Right you are, Greg. The MS-150 this weekend was an incredible experience and great success. We had ideal riding temperatures and a large turnout of riders…supposedly over 1,000, but I lost track of the count while they were all passing me. We also had a great cause to benefit, fantastic ride support, and unbelievable encouragement from everyone that participated.
The two rides represented “personal bests” for me, although in different ways. Each day had both a 50 mile and 75 mile route to choose from. On Saturday, I chose to just ride the 50 mile route. I learned last year I can’t do the 75 miles within the official 8am-5pm time the course is open, if I want to stop and rest, have lunch, and talk to the people who come up and ask about the unicycle. I also didn’t want to miss the big Group Start on Day 1, because the lead fundraising team (MSFT, which I was on) goes first. On the uni, that means I get to start at the very front, using the pole that holds the start banner for balance. The first 100 yards of the ride is the only time I get to lead, and I didn’t want to miss that. Then the first bike passes me and I begin my gradual slide to last place… Anyway, the PB for me on Saturday was around fitness. Same route as last year, same big hills. But this year, instead of getting wiped out (or falling) on the climbs, I cleaned them all with energy to spare. I credit this year’s revised training plan (the Nathan Hoover Plan) which focused much more on climbing than on distance. When I hit the big ones, I just reminded myself how many times I climbed Fall City Road without stopping, and that gave me the mental edge. I finished 50 thinking I could have done 75.
Which brings me to Sunday’s personal best. Going in, my plan had been to do back-to-back 50s and just enjoy myself, but after Saturday, I thought “why can’t I do a 75 and still enjoy myself?”. Bad question to ask myself at bedtime, as I then tossed and turned the night thinking about it rather than getting the rest I needed. Mostly I was trying to talk myself into it. Why do it? The challenge, of course. And for my sponsors: they demand blood, and two 50s just doesn’t deliver! So, since I was not sleeping anyway at 5am, I got up, packed my gear, threw some extra food in my pack, and made it onto the course by 6:30. I figured with an hour and a half lead, I’d have time to finish the whole course. I set a goal of getting to Rest Stop 2 at 21 miles before the first bike, and started spinning. It was surreal being out there by myself, pedaling out through the tulip farms in the pre-dawn light and watching the sun come up to backlight the patches of fog and mist. I also got to see how early in the day farmers are up and at it…every farm had something going on. At mile 9, the setup van for Rest Stop 1 passed me. Good thing I packed those extra supplies! When I got to Rest Stop 2, they were setting up too and I was their first customer. About 15 minutes later the first bike arrived.
From there, I just focused on maintaining a solid spin, minimizing upper body movement, and remembering to keep fed and hydrated. The Day 2 course is actually quite flat if you choose the 50 mile option. In the map, the 50 mile route cuts west to Padilla Bay after the long straightaway, leaving out the whole climb up and around Chuckanut Mountain, and the narrow, hilly road along Samish Bay. This section, Miles 30 to 55, has to be the most scenic ride I’ve ever taken. I want to go back and do just that loop sometime as a 30-35 miler, when I can relax and enjoy the views.
But back on topic. By the time I reached lunch at Mile 50, I knew I had both time and the energy to finish. The main climbing was done, and I took a full 1/2 hour to eat, drink, sunscreen. But then—sitting with some Harley riders that were acting as ride patrol—I heard the course would close at 4pm instead of 5 as it did on Saturday (and in my timing calculations). Panic! I suddenly went from “I have all the time in the world” to “I’m going to have to spin the last 25 at the same pace I spun the first 25, with no rest stops.” Gulp.
Thanks Harley Guys…gotta fly. Fortunately, it was only 8 more miles of hilly road before the route hit sea level for good. Once I reached the flats, it would be pretty binary…if headwind like last year’s Day 2, I don’t make it. Less headwind than last year, I might. Well, the wind was there, but less intense, more varied than last year. Often it was a sidewind instead, which made for faster riding but also more tension in my lower back from adjusting, like too many miles on a sloped crown. I was starting to have some serious pain, and was also slipping some time and wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it in by the cutoff. When I reached Mile 62, I decided to stop worrying, as I had at least passed my longest ride and had a new personal best. There we go. Let the SAG Wagon come sweep me off the course…I don’t care. Wait, yes I do. They’ll never bring me in…not while there’s a breath of life left in me. Damn the rules! I’ll fight ‘em all and keep riding! It’s amazing the kinds of thoughts your brain starts to have when your body is well past its normal limits. Reality is I was on the organizing committee for the event, and if the car came for me, the occupants would be friends, colleagues, people I could never eat alive just to make a distance goal, and they’d be offering me comfort, sympathy, and a painless ride across the finish line drugged and gagged in the trunk of their car. NO…MUST RIDE FASTER!
I have to express my profound admiration for anyone that’s ever had a 100 mile day…Bruce_Dawson, Lars, Ken Looi, those speedy English boys, and all the others. It’s not just the prep and conditioning; it’s ride management. I was managing to 75, and when I was at Mile 70, I could actually “see” doing a 100. A nice flat 25, no wind or time constraints…sure, I could get there. But that can change quickly. With 2 miles to go, I spotted a bike up ahead, someone who hit the wall and was slowing their pace. Cool, I thought, I’m catching up. If I just turn it on a bit, maybe I can reach them and we can cross the finish line together and wouldn’t that be fun to not finish last. So instead of sticking to my pace, I turned it on and started making headway on the biker. With a half mile to go, he was only 300 yards ahead…which was when I hit my wall. There was no way I could catch him, and it was actually all I could do to get across the finish line without crashing in front of the spectators. It went that quickly, and I could no longer “see the 100”. I could barely see the finish. After 9 hours 38 minutes on the course, I got across the line at 4:11 pm to roars from the finished riders and MS folks. Riding up the ramp, someone handed me a “finisher’s medal” on a ribbon, which amazingly I grabbed without crashing. Almost as soon as I’d dismounted, a woman ran up with a video cam making a documentary of the event. She wanted to include the unicycle, and asked me if I could get on and ride since she missed me coming in. I hated to disappoint, but had to say No…I actually didn’t think I could successfully get back on the unicycle. My whole body seemed to be going into rigor mortis. I couldn’t bend over, and could barely sit down. But all was good…at 75.1 miles, I have a new personal best. It may also be a lifetime best, since if there’s a reason to ever ride farther in a day, I’m not seeing it right now.
Let me finish with some high points and stats.
· Riding across the Deception Pass Bridge twice, both times with a Harley escort behind to protect me from cars.
· Achieving a Personal Best on Sunday by completing the full 75 mile loop.
· The amazing views of Samish Bay from everywhere on Chuckanut Drive. This has to be one of the most intense stretches of road in the state.
· Crossing the finish line both days in LaConner to shouts, yells, cowbells and applause from all the riders and volunteers.
· The countless variations of “Hey Unicycle Guy!” and “Go Man Go!” I received from passing riders.
· STOMPING THE HILLS. I am SO glad I changed my training. Very few bikers passed me on the climbs, but I passed many of them. It was great hearing comments like “Man, that guy is just hammering!”, or my favorite—after I had passed the same pair on three consecutive hills—“This is starting to get really depressing.”
· And the biggest High Point: Raising $4,000 to support the MS Society’s work to provide benefits to the many people affected by the disease, and to one day find a cure. I can’t express my thanks enough. The support from the unicyclist community was just fantastic.
· Saturday: 47.51 miles, 286 minutes pedaling time, 10 mph average, 4,439 vertical feet elevation gain.
· Sunday: 75.1 miles, 425 minutes pedaling time, 10.5 mph average, 5,147 vertical feet elevation gain.
· Training miles: 680 since May
· Vertical feet climbed in training: more than Everest
So a VERY BIG THANK YOU to all of you that supported my ride, either through direct financial contributions, or through advice, help, and encouragement. Your help brings us closer to a cure!
PS: It’s not too late to click the link in my sig line and make a contribution!