What I Learned Biking My First Solo Century (100 Miles)

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My bike has become a wonderful tool for expressing and discovering myself. Between going on my first ride of the year in March and now, my confidence as a rider has increased, and I’ve subscribed to the notion of incremental improvements, while simultaneously setting some lofty longer-term goals. The most notable of them was to complete a century solo by the end of the year – meaning no drafting and carrying all my food.

There’s lots of other physical challenges I have chased in the past, for example: competing at the D1 level as a track & field athlete at Northeastern University, sticking certain skills as a gymnast in my younger years, and skiing back bowls with far better skiers/boarders. But, this year (now at the ripe age of 30), I’ve found the challenges that are out there for me on my bike. So, on November 8th, when we were experiencing nearly 70 degree weather, I knew it was the perfect time to set out and see if I could do a solo century ride.

Spoiler alert: I finished in 6.5 hours. Below, I’m sharing my biggest takeaways, and answering some questions I know you might have if you’re planning your first 100 mile ride.

Map out your route meticulously.

If I’m being honest, I was pretty lax about my approach to a route; a mistake I won’t forget next time. This lead to a more ad hoc approach to finding water and bathroom stops, and made me use my phone more to search for pit stops, killing my battery. I got lucky with a brand new port-a-potty on a construction site at mile 45, and a CVS in Newburyport, but I had assumed there would be more along my route, and there wasn’t. In the midst of a global pandemic, it was cavalier of me to assume that I’d have more public access, but in these times, planning safe and socially distanced pit stops in a necessity.

I used Ride with GPS to find a 100 mile loop that started in New Castle, NH (see final route on Strava to the left). First thing to note, I didn’t want a route that started at my house. Why? Because mentally, I knew I would struggle for the last 20 miles if I knew every turn, hill, and stop on the final stretch. Secondly, I made an adjustment to the route to stop at a friend’s house in Exeter around mile 85. I knew that I would want a bathroom, a place to lay down and stretch, and some encouragement with roughly an hour of riding to go. My last 15 miles ended up being some of my fastest thanks to this. Lastly, I chose a route that had minimal climbing (my goal was less than 4,000ft of elevation gain). There’s plenty of time to do a century in the mountains, but at this point, I was focused on crossing the finish line.

Ultimately, I tracked my ride both though Ride with GPS and Strava, and also used Google Maps on a few occasions to find a pit stop.

Plan your food, and then bring extra.

For breakfast that morning, I ate a bagel with Kite Hill plant-based cream cheese, two kiwis, a Oui by Yoplait yogurt, and a cup of earl grey tea. I don’t really eat oatmeal or cream of wheat, but those are both simple carb heavy options that would help for those first 30-40 miles. I wanted to eat a combination of things that would burn quickly, and sit in my stomach a bit longer, if possible. Food (read: fuel) is such a personal thing for everyone, so I suggest testing which food combinations work for you.

As for what I packed with me… Well, I took the term “pocket bacon” very seriously and cooked an entire pack of bacon the night before, and put it in a ziploc bag the next day. I also took with me three That’s It bars – the cherry + apply flavor. In my water bottles, I put in Nuun Sport hydration tablets in each, and mixed 70% water with 30% Roar Mango Clementine. This, paired with my breakfast, lasted me until mile 60, where I stopped for more water and a sugary drink to keep me going. By mile 75, I could feel myself struggling. Between all my snacks and breakfast, I had only eaten about 2,000 calories. My ride in total, I burned just under 4,000 calories, and my basal metabolic rate is roughly ~1,700 calories, meaning I was operating on a nearly 3,500 – 4,000 calorie deficit. I called my friend waiting for me at mile 85 to make sure she had some carbs and sugar I could snack on, but the next 10 miles were a struggle, and I was on the cusp of bonking.

If you aren’t familiar with the term bonking, it can be described as a sudden and overwhelming feeling of running out of energy. You were riding along at what seemed like a manageable pace, and then seemingly without warning your stomach feels empty, you can barely churn your legs, and at worst, you get a bit delirious. Prior to this ride, I had only done a little over 70 miles, and I frankly didn’t realize that I need a lot more food from miles 50-80. My biggest takeaway from the ride, pack twice a much food as you think you’ll need. You’ll eat it.

Wear your best gear.

Sitting on your ass for over six hours is no joke, and if you don’t have the right bibs, the layers needed for unpredictable New England weather, and a jersey that your comfortable reaching in and out of while riding, it is only going to be more difficult. Below, see everything I wore:

  • Knix Catalyst Front Zip Sports Bra – I’ve shared some of my favorite cycling bras here, but this is a new take on a favorite of mine that helps me feel especially secure (they added the front zip). I wear a Size 4 – as a 34D.
  • Giordana FR-C Pro Tank Base Layer – this worked as a layer to help wick away sweat for temperature regulation. On the day I rode, there was a 25 degree swing in temperature, making this layer crucial.
  • Giordana FR-C Pro Lightweight Long Sleeve Jersey – paired with a base layer, this was the ideal combination for an average 55 degree day. Albeit, I was a little chilly in the last hour of my ride, and was thankful I packed my next item…
  • Pedla WindTECH Gilet – as mentioned above, I only wore this for the final hour of my ride. But without it, I would’ve been shivering in those last 15-16 miles. I genuinely love everything that Pedla comes out with – they’re an awesome Australian indie brand.
  • Giordana FR-C Pro Reflective Bib Short – these shorts feature a longer inseam, a Cirro S chamois with Aloe Vera infusion, and reflective paneling, which was comforting as my last 90 minutes of riding were at dusk and a little after sun down. I don’t have to wear any chamoix cream with these shorts because they are that comfortable, and always reach for these on long rides.
  • Louis Garneau Biogel RX-V Glove – without a doubt, these are the least fancy gloves I own, and somehow they are the ones I always reach for first. I have 5-7 pairs of gloves I rotate, all at varying price points, and it just goes to show that you have to kiss a few frogs before you find the one that best suits you. Pad placement and stitching make these fit my hands perfectly, but you need to find what works for you. Luckily, gloves don’t get too pricey.
  • Sugoi Zap Training Gloves – In my back pocket, you could find these full-finger gloves in preparation for an evening temperature dip. These gloves are awesome for layering over your existing pair, or under winter gloves as temperatures drop.
  • Pedla Lightweight Socks – these are my favorite socks for moderate weather; they’re great for moisture management.
  • Pearl Izumi MTB Shoes – I couldn’t find a link to my exact shoes (because they’re old), but frankly, I’m due for an upgrade. My current pair has velcro, and doesn’t quite crank down on my foot enough, especially on climbs. My next shoe will hopefully be the Shimano SH-XC9 S-PHYRE. They’re pricey as hell, but unlike your other gear (outside of your helmet), it’s something that goes with you on every ride and deserves investment.
  • Additional gear was an old Bontrager helmet, and old Prada cycling glasses. Both of which I’m actively looking for upgrades for, but do their job just fine.

Key takeaways: I’m thankful for packing the layers I did. I would also carry an additional coat in the future if there is a chance of rain – I love this one from Sugoi. I absolutely need to buy new shoes. And, invest heavy on bibs, but don’t overspend on gloves.

Strategize how to recharge.

There are three touch points where recharging is crucial: your technology, check-ins with your body mid-ride, and post-ride recovery.

A huge oversight on my part was not bringing an external battery for my phone. I was thankful for the ability to recharge at my friend’s house at mile 85, otherwise I wouldn’t have any GPS for my last hour of cycling – yikes! I sadly don’t yet have a bike computer, but that is something that you also want to make sure is fully charged for your ride the night before. When I look at my 2021 cycling wish list, a bike computer is right at the top in order to ensure a backup plan should my phone lose charge on future rides.

Additionally, I tried to be good about stretching throughout my ride. My shoulders and neck, in particular, suffer tremendously on longer rides. Whether I sit up on my saddle and stretch while still riding, or pull over, every bit counts. Admittedly, I wasn’t as good about stopping in the beginning because my body was feeling good, but in retrospect, I would have stopped every hour, gotten off my bike, and done a series of stretches that take about 7-10 minutes in order to prevent some pretty excruciating neck and shoulder pain for the last 30 miles.

Once my ride was done, I re-fueled, foam rolled, and took a full rest day the following day. Two days after my ride, I did a track workout to shake out my legs, and by 72 hours after my ride, there was no soreness at all. Having a post-ride “reset plan” so to speak, is just as important as the prep. Over the years, it has gotten trendier to focus on recovery, for good reason; our bodies need it. If I had all the resources in the world available to me, I would have also worked in an infrared sauna & an IV push of Glutathione from CryoMed. As an added bonus, a session in NormaTec boots would help, too.

Tell a friend and/or family member about your ride and route.

Normally, I share my rides quite publicly on social media as they are happening. In this particular instance, I opted to refrain due to a tumultuous political climate. I didn’t want to take up space on people’s feeds and stories with something as arbitrary as my cycling goals when the fate of the country hung in the balance. So, I let a few friends and my mother know I was going out for a ride. Being able to reach out to them while on the road ended up being the single most crucial tactic to completing my goal. At mile 75, when I was mentally struggling the most, I called my mom.

I was low on food, on the brink of bonking, and feeling a little lonely. I chatted with my mom for a little less than two miles, but it truly made a world of difference. I don’t think people realize how tough some of these long rides can be when you’re by yourself. Words of encouragement can go a long way. If I could give you one tip that will help you the most on your trek, it’s to have a couple of people you can call should you need anything (mechanically or mentally). Because even though you’re doing this solo, getting to this day where you’re attempting your ride, and making it through the miles, still takes a village.

6 hours and 34 minutes of movement later, in the cold, and in the dark, I finally crossed that 100 mile mark threshold. I cried for a few minutes thanks to a combination of relief & endorphins, peeled off my bike shoes, and loaded my bike into the back of my car. Embracing self-imposed adversity, and achieving one of my biggest cycling goals I had set for myself wasn’t something that I envisioned happening in 2020, but here we are. I’m thankful for the lessons I continue to learn on my rides, and the knowledge that I have gained that I can share with you. My hope is that this post encourages and empowers you to go a little bit longer on your next ride, or work toward a century yourself.

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