Breaking the 4-Hour Century Barrier

August 24, 2014/ Jim Parker

The great thing about a bike race is that you never know what is going to happen. We’ve had the Mid-Atlantic race on our calendars for a long time, but only as a minor event, with our focus on the Texas Time Trials in September. Maria and I signed up to do the 100 mile event rather than the 12-hour or 24-hour events so that we could crew for those doing the longer events and also because a 100 mile ride fit our training plan better than a 250 mile ride.

When the race started, we had no idea what we were in for, or that we had a world-class bicycle racer, Dave Mirra, in the line-up with us. If you’ve never heard of Dave Mirra, look him up. If anyone is designed to fly on a bicycle, literally and figuratively, it is this BMX champion.

Dave Mirra_1

Dave had help from a few elite cyclist friends, and together, they led a group of about 20 of us out for the first of four 26 mile loops. The first lap, Maria and I couldn’t believe how fast they were going. There were a lot of turns on this course, and they would explode out of the turns. We weren’t invited to rotate on the paceline, so we stayed in the back where we experienced the maximum accordian effect… by the time we got around a corner, we’d have to accelerate our Vendettas up to 31 mph to catch the group. We were getting flogged at the tail-end of a long whip. We are used to time-trial conditions, where steady efforts are rewarded with the best performance. This was a bike race, which alternates between relative calm and heart-pounding anaerobic effort.

{Here is a graph of my power (pink line) and speed (blue line) during the race. Imagine this for four hours. This is very different from time-trial racing.}

Power graph mid atlantic

Maria hung in for two full laps before catching up to me one final time to let me know she was DONE and I was on my own with the beasts. Now I was the only recumbent racer in the lead pack and we were blasting along on the straights at 28 mph in a tight paceline, little rocks off the fresh chip-seal occasionally popping up and hitting me in the face to remind me to stay focused on the wheel ahead. As the third lap progressed, I kept asking myself if I could hold on one more minute. A bunch of the guys in the line must have been asking themselves the same question, and answering “no”.

One-by-one they started dropping out, unable to push their limits any longer, and I was determined that I wouldn’t be next. I had been pulling up the back of this paceline since Maria dropped out. If anyone thinks that is the easiest position, they are quite mistaken… it’s much better to be in the middle of a paceline than the end since the last rider has to pull a long heavy tail of turbulent air that just skims over the middle of the paceline. This aerodynamic phenomenon applies to pacelines of five or more, and by the third lap, we were down to about nine hardcore racers.

As the paceline accordian shrunk, the corners got easier for me, as I didn’t have as far to catch up. I was also getting better at taking the corners fast, which is not a skill I have practiced much. By the fourth and final lap, I was cornering tightly with the pack, now down to seven racers. About halfway (13 miles) into this lap, I figured I should be gentlemanly and take a turn at the front. I made my move on a long straight piece, and this blew up the line again and we dropped three guys off the back. I had Dave Mirra right behind me egging me on to go faster. My heart was about to burst out of my chest and my legs were on fire, so after a few more eternal seconds, I dropped back into what was now the lead pack of four. After a brief and incomplete recovery period, I went back to the front for what would be my last time. This is where I learned a hard truth about racing. It’s a team sport and if you aren’t part of the team, you better watch out.

Now completely spent from my last bout at the front, and looking forward to a few minutes at the back of the line, the guy right in front of me slows down and opens up a 60 ft gap between him and the two front runners. Then suddenly he starts zig-zagging right in front of me and I have to hit my brakes to not run into him. The next second, he takes off like a rocket while I’m still riding my brakes. By the time I figure out what’s going on, the reunited trio is sprinting away and I am alone.

Alone, alone, alone, for the next 11 miles to the finish. I feel like the dorky kid on the playground that just got beat up and left behind by a gang of the cool kids.

That self-pity moment passed rather quickly. With no one around to hear me, I laughed and took a nice long drink of water. With the pressure of the paceline now gone, I took my first look at my total elapsed time. I couldn’t believe how far we had come, so quickly. I watched my total distance approach the 100-mile mark, which I passed at 3 hours and 54 minutes. After that it was just a few more miles into the finish. I never dreamed that I would complete a sub-4 Century. Rather than any anger with the elites that dumped me, this over-50 year-old man felt gratitude to them for the exhilarating ride and being able to check off a bucket-list item that was becoming more improbable with each passing year.

When I met up with Maria, she reported that she rode the second half of the race all by herself, but still did 100 miles in 4:17, which is an amazing time, and a PR for her, too.

The rest of the day was fantastic, with Maria, Thom Ollinger, and I watching Charlie Ollinger win the 12-hour race on a Vendetta, but just barely, in a battle to the end with “Diesel” Don Appel, who is a formidable and very experience racer. Our new friend Larry Oslund turned in a surprisingly strong 236 mile performance in his first 12-hour event, riding (mostly) a Cruzbike Silvio. He borrowed Maria’s Vendetta for two laps in the afternoon. I had low expectations for this race, but now I have to rate it as one of my very favorites.

{Photo of me after the race, with Thom Ollinger, hanging out under the Cruzbike tent.}

At Mid-Atlantic


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