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100 Miles of Nowhere , Team CarboRocket: Over 200lbs, Under Six Feet, 400m College Track [with Subsequent Kidney Stone] Division

May 18, 2010

I was not prepared to ride a century.  In fact, the longest I have ever completed is 40 miles.  My longest ride this year?  20 miles.  So I decided the best way to attack my 100 miles of nowhere is to break it into five twenty-mile blocks.

But Where?

Sherman, Texas is blessed with Austin College, an excellent private four-year institution especially known for its pre-med program.  They have very good ties with the community and share many resources.  For example, I swim at AC’s pool in preparation for triathlons. A window at the pool faces the football field, encircled by a running track that lies dormant most of the time.  I have looked at it many times and trained on it doing running “speed work” (I use that term very loosely).   Austin College at one time had an all-weather track and probably a track team.  It degenerated over time and was scraped off, revealing the asphalt surface below.  Perfect.


I spoke to David Norman, the Assistant Director for Athletics at AC, fully expecting to be turned down.  Not only does this open the university to liability, but it was also the day of graduation.  I’m not a student.  I’m not an alumnus.  But yet he agreed and went so far as to alert the chief of security that I would be out there, circling endlessly.  (He even stopped by at about mile forty and shouted encouragement!)  So, full of confidence and no small sense of foreboding, I began.

And We’re Off!

My conditions ended up being nearly excuse-free.  For the first sixty miles or so, the temperature was reasonable, the track smooth and winds only light and variable.  Zero elevation gain.  I could not order up a finer set of circumstances (except for some shade as the afternoon progressed).  At twenty mile intervals I would stop, reload water and nutrition, and check my status.  Every ten miles I would reverse direction.  I discovered I like turning right over turning left.  I chose to listen to nothing for the first twenty miles.  Think.  Take in the scenery.

The scenery became monotonous by about the tenth lap (roughly 2.5 miles in).  I’ve spent a lot of time in the presence of my own thoughts, especially from motorcycling trips.  Countless hours spent listening only to the hum of the engine and the background noise of my mind.  I don’t fear it.  I have found that I can concentrate coherently on on thing for roughly thirty seconds before catching my wandering mind and redirecting it.  After I have thought for about thirty minutes I give up the refocusing and just let my consciousness stream off to where it will.  It begins to endlessly loop to song fragments and mostly nonsense.  Try this yourself:  if you say the word “bicycle” over and over and over again, you will eventually get to the point where the word has no meaning, like “plorp” or “twaddle”.  This is the meaningless soup where my mind swam during miles 15-20.  I felt downright good at mile twenty and averaged about 19mph.  Here I stopped, to switch from bottle filled with water to CarboRocket (lemon-lime) and to quickly change shoes, gloves, and “steeds”.  (I thought perhaps changing shoes and gloves would help with foot and hand numbness.  It did not.)  I brought not only my road bike, a light aluminum ride, but also my steel single-speed.

Cheap, but heavy.

I thought conditions would be just fine for single-speeding, and I was curious to see how I felt on steel vs. aluminum.  Plus I thought that switching seats might help my butt. 

Miles 21-40

I switched on my iPod as I rolled out with my single speed.  Its wheelbase is shorter, my posture more upright.  The cheap, stock handlebar felt like holding on to a light jackhammer, and absorbed almost no road shock.  I got mad at myself for not wrapping it with more padded bar tape.  Hand numbness became an issue pretty quickly on the single speed, as did foot numbness from switching to my triathlon shoes.  I must say, though, that this twenty-mile segment rushed by extremely fast.  Before I knew it I was returning to “pit row” to fuel up with a PB&J and switch to another water bottle.  My average speed had dropped to about 18mph.  My butt felt OK due to the SS’s softer seat, but I was happy to change shoes again.

Miles 41-60

By now I had surpassed my previous “longest ride” by about four miles.  I was somewhat disheartened that I was not yet halfway through.  The sun began to rise in its intensity as cloud cover burned off.  I was not looking forward to getting back on my aluminum steed with its firm seat.  I was very pleasantly surprised to note that my butt and tenders felt fine (thank you DZ nuts) when I did.  I was amazed at how light my bike felt and how I was absorbing relatively little shock through the handlebar.  Weight matters, even on this flat, relatively smooth ride!  I continued to listen to music, and although the miles passed slower than the previous twenty, I was encouraged by how good I felt.  I remembered a pro’s advice, though: no matter how good or how bad you feel, it won’t last.  My “good” wore off by about mile 60.  I lost about another mph in average speed to keep my heart rate below 160 bpm.

Miles 61-80

After the third block of twenty miles I noted that even while resting it was difficult to keep my heart rate below 130bpm.  I was dehydrating [more than I knew at the time–more on this later].  As blood volume decreases, your heart rate increases naturally.  So I downed more water and loaded up another bottle of CarboRocket.  At this rate I would easily run out of liquid well before finishing.  This block of miles was the most dismal.  I switched to listening to a novel, Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, an excellent book, but nothing was strong enough to pry my attention away from my cyclocomputer.  A wireless setup, I was convinced it was not receiving properly–“…there’s no way I’ve only gone that far…”  I began to get a little oppressed by the sheer mind-numbing weight of turning circles.  The single speed felt horribly heavy and I decided twelve miles in that I would ride my geared, lighter bike for the duration.  I decided that riding on this hotter-growing stretch of asphalt was akin to Dante’s Sixth Circle of Hell. [If you compare this satellite photo of the track to this artist’s rendering of the sixth circle in Dante’s Inferno, I’m sure you will agree…]

Dante's sixth level of hell?

Strikingly similar.

I had to slow down further to keep my heart rate under 165–making the misery last longer.  After what felt like an eternity, I hit the 80-mile mark.  Thankfully, my wife arrived with a chicken sandwich and the biggest, iciest 44oz. coke I had ever seen.

The final twenty

I ate the sandwich and felt a little better.  I split the remaining coke between two water bottles and pedaled on.  I did not want to ride any more.  I was sore and had to ride at 15mph–a pace I felt was sustainable for the last twenty files.  I nearly hit a metal bench in the infield twice, due to my flagging attention and just not caring anymore.  I switched my cyclocomputer to “clock” and only allowed myself to check mileage every fifteen minutes.  Soon (but not soon enough), mile 90 passed.  Now, the remaining ten were only as long as a ten-mile TT I ride near my house–I knew I would make it.  I cheated and checked my computer a few minutes early–I was already over 100 miles!  So I coasted to a stop at the “start/finish”.  I had finished!


Add this...

Plus this.

What I learned

I learned that the phrase “I’m raising money for cancer” is a perfect force field.  I met a few people who surely thought I was moronic, but softened the moment they realized I was doing this for a good cause.  I submit that I could chain an ATM to my rear bumper, hijacking it from a bank, in broad daylight, and when people scream, “What are you doing??!!” if I cry, “Raising money for cancer,”  I would get a pass.

I have a new respect for elite endurance athletes.  I am not elite.  Endurance is not my bag, baby.

More training would be helpful.

DZ Nuts and Tangerine Power Gel look exactly alike when squished from their respective packets.  Get it right.

The sheer weight of the mind-numbing tedium was difficult to overcome.

I refuse to do this again…until next year.  But I will be more prepared!

Take that cancer!

I did it anyway!

Late-Breaking News

I wrote this post yesterday morning.  A little after lunch time I began to notice a definite twinge of pain in my back.  “Hmm–that’s odd.  It doesn’t feel like a muscle spasm,”  I thought.  As the pulsing pain increased I knew all too well what was happening:

  1. I was trying to pass a kidney stone (I had passed one several years ago.  There is no mistaking that pain).
  2. The dehydration from my century had precipitated it.

My previous stone, years ago occurred in Las Vegas on a guys trip.  Although I simply viewed this at the time as my Godsmack for having a weekend in Sin City, I now realize that dehydration (due to youthful overindulgence with fermented beverages) had very likely caused that one as well.  Note to self:  don’t let yourself get too dehydrated.  You are prone to these damn things.  This time, as last, I was able to pass the stone on my own in about twelve hours.  The pain was so crippling that it caused me to vomit (this was the first time I have thrown up from sheer pain).  I was indignant that this tiny thing could hurt so bad.  I finally fell asleep at about 4:30am this morning, someone having removed the knife from the right-hand small of my back.  Next year I’m wearing my CamelBak also!  The only good news is that while writhing in bed, I watched Rocky IV again.  It is so awesome in its cold-war ridiculousness.  What a soundtrack!  It deserves a revisit, if you have not since the late eighties.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lisa S permalink
    May 18, 2010 10:47 am

    Dr Brett, you are one tough guy! Sounds like your 100 Miles to Nowhere was painful, but the aftermath even more so! Way to go! Once you do one century, for some crazy reason, you are drawn to complete another!

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