A Hard Day in the Saddle (Part I).

From my first few months in Chattanooga, I wanted to complete the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge century ride.  In 2013 I planned to ride it but injured my knee and had to quit training. At the beginning of 2016 I decided to try again.

There were several aspects to completing this ride. First, the training. The basics of completing a century ride (100 miles) on a bike are well-known: establish a base of riding miles, add some intensity with increased tempo, practice climbing, and do long rides of at least 75% of the distance before the big day. However, when it’s January, 30 degrees and dark outside, and the bed is warm, it’s not easy getting on the trainer and pounding out intervals before going to work. (Sufferfest videos plugged into the TV really help-great scenery, interesting trivia, inspiring music, and a little humor). After the daylight savings time change in the spring, there’s more daylight at end of day, but riding then interrupts family dinner time, interferes with school activities, and conflicts with on-call duties at the hospital.

Avoiding injuries is next. During one training ride, I outran or out maneuvered five dogs out of six but the last one was too old or too fat or too slow to get out of my way as I tried to vector away.  Fortunately it was at low speed as I scooted my thigh and knee across the asphalt producing a beautiful road rash abrasion that kept me from sleeping on that side for several weeks-but no broken bones. Then I developed a low back sprain. Several sessions with the physical therapist and a better post-ride stretching routine helped clear that up.

Finally, the mental aspect. My chosen route had three discrete climbs, each between 1000-1400 feet ascents over 2 to 5 miles. I rode each of them separately, but one day about three weeks before the big day I tried to do 75 miles over climbs #2 and #3 and had to quit halfway up the second hill. That was devastating to my confidence. Lots of negative self-talk ensued:

  • If you can’t do two hills in a day, how are you going to do three?
  • That last hill is a beast, you’ll probably have to walk up
  • Maybe I should just do the metric century
  • Why am I doing all this exactly?

I started losing sleep, had trouble concentrating, experienced some very anxiety-filled dreams, and I told myself: “it’s just a stupid bike ride, dummy”.  Basically I was afraid–afraid of failing, afraid of quitting, afraid of the pain. Then I did one intense club ride averaging 19 mph for 25 miles, a metric century in Louisville at 18 mph and those efforts encouraged me. Finally, the weather on ride day was projected to be near perfect, and I committed to the endeavor. I tapered off training for the last week, washed and polished my bicycle, and laid out all my gear.  Game on!