Today I rode in the Ring of Fire Ride, starting and ending in Luckenbach, organized by the same folks that put on the race in Corpus Christi I did in May. Considering Austin has been over 100 degrees more than 50 days already this summer, and today was another, it was definitely fiery. I expected that part. What I hadn't fully prepared myself for, despite having seen the route elevation profile, was how hilly the ride was. Since the "long loop" course was 42 miles, and I was planning on doing the 84-miler, I knew exactly what I was in for once I started the second loop. There was a race component to this event, and everyone was chip timed, but I was doing it more just to survive it than to have a fast time, and I'm pleased to say that I did survive it, with a total time of 5:38 (by my watch).
I woke up at 5 this morning, and got out to Luckenbach at 6:45. I had thought all 84-milers were set to start at 7:30, but that was just for the open division racers (no aero bars allowed). Considering the cycling talent in this area, I knew I didn't have a chance of even staying on the wheel of the front runners, so I didn't even think about entering the race portion of the event. I kind of wish I could have seen some of it, however. They let the "recreational" 84-milers go at 7:45. I started pretty close to the front, but even still I passed a few people in the first couple of miles. A few passed me as well, of course. I didn't start out going particularly fast, largely because the course was hilly from the start, but also I needed some time to warm up my legs. About a mile in, my friends MM and IM caught up to me. I "hitched on to their train," so to speak, but fell off about a mile later going up a semi-long semi-steep hill (far from the worst on the course). I tried for a while to catch back up, pedaling hard on the downhills, but it wasn't long before I didn't even have sight of them. It's just as well, they were going much too fast for me and I was burning up too much energy trying to keep up. At least partially because of that effort, I decided to stop at the second aide station, at mile 23. I felt like, even though I had a decent amount of water left, I probably wasn't drinking enough for how much I was sweating. I downed what I had left and refilled my bottles (only two, probably should have had more), and ate some food while I was stopped. A woman who was thinking it was mile 36 seemed quite disappointed when I told her that, according to my watch, it was mile 23.
The course continued to be up-and-down, but fortunately, other than a few spots, it was not very windy. There was a little bit of cloud cover (something we have seen all too little of the past few months) very early in the morning, but by 9 it seemed to be a figment of our collective imagination. I didn't bring a thermometer to test, but it surely got above 100 degrees, as it has so many days already this year (since before summer officially began). It warmed up gradually enough, that I didn't ever feel like it was that bad. I thought the hills were a lot harder on me than the weather was. The longest, steepest climb was about mile 30. The first loop, there was a photographer near the crest, and he must have gotten a shot of me, out of the saddle, with a big smile, knowing (or at least hoping) that the worst was over, and it was pretty much downhill from there. The second time through, there was nobody around and it was just a relief to finally be on the home stretch.
The whole second loop was a struggle. I still managed some speed on the downhills and flats, but I had very little climbing ability left. Most of the uphills, I was struggling to go 8-10 mph, the slowest I can go in my lowest gear at a decent cadence (~80 rpm). For a few miles leading to the 11-mile aide stop, I hooked up with another rider and we took a few turns each leading and following each other. After that stop, I was pretty much on my own the rest of the way. I passed and was passed by riders now and then, but not nearly as many as the first loop (many people only did one loop). I stopped again at mile 23, and even though I didn't stop for long, it took my legs a while to warm back up afterward. My hamstrings seem to be pretty tight in general, and today in particular, and even stretching every time I stopped they were not very happy. About 15 mile from the finish, my right foot started hurting. It didn't feel like I had a rock in my shoe or anything, it seemed to just be due to the configuration of the bike. It got worse as I went on, and I was gritting my teeth the last few miles, willing the finish line to come to me. I had some drinks and cookies, loaded up my bike, and headed home.