Harpooning the whale

photo of group at B2B startLast Saturday I rode the 2012 edition of the Harpoon Brewery to Brewery (B2B) ride. This was my fifth time doing it. It's one of those rides that I both love, and hate: love because after the fact I feel a good sense of accomplishment having done, and hate - especially in the last couple of hours of the ride and the day or two after - because it is painful. Typically, every year, I finish and say "That's the last time I'm doing that ride." A week later, I'm starting to think about training for the next one.

The ride is long - 148 miles - with about 7,000 feet of vertical. To put this in perspective, 85% (I'm guessing) of the professional bike races in Europe are 115-125 miles; only a handful are as long as the B2B, and more often than not, those are "transfer" stages in the Tour de France - long, but mostly flat stages designed to get from one mountainous area to another. (Now to their credit, the pros can ride 120 miles per day for a few weeks. That's one of the reasons why they're pros - and I'm not.)

The thing about this distance / elevation combo is that it exceeds the distance for which your body has readily-available fuel. Your body can burn fat during exercise, but it's inefficient at doing so, and can't keep up with the calories you're burning. It also prefers to use readily-available glycogen, but there's only so much of it readily-available in muscles & the liver. After that - you're just burning up your body, and it starts to hurt - a lot. For me, this starts to happen around mile 120. Gee, isn't that magic? That's about the length of most pro races.... ;-)

After that point, here's what happens. First come cramps. Interestingly, there's not much medical agreement on what causes them. When you're having them, you don't freakin' care. For me, there are three types of cramps:

  • Hints at cramps. I know if I push the cramping muscle too hard, these might turn worse, but if I'm careful, I can ride through them. They hurt, a bit, but they're manageable.
  • Standard cramps. These definitely cause a muscle to tighten like a rope, and are hard enough to cause me to cry out in pain. But again, they're manageable; if I'm on the bike, and transfer effort to other (non-cramping) muscles, I can keep pedaling to get to the freakin' end of the ride sooner. But these hurt, and are the harbinger of...:
  • End of the world cramps. These take over your mind. You can't think - you're entire consciousness has one element: The cramp. There is nothing else that exists, and if it doesn't stop soon, you want the world to end. You can't pedal anymore. Your body makes a demand you can't ignore: Must. Stop. Now. Occasionally, these happen while on the bike; for me, they happen more often either as I'm getting off the bike, or sitting down right after getting off.

Once you get to cramp-stage, mere rises at 2-4% grade that previously hardly registered in your brain as a hill become cramp-triggers. There's this silly little rise around mile 130 on this ride that regularly causes my hamstring to cramp. In previous years, this stinky little thing has caused end-of-the-world cramps. Fortunately, this year they were only Standard, and I was able to ride through them.

Other things happen, too. Odd things. Like the fact that dill pickles at the rest stop at mile 125 taste freaking wonderful. Or, the despite the fact that you start saying aloud to your buddies "This isn't fun anymore," and "I'm ready to be done," you don't call the sag wagon - you keep pedaling to the end. Or the dreaded "Bonk" - the point where glycogen is basically gone in your body, and you can't think straight anymore (because your brain needs glycogen to work, and so it's not working anymore).

photo of sartorial faux pasThen there's the positive things. Like finishing. And the Harpoon beer at the end. Hmm - that's all I have to say about the positive things. (Does this say something? :-)

Anyway, I'm happy to have finished B2B #5, and Harpooned this Whale of a ride. And I rode it with some terrific people. My buddies Scott, Tom P., Tom C. and Joe all rode with me - despite my utter lack of cycling sartorial elegance (photo at right), and my tendency to fall behind on the hills - and then use my too-many pounds to pass them on the downhills. And best of all, my loving & giving wife Judy took time away from her business at Bragging Rights sunglasses and drove our sag wagon for 10 hours - then drove us home. 12 hours behind the wheel means she wins the angel of the month award. (Thanks, gorgeous!)

Will I do it again next year? Ask me in a week. If I do, I'm going to redouble my effort to have 10lbs less on my torso in order to make it less painful.