If there were an award for completing an insane number of miles without any training, I would win it. I always intend to train. Honestly, I do. But it’s been a rough couple of years for my cycling and all my intentions have dissolved in a mix of bad weather and crazy back-to-back vacation planning. Every time that I have participated in Calvin’s Challenge, I have not trained. This past May, I managed to nearly break my previous record (154 miles) at Calvin’s with 147 miles… Not quite the 163 miles for RAIN, but I figured I would have plenty of time, with RAIN being in July, to train…
Ha. Not the case.
So I came into RAIN with the attitude that I would do as many miles as I could manage, and then quit if I felt I just couldn’t complete it. I prepared myself for failure by assuming that I would not finish. But, seriously, who am I kidding? Do I honestly know when to quit a ride? I am the girl who rode 75 miles from Norton to Youngstown on XOBA when my knee was screaming in agony. I am the girl who rode Calvin’s Challenge while battling the end stages of a stomach flu in 2013. Pain does not seem to be a factor in my quitting anything. Or lack of training.
And that is how it came to be that I completed RAIN on July 11, 2015 with my husband, Crow. A mountain biker primarily, Crow becomes easily bored by the long, monotonous miles of a century. I had figured he would end up quitting before me and I would have to make the decision on whether or not I should continue on alone. I completely expected that, in fact. But he too stuck it out until the bitter end, commenting to me that having someone to ride with staves off the boredom.
RAIN follows US-40 from the beautiful campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute to the tucked-away campus of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Through Indianapolis, however, the route swings through busy suburban neighborhoods to avoid what I assume is heavy downtown traffic along US-40. The grade is generally flat to rolling with no real significant hills… but they feel more significant as the miles go on! As expected from a US highway, the route is mostly filled with traffic and does not offer much by way of scenery. Some would say, “Well, it is Indiana.” But I truly believe every state has beautiful sights to offer somewhere; even the flat Northwest Ohio has beautiful places to see. You don’t get them on this ride, however, because the point is getting from one side of the state to another in one day and so the most direct route is what you ride.
We embarked on this ride with my friend Sue. Her son, Andrew, and his wife, Lauren, kindly took the time out of their busy lives to drive SAG for us, which meant taking two cars, as Crow and I planned to depart from the finish line while Sue wanted to return to Terre Haute. We were so grateful for their help because that meant we did not have to lug all of our things, like my prescription-strength ibuprofen, sunblock for reapplication, and additional snacks/energy goo. Plus, we had a cooler stocked with cold, fizzy beverages for our enjoyment at the 94 mile lunch stop.
On the way out to the ride, I admit that I took the ibuprofen. Since the spring, and during Calvin’s Challenge, I’ve been battling with an issue in my tailbone. I would feel intense pain any time I stood on my pedals to sprint and when getting on and off my bike. It was so bad that it was nearly tear-inducing. I saw my doctor in May and she did some alignment thing with my spine. It seems like hokey chiropractic voodoo, but she is an actual physician so I trust that whatever she thought my spine needed and did, it was the correct procedure because I’ve felt progressively better since. I’m still dealing with the tailbone when sitting for long periods of time, but I can now get through a long bike ride without issue when previously I’d be in enormous pain after just 10 miles. Still, since this was going to be my longest ride of the year, I wanted to make sure that unnatural pain was the least of my worries so I, as one of my friends joked, “doped up.”
The first 40 miles are the hardest psychologically because that is the longest stretch of the route without rest stops. However, on fresh legs, it hardly makes a difference; I can easily ride 40 miles without a break. The only problem that I had only had a granola bar and yogurt for breakfast so by the time I hit that first rest stop, I was a bit famished. I quickly fixed that problem by gorging on a PopTart, trail mix, and two PBJ sandwiches.
By the 65 mile stop, I was starting to feel some burn. I still wasn’t sure that I would complete the ride. It’s awfully daunting to realize that after 65 miles–which in my better biking days was a casual weekend day ride–I still had 100 miles left to go. I pushed on after the stop because I figured I had nothing better to do and I tried to keep my thoughts on just riding and not necessarily how far I’d ridden. For that reason, I put my bike’s computer on cadence mode so that I would not stare at the mileage ticking slowly away.
I still wasn’t feeling confident at the 94 mile stop but thoughts of quitting did not even enter my mind as I silently chewed my veggie wrap, chips, and some cookies at lunch. All that riding and still having not reached 100 miles was a little demoralizing. However, the next stop was at 115 miles. I knew that once I reached that stop, I would feel a sense of accomplishment which would make the end goal feel more attainable.
Once I reached the 115 mile stop, it was even easier to convince myself to continue on to the next and last stop at 133–just 18 miles. That’s basically the distance of a Tuesday night ride with my bike club. By the time you reach the last stop at 133 miles, it’s even more ridiculous to consider quitting. Sure, 30 miles is a longer ride (on fresh legs, that would normally take me a little over two hours), but it’s a lot shorter than what I’d already done.
Yeah, so I play these psychological games with myself. During that final stretch, my internal mantra was, “I never have to do this bleeping ride again if I finish it today.” It was definitely a lot easier to have a companion on the ride and I was surprised at how both Crow and I managed to keep our spirits up between each other, even though I quietly went through a few periods of grouchiness.
That final stretch certainly seemed the longest as the ride passed through towns that we kept hoping were Richmond, but instead turned out to be false-Richmonds. I could see we were getting closer to civilization. I switched my computer back into mileage mode and, of course, kept noting our distance from the supposed end of the ride at 163 miles. Every time we reached a new false-Richmond, I knew it wasn’t the real Richmond because we still had x miles to go.
We finished at 8:46pm according to the official records maintained by RAIN, ahead of the 9pm cut-off time. My bike computer recorded an actual ride time of about 11 hours and 30 minutes. Of course, with all the breaks we took, the total time was about 13 hours and 46 minutes. A new mileage record for me and Crow! I’m also proud to say that we finished with a 14.6 mph average which is fantastic in my books considering we did not use a pace line. (I hate pace lines.)
We were really lucky weather-wise. It was only about 85 degrees and the sun was behind a thin sheet of clouds the entire day with only occasional periods of sun. With all the exposure on the US-40 parts of the route, it could have been a lot hotter (the first year Sue did this ride, it was 100 degrees!). There was virtually no wind all day as well so we did not have to contend with a headwind. Thankfully because I have no patience with freaking headwind. Give me a nice hill any day over wind, I say!
I feel that this ride is well-run. All along the route, people cheer you on and tell you that you’re doing a great job, which is a huge help. At the finish line, I received a keychain medal that identifies me as a RAIN “finisher.” Photographers were there to capture the victorious moment. I’m glad I tried the ride. I probably won’t do it again.
Here are some links to the professional photos that got taken while we rode.
Somewhere near the 40 mile mark:
My “I’m done and never have to do this again” face:
Crow at finish line:
The three amigos: