Training for my first century

It only took 30 miles but we found the northern end of the Pinellas Trail. Only 40 more miles to go!

It only took 30 miles but we found the northern end of the Pinellas Trail. Only 40 more miles to go!

Note: At the beginning of the year I set three athletic goals for myself: to qualify for Boston, to break six hours in the half-ironman and to ride a century.  I’ve accomplished one of those goals and written about the other.  Here’s my thoughts on the third.

I’ve learned a lot about myself ever since I started workin’ on my fitness, and one of the most important things is that for me, the key to consistency with a particular activity is to find something about it that I love, and then hang on to that something for all I can.  I’ve heard people talk about me as if I have some sort of eternal wellspring of discipline, which, as much as I hate to disabuse anyone of that notion, isn’t actually all that true.  In my view, discipline is having the fortitude to keep doing something even though you’d rather do anything else.  On the contrary, I generally enjoy my training.  To me, it’s basically like getting to play.  I’m anything but disciplined. I’m a total fuckin’ hedonist.

Here’s the other thing I’ve learned, which is that when I love something, I want to do it a lot, and when I do it a lot, I tend to get better at it.  In the context of triathlon – which, I will be honest, occupies a lot of my mental real estate these days – I’ve found a direct correlation between my love of a particular discipline and my abilities in said discipline.  I’m a strong runner in large part because I love to run.  Likewise swimming – as I’ve grown to love swimming, I’ve found that I’ve become a better swimmer.

But the bike?  Eh…that hasn’t been quite so straight-forward.

I wrote a couple of years ago about how challenging I found the experience of learning to use clipless pedals, to the point that I would actually have nightmares about cycling the night before I was scheduled to ride.  And then even once I got clipped in, the act of cycling never felt particularly comfortable to me because I was either stressing about trying to keep up with Brian (who is not only a strong cyclist but also a somewhat aggressive one) or I was losing my mind over all of the various obstacles that presented themselves, everything from suicidal squirrels to dogs on retractable leashes to all of the jerks who think it’s okay to text while riding their bikes. And this was without even adding cars into the equation!

So my point is that cycling was kind of a big source of anxiety for me for a while.  There was one solution that was pretty simple, which would have been to stop riding.  But there was a complicating factor, which is that I loved to race on my bike.  If you put me in a race situation with my bike, all the anxiety about clipping in and clipping out and avoiding squirrels and navigating traffic – that all fell away.  The part of my brain that is a raging competitive beast would take over the controls, and I’d become, like, this fearless machine.  It’s a glorious feeling, which probably explains why I like racing so much.

But because I wasn’t actually training on my bike as much as I should have, I’d find myself in this frustrating situation where I would get passed by women who I’d outswam, and then I’d have to go run them down after we got on the bike.  Plus, my lack of bike fitness was affecting my ability to run, and I knew – and still know, in fact – that I could produce faster run splits.  (Also, I knew that if I was ever going to do an Ironman – and I hope to, at Louisville in 2016 – I was going to have to deal with this.)

Seventy miles of road grime. Awww yeah.

Seventy miles of road grime. Awww yeah.

So I decided I was going to deal with this by basically throwing myself face-first into the volcano. I was going to train for a century ride.

My thinking was that by setting myself up with this goal, I would have to train a lot for it, and that over the course of training for it, I would eventually find that little shining nugget of love that I could hang on to with all my might.  After all, it’s not like I started out loving running or swimming.  On the contrary, I found both sports very difficult and painful – and in the case of swimming, downright terrifying – at first, and it was only through time, persistence and dedication that I found myself falling in deep, silly love with each of them.  I hoped that would be the case with cycling.

I started out by deciding to prioritize cycling in this half-Ironman training.  If I had to drop a workout or two each week, it would be a run or a swim, but rarely a bike ride.  And if that meant riding on the indoor trainer until 9 p.m. or getting up at 5 a.m. so I could squeeze in an hour ride, so be it.  One of the key principles of becoming a better cycling is TITS – Time In The Saddle. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)  That’s what I’ve been doing – spending lots and lots of time in the saddle.

And I have the various and sundry issues to prove it, everything from ingrown hairs to saddle sores to once, appallingly, a UTI.  I’ve found that the combination of Coeur Sports‘ seamless tri shorts + a Cobb saddle with a cutout right where my lady junk goes has really helped alleviate those issues.  (BTW I don’t fangirl often for brands but I make an exception for Coeur Sports.  My love for that company and their products is deserving of its own post, but srsly, I have a lot of feelings for Coeur Sports.  A LOT.)

I also went out for a couple of group rides with my teammates, but I’m not going to lie to you, I still find this hard as hell.  I’m the kind of person who, when driving on the highway, feels comfortable as long as I can have at least three car lengths between me and the driver ahead of me.  Riding a bike right behind someone else is just…ugh, I feel like vomiting just thinking about it.  Maybe in another year or so, I’ll be okay with it, but for now, I need my space.

Ironically, though, it was on a group ride that I finally found that aforementioned nugget of love.  Brian and I joined up with Park, who manages our team, and Tom, who is the sponsor of our team, for a ride in Clermont, which is about an hour and a half away and is known as a Mecca of sorts for triathletes and cyclists.  (It’s one of the few places in Florida with actual hills.)  We did a 38-mile loop that included some of the toughest climbs I’ve ever encountered, and we were riding on rural roads that were basically taken over by cyclists.

I still remember the exact moment where it all clicked for me.  We had just climbed up one of the smaller hills and we were descending down a curvy road that passed through fields and forests.  I let go of my brakes, stood up on my pedals and let myself be pulled down the hill by gravity, leaning into the curves and feeling as smooth and elegant as a ballet dancer, or perhaps like a bird. It was magnificent. It was like, So this is what everyone loves about cycling.  I was smitten.

Since then I’ve found it a lot easier to go out on my bike, because instead of death-gripping my way through the miles, I actually relax and enjoy myself, because I trust myself to be able to handle my bike.  That confidence is why I was able to go downhill riding earlier this month in Park City, which is a thing that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.

What also would have been unthinkable was the ride Brian and I did this past weekend. It was my longest ever, 70 miles through Pinellas County.  During that ride, we spent some time on city streets riding with traffic, we faced busy intersections, and a couple of times I had to stop quickly to deal with drivers who had no intention of stopping for me. Never once, though, did I feel out of control or unsafe. I just made an effort to be as predictable as possible, to hold a steady line at all times and to ride defensively.  The most difficult thing came towards the end, when my body was tied up in knots of WTF ARE YOU MAKING US DO RIGHT NOW AND WHY WON’T YOU LET US STOP?!  Other than that, it was fine.  I just paced myself, kept a steady flow of Tailwind and water going into my body, and tried to make the most efficient use of my gears.

I’m signed up to do an official century ride next month, and my goal is to get at least an 80-mile ride in before tackling that distance.  I’m confident that it will be hard but totally doable. Best of all, I fully expect to enjoy myself, which is the most important thing, right?  Right.

—–

I have a small list of resources that have been really useful in helping me figure out how to ride, because while putting in the TITS was the most important thing I could do, I’m also the kind of person who intellectualizes the shit out of everything.  I’ve found the following books and websites to be extremely helpful with this whole process of turning me into the kind of woman who feels no shame about clicking around in cycling shoes while clad entirely in skin-tight Lycra.

The Big Book of Cycling for Beginners – Full disclosure: Rodale sent me a copy of this for free last year. And because I suck as a blogger, I’m only just now getting around to mentioning it.  Anyways, this book is for absolute beginners and when I read it, I wasn’t that much of a beginner, as I had already learned how to clip in and out. What I did find to be extremely helpful was reading about the basic physics of cycling, which went a very long way towards helping me trust my bike not to fail me when I did things like descend a hill or take a sharp turn.  I really recommend this for someone who is just getting into cycling, especially if the last bike you rode had streamers coming from the handlebars.

Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling by Selene Yeager – This is another book that’s really great for beginners, plus it contains a couple of basic training plans for 40K time trails and century rides.  (I’ve loosely incorporated the century-ride training plan into my HIM training.)  What I like best about this, though, is that it’s written by Selene Yeager, who is perhaps better known as Bicycling magazine’s Fit Chick.  She’s knowledgeable, smart and a total badass, and she has a breezy writing style that feels more like a conversation with a friend and less like an instruction manual.  I’m a big fan of her writing, so of course I have to recommend this book for anyone getting into the sport.

Saddle, Sore by Molly Hurford – This book really helped me get a handle on all of the issues I was experiencing in my saddle area, which, as I mentioned, there were manifold.  Molly talks to coaches, saddle designers, gynecologists, even estheticians in her quest to put together a resource to address the specific issues faced by those of us who want to ride bikes and who also want to take good care of our holiest of holies.  And if you don’t want to shell out the whopping $6 for the book  – which, btw, I think you should because c’mon, $6 – her site is still a treasure trove of good information.

Currently I’m reading Downhill: The Life Story of a Gravity Goddess by Marla Streb and have plans to read Rusch to Glory by Rebecca Rusch, who is also known as the Queen of Pain because she dominates at mountain bike endurance races that are borderline psychotic (and thus totally appealing to me).  And every day I scope out Total Women’s Cycling, both for practical information and for inspiration.  Plus I also love reading posts about cycling from Sam at Fit is a Feminist Issue, who has been one of my biggest cheerleaders in my journey to shape myself into a cyclist.

If you have any suggestions for good cycling websites, movies or books, leave them in the comments below!

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27 responses to “Training for my first century

  1. This is great because I’m training for MY first century (Sept 20th) and I was nodding furiously throughout this entire post. I’ve finally conquered clipless riding (not as bad as I expected), I have the terror of riding in a pack (in fact, I won’t, I want lots of space in front of me). My lady parts are numb and beaten (can we talk saddles?) and I even blogged a review recently of the same Selene Yeager book (good, isn’t it, not patronizing at all).

    I’m up to 2 x 75 mile rides and I’m going to do an 80 and an 85 and then just hang in there and try not to die on the day.

    One excellent book that I think you’d love is ‘The Breakaway’ by Nicole Cooke, who is a TOP British pro cyclist (‘lympics, multi-WC etc). It’s full of feminist ranting but also full of tactical info, how she tactically won races etc and NOT being tactical, I found it fascinating. Give it a try!

    I really hope your century goes well too.

    (ps…I miss running so much)

    • Our centuries are the same day! Exciting! I’ll keep an eye out on instagram that day to see how you do. It sounds like you’ll be more than prepared for your century with all those long rides under your belt. (Way more than I’ll be, tbh.)

      I’ve been so grateful to hear from others who have a hard time riding in packs, because it seems like it’s a basic skill that I should be able to manage and yet it freaks me out something fierce. I guess it’s because it’s one thing to trust myself but it’s another thing to trust other people.

      Thanks for the recommendation for the book! It sounds right up my alley. I love it when top female athletes get their feminist ranty-pants on. 😀

    • Thanks, Lynda! I plan to. I went for a ride with a friend/teammate the other day and it was loads of fun. A bit like being a kid again, really.

  2. Haha TITS made me laugh. I need to grow up. I’m not a cyclist (yet!) but I know what you mean about people thinking you’re some disciplined ultra-creature. Someone at work said I was the healthiest person she knew, and I genuinely mumbled something incoherent in response because I had no idea how to respond! I suppose I do have ‘discipline’ slightly in the sense that I go out and run sometimes when i dont feel like it, but it’s more from the selfish desire to have some me-time, and the knowledge that I’ll feel 100% better when I finish.

    • I totally hear you on this! Some people act like Brian and I are these masochistic maniacs because of all the stuff we do, and meanwhile we’re just like, “…but this is fun for us.” If I was miserable all the time because of training, I wouldn’t do it. Even when the actual session itself sucks, what you say about feeling better afterwards is true. I’ve yet to have a single time where I finished training and was like, “Well, wish I hadn’t have done that!”

      One of the great things about being on a racing team is that now we have a lot of friends who feel the same way and don’t act like there’s something slightly off about us.

  3. Half the Road is a great documentary about the state of women’s cycling http://halftheroad.com

    For a different kind of inspiration I love is Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy, which is a memoir of her trip from Ireland to India, alone, in 1965.

    I really loved Marla Streb’s Century Training Program: 100 Days to 100 Miles book. It’s part training plan and part personal memoir of being a cyclist and the many ways it can effect your life.

    Good luck with the century!

    • Oh how did I forget Half the Road?! I really enjoyed that documentary, as well as Kathryn Bertine’s collection of essays about life as a female pro cyclist. Huge oversight on my part.

      Thanks for the other suggestions! I’ll keep my eyes out for both books.

    • I get emails from them all the time but haven’t purchased any yet. I did just buy a pair of Pearl Izumi cycling shorts – because all I had were the lightly padded tri shorts – so once I’m back in the market for a new pair of cycling shorts (perhaps bib shorts? Do you wear those at all?) I’ll check out Rapha.

      • Since you mentioned lightly padded tri shorts, it made me wonder what people do for the half and full Ironman in terms of shorts. Are there good tri shorts that make things tolerable for the longer time in the saddle, do people change into bike shorts, etc.? I’ve gotten sore enough in my tri shorts just doing the Olympic distance and wonder how I’d handle a longer distance. After reading this post, I suppose looking into saddles could be something to consider too.

      • When I did my half I just wore tri shorts the whole time. I know that with full IMs, they have a whole changing area and so many people will often change into straight-up bike shorts in T1, and then change into running gear in T2. I’ll probably do that when it’s my time to do a full IM.

        I will say that I think the saddle and the fit of your bike plays a bigger role in protecting your crotch than the actual padding in the shorts themselves. My bike shop has this thing where you can demo a saddle for a week or so to see how you like it, and you can change them out until you find one that works for you. I think most decent bike shops would have a similar philosophy. Either way, it’s worth it to get a saddle that works for your particular physiology.

  4. Love it! Keep hoping I’ll get to visit Florida some time with my bike so we can go riding together. I’ll give you lots of room. Cheers!

    • Thanks, Sam! I can do okay riding side-by-side, it’s just following right behind someone that gives me the willies. Maybe if I had a road bike and not a TT bike I’d feel differently? Who knows.

    • I’m glad to hear that! I remember getting so frustrated with myself because I’d see all of these people of all ages and fitness levels riding bikes like it was NBD and wondering what my issue was. Turns out I just needed to give myself some time and be patient with myself.

  5. Aw yeaah! Have fun! My favorite century is in Door County, WI (https://www.doorcountycentury.com/). It’s scenic, people are super nice, and the food is amazing. Add in low traffic rolling country roads, and I’m sold. My friend bailed on me last minute, so I ended up just riding with random groups and making paceline friends there. It’s awesome to be able to ride fast in a draft.
    I’ve moved away from road riding since I moved to Colorado because it’s windy and hot and I haven’t found a group to ride with that I love yet, but the mountain bike has become my best friend. I do miss road biking.
    I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

    • That looks like such a fun ride! And that post-race food looks so yum (plus free Fat Tire! SOLD.) I see posts/photos/videos of people riding on low-traffic roads all the time and I get so jealous because it looks like so much fun.

      Mountain biking in Colorado sounds like a total dream come true. Hopefully you’ll find a group for riding, and then you can have the best of both worlds!

  6. THANK YOU for the book recommendations! And I’m excited for the century report. 🙂 You’ll do great!

  7. This is making me want to try biking even more. I would start with a commuter though. The idea of being able to get into Boston (and just around town) without driving is one of the main sources of appeal. There are so many bike paths around here. Also yes, Massachusetts winters do suck. I can’t handle them either really, and I’ve lived here my whole life, so I have no excuses.

    • Oh man, I tried SO HARD to make Massachusetts winters work but after three of them, I made like the NOPE NOPE NOPE octopus and ran to Florida. Those winters are no joke, and the idea of riding a bike in them, even when all bundled up, is ultra-scary to me. But maybe during the spring/fall/summer it wouldn’t be so bad?

      • The last time I lived in Boston I *did* own a bike, a rusty commuter off Craigslist, and with the right gloves and neck warmer you can make it work through late fall – but it takes a very hardy species of person to bike in winter.

  8. I haven’t any expert advice to share – quite the inverse – but thank you for the book recommendations and good luck!! Getting more comfortable on the bike is one of my lifetime resolutions. It has kind of an open end-date because I don’t currently have a bike…

    • You’ve got plenty of time for that though! Right now you’ve got more pressing matters to deal with in the form of that precious little dude.

  9. You will be fine for your first Century. I don’t know if you use it, but depending on where you are riding, you might want to bring some Chamois butter. I only really use it when I’m riding over 80 miles, or so and you might not need it, but it’s good to have just in case…

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