Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shiner GASP/Skeese Greets Women's Triathlon

Yesterday I completed my first "century," or 100-mile bicycle ride, the Shiner GASP (or Great Austin to Shiner Pedal [which sounds redundant except for the fact that Shiner refers both to a town and a beer company]). The overall direction of the ride is southeast, and typically if there is any wind, it is either a headwind the whole way, or a tailwind the whole way. Unfortunately, this year it was a headwind (and occasionally a crosswind), but I decided beforehand to ride on my brand new race wheels to give myself the best chance of finishing. Considering that previously my longest ride was the Wildflower Ride about a month ago at 62 miles, I felt good finishing in 6 hours and 40 minutes (my watch showed 96.65 miles in 5:43 of moving time). Then this morning I got up early again to volunteer for a women-only sub-sprint distance triathlon.

This week I got a set of race wheels, really trick deep-dish aerodynamic carbon fiber, a set of Zipp 808 "Firecrest" clinchers. I got them set up and on Thursday took them for their maiden voyage (other than a quick spin around the block). I didn't quite feel like they were significantly faster than my regular aluminum wheels, but when I did look at my computer, it definitely looked like I was going a a couple miles an hour faster than I normally would have at that point. (As an engineer, that additional speed could have been caused by the wheel having a wider rim and for the same width tire, the circumference is slightly smaller, and I haven't adjusted my computer for it. I haven't correlated any data to check yet.) The only issue, really, is that the deep cross section catches a lot more crosswind, and in the case of a gust or shift in the wind direction, the front wheel tended to move around, but fortunately not so much that I was driven into a dangerous place. On the ride, it seemed as though they rolled much better than most people's wheels (coupled with my awesome bike), as later on, there were a couple of times when someone passed me on an uphill, and then on the downhill even if I didn't pedal I would catch back up with them.

I left the house a little later than I had hoped Saturday morning, and just had enough time to put on my gear and drop off my bag before the ride started at 7. The ride went pretty typical to other large group rides I've done- a giant cluster of bikes starts to stratify and stretch after a few miles- only on a larger scale. Before we left, the person on the PA said there were 1600 riders. I tried at one point to ride on the back of a group of bikes, to draft off of them to help with the wind, but I could never get the pace right- I would hit the brakes to keep from running into somebody, then fail to anticipate when the pace picked up again and fall behind. I wound up in the wind pretty much the whole way, but there were a couple of stretches of a few miles where there was somebody right on my wheel. It didn't bother me, since it didn't make my work any harder, and nobody ran into me.

I wound up stopping at every rest station. In the first half, they were about every 15 miles, and only about 12 miles apart in the second half. My main motivation for stopping was just to get out of the saddle for a couple of minutes. My seat is normally just comfortable enough for about 30 miles, which is the most I normally ride in a day. I'm not sure why I was uncomfortable this time after just 15 miles, but I'll say it was because I had to pee. The first stop was almost empty when I got there, and I only stayed long enough to use the port-o-potty, top off my water bottle, and get some Starburst. All the other stations had more people, coming in and out in waves. I made sure to drink lots and have something to eat every stop, even at the later stops when I didn't really feel like it. A few of my co-workers also did the ride, and somehow we were all at the second stop at the same time. IM and MM zipped out of there at warp speed, never to be seen until the finish. I saw TH again at the halfway point, and he wasn't feeling in great shape at that point, but somehow he rallied and made it to the end before I did.

The roads were of wildly varying quality. The roads around Austin, Shiner, and some of the bigger towns along the way were nice and smooth, but a lot of the ones in between were chip-seal. The worst stretch of road, though, was about 1.5 miles, just after the rest stop at mile 63. Some sort of road equipment had been through and put holes about 6 inches apart across the entire lane. Everyone was moving around left and right trying to find the least jostling patch of the road. I was not alone in comparing it to the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. It made the rattle of chip-seal seem smooth by comparison.

The wind was a pain the whole way, but at least psychologically it was the worst in the last 10 miles. I was tired, and I knew I was close to the end, and here comes a strong wind, directly at me with nothing to break it up. It was dispiriting, but when I managed to hit 20 mph on one or two downhills, it felt like a victory (dampened by struggling to maintain a good cadence in the lowest gear up hills that were not really steep).

The brewery and the party that was already going on sort of snuck up on me. There had been people along the road in a few of places, so it wasn't until I heard a band playing that I knew I had made it. I had somebody take my picture under the finish arch. I didn't know where my friends were, so I headed to get my bag and found them along the way. I picked up my stuff and availed myself of the shower trailer, an excellent idea, the final sign of a well-organized ride. I realized too late that I hadn't packed a towel and had to use my small towel I normally use to wipe sweat, but even still the shower was quite refreshing. I pigged out on bratwurst, hung out for a while, and then IM and her boyfriend gave MM and I a ride back to Austin. I got home around 5, went out for a steak dinner, and sacked out early.

This morning I woke earlier than I needed to, around 4:30. I got down to the site of the triathlon around 6, checked in, and started body marking participants as they headed to transition. At 7, I got my actual assignment of directing people along the bike course. My job, I thought, was just to make sure the bikes didn't make a right turn in the wrong place. However, I wound up having to direct cars to some extent as well. I was lead to believe there would be a sheriff there to handle the cars, but they were elsewhere. It seems almost miraculous that there weren't any bike-car incidents (that I saw, anyway) along an open interstate frontage road. With the wave starts and everyone getting out of transition at different times, the bikes weren't ever more than 3-wide, so that helped, but it still made me nervous. Since I was at the first intersection after transition, I was done with my assignment at 9 after the last bike left. I went over to the other exit of transition to hand out drinks to the runners as they started. I stuck around for a little while after most people were out on the run, and had a chance to catch up with a couple of old friends from college who I knew were going to be there. It was a pretty good time, and it was fun to see the range of women competing- from near pros to those who just glad to complete the course.

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