My alarm goes off. I went to bed at 6pm, so I’m pretty well rested. Grab my kit, head to the bathroom and suit up. Plenty of chamois cream: this is going to be a long ride. I go to the computer to do a last check on the weather. Current temperature is 59 and clear skies, warming up to 71 by midday. Perfect.
I walk out the door with my bike. The air is cool, but not cold. I look up to see the stars in the sky and the enormity of the ride in front of me quickly flashes through my mind. I repeat my mantra that’s carried me through many long and less than pleasant rides, “once it’s over, then it’s done.” Even the hardest ride in the worst conditions can be overcome if you have the mentality to realize that the suffering will end and just push through it. Endurance sport is physical until you reach a certain level of fitness, and then it becomes 100% mental.
I finish my first water bottle as I pull into the Sebastian River boat launch. I stopped here pretty much every northbound ride I do and fill up a bottle because its the last water fountain that has cold water on my routes that I am aware of. The first time I did a 200 kilometer ride, I finished in 7 hours and 2 minutes, and I was suffering by the end. My theory was that I was dehydrated and that if I consciously drank more than I felt I needed by the end I wouldn’t get any sort of water bonk.
Often times in cooler weather we tend to drink less than we should because we don’t feel hot, or feeling hot from being under-hydrated actually feels comfortable because its cooler outside. The problem, especially for me as a Floridian is when you start at a ride thats in the low 50’s but once the sun comes up it hits the high 70s. This creates a situation where the powerful sun hits you right as your fatigue sets in and you were already a bit under-hydrated and you get slammed by dehydration. As I filled my bottle up I thought to myself that whatever issues I run into, hydration won’t be one of them.
Mile 27. I am at the intersection of Micco Road and US1. For those who don’t know, US1 is a fairly busy road. At this hour not very busy, but still a bit unsafe since its still very dark and cars go very fast. I eat my first cliff bar. To go with the good hydration plan I fully intend on taking on enough carbs to avoid a bonk. I travel on US1 for a mercifully short 10 minutes before I can hop on Old Dixie Highway which is a parallel road but very isolated and infrequently traveled by cars. I do feel a nice sense of relief being off US1.
Mile 36. Back on US1. Still dark, but at least getting to a well lit populated area. I’ll be on US1 for a while now as I make my way through the Palm Bay, Melbourne, and Satellite Beach area. Melbourne has a very sketchy section with no bike lane. Normally not a problem since the sun is usually up as I ride through here, but today’s early start means no sun so I am extra careful.
Around mile 40 I eat cliff bar number two and finish bottle number two.
Mile 55. The sun is rising. Daylight! I turn my bike lights off. This is a major milestone mentally. It means that, while the ride may not even be halfway, the part that creates the greatest anxiety (riding in the dark) is over. As I enter the town of Rockledge, I turn off US1 and onto the exquisite Rockledge Drive. Its a beautiful road that runs right up to the water. It’s a mecca for the local cycling and running communities due to the scenery as well as low 25mph speed limit eliminating any sort of auto traffic. I stop to snap a picture. The early morning fog hasn’t burnt off yet so the sky isn’t blue, as a result this isn’t the prettiest picture possible, but you get the idea.
I think part of the charm of this road for me is how much nicer it is to ride on than US1, but also how interesting the houses are. Unlike most edge-of-the-water mansions, these are old houses. They are all at least 50 years or older, in the Southern Colonial style. They are well maintained so while they have an old fashioned, warm feeling they still look expensive and are owned by extremely wealthy people. It just all comes together to feel like a very cohesive and charming neighborhood.
This road ends in downtown Cocoa Beach at mile 62, about the halfway point of the journey. I finish bottle number three as well as cliff bar number three and make my way over the sketchy as fuck Hubert Humphrey Causeway.
Mile 65. I stop at the 7-11 on 520 and Tropical in Merritt Island. I buy a giant bottle of water to fill up my bottles and a can of Coca Cola. I’ve explained many times on this blog before about the amazing power of Coca Cola on long rides, but I’ll recap in brief: Sugar and caffeine are (un)surprisingly helpful on long bike rides.
As I walk out of the story I see an older dude about 65 examining my bike. We chat for a bit while I fill up my bottles and drink my coke. He was a cyclist himself and has completed RAGBRAI when he was younger. Very cool. He is pretty shocked when I tell him I am from Vero Beach and already biked 65 miles today and had another 60 to do to get home. I encouraged him to get his bike out of the garage and go for an easy spin down Rockledge Road and see if he still enjoys it.
I begin making my way south on Tropical Trail. This is a very low traffic road in an extremely wealthy area. Tons of cyclists and runners, and at times the island is narrow enough that you can see the ocean if you look left and the Indian River if you look right. I think for a minute about what the flooding situation would be for these mansions when a hurricane hits.
Mile 87. Tropical trail is really long and nice for riding. It is, however, protected from the wind due to lot’s of tree coverage so I don’t get a huge tailwind effect as I come south. Tropical becomes Riverside Drive as you approach Melbourne and the road opens up a bit and the tail wind starts kicking in. The whole ride I’ve kept my wattage around 175, which is a pace I could sustain indefinitely so long as I kept eating and drinking without a lot of fatigue. Going north into the headwind that meant about 18 miles and hour. Now that I’m going with a tailwind, it means 22mph, which feels like flying after the headwind crawl.
I stop at the 7-11 on A1A in Melbourne Beach for the final rest stop of the ride at mile 91. I’m feeling quite strong and not at all fatigued. I’ve drank 5 bottles of water so far and my hydration feels good. The sun is now well up and the day is warming into the low 70’s. Sky is intensely blue. Absolutely perfect cycling weather. Oh, I also have a tailwind that is picking up in speed. Things are great. At the 7-11 I purchase a bottle of water to fill up my bottles, a can of coke and my favorite on long rides: a bag of pretzels. Especially after drinking the coke, I no longer really have the stomach to eat a sweet cliffbar. But I do want carbs and salt. Pretzels, if they are nothing else, are carbs and salt. Having a handful of pretzels after drinking a can of coke when you’re on an epic bike ride is one of life’s great pleasures and to my non-endurance sport readers that probably sounds absurd. To the ones who’ve run marathons or biked brevets, you are likely nodding your heads in agreement.
I keep half the bag of pretzels in my back jersey pocket in reserve for the last leg and make my way south A1A towards home. The tail wind is nice and I’m still holding an easy 180 watts and going about 23mph.
Mile 101. I am now about an hour from home. I finish the rest of my pretzels and drink water bottle number 6. My legs have no fatigue in them thanks to the easy 175 watt pace I’ve kept up. As I said before, last time I did 200k I finished in 7:02. My goal this time was to finish sub 7:00. To do that, I needed to pick up the pace slightly this last hour. Thanks to my hydration, nutrition, and pacing I was able to do so. The last hour or so I averaged roughly 225 watts. This was a significant upping of the pace and effort but I was ready for it and thanks to the tail wind I was flying at about 25mph.
I passed the point just south of the Sebastian Inlet where I really cracked last time I did this and remarked mentally about how much stronger I felt at this same spot on the same route. The hydration plan worked, that’s for sure.
As I got back to the Vero Beach area I finished my last bottle, number 7. I tackled the two bridge climbs (felt great pushing 350+ watts up them) and the crazy beachside traffic. When the Garmin read 125 miles I was ecstatic because I hit the 200k mark and had lot’s left in my legs if I had needed it. I pulled into my driveway at 10:45am. My moving time was 6:49 for almost 127 miles. A bit below 19mph but for a solo brevet that isn’t bad at all, and in all honestly I had enough left in my legs that I probably could have gone a tad harder and finish maybe 5 minutes faster, but all told I was happen to have beaten my previous go at this route by almost 15 minutes.
All in all a very epic ride for me. I said before the ride that to progress you have to do something outside your comfort zone, you have to scare yourself from time to time. You have to start something without being 100% sure you can finish it. While I had finished this route before, the first go at it wasn’t easy and as I said, I cracked with 20 miles to go and slogged my dehydrated body to the finish. I thought I had a better plan this time, and I definitely did, but I was definitely scared of cracking again. I’m stoked that I not only didn’t crack, but I kinda crushed it. When I was finished, I was tired and hungry sure, but I wasn’t on ‘empty.’ I felt like I honestly could have gone another hour (or two) if I had to and could have made another Coca Cola and pretzel stop.
I’m not sure what’s next. David Goggins says that when we feel we are at our breaking point, pushing our limits, we are only actually at about 40% of what our bodies are capable of. I don’t know that I want to confirm that theory by trying a 275 mile bike ride anytime soon, but my friend Westy jokingly asked me if I was going to do 200.
For the first time in my life, the idea of doing a 200 mile bike ride didn’t seem like an unrealistic joke: it sounded like an inevitability.
This was a great year for me personally. Considering how much bad stuff happened worldwide I actually feel a little bad declaring that. Keeping this dialed into fitness and nutrition topics lets discuss 2016.
Without geeking out too hard in stats, I did about 7,500 miles on the bike. My year with the highest volume was 2012 where I did a bit over 11,000. Oddly enough, I feel fitter than I was then by a mile and a lot less burned out at the same time. 11,000 came with some significant sacrifices: you can’t wake up at 4am four times per week to ride for 2 hours before a full day of work and ever go to dinner with friends or really have a social life at all. While I am still definitely a bit of a hermit, in 2012 I was significantly moreso.
Despite having a lot less volume than in 2012 I hit my highest levels of fitness ever by training a bit smarter. This was the first full year I had a power meter on my bike. Though I didn’t follow any specific training regimen, having the accountability of a power meter made a huge difference. It simply forced me to work harder than I would have on each individual ride than I would have riding blind. Working harder with less miles is going to get you better gains than easier longer rides, assuming you have a decent base fitness.
I managed to get a decent base fitness, despite riding 3 hours less on average during the week than I did in 2012 by riding longer rides on the weekends. In 2012 I did only two rides of 100 miles distance. In 2016 I did 13 rides of over 100 miles in length. Again, I compensated for less total miles by making the miles I did higher quality. So during the week I rode harder and faster than in 2012, and on the weekends I rode longer than 2012. I rode my all time longest ride of 112 miles and then pushed past that the next month doing 126. These 5 and 6 hours rides pushed my base endurance higher as my body adapted to doing them. It allowed me to do my “short” 60 mile Saturday rides at a much higher speed. Because if I can hold 200 watts for 5 hours, I can do more than that for 3. The end result of training more efficiently thanks to a power meter is that I gained a lot more from a lot less training. I can end 2016 saying in full honesty I’ve never been fitter. The scary thought is, how fast could I be with a tailored, scientific race training plan? If I dedicated my weekday rides to high intensity interval training? Though I don’t plan to race competitively in the near future, and I certainly and not going to train high intensity intervals unless I need to train for races, its comforting to know that I haven’t hit the ceiling of my potential.
So cycling was great in 2016. I rode the longest ride of my life and climbed the biggest mountains at the highest altitudes and took some sweet KOMs in the meanwhile. Running, however, wasn’t what I had hoped. I set the goal for myself in January to run a marathon in 2016. Well, I didn’t. Though I had new running shoes and was progressing well, I hit a bit of an obstacle: it gets super hot in Florida. I know thats a shitty excuse, because lots of people train for and run marathons in Florida. But the truth of the matter is I sweat a lot. When I run, sweat pours off of me, even in cooler weather. I ran a 10k run in weather that was low 70’s (cool by Florida standards) and couldn’t see by the end because the sweat was running down my face into my eyes, stinging me to blindness from the salt. And that was wearing a halo headband. This headband, designed to keep heavy sweaters from having sweat in their eyes was insufficient.
The result was I had to reassess my goals and what it would take to pursue them. Running, for me, was intolerable between the months of April and November. If I planned to run a marathon by December you can see the problem this posed. This was a big problem, but perhaps I could have surmounted it. The bigger problem was that running was affecting my cycling in a negative way. If I ran a fast 10k on Monday, my legs didn’t feel 100% even by Wednesday and the power I was able to produce on the bike was a lot less. When I cut running out of my training, my average wattage on the bike went up by 5% because my legs were no longer constantly fatigued and battered. So as much as I wanted to check the marathon box off my to-do list, it was asking too much. So I was forced to admit defeat and back off of the goal.
Lastly, I want to touch on nutrition. This was my first full year as a vegetarian and almost entirely plant based. I reduced cheese to a minimum and reduced my egg consumption to about 5 for the whole year. Its fair to ask if I was that close to being a “perfect” vegan why not cut out the 5 eggs and the hand of meals I ate with cheese in them throughout the year? I don’t have a great answer. I know that ethically cheese and eggs are morally wrong, and its probable that I will eventually give up both. But for now, I say this as a total hypocrite, that it makes me life better to have a bit of cheese on something once every other month or to eat a cookie my mom baked that was made with eggs. I understand that making my life better while causing cruelty to others is pretty fucking awful, but its a journey.
So aside from my hypocrisy regarding some cheese and eggs, I’ve felt great nutritionally. I eat a ton of fruit, especially blueberries and bananas, and my staple dinner 3 or 4 times per week is rice, beans, and tomatoes. I don’t feel held back in any way, I’m able to do all the things I want athletically and I do not want for anything nutritionally and I don’t see anything that I am deprived or deficient in. In 2017 I plan to continue down this path. One thing I would genuinely like to eliminate is alcohol, though I hardly drink anyway. I’ll probably do a separate blog about alcohol later though.
So all in all from a fitness and diet perspective a great year. Solid training, epic rides, and lots of calories eaten. I hope I can say the same thing for 2017 when it’s wrapped up.