Monday, August 5, 2013

2013 Tour of the Litchfield Hills Century Ride

I hit three mileage milestones on my ElliptiGO yesterday. I reached the 1000 miles completed mark somewhere along the 104 mile course of The Tour of the Litchfield Hills century ride (first century)  and that ride helped me get my first 200+ mile week. Those are three pretty good achievements for the first six weeks that I have ridden my ElliptiGO. The best news is that I am feeling great and having fun! It is hard to remember that 7 weeks ago, I was frustrated and struggling to finish a 5k race as my hip just wasn't letting me run pain-free. I had so much confidence that my hip would hold up in this difficult century ride. I don't have that confidence or the desire to do next weeks 7 mile Falmouth Road Race. The ElliptiGO is a game changer for me.

Monday: 43 miles to Mont Vernon and back
Tuesday: 31 miles
Wednesday: 0 miles
Thursday: 19 miles
Friday: 8 miles
Saturday: 0 miles
Sunday: 104 miles "Tour of the Litchfield Hills"

total weekly mileage 205 miles
total ElliptiGO miles: 1052 miles (6 weeks)

I found out about the Tour of the Litchfield Hills century last week and decided to give it a go. The hardest decision was to figure out how to get to the start in western Connecticut by 7:00 am. I finally decided to get a hotel room, something I never do for races. I was thinking about driving up and sleeping in my car before the start like I used to do in the 1980s when I raced triathlons throughout New England, but I didn't feel that young or pliable any more.

I checked into the Quality Inn and Suites in Torrington, CT a couple miles from the start and got myself ready for a quiet nights sleep and an early morning. That was not to be. At 11 pm it sounded like all the furniture was being rearranged in the room above me and then that turned into an hour long Jerry Springer style argument complete with screaming and swearing as one person was complaining about the other's cheating and on and on it went. When that died down, I thought I was good to go, but the the room next door started playing loud ghetto style music and more and more people entered that room yelling and partying above the sounds of the music which was pulsing through my walls. I called the front desk four times between 2 and 4 am, but they did not listen to the manager or tone it down. I finally gave up and just lay there waiting for the morning.

I was told by the front desk clerk in the morning that there was a large wedding party taking over a lot of the hotel and that there were more than one room with loud music blaring throughout the night. At one point I heard them going to the pool and talking about skinny dipping while they were there. I was staying hunkered down in my room. These were fairly large and obnoxious people and their are some things I just don't want to see. Just when I was hoping that things might die down around five in the morning, there were new sounds coming from the room next door with the blaring music. While it may have been a wedding party, from the sounds of it more than two people were in the act of getting married in that room. Finally, 5:30 rolled around so that I could start getting out of that room and escape the thumping and pounding noises next door.

I started at the back of the pack, but I think I may have finished in the top third.
I got myself to the start of the Tour. A few curious cyclists asked questions about my ElliiptiGO, but others just sort of ignored it and me. I wasn't sure how my speed would compare to the cyclists so I started at the back of the 100 mile pack. Other shorter distance rides would start later in the morning. Off we went and I watched the wall of bicycles ahead of me head out of town. I was a little nervous that I would be at the back of the pack all day, however I started passing people right away as we headed up out of town and kept heading up and up and up. I knew it was going to be a hilly 100 miles. The course (map here) said there would be 8137 feet of climbing, but I wasn't sure what that would look like. It looked like lots of monster hills. Miles went by rather slowly at first and by 6 miles, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. Most cyclists were ignoring me at this point. I am sure I stood out like a sore thumb, but I was passing many and as people sorted themselves out, I would start see-sawing back and forth with some of the same cyclists. I found it hard to pace with them and couldn't catch on to the drafts or small groups of riders. I noticed that I was slower on the downhills (lots of wind resistance when standing up) and on the steeper uphills. I did do the best on the smaller hills when I could build up a good head of steam.

Finally I hit 20 miles and then the day got easier. I could do the math and I was 1/5 of the way done. It was easy to chunk the ride into smaller bits. 25 miles was 1/4 done, 33 miles was 1/3 done. and 50 miles came soon enough and then it was half over and I had no doubts I could finish the thing. They had rest stops along the way, but I really don't like resting and wanted to keep an elapsed time on my computer. At the first stop at 26 miles the line to the bathroom was quite long so I skipped it and had a whole pack of Clif Shot Blocks and a banana. I didn't eat a breakfast in the morning except for a banana and I hadn't had much water yet, so I gulped a ton of water, refilled, walked around a bit and got moving again.

I was trying to stay around 15 mph, but my Garmin just does time, speed, and distance, so I was guessing a bit, plus I was slower on the many uphills and faster on the downhills. In fact I was very fast on some of the downhills and tentatively braked a bit. The brakes on the ElliptiGO are really good, but at a higher speed and with the weight of the thing, I realized that it would take a while to stop on some of the descents. Fortunately there were warnings about upcoming corners.

The weather was perfect, if not a bit cool in the morning and the course was absolutely breathtaking. The vistas and views along the way were gorgeous and varied. The nice thing about the ElliptiGO is that you are standing up and can see all around you easily unlike when you are on a bike. The greens of the forests and farms matched up with the blue sky and puffy white clouds. There were tons of wetlands and rivers, even a covered bridge to ride under, and boulders sometimes the size of garages nestled along the way.

At 47 miles I hit the next rest stop and finally got to use a porta-john as there was only a five minute wait. I had two GU gel packs and some type of sweet./salty bar that took forever to get down while I was riding, filled up my water bottle and skedaddled out of there. Now that the distances between riders was getting greater, I wanted to get ahead of more cyclists and hope to follow them when they passed so I didn't take a wrong turn. The course however was well marked with arrow signs to keep you on the right roads at intersections. Although, I had packed some gels and jelly beans (my energy source during Ironman distance triathlons in the 1980s when there was no such things as "energy bar" I never tried eating them on the course. There were too many up and downhills to get comfortable taking one hand off the bars and try to open up a package and eat. That is something I will have to practice. I did drink water along the way.

The third rest stop was at 66 miles and I hit the rest room and had some more Clif Shot blocks and heading out as quickly as I could having spent a little more than 5 minutes at each rest stop. Other cyclists were now taking notice of me and I got some nice comments and encouragement. At about 80 miles a pair of cyclists I had seen a few times along the course caught up and went by. They were amazed I was going the full 100 miles and the first guy said, "Wow, you are such a strong person." The other guy then said that I was his hero for the day. That was nice! I blew past the 82 mile rest stop without stopping as I felt strong and there was only about 20 miles left. What could go wrong? I was doing real good, although the hills were slowing me down a bit more as the day progressed. I found it easier to ride fast when I was chasing someone in the distance. However when I was the only rider in sight, I found it hard to reach for the competitive juices to power my strides . A grey cloud spat out a few drops of rain, but that ended quickly. Although I had a course map in my pocket I never really studied it or took it out during the day. I knew the ride ended with downhills, but all of a sudden it kept going up. Around every corner, I expected to see I had reached the top of something, but instead found another climb. My energy was getting sapped as I neared 90 miles and finally starting to feel a bit lightheaded, I stopped and pulled out my final pack of Clif Shot Blocks. I gulped them down and swallowed the last remnants of my water. I got going and within a minute found a table with a thermos of ice cold water and some plastic cups. Oh, that tasted good! That was pretty much the end of the climbing, too. I felt better within a couple of miles and started hammering the downhills (finally) to get to the finish.
I ended up going 104 miles in a total time of 7:43. I had hit 100 miles in 7:28 and change. I did stop for about 15-20 minutes total which when subtracted from my time would get me close to 7 hours. In my most optimistic thinking, I was hoping to go under 7 hours for 100 miles, but that is before what I realized 8000 feet of climbing looked like. I will need a flatter course to break the 7 hour barrier.

At the finish, I picked up my shirt, answered lots of questions, had some post race pizza and ziti, but left quickly due to a sudden rain storm. I had about 4 people take pictures of my ElliptitGO so I hope it made a positive impression. The most frequent questions were, "Did you do the whole 100 miles?" and "Don't you get tired of standing?" I just tell them, I am the only rider is butt isn't hurting at this point!

photo by Ken Hawking at the end of the ride.
I may have gone 100 miles, but I am still largely out of shape!
The course, race organization, and volunteers were excellent at this event. I was thrilled to participate and found just a beautiful course and event that would be well worth doing again. If you are looking for a challenging century to do, I would recommend this event highly. Just don't go to the hotel I stayed at beforehand. Even better, try it on an ElliptiGO! It can be done on just six weeks of training,

Now it is on to speed training. I have a 5 mile ElliptiGO race in less than 3 weeks.

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