seattle to Portland is 205 miles. Even now, I can’t really comprehend it. Lots can still go wrong. The weather might be bad. Equipment breaks. I might eat something bad the day before and not feel right. I understand that there’s a very real chance that I won’t finish. I certainly won’t finish first. That’s okay. After yesterday, I realize something I never knew before. It isn’t the event that’s the big deal…it’s the getting here.