Although I’ve done a lot of longish rides over the past 9 years I have never ridden a true “century”, i.e 100 miles (161 km) or more. I came close 2 years ago when I rode the 150 km route in the Tour de l’Alberta, which turned out to actually be 153 km. You’d think I could tack on 8 more km but that’s not where my head was at when closing in on the finish line. I just wanted to get off that torturous bike saddle!
This year the TdA had a new organizer – the Town of Morinville took over from the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC), which had run the ride for the previous 20 years. The biggest change was the routes. In the past, EBTC had 2 long routes – 150 km and 180 km. This year, Morinville dropped a few destination towns and consolidated the long rides in favour of a single 160 km ride. Fortunately, the 160 km turned out to be almost 166 km, so I could get my century in. Why they didn’t label it as that, I don’t know.
Since a scheduling conflict meant that I couldn’t do the Banff Gran Fondo for ATB later in the month, I wore their kit in this ride.
For the past 20 years, the Tour de l’Alberta had been held on the last Sunday of the Tour de France. And every year the weather has been perfect for the ride. This year, for reasons of their own and late in the planning process, Morinville changed the date to 2 weeks later, in this case August 9th. Besides upsetting people’s schedules – I know of at least 2 couples who planned trips in early August just so they could be free to ride the TdA on its usual date in July – everyone was fearful of the wrath of the weather gods. Would we still have it sunny and warm, as usual, or rainy and windy? The weather gods are known to be capricious and it doesn’t take much to piss them off! Thankfully, they must have been busy flooding some town in China or scorching an area of BC because the day was perfect. If anything, it was too hot, maxing out at 30C.
As in the GF Highwood, I hooked up with a good paceline and we averaged 32kph for the first 53 km to Westlock. And, just as with the GF Highwood, I flatted – this time at 76 km. There went my paceline and I ended up riding the rest of the route on my own, unable to find another group that went at my pace. Although the “official” lunch stop for the 160 km riders was in Westlock, we were there before 10 a.m., not exactly lunch time. I arrived in Legal – the lunch stop for the shorter routes – after around 90 km, at a more lunch worthy time. I downed a few goodies, replenished my water and met with some of the other riders in our club.
By the time I hit the 115 km mark, it was getting warmer than I like and I was starting to get cramps in my legs. I was downing lots of fluid but didn’t have any salt tablets or electrolyte replacement. I slowed down my pace, hoping that would help, but to no avail. The further I went, the more my legs cramped. At the 142 km rest stop, I walked around and stretched, besides gulping Gatorade, until things started to feel ok. I got back on the bike and made it about 2 km before the cramps kicked in with a vengeance. It felt like every muscle in my legs – quads, calves, hams, shins – spasmed all at once. Somehow I was able to dismount and just stood there. Trying to stretch one muscle seemed to set the opposing muscle off! I stiff-walked around for about 5 minutes then decided, what the heck, just gut it out. I rode slowly and, as long as I kept my legs moving, the cramps weren’t too bad. I was worried about a long uphill portion but it proved to be no problem. Once I turned onto the final 10 km section, I was feeling relatively fine and was able to average 30 kph into Morinville.
Lesson learned? Have electrolyte replacement tablets, powder or drink for hot days on long rides! Another lesson learned? Jens Voight was right – “shut up legs” works! Focus the mind and you are stronger than you think you are. I was truly ready to quit at the 142 km rest stop and if someone had offered me a ride back I probably would have taken it. I am SO glad, and proud, that I finished that ride on my own!