My breathing was heavy, my legs were burning and my heartrate was through the roof. I was in the middle of the first timed climb in the New Jersey Gran Fondo, willing myself to the top. This first timed climb, named by the ride organizers, “The Doggone Hard” climb, is one of my arch nemeses. I think all of us who ride have a climb or two like this, where it never seems to get any easier and always makes us suffer more than most other hills. My nemesis on this ride is a two and a half mile climb with a steep section that starts mid-way through and lasts for about a mile. It is a leg obliterating beast that looms intimidatingly over the ride for the first thirty miles or so. I dread this climb more than any other on the ride.
Our team quickly got organized for the first rolling portion of this hill, trying to keep our speed up for as long as possible before the steep section where we knew it would be every woman for herself. We hit the steep portion of the climb with some good speed behind us. Nevertheless, then the beastly hill kicked up, 11%, 12%, 13% grade and my speed dropped 9mph, 8mph, 7mph and the pain started to set in, along with the oxygen debt. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke my teammates and I continued to push and even though I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace, I was still passing person after person also trying to conquer this tough climb. Only a couple more minutes to the top, but the pain was really settling into my legs now and causing me to want to give up, but I would not, I knew I could make it. One minute or so to go. I knew the finish of the climb was right around the bend, and then I was there! I pushed through it and defeated my nemesis yet again! And the score now stood Nikki 25 – Doggone Hard Climb – 0 (this was my 25th time up this particular hill).
We regrouped as a team, feeling relieved, happy, tired and victorious after our conquest of that doggone hard hill. Then we realized that we still had about 75 miles and three more tough timed climbs to go, not to mention countless other non-timed hills. This is why you have to enjoy the ride and try have fun in between the hills, to distract from the hours of pedaling and the painful climbs still to come.
Riding a century is always a big mental and physical undertaking for me and for most amateur cyclists. A century ride (100 miles) is equivalent to the marathon of cycling. Yesterday I rode the New Jersey Gran Fondo for the 3rd time, with a great team of women. We had ten strong women from the Riptide Cycling Team head out for this hilly 107 mile challenge and we were determined to climb hard and have fun, because if it’s not fun, then why do it?
The Gran Fondo, literally translated from Italian to mean “great distance” or “great endurance” is traditionally a one hundred mile recreational ride with a race component added in. These rides normally have several challenging timed climbs. You cross a timing mat at the bottom of each of these hills and then it’s a race to the top! In between these climbs you can enjoy the ride and the scenery until you attempt to hammer it up the next timed segment. These rides include shorter distance options as well (medio – 63 miles, piccolo – 42 miles, breve – 18 miles).
For me, the 75 to 80 mile mark is always the point where it becomes hard to continue to enjoy the ride and two of the timed climbs in this particular Gran Fondo are at miles 75 and 80. OUCH! It really is a mental game at that point, willing yourself to go on, telling yourself that you can do it because deep down inside you know you can. Seventy eight miles and five thousand feet of climbing down and only twenty nine miles and about three thousand feet of climbing to go. My legs were tired, my hands were hurting, my body just wanted to stop, but I had to continue to count down the miles; twenty eight to go, twenty seven. I knew I could ride twenty seven miles, I just needed to forget about the eighty miles and big hills that came before those last twenty seven miles. We pushed and pulled our pedals through those last twenty seven miles and finished strong, crossing the line together as a team.
Having gone through this experience with a fun and strong group of women made this ride much less painful than it could have been. We were there to encourage each other as we all hit points on the ride where the task seemed insurmountable. We crossed the finish line as a team, tired but thrilled by the challenge we had just taken on and completed.