Friday, July 10, 2015

The pain of riding the MS Brissie to Bay 2015

It was a beautiful Sunday morning when I woke up for my first Brissie to Bay 100km ride. In fact it wasn't beautiful at all as at 4am it was still pitch black outside, it was hard to see and I couldn't tell what sort of a day it was going to be. It felt good anyway.

I had been a good boy. I went to bed early. 'It will help' I said to myself; a rested body is a fit body. And being the positive peppy person that I am, I filled my brain with a lot of positive get-me-through-the-day thoughts. Like "It's going to be eeeeasy" and "It's going to be awesome fun" and "The weather forecast was for a very nice day". At least that last one turned out to be absolutely spot on, as the 2015 edition of the race was held in near perfect conditions, the sort of day Brisbane is famous for.

Preparations were good, except for the training.
Anyway, the alarm bell had gone off and I was up and going. Kissed my wife goodbye, she said some semi-reassuring thing that I can not quite remember now but was along the lines of "...take it easy it will be fine honey, he he he, you're going to die..." I hopped into my car, checked I had everything and, since this was the forth time I had done this check, left with the feeling that today was indeed going to be fun and, quite possibly, an easy weekend ride. Little did I know the pain, torture and humiliation that lay ahead on the bitumen.

So how did you get into this predicament I hear you ask? In January, I had started riding. I went for a short hilly ride with some friends and after being left puffing like an old chimney half way through after the first massive hill, I knew I had to do something to get in shape, so I upgraded to a cheap racer and started riding. I was going well and within three to four weeks, I was feeling great, had dropped a few kilos and even did a 30km ride quite comfortably. Then one day a Facebook friend dropped the ad for the MS Brissie to Bay and having another friend who had ridden it the previous year, I was signed up so quickly, I didn't exactly think through the consequences. 'Extra motivation' might have been my line of thinking. I was riding well, I could knock over 100km no worries, I could do anything. Tour de France, look out!!!

The 'raising money' part was, to be honest, a bit painful. I had planned to just donate a 50 or something. Then the emails started. A phone call even from a lovely young lass at MS QLD. I felt pressured; kind of a bummer really. But anyway, the guilt got to me and I did the only thing I could think of and reached out to Facebook. I started spamming my friends and I'm sure that I have now been unfollowed by half of the planet. Spam, spam and more spam. I tried to be creative with my spam and took the line of "If you want to support my suffering...." which I think did the trick somewhat. I ended up raising $310 and a massive thank you to my Facebook peeps for donating.

When I arrived at dawn at Musgrave Park at West End, I knew parking would be at a premium so I did the secure parking thing to avoid a time delay. They said to be there at least 30 minutes early, but I needn't had bothered since there was no check-in, or regulations, or bike checks, or anything really if you pre-registered. I walked around a bit, tried to get in touch with the only other rider I knew would be there (hello Vicki) but to no avail and duly joined the thousands lining up for the 100km event. Being the social person I am, I struck up conversation with John and Jarred, both of whom were seasoned riders. This reduced my nerves from the very little that I had, down to zero. I distinctly remember Jared saying that this will be "three 30km rides" for him, meaning he will take a break at both of the designated stops along the way, roughly splitting the track into three. This sounded like a splendid idea and that thought should have stayed in my mind a little longer.

At the start.
 And we're off! After about 30 minutes of waiting for the first few waves of corporate sponsored riders to depart, we rolled down the hill with no incidents, the sound of cleats clicking in by the hundreds music to the ears. The first few kms riding out through Wooloongabba heading west gave me the feeling that this was going to be a long day. I was on a good pace, but also puffing a little and feeling a touch stiff. By the time we got out to Bulimba, a few small hills reminded me that this wasn't a race and to just take it easy, take it REAL easy. But at the same time, the warm-blooded ex-athelte in me wanted to do well. I had initially planned to average 25km/hour, finish in 4 hours. On my training rides I had been averaging 27km/h. From Bulimba, I was on a high until the 55km mark. In fact, I was feeling so good, I missed the first and the second break stops. The legs were going good and I feared stopping might mean the start of "THE PAIN".

One thing that did put a slight dampener on proceedings was getting past by riders; many many riders. Even now, when I still felt quite good, there was nothing more demoralising that being passed by a group of riders on bikes worth more than my car, having a chat about their favourite restaurant or how their last business meeting went on Thursday. But that was nothing to what happened later when I was passed by a dude on a mountain bike. Yep a mountain bike. Any confidence I had until that point; gone.  

Roughly half way I ran out of legs. Fatigue started setting in, but I could control the intensity and dropped it back a touch until I recovered and then upped it again. This was working great until about 3km after I stopped to say hello to my cheer squad. I was feeling great when I stopped, this was going to be easy. About 3km later, the first of many (and sometimes continuous) cramps hit me, going up a small climb. The left quads, right at the medial insertion at the knee. I still recall seeing the bulge where it tightened up enough for it to be visual. This first one dissipated rather quickly but I knew that little warning lay the road for the rest of the ride.

At the cheer-squad stop: happy times. 
These little cramps continued for quite some time up until we were well on the way back near Capalaba. It was around here that things got more serious, as a motorway somewhere near here was to be my body's final undoing. This section of the track was an up and down and up and down torture test (more on torture later). Both my quads and my right gastrocnemius decided to say enough is enough. In fact, I think my gastroc actually might have had a little tear, I still felt tightness here for about a week and a half afterwards. I struggled through this section, on the highest gear I could possibly find. It was here that humiliating experience number thirty three occurred, as I was passed by waves and waves of riders who had in fact had stopped at the rest stops and were fresh enough to wizz by. In retrospect, this not being a race and all, the rest stops might have been a clever idea. Hind-sigh: wonderful.

I was determined to not stop again if I didn't have to and when my cheer squad greeted me again at Chandler, I told them I don't want to stop. Really I could have, because after this point, I still stopped at least another 10 times (and at what felt like hundreds of lights heading back into the city), but at that point it seemed like the right thing to do. Sorry cheer squad. Just after this section I stopped for the first time since my one stop so far to stretch out the cramps and it worked to some extent which lifted my spirit a little. The course looked nice and flat on the map on the website, but reality hit when you see that a 10 metre rise in elevation is enough to blow the legs out when you're fatigued. So I struggled through the last 40km, stopping when I felt I needed to, I even had a riding buddy, William whoapart from also sharing my paing with his own cramps, kept me company for about 20km. He was a champ to keep my spirits up and we chatted casually to pass the kms, all the while being passed by hordes of riders with slight grins on their faces. But eventually even he had to leave me at the side after too many breaks and that was the experience of speaking to a total stranger, sharing a small life-experience together, never to meet again no doubt.

Towards the end of the course the organisers decided that a bit of sadistic torturing was in order and they made us ride up a coupe of massive hills at Highgate Hill. I know this area well as I lived here for a short time when I was at Uni, but the optimist in me kept saying, no they won't make you do that, they'll bypass it for a nice flat West End finish, but alas, no. No indeed. By this point, I was on struggle street, I needed to finish, I needed this to be over. The fatigue in the legs were severe, my lungs were fine because the legs wouldn't go, but the cramps kept on coming, sometimes holding me prisoner for minutes on end. If I tried to stop spinning with one leg extended, BAM, cramp. So I had to try to have both legs bent as I was rolling which was kind of awkward but was the only way and when possible, had to keep spinning. When we hit the Highgate Hill hills, I had had enough. I got off, pushed it up. Rode a bit to the next hill, got off, pushed it up. By this stage the shorter route riders were on the same course and the comments I heard from them about the ascends, while being explicit laden and broadly negative, gave me a boost somehow. I had done 95 while they were only onto 45 or 15. He he superior (kind of). Not quite sure how to explain. Anyway, I struggled through, and when I saw Musgrave Park, a smile came over my face; it's almost finished. I'm there! The end is here! I rode through the finish line, people clapping and cheering, my name was announced out load over the speakers, I had done it, I survived. I had a little emotional moment at the end and I now know why people who finish marathons and ironmans sometimes break down and cry at the end. For me this was a massive achievement, I felt something, perhaps the feeling that comes with accomplishment in the face of pain and suffering that can only come when you ride 100km without any training.
Finished. OMG

I had ridden the course in just under 5 hours, which is a testament to how fast I must have been going at the start to then have all those breaks and still finish in what I think was a reasonable time. My cheer squad eventually made it to the park and I knew they were proud of me. And the next day, I could walk and by Wednesday I was running around lightly on the courts at school. It was a great experience, learning experience, an experience of pain like I had never felt before but also an experience to know that I had achieved something I set out to do. Maybe I'll try again next year, who knows.        



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