Both of my fall Ironman races are quickly approaching. Today I was scheduled to complete a long ride. Johnny designs my training sessions by time instead of miles and today was a 5-hour ride. Based on our typical pace, we cover 80 miles in 5 hours, so an 80-mile route.

The goal is to begin shortly before sunrise so that we can ride as long as possible before the heat kicks in and we begin roasting on our bikes. We had a four-person crew this morning. Cruz and I plus Norm and Portia who was going for her personal best distance. Portia’s longest road session was about 55 miles. Eighty miles is a huge jump in distance so I expected 80 to be a difficult challenge for her. But, challenging ourselves is what we do!

As we proceeded along our normal route, one of the main roads was unpaved so we had to take a detour. As a result of the detour, our first rest stop was around mile 28 instead of mile 22. While refreshing, we ran into several other cycling groups, many familiar faces. The temperatures are falling and people are beginning to ride again. We ate, refilled our hydration, and took silly photos.

The middle distance

One rider from another group decided to join us so that he could get a few extra miles. Now we were five with 9 miles remaining until we reached the halfway point (Danbury, TX). Thus far, the wind was mostly at our backs or non-existent which made for a faster pace. When I was in the front pulling, I tried to keep our speed below 18 MPH. I knew that Norm wasn’t interested in being a speed demon and Portia was shooting for a personal distance record and I didn’t want her to overexert herself early in the ride. The suffering will come…I wanted to delay it as long as possible.

I felt surprisingly strong the entire first half of the ride probably because I used a lot of the time to focus on diaphragmatic breathing and maintaining my power output below 199 watts. These two things probably helped keep my leg muscles fresh for a longer period and keep my heart rate lower.

I also paid attention to my cadence and what felt most natural. As I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve noticed that my preferred cadence has increased considerably. I now like to float between 85-92 RPM. When I began riding, 70 RPM was difficult to maintain.

On the way back from Danbury, we got hit with a strong headwind and we had to push through it for about 10 miles. Interestingly At one point, I was pulling the group and Earnest decided to take the lead so I dropped back to draft off of him. Incredibly, I watched my power drop from 198W to 120W and I hadn’t slowed down at all! The benefits of drafting are real!

A personal best

After one more rest stop to pee, refill our liquids, get a snack, and put ice in my jersey, we set off for the final 30 miles home. Earnest and Norm decided they would drop back and take it slower than the three of us which was cool. As long as we all communicate and someone has a buddy, I think it’s ok if the group separates on the way back home.

Portia was very strong until about mile 60, I began seeing the struggle on her face and tried to encourage her and check on her mental state. I know that our minds can sabotage our progress if we succumb to the discomfort. I wanted her to push through the pain and embrace that monkey who was now riding her back.

Unfortunately, about mile 65, she decided that she’d had enough for the day. A recent knee injury was affecting her ability to pedal well. So we stopped and waited, hoping some rest and some stretching would be enough to get her back in the saddle and finish the last 12 miles or so.  Although she was already way beyond her longest ride, I wanted her to push through the pain and finish so that she would know that she could do more than her mind wanted her to believe. In the end, she decided to phone a friend and meet us at the finish line.

The final stretch

Once Portia was safely taken care of, Cruz and I headed for home. I was feeling great, her legs were fading on her.  Typically, one of us is feeling stronger than the other as we approach the end of a long ride. Historically, she’s been the stronger one. So, today, I was happy to take that role and pull us to the finish line. We hit it hard for about 5 miles then I noticed that she was really hurting and we slowed down to return at an easy pace.  Along the last stretch, we saw Norm and Earnest resting at a gas station, so we knew they were ok.  Everyone that started was ok.

Overall, this was a great ride for me. I managed my power very well, stayed hydrated, and took sufficient calories throughout the ride. I refreshed my shammy cream at one of the rest stops and realized that I should do that on every ride. Unnecessary friction in my nether regions is to be avoided whenever possible.

After we all met at the cars, Cruz, Portia, and I went to get some lunch. Everyone felt relieved that we were done.