There are some milestones and moments you remember forever as an endurance athlete: your first race at any distance, those magical PBs you bust your ass to achieve, the struggle bus races and training sessions, the first time you pull out of a race, and the list goes on. I’m still relatively new to triathlon, so I have yet to experience many milestones in the sport.
While I will always remember moments like finishing my first triathlon, I wanted to tell you about another important milestone that I hit last month at training camp: my first 100 km ride!
It happened a few days into our trip and was not something I had on my radar before we arrived. As I was deciding whether or not to sign up for the training camp, I studied the tentative itinerary, which early on had ranges of distances to be covered; for example, 40-60 km hilly ride. Then I did that thing that we know we’re not supposed to do and that we tell each other not to do: I completely lowballed myself. I assumed that I was physically capable of completing only the bare minimum on the itinerary, and didn’t set any bigger goals for myself, other than to make it through camp in one piece. So, when I saw one of the rides would be 80-120 km, I immediately thought, “Okay, I will be able to ride 80 km if it’s on a flat route and I’m with a group.” The thought of riding 100 km never crossed my mind, to be honest. Why did I make that assumption? Anyone’s guess.
Anyhoo, I digress.
On the Tuesday morning of camp, we did a quick open water swim and then drove up to the Van Fleet Trail. If you ever find yourself with an opportunity to bike this trail, do not pass it up. It is a long, flat trail that connects to other local bikeways and is mostly straight. It runs through a park and is completely separated from vehicular traffic. SIGN. ME. UP. Once we got out of the van and got ourselves sorted, we started chatting with some fellow cyclists in the parking lot who, it turns out, were also from Ontario?! They very kindly took a photo of our group and then we were off.
Like most of the week, the weather was great, if not a bit crisp at the start. I started the ride with a tank top and arm warmers, shorts and compression socks, and a light jacket on top. I took off my jacket on our first stop because the sun was out and I was already heating up. Someday I’ll learn how to dress myself properly for outdoor cycling.
First stop: gator family! Despite being exceptionally paranoid about encountering gators and other wildlife while training in Florida, Phaedra assured me that on this particular trail I could see some gators (even babies!) safely from a distance. I was especially excited about this, and they did not disappoint! I took a pretty cool video of Mama Gator slithering through the water too, although I spoiled it by humming the Jaws theme in the background. Here’s a photo instead.
After some goofing around for photos and taking in some fuel, we got moving again. The first part of the ride was mostly on shaded trail in the wildlife park. There were a few cyclists around. We mostly had the trail to ourselves, which was great. We rode out of the shaded area of the park and to the end, stopping on the odd occasion to fuel and stretch. We saw some tortoises on the trail, which were super cute, and even some sandhill cranes!
We turned around at about 42-43 km and started the journey back towards the parking lot. I knew the others were planning to continue on 7-8 km beyond the parking lot and back to round out to 100 km. I expressed interest in wanting to go the full distance, yet I was unsure of how that would actually play out for me.
Around the 65 km mark, the novelty of being on the trail started to fade and I just got tired. I knew without question I would make it back to the parking lot because, duh, how else was I getting back other than riding there? However, I had serious doubts about whether I could push on to make it to 100 km.
I felt like I had been adequately fuelling, averaging about a bottle of liquid per hour and a gel/fruit bar every 30-45 minutes, so I think the fatigue I felt was just from being out there for so long. Regardless of fuelling, everyone tires at some point. That was clearly my point. My only focus became getting back to the parking lot. 86 km would still be one hell of a long ride, and I was more than ready for it to be over so I could bask in my new distance record.
I can’t say at exactly what point my thoughts shifted and I became fixated on making it the full 100 km. My mind felt garbled and even though I was tired, I knew I would be filled with regret if I didn’t push myself the full distance. What other opportunity would I have to ride on traffic-free, flat roads?
I weighed both of my options and before I knew it, we were riding past the parking lot. I can best describe that feeling as the one I get when running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the half course separates from the full. There is that brief moment when you have to decide whether to throw in the towel and run up Bay Street with the half marathoners, or continue on to finish what you started.
I decided that day, I would ride on. Sure, I was tired. I had just ridden 86 km. Of course I was tired. What I didn’t want to be was tired and full of regret, so I committed.
I was hanging back a bit from my fellow campers. Eric and Phaedra traded off riding at the back of the pack with me throughout the ride, and both ended up riding with me for the last 10-ish kilometres. To fill the awkward silence (ha), they kept me entertained. When they tired of telling me stories, they resorted to singing. Just when I had forgotten this gem from childhood, it got resurrected in a big way during training camp. Seriously, it may have been the anthem for the week. 🙂
The last half hour of the ride or so truly was a blur. I remember being hungry and just so focused on finishing the ride. It was a definite case of tunnel vision. I called out every km from 90 onwards. That must have been a real treat every 2-3 minutes. As we got closer to the parking lot, it felt more like I was finishing a race than a training ride. I was so happy to see everyone at the end. A few of us conquered the 100km distance for the first time that day, so there were celebratory high fives all around. We stuck around for a bit to regroup and take a few photos. I somehow mustered the energy to take the customary bike-over-my-head shot to mark the momentous occasion.
Here are a few numbers for those interested:
Distance: 100.3 km
Average Speed: 24.1 km/h
Average Heart Rate: 132 bpm
Calories Burned: 1,511 (replaced with a protein shake, pizza, and cheesy bread. #noregrets)
I can say with some level of certainty that I would not have pushed myself that far on my own, so consider this another endorsement for taking on big, scary things in groups of like-minded, supportive people. I’m super thankful that my coach was there to support me through it. It was just icing on the cake that it was also Ryan’s first 100 km ride and we got to experience it together, even if he was ahead of me. 😉
So, that’s the (thankfully uneventful) tale of my first 100 km ride! The ride was, hands down, one of my favourite workouts of the week. It also gave me hope that some of my long-term triathlon goals aren’t completely out of reach. I still default to underestimating my abilities, which I’ll need to do some work on before the outdoor riding and racing season starts.
I’ve got big goals this year, and I can’t let me, hold me back.