On Saturday, June 23rd I completed my first triple century. For those of you who don’t know what that’s about – it’s a 300 mile, one-day bike race. Yeah, I know – why would anyone even want to do that?
After I moved to California in 2010 and started road biking with more seriousness than I ever had while living in Chicago, I started to think about what I might try and achieve while on the bike. I’ll tell you about the goals in a minute. But I realized that if I was to achieve these goals, I was going to have to let something go. And that something was my car.
As long as I had a car, I would find an excuse not to ride. I would have a fall-back vehicle so I could sleep-in and then drive to work. But if the car didn’t exist – I would have to climb on my bike every morning and ride to work. And since I live in Redondo Beach, that means I would have to ride my bike regardless of whether it was sunny or just partly sunny. (Get it? That’s a Southern California joke).
Last year I was up at Mammoth Lakes with my friend Rob. We were there to do the High Sierra Century: a ride I had never done before. Rob told me it was spectacularly beautiful and I shouldn’t miss it. We crashed at the ski-condo of his friend Victor Cooper who I later learned is somewhat of an endurance cycling legend. A year ealier Victor completed a ride called the Furnace Creek 508 and he wrote a beautiful blog article about it. To give you an idea of how gruelling this race is, it’s 508 miles in length and involves 36,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s equivalent to four typical mountain stages of the Tour de France ridden back-to-back. Yep, that’s monstrous. After reading Victor’s experiences with the 508 – I decided this is something I had to experience first hand. I was going to work at building myself up to do the 508 in 2013.
And this is what takes me back to where we started. My 300-mile bike ride this past Saturday. Up until Saturday, my longest bike ride was 200 miles. I had completed 3 double-centuries over the past few months but this was my first triple. I called my new friend and cycling mentor, Victor Cooper and asked him for some advice since I was getting a little nervous. I knew I would be on the bike for over 20 hours and that it would also involve climbing over 12,000 vertical feet. The climbing didn’t intimidate me as much as what it would be like to spend 20 hours in the saddle. Vic’s advice was don’t ride alone. Work in a team and you’ll have a higher likelihood of completing the race in qualifying time.
Brilliant advice! I ride alone to-and-from work every day. My ride to work is 24 miles and my ride home is only 6 miles. Yes – I take the amazingly scenic route around the Palos Verdes Peninsula every day! I also understand how the mind can wander and how trying to maintain a fast pace can falter when there isn’t anyone around to help motivate you. Since Vic was recovering from knee surgery, he hooked me up with a friend of his that was also doing the triple century. Vic’s friend Teresa Beck has done countless double centuries and a handful of triples. This time she was doing the triple on the back of a tandem piloted by another cycling phenom – Roland Hoffman. Now this guy has a serious need-for-speed.
For any of you who know about tandem bikes, these babies can go really fast. You have two wheels and 4 legs. And in the case of Teresa and Roland – not just 4 legs, but 4 colossal legs. I’m not sure if I was blessed or cursed to have Victor hook me up with these two – but one thing is for sure, my first 40 miles were at an average speed of nearly 20 mph. Had I been alone, I would probably have averaged about 15.5. That means after my first 2 hours, I was 9 miles further down the road by the time I had to pull-back from these two Clydesdales than I would have been had I been alone.
It’s not easy sticking with a strong tandem team, so I opted to ease-up and not burn out. And that’s where things eroded. Riding alone means no competition. No sharing the work. No drafting – and no pulling. It was just me, the road, the hills and the wind. I went back to my usual 15.5 mph average. I was losing ground. People starting catching up and passing me.
It wasn’t until I reached mile 148 that I met up with someone who seemed to ride at a pace that I would be comfortable with. We agreed to take turns “pulling” and this pushed the pace back up to about 17.5 mph. Another rider joined us at mile 190 and we stuck together for the final 110 miles with a pace that often reached 25 mph. That’s the benefit you get when riding with more and stronger riders. Each of us helps pull the other person up.
After I completed my 300 miles I drove the weary 35 miles back from Malibu to my home in Redondo Beach. I thought about the previous 24 hours on the bike and what it meant. Here’s what I came away with:
- To achieve something impossible, you will have a greater chance of success if you don’t do it alone.
- A group of people, working together can achieve things far greater than any one person can do alone.
- It takes discipline and constant focus to achieve a difficult goal. When the mind wanders, you lose focus on your goal.
In practical terms. When not on the bike but sitting at your office, this means turning off the things that distract you. Get your team of people together and recognize that each of you is required to get the job done and that you all rely on each other. Carry your weight, but also know when someone else should take the lead. Share. Rejoice in completing the job and recognize everyone’s contribution.
What’s my next big ride? It’s July 14th in a town called Markleeville, CA. Just west of Lake Tahoe. While this ride is a mere 129 miles, it does have 15,000 feet of climbing over 5 awesome mountain passes. It goes by the charming and innocent moniker of Death Ride. Do you think I’ll be doing it alone? With about 3,500 people registered, I don’t think so.
Do you have any great stories? Please share them. I’d love to hear about your experiences going for goals that you never thought possible. Even if you failed in the end, let’s all learn from your experience.
Hopefully your stories don’t involve saddle sores, strained muscles and sunburns. If they do – please note how I refrained from mentioning them in this article. Oops, I guess I didn’t.