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.
I’m planning to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic next month. It’s a 205 mile double century stretching from downtown Seattle Washington to downtown Portland Oregon. I’m riding with a friend and we’ve decided to take it relatively easy, so I anticipate being on the bike for about 13 hours or so.
I’ve never cycled anywhere close to this distance in one day before and so I’ve found myself trying to anticipate the challenge that lies ahead. I think it basically comes down to nutrition. I’ve done the training and built the mileage base. I’m almost certain that I can cover the distance unless I bonk. So the object of the game from my perspective is simply not to bonk. That means chowing down as I cross the great states of Washington and Oregon. Afterwards, I can load up on donuts and beer. They have some great IPAs in Portland. It’s like a dream come true. Really.
But it’s also totally foreign to me. Truth be told, I almost never eat anything on rides up to and including 100 milers. I can’t think of the last time I took nutrition on a century. I seldom go much further than that. I did bonk once, years ago way up high on Vail Pass but I was young and bulletproof back then. I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. It was ugly. That can’t happen here. There’s too much traffic and too many ways to get into trouble. The last fifty miles are the worst, so bonking means not finishing. That’s a long way to travel only to DNF.
So I’m going to eat like a little piggy. I’ve been looking at a lot of articles online about how to do it and the best one I’ve found was written by Susan I. Barr, PhD, RDN and John Hughes. It’s well worth reading. Ms. Barr is a Professor of Nutrition at the University of British Columbia. She has completed a number of epic rides such as the Rocky Mountain 1200. Mr. Hughes wrote”Distance Cycling” so I guess you could say he literally wrote the book on what I’m about to do.
These experts say I’ll need approximately 350 calories per hour based on my body weight, the course, my bike and the pace I’m likely to ride. That’s 4,550 calories over the entire distance. Since I plan to burn close to 8,000 calories, I think that’s probably the bare minimum that will get me home with a clear mind and in one piece.
I went back and forth on this for a few days and came up with some simple rules to get me to Portland. Here they are.
- Focus on carbs, calories and what will digest easily.
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup and other “artificial” sugars.
- Electrolyte replacement, Dude.
- Eat small. Eat often.
- Don’t overthink this.
I’ve decided to eat “real” food instead of packaged and promoted athletic “energy” food. The biggest bang for the buck in terms of carbs and calories comes from granola. As much as I’d prefer raw granola, I’ll probably go with bars. I’ll eat Clif bars, too, just to mix things up. It will make it easier to measure intake consistently. They’re also convenient and hassle free. At rest stops, I’ll eat fruit…mostly bananas but maybe some citrus and melon and berries, too. Frankly, all of that stuff tastes better than shrink wrapped jock food. It’s a lot cheaper, too.
I’ll also add calories by splitting my drinking between water and electrolyte replacement drinks. Most are laden with sugar, so I’ll water them down. I plan to replace most of my electrolytes with Hammer Endurolytes. Everything I’ve read suggests that this is the way to go.
Will it work? Beats me. I hope so. I’ll post a follow up after the event. In the meantime, if you have any ideas, feel free to share them. This is very much a work in progress.