Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ride for Africa

Last Sunday, I did the Ride for Africa Century.  The money raised from the ride went to build wells in Africa.  For those of you who don't know, my Bachelor's degree is in public health and I studied malaria for my PhD.  As part of my PhD research, I did field work in Africa, where I collected mosquitoes to use in genetic studies.  Now, I'm a scientist who works on ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases.  Clean water is critical to preventing disease.  So, a century bike ride that provides clean water to those who need it: YES, PLEASE!  I kept this mission in mind for the entire ride because there were definitely times that I wanted to quit.

The ride started at a gorgeous private estate in Valley Center, CA.  Valley Center is over 45 minutes away from my house, so it was a bit of a trek.  The volunteers were very friendly.  Since I hadn't signed up prior to the event, I got there early...maybe a bit too early because I was the first one there.  Only $55 later (with my Tri Club discount) and I was ready to go.  Well, kind of, because I realized that while I brought my hydration system, I didn't actually bring any water.  In my haste to leave the house by 5:00 am, I left my jug of water on the kitchen counter. No biggie!  There were aid stations every 10-20 miles.

I've been experimenting with a new nutrition plan and this ride was the ultimate test.  Through my eating habits, I've been training my body to be metabolically efficient.  In other words, I've been training my body to use fat during training.  As a result, I eat fewer calories during workouts, which 1) prevents GI distress, 2) prevents me from getting sick of sweet drinks and products (this always happens to me and makes it easy to skip nutrition), and 3) gives me steady energy.  There's a product called Generation UCAN that's recommended by the metabolic efficiency folks.  My buddy and mentor, Slayer, uses it and swears by it.  Not eager to mess with a nutrition strategy that had been working, it took me a while to give it a shot.  Instead of sugars, it utilizes a modified corn starch for energy.  So, I ordered a sample pack, used it a couple of times and it really seemed to work.  For the century, I took 1 packet during and 2 packets during.  I drank water with nuun tablets and ate a few banana chunks and that was it!  Less than 600 calories for an entire century, instead of the 1200 + I normally have.  I felt fantastic energy-wise!  Definitely a firm supporter of the product.  I will use this from now on.

Back to the ride, it started out with a series of super fun descents.  I zoomed down them and enjoyed the free speed, because I knew there was a lot of climbing ahead. The first half was great, a bit of climbing but not much.  The second half, good lord!  So. Much. Climbing.  I thought my legs were going to fall off.  The toughest climb of the ride is a 4-4.5 mile climb out of Couser Canyon at mile 84! Yes, that's right, at mile 84!  At this point, it was supposed to be all flats and descents.  Not true!  It was pretty much uphill the rest of the way, though at an easier grade than Couser Canyon.  Pure sufferfest.  I thought about crying, I thought about giving up, but then I thought about kids in Africa needed clean water and I suffered on.  At one point, a man behind me gasped out, "whoever planned this route has never been on a bike before!"  Hahahahaha.  I felt the same way, though it turns out the guy who planned the route is some sort of super cyclist, like a former pro or something.

The rest stops could have used a bit more organization.  Some ran out of water (it was really hot) and some didn't have any bananas or oranges.  Every time I reached an aid station, the volunteers asked me if I was the last one.  Uh, no, I was about in the middle or even the front of the middle.  Kinda discouraging and pointed to a lack of organization.  This was the first year a century had been held (last year they had a few shorter courses), so I'm sure these things will get better in the future.  Also, at one point, the arrows on the course were pointing in the wrong direction and a bunch of us went the wrong way until I pulled out my iPhone and checked a map.  All in all, a good event.

Here's the course
We finished back at the private estate, where we were greeted with cold drinks, tacos and live music.  It was very relaxing and and the nicest finish area I've ever experienced.  During the ride, I vowed never to do it again.  A few days later, though, I've forgotten some of the horror and have begun thinking about the nice parts.   Of course, my legs were too beat to do a long run on Sunday and I've been kinda fatigued and lacking in motivation since...time to get back to it!  Only 7 weeks left until Vineman.  Glad the bike course isn't like this one!

Oh, and while a century normally takes me around 6 hours, this one took over 7!!!