Last year I had determined that I not only wanted to do a season of triathlons, but I wanted to give back in some way as well. For me this lead to me raising money and signing up to ride in the Atlanta Tour De Cure event to raise money for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) as I personally suffer from diabetes. Initially I had decided to shoot for the 100 mile distance but instead I opted for the 37 mile distance after allot of soul searching and reflection on my current training and time in the saddle. While I was expecting a fun ride and maybe a bit of a challenge and some fun afterwards entertainment, what I got instead was a riding experience I will never forget, as I ended up riding in torrential storm,borderline tornado, level weather.
I was a little nervous about this event due to numerous factors including:
- Very little experience- I had ridden quite a bit in the month leading to the event but I was still a relative noob at riding.
- New distance – 25 miles had been my previous single day distance maximum.
- Other People, lots of people – I ride solo, was not sure what to expect riding with so many people and what is considered proper etiquette.
- How many SAG stops would I need or want to take?
Of course the one factor that did not make this list was extreme weather.
My wife had decided that we would hotel it so we would not have to travel as far the morning of the event, so we had a nice relaxing evening Saturday night. We noticed the weather channel was promising rain for Sunday, the day of the event. This did not phase me too much as I have ridden in some decent rain before and the event was rain or shine. On Sunday morning I saw severe thunderstorms were reported in the eastern part of Atlanta, the opposite direction from the event location. It appeared the event was spared the predicted bad weather and it had passed us by.
I began my day with my new nutrition strategy,which basically boiled down to eating. I had some biscuits and gravy, a protein shake and a few other digestible items. I also started sipping a mixture of sports drink and water, which I continued till an hour before the event. I decided I could use the event to try out some better nutritional strategies, since it proved so unsuccessful in my first triathlon. Once at the event with an hour to go I began munching on a cliff bar and I only took occasional sips of water. With fifteen minutes before leaving I took a Rocktane and few more sips of water.
Because I was a Red Rider, a rider with diabetes, I got to start in the front and lead the other riders out. There were about five or six of us red riders on the start, all glaring red in our special Red Rider jerseys, all raring to get moving. They said the National Anthem and had some other announcements and fan fare and then we were off. My 37 mile had started. The sun was hidden behind rain clouds but it did not hide the potential heat and humidity possible for the day’s event. Rain looked plausible if not very likely. Heading out I calmed down and worked to loosen up the leg muscles and to get ready for the next couple of hours ahead. I had ridden for a couple of hours in some of training runs and knew it was about pacing.
As other riders passed they shouted “Go Red Riders” at the sight of our red jerseys. This was an understood concept that too me a bit of time to get used to. Right off the bat I realized this would be different. Riding with people proved a challenge at times as I was slow up hill and often got passed, but then had to pass on the down hills as I am a bigger guy and go down hill often much faster than most. I just tried to ride my ride and enjoy the day. A big thing I noticed was that this course’s terrain consisted of long uphills that never seemed to end. Where I ride you have some really steep climbs, but they last very briefly and are done, having steeper grades, but shorter duration. These hills seemed to never end, you just kept gradually climbing.
The first twelve miles were fairly uneventful. I just enjoyed watching the scenery, flying down a couple of hills and even drafting a little bit, taking it easier than I usually do as I had many more miles to go. There were allot of SAG, short for support and gear, stops on this course and the first was at the six mile marker. I blew past this one as it looked crowded and my legs were not ready for a rest yet. If you have not ridden in a cycling event, the SAG stops are established resting points where the race provider provides water and food to cyclists as well as emergency bike support. I figured in looking over the route I would stop at the next one at mile 12 miles and the last one at mile 28, skipping the first SAG stop and the 18 mile SAG stop.
As planned I stopped at my first SAG stop at mile 13 and I immediately fell in love. They had peanuts, water, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an array of different foods and beverages. I went for some of the sandwiches and water and took another Gu from my stash. Basically I tried to stick to what I knew worked and tried to stay away from unknown items, I still had some distance to cover. The biggest surprise for me about the SAG stops was how social they were. Imagine an oasis in the middle of the desert, a place providing food,more importantly they were super social places where everyone was catching up with new and old riding friends alike. I loved the atmosphere and ate and chatted with riders I had passed and been passed by. After ten minutes I headed back out and decided to stop at the 18 mile SAG stop as well, only 6-7 short miles away.
Looking back now, I am glad I stopped at the 18 mile rest stop as this was the halfway point in the event. I took another GU and ate some sandwiches and drank some more water, I was feeling very hungry and this combo sated that hunger enough. The sky still threatened of rain, but it was still holding back. After 18 miles I was feeling fresh still and felt really good about the remaining distance. As I chatted and ate, I never stopped moving and kept working to keep the legs loose. After a fifteen minute rest I took off with the idea of stopping at my final rest stop at 28 miles and then on to the finish of the ride.
As I got close to the mile point for the rest stop I had teamed up with two other riders who were a bit faster on the uphills, but I often caught up with them on the down hills. We rode unofficially as a group for a while and as we neared the final rest stop, the rain began beating down from the heavens. It was so thick we missed the turn off sign and it was not til two miles later that we realized we had blown past the stop. By then though we had some new issues to contend with.
The sky turned very dark and the clouds were thick and nasty. The rain started to come down so hard, I could barely see in front of me. The rain pelted my face and my skin and each drop stung as it hit. The wind picked up and began to push us backwards and occasionally side to side. I suffered through pedal stroke by pedal stroke fighting for every inch of ground. Often I could see the other too riders red lights move in all directions as they also fought the wind that was determined to throw us off the road. There were other problems as well, the road was littered with branches, trees, twigs and limbs as well as standing water. Additionally the section we were on, the last 8 miles, had no structures, it was nothing but wilderness, so there was no place to hunker down and call for help. Our only option was to push on. It was the most harrowing hour of riding I had experienced in my life.
After a mile or two we stopped at the top of rise that was slightly sheltered from the wind but not the rain, we stopped to gulp down a final gel as we were spent. Fighting the wind and navigating the obstacle course that was the road was wearing us down an we needed some fuel to help with the final push to get back to the park and the safety of our vehicles. We often saw trucks and SAG vehicles crammed with bikes and riders pass us. They told us they were getting people off the course but we needed to try to make it as there were too many people to pull off behind us. They also informed us that if we heard sirens we needed to find a ditch to get into. Then they pushed on. As we got back on our bikes with only 6-7 miles to go and got ready to head back out, we heard a crack and feet away a huge limb came crashing to the ground, exploding as it hit.
With only 2 miles remaining the rain continued but the sky lightened. I felt better knowing I would soon be able to let my wife know I was ok and to get some food. The storm had dropped the temperature and riding was the only way to keep my soaking wet body warm as I rode the final miles. As I pulled into the park I realized they were packing everything up and the finish line had blown away as well as the stage. They had experienced the same weather plus some hail and were in the process of pulling riders off the course, going for further away riders first. I got to the red rider tent where we were all sharing our stories and munching down on the catered lunch that lingered for a party that would not happen. I contacted my wife and let her know I was safe and immediately found our car and changed. Being back in warm clothes felt good, but I did not get a chance to cool down much after the ride and my legs were burning with lactic acid. Additionally I was starving and ready to get some food. As we left the remains of the tents were being taken down and truck loads of riders and bikes were pulling in. I was glad to be dry and out of the weather and grinned when I realized what I had just ridden through. 37 miles was not too bad, I think I will be ready for longer later in the year. Of course I think I will leave the tornado level winds and extreme weather behind next time. Til next time.
- Not Doing Much of Anything (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com)
- Perfect Spring Ride and then some. (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com)
- Tour de Cure (picnicsandbikerides.wordpress.com)
- One Heck of a Busy Week In Reflection (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com)