I received an invitation from a friend to ride with her during the River to River Relay. The River to River Run is the biggest sporting event in all of Southern Illinois, it’s a huge relay race involving 250, 8 person teams for a total of 2000 athletes, along with a huge crew of support staff, friends, and family. Its a pretty big deal.
I should mentioned this is a run, not a ride, so why am I riding. Well that was my question. The roads aren’t closed so it’s perfectly legal to ride your bike on the course, but just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean its a good idea. The last thing wanted was to be in anyone’s way, but it turned out my fears where unfounded. We were riding with Sandy, whose husband was the race director and still a major character in the race so we were cool. In fact we were somewhat minor celebrities, receiving many greetings and hellos.
Three of us did the ride, but all started from different spots. Sandy did almost the entire relay route starting near Carbondale, my friend Mindy started in Goreville and I began in Tunnel Hill, only catch is that I planned on riding back to my car for about a 65 mile round trip. The weather was not great, in fact it was downright bad, seasonably cold at 46 degrees, windy, and occasonal light rain. Yet no one seemed to care much, it looked like everyone was having fun, us included.
I’ll start off by saying right up front that I wasn’t worried about this ride, 65 miles doesn’t seem that far to me, and while I knew it would be hilly I also knew that we wouldn’t be riding that fast. I also knew that the strong west wind would be pushing us for the first half of the ride. Because I didn’t have this built up to be much of a challenge I didn’t worry about such trivial matters as getting some Gatorade before the ride, or eating enough. My over confidence would be my downfall.
So anyway we had a very enjoyable first half, but did I mention there was about 5000 feet of climbing in my route. We went up and down a lot, but it didn’t seem to have a real big effect on me, I was surprised by how well I was climbing. The wind was giving us a huge boost and making my bike feel like I had one of those Cancellara electric motors. Several times I spun out my 50×12 gear at around 32 mph on a very slight downward grade. Despite the wind our average speed wasn’t so great, just 14.4 when we got to Golconda, every 3 miles we slowed down to creep through a control and we stopped to regroup several times.
We arrived at the finish line in Golconda around 4 PM and some of the first teams were coming in. I met Sandy’s husband and got to see a little of what was going on. I really wish I’d planned this better and had a ride home from Golconda because it looked like a great place to hang out. I was told that the finish line becomes “one hell of a party” in the evening.
Despite the gracious offer of a ride back to my car, I turned my bike around and took a different route back home, a little less hilly and a little shorter, but made much harder by the wind, I realized I was in for a world of hurt. I started off holding 17, but it wasn’t long before the constant climbing and wind turned my legs into Jello. I began to realize how many mistakes I had made. For the first 3.5 hours I had drunk one bottle of water and one cup of coffee and ate one bar. I had a fajita at Golconda, but my energy levels were so far in the red that I couldn’t eat enough to recover. My HRM was telling me I’d burned 4500 calories at this point. Probably way off, but still a pretty big number. I figure I replaced that with about 1000 in the 6 hours of riding.
The most disturbing part of my return trip was the oncoming darkness. I figured I had 3 hours before dark, plenty of time to ride 33 miles, but not if I bonked out. My HRM was telling me I wasn’t working to hard, 145-55 bpm, but I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t catch my breath unless I slowed way down. I was climbing smaller hills in my lowest gear, I should have been floating over them. A nagging worry was creeping into my mind, what would I do if it got dark. I don’t even have a single reflector on my bike. I could hear Miles Stoneman’s voice talking about how important it is to have what you need. I switched into survival mode, basically just putting out the smallest effort I could to keep moving. I made it back to the car in 2 hours and 45 minutes at 7 PM.
So what did I learn from this ride: Eat more, drink more, prepare better, stuff I seem to learn over and over again. I found out the River to River Relay is an awesome even that makes me proud to be from Southern Illinois. I made a new riding friend and connected back up with one I hadn’t seen in a long time. Most importantly I learned confidence is great, over confidence, not so much.