Few races are as well named as the ‘Mountains of Misery.’ As the web site describes the ride:
“A challenging Century and a quad searing Double Metric (200 kilometers/ 125 miles). The Challenge Century (100 miles) has nearly 10,000 feet of climbing. The double metric over 13,000 feet. Don’t worry, or maybe, worry – both routes still end with the climb up to beautiful Mountain Lake, a five-kilometer category 1 climb, reaching road pitches up to 11.9%!”
Needless to say, with an introduction like that how could I not give it a go?
Lis and I travelled to Blacksburg Virginia, about 4.5 h southwest of D.C., on the Friday before the race. We stayed at Virginia Tech which is a large university. They had an excellent conference centre with 5 Star accommodation, so we weren’t slumming it.Friday evening they had a ‘pasta-fest’ to help stoke up the athletes for the weekend. We sat with Joanne Nickerson from my office, whose husband Steve was doing the ride. Their daughter was along who is not a cyclist, but mention the word water and she is all ears–a very keen swimmer she is.The had arranged for Bob Roll to be the after dinner speaker. He is an American who raced in France, and currently works as a commentator for the OLN network on the Tour de France. His American humour didn’t strike a chord with Lis, who soon left, but I stayed for a while until it was Sabbath when I excused myself.
We had decided to wag church as the weather was so lovely so we took our bikes in the car and went for a drive in the country. I wanted to scout out the route as well.
I was planning on doing the century (100 miles) but after seeing some of the route I decided there wasn’t enough misery so I chose to do the 128 mile ride. For some reason Lis was not at all surprised. As the elevation profile below shows, there was lot of uphill, with three mountains to cross before the killer final one.
We found a nice quiet lane and parked our car by this old covered bridge. It reminded us of last year when we were up in Vermont visiting all the covered bridges. This had been restored and was in excellent condition. With the stream flowing beneath it was just the sort of place the Lis loves.
After a few photos we mounted our bikes and headed out. The road passed through rolling countryside with farms reaching out towards the many hills in the distance (or not so distance!). Both Lis and I love hills, and this part of Virginia was stunning. We had to to admit that it reminded us of New Zealand.
We cycled a circular route and it was quite hilly in places, shades of what was expeted the following day. Eventually, we found ourselves back at the car and we headed back to Blacksburg where we had a great dinner with Gerardo and Alejandra Flintsch. They work at Virginia Tech and Gerardo helped me with some Bank projects.
The ride started at 07:00 the next morning so after a forgettable breakfast, most of which I couldn’t eat, we headed back to the start point. We knew we were going in the right direction as there were so many cars carrying bicycles. In the end there were over 500 entrants, although only some 80 of us were attempting the 128 mile ride.
It was a cool morning, with mist hanging in the valleys. Good weather for starting off, but the forecast was for a hot day. They were right, with sunny skies and a temperature of 89 Degrees F (32 C). I started off with my arm and leg warmers, which stayed on for the first hour.
Those doing the 128 mile ride were a mixed bunch. Some VERY serious looking cyclists, and a few duffers like me. In previous years there had even been some professional teams, but thankfully they were absent this year. Still, we would be shown later in the day the quantum gap between top cyclists and the rest of us.
Just before we started one of the organizers came by and said ‘Have a good race. Oops, I mean ride since this isn’t a race … ha ha ha’. Obviously he knew what he was talking about because when we were off we were OFF.
It is an amazing experience to ride down a road with a peleton of some 80 people. There was no traffic on the road so we just took up the entire lane. And we were motoring. For the first 30+ minutes we were doing 25+ mph. I commented to the fellow next to me that this probably wasn’t particularly wise given that we had over 100 miles to do with four large climbs. He agreed so a few of us backed off a bit. We were soon passed in a flash by the lead cyclists from the 100 mile ride who started off some 10 minutes after we did.
The ride was very well organized and every 10 miles or so there were food and water stops. Before the first one the 128 and 100 mile routes were the same, but afterwards we diverged for a while before rejoining again. To keep down the weight my plan was to only carry two bottles of fluid which meant stopping at each station and refilling as well as mixing in more of me energy mix which was to keep me fueled.
The day was spent going up for long periods of time, followed by all too brief, but exhillerating, fast downhill runs. My top speed was just under 50 mph which gives you and idea of how steep some of the sections were.
I had thought long and hard about preparation for the ride and had equipped my bicycle with a triple chainring on the front. This gave me a ‘granny gear’ which I used on the very steep hills. I was impressed (read: amazed) at the gearing some people used. I would have blown out my knee with some of that gearing. At one point someone commented on my triple chainring and when I said I had bought it on Ebay for $29 the concensus was that was the best $29 I had ever spent. I had to agree.
For some reason, it was a very male dominated ride–there were only two women who finished the 128 mile ride. I rode with one of them, Liz, for a while and she was such a strong rider I was surprised when I finished before her. She must have stopped for a break. In fact, it’s fair to say that everyone on the 128 mile ride was a strong rider, and the guy in came in first at 7:15 was an animal (that corresponded to an average speed of 17.7 mph!).
My nutrition plan worked well for the first half of the race but after about 6 h I found that I could not stomach any more of my energy drink. I had to resort to water and some very watered down gatorade. Needless to say by the end of the ride I was running low on energy.
While I was riding Lis went on a ride of her own, along the same route we did the previous day. She then went into town and did some shopping before coming back to the ride. I told her that I would be passing the start point about 2:30 and I was there at 2:40 so that was a good estimate. If nothing else, duffers like me are consistent.
I took a break and we had a good catch up. There were some people looking worse for the wear, and others who had already finished, but I felt really good with strong legs, although I was a bit hungry by then.
The last 10 miles was basically uphill. It finished with a long 3 mile uphill grind. It was mighty hot and people were suffering. Fortunately, I don’t mind the heat too much and getting water to pour over my head really helped. The only problem was that you didn’t know how much further there was to go. Every time you rounded a corner you hoped to see the finish line, but it was not to be. In the distance you could hear the cheering, but it didn’t seem to get much closer.
Finally I rounded the corner and could see the end! I even heard Lis above the sound of a ringing cow bell which she had borrowed from someone. She’s now decided she should have one of her own. I soon crossed the finish line and the misery was over.
My final time was 9:42:45 which with the 1 h of stops meant I did the ride in about 8:45. This placed me 40th out of the 62 who finished the double century. I had a massage and then we piled into a van which took us down the hill to the start point. After collecting my bike it was back to Virginia Tech where Lis joyfully poured ice cubes into the bath in a (successful) attempt to speed recovery.
So ended my Mountains of Misery weekend. Lots of misery, but also a masochistic sense of satisfaction at having risen to the challenge. I doubt that I will do it again, although one never knows …