Friday, July 13, 2018

Double century weekend

Last weekend as part of my training for the Ironman and overall quest to do big things that scare me but make me stronger, I rode double century rides. 100 miles on Saturday and 100 miles on Sunday. About 13 hours on my bike overall between the two days and a huge sense of accomplishment to have completed it! It's a milestone I am pretty proud of.

So how did this come about?

Well, a few weeks ago, I met with my coach Jerome to talk about the next couple months of training. July is a bit of a crazy month for me and I was nervous how I was going to fit everything in. He let me know that we would have a big bike build at the beginning of the month and my goal would be to get in as much biking as I could in the first couple of weeks of July.

I had a good streak going and rode 109 miles on June 23, 103 miles on June 30th, and each day did short easy rides the day after. Then in discussing the weekend of July 7-8, Jerome had mentioned to me that there were organized supported century bike rides on both Saturday and Sunday. The year before he and a few others rode the centuries both days - something that I was very familiar with because I remember hearing about it and thinking that it was such an insane, crazy thing to do. At the time last year, I hadn't even ridden 100 miles before, so the idea of doing it two days in the row seemed next to impossible. Even this year, with a few centuries under my belt, when Jerome tossed the idea around, it seemed crazy!

I committed to riding long both days but I wasn't sure if doing full century rides each day was something I could do. It just didn't seem possible.

Because I wasn't sure if I would actually go for it, I didn't tell many people I had this idea in my head. However, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I became mentally obsessed with it. I knew I wanted to do it and go for the 100 both days. I felt excited about it. Excited and scared and nervous and eager to try it out. I didn't know many people that had done this before so the idea of doing something not many people had thrilled me a little.

So, I started to do what I always do when something scares me, I started to plan for it. I registered for both organized rides and reached out to the people I knew had done it before to get advice. I mentally planned the logistics of what  I would need to do for this to be possible. I thought about sleep, nutrition (before, after and during the rides), recovery from day to day, clothing,  how to protect and preserve my "undercarriage," and which of my bikes I should use for the two rides.

I did everything I thought I could to be prepared and as the weekend got closer I was excited to attempt this. So, how did it?


I am able to work from home on Fridays so I was able to spend some of the day helping to get ready. I prepped my food. I lay out my clothes. I charged my lights. I charged my bike. I put out my water bottles. I made snacks for after the ride. I wrote out a timeline for the morning. And similar to when I rode the Gaps in June, I set out a number of goals for myself for the weekend.

1. Have fun
2. Stay positive and confident
3. Be friendly
4. Take my time
5. Ride 100 miles each day

I ate pasta for dinner on Friday night, even if I didn't truly need it, I liked the idea of carbing up before the big weekend and went to bed early, ready to go for the next day.


Saturday I was planning to ride with a group from ITL, who all were doing an organized ride in Senoia, GA called the Southside Century ride. I treated the day like any normal long bike day, getting up and having breakfast, and driving to the start with plenty of time to get ready. It was the last long ride for the group that is doing Ironman Canada and my friend Michelle's birthday. There was lots of blue at the start and it was a good crew!

As often happens with these rides, we started rolling a few minutes before the official organized ride started. We started out together, chatting and riding easy, but it wasn't long before the group started to thin out and I was in the back per usual, but not by much. I was still right with the group.

UNTIL we went over some railroad tracks right before mile 5 and when I did, EVERYTHING toppled off my bike. My aero bottle, water bottles, flat tire kit, EVERYTHING, went flying. With no other choice, I stopped to collect my things and by the time I did, the group was out of sight. Since we started ahead of the official start, there was nobody behind me either. I was just by myself.

I started to ride again and tried my best to gather my thoughts mentally. Being alone freaked me out. You can do this, I told myself. You can do this century ride today on your own. In fact, I tried to convince myself, it might be better this way because now you can completely go your own pace!

Although I had expected to be separated from ITL for a portion of the day, as everyone going to the ride was much faster than me and not people I expected to wait for me at the aid stops. I didn't think I would be alone so quickly. And I thought there would be plenty of other non-ITL riders around (which is why one of my goals for the weekend was to "be friendly.") Without anyone in front or behind me, I felt so alone and I felt myself getting a bit emotional.

I kept giving myself pep talks, remembering to stay positive, to take my time, and that I could do this.

I kept riding.

At around 10 miles, I saw another cyclist for the first time since I had lost the group. It was someone coming towards me though! I saw pink shoes pedaling in my direction and realized that it was my friend Lauren. I was so happy to see her that I got tears to my eyes as she rode up to me and then stopped and turned around. As we connected and started to ride together I asked her "What's going on? Is everything okay?" I don't know what I was thinking. But she just kept riding next to me and said, "We're doing this together today." and I started to cry a little.

From that mile on, Lauren and I rode the next 90 miles as a team. Just like so many rides we did last year, I chased her up the hills, and she pushed to keep up as I caught her on the downhills. When I was struggling, she encouraged me. And when she needed a boost, I offered it back. We chatted about training and life and relationships and I had the best time riding with her. It seems like such a little thing, but I am not sure how much I can express how much it meant for me to have her turn back and find me and to ride the day together. It was Lauren's last long ride before Ironman Canada and a big training weekend for me, and it was so nice to ride together.

Part of my plan for the weekend was to utilize the rest stops as much as possible. I had brought some of my own food, but I also wanted to use what they had and had written the miles on my arm of where the stops would be. For this ride it was 19, 33, 55, 73, 81, and 95. We stopped at the first aid station so I could refill my bottles, which had emptied when they flew off my bike. We stopped at miles 33 and 55 again, grabbing some snacks of Chex Mix, rice crispies, peanut butter pretzels and using the bathroom. I know at some point I will have to stop relying on these stops during rides, but right now I am enjoying them.

I felt good most of the day, just trying to take it easy. I fueled and rode, remembering that I had the next day to think about as well. There was a section from miles 55-75 of the ride that was climb after climb. I worked to try and take them easy and Lauren would get ahead of me a bit as she is stronger on climbs even when I am pushing hard. I told her she could keep going if she needed to, but she insisted on staying with me. She is a good friend.

The roads were bumpy, which was unsettling to ride on, and there was NOBODY else out there. It was an organized ride so I would have thought there would be more people on the road, but I feel like we only came across a handful of them. It was a quiet day and we made a comment that it felt suiting that this was the area of Georgia where they filmed the Walking Dead. It felt like it was just Lauren and I out on this thing the two of us. Despite getting rained on for a small portion, the weather was nice, there was pretty scenery, the volunteers were fantastic and so friendly and nice, but overall, it was not my favorite course. It felt very isolated and I wasn't a fan of the bumpy roads.

At one point towards the end, we had to wait quite a while to cross a main road, and then shortly after we went through a section of unpaved road. Having unpaved road on an organized bike ride seemed totally odd to us both, so we stopped to review a map and the cue sheets to confirm that we were on the right path, which we were. I also dropped my chain once, which was a small pause for me to fix it (I was proud of myself because for the first time I put it back on all by myself!) Otherwise, we kept moving during the second half of the ride, skipping the aid stops at both miles 73 and 95.

We came into the finish at 102 miles, ready to be done. Coming in to the finish, I didn't do what I normally do and leisurely hang about. I had a plan of what I wanted to do after the first day's ride. I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible, eat the food I brought for myself, and change out of sweaty clothes. I only said hi to the people who were still around briefly before beginning what I considered part of my recovery for the next day. However, I did pause for a few pictures. I wanted to document this weekend.

Also, they had a nice little photo op set up available so I made use of that for sure!

At this ride, there was a building we could go into in the finish, so although I didn't leave right away, I did get out of the sun and into the AC. I hung around after changing to chat with some friends and get a massage from the post-ride masseuse they had! I lay down for about 10 minutes and had her work on my neck and shoulders. It was really awesome that they offered that, because I had earlier been thinking about potentially getting a massage in between the two bike rides.

This weekend I didn't make any plans to try and see friends, my boyfriend was out of town, and the whole thing was just about me and what I needed to do to accomplish this goal.

After going home and cleaning up, I took myself out for dinner to get a burger and some french fries and tried to work on my mental approach for the next day. At some point in the evening I started to get freaked out a bit and negative thoughts and doubts crept into my mind. Could I really ride 100 miles again the next day? Only really strong, fast, more advanced people do something like this right? There's a reason why more riders that are my speed and level don't do this, right? Who do I think I am?

Even though I was feeling good about how the day first day had gone and everything was going according to plan, I started to feel scared. I got some reassuring words from friends, boyfriend and coach and then was in bed by 9:30 p.m. to get ready to get up and do the same thing the next day.


Sunday morning, I woke up and did my normal Saturday routine to get ready for biking. Sunscreen, cereal, fill my bottles, etc. I told myself mentally, "It's Saturday. You're just going out for your normal Saturday ride."

I head out to Roswell and parked with ease, feeling thankful that I had done the ride once before and knew where to go. I also was a bit taken aback because what had slipped my mind was just how many people come out for this ride! There were cyclists everywhere you looked. Even before I got there, as soon as I was on the highway, there were tons of cars with bikes on the back of their vehicles heading in the same direction I was.

After checking in and getting set up on my bike, I met up with my friends Phil, Alyssa and Peter, who were all doing the ride as well. I waited as long as possible before actually hoisting myself onto the seat of my bike - one of my bigger fears about finishing these two days of riding was how my uh "seat" would hold up. I have been having some issues feeling comfortable the days after my long rides and wasn't sure how this back-to-back long rides would go.

We got together and lined up for the start of the route at about 7:00 a.m. There are TONS of people that do this ride and we were about as far back in the line of thousands of people as you could be. Probably not the best place to start, but all of us were going into the bike ride with just one goal - to finish it - so we weren't necessarily concerned at the time about our placement in the group start.

The first 10 miles of the GA 400 ride are slooooow. They are PACKED with people were you are literally just crawling along trying to balance on your bike so that you don't topple over. There are a lot of inexperienced riders who don't know cycling etiquette or how to control their own bike that well. I saw many people topple over, stop in the middle of a long line of cyclists causing people behind them to swerve, or even someone with a helmet on backwards. It's a bit of a zoo, so the first 10 miles the main goal is really just to stay safe and moving forward, navigating through and around the traffic of cyclists. (Where's Waldo points to those that can see me tucked into that pack of cyclists right in the middle!)

What makes this ride so popular is that for a section of about 2 miles you get to ride on the GA 400, a major highway throughout Georgia. It is a pretty cool thing to ride your bike on a highway and that gimmicky aspect of it brings out a lot of people to just do one of the shorter ride options (such as the 10 mile route!) in order to have that experience. I think anything that prompts people to be active is a cool thing, but it does make it challenging in those early miles.

Our group of Phil, Alyssa, Peter and I had previously agreed that we would stop at every rest stop along the route. There were aid stops at miles 9, 26, 34, 49, 64, 79 and 92. When we got to mile 9 it was total chaos and we had all been pretty much just coasting for the first 9 miles navigating around people, so we just said let's keep going and rode past.

Unlike the Senoia ride or some of the other organized rides I have been doing lately, this route takes you through a lot of main roads and city roads that aren't completely shut down. This means that you are at the mercy of stopping for car traffic, red lights, etc. The route is very well marked and in these earlier miles through the city streets there are still lots and lots of riders out, so you do tend to feel pretty safe though. It is still just hard to get into a groove because there are a number of turns, clipping in and clipping out to stop and wait at traffic lights, and navigating all the other groups of riders out there. We were moving pretty slowly through the miles but the good thing was that my "seat" was getting a good break when I would have to stop now and then.

We kept moving and riding until we got to Mile 22 aid stop. I had needed to use the bathroom since before the start but everywhere the lines for the bathroom were so long. This stop was no different, but I needed to use it here! I chatted while in line, was feeling strong and confident, thinking "Almost a quart of the way through. I got this." I texted Jonathan, which is not something I usually do in the middle of the ride, but wanted the encouragement this day. Also the rest stop had a buffet of all his favorite foods with brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts and Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.

The next stop was relatively close and we kept moving forward, nothing super eventful happening. I got to mile 34, where I knew my friend Kristin was going to be there volunteering. I felt happy to have someone to see and chat with, I still felt really good and was confident with how the day was going. One of my friends upon giving me advice told me that I would be surprised at how good I felt - and I was feeling good!

We rolled out of Mile 34 aid station and not too long after that there was the moment of truth split off, where the 62 mile route went one way and the 100 mile went another. Not that there was any question at this point - but we passed the split off and were committed for 100.

I swear, as soon as we passed that point, I felt like I hit a wall. I went from feeling strong to feeling miserable. We were hitting what felt like hill after hill after hill and I felt like I had nothing in me. The wind started to pick up a bit and I felt like it was blowing me backwards. I started to really struggle mentally and physically, feeling exhausted.

It happened so suddenly that I was all of a sudden in a bad place. Everything hurt. I felt like there was no relief from the hills and the wind. All I was doing was counting down the miles until I got to 49, but at the same time I just kept thinking... even when I get there we won't even be halfway done?! My friends all got ahead of me and I felt like I was just dragging. I didn't think I was going to be able to finish the whole ride feeling this way. I started to get scared and doubt myself quite a bit. I wanted to cry.

During one of the climbs, I caught up to a guy who had been in my sight for a bit and I had been slowly gaining on. As I rode past, I was too out of breath and too much in a negative space to even say anything to the rider but then I heard, "Is that Katie?"

I answered a bit abruptly saying "It's Katelyn." ... because a) was in bad place b) was climbing c) I didn't actually think I knew anyone out here! But as I turned out it was a running friend of mine, Jerome (not my coach), who I had last seen when I was in Berlin for the marathon! I've seen via Facebook and Instagram that he has been getting more into cycling but was still new to it and thought he was such a badass for being out there on this tough course riding the century as a new rider!

It seemed like the miles CRAWLED by as I got myself to Mile 49 aid stop and I immediately got off my bike, used the bathroom, and went over to grab some food. This was a lot point for me in the course and I was in a mood and needed to get some sugar or calories in me or something. I nearly had a face off with the man who was running the aid station because he was standing IN FRONT of the table, blocking my view of what they had to offer, and then insisting that he pick up the food off the table for me and hand it to me. I am all for sanitary precautions, but I am not going to touch every one of the mini PB and J squares before selecting my own! I can pick up the individual sandwich off the table myself, thank you very much.

I snapped at him a bit and was fumbling to figure out what I wanted to eat and he asked if I needed medical. I told him, "No! I just need calories." and had him give me a few of the sandwiches and snacks. I also ate some of my own snacks that I had brought, pulling out a reserve of sour cherry gummy candies that seemed to do the trick and perked me up a bit.

I was hoping that I would get a mental boost after we left the aid station and I was past the 50 mile half way point - knowing that I just had to get myself home from that point forward. The fact that we weren't even halfway there was so demoralizing to me.

Right before we rolled out from the aid station though, the friend I had passed on the climb, Jerome came in and we chatted a minute. I don't know much about his story, but I do know that over the past couple of years he has been recovering from cancer and working to regain his running and fitness capabilities one mile at a time. This also reminded me of my friend, mentor and role model, Nancy, who is currently undergoing surgeries and treatments to regain her health. I thought of my friend Kelly P who passed away a few years ago, who last told me to "run for her" before a quick and tragic fight for cancer.

As we rolled out from mile marker 49, and I struggled with the thought of completing 51 more miles, I reminded myself that I GET to do these things. I am healthy and able enough to be out here pushing my limits and testing myself, riding my bike on a sunny summer day. I get to do this. Nobody is forcing me. I have the privilege to have the means and health and I reminded myself that no matter how much I am hurting there are people out there sick, injured, (and at this I smiled a little when the thought hit me) or tapering that would love to be doing what I am doing right now.

This perked me up again and I kept pushing, before I knew it, arriving at Mile 63 aid station. Everyone at this stop felt a bit social and people were chatting. There was one girl, Isabelle, who I had now been seeing at a few of these different rides. Just the day before, in Senoia, she had been volunteering at an aid station and introduced herself, having recognized me from the Velo City Century bike ride we'd done earlier that year, where she had been volunteering as well. She said that she loved seeing female cyclists out and commented, how many have you done this year?! Three? Four?

When I saw her the day before, I hadn't mentioned I was doing another century the next day, so she was so surprised to see me out, this time she was riding herself. Her comments to me that I was badass and how impressed she was that I was doing double centuries gave me a bit of a boost and from there out I was NOT humble in conversation with the other riders at the stops!!

I started chatting with a group of men, who were complaining about being sore and wanting to be finished and get a massage. I casually mentioned, "Yeah - the bike ride that I did yesterday had a masseuse at the end, it was great!" To which I gladly answered their inquiry of how far I had ridden the day before, letting them know this was my second century for the weekend. Everyone seemed so impressed and I am not going to lie, I loved that attention and recognition and used it to carry me forward.

Leaving station at mile 63, I told myself that pretty soon I would be in the home stretch. I was almost to the point where I was almost there! I always get such a boost from the "almost there" adrenaline, whether it is running or cycling, so this little trick of being "almost there" to "almost there" is something I do quite often. Right out of the aid station though, there was a TERRIBLE super steep incline that knocks you out since your legs are still tight from having stopped and you don't have much momentum built up. I nearly had to walk up it and was so thankful I made it over with toppling off my bike.

The next few miles were sort of crappy roads with narrow, winding, bumpy roads, with trees casting shadows that made it really hard to see if the dark spot in the road was a shadow or a pot hole. It was a tough section, ride-ability wise (is that a word?) and was thankful when the roads opened up and cleared out a bit more. I almost ran off the road at one point trying to navigate traffic, other riders, hills, and a giant pot hole. I felt like my comprehension was sort of dipping a bit as I got fatigued and popped some salt tabs and drank some water to keep myself going. Taking in more salt when I felt my head start to get a little loopy.

At mile 79 I used the bathroom again, grabbed some salty Chex Mix like snacks, and at this point, just wanted to get home. There were lots of cyclists sitting in the shade, taking long breaks, etc. but I just wanted to get to the finish. My friend Phil, who was the only other person doing the double century this weekend, was right on the same page with me. Our other friends were starting to drop off a bit, dealing with fatigue issues of their own, needing to stop more frequently. We all decided to split up at this point and just to get in to the finish. There was one more rest stop at Mile 92 but we made the decision at 79 to skip it and just get home.

The GA 400 century ride, which starts off slow and friendly to amateur or newbie cyclists, is a really challenging ride when you get into the longer distances. You aren't out in back country roads for a lot of the route, having to navigate small shoulders, traffic on the roads, and some pretty steep climbs. Up until that point in addition to the climb coming out of the rest stop, there had been a few other pretty steep inclines that are just pure grinders where you're huffing and puffing and wishing you had more gears on your bike. For the first time ever, I had to stand up on my bike to get myself up some of the hills because I just didn't have enough power or momentum to get through them sitting down.

We knew that in the last 20 minutes of the ride, there were still quite a few hills to navigate as well. Particularly, the three climbs affectionately called "the three sisters." Now, I had done the metric century of this organized ride two years prior, and on that day, had done the three sisters. I remember that I was able to get up them fine two years prior when I was a FAR more inexperienced cyclists so I actually did not feel too nervous about them. I figured I would handle them as I had been handling everything else this day... just take them slowly, take my time, and never stop freaking pedaling!

As we rolled out of the aid station at around mile 80, all of a sudden Phil and I saw a blue ITL shirt going the opposite direction and riding a bike towards us. As he got closer, we realized that it was our friend Clayton, who lives in the area, and had decided to come out riding the course to see if he would come across anyone he knew! He stumbled upon Phil and I, and turned back around, helping pace and ride us through the next 10 mile section. Having done this route the year before and also living in these neighborhoods, Clayton knew the area really well and he was such a huge help as we rode our way through the "three sisters" - shouting out to me in advance to let me know when they were coming and giving me feedback on the ride. It was SO nice to have some fresh energy and Clayton was such a boost for miles 80-90 as we rode through the last neighborhoods.

(See me way behind Clayton climbing up that hill in the picture above?? Getting a little further up the hill in the picture below!)

The sisters were tough, and the miles surrounding the sisters are no easier. You get a break from finishing a big climb by having a bunch of other mini climbs all around it. There are a number of hills that very well could be "sisters" themselves in my opinion, but it would be one heck of a family I guess, so it's just left as "three" big climbs through the end of this ride. I was proud of myself for continuing to ride strong through these climbs and as expected, the adrenaline of being "almost there" was pushing me forward as well. I did have to wind back and forth a couple times to get myself up the hills, but I made it and was still smiling.

After you making it through the three sisters, Phil and I rode through the aid station at mile 92 as planned. The final miles take you through downtown Roswell, along a really cute road called Canton Street that I have eaten at and hung out at a few times before.

At this point, the ride is mentally challenging because you feel SO close and that the end is near, but you are riding through very populated city roads and you have to take it slow and easy. There is foot and car traffic, heavily populated roads with street lights, and narrow roads with little to no shoulder. It is a slow finish, as it was a slow start, but for different reasons.

The majority of the day we had really ideal weather for riding bikes as well, with cooler temps in the morning and cloud coverage. However, at this point in early afternoon the sun was hot and high in the sky and these last miles went by slowly. We missed a turn at one point and had to stop and backtrack a bit. We'd gotten into the zone a little too much and were unable to recognize and navigate the turn fast enough.

There were a few more climbs at the very finish, because of course, and the "Finish" shoot that they had set up and the parking lot with our cars was eventually in sight!

However, there was one small snag. And that was that my watch only read 98.5 miles. We were slightly short.

I had warned Phil of this earlier as we'd gotten close to the finish. I wanted my darn watch to say 100 before I could feel complete about this accomplishment for the weekend. I had let him know - if we're short - I am going to keep riding! And I was true to that, riding PAST the finish, continuing down some of the access roads, trying to get that additional 1.5 miles. Phil followed, eventually making a U-turn and returning to the finish line with my watch ticking to 100 just before. We crossed the finish with my watch at 100.12 miles.

I could not have been happier to get off my bike that day and to be through this challenging weekend! We had done it!

Phil and I took some celebratory photos, checked out the finishers area, and sort of stood around wondering "What now?" Our friends were still out riding and the food that they had didn't look quite that appetizing (pasta - that had been sitting out all day.) There was music playing and lots of people sitting under the canopy tents at tables they'd set up, but although my legs were aching, I just did not want to be sitting down right away. My "seat" was aching more. Managing that was one of the more challenging parts of the ride that day, with the bumpy roads, getting on and off my bike at stop lights, etc. reminding me over and over how uncomfortable I was. I did NOT want to sit down.

After seeing some of the other people come in that I had been riding with, including many of the people who I had been "casually" letting know I had ridden back-to-back centuries, I got out of the sun and head home. I ate my snack of rice cakes and peanut butter, had drank a Diet Coke at the finish, and decided it was time to get cleaned up.

I spent the rest of the evening relaxing, eating food, and not worrying about any of the dishes around my apartment or mess of things laying around. Usually I hate to have clutter and dishes and I unpack my biking things right away, putting them where they need to go and doing laundry, etc. But I just let it all be for this day. I relaxed on the couch, looked through pictures, and was just overall so happy and so proud of what I had accomplished.

I pushed myself to do something that weeks before I didn't think I was capable of. I had an awesome time, creating memories and bonding with my training partners and friends. I tested my limits and faced fears, working to build confidence and strength. I am so thankful to the people that rode with me both days, to my coach and my boyfriend. I'll never forget this weekend and how it felt.

This is what Ironman training is all about.