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Leander Is Riding The Death Ride Again - What Am I Thinking?
May 13, 2011

The secrets to riding a successful century

After years of pain and suffering, I have finally figured out the three secrets to riding a successful century:

  • Coca Cola
  • Disgusting jello chews
  • Painkillers

I made these breakthroughs a couple of weekends ago while riding the Grizzly Peak Century, a storied 101-mile loop though the beautiful hillsides of the East Bay.

The painkillers I discovered after grunting up McEwen Road, a sharp nasty climb not too far from the Carquinez Bridge. By the time I reached the top, my back was in knots. It felt like a wet towel being wrung out by a hairy masseuse. I was ready to give up and get the bus. In desperation, I asked a fellow rider if he had any painkillers. He opened a pouch on his toptube. It looked like a pharmacy in there. He had painkillers, muscle relaxants, electrolyte tabs, chamoise cream, sunblock and other ointments and cures.

Two Advil and twenty minutes later, I'm back. No more pain and feeling strong. How come I didn't figure this out before? I felt foolish for having biked thousands of miles and not knowing to chew some Aspirin. I've suffered so much, so unnecessarily. I know that painkillers can mask a serious injury. I don't care. I'm going to ride on regardless, injury or no, so why suffer?

The Coke I discovered on last year's Death Ride. I never drink the sugary filth, but I chugged a can before Carson Pass and flew up the mountain like a goat that had eaten an entire coca bush. Strangely, I forgot this little gem of knowledge until one of the GPC's SAG stops (support & gear), where there were coolers of Coke on ice. I sank a can and then another. The next hour or two I felt like a train with the throttle jammed on, especially because I kept refueling with electrolyte chews. These are vile, over-sweet gummy chews full of sugar and electrolytes. I've tried them in the past, but never got much benefit. That's because I only ate one or two. The trick is to eat the whole pack, then you can power up hills like you're on a motorbike.

Grizzly Peak Century is a glorious ride. I ran into a couple of buddies at the start. We rolled from Campolindo High School in Moraga at about 8.30. It was sunny but chilly. It promised to be cold in the canyons climbing out of the valley onto the back side of the Oakland/Berkeley hills. We started at a good pace and were soon speeding through the woods towards the hamlet of Canyon (just a post office). Then we turned onto the twistier, steeper curves of Pinehurst and up through the trees towards Skyline Boulevard.

We flew along the winding curves of Skyline, which straddles the ridge of the East Bay hills. I was laughing at pure joy of riding as the beautiful San Francisco Bay lay far below us.

I was already starving, so I stuffed a pita bread pesto pizza I'd made the night before. Soon, my handlebars, brake hoods, hands and face were covered in slippery grease. We turned down the back of Tilden Park and cruised toward the first rest stop. Walking in, our way was barred by a pair of sanitizer nazis who made us clean our hands before we approached the food. We're in a crowd who unclog their noses with their fingers, so I wondered what the fuss was about. Then again, I'd just applied a fresh dollop of chamoise cream.

Another thing I've discovered on these long rides is that you can't eat enough. It's not possible to over-fuel. I grabbed four pieces of banana bread and slathered on a vertical inch of peanut butter and jelly.

We continued rolling along the edges of Tilden Park until the road dropped down through a series of tight curves back into the valley. We turned left on San Pablo Dam Road and headed north into the blue-collar industrial towns of El Sobrante, Pinole and Hercules. Outside of Rodeo, we climbed up past the gates of the ConocoPhillips Refinery. It reminded me of my dad, who cleaned the insides of boilers once. Up and over the hill, we rolled down into the town of Crockett, which is set dramatically below the towering Carquinez Bridge. Then we turned back into the countryside for the second SAG stop at the foot of horrible McEwen Road.

More face stuffing, Coke and some suncream, and then we're climbing McEwen.

It's a steep little hill and in the past I'd crisscross a grade like this to make it easier. But the training is beginning to work and I'm getting stronger. I settled into a slow steady grind straight up the hill. It's just as well, because my shorts had developed a big rip in the seat and had snagged on my saddle. I couldn't stand up on the peddles even if I tried.

We continued through the pleasant country lanes at the back of Franklin Canyon and Alhambra Valley before turning towards the other big climbs of the day -- Pig Farm Hill and the three bears behind San Pablo Reservoir. These hills have reputations as challenging, but thanks to another pack of electrolyte chews, they disappointed. While not easy, they weren't horrific either. I huffed and puffed at a steady, manageable pace.

Then came the worst part of the ride -- the terrifying downhill of daddy bear, where I hit 46 miles an hour. All I could think about was a blowout and spreading across the blacktop like a broken egg.

By now we'd made a 70-mile loop through the North Bay, and were heading back to the start point. Some turned off and went to a big lunch at the school after clocking 73 miles. For the full century, we had to continue south and do a 40-mile loop through a couple of hilly regional parks (There's also an extra-credit loop through Castro Valley for a total of 109 miles). My fellow riders and I had a big debate about turning in. But after doing 85 miles the weekend before, the last thing I wanted to do was less miles. One of us turned in and two continued on.

Instead of feeling tired and beat, I was feeling better than ever. I continued to stuff jelly sweets in my face and chugged on.

The field of riders had thinned quite a lot. We didn't see a lot of other riders going our way. We saw a few coming in the opposite direction, heading home. Some had tortured looks on their faces as they ground up the hill. Before long we were refueling at the penultimate rest stop. Twenty four ounces of Coke and 1,400 calories later, we embarked on the last section of the ride -- a 10-mile out-and-back to Castro Valley.

Unfortunately by the time we get there, the Coke had worn off and there were no more supplies at the rest stop. I was starting to feel tired. But on the way back, up and down the rolling hills, I had the best 15 miles of the day. I felt like a machine. I was indefatigable. I have no idea where this late surge came from, but I charged up the hill, high as a kite from endorphins and loving the bike. I flew past a group of serious riders who were resting in the shade at the start of the last big climb of the day. I saw them look up as I pedaled by. Soon, a thin, fit young woman was powering past me though I was on a stationary bike. Then the rest of her group sailed by. I tried to follow but it was as though they were going downhill while I was going up. On some of the flatter sections I imagined I was keeping pace, but they were soon gone.

But I wasn't done yet. I figured I'd catch them on the downhill. The one advantage of being 30lbs overweight is that I roll down hill like a runaway cement truck.

As predicted, I almost caught them on the way down towards Canyon. But they lost me on another another summit and I was unable to close the gap as we rode through Moraga to the finish, especially when I missed a couple of traffic lights.

The last few miles I ground the pedals like Armstrong on a time trial. I felt like I could pedal for hours. My heart rate was up and I was breathing strong. I was genuinely disappointed when the school suddenly appeared and the ride was over.

I felt like Superman until I noticed that one of the other riders had completed the century on a single speed -- and in much better time. He told about riding the Death Ride last year on a fixed gear, a feat of crazy bravado and singular athleticism. I didn't have the heart to ask if he chugged a bunch of Coke, chews and painkillers.


How not to prepare for the Death Ride

I’m doing the Death Ride again. I know – I’m an idiot. Why would I want to put myself (and my family) through that again? Because this past year I’ve really gone to pot. I feel decrepit. I’m losing muscle at an alarming rate, and gaining fat even faster. It’s crunch time: get fit or get a Santa suit.

Plus it’s for a good cause. I’m raising money for blood cancer research through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) fantastic Team in Training program.

This is where you come in. Please support me with a donation to the LLS. See the donation widget to the right. Any amount helps, but more is better. I know these are tough times, but suck it up. It could be worse.

Donating online is quick and secure. You will receive a confirmation of your donation by email.

You can also send an old-fashioned check made out to the Leukemia Society, directly to me. Remember, all donations to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society are 100% tax deductible!

If you need any help, please don't hesitate to contact me and I'll walk you through it. I'll even take your credit card number over the phone and enter it into the LLS system (no trips to Cabo, I promise).

Each donation helps accelerate finding a cure for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. More than 823,000 Americans are battling these blood cancers. I am hoping that my participation in Team In Training will help bring them hope and support.

On behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, thank you very much for your support. I greatly appreciate your generosity.

Thank you, Leander.

P.S. I would appreciate it if you would forward this to as many people as you can to encourage them to donate as well. Thanks again.

BTW: The Death Ride is a 130 mile bike ride through the High Sierras over five giant mountain passes (15,000 feet of climbing). Why is it called The Death Ride? Because it is a grueling sufferfest -- a day of never-ending pain. But training for it is a great way to get in shape.


Supporter Comments

    "Great cause - good luck!"

    Graham Bower

    Fri Apr 29 06:19:03 EDT 2011

    "Just read your post about this weekend's ride to my wife and kid in a Barcelona hotel room and we loved it! "

    Neil Chase

    Sat Apr 30 03:59:51 EDT 2011

    "Good Luck! Love the updates, very entertaining and inspiring."

    Sharon & William

    Fri May 13 11:59:57 EDT 2011

    "Just had a good friend diagnosed with Leukemia. Ride like Hell. That's a lot of climbing. Hang in there. Chad Ragland"

    Chad Ragland

    Fri Jun 24 11:05:15 EDT 2011

    "read your plea on good luck on the ride!! thank you for doing this for the fight against blood cancer!"

    lisa k.

    Sat Jun 25 11:07:45 EDT 2011

    "Thanks for our daily fix. Good Luck!"

    mark coleman

    Sat Jul 09 11:47:00 EDT 2011

My Fundraising Total

Raised: $3,775.00 | Goal: $3,250.00
116 %

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My Thanks To

David Barnard $250.00
Noah Shachtman $250.00
Brian Gupton $200.00
Michael Lowdermilk $150.00
Robert Mesko $100.00
Walter Roth $100.00
Pam, Peter and Tim Crozie... $100.00
Heidi Kroll $100.00
Julia Brown $100.00
June Grant $100.00
John Brownlee $100.00
Harry McCracken $100.00
Pauline Kahney $100.00
Neil Chase $100.00
Josh Rizzo $100.00
Neal Dauphin $100.00
John Beem $100.00
Markus Giesler $100.00
Kyle Wiens $100.00