The Rider

May 2, 2010

Calvin’s Comes To A Close

Filed under: Steve's Stuff — The Blog @ 10:31 AM

Everyone wants to be a bike racer when the weather is nice, but do you have what it takes when it is not?

Larry Graham, Calvin’s Challenge organizer, in a Tweet shortly before the start of the race

We weren't about to let a little - OK, a lot - of rain spoil our day of racing

Well, I don’t know if I have what it takes, but it was raining and the wind was whipping up a storm – and a fierce headwind – as we lined up for the start of the Calvin’s Challenge 12-hour bike race yesterday morning in a high school parking lot in Springfield, OH.There was nothing to do but put on my yellow rain jacket and get ready to go.

I was surrounded by more than 200 riders on road bikes, most with aero bars, several recumbents and tandems, even a couple of those old fashioned high wheelers from the 1880s – and a bright yellow human powered vehicle, which was this low-slung, aerodynamic bike-like thing. It looked like a giant banana and even had a Chiquita sticker on the back.

Ready … or not, off we went. What the heck have I gotten myself into?

A banana-powered bike?

For me the worst part about the rain is that my sunglasses – which are prescription – soon got fogged up, so much so I couldn’t see. Which, by the way, isn’t good, especially on a route filled with hard-to-see, flat tire-inducing potholes. My best option was to push my sunglasses up onto my forehead, and, like George Costanza, squint my way to better vision. And try not to let the stinging pellets of rain that hit my eyes bother me too much.

The leaders flew off the starting line and were soon a distant spec off in the blurry distance – and then disappeared entirely. The lead group did the first 51-mile loop in 2 hours and 12 minutes. That’s flying. I did it in about 3 hours and 10 minutes. They lapped me midway through my second lap.

The weather finally started to clear up after three or four hours. The sun never actually graced us with its presence, but at least the rain stopped and the wind soon dried off the roads. And I could see again!

The first 18 miles of the flat course were into the headwind and you really had to grind them out. It was OK for the first two loops, but on the third, after 100 miles, it really started catching up to me – and I struggled to maintain any semblance of speed as I battled the headwind. I had averaged about 16.5 MPH for the first two loops – and was on pace to crack 180 miles – but was starting to fade.

Try riding one of these!

At the 18-mile mark (or 118-mile mark since this was the third lap) you make a left turn – and the headwind becomes a glorious tailwind! The cool thing about a tailwind is it feels as if you’re in a vacuum – with no wind at all. But in reality that wind is pushing you along. I was able to maintain 20MPH for the next several miles and started to feel better. It’s amazing how you can feel so bad one minute on your bike – and five miles later feel so good.

After the third 50-mile loop, it was time to switch to the 7-mile loop – as there wasn’t enough time left for me to do the bigger loop one more time. Of course, the first 2 miles were into a tough headwind. I was able to do this loop four full times and then another 6 miles before time ran out. Although the official race results aren’t in yet – I know I did about 184 miles, which is great as far as I’m concerned.

I think the top riders broke 250 miles. The results will soon be posted on the Calvin’s Challenge website.

This is me after about 165 miles

Here’s what I learned from my first ultra cycling race:

The top ultra men and women are amazing. They just crank out fast speeds for 12 consecutive hours, stopping only for a few seconds to grab new water bottles and gel packs. They’re machine like.

It’s hard to eat when you ride that far. I tried to down something at every rest stop, but soon found that the more I ate, the more my stomach began to bother me. I think gel packs, Gatorade and an Ensure every 50 miles are the way to go.

To many riders left their empty gel packs on the side of the road. That’s just not right.

A recumbent may be in my future, as they make things a lot easier on your back.

Expect to be sore the next day! But it was worth it. My first ultra was a lot of fun, an amazing challenge – and ultimately rewarding as I was able to ride for 12 hours and beat my goal of 175 miles. My new goal is to top 200 miles in a 12-hour race.


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