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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Jersey Double Century
Date: Saturday, June 21, 2003
Location: Whitehouse Station, NJ
Race Type: Bike - Double Century
Age Group: Male 25 - 29
Time: 15:40:00
Comment: 27th finisher, 72 people registered, 45 people started, 29 people finished

Race Report:

If all you ever do is sit around on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching reruns of "Three's Company" on the Classic Sitcoms cable channel, you might get pretty smug. You might start thinking that we, as a species, as a civilization, have everything under control. You might think that we are masters of our environment, and we have the tools and technology to remove from our paths any obstacle that might cause the slightest bit of difficulty or discomfort.

It is not until you venture beyond the couch, leave the bon-bons behind, and explore the world that lies beyond your well-established comfort zone that you might realize there exist, in this world, many forces that are far more powerful than any technology sprung from the minds of humans. Rain is one of those forces. Traffic is another. And soreness in your nether-regions after 13 hours on a bike is certainly not the least of those forces.

This year, neither chris not I had done the sort of bike miles necessary to comfortable complete a double century ride. Each of us had done a single long ride of about 70 miles this year, with a smattering of shorter ride. Still, we both wanted to return to the Jersey Double once again for a long day in the saddle. Since, based on our training, we knew the ride this year would be particularly long, we wanted to get moving at the early end of the starting window: 4:45 am.

This year, we had it figured out. We'd just camp in the park at the ride's starting point. We'd get there after dark, we'd be out of there before light. The authorities would be none the wiser. The drive took longer than it should have due to traffic, so we arrived at the park at 1:00am. It had been raining for several hours, the there was a small pavilion with some picnic tables and a concrete floor in the park. We threw down our sleeping bags, and set our watches to wake us at 4:00am.

Three hours later, as we were coming out of our far-too-short slumber, we couldn't help but notice the man with the flashlight and the walkie-talkie walking toward us. Well, I assumed it was a man, but I couldn't be sure, since he was shining the light directly in my eyes. Someone at the other end of the walkie-talkie was reading my license plate number along with all the details of my vehicle registration.

"You know you're not supposed to be sleeping in the park."

"Umm, I didn't."

So began a 20 minute incident with the law. It was a very educational experience all around. The three police officers learned that neither chris nor I have any outstanding warrants. They also learned some of the more interesting details about our little 200 mile bike ride ("How many days do you get to do that?" they asked), and chris and I learned that the building right next to the park, visible from where we were sleeping, is a police station.

A few moments later, other riders started arriving. We didn't start riding until shortly after 5:00am. In the first 20 miles, as chris and I rode slowly and conservatively, we amused ourselves by watching other riders passing us, and picking out which ones had a good chance of finishing, and which ones would end up learning the hard way that 200 miles is a long way to ride. A small pack would pass us, and we point out the riders who were riding at their own pace ("The guy on the Litespeed is riding well --- he'll have a good day") and those who weren't going to finish if they didn't loose the ego ("Did you see how hard the guy in the blue jersey was working not to get dropped?").

Somewhere in those early miles, we ended up hooking up with mike. He recognized that it'd be a long day to ride alone, and I think that after a short while he also recognized that chris and I had a plan. We chatted and rode and chatted and sang and rode and chatted. Of course, the rain started early. Long before we reached the first aid station --- at mile 58 --- we had been drenched by several downpours. We rolled in, filled our water bottles, grabbed some food, and the three of us set out again, with chris prompting, "TIME TO GO, NO DILLY-DALLYING!"

The next stop would be at mile 98. That'd be the lunch stop. By mile 88, I was starting to get worried. Immediately before the ride, I decided to bring a light jacket in lieu of the slightly heavier jacket I had originally planned on wearing. With the lighter jacket, I should have put on another shirt. If I had been really smart, I would have put the heavier jacket into my lunch pack (which would be waiting for me at mile 98). Unfortunately, I did neither. With 10 miles to go to lunch, I was starting to worry about the cold. I was uncomfortably cold --- not shivering, but if I didn't get warm, and if it continued to rain as heavily as it had been, I'd start shivering soon. That would make it very difficult to get through the second half of the ride. At the lunch stop, I found a garbage bag, I cut out a hole for my head, two holes for my arms, and I put it on under my jacket. Voila! That kept me warm and comfortable for the rest of the ride.

There were eight, or so, riders at the lunch stop when we arrived. By the time we left, a couple more had arrived, but only one person had left. We weren't moving as fast as many of the rider, but we also weren't stopping for as long and we weren't slowing down as much. On a ride this long, the two mistakes that'll make it difficult to finish are starting too fast, and stopping for too long. Even though there are only four stops on the course --- at miles 58, 98, 140 and 168 --- it would be easy to spend two hours or more not moving. Even if you think you have time to spare, you can't afford to waste it.

Twenty miles past the lunch stop, we had a flat. It was chris' rear tire. The process of fixing the flat ended up being a comedy of errors. By the time we were all set to go again, we were down three tubes, and many of the people who were behind us had passed us. At this point, if mike had decided to leave us behind to continue moving, we wouldn't have blamed him. But he was as good-humored about the situation as chris or I. By the time we were moving again, we were among the last riders on the course, and there was a real possibility that we might not finish before dark.

The 15 miles before the mile 140 aid station are exposed, windy, and just slightly uphill. My memory of 140 from years past is like a Civil War movie --- the part right after a battle. People would be lying in the grass, moaning, their gear strewn about them, the volunteers tending to the "wounded" with the limited resources at hand. This year was different only because when we arrived, no other riders were there. We wondered where everyone was. The volunteers gave us some numbers. Over 70 people had registered for the ride, but only 45 started. A handful of people dropped out at mile 98, electing to take the shortcut to the finish, and about 10 more people decided to take the shortcut home from 140. The rate of attrition was very high this year.

I couldn't help but feel good about our strategy of riding conservatively. Sure, we might be some of the last riders to finish, but we'd finish. It looked like only about 30 people would finish the entire 200 mile route on this day. Out of all the people who thought, "I'd really like to do that ride, but I can't," out of all the people who signed up, but then seeing record-setting rain falling decided not to ride, out of all the people who started riding as the sun was rising behind the heavy clouds, we were among the few who would be able to make it to the end. Most of the people who dropped out were ahead of us. I'm sure that even if I had been in good (for me) cycling shape, many of the people who dropped out would have been able to absolutely demolish me in a 40 km time trial, and not give me a second thought over 100 miles. But on a miserable day, in pouring rain, with 200 miles to go, it isn't always the fastest cyclist who wins.

At the 140 aid station, chris wasn't feeling great. She had done a 24 hour adventure race the week before, and she was feeling the effects of it. Be she knew that the course gets easier after 140. I think mike was also feeling a bit worn down, but he also knew that stopping was not an option --- neither chris nor I would have let him consider it.

Leaving 140, we had a bit of a tail-wind and a slight downhill. We expected the final aid station to be at mile 170, so when we reached it at mile 168, we were pleasantly surprised. After a short stop to take care of business, we hit the road for the final 32 miles.

The last miles of a ride like this are deceptive. In the context of a double century, 32 miles is very small part of the ride. Still, 32 miles is 32 miles. Many of my rides this year have been 32 miles, or LESS. At our pace, that was still a couple hours of riding. Sore butts, tired legs, stomachs that were ready for real food... We had all of it. On the one hand, I wanted to think, "It's only 32 miles, we're almost there!" On the other hand, I couldn't help but think, "How is my butt going to get through another 32 miles?!?!"

Whatever my mind was telling me, there were still 32 miles to go, and as long as I kept pedaling, I'd get there. Eventually, there were only 10 miles left. I went through it all over again --- 10 miles is NOTHING, 10 miles is still a long way to go, 10 miles is NOTHING, 10 miles is still a long way to go...

It got dark over the last two miles. We were the last riders still riding. The sag wagon was leapfrogging us over the last few blocks. They'd wait at an intersection so we wouldn't miss a turn in the dark, then they'd move to the next intersection.

Our total time, including stops and flat tire changing, was about 15:40. According to my computer, our ride time was 13:47. It wasn't blazingly fast, but it was still a highly satisfying ride. After we finished, chris, mike and I regrouped at the Spinning Wheel Diner for a bit of late night breakfast food --- the traditional post-ride omelet. Tired, sore and smelly, but refueled and done for the day, we could finally look back on the day and say, as we always do after such adventures, "Ehh, well that wasn't so bad."